Monday, 14 March 2011

For Those About to Run (We Salute You)

I can't even face a bottle of Yop! today, that's how serious it is.

The first signs of Deadly Manflu were evident last Monday when i came home from work and instead of going for my second run of the day i had an hour in bed instead. I thought i was just a bit tired after a few weeks with some pretty hard running but i've now had the sorest sore throat ever encountered by a human, i've been feverish for days and now all the glands in my neck are swollen and sore. But  today's most serious development is a loss of appetite... that's when i know it's bad.

Hence a blog post. You know when one of those comes around i'm either tapering, recovering, injured or ill. 

It seems a world away from Caesars now. I felt recovered pretty quickly and put in some good mileage in November and December. In fact December was great for training with all the snow, it was also good for getting in night runs on Benarty because it's so much easier to see with snow cover reflecting the torchlight so much better. I clocked up the best part of 400 miles in some really testing conditions and felt like i was reaping the benefits in January with some good strong runs. I thought i'd have a go at the Country to Capital race in London as a first ultra of the year but it proved to be a bit of a mistake. It was just far too flat and too much canal path/road for me, as a result i really struggled to run well and didn't enjoy it at all. I don't think i'll do another race like that again unless i can put in the right training (i.e flat stuff) ...but i always say that!

It's been kind of stop-start since C2C with a hip niggle causing me to take 10 days off running and now it's been a week since i've even managed a run... oh well here's to a resurrection at Hardmoors 55 on Saturday!

Paragliding above Loch Leven

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Caesar's Camp 100

I first looked at doing the Caesar's Camp 100 last year but because of the Commonwealth Champs it just didn't fit in, so, when I heard that the Tooting 24 hour race had been moved to mid September thus making it too close to UTMB I decided to go for it. Am I glad I did!

Victor and I drove down the day before and spent the entire 8+ hours journey eating and eating and eating some more. I think I've got the carbo loading sorted now, I start to up the sports drinks through the week then the day before the race eat as much high calorie/high carb food as I can stomach, i find this way i don't feel like a big fat bloke by the time i reach the start line. We reached the Travel Inn and carried the portable fridge in (for keeping the mashed tatties fresh) and the microwave (for porridge on demand). Us guys are organised! The first thing we noticed was the heat in the place, it was like the Bahamas, so we opened the windows the full inch that they would go, making no difference whatsoever. A bit of time spent sorting kit and eating pasta then it was off to bed. After about 4 hours of lying listening to my heart thumping in my chest and feeling the half kilo of chocolate brownies fermenting in my stomach the party boys across the hall arrived back to their room to shout, bang doors and giggle loudly. Victor soon sorted this out with his teacher skills(!) but the fact that I'd only slept about 5 hours the previous night to make sure I got a good night sleep before the race didn't seem like a good idea anymore!

The heat of the room had us both up far too early and we met Carrie and Ray at breakfast and chatted nervously about the race. Carrie and I were doing the 100 so nerves were part of the deal, Victor was doing the 50 but it was his first ultra since his stress fracture (which he got HERE... oops!) and Ray was just doing what Ray does, running another ultra (17 he ran last year!!).
The start area - pics Carrie Craig

We drove into the start area and immediately got excited when we saw the sandy trails snaking off everywhere, it looked amazing! There was a real atmosphere about the place, it reminded me of some of the campgrounds in California, really peaceful apart from the cows which were gathering to watch and moo-ing aggressively, with trails that just made you want to get your shoes on and run. Dave and Mrs Mac (fast becoming my lucky mascots!) arrived as we were listening to the race brief then Henk the mad Dutchman race director sent us on our way.

