While sailing (being a sport I can’t remember starting) was — and still is (?) — my first love, the Scottish mountains have also played a major part in my life for many years. So perhaps I don’t climb as much as I used to these days didn’t climb so much in my thirties, but my fortieth birthday in November 2003 proved to be the catalyst for a return to the Lochaber hills and a new lease of life as a hill runner.
While I was neither a bold nor a particularly technical climber by the standards of my contemporaries, I climbed regularly to VS/HVS throughout my late twenties and was certainly quite fit in those days. But returning to sailing and buying my own boat for the first time led to my climbing activities becoming more infrequent and me becoming lazier, heavier and less fit! So of course I always meant to do something about that, but never really did till I saw 40 looming and more-or-less decided it was ‘now or never’. At which point, about a fortnight before my birthday and almost overnight, I started watching what I eat, leaving the car at home and walking whenever I didn’t absolutely need the wheels. Still not convinced that merely walking was doing me enough good, however, I soon found myself both running and enjoying it.
So it might have taken me years to make myself do something but, as far as I’m concerned, there’s absolutely no mystery to losing weight and getting fit. It’s a simple case of ‘eat less, do more’ (the one true diet!), which is pretty well infallible so long as you stick to the rules. So I dropped two stone (about 12.7kg) in weight over the first two months and another over the next two or three, taking my BMI from a fairly chunky 28.7 to a much more compact 22.9 (so I might be built like a brick but at least I’ve become a fit brick!), and have managed to keep myself in the lightest, fittest shape (BMI 21.9 at 1 July 2006) of my adult life ever since.
While I can’t remember exactly when I laced up my old Walsh PBs instead of my boots for the first time in years and started to run instead of walk, the moment that now seems to define this fresh start came on Saturday 20 December 2003 (the day after school broke up for the Christmas holidays), when I ran/jogged/bumbled (to quote my own words at the time) from my garden gate to a snowy Blackwater Dam and back by the Ciaran Path in under two hours for the first time. By late February 2004, despite still being ‘too soft to run all the way’, I’d broken an hour-and-three-quarters for this very rough circuit of 9.1 miles and 450m ascent, and subsequently broke an hour-and-a-half (running all the way!) for the first time in late June.
By this time I’d also twice done a double trip to the Dam and back (once to raise funds for our school Paris trip and once in training for that), set myself and achieved a series of ever faster targets on a couple of shorter training routes (the Penstock and Loch Eilde Mor being my other favourite destinations for these early runs), worn out another pair of running shoes and, much to my own surprise (but expedited by my decision to keep the boat ashore for a season), joined Lochaber Athletic Club, entered for the 2004 Ben Nevis Race and targeted the infamous ‘Triple Hirple’ (three shorter races in three days) for some preparatory competition. So I had high hopes at this stage of breaking the two hour barrier for my first Ben Race, but then things started (almost literally) to go slightly pear-shaped when I developed a double hernia for no apparent reason at all in July!
Being a school teacher with six weeks’ summer holiday, however, I found that I was still normally capable of running so long as I subsequently spent enough time lounging about to let things settle down again, so I basically threw out most of my other plans (like sailing more with others and doing some work on the boat) for the summer and stubbornly continued to train and race. By the time of the Ben Race (Saturday 4 September) I’d been back at work for three weeks and was naturally finding things heavier going but, to cut a long story short, I completed the race in the respectable time of 2:13:55 (still within 150% of the winner and more than halfway up the field) despite having to back off severely through acute discomfort on the descent. Sixteen days later I was admitted to the Belford Hospital in Fort William for surgery to repair the hernias and have since wondered (perhaps influenced by a reaction that struck me as somewhere between shock and admiration!) whether seeing my programme through wasn’t a pretty thrawn thing to do...
Still recovering from the operation when this page was first added to my site (8 October 2004), it’s been very satisfying to see my best times at age 40 for my standard training runs (see table below) start tumbling again at ages 41 (updates in green) and 42 (blue) with my return to full fitness. And equally pleasing to note that my first race since that operation (Ben Lomond 2005) was the first where I ever made my targets (in this case an hour up and half an hour down), coming away with a time (1:29:08) much more in line with my aspirations than 2004’s injury-hampered efforts. So (being neither built like a whippet nor the right side of 40) I’ll never be a top class competitive runner, but travelling light and moving quickly on the hills is still immensely rewarding for its own sake, I’m still clearly improving and hoping to nail that two hour Ben Nevis Race yet!
