Sunday, 6 November 2011
The start was suitably low key. I'd noticed the big puddles on either side of the track 100m from the start so got myself right in the middle of the group and kept my feet dry. The section through the forest between Strathyre and Kingshouse was nice - a couple of wee hills to warm us all up then a long easy descent. I spent most of this section chatting to Graeme Reid about his superb UTMB run this year - he was very modest about what he had achieved. The first four miles flew by.
My race plan was to try and do about 9 minute miles. I work in kilometres (a hangover from my days as an orienteer) so actually I was aiming to do just under 5:40/km for the whole race. I was pretty much spot on that for the first section and it felt nice and comfortable. On the undulating section through the birch woods between Kingshouse and Lochearnhead (probably my favourite bit of the whole route, especially in the morning mist with the dew covered cobwebs in the trees) I slowed a little then got back into a good rhythm once we were on the railway going up Glen Ogle. The wee climb up to the railway was a nice excuse for a walking break and to stop and take in the view down Loch Earn. Glorious.
Photo courtesy of: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Glen-Ogle-33-Ultra-Marathon/171906002890077
I've always thought that Glen Ogle is one of the prettiest wee glens in Scotland - I used to go hillwalking with my Dad most weekends when I was a teenager and the road from Stirling to the mountains more often than not went through Glen Ogle. I remember looking at the viaduct years ago (before the cycle path was made) and thinking that would be nice to walk along. Running up the old railway on a misty autumn morning was a joy. From the top of the glen we dropped down through the woods towards Killin - a nice bit of downhill which I tried to run relaxed on and picked up the pace a little. I got chatting to various other runners on the climb back up through the woods and before long was on the flat to slightly downhill stretch back to the top of Glen Ogle. Coming up through the woods I saw the much talked about upside-down sign - I thought it was just the organisers' humour (like the "are you enjoying it?" sign, the "to pub" sign, and the "slow" written at the steep uphill on the bike path - the latter maybe wasn't the organisers) rather than meaning the sign had been tampered with. Maybe I need to be more sceptical in future.
Somewhere in the woods we had covered 15 miles which I reckoned was about half way and I was feeling good so I started trying a bit harder. My average pace to this point was about 5:45/km so it was looking fine for doing 5:40/km overall with the long downhill coming up. Pretty much from here to the finish I was catching and passing other runners which was good for my enjoyment of the race but maybe means I started too slow. The run back down the glen didn't feel as downhill as I hoped it would, but the undulating bit through the birch woods was equally nice on the way back and with half a litre of fizzy coke inside me my legs were feeling good. We hit the road at 25 miles then had about 10km to the finish - I set myself a challenge to do the last 10km in 50 minutes and settled into a rhythm that felt nice and cruisey at about 4:50/km. It felt good to be running the last few miles strongly and I crossed the line in 4 hours 24 minutes, after 30 and a half miles on a great route through a lovely part of Scotland. My average pace was about 5:22/km - a little bit faster than I had been aiming for which was pleasing. The last 10km had taken me 48 minutes.
I always start off slow on these long runs then try and finish strongly. I'd set off on this one at a pace that was quicker than I usually start at and it was encouraging to then go faster over the second half. The route was quicker underfoot than I usually run on so I probably set off to slow, but I'm not much of a road runner and get tired very quickly if I try and go faster than feels comfortable. I'm sure I enjoyed it more setting off slow and finishing strong than I would have done setting off quicker and trying to hang on, and it was the sort of day for me that was about enjoying being out on the trails rather than setting the best possible time.
I'm incredibly impressed by how quick some folk ran on Saturday - quite amazing. One of the things I like most about ultramarathons is that no-one has an elitist "them and us" attitude - it's all just one big friendly family and everyone's achievement in finishing is as valuable as everyonelses (not sure everyonelses is a word, but you know what I mean). I was chatting to Paul Raistrick after the race - apparently his parents walked the Pennine Way with my parents 40 years ago, or something like that - and he was as enthusiastic about my run as I was about his. Another very modest guy and a worthy winner.
A big thanks to Mike and Bill and their team of helpers - it was a great event. Unfortunately I couldn't hang around for long to enjoy the soup or beer as I had to take the kids swimming - I spent most of the afternoon climbing the stairs to the top of the local waterslides - not sure how that rates as a post-race recovery.
The route was excellent - perfect for this time of the year when you can't be sure what the weather will throw at you. I was keen to show my wife some of the great scenery we had seen so today me and the rest of the family parked at the top of Glen Ogle and cycled back along the route to Strathyre in more wonderful autumn sunshine - the views of Loch Earn and Loch Voil from the route are just stunning. The bike ride to Strathyre was a nice recovery since it is mostly downhill.