After about half a mile the trail plunged down a really steep descent, only about 50 feet but it was STEEP then up an even steeper, very rough and stoney climb of maybe 250 feet. This set the tone for the first 4 miles which were like a rollercoaster then some nice runnable stuff with lots of twists and turns until the aid station at 5.6 miles then some lovely singletrack which just made you want to fly, twisting and turning through the woods, down by a lake, through some mud then a real bugger of a climb at 9ish miles followed by a steep descent and a flat run in to begin the next lap. I took a couple of wrong turns losing the route but soon learned to keep my eyes open for the course markers.
At 20 miles - pic Lee MacLean

The thing which was most noticeable was how warm it was once I got running, I had my shirt off by halfway and was sweating buckets, I was going to have to watch my hydration here. After lap 2 I started on the mashed tatties but by the halfway aid station I was feeling really rough, only 75 miles to go I thought to myself... I had no idea of positions or anything until I went through 40 miles and someone said there was maybe 3 in front of me and the leader was 30 mins up, I wasn't too concerned with what was happening though as it was much too early to start pushing. As I went through the aid station at 45m they told me I was 2nd, 10 mins behind the leader who looked "fit as you like". It was confusing because I was lapping people now and didn't know who was doing what lap, or race for that matter, so I was just running my own race but I'd pulled this guy in significantly so thought to myself lets put the foot down a bit and try and catch him. I ran hard all the way to the end of the lap and as I went through people were saying I was the leader, then I saw Victor who had just won the 50 and realised it was him I had been chasing! Because he had originally entered the 100 he still had his 100 mile number so the marshalls thought he was first 100miler!

I was through 60 miles in 10 hours and it had been dark for the last 3, pitch dark since there was no moon, I was well into my stride feeling like I had found a good groove but the long night ahead was certainly intimidating. I told myself from the start 70 miles was halfway, I've always found this is the case in terms of effort and I wasn't far wrong. I went through 70m in 12 hours and mashed tatties were off the menu, solid food wasn't going to go down so I mixed up a complan and drank it then headed off into the darkness. Within  about 3 miles I knew this wasn't going to stay down, I was wretching and stumbling about feeling awful so I sat at the side of the trail and threw up until nothing else would come up. I was in a real state but a good puke had me feeling slightly better, I needed to get running again since I was now shivering and cold with my wet, sweaty clothes on and I had no jacket to put on. I felt very lonely out there in the dark. Another runner who I was chatting with earlier came past (I think he was a lap behind but moving well) and told me I'd pass him again no problem and disappeared into the darkness. I knew this was crunch time.

"Here we are, wheels off, it's getting tough and you can't handle it..."

" If you think you're an ultra runner nows the time to prove it, you want to walk then walk..."

" you don't need to puke, you're just looking for an excuse to stop, you can't handle it..."

these were some of the thoughts going through my head, questions were being asked but could I provide some answers? I started to think only in the "now" a few good steps of running then a few more then the torchlight of the runner who passed earlier, he was moving well still but I was getting closer. I was back in the groove as I lapped more runners, all of them encouraging me on and providing me with targets to chase in the dark. I went through 80 miles, ate a banana and took a gel and some water and looked at my watch as i hit the lap button. It read lap 9, LAP 9, yes! If i could pace this nicely and not red line it preserving something for the last lap then the adrenalin would carry me to the finish. As I ran that nasty first 4 miles of the lap I knew the next time i would be here would be my last if I just hung on, the end was becoming a reality. Up that nasty, nasty climb with the big step halfway up and the big juicy red mushroom near the top, relaxing my aching quads on the descent to the 90m point, through the aid station with a couple of gels, half a banana and more water. I'm heading for home!!

Lap 10 was amazing, the feeling that I'd got it right, I'd pulled myself out of that huge downer, i'd had to completely re-think my eating plan at 70miles when my body was trashed and my brain was barely able to keep coherent thoughts going, I was flying again. Can you believe it, after 90 odd miles I was hammering it, then disaster struck. My torch was getting dim, very dim, then the warning light flashed to say it was about to die completely and i had no spare and no batteries... Damn! I put the beam onto its lowest power and tripped a few times unable to see the detail of tree roots and stones but got to the 95m aid. I asked if they might have some AA batteries i could steal and to my surprise the chap pulled out a huge strip of Duracells and said "help yourself, we thought they might come in handy" I almost kissed him. Off again into the never ending darkness, every twist, turn, climb, descent for the last time, that fence at 8m, 18m, 28m... now 98m then the finish. Relief.

