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.