The cycle back up to the top of Glen Ogle to collect the car was slightly less pleasant with tired legs from the previous day, especially on the steep climb at Lochearnhead with two stone of two-year old scotch beef on the back of my bike.
Sunday, 30 October 2011
But I'm not. We had to pull out of the competition. We set off yesterday taking it nice and easy and were going fine for the first two and a half hours. Then I suddenly ran out of energy to the point where every step uphill was a struggle and my quadriceps would spasm and my legs would pretty much give way beneath me. We carried on for another couple of hours hoping it was just a bad patch but there was no improvement so about two thirds of the way round the day 1 course we decided to bail. Simon was a great team mate since he pretty much made the decision for me - that means a lot when I felt like I was letting him down. We pulled out at pretty much the furthest away point on the course so then had about eight miles down through Glen Lednock to cover before we could get a lift back to the event centre.
I had some sort of virus last week that meant I hadn't really been able to eat for the first half of the week, and still wasn't eating properly on Thursday and Friday. I think when I was ill earlier in the week I had used up all of my glycogen stores and hadn't been able to replace them on Thursday and Friday. I weighed 4lb less at the end of the week than at the start of the week, so something was missing and I know it isn't possible to lose that much fat so it must have been the other energy stores. On Saturday, as soon as I had burnt up the calories I had eaten that morning there was nothing in the tank and I ground to a halt. The muscle spasms in my legs were something I've never felt before - it was different to cramp - like my brain was telling them to do something but they weren't responding. They didn't feel particularly tired, just empty. It's frustrating because we were going at a level of effort that I know I can sustain for 10 hours on a good day. With the wind, rain, cold and tough terrain we were in yesterday there was lots of scope for negative thoughts, but I don't remember feeling particularly negative at any point - it was just that my legs didn't work properly.
It's the Glen Ogle 33 next weekend - not sure if I'll run now, I think maybe I need to take it easy for a couple of weeks to totally recover from the virus I had.
I hope the people who are out there running again today get some better weather (it seems alright so far) after yesterday. I wouldn't have fancied camping out last night. They are an impressive bunch.
Friday, 28 October 2011
I spent an hour on Wednesday evening re-proofing my rain jacket in the hope that Sod's Law would mean it would then not rain all weekend. It doesn't seem to have worked - the forecast is for heavy rain and wind all day and night Saturday, and just some light rain on Sunday.
The three mountain marathons I've done before were in the summer, and I have always said I wouldn't do the OMM because it always has crappy weather - at least I'm being proved right this weekend. We're doing a harder course than I've done before so I'm making some weight concessions from my usual mountain marathon kit, like taking cask strength whisky rather than the normal 40%.
At least the clocks go back on Saturday night so I can spend an extra hour asleep. Or, more likely, an extra hour shivering in a cold, dark, damp one-man tent with another six foot bloke.
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
We were staying in Veysonnaz, a small ski resort in the Valais canton whose name means "sunny place" and last week it was indeed. The resort is at an altitude of about 1300m, and most of my runs last week were in the 1300m to 1700m height range. The air was noticeably thinner at the beginning of the week but I adapted to it within a couple of days and can notice the difference now I am running back at sea level. We did a few family walks with me carrying a wriggly two year old in a back pack so carrying half a tent, a sleeping bag and some food in a couple of weekends time shouldn't be too bad.
The region we were staying in is becoming well known for the "bisses" - irrigation channels that have been cut across the steep mountain slopes to provide water to the orchards and villages. Some of the bisse are hundreds of years old, and since they are pretty much level and have nice trails running next to them, they are brilliant to run along. I ran along a few of the bisse in the area, but the nicest was probably the Grande Bisse de Vex.
Thursday, 1 September 2011
The idea was to use a slow shutter speed with a moving subject and track the subject with the camera so that the subject is in focus but the background is blurred to create the sense of movement. It works better when the subject (this time it's Alex) is on a bike since they themselves don't move about as much:
We got the best results using a shutter speed of 1/30 second. It was a hot day so after that wee bit of exercise we had to go and jump in the nearest river.
Over the last couple of weeks I've started running a bit more regularly and so now I'm thinking about keeping myself motivated between now and next year to keep training and hopefully be in better shape for the Highland Fling and whatever other races I end up having a go at.
So I'm setting myself some things to try and achieve before the end of 2011 that will give me something to aim for. In no particular order, they are:
1. Run 30 miles in under 4 and a half hours - I probably could get close to this now if I chose a flat route on tarmac so it'll need to have some tracks and trails and uphill on it. I've entered the Glen Ogle 33 in November so that might give me chance to do this, otherwise there's a good 15 mile loop in Carron Valley I know of which last time I ran it took two and a quarter hours to go round once only (and felt pretty knackered at the end), so twice round in 4 and a half would be a good run for me.