A huge thanks to Henk for this mad, mad race. To the helpers who were all brilliant especially the man with the batteries and to all the other runners who gave me so much encouragement on the way. 100 miles/15 000ft in 18 hours 41 minutes, 11 and a half of which were in the dark. 1st place and new course record, it couldn't have went better than that... or could it??

Friday, 20 August 2010

It's Not About The Beetroot

In a whirl of banana milk and beetroot juice the resting was done and training resumed. The next target race being UTMB meant the emphasis was going to be on hills and more hills.

My plan was to have two weeks of rest after WHW race and then a 5 week block of hard training and a 3 week taper. I seemed to recover really quickly from WHW this time though, so after a week I was right back into it with a good run from Kingshouse up the Buachaille along the WHW to Fort Bill and up and down the Ben, 35 miles and about 11 000 feet of climb, and a fantastic day out too!

A good solid weeks running and then I decided to do a run which I thought was very similar to UTMB in character, with lots of accumulated climb, even though it obviously lacked the long climbs of the Alps, two loops of the Pentland Skyline race route. I ran with Lucy and John, who is training for TDS again, and they dragged me round the first loop before leaving me to run the 2nd on my own, lightweights!

The Clyde Stride race was up the next weekend and my plan was to run a good weeks mileage and try and have a solid race at the end of it. I racked up about 65 miles by race day and not surprisingly had to really tough it out towards the end, the flat route was a bit of a shock to the system too! On Sunday I rounded off the week with another round of the Pentland Skyline with Oscar, who ran the entire route in his Vibram 6 fingers (...he's from Dundee).

Next up was a support run on Peter's Ramsay Round. What a brilliant adventure this was, I can see why it has the reputation it has as being one of the toughest hill running challenges out there, I also realised how rusty I am at the hill running with all of this easy trail stuff i've been doing!

My 5th week of UTMB training and again I was back for a double Pentland Skyline, running the first one with John and then managing negative splits on the 2nd after the weather got nasty and I got a good soaking as I pushed the pace to get back to the shelter of the car.

I had planned to put in another good week but I started to develop a niggle in my calf, which isn't surprising I suppose after 400+ miles and 105 000 feet of climb in 5 weeks! Unfortunately the niggle progressed to the point where I have had to reduce the running to virtually nil over the last fortnight and have been cycling like a madman, and having Tommy work his magic to try and get me going again, meaning all that training seems such a long time ago.
Will I be the most finely tapered man on the start-line of UTMB or will I be just too well rested for this monster challenge??

Who cares, it's going to be great fun!!

Friday, 9 July 2010

West Highland Way Race 2010

Boom or bust. That's how I felt this one was going to go. As I drove the last few miles into Milngavie with a cracker of an orange sunset, Iron Maiden's classic "A Matter of Life and Death" album drowning out any sense of nervousness and apprehension and replacing it with an overwhelming desire to shout out the window "scream for me Milngavie...!!" and run through Mugdock Park playing air guitar. Instead I went straight to race registration, got all my bits and pieces, said hello to all the familiar faces then got back to my support team, who had parked in a nice quiet spot away from all the bustle of the car park.
I was trying to stay "in the moment" and not think about the race and how it would pan out. All my thinking had been done earlier. The plan was to do my own thing and not get caught up in anyone elses race, stay in touch with the leaders until Glencoe (70 miles) then give it all I had. I wanted to win this year after coming so close last year, I didn't care about times, splits or anything else it was the result that mattered.

