Petestack Blog

21 May 2017

Betwixt and between

Filed under: Running — admin @ 5:03 pm

Now here’s a tale of clag-enveloped peaks, complex terrain, contact lenses and the absence of reading glasses or lens-on-a-string combining to lead me astray and seek consolation/justification in a statement of the blindingly obvious. Which is quite simply that you’ll go wrong if you can’t see what you need to see (in this case not just the hills but the map and GPS as well)!

So I was looking for something to run on the way back from Oban because I had a contact lens check there yesterday morning, and settled on the interesting-looking round of three Grahams between Barcaldine and Bonawe. But I was surprised to get away from Specsavers still wearing my contacts when I’d expected to be changing into my glasses there, so hit the hills with contacts but no reading glasses or lens-on-a-string (my typically more practical, optician-suggested alternative). Which basically meant that I couldn’t read map or GPS detail at all, even zooming right in on the GPS. Which proved somewhat problematic because the terrain was complex and the weather flattered to deceive by closing right in after an encouraging (if brief) initial view of all my peaks. So all I could do was cross-reference what I could see of the map to what I could see of the GPS, and you’ll note that my track lurches about in an almost ‘drunk’ manner as I struggled to hold the high ground on long, vague ridges with innumerable bumps and knolls to confuse the issue and the clag limiting my views of same to the very ‘local’. That said, everything I did (including that final descent with great dogleg of a finishing flourish and my unknowing failure to visit the true summit of Beinn Mòlurgainn at all) was logical from what I could see at the time, and I left content to have picked up my three Grahams and Graham Top in such miserable conditions. Until I downloaded my track and looked at it, that is…

So what happened on Beinn Mòlurgainn? I’d remembered (from the SMC Grahams & Donalds guide) there were two summits, but assumed from what I could see of both hill and map that point 622 was one of them. So came to what I took to be the summit (in truth the lower top), which the map shows to have c.20m prominence (convincing enough if you can’t see the saddle or true summit beyond), looked like a summit, felt like a summit and (confirmed by revisiting today) came complete with cairn. So of course I then started descending towards Meall Dearg, and you can see how it happened if you remember I could see neither true summit nor detail on the map…

Anyway, to cut to the happy ending, I was back today in my (varifocal) glasses to put things right and ran in via a good deer track through the woods above the River Esragan to do just that. While still not getting quite the superb views promised by the SMC book (could see Starav, Trilleachan and Creach Bheinn but still no Cruachan, for which I’ll need to return yet again sometime), I could see enough (including more local hills, map and GPS!) to both collect my missed summit and confirm my previous day’s mistake as understandable. To which I might just add that this is a great wee group of hills that had virtually escaped my radar before. The clockwise round is pretty runnable over Beinn Bhreac and Màm Hael before becoming less free-flowing from the crossing of Beinn Mòlurgainn to summit of Beinn Mheadhonach, where the fine north-east ridge I ascended yesterday proved to be surprisingly steep, well-defined and sportingly scrambly. But how this cracking little peak got its name puzzles me when I’m struggling to see it as the ‘middle’ of anything!

As for contacts vs. glasses, the jury’s still out but tempted to say both suck when glasses can become virtually useless through rain or steaming up and contacts leave me with potentially insoluble reading problems where the reading glasses or lens-on-a-string don’t provide the whole answer and even varifocal contacts probably wouldn’t work for me…

15 May 2017

Circles on the coffin road

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:24 pm

While I could tell you I enjoyed the good trail through the flat-floored, almost ‘secret’, hanging valley of Coire an t-Suidhe so much I had to run it three times (once northwards and twice southwards), I’d be lying when the ugly truth behind that third visit to such a delightful place is that I simply made one of the most inexplicably bad navigational mistakes of my life…

