Petestack Blog

26 June 2017

No going back

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:09 pm

Some people will say they’ve heard it all before. But let’s look at the (sarcasm alert!) packed totality of my ultra racing career since the 2011 West Highland Way Race PB that saw me write ‘I’m done with competing in this race and comfortable with that where I wasn’t last time’…

I’ve come back for another go at this one race in 2014 and run my worst, ‘been ambushed by a surprising sense of peace’ after 2015’s pre-race injury put paid to my chances of going out on a higher note, and finally learned from 2017’s pre-acknowledged swansong that I’m never going to beat my worst again now when it turns out to be a whole lot better than I thought. 2014’s sickness-compromised first half was partially redeemed by a strong second, but my legs just didn’t want to play this Saturday despite good training telling me I was as fit and strong (if crucially nowhere near as fast) as ever. So I chose to drop sixty miles in at Bridge of Orchy rather than limp to a time hours slower than my previous worst, and have found the unravelling of my ‘don’t want to go out on my worst’ plan (the only real justification for my ‘guerrilla’ 2017 entry!) a strangely cathartic experience in telling me what I knew anyway and 100% ruling out another go. I don’t need a fifth finisher’s goblet with a time I didn’t want when I’ve already got four with Saturday finishes, so I’m happy (properly happy) with my decision to can it even though it wasn’t planned.

Have to say I’ve had some fun along the way, though! The seed of this one last go was sown towards the end of my run-a-day 2016 when I’d frequently find myself out thinking wistfully of this great shared adventure, questioning the reality of my participation through its now increasingly distant, almost dreamlike, quality and wondering whether I still had (or perhaps even had ever had) what it takes. So I thought I’d spring a surprise with that ‘guerrilla’ entry purposefully held back till (perhaps even only decided on) just seconds before the expiry of the 30 November deadline, and smiled knowing that 1. it did indeed take many by surprise and 2. it would be almost impossible to submit a later one. But, while simultaneously stressing that I was otherwise done with racing and WHW Race was literally the only event that could still tempt me back as a one-off exception, my intent was serious and I trained hard knowing that ‘the fire’ was back just this once. While I just couldn’t see a PB when even 2011’s marginal improvement on 2010’s nearly-as-fast time was to some extent a triumph of experience and guile over already-slowing late-40s form, I thought ‘the fire’ could carry me to something between my best and worst. But, having just consciously started slower than ever as an ‘investment’ expected to pay dividends later on then seen my pace becoming inexorably slower when I’d previously have been floating comfortably up the course a lot quicker, I now know I was hopelessly wrong there. What I had (in racing terms) has gone for ever and, while some are content to carry on racing slower and slower as they grow older, I’m not. And that, in a nutshell, is why I stopped and why there’s no going back this time. It’s gone, but there are still plenty of other (non-racing) things for ‘the fire’ to power.

To Angus, Jon and Noel, who answered the (‘Whoops, I seem to have entered a race…’) call to return as top-notch crew for a runner for whom ‘the fire’ ultimately proved insufficient, my heartfelt thanks where (as acknowledged since I first ran this race ten years ago) thanks are never enough. I’ve shared many adventures with all of you and hope for many more to come, but won’t be asking you to do this particular job again. It’s six years since I said I was done, three since I first backtracked, two since I said ‘you’ll never see me grace the starting line of that race again’, and now that I’m saying I was right six years ago. No regrets about the three subsequent entries, two starts and one finish when you sometimes have to bang your head off a brick wall to prove it hurts, but ‘no going back’ means what it says and I’m happy with that! :-)

[Photos by Angus… no, I don’t like my hat on squint in the last one, but think the image says something despite making me look worse than I felt! For sure I’d started to get a little cold from my first ‘static’ break since Milngavie, but the marshals and medic were encouraging me to continue and it was my decision alone to stop.]

4 June 2017

Hail, thunder and unfazed deer

Filed under: Running — admin @ 12:24 pm

I was looking for a long trail run yesterday and nearly went for a double Lairig Mòr thinking I could probably squeeze that out to 30 miles by running right into town rather than stopping at the Leisure Centre. But then I thought of something more interesting…

What we have here is a 25-miler on mostly rougher trail with a Graham Top and Graham to make me work (and slow me down!) in the middle. I needed both Creagan a’ Chaise and Creag Ghuanach (bar Cnap Cruinn and Beinn Chlianaig, my last listed summits of Graham height or above in the northern ‘enclosure’ of the A82 and West Highland Line), so just went and got them! And, while it was surprisingly bright and sunny (after waiting an hour or so for torrential rain to clear before setting out) in the middle of the day, I did eventually run into the predicted afternoon downpours and thunder. In the worst possible place, which is to say on my hills! So I was just on my way up Creagan a’ Chaise when the hills to the east started to get dark, grey and distantly rumbly, but (while wondering what had become of Ian Loombe on his Ramsay’s Round attempt) things still seemed OK on my relatively lowly peak the other side of Loch Treig. But then the hail (giant hailstones, which strangely pinged the arms of my specs while being too solid to soak me!) and a few visible flashes with louder/closer rumbles, and I was considering whether to retreat while there was still plenty of ‘attractive’ higher ground above me. But then things quietened down and more or less passed for a bit, so I felt justified in making a dash for the summit, though I didn’t hang about on the little rocky ridge/outcrop (giant spark plug?) that forms the highest point.

Then it stayed quiet for some time with brightness restored, so I crossed the Allt na Lairige to start up Creag Ghuanach only for the whole process (hail, thunder, the works…) to start again. And once again I considered it OK to go so far and see with plenty above me while the hail came down and the thunder briefly rumbled, and it was just at the loudest crack of the day that I saw a group of deer running on the ridge line above! So thought, ‘do they have absolutely no electrical storm sense?’ At least I knew the risks and was trying (while preferring neither to skip my peaks nor to die for them!) to manage them, but what do deer know or think? I really don’t know…

And that was it… the thunder had gone and the conditions properly cleared/brightened as I emerged onto the highest ground, so was able to enjoy a carefree topping out and good, dry run (no more thunder even when it eventually rained again along Loch Eilde Mòr) most of the way home.

Nearly forty years ago (I think I was about 14) I did my first Munro (Ben Lomond) with a group from the Scottish Schoolboys’ Club led by adults hindsight tells me should never have taken us up there that day. So, quite apart from taking three hours up and one hour down in deep snow with not an axe, pair of crampons or possibly hint of avalanche awareness in the party, the thing I remember vividly was watching the lightning forking over the Loch from our viewpoint(s) high above! Exciting but, well, you get my drift? So how many times have I been on hills of any description in a thunderstorm since? I’m not 100% sure, but think yesterday (on my wee hills surrounded by bigger ones) could be the first. Would I take a group up in those conditions? Absolutely not! For me, on my own… managed risk or headstrong desire? I’d like to think the former, but wouldn’t care to find myself caught out anywhere significantly more exposed or committing!

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