Spent this afternoon up at Outward Bound Loch Eil tree climbing with a group of our first year pupils (who are there for the week), so was still looking for a run when I left at back of 7pm. Thinking time (as much as weather) might be against me to go bagging the fine Corbetts of Sgurr Ghuibhsachain and Sgorr Craobh a’ Chaorainn, I decided just to grab what I could on the mileage front by setting off on an intended 10- or 12-miler from the same start point along the tremendous track down the east side of Loch Shiel, but found the going so good that I ended up doing 16! At 8:28-mile average (8:40 out, so must have come home at 8:16 pace), apparently hitting 5:36 (don’t often go that fast!) at one point and still strong enough at the end to know it had been quite comfortable. So truly a case of grabbing what you can! :-)
25 May 2011
23 May 2011
Such a destructively windy day in Scotland, yet strangely not the cause of most of what you’re about to read…
[Seconds after writing that, the power cut affecting the south side of the village hits the north side too!]
Took the van to the garage two weeks ago to get the exhaust checked out because of a developing (but unfamiliar) ‘throaty’ note, then back last week for new exhaust after finding the expected hole in the old one. Then back again today after (coincidentally necessary) new exhaust failed to cure said note because I’m also needing a new wheel bearing. Had also been expecting trouble with the windscreen wipers (a bit quirky from new in tangling with each other or randomly inverting once in a blue moon!) since getting a nice new windscreen last month to replace the one broken near Dalwhinnie and, sure enough, my nearside wiper flipped last week to lightly scratch the glass (it’s the thought as much as the ‘damage’) just 20 days into its life. So took a good look at the wipers this morning, found hopeless play in the offside one, spotted marking to the trim and paintwork where they’ve been failing to stop within their designed arcs and thought I’d better get these seen to as well. At which point one (the nearside) breaks right off when we inspect them at the garage, I’m needing new arms and linkages and strongly suspecting they’ve been faulty from new (NB van’s now booked in for Thursday)!
[Power just came back on.]
Heading out for another wet and windy run yesterday, I pick up my almost new OMM Cypher Smock (worn just a handful of times this sodden May since a first quick test in April, but rapidly becoming a favourite piece of running gear) to discover that the front’s badly delaminating. So email the supplier to say I’m looking for a refund (might have got a rogue sample, but couldn’t trust the eVent fabric in any like-for-like replacement) and think they might also want to pass this on to OMM… to be told today that OMM have requested the garment be sent to them for inspection before any refund, credit or replacement is issued. So not totally happy about that when it’s clearly not fit for purpose and IMHO I should have got a straight refund, but now have to play ball and send it on with a ‘detailed letter of explanation and outline of how I’ve cared for the garment’ (just worn it a few times over the past fortnight, right)! Then, to keep up the running theme, why (oh why) am I suddenly a good 2kg heavier (been working to lose weight and monitoring it daily since 1 January) after 90+ miles of trail running in a week when there’s no way I’ve taken on the calories to do that? (Thought I had a pretty good handle on all the issues but clearly don’t, although I’ve noted almost cyclic ‘blips’ in an otherwise downward trend before and hope it’s just one of those because I’ve otherwise taken a month’s step backwards!)