Tonight’s run over the historic coffin road/miners’ path from near Strontian to Polloch started well enough bar a much smaller mistake when I missed the turn at Scotstown. But it was coming back that I really surpassed myself, taking a short-lived ‘path’ the wrong way after rejecting the inauspicious-looking alternative I’d descended barely three-quarters of an hour earlier as ‘wrong’, compounding the error by refusing to reverse 100m or so and trying to outflank the forest instead, digging myself an even deeper hole by diving into said forest (fine if you like wading through mud with twigs poking out your eyes!) when the flanking manoeuvre led to a steep burn in a non-existent gap rather than the clear space suggested by the map, and all the time failing to notice I’d become disorientated and was heading completely in the wrong direction! So three thoughts on popping out into the coire… 1. thank goodness I’m out of that forest, 2. this looks familiar and 3. damn, what an eejit!

Apart from that it was a good run and I enjoyed most of it. But good thing I’m strong enough to take what I get myself into!

13 May 2017

Tempting tracks

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:46 pm

Today’s run was not 100% what I had in mind, but close enough…

The original plan was to take the ridge of A’ Chruach the whole way to Rannoch Station and return by the track/path, but I followed this tempting, runnable ATV track off the summit that took me away from the ridge but saved traversing some more peat hags!

At 24.2 miles, it interestingly turned out slightly shorter on the ground than taking the track/path both ways and didn’t take much longer, perhaps because the hill wasn’t really much harder than the ‘telegraph pole’ section of the regular route and I was properly fuelled this time. A’ Chruach is a strange, sprawling mass of a Graham with its highest point Stob na Cruaiche about as un-stob-like a ‘peak’ as you could imagine. Having skipped the eastern extension of its ridge, I did briefly consider just doubling straight back along the Loch Laidon track to Kings House, but dismissed not continuing to Rannoch Station as ‘cheating’ when I’d set out with a certain mileage in mind. Strange how I somehow contrived to have the wind in my face in both directions, and (with the long, dry start to May finally coming to an end) I did also encounter something I believe to be called ‘rain’ on the way back, but I was happy enough with my time of just outside 5 hours when the good track at either end stops for the hill and the ‘path’ in the middle of respective outward and homeward legs. Also happy with c.62 trail/hill miles from four days (well, mostly evenings) actual running since Monday giving me a third day of the week ‘off’ tomorrow. One good thing about fewer, longer runs is getting more breaks, which I can really appreciate (even when tempted to forgo them) knowing what a year of basically running daily three-milers did to me.

8 May 2017

Strontian running

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:37 pm

Two Mondays a fortnight apart, and two evening runs after a day’s work in Strontian. Hard now to believe the first was snatched from an iffy late April day with periodic snow showers, but tonight (perhaps registering the continuously sunny start to May?) I finally rolled up my sleeves and carried the unworn hat and gloves I could probably also have left off on Saturday!

While the first run was good after the false start (I nearly innocently said ‘dead end’!) of the graveyard in taking me through fine woods in a fine glen up to the old lead mines, the real ‘wow factor’ of the view (when not obscured by sometimes-white precipitation) inevitably came from the proximity of my much admired but only once previously visited peak of Sgurr Dhomhnuill. So of course I went back for it this fine evening, taking more or less the same route but starting from the higher Forestry Commission car park I ran past last time and ascending the alternative path below the mines I meant to come back down before but didn’t after missing its less obvious top end. And that’s about it really… a fabulous run in hot, but clear, conditions with great views from a rugged peak I’ve truly come to love for both its shapely presence in views from everywhere and fitting quality on increasingly closer acquaintance. To which I might just add (almost as an afterthought) that I’m starting to feel pretty fit as well! :-)

7 May 2017

Lairig Quartet

Filed under: Running — admin @ 12:25 pm

Two days (Thursday and Saturday), two runs I’d rate among the finest of their type anywhere, four famous Lairigs (Eilde, Gartain, Ghru, an Laoigh) and three fairly ordinary runners…

With Saturday’s run weighing in at nearly four times the length of Thursday’s, this post could just as easily have been titled ‘Little and Large Lairigs’. But there’s nothing ‘little’ about my favourite Glen Coe ‘Two Lairigs’ run repeated on a bright and breezy Thursday evening as a prelude to Saturday’s meatier Cairngorms circuit apart from its relatively modest length of about 8.5 miles. It’s big on quality and big on scenery, but the Cairngorms Lairig Ghru/Lairig an Laoigh circuit at the thick side of 32 miles through higher hills is just, well, bigger!

