Petestack Blog

25 June 2011

Post-race excuses

Filed under: Running — admin @ 7:30 pm

So… with a week already slipping by since the big race to mull things over and post-mortems apparently all the rage (well, John Kynaston’s got two big blog posts of them!), I thought I’d try one too. But there’s really not that much to say apart from the one thing I was reluctant to highlight too strongly before, with me now thinking my performance was impacted (and possibly significantly) by the cold/infection I picked up the week before the race and still haven’t fully shaken off yet. So my failure to sustain my easy pace for longer, quite severe Ba Bridge/Glen Nevis nosebleeds (not things that normally afflict my running) and continuing blocked(ish) nose/rough throat this week all point to a compromised performance and I don’t think it’s clutching at straws to say so. How much it was affected is harder to say, but instinct tells me that, having maintained 5mph average on a much hotter day last year to round about Inveroran/Forest Lodge before fading with dying quads, I should have been able to sustain 12-minute miling in conditions that suited me better (and off a more measured start) to Glencoe or even Kinlochleven this time round. For sure, the splits will show me to have run more evenly than most with an almost unwavering 12-minute pace to Inversnaid and my race time of 20:44:26 equating to a 13:06 average over the full course… but Inversnaid is barely half the distance I should have been able to keep up my starting pace and, between you, me and the internet, I thought (despite my public target remaining sub-20) I was going to duck under 19:30 (there, I’ve told you all now)!

So perhaps I should be considering another go if I was ‘robbed’? But no… because, while staking all those months of effort on peaking for a specific day to see it so compromised by random chance might be the way of competitive athletes the world over, I’m afraid it’s just not terribly appealing to me and if anything strengthens my resolve not to keep coming back and banging my head off a potential brick wall. And, while I should maybe have gone much faster this year, it’s only numbers in the end and I’ve already found the acceptance over 2010/11 to deal with that. So let’s just leave it there for now, with a wee footnote to add that, after a lazy week when I’ve been resting the inflamed tendon (probably not, in only really flaring up Sunday/Monday, a significant factor in my performance) and eating too much, I’m starting to get out again with a walk over the school cross-country course (c.2 miles) yesterday to check for storm damage and 20-mile cycle (= low impact with the tendon still not quite fit for running over rough ground) round the Loch this afternoon. :-)

21 June 2011

What price ‘improvement’?

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:55 pm

Another West Highland Way Race (my third and last as a competitor!), another mixed experience and another style of report to set alongside 2007’s dual-perspective runner’s/support crew narratives and 2010’s bullet-point summary

Now, this was the race that wasn’t supposed to be (with 2010 my sole serious attempt to go sub-20 hours) but allowed to happen on the assumption (maybe presumption!) that I could still run sub-20, was going to and basically had to to justify the obsessional effort and sustained sacrifice (not much climbing done this winter after juggling WHW training with WML preparation!) required to get there. So why am I apparently happy with a new (5 min) PB of 20:44:26 when I should be gutted to miss the big target and the effort that’s gone into this year’s marginal improvement doesn’t even begin to compute?

Well (for a start), it doesn’t have to ‘compute’. So it might have been (was!) obsessional and sustained enough to stop me doing much else and might even have cost (at a quick guestimate) an hour’s training per second improvement, but scoring it purely on those terms can only belittle so many independently worthwhile days and evenings (things that bring me alive regardless of ‘purpose’) spent on hill and trail. What’s more, it’s the absurdity of this training/improvement ratio that ultimately brings (rather than denies) satisfaction with the achievement and the acceptance (knowing I’m still wide of the mark despite my best shape and strategy ever) that was still eluding me after last year’s race. You might think me defeatist for conceding an element of wishful thinking and abandoning the quest now but, with three finishes from three starts (2007, 2010 and 2011, and each quicker than the last), Saturday’s race completed in pretty good shape (no blistered soles, trashed quads/hams etc.) bar the tibialis anterior tendon sheath inflammation (nope, I hadn’t heard of it either!) that’s kept me off work for the first time on a post-race Monday (+ Tuesday!) and no evidence whatsoever to suggest I’m capable of going much faster, it’s time to call it a day as a competitor in this race.