And finally (to get back to the weather that’s destroyed so much today for other folk but not really for me), I’ve been outside trying to tie down what’s left of Fly’s cover before it self-destructs, the chimney sweep’s sensibly postponed because I was needing him to go on the roof and I’ve still no prospect of testing the new mower that arrived a fortnight ago so long as this May stays true to form. So of course it could all be worse (house could have blown down/away), but that doesn’t mean it’s all great! :-/
PS Forgot to say I found the Co-op closed this afternoon because of the power cut, so am going to run out of milk…
21 May 2011
Some further thoughts here to follow Thursday’s Pacing by feel post, with a potentially hugely significant conclusion about my optimum WHW pacing strategy. So, to skip briefly over yesterday’s run (Fort to Kinloch by the Lairig Mor after work at an average 9:35 mile pace, and notable only for another soaking plus chance encounters with John O’Neill as I left the Fort and Ian and Sandra coming the other way just north of Blar a’ Chaorainn) to start explaining, here we go…
Two days ago I wrote that ‘the point [...] is finding myself able to match HRM pacing by feel and a new confidence that I can do this just as effectively for 11-, 12- or 13-minute miles as 9:37′ (this last figure referring to the run under discussion there but having no precise significance of its own). But could I really? Well, there was only one way to found out, so I headed out for another run of similar length (to Glencoe Ski Centre and back at 21.2 miles) this afternoon with the goal of trying to maintain true ‘ultra-marathon’ pace by feel and setting myself just a few simple rules to follow:
- I was allowed to check the watch twice only (once at the turn and once on arriving home).
- I should be prepared to walk up parts of the steepest/longest hills (where I’ve been running literally everything over the past week), but could pick up the pace a bit downhill so long as there was no ‘romping’.
- I should be aiming for a negative split with this course being easier in the homeward direction, but not by too much because I’d have overcooked things if I didn’t get back feeling like I could keep going forever.
So what was it like, how did I do and what did I learn? Very, very wet (again, again, with parts of the ‘hill’ path between Altnafeadh and Kings House especially being under continuous running water) for starters, but I hit Glencoe Ski Centre bang on 12-minute miling, which is just about perfect (about which more shortly). Then back at 11:03 pace (faster than I thought, but it felt so comfortable!) for an 11:31 average, and feeling very, very good. At which point I just have to note my growing suspicion that it’s never been my aerobic capacity letting me down on big runs (with my heart and lungs still capable of sustaining far more pace than my legs) but aching knees and/or shot thighs (the slowing heart rates previously recorded more likely resulting from slowing pace than causing it), and the realisation that these are going to survive ever so much further by backing off even more at the start (especially with WHW quantities of early tarmac). Or, to put it another way, start at 12-minute miling and I’ll probably still be doing that 15 to 20 hours later on WHW terrain, but buy into the popular (mis?)conception that you should make use of the ‘easy’ start to get ahead and (even at 9- or 10-minute miling, which half the field maybe think ‘slow’ for that bit) I probably won’t after starting to hurt more 30 or 40 miles up the course.
While today’s outing was also satisfying for bringing up 90+ miles of trail running over the past seven days with the bonus (not lost on me when choosing the route) of covering the whole WHW from Tyndrum northwards (and all but the Lairig Mor in both directions) within that time, its true significance (most important run of the year?) is probably in confirming the magic number to be 12. Run 12-minute miles up the WHW (when that seems to be my ‘run forever’ pace on this terrain) and I’ve got an hour’s leeway (for the inevitable mistakes, mishaps and misjudgements) in chasing my goal. Can’t tell you till 18 June whether I’ll be brave enough to start that slowly (come on, Pete, you know it makes sense!) because I probably won’t even know myself till crunch time but, if I end up running sub-20 off c.3:45 to Balmaha (won’t actually be chucking away the watch, but nice to know I can interpret the important signals without it), just remember you heard it here first!