So I was going to do the Cairngorms circuit anyway but thought some company might be nice, asked if anyone wanted to come, and Donna MacDonald and Keith Mabbott both jumped right in! So I picked up Donna on my way through the Fort yesterday morning, we met Keith at the Rothiemurchus trailhead, and off we went. And you might just get some idea of scale from the very first photo if you can spot Keith and Donna on the trail into the Lairig Ghru with Lurcher’s Crag towering up above…

Now the Lairig Ghru was quite busy and we met numerous parties including a couple of quite big ones traversing the pass from south to north (i.e. coming towards us). Including the one in the sixth photo above, where we found ourselves talking (small world in big scenery?) to the wife of the second Vet 50 in last weekend’s Highland Fling race! But then after the drama of the big, rough Lairig Ghru comes a change that’s as dramatic in its own way as you turn eastwards through (well, initially towards) Glen Luibeg to the softer landscape of Derry Lodge and Glen Derry. And here, in a country of beautiful old Scots pines, flatter ‘floors’, sparkling water courses and good tracks, we started to meet the mountain bikers (sometimes clearly as initial access to a walk higher up) as well as more walkers.

If turning the first ‘corner’ eastwards out of the Lairig Ghru is an important moment in the psychology of the whole route, turning the second northwards at Derry Lodge not so very long afterwards is doubly so when you’re talking approximately half-distance and heading towards your starting point (albeit still many miles distant) for the first time rather than further away. Not that I was ‘counting’ when I was enjoying myself so much and prefer (so long as it remains enjoyable) just to keep living for the moment on a run like this, but I’m sure it was a help to Donna trying to pace herself carefully on the unknown quantity of her first ultra-distance run. And what can you say about Glen Derry except ‘wow!’, when the third photo below in particular just brings home the continued change in character from the first ‘corner’ and emphasises the otherworldliness of this flat-floored glen where you find it. (You can see the pass of the Lairig an Laoigh where we’re heading directly above Keith and Donna to the right of Beinn Mheadhoin and left of the trees.)

Still a long way to go, however, so I broke out the jelly babies to help fuel the team up to the Lairig an Laoigh, where we saw a helicopter apparently on exercise but were otherwise alone (just the three of us) for a few miles till we started meeting folk again on the penultimate major ‘corner’ round Bynack More.

So then you start to feel like you’re getting there as you come round Bynack More and down towards the Ryvoan Pass, but you’ve still a quarter-distance (equating to a whole Glen Coe Lairigs run) to go. But it’s very runnable and, while taking the uphills on the steady side, Donna had Keith and me working hard enough to reel her in downhill whenever we stopped to take photos or whatever!

And you have to finish in style, so Donna wanted a finishing tape and I (poised with camera) just yelled ‘right to the van, Donna!’

Now here (out of the main sequence of my photos) are a few pics I’ve ‘borrowed’ from Keith to prove that I was actually there and not just a solitary apparition at the Fords of Avon! You might wonder at the constant long sleeves, hat and gloves on such a warm day, so I just have to tell you I was thinking sun protection with the sleeves, the hat likewise stayed on mainly to protect the top of my head and I almost always run in gloves even when short-sleeved and hatless because my hands tend to run cold (sometimes debilitatingly so) at any time. So perhaps I look overdressed in the photos, but never felt particularly so…