Since getting my Garmin Forerunner 305 (courtesy of my generous younger brother) on 30 January 2007, I’ve been re-measuring all of my ‘standard’ runs and have provisionally updated the table accordingly (NB I’ve also added a number of new courses to my repertoire since first writing this page that don’t appear here at all). But, while the distances and heights have now been checked by GPS (instead of simple map wheel measurements and attempted contour counting), that’s not the whole story yet because some of the GPS ascent totals specified (most obviously those for Seagulls’ Island) aren’t as consistent from run to run as the distances (which never vary by more than a few hundredths of a mile) and have accordingly been highlighted in red pending further checking.
Something else I should perhaps point out about my training is that (since starting to train seriously for the 2007 West Highland Way Race and build up my mileage), my regular runs have become longer and my ‘normal’ road run (to give just one example) now takes me to Camas na h-Eirghe (9.46 mile round trip) instead of Seagulls’ Island (3.75 miles). I’ve also bought John Parker’s very well-reviewed book on HRM Training, am thoroughly convinced by his arguments and have been training where possible according to his principles of alternating ‘recovery ceiling’ and ‘threshold floor’ days. Which perhaps explains the absence of new PBs to report from early 2007 because my agenda changed significantly with that single monster race in mind!
|Route (start and finish at home)||Distance||Ascent||Terrain||Time (h:m:s)||Speed||Date||Comments|
|Seagulls’ Island||3.75||6.03||532||162||Road||0:26:00||8.65||13.92||? Aug/Sept 2004||A straightforward road run for lazy days!|
|0:25:11||8.93||14.37||17 May 2005|
|0:24:45||9.09||14.62||22 June 2006|
|Penstock||4.60||7.40||1213||370||Road and landrover track||0:37:51||7.29||11.73||27 August 2004||Normally good enough under foot to run hard, but badly cut up by water erosion late 2007 and early 2008.|
|0:37:19||7.40||11.90||1 April 2005|
|0:35:36||7.75||12.47||15 May 2005|
|0:35:17||7.82||12.58||18 June 2006|
|Mamore Lodge, TV Mast and WHW||3.88||6.24||1111||339||Road, rough paths and landrover track||0:33:46||6.89||11.09||? Aug/Sept 2004||Nice short circuit with varied terrain.|
|0:33:19||6.99||11.24||23 Feb 2005|
|0:31:59||7.28||11.71||12 May 2005|
|0:31:29||7.39||11.89||25 June 2006|
|Tigh-na-sleubhaich||7.91||12.72||1659||506||Road, rough paths and landrover track||1:09:09||6.86||11.04||8 April 2006||A nice mid-length run over the high point of the Lairig Mor that joined my ‘regulars’ (but still looks like my softest PB!) in 2006.|
|1:09:01||6.88||11.06||6 August 2006|
|Altnafeadh||12.06||19.44||3494||1066||Road, landrover track and rough paths||1:57:30||6.16||9.93||29 June 2004||A double dose of West Highland Way starting/finishing with the Penstock run.|
|1:51:26||6.49||10.47||24 April 2005|
|Blackwater Dam by Ciaran Path||9.11||14.65||2391||729||Rocky paths and open moor||1:29:55||6.08||9.78||21 June 2004||It’s rough under foot and marred by a marginal ford following wet conditions, but I still love this run.|
|1:29:45||6.09||9.79||29 Jan 2005|
|1:27:12||6.27||10.08||27 Feb 2005|
|1:25:11||6.42||10.32||3 April 2005|
|1:24:40||6.46||10.38||17 April 2005|
|1:23:40||6.53||10.51||30 April 2005|
|1:22:39||6.61||10.64||4 June 2005|
|1:21:05||6.74||10.84||1 July 2006|
|Loch Eilde Mor||4.31||6.94||1648||503||Rocky paths and landrover track||0:47:12||5.48||8.82||15 June 2004||Starts with killer ascent from my back fence, but quicker coming home!|
|0:45:59||5.62||9.06||24 March 2005|
|0:45:12||5.72||9.21||5 April 2005|
|0:44:29||5.81||9.36||19 April 2005|
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