2. Run my 4km 220m ascent uphill time trial in under 20 minutes - I work in Perth and run up Kinnoul Hill at lunchtime quite often. Now and again I time myself from the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill up the road and to the summit. The other week I did my fasted time yet - 21:04 - so getting under 20 should be doable if I keep training.
3. Average under 6 minutes per mile for my 5 x 1 mile intervals - I do 5 times 1 mile with 800m recovery jogs, except I try and keep the recovery bits not to slow (about 8 minute mile pace). This week I averaged 6:37 per mile, which is about 10 seconds per mile faster than a month ago. I'm not a naturally quick runner so I think this one will be tough.
4. Get under 11 and a half stone - when I ran the WHW race I was 12 stone 4 lbs, and I'm a few pounds heavier than that now. There was a couple of times earlier in the year that I got under 12 stone and I was definitely running better. My problem is that Jenny makes very good scones and me and the kids love them.
5. Climb a 6b (French) route at the climbing wall - I've recently started going to the local climbing wall (the Peak in Stirling) with my son Alex and we're both getting into it. At the moment I can get up a 6a after a couple of attempts, but it ain't pretty. If you don't know climbing grades then going from 6a to 6b maybe doesn't sound much, but for me it would be a big step as it is a level I was never able to climb at when I was younger, and it seems that 6a is my natural limit - beyond that it gets too strenuous and technical.
So there you are, that what I'm going to try to do in the next four months to keep myself motivated - I'm not sure how successful I'll be but then I guess that's not really the point. Without something to aim for I would struggle to get out of bed at 5am and get out running with a headtorch, and if I don't do that then I don't get time to run.
Monday, 20 June 2011
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
1. Charge up my head torch
2. Have fish and chips for lunch on Thursday
3. Learn all the words to "Roll with it" by Oasis
4. Write "It ain't the distance that gets you - it's the pace" on my right forearm
5. Have fish and chips for lunch on Friday
The weather forecast for Saturday is pretty rubbish - frequent heavy showers. I'd prefer it nice and hot any day. Still, most other runners seem to be happy with the forecast so I suppose that's good.
My dad told me this evening not to worry about times or finishing, but just think about how lucky I am to get to spend the entire day running on a brilliant route.
If you are running on Saturday, best of luck and I hope the race goes well for you. If you're supporting a runner, I hope you have an enjoyable day and manage to avoid the rain and the midges.
See you in Fort William.
Monday, 13 June 2011
Last week was our 10th wedding anniversary so we had persuaded my folks to take the kids for the weekend and we took ourselves of for a relaxing time in Argyll. We walked up the Cobbler on Saturday - very pleasant on the way up, heavy icey rain as we had lunch on the summit, and then pleasant enough on the way back down again. So we got rained on and bitten by midges, just like on our wedding day. We stayed over on Loch Fyne at a brilliant guest house (http://www.thistlehouseguesthouse.com/) then spent Sunday canoeing and eating. We had a wee trip in the canoe out on Loch Fyne before breakfast, then headed over to Loch Lomond later in the morning.
As you round Conic Hill on the West Highland Way just before it descends to Balmaha, you have a great view of islands in Loch Lomond that stretch most of the way across the loch between Balmaha and Luss. This was the first time we'd canoed round these islands, and we headed to Inchconnachan, one of the islands near Luss. We had heard the rumours about this island's antipodean residents, and had seen some photos of them, but I wasn't going to believe it until I saw them with my own eyes. We landed on the island and went for a wander through the knee deep blaeberry on the forest floor, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of one of the inhabitants. Then we met two very chilled out individuals who just sat and watched us for a while before hopping off into the woods.
Brilliant! Apparently the red-necked wallabies were released in the early 20th century by some posh person who had a holiday home on the island. Now there is a breeding population (there was a joey with the pair we saw - it is just out of shot in the thicker woodland), but there has been talk of a cull as there are also capercaillies on the island and supposedly the wallabies being there is endangering the capercaillie population. It would be a real shame if they were culled but I kind of get the point about protecting native animals.
After Loch Lomond we went for another short canoe on Loch Achray in the Trossachs then lunch at the Byre Inn at Brig O'Turk (really good - I had battered haggis balls). It was nice not to feel like I should be doing some running, but my arms were pretty tired at the end of the weekend - more from lifting the boat on and off the roof of the car than the canoeing itself.
Monday, 6 June 2011
I haven't done a huge amount of training since the Fling - one 30+ mile run and a handful of 13 to 15 mile runs. I've been doing a bit more speedwork (not really a change in training strategy, more to do with only being able to fit a short quick run in at lunchtime now work has got busy), and I'm doing the intervals quicker then I ever have done before so that's encouraging.