So (while most of this post has been about the Cairngorms circuit) how do the ‘little’ and ‘large’ Two Lairigs compare? Well, they’re both classics of their kind, which is to say among the very best mid-level, through-hill, trail runs you could imagine. The ‘little’ one (Glen Coe) works for me as a midweek evening run whereas the other (Cairngorms) is a major expedition which even more capable candidates than us might be pushing to complete as a casual evening outing. Much as I love the shorter one, the more ‘epic’ scale of the longer probably ultimately gives it that extra something. The best run of its type and distance on the planet? So many great places I’ve never been but, on a day like we had, quite possibly… on which note I’m certainly deeply satisfied and know Donna’s ‘still buzzing’! :-)

29 April 2017

Long way to Leum Uilleim

Filed under: Running — admin @ 8:08 pm

Last time I did Leum Uilleim (yes, the ‘Trainspotting’ hill!), I took the train from Fort William to Corrour. But today I did the ‘intégrale’ from my own door…

It’s a route I’d had my eye on for years with Leum Uilleim’s bulky presence looming large in so many expeditions to the east and me liking to join all the local dots, but I’d never decided exactly where to go and was still deciding on my way round! So I took the new hydro track up to Loch Eilde Mor, along the initially muddy path which becomes so much nicer as it climbs away from the Loch between Meall na Duibhe and Meall Beag to Meall na Cruaidhe, past the Ciaran Bothy, round the three tops of my peak, down across the foot of Coir’ a’ Bhric Mòr on a long, pathless section back to the monument, and home by the Blackwater Dam and Ciaran Path. At 21.8 miles of mostly runnable ground and easy gradients it’s not a huge outing, but still quite a meaty one where the terrain’s rarely properly ‘fast’. The short leg from Leum Uilleim’s summit to the South Top is a little more gnarly than the carefree ground before, with the highest point of this last top (approached in clag which limited my views from when I left the first summit till I was descending) apparently a kind of unmarked fin/micro ridge north of the only visible (but tiny) cairn, but the long, pathless section was (despite occasional bobbly and/or wet bits) mostly pretty decent going. Despite the exaggerated size of the Ciaran Water as mapped, all fords could be paddled at no more than ankle depth and, apart from a pair of ‘Corrour’ walkers on Beinn a’ Bhric (the West Top), I met no-one between Loch Eilde Mor and the Blackwater Dam.

22 April 2017

What I already knew about shoes and insoles

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:18 pm

It’s common sense really, with long experience and the generally good judgement that comes with same not providing magic immunity from the simple facts… the proper place for discarded running shoes and tired insoles is the bin, not a rack in the porch in case they still prove ‘useful’ sometime! So I’ve just spent weeks (or is that months?) squeezing a bit more ‘life’ from various shoes I’d stopped using years ago while I considered what to get next… should I be surprised that I’ve had to work round a couple of ankle/foot injury niggles? No, of course not, and, having finally got some strong, supportive, new trail shoes with good sole thickness and made up some more of the magic insoles, things are rapidly becoming clear in a what-I-already-knew kind of way!

So what did I get and why did it take me so long? Answers: Mizuno Wave Mujins and I was unsure about size. I used to take size 46.5 in the (sadly now discontinued) Wave Harriers, but necessarily moved up to 47 for the last two pairs I bought and have been carefully hoarding, having just broken out the first of those two quite recently. But I don’t want to trash the irreplaceable Harriers on runs that don’t need them (they’re basically the ‘hilliest’ shoe I still use), so still wanted something for more ‘everyday’ courses. The Mujins looked the ticket at attractive online prices, but (without being able to try on) what size? 47 because I now need a 47 Harrier, or 46.5 because an old pair of 46.5 Ascends I should have chucked long ago still fits just as well? So I ordered the 47s, had doubts, thought I’d better try the 46.5s (which came yesterday), spent some time comparing indoors then finally thought I’m committing to at least one pair of 46.5s and kicked myself out to run in them hoping I was right. And I was. So I ordered a second pair and arranged return of the 47s (not normal behaviour for me because I basically only buy online when I’m sure) when I got in, then wore them again today for a longer run to Luibeilt with spontaneous return over Glas Bheinn finishing down the steep new hydro track to test those toes. (The differences between 46.5 and 47 were quite subtle, but both felt ample in the toes where 47 seemed just that tad overlong in the heel, and I was right!) So there’s an old pair of Ascends in the bin, another old pair of something got chucked a week or two back, with two more old pairs (Hokas and Asics road shoes) due to join the Ascends out there, and the remaining niggles are already subsiding fast. But we’re not surprised, are we? Hence the subject, ‘What I already knew about shoes and insoles’!

