Sunday, 30 January 2011

A 5 trig points challenge

I have always been a big fan of OS maps - sometimes I like to read a Landranger the same way someone else would read a book. I can happily spend an hour or two pouring over a map, planning routes and imagining future adventures. The well known quote "a good map is both a useful tool and a magic carpet to far away places" pretty much sums up the feeling I get from unfolding a new OS map for the first time.

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, 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.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

It's dangerous being a dad

I did about 26 miles of running last week - not the greatest week of training. It started well - on Sunday evening I had a great run. We are lucky to live across the road from a small woodland, and I can do a 1.5 mile loop from my house on nice forest trails with about 100m ascent on the loop and great views from the top of the hill. So on Sunday evening I got my headtorch on and set off to run round the loop four times. My eldest son and daughter had the job of timing each loop so they spent an hour at the living room window watching out for my light coming through the woods then writing down the time that I passed by the house. They had a good time looking out for me, and I really enjoyed the fact that they were involved in my running, and also I got a big cheer from the house every time I passed by.

The view from the top of the 1.5 mile loop

During the week I did a few nice lunchtime runs on Kinnoul Hill in Perth, and had planned on a long run on Friday evening but felt like I was starting to get a cold plus my youngest son had a fever so I decided I was better off at home.

And now I haven't run for the last four days either. On Saturday I injured my foot going too fast down the flumes at Grangemouth swimming pool, then on Sunday evening I injured my back practicing dance moves with my daughter in the kitchen. My foot feels alright now but I think it might be a couple more days before my back is better. I had a lot of fun getting the injuries so I won't complain too much, but in future I might leave the waterslides and disco dancing to the kids.

Yeah, right!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Trail Runner magazine and 2011 week 2

For Christmas I got a two year subscription to Trail Runner magazine. It's an American magazine with a definite lean towards ultra running. All the articles on races and routes have a very heavy American bias (though in the latest issue there is a photo of the Dolomites) so are perhaps as not as relevant to me as they could be, but the writing is inspiring and the photos are excellent and it makes a good read. And there are a lot of pictures of shoes. The latest issue has an article on winter training which advocates lots of hill running. The magazine has a website with a few of the articles on it, including a whole section on nutrition which seems to be a hot topic at the moment. There are also some free digital editions to look at.

I found it quite useful to write about my first week of training so thought I'd share what I did in week 2 (last week) as well:

Long run: I didn't do either a 4+ hr run or consecutive day 2+ hr runs so didn't really tick this box in week 2. That said, my hilly run was quite long...

Hilly run: rather than spend Friday evening on the sofa watching telly with my wife and a cold beer, I ran from the house to Bridge of Allan, met up with a friend from work and we both ran up Dumyat, and then I had to run home again (via Sainsburys garage for a bottle of coke). All in it was 17 miles with about 500m ascent so that'll do. Dumyat is a prominent wee rocky hill on the end of the Ochils just north of Stirling, and it has a great path to the summit which makes a good run up and down from Bridge of Allan, Stirling University or Causewayhead. There's a short, sharp hill race up it in May each year.

Intervals: I did a hilly fartlek through the snow on Kinnoul Hill in Perth one lunchtime, which was almost enjoyable.

Cross-training: 40 minutes on a rowing machine watching Bruce Parry ride a reindeer.

There were a couple of other wee runs as well so I managed 33 miles in the week. I have a bit of arthritis in my big toe, and after the 17 mile run on Friday night it was very sore, I think due to too much tarmac and me wearing my trainers sans sorbothane. It worries me a bit since I have had all sorts of compensation injuries in the past, some of which have lasted for ages, so for the time being I am going to concentrate on running trails and hills and not worry about recording big mileages.

Week 3 is going well so far, including one run that was a bit of a revelation.

Monday, 17 January 2011

2011 - progress so far

It's been a while since I've posted anything - I was too busy over Christmas playing with Lego and Scalextric, and since then I've been back at work and that takes up too much time. It's a New Year now and I've officially started training for the WHW race. There has been one revolutionary change to my training for this year, which is my training week running from Saturday to Friday now, rather than Monday to Sunday as in previous years. It is a subtle but important change that will hopefully mean I will no longer spend weekends trying to decide between making up my weekly mileage or spending time with the kids.

As you may or may not remember, my training plan is more about trying to do a balance of different types of run each week rather than having a strict plan of what run I want to do on each individual day. My key objectives each week are to do either one 4+ hour run or 2 x 2+ hour runs on consecutive days, do a hilly run with at least 400m of ascent, do some sort of interval training, and do some cross training.

So for week 1 of 2011, this is what I did:

Long run/runs - I did a 20 mile, 4 hour run from the house, mainly over boggy moorland and with about 900m ascent, hence the rather pedestrian 5 mph pace. This was a great run as I managed to do two things I have been meaning to do for ages. First was to recce part of a 35-ish mile route that I have been thinking about for a while (and which I'll hopefully run sometime in the next month or so), and second was to check out what appears to be a path that slants up through the northern escarpment of the Gargunnock Hills just south of Kippen (Standmilane Crag to be precise). The path was quite an exciting way on to the top of the moor, though it was difficult to get to so I expect it will be while before I go that way again. The route took me over the top of the wonderfully named Carleatheran (gaelic for "tip-toe over frozen bog") which is always a pleasure. Here's a couple of pics from the route:

The frozen Touch Reservoirs, Stirling and the Ochils - I love the views from these hills

On Standmilane Crag - can you spot the path I had come all this way to see? No, me neither, but it is there somewhere.

Hilly run - at 10am on the 1st of January I was standing next to a trig point, altitude 485m, having run there pretty much from sea level. Tick.

Intervals - not this week...

Cross-training - we did a couple of six or seven mile walks during the week, so I reckon they count.

So my weekly mileage was 37 miles, and on top of that I'd walked about a further 13 miles, which I was happy enough with, and I had enjoyed almost every one of them.