I've had a couple of family weekends with no scope for running - the best one was a trip to Northumberland to go to the Farne Islands (indescribably brilliant at this time of year - a real feast for the senses) - which have been good fun and have been a good check on getting carried away and trying to do much training this close to the race.
My plan was to take it easy for the two or three weeks leading up to the race, but the weather was so good on Friday I had to get up early and go for a run up Carleatheran before work. It was superb to be on the hills so early when it was warm and still. I had some more brilliant views of Stirling as I headed back home. It was one of those runs that make you glad you are a runner.
Then on Sunday I went over to Carron Valley in the morning to do a fairly easy 15 mile loop on good tracks - the plan was to go at a similar speed as I would start the WHW, but I got over excited running through the windfarm (I think it was the speed and sound of the blades over my head) and ended up pushing it a bit over the last 5 miles. It was good though to be able to cruise along much quicker than I intend to run any of the WHW but for it to still feel pretty easy.
I think I'll probably do one or two more 10-ish mile runs this week, but nice and slow and probably after eating my dinner. Then next week I'm looking forward to not doing much more than a couple of jogs whilst eating fish and chips for lunch most days and having a few beers most evenings as my preferred form of carbo-loading.
Monday, 16 May 2011
I left the car park at Aberfoyle just before 5am (I needed to be back home by lunchtime to do some family stuff) and followed the Rob Roy Way (a waymarked trail from Drymen to Kenmore) for 10 miles over the Menteith Hills and around the east end of Loch Venachar to the Ben Ledi car park. The route over the Menteith Hills was a nice easy warm up for the bigger hills to come. I'd last been over these hills nearly twenty years ago and the small trees I remembered where much bigger now - I'd been looking forward to some of the views I'd remembered but now all I could see was conifers. At the small lochan at the high point on the path I saw an osprey quite close to me which was a good start to the day. On the descent to Loch Venachar I had some good views of Ben Ledi, looking ominously big across the loch.
I reached the Ben Ledi car park in just under two hours. I changed from my trainers into my inov-8 running boots (I was a bit worried about twisting an ankle on the hill paths) and set off up the hill. I felt really good on the climb and in about 50 minutes I was at the top of the hill. Ben Ledi is just under 3000 feet but is probably one of the most prominent mountains in the Southern Highlands as it sits right on the southern edge of the hills. Looking north and west from the summit there are mountains as far as you can see, while looking south and east you can see for miles over to the Ochils, the Pentlands and the Campsies. I set off west from the summit, down through some pretty rough and rocky terrain to eventually pick up a track leading down into Brig O'Turk (there were lots of hidden holes and rocks on the descent so I was glad of the extra ankle support from the running boots). I followed forest roads round the south side of Loch Achray, stopping to take a photo of the church I got married in nearly ten years ago as it was momentarily picked out in the sunshine.
I headed past the Achray Hotel and started climbing up through the forest towards Ben Venue. Once out of the forest I took the direct route to the summit rather than following the dog leg route the path takes - it was steeper but the going was good through short heather and blaeberry. I reached the summit of Ben Venue and took a few minutes to enjoy the views. Ben Venue may not be very high (about 2,400 feet), but you get a lot of mountain for your money and the views over Lochs Katrine, Achray and Venachar are fantastic. The bigger mountains to the north (Stob Binnein and Cruach Ardrain) looked impressively high from the top of this wee hill.
I took the path down from Ben Venue to Kinlochard - I had been hoping for a nice easy cruise down the hill, but the first couple of miles were pretty rough and rocky - quite similar to the WHW path between Inversnaid and Beinglas. The run through the oak woods just before Kinlochard was uplifting. I stopped in Kinlochard to change my shoes again (back to the trainers now) then followed forest roads round the south side of the loch and past Lochan Spling back to Aberfoyle.
In total the run was 33 miles with 6,000ft of ascent. It was a really good route - I had thought about trying to run on some of the second half of the WHW before the race in June, but didn't really have the time to drive up there. I think I probably enjoyed this run more than I would have enjoyed running over Rannoch Moor say - I prefer to get to the top of hills on training runs, as you can tell from the elevation profile...
Friday, 13 May 2011
First and foremost a good food for ultrarunning needs to have some carbohydrates in it. My Go gel has 87kcal in a 60ml serving, all of which come from carbohydrates - maltodextrin to be exact, which I understand to be a form of glucose - but save from a few flavourings, colouring and thickener, that's pretty much it, no salt, no protein, no fat. It is reckoned that you can digest about 200kcal to 250kcal per hour while running, so that would mean having at least two gels per hour. SIS Go gels claim to be isotonic so I expect there are more punchy gels out there.