So what about this ‘best shape and strategy ever’? Taking the shape as read (best training/taper, most miles and fewest niggles, with only last week’s cold really messing things up at all) and concentrating on the strategy, my even-paced 12-minute miling (no partying on the hills!) was spot-on in taking me a long way on fresh legs and proving that I’d learned not to spoil previous steady starts with the kind of romps over Conic Hill and up Loch Lomondside that bite back 50 miles later. Might add that, in also managing to follow another of my golden rules (don’t sit down… and I never did!) from start to finish, it was never my legs that were the problem (with only the increasing discomfort at the base of my right shin a concern) when they’ve more often than not been the limiting factor before. Since it wasn’t my heart or lungs (neither of which were ever stressed) either, that pretty well just leaves my head and stomach, and here’s where things start getting more difficult to assess. You’d think your head should be able to keep pushing you along fine when legs, heart and lungs all seem to be going well, but it’s just not that simple. So I wasn’t surprised to drop off the 12-minute pace for a bit north of Inversnaid with the most tortuous section of the course made slow and slippery by conditions otherwise suiting me much better than the 2011 Fling/2010 WHW heat, but more at a loss to explain why I couldn’t get back on it through Beinglas and beyond (Angus sounded so disappointed when I phoned him my time) when experience told me I should have been able to maintain it most of the way. But sometimes you just can’t maintain voluntary control of your head… you might think ‘mind over matter’ and all that and assume that finding the pace many hours later to cover the final 3.5 miles down Glen Nevis in just over half an hour equates to holding back too much earlier, but take note of Matt Fitzgerald’s words in Brain Training for Runners, where he says ‘the fact that exercise fatigue is brain-centered rather than muscle-based does not make it any less real or any more surmountable by willpower.’ So it’s not necessarily a sign of mental weakness to find yourself struggling (as I did) to maintain 13- to 14-minute miles when you’re convinced you should be doing 12s and yet be able to pull those 7s, 8s and 9s out of the bag with the end in sight (Fitzgerald’s ‘end spurt phenomenon’). As for my stomach, ultra hydration/nutrition is never easy but, with Angus’s records showing me to have been maintaining as steady an input as reasonable, some occasional inability to keep taking more on is no more or less than you’d expect… although whether I could forgive anyone but my brother, three-times support crew and companion on many, many adventures for feeding me hot Accelerade some 60 or 70 miles up the course is another matter!

Some bad patches to report where at one point I’d (delusionally!) seen myself serenely 12-minute miling up the course without any, but nothing especially grim by ultra standards with one slight ‘can’t eat or drink’ queasy spell somewhere I can’t quite remember and a series of minor mishaps (spontaneously bleeding nose, falling asleep on my feet after a mere 20 minutes’ in-car kip since Friday morning and a tortuously slow walking climb from Ba Bridge) between Forest Lodge and Glencoe about the worst of it. Some moments shared with friends whose plans were unfolding with varying degrees of success including Keith Hughes (on his way to a PB) early on, Gav McKinlay at Beinglas (surprised to catch him there, but happy to see him finishing strongly later) and John Kynaston not much further north (in a bright green top and about to become embroiled in a unpredictably prolonged battle to the finish). Then a surprisingly tired-looking Mike Raffan, who caught me again later in time to start playing leapfrog (along with Neil Rutherford) through Glencoe Ski Centre and Kings House, and a succession of encounters up to and through the Lairig Mor with Ross Moreland (‘no, Ross, I’m not showboating on home ground when I should be going much faster and I don’t care if I get beaten by a ginger!’), Ali Bryan-Jones and Drew Sheffield… with Ali and Drew nearly paying the price (quote, ‘there’s some guy catching us up’) for waltzing past in my own backyard when a mere 50 seconds separated the three of us at the end (not to mention Craig Stewart, who I don’t remember seeing, just another 119 seconds ahead of Drew) after my second- or third-wind, bringing-back-the-nosebleed, Glen Nevis sprint!