15 April 2017

Ignore, monitor, stop!

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:45 pm

It’s something most experienced runners probably develop a kind of sixth sense for… we all get (injury) niggles, but what matters and what doesn’t? Can I just keep running blithely on (today, tomorrow, next week), do I need to watch this or should I stop now? I’ve basically developed my own three-point scale (ignore, monitor, stop) and it’s worked for years. Of the three categories, ‘monitor’ is possibly the most interesting because ‘ignore’ and ‘stop’ are pretty clear-cut self-explanatory! Twelve days ago I followed several weeks of five-days-on, two-days-off, increased mileage with five consecutive rest days to give a front-of-ankle niggle (irritated tendon or tendon sheath?) more time to settle. So this was a classic ‘monitor’ case, which I then put to the test last Saturday on a planned 10-miler to Lairigmòr and back which somehow became a 13-mile hill run with a spontaneous diversion to ‘return’ over Mam na Gualainn and Beinn na Caillich… a change that was both tempting on a gorgeous April late afternoon and I felt justified as largely slower, more time on feet than pounding. And pleased to say it was fine, with the ankle feeling great and nothing to monitor or ignore, but then that niggle in one ankle was replaced by a different one in the other foot on a short village run the very next day. So another day off, three days on (with respectable mileage) and another rest day yesterday because I’d arranged to run with someone today and was prepared for another longer rest period afterwards if necessary. And, while I felt said niggle at times running through Glen Coe and over the Devil’s Staircase with Angus Mehan today, it actually feels better tonight than it did yesterday. So another case of play-it-by-ear, listen-to-your-body, but I’m confident it’s just ‘monitor’, not serious and can be properly dismissed by listening to said body as necessary…

Oh yes, and I enjoyed running with Angus. He’s the son of a friend, training for the Glencoe Marathon and really running on this class of rough trails for the first time, so it was great to be able to help by guiding him over ground I know well and hopefully trying to get across some useful stuff. :-)

3 January 2017


Filed under: Running — admin @ 5:23 pm

It didn’t start as a plan to run 372 consecutive days. But salvaging just over 50% mostly ‘token’ running days from a busy final two months of 2015 seemed like pretty poor show, so I set about chasing a January ‘streak’ to make up. Then continued into the start of February for good measure before realising it was a leap year and starting to get further silly ideas…

So how often do you get the chance to run the whole of a calendar leap year? Unless you’re expecting to live through the year 2100, just once every four years, and, if you are, not quite even that! So you’ve been running daily since 29 December and haven’t ‘wasted’ much pre-2016 streak… what could be more natural than targetting the calendar 2016? Except that you also need three days of 2017 to balance the three from 2015, making a total of 3 + 366 + 3 = 372. It’s irrefutable ‘Peter logic’, so don’t argue with it!

The rules? Basically at least three miles and (later) half an hour a day, but I’ve accepted over 25 minutes and under three miles (same as ‘Marcothon’ rules) on some occasions. Personally I’d be looking for at least three miles on the road, but normally only run on roads to get to hills and trails, so have counted some 2.6-to-3.0-milers (less than 1% of the total, and mostly back in January and February) involving steep/rough trail, of which there is plenty round here to slow you down. Most of my runs have met the dual criteria of being at least three miles and at least half an hour, and I’d insist on that if starting again knowing I was going for the year.