A 250ml carton of Alpro chocolate soya milk has 175kcal in it - about 40kcals comes from unsaturated fat, 35kcal comes from protein, and 100kcal comes from carbohydrates (sucrose and dextrose a.k.a. glucose). Some studies suggest that if doing endurance sports for many hours then taking in around 10% to 15% of calories as protein can help to minimise muscle damage. The same studies suggest soya protein is the best option as it is easy to digest. Each carton also contains 0.4g of salt and some B vitamins. Personally, I think a mixture of calorie sources rather than just "clean" carbohydrates is better for a long slow burn, and should help to smooth out the energy peaks and troughs I used to experience on long runs (certainly I didn't experience them on the Fling). Plus I like having a steady intake of a little bit of salt.
So I think gels are optimised to deliver energy in short sharp bursts, whereas by some happy accident Alpro soya chocolate milk is good for the longer slower stuff. I reckon when it comes to ultras, gels get 7 points and Alpro gets 8.
2. Taste and ease
Gels are easy to take - tear the top off, squeeze it in your mouth, then neck some water to wash it down. I'm yet to taste one that couldn't be described as nasty though. I think gels are pretty easy to digest - I've never managed more than two on a run but that's more to do with taste rather than not being able to stomach them. The Alpro cartons come with a straw attached and they are easy to drink on the hoof. It is true they don't taste as nice as an ice cold chocolate milkshake made with ice-cream, but they aren't bad - more like a choc-malt shake than chocolate. They are much nicer than gels - it's not even close. I find the Alpro milk very easy to digest - on the Fling I drank nearly 2 litres of it. There is even a strawberry flavoured option for the metrosexuals. The Alpro cartons are UHT so there is no need to calculate defrosting rates and such like to ensure you can drink them as and when required. Gels 4 points, Alpro 7.
There are a few times when I have felt totally empty with no energy in my legs whatsoever, and then ten minutes after taking a gel I feel like I can bound up mountains. So gels work, and the work quick, but that feeling generally wears off after twenty minutes or so. On the Fling, there were a couple of times where I started to feel a bit low on energy (but there were no sudden crashes) so I would have a carton of Alpro and soon enough I could feel my energy levels starting to pick up. The effect was slower but I think lasted much longer. I think it's pretty much evens on this one - I'm going to rely on Alpro for the bulk of my energy needs, but will always carry a gel or two in reserve for emergencies. 8 points for gels, 7 points for Alpro.
4. Value for money
This is perhaps the most important consideration for Scots and Yorkshireman. Gels are pretty much a pound a piece. At two an hour for the WHW race that starts to get pricey. I can get three 250ml cartons of Alpro at Tesco for 85p, and since they're bigger I reckon I only need one per hour. So the soya chocolate milk works out at less than a sixth of the cost of gels. Gels 3 points, Alpro 9.
So there you have my not particularly objective assessment of what is better - chocolate soya milk scores 31 points, gels get 22. I'm sure chocolate soya milk isn't perfect for everyone, and it does have some side effects (an almost uncontrollable desire to stop and hug a tree, or to wear flowers in your hair while running), but it works for me and I think if you're struggling to find the right ultra fuel for you, then it is worth giving chocolate soya milk a try.
Monday, 2 May 2011
I spent the preceding week eating like a horse and not doing any running, so by Saturday morning the tanks were full (and then some) and I felt raring to go. I was out of bed just before six for a quick breakfast of porridge and coffee then left the house a bit earlier than I needed to as I wanted to stop and see my dad running somewhere near Dumgoyne as I drove over to Milngavie. Dad was starting at 6am so the timing was perfect and I saw him at the bottom of Dumgoyach just where the WHW joins the old railway. Just about everyone looked very comfortable at this stage - unfortunately Rosie Bell had fallen and cut her leg very badly so I was glad to be able to give her a lift back to Milngavie.
I started at 8am and took it very very easy through the woods. I'd started between the 10 hour and 11 hour signs in the underpass, and was probably about a third of a way down the field as we crossed the line. As soon as we started, loads of folk went running past me and by the time we were heading down the hill from Carbeth I think I was almost in last pace. I was sticking to my planned pace though and reckoned I would see most of the folk that had gone past me later in the day. I ran a short section near the start with Colin Knox - I follow his blog so it was good to meet him.
I went through Drymen at 1:57, about a minute up on my 10:15 schedule and feeling very comfortable. As we climbed onto Conic Hill I started to pass people who had started quicker than me. I felt great going up the hill - I guess that is the benefit of only really doing hilly runs when I'm training. Loch Lomond looked stunning from Conic Hill - what a day.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
So it was very encouraging tonight to read John Kynaston's detailed plans for the Fling and to see that within his nutritional arsenal are a few bars of tablet. I'm relying on a diet of tablet, chocolate soya milk, salt and vinegar crisps and coke to get me through the race on Saturday. Not disimlar to a teenager's lunch judging by what I see the local school kids buying in Asda at lunchtime. I like my coke full strength and fizzy - none of this watered down flat stuff that seems to be popular. The only other thing I'm planning on having is water, though I'm going to take a sachet or two of Diarolyte with me in case I need a bit more of a salt boost. I'm aiming to have a chocolate soya milk every hour for as long as I can stomach it, then I'll move on to my teenager lunch box.