So what’s left after all that? The usual inadequate but heartfelt thanks to my indispensible support crew of Angus, Jon (who finally got to join me at Lundavra after being told I was still too fast at Kinloch!) and Eileen, and same to the whole race team and everybody involved. Congrats to Richie and Jan-Albert for the sharp-end battle that once again left me four hours adrift at the final checkpoint, to Thomas for his stunning PB in 4th place and to Kate, Sharon and Debs for a ladies’ battle of equal class. So perhaps I might have hoped to beat all the girls till I heard Kate was running, but now also concede Sharon (who by all accounts gave Kate the fright/fight of her life) and Debs (who told me at the start she was going to whip my ass… and did!) to have been out of my league (PS you’re a warrior, Debs). As for me, think things went well enough even if we could argue that I was found wanting in the end… it’s so easy to say you’re targeting sub-20 (or whatever), it’s non-negotiable and nothing else will do, but so hard to actually go get it. And hard to be sorry when I managed to salvage both sub-21 and the PB with that kick all the way down Glen Nevis (what a buzz that was)… not to mention the small bonus of later realising that I’d got (just) within 5 hours of Jez’s record! So I’m done with competing in this race and comfortable with that where I wasn’t last time. But of course there are other things to go for… not sure they’ll necessarily be racing when I’m wanting to get back to climbing, sailing (incuding yacht racing, yes!), the big hill rounds and running for the sheer joy of it rather than because I have to (please, I’m just a guy who likes running!), but we’ll see.

All photos © Angus Duggan

14 June 2011

Not just runners’ hypochondria!

Filed under: Running — admin @ 8:28 pm

Too many ‘what if’s in this all-your-eggs-in-one-basket, big-ultra game! So you’ve trained sensibly but (necessarily) obsessively for seven months to hit your best ultra shape ever and tapered conscientiously to be strong and fresh for the big day. But what if, you jokingly muse, it all goes belly-up through factors outwith your control? What if the whole thing’s called off at the last minute (as nearly happened to my first WHW Race in 2007) for flash-flooding danger? What if the roads are blocked (as happens quite regularly on our single-carriageway trunk roads) and the race team/support crews can’t get through? What if you pick up some nasty chest infection through constantly working with children who don’t stay at home when they’re ill? What if you find yourself at the doctor’s on the Tuesday of race week looking at an upper respiratory tract infection? Oh, wait… now where was I at 9:15am this morning?

So I’d initially put Friday’s headache down to dehydration from the D of E exped over Wednesday/Thursday and run on Thursday evening and just drunk some more. Likewise Saturday’s dizzy turn on Beinn Mhic Chasgaig to under-fueling and just ate some more. Hoped I could simply put other symptoms down to runners’ hypochondria but, knowing things actually felt a bit rougher than that yesterday and this morning, was lucky to get a very prompt appointment with one of our resident miracle workers… who asks about the symptoms, checks my ears, temperature, pulse, blood pressure, throat (bit raw), lymph nodes (bit tender, but that shows my immune system’s working), breathing (listening all over my front and back) and tells me yes, it’s real (not just psychosomatic) but no, I’m probably not needing a miracle because I’m likely over the worst of it already, should have ample time to recover for Saturday but to come back Thursday if still not right. Not advising antibiotics just now because my chest’s absolutely clear, there’s nothing gooey (my own sanitised term!) for them to attack and they could be counter-productive in terms of side effects, but to keep hydrated and take Paracetamol (my Lemsip Max will do fine) because it’s got some other useful property (I forget what) beyond pain-killing. Also agreed that my suggestion of ditching tonight and tomorrow’s last little tapering runs might be a good one, but of course I was feeling better this evening, did my last little hill run and think I’m still likely to do tomorrow morning’s planned last little jog round the village. So am I playing with fire here? Hmmm, maybe, dunno, don’t think so but, if I am, I’m a big boy now and hopefully experienced enough to play with fire… on which note Saturday’s race plan remains a real slow burner in attempting to maintain close to even pace at something like 12-minute miling for as long as possible, which I’m expecting to see me well down the field through Balmaha, Rowardennan, Inversnaid and maybe even Beinglas before hopefully taking me through to a top-20 finish. So stuff the respiratory tract, hope (as seems increasingly likely) we get weather that lets me run the way I like and bring it on!