19 May 2011
So you’re training for a big trail ultra like the West Highland Way Race, have discovered that even what you’d normally class as ‘easy’ pace is not only going to be unsustainable for the duration but disproportionately damaging later if indulged in early, need to find out what’s actually ‘safe’ to run and how to stick to it… but how? For WHW 2007 it took me ‘three months of work with a heart rate monitor to slow myself down and establish a pace I could truly maintain for the long haul’, followed by strict adherence to my self-imposed limit early in the race, then a similar strategy for last year’s WHW and Cateran Trail races. But, since I’ve hopefully taken all these lessons on board by now, am rarely using the HRM for anything else and more often than not running with no watch at all these days, I decided to try pacing this year’s Highland Fling with just the GPS watch (no HRM) in the intention of doing same for the WHW if I ‘got it right’. And here’s where things start to get interesting because not only did that work out OK, but my pacing for a return trip from Glencoe Ski Centre to Bridge of Orchy this Sunday with no HRM and barely a glance at the watch turned out to be absolutely identical (at 9:37 miling, which is 3 min/mile quicker than sub-20 WHW pace) to that from Blackrock Cottage to Inveroran (same course, but 4.6 miles shorter) achieved in March last year through religious adherence to a very narrow heart-rate band! Now, of course that’s way too fast for the whole WHW when I’m talking about pacing to slow myself down, but the point (with the key words being ‘absolutely identical’) is finding myself able to match HRM pacing by feel and a new confidence that I can do this just as effectively for 11-, 12- or 13-minute miles as 9:37.
Anyway, thought I’d try another ‘blind’ run on Tuesday evening, pushing the pace a bit more (but always comfortably) on an easier return trip from Bridge of Orchy to Tyndrum, looking at the watch just once at the turn (8:47 average out) and again at the end (8:30 overall, so 8:13 back in the easier direction?). Then to the Blackwater Dam and back last night with (as usual on my regular courses) no watch at all, but (from a glance at the clock on my return) bang on 9-minute miling. Might add that all three runs described here were undertaken in foul (wet and often windy) conditions, with Sunday’s producing a staggering 4kg weight loss in 3½ hours (even good breathable waterproofs still being unwanted layers in terms of overheating!) after consuming just two cereal bars and c.400ml of Accelerade while out and the other two done (as normal when I’m just out for a couple of hours) with nothing to eat or drink. Haven’t quite decided yet how this all affects my strategy for the all-important WHW (will probably still be deliberating through Mugdock Park!), but it’s always reassuring to know I can maintain a respectably consistent pace over fair distances without the sustenance you might assume that requires (but can’t always take on in the ‘ultra’ context). Also maybe leaning towards starting ‘slower’ rather than ‘faster’, but know I’ll be running my own race whatever anyone else does and it should (assuming no cat-among-the-pigeons, oppressive blue-sky heat!) be the right race at the right pace for me.
12 May 2011
So it’s May, the big hills are fair game for daylight evening runs again and it’s time to start hitting them during the working week. But, with some truly pish conditions now replacing this April’s (excessively) hot, dry ending, what can you do? Well (if you’re me), just go anyway… which is why I was up Creach Bheinn above Loch Creran tonight for some fresh air (got the wind, got the rain, but thankfully not the thunderstorm). Sorry, no photos, but not much point carrying (and needing to protect) a good camera when everything’s soaking and there’s nothing to see anyway (think I saw more of this hill from neighbouring Beinn Sgulaird four years ago than I did tonight), but it’s a good run and (dare I say it?) started to feel suspiciously like ‘fun’ in the end! :-)
8 May 2011
Having climbed half a dozen times over the past 21 years on the granite slab paradise on its eastern flank and admired its striking profile from all the surrounding Munros, an outing to the summit of Beinn Trilleachan was long overdue. But it took a weekend of such changeable conditions that I was reluctant to go chasing hills further from home to send me down Glen Etive today on a quick Sunday afternoon raid to grab this lovely peak between heavy showers.
So that’s now six days on the trot running after two off to reestablish my 2011 term-time norm of ‘training’ Tuesday to Sunday with Monday evenings off, but still a consciously lighter week to follow the Fling with today’s 5.9-mile jaunt bringing up just 43 overall and the soberly amusing thought that that’s pretty well what I’ll be needing on the same day to finish the WHW after a 53-mile ‘Fling’ start! Although at least this week’s unexceptional 11,800 ft of ascent tops what I’ll have left to climb after Tyndrum by some considerable margin…
5 May 2011
Some photos taken after another day spent gutting the boat this Monday, with Fly’s main cabin now stripped of pilot berths, galley, partial bulkheads and (our main target) most of the delaminated cream-cracker plywood of the original bunk tops. Quite a sight if you know what Hunter Impalas should look like inside, but Twig’s already working on the new bunk tops (talking proper marine ply and epoxy coating here) and this one will be going back together better than new after we’ve taken this unique opportunity to get all the normally inaccessible bits cleaned up and properly finished for the first time in her life.