Pace-wise, I'm gooing for the old "start slow and get slower". I finished the Fling in 2009 in a hair under 10 and a half hours, so it would be nice to beat that time - maybe 10.15 is possible if things go my way. It would be great to get under 10 hours some day, but there's a bigger prize to be had in June so I don't want to push myself too hard on the Fling this year. My dad is running this year, and he'll be starting 2 hours ahead of me at 6am. He'll definitely take less than twelve hours and I'll definitely take more than ten hours so unfortunately (and hopefully) I won't see him until we are both in Tyndrum.
I recorded my highest ever seven day mileage in the week ending last Sunday - 83 miles. I hadn't planned on doing so much but was up in Newtonmore at the weekend and went for a run up a local munro (Carn Dearg) with my sister on Sunday morning. She is a fell runner and is a bit obsessed with running in rough terrain so rather than follow paths we seemed to spend a lot of time running through knee deep heather, tussocks and peat bogs. Maybe not the best taper, but a nice run in the hills. The path along the ridge of Carn Dearg in the morning sun was a joy to run. We saw an eagle too.
I'm taking it easy this week so will hopefully feel full of beans on Saturday. The forecast looks good and I'm really looking forward to spending the day running and walking on an excellent route.
Best of luck to everyone else who is running - it'll be great.
Saturday, 16 April 2011
Last weekend I had a nice couple of runs on Greenham Common and along a bit of the Kennet-Avon canal, and I was cruising along at what felt like at an easy pace but was a bit quicker than usual. So hopefully a few weeks of low mileage hasn't done me any harm. I reckon a good five or six weeks of training from now and I should be okay for the big one in June.
We were on holiday in Dorset the week before last. It was great - very relaxing and lots of time to spend with the kids. The place we were staying had a roller disco rink - perfect since we got our daughter roller boots for her birthday recently, and treated ourselves to a pair too. I sneaked out for a couple of runs - one of them along a section of the South Coast Path on a perfect sunny morning.
Thursday, 17 March 2011
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Rather than follow the road all the way to Carron Bridge, I went via Lewis Hill and Sauchie Craigs - a great place to run at any time of the day, even in the pitch black with a headtorch on. There was a bit of drizzle as I headed through the woods, and a strong wind on top of the hill, but the weather forecast was for some sun later in the morning so I wasn't too worried. I joined the road after about 5 miles, and there was no sign of life as I passed the hotel and holiday cottages at Carron Bridge a few miles further along the road. I followed the Tak-ma-doon road uphill out of Carron Bridge towards Kilsyth. About two hours and ten miles after leaving the house (I was aiming for a very nice and easy pace for the day), I turned off the road and followed a grassy path to the summit of Tomtain.
Tomtain looked pretty unimpressive as I climbed up it from the road, so I was pleasingly suprised by the great view that appeared as I reached the summit, along the ridge to Meikle Bin and over Carron Valley Reservoir to Stronend and Carleatheran - the next 15 miles of my route were laid out in front of me. There was a small, indistinct path leading along the broad ridge towards Meikle Bin - every 50m or so I was ankle deep in cold water as the path crossed mossy bog after mossy bog. After about four miles through the tussocks and bogs, I turned right through a break in the trees, heading for Meikle Bin. The path reached a new level of muddiness, but once out of the trees the climb up to the summit was grassy and dry. I'd looked at Meikle Bin lots of times from the hills nearer Stirling, but this was the first time I had actually been here. I felt the usual excitement I get as I approach a peak I have never climbed before - I know it's a not-quite-2000-foot high hill fairly close to Glasgow, and not an unclimbed Himalayan giant, but I was happy enough to be there for the first time. The views from the summit were again much better than I'd expected, and the path that led down to the reservoir looked very inviting.
Heading down through the woods towards the reservoir, the sun was shining and the birds were singing in the trees - it felt like spring was here a couple of days early - and then I came round a bend to find a pack of huskies chained up at the side of the track. I passed the west end of the reservoir and headed up a wide new track towards the Earlsburn windfarm. I'm a bit of a fan of windfarms (I'd much rather look at some wind turbines than a coal fired power station or a concrete dam), so I'd been looking forward to this part of run - getting up close to these truly impressive machines. I followed the track for about five miles through the windfarm before heading over the grouse moor towards Carleatheran.