11 June 2011

Tapering on Beinn Mhic Chasgaig

Filed under: Running — admin @ 8:48 pm

Tapering for a big effort can be so hard to judge, being theoretically simple but practically affected by other (external/immutable) factors. So how do you score that two-day D of E expedition (Wednesday/Thursday) from Corrour to Kinloch in a ‘tapering’ context, being low-intensity but significant time-on-feet when tapering should maybe be more about maintaining the intensity and reducing the volume? (The answer after some thought in my case being to almost dismiss the c.18 miles of walking involved and head back out after a couple of hours’ break for a proper wee 7.9-mile burn up to Tigh-na-sleubhaich and back in the hope of salvaging about 30 of the 35–40 miles of running I’d have had down for this week without the exped… although whether the trade-off should be scored on quite those terms is anyone’s guess!)

Fancied a short but interesting hill run today to keep on track for said 30-mile target, and that’s exactly what I got this afternoon with a 6.7 mile/2,600 ft traverse of Beinn Mhic Chasgaig in Glen Etive (a proper west coast hill where last weekend’s trip to Ben Wyvis was more akin to a run through a 3,000 ft high ‘park’!). So I crossed the single-plank bridge at the bottom of the Allt Coire Ghiubhasan and turned from one gorge to another to follow the bouldery gully of Coire Aiteil before taking the northerly ridge off for the stunning prospect of Stob Dearg ahead, but ultimately couldn’t give that much attention to the view as I found myself having to pick my dizzily undernourished way down with some care (not to mention craving for the banana I’d left in the van for my return)! Happy with the taper, however (need 5 or 6 miles tomorrow then another big mileage cut to a 15–20 mile ‘week’ with some rest over the final few days), feeling strong (maybe in the best shape I’ve ever been for this kind of thing) and hoping everything’s coming together just right for something special in Saturday’s 95-mile monster…

4 June 2011

Marine diesels and Munro tops

Filed under: Running,Sailing — admin @ 10:23 pm

A carefully planned double act today, combining a trip to Dingwall to take Fly’s engine to Brae Classics for blasting and repainting with a run over Ben Wyvis, and everything going like clockwork till my five-week-old windscreen got chipped (fortunately nothing like as badly or conspicuously as the one it replaced) by a flying stone somewhere down Loch Lochyside on the way home!

Not much to say about the engine here except that the original paintwork’s not very robust (repaint should be better), with the photos not surprisingly saying more about a unit that sat in a laid-up yacht with broken dehumifier for several years than one that’s only done three seasons (2002, 03 and 05) afloat…

And so to the run, with Ben Wyvis proving ideal at this stage of my WHW Race preparation not just for its proximity to Dingwall but for being the sprawling mass of clean, springy ridge terrain and gentle gradients (giving me 18.2 miles of delightfully easy going for only 4,800 ft of ascent) that possibly makes it the best summer running hill I’ve tried yet. So of course I’m ‘tapering’ now but, having already cut this week’s Tuesday to Thursday mileage and taken Friday evening off to try the new mower that brought the curse of the rain with its order and delivery several weeks ago, today’s run was both planned and needed. Some indecision on the descent, perhaps, with my instinct that straight off Tom a’ Choinnich looked the way to go fighting my curiosity to see why Irvine Butterfield’s book gives the more roundabout route off Carn Gorm (you can even see the wiggle in my track as I wavered on Carn Gorm itself)… to which I can only add that instinct seems right in this case with the ‘Butterfield’ route adding nothing but the only boulder field on the mountain, a path that’s taking you further and further in the wrong direction and a longer bog-trot to get back to your starting point. But not to worry when that bonus boulder-hopping practice and boggy mileage could yet prove crucial in realising my big race aspirations (yes, I’m joking) and, notwithstanding the unforeseen, unwanted and unavoidably unlucky sting-in-the-tail glass chip, it was still a great day out!

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