2 May 2011
Have to admit I’d consciously avoided the Highland Fling before. Didn’t want to be pitted against my West Highland Way ‘peers’ over the same course earlier the same year, thought I just wouldn’t be fast enough over the shorter distance (53 miles) and didn’t want to deal with the psychology of being found wanting there! But last year’s Cateran Trail race (when I ran sub-10 over 55 miles to come 8th of 45 starters in what’s maybe still my best ultra performance to date) made a big difference and, while remaining non-committal about whether I was in it for a run or a race, thought I’d give it a go as my principal ‘tune-up’ this year. And so I did, quietly targeting a sub-10 finish as positive ‘psychology’ (went through Tyndrum in about 10:25 on last year’s WHW), thinking 9:30 might be possible given my Cateran time (so which is the harder course… who knows?), but probably never really expecting the same kind of dry, windy heat that made that WHW such an ordeal for those of us who’d have preferred to see clouds and maybe even some rain.
Not trying to write a blow-by-blow account here, so jumping to the finish now to tell you that my time of 9:53:48 for 51st place of 321 finishers (and apparently 383 starters) seems pretty well in line with my expectations/aspirations, providing a decent confidence booster for the WHW (positive psychology as above) while leaving no room for complacency, suggesting that I’ve now got the experience to pace a big trail ultra just as well without my heart rate monitor (John Kynaston’s souped-up results spreadsheet showing me moving from 204th fastest over the first ‘leg’ from Milngavie to Drymen to 23rd over the final one from Beinglas to Tyndrum), but also providing some valuable ‘last-minute’ lessons in fueling for such conditions. So perhaps it’s downright scary that I managed to eat nothing but a packet of crisps (which lasted from Rowardennan to Inversnaid) and six jelly babies after Rowardennan (just halfway on the ground), but I was by no means alone there, know how I came through it and know that my WHW support crew just have to accept that they can’t force-feed me if I can’t eat. That said, I’ve also got some new ideas and strategies to put to Angus, Jon and Eileen, see some productive discussion there and will consider anything so long as we all remember ‘the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men’…
So what else have I got to say here just now? Some (left) ankle and (mainly right) knee niggles early on, but managed to run them off and (touch wood) seem to have developed a good feel over recent years for what’s a niggle, what means stop and what means go to the doc. Still (despite plenty food and drink later) 3.9kg lighter yesterday morning than when I set out on Saturday and 2.3kg down today, but not really wanting to see that all back again right now when calculating a good 0.5kg of it to be proper, fat-burning weight loss! Not used to the Fling’s staggered starts, so some new experiences in catching/being caught by folk from the different starts as well as placing amongst some (eg Ali Bryan-Jones, Michelle Hetherington) I never even saw despite similar splits. And just can’t say enough good about the organisation of the whole thing from morning registration through to the finish and evening buses, with (to cite just a couple of examples) the simplest, most convenient timing chip system I’ve seen (so much more user-friendly than SPORTident dibbers or things you have to lace to your shoes!), the drop-bag system under perfect control (find drop-bags so hard to get right as ‘best-laid schemes’, but their sorting and handling was exemplary here), and really just everything done well. So perhaps I was wryly amused by the marathon-style boards for ‘sub-10′, ‘sub-11′, ‘sub-12′ etc. at the start when such things seem completely at variance with my conception of trail-ultra pacing (just thought ‘no way am I standing at that ‘sub-10′ board when I’m never taking off with those who do!’), but think that was maybe just gilding the lily a touch when (sincerely hope I’m not upsetting anyone here) it was already growing beautifully as it was! :-)