When I reached the summit of Carleatheran, I sat down on the lee side of the cairn - out of the wind and in the sun it felt quite warm, so I sat there for about ten minutes drinking a milkshake and enjoying the situation (on this run, I'd been trying out drinking Alpro chocolate soya milkshakes - each 250ml carton has 175 kcal so I was having roughly one an hour - they were great, really easy to drink and digest, and I felt that I had plenty of energy all the way round the run). It was 10am by now so I phoned home to check everyone was up and let them know I would be home in about an hour. The path down from Carleatheran is an absolute joy to run on, and the views over the Touch reservoirs towards Stirling were wonderful in the morning sun.
I hit the road with two miles left to go. I'd felt good for the whole run, though I had been intentionally taking it very easy and not pushing the pace. When I got back home I'd covered just under 30 miles in just under 6 hours - about 7 miles has been on road, 7 miles on boggy moorland, with the rest on decent tracks and trails. The route had about 1200m of ascent. I was really pleased that I did not feel too tired and still had enough energy to chase my kids round the park in the afternoon. All in all a great way to spend a Sunday morning.
Sunday, 27 February 2011
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
I got them as walking boots primarily, but liked the fact that I could run in them. They were £60 from Northern Runner. They are pretty much MudRocs with ankle support, and I've been wearing these to run in since doing my ankle. I get more funny looks than usual if I wear them with shorts, but that's okay. They are fine for running - they weigh less than a typical pair of trainers, have got excellent grips and are very flexible and responsive. I'm thinking that I might wear them for the WHW section between Kingshouse and Kinlochleven since I've heard it is quite rocky and hard work on tired legs and feet (if I get that far).
So I did about 30 miles last week (16 were on the run I hurt myself on, the rest were a few easy runs on soft ground). I've started doing some ankle strengthening exercises - brushing my teeth with my eyes closed standing on one leg (right leg in the morning, left leg in the evening), and feel likeI'm running quite well this week. I guess I'll need to be careful when I stop wearing the boots since I expect it will take a month or so for my ankle to get back to full strength.
Monday, 14 February 2011
It was perhaps a bit of karma catching up with me since my 18 month old son Jack dropped a saucepan lid on his toe earlier in the day on my watch, and now has as black a toe nail as I have ever seen. Hopefully social services aren't reading this.
Yesterday we took the kids to Amazonia at Strathclyde Country Park. I was enormously proud of my 5-year old daughter as she was first in of the queue with her hands held out when the guide asked if anyone wanted to hold a tarantula. At the same time, a few Glaswegian hard cases cowared at the back of the room, not wanting to get too close to the hairy arachnid. Bunch of woosses.
Friday, 11 February 2011
Performance benefits - studies seem to indicate that compression socks delay the onset of muscle soreness and reduce the amount of muscle damage done by running, although there are mixed findings on whether or not wearing compression socks at the time actually improves performance. I wouldn't be suprised if many of the claims made by brands such as Skins are not entirely supported by independent, robust, scientific studies, but there is undoubtedly some benefit to wearing compression socks when running long distances. The scientific community is largely silent on the benefits of wearing ski socks while running. Anecdotal evidence (i.e. me) suggests that wearing ski socks keeps your feet and calves nice and warm thereby improvin blood flow in the area and keeping things from getting to sore. Compression socks 6, ski socks 3.
Value for money - my Skins compression stockings cost just over 20 quid, and they don't even cover my toes. I've never spent more than £3 on a pair of ski socks and they do cover my toes. Compression socks 4, ski socks 9.
Ease of use - Skins compression socks have to be hand washed and they fall down a lot and give me blisters. Ski socks can be bunged in your mixed load and tend not to fall down. Compression socks 5, ski socks 7.
Other benefits - Skins compression socks look pretty much as cool as knee length socks can and make you look a bit serious, whereas ski socks pulled right up will always look nerdy. But, ski socks keep your feet nice and warm even when you are running through ankle deep, cold, wet mud. Compression socks 6, ski socks 4.
So in total compression socks score 21, and ski socks score 23. I think compression socks probably do have a physiological effect, but I'm not convinced that you can't get the same effect from wearing a pair of much cheaper ski socks - certainly when it comes to post-run recovery. If you get sore calves or achilles when running, I think it would be worth trying a pair of ski socks, if not for running in then for wearing after your run (you can get away with it provided you're not wearing shorts).
Next week, its Ibuprofen versus Emu Oil.
Sunday, 30 January 2011
A few months ago I discovered a website that will list all UK trig points in order of how far away they are from any postcode, so yesterday in a homage to the good people of the Ordnance Survey I ran a big loop starting and finishing from my house and visiting the five trig points closest to it. Stirling sits in a wide valley surrounded by hills, with lots of good vantage points in the area, which means that the trig points around here are perhaps more spread out than in other areas. The loop looked good on paper - I'd guessed it was a bit over 30 miles, and three of the trig points I would visit I knew well as they were on some of my favourite running routes. I would be visiting two that I had never been to before, and would be passing through places I had never previously visited.