What about illnesses or injuries? You just have to keep going! I’ve had to run a few days with leg injury niggles, one with probable food poisoning, a couple with a stinking cough/cold and a couple of weeks with significant upper-body discomfort after I fell over a trestle outside my workshop door in pitch dark! The leg injury niggles were mainly my own fault. Back in March we had one-mile Sport Relief walk/run at the school and I was out supervising. Walked the first half-mile lap of pavement in my regular working clothes (including soft leather shoes), then stupidly ran the second, caught a lot of kids and finished with very tight hams. So might have wrecked the whole thing just two-and-a-half months in, but thought I might as well try my daily run because I’d blown it anyway if I couldn’t, so forced myself to jog one of my shorter courses that evening and managed to run it off over a few (?) days. The food-poisoned and other health-compromised runs weren’t a lot of fun, but I was far enough into the year for all of them not to take no for an answer!

Travel, visitors, busy days, other activities and/or nasty weather? Still no excuse! Had to suss out tiresome logistics like running after (non-running) winter hill days or running first thing before supervising DofE Bronze day 1 and evening after return from day 2. So, with other trips away, courses, meetings, concerts, heavy works in the garden etc., a fair number of runs overall at times (or in states) that weren’t exactly convenient. Likewise the weather… plenty of foul, wet and/or dark runs endured as well as the odd storm (e.g. Barbara and Conor over Christmas 2016) braved. It’s really not practical, this every-day-come-what-may lark, but (while acknowledging that others have achieved far longer streaks that are not for me) good to have done it once!

So how do I feel? Tired. Strong but slow. It’s a completely different challenge than training for and/or completing an ultra run, and goes on even longer! I’ve probably notched up one of my lowest-mileage years through the preponderance of shorter runs in this restless daily programme, but still find myself creaking in a few places and (literally?) miles from my fittest, fastest or lightest shape. Also thought ongoing Achilles and under-heel niggles might be a problem earlier in the year, but curiously seemed to eventually run them off months ago. Does this mean some bits have actually come out stronger despite the daily, no-rest bashing? Dunno, but certainly interested to see how they respond as well as what happens re. general performance/fluidity with the normality of running most days restored after a short break.

Would I recommend it? Well, I’m neither going to say try it nor don’t! Having some concerns even about the 31-day ‘Marcothon’ (which I’ve just completed by accident) as a popular challenge, I’d have to say that pig-headed continuous streaks may do you more harm than good and pig-headed continuous years may do you more harm than pig-headed continuous months. If you’re a regular runner with the experience to classify your own injury niggles as ‘ignore’, ‘take care’ or ‘stop’, I wouldn’t try to stop you any more than I’d want you to try stopping me. But I don’t think you’ll perform at your best on a continuous streak. I really don’t. While I have the undoubted satisfaction of having set a daft target and stuck to it, whether I’ve come out of it (despite current tiredness) with a stronger-than-otherwise base for a more-sensibly-maintainable programme of whatever mileage remains to be seen…

1 January 2017

Light streaming from the hill

Filed under: Running — admin @ 2:34 pm

A striking moment on this first day of 2017… I’d run up past the Grey Mare’s waterfall to the marble bench, then along to the cattle grid from where I can see the big pinnacle of the Aonach Eagach where I’d scattered part of my father’s ashes to wish him a Happy New Year. And then, just as I’d started back and was coming to the point at which that pinnacle’s lost from view, the corrie and glen my side of the pinnacles were lit up by streaming rays from the low sun behind the ridge to the south. Now perhaps it was just serendipitous timing, but still enough to stop me briefly to tell him again that I loved him. And then that magic light was gone, but you can see why folk have wanted to interpret natural phenomena as ‘signs’ since time immemorial! :-)

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