I left the house about an hour before the sun would come up. It was a cold, frosty morning, which I hoped would mean that most of the boggy ground I would be crossing later would still be frozen. The first trig point was Lewis Hill, about 4 miles away at the top of the crags above North Third Reservoir. I knew this part of the route well so I tried to relax and settle into a nice easy rhythm through the old quarry, watching for rocks in the beam of my headtorch. A forest road then winding path through some old beech woodland led me onto the crags and to the top of Lewis Hill (266m, trig point no. 1 of 5) in a little over 45 minutes. As I approached the top the trig point looked great silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky with the crescent moon hanging above it.
As I dropped down from the crags to the North Third dam it became light enough that I could pack away the headtorch. North Third reservoir looked stunning in the early morning light so I stopped for a couple of minutes to enjoy the moment and eat some chocolate custard.
The next few miles were then across largely trackless moorland. I picked up some sheep tracks and buggy tracks for much of the way, but the short sections of tussocks and heather in between were hard going - it was difficult even to walk through without feeling like I was trying a bit too hard at this early stage in the run. Soon enough I joined up with the track I usually take to run up Carleatheran (485m, trig point no. 2), and I was now on familiar territory until I reached the top having covered 10.5 miles in about 2 hours 15 minutes. Carleatheran has staggering 360 degree views, but just after I reached the summit a snow shower swept in from the North and blocked them out - not such a bad thing as I knew how far away the final trig point of the day looked from here.
I retraced my route back down the grassy buggy tracks heading East from Carleatheran then set off through more heather and tussocks towards Scout Head (215m, trig point no. 3). Again I managed to follow sheep tracks for much of the way - the sheep round here don't have vertigo judging by some of the routes they take along narrow ledges on crags. I was descending all the time and really enjoyed this section as it felt I was running effortlessly through what looked like pretty rough terrain. I entered the forest, where the fallen branches and a small search for the trig point slowed me down. By the time I found it, I'd covered about 14 miles in just under 3 hours.
I sped up as I followed the forest track down to the road, then the road towards Cambusbarron. I kept telling myself to take it easy on this section as it was tempting to push it a bit along the road after the last couple of hours on the rough moorland. I turned off the road about half a mile from my house, resisting the urge to call it a day after 17 miles and head home for a late breakfast, and followed paths and farm tracks to a footbridge over the Forth and along a fishermens' path. This was another of the bits of the route I had never been on before - the thing I was enjoying most about the route was discovering these new paths and link routes, and planning how I would fit them into some new running routes. I started to feel a bit tired and stiff on the short climb up Knock Hill (104m, trig point no. 4) - 21.5 miles covered in 4 hours 15 minutes.
I took the most direct route to Dumyat (418m, the final trig point of the day), following roads for about a mile through Bridge of Allan, then an undulating track along the back of Stirling University. By this point my distance awareness was in ultra mode, and the miles were ticking by at what seemed like a much faster rate than early in the run, even though I was going about the same pace. I tried to conserve energy as best I could, knowing that the climb onto Dumyat was brutally steep at first and that it could easily make me grind to a halt. I walked most of the way up Dumyat, managing a slow jog on a few flatter sections - it's a popular hill and there were plenty of walkers out, slightly bemused as they watched someone dressed like a runner staggering slowly to the top. When I reached it I'd covered 26 miles in 5 hours 20 minutes.
I retraced my steps back down Dumyat, running a bit stiffly down the hill and trying to imagine how much more uncomfortable the descent into Kinlochleven would feel in June. As I passed Logie Kirk I started to feel really tired and the final 5 miles on roads through the centre of Stirling on a Saturday afternoon were so different to most of the rest of my route that I wished I had more energy and could have taken a more interesting, but longer, route home. About three miles from home I passed a runner skipping along in the opposite direction, and I'm sure he must have thought "do you call that running?" as I shuffled past at not quite ten minute mile pace - next time I'm going to get an "I've done 30 miles already" t-shirt to wear in such situations.
I got home after being out for 6 hours 40 minutes, having covered just under 33 miles and having climbed (and descended) a bit over 4000ft. I'd really enjoyed the route, in particular the way that basing it on the 5 trig points meant that I'd had to cover new, and sometimes more difficult, terrain, rather than just run the tracks and trails I know well.
So, if you're looking for inspiration for a new long run route, dig out your local Landranger, get on to www.trigpointinguk.com, and plan a route round the five trig points closest to your house. My gut feel is that it will be about 30 miles long, will take you to places you haven't been before, and will perhaps remind you how lucky we are to live in such a beautifully mapped country where the inspiration for your next adventure is folded up on your bookshelf.
If you do try it, I'd be interested to hear about your route.