Ready to go
This was my 6th year in a row on the start line of this fantastic race. Of all the race starts I've been to this one has an atmosphere which is totally unique, maybe it's just me but the sense of excitement, anticipation and nervousness at that Milngavie underpass on a warm June night is like no other. The start hooter went off and around 150 pairs of feet made for Fort Bill.
I chatted for a bit with Kate as we ran the first few miles finding ourselves at the front after a couple of runners took the wrong turn and were shouted back. They came flying past to regain the lead and this seemed to jolt quite a number of runners into action as 4 or 5 more flew past in the darkness and others started to jostle for position. As I watched the torchlights disappear ahead into the night the thoughts flashed through my mind, should I be chasing? Am I letting them run off into the distance leaving me behind? Patience is the key here. Think about how fast I will be running in 90 miles time. Save it for later.
Running through the Drymen Checkpoint (12 miles) I knew I was about 4 minutes down on last year but I felt like I was running the right pace and what's 4 mins this early on, I told myself. Uncertainty was still eating away at my thoughts. Over Conic Hill passing Thomas earlier on, we chatted briefly and I ran on really hoping he would get the finish this year after two heartbreaking DNF's. The view from the top of Conic looking up Loch Lomond was inspiring and I had to remind myself to take the steep descent easy, trashed quads at this point wouldn't be a good idea!
I ran through the car park at Balmaha (20 miles) with lots of support teams cheering and clapping and met Mark and Neil, my first half support guys, who refilled my bumbag and gave me my WHW staple of mashed tatties and ketchup. Still 4 mins down on pace meant I was now running the same pace as last year without thinking about it. Still early days I told myself.
I ran the short section to the bottom of the climb up to Craigie Fort then power hiked the steep climb to the top, where Alan and Stan sent me on my way smiling with their words of "encouragement"! On to Rowardennan (27 miles) I kept telling myself to run conservatively and keep eating small amounts regularly as I had been right from the start. I met Mark and Neil again and stuffed as much mashed tatties as i could into me, reloaded my bumbag and off up the lochside knowing I wouldn't see them again for a good few hours and when I did things would be starting to bite ...and they wouldn't just be the midgies!
I hadn't been concerning myself with my splits or where the runners in front or behind were up until now, but I was starting to think maybe I was running too easy, losing ground and needed to step it up a bit. A few more miles and I was still keeping the easy pace when I looked behind and saw someone gaining on me, I was going to be passed here if I didn't up a gear, so time to start pushing! I never saw that runner again but he certainly gave me a shot of adreneline that I needed. I was running hard now thinking about catching up with the two Americans in front and as the Inversnaid checkpoint came into view I saw them both collecting their dropbags and ran down to catch them. I quickly devoured my bag of mashed tatties and ketchup, which got me some strange looks, grabbed a full bottle of juice and chased after the Americans. I soon caught up with them and we ran together chatting for a bit then they let me go ahead and I knew it was just Craig Stewart in front but I wasn't sure how far.
I came into Beinglas still grinning at Keith and George's "beetroot rules" sign on the door of the Doune Bothy! I was well ahead of schedule after having ran really well up the lochside and I was sure I'd put some distance between me and the Americans, hoping that might be the last I would see of them. There were quite a few people around all with midgie nets on making them unidentifiable so I stopped and looked around expecting Mark or Neil to appear then someone asked if I had a drop bag. I said no, and that I was meeting my support but it looks like they're not here. Someone offered me a biscuit which I took and someone else ran off to look for Mark and Neil in the car park. Should I run on or wait?? Save myself a few minutes and run on without my food and sports drink or wait here and lose those hard fought minutes I'd gained on the guys behind?? I walked on a bit then back again as Mark appeared sprinting towards me, they quickly got me sorted out and off I went. It was frustrating but I was about 20mins quicker than had been expected so it was just one of those things, I ran on and after a mile or two glanced back to see a figure behind in hot pursuit. The runner behind was Mark Godale an American who had come over especially to run the race and a guy with an impressive running CV which until recently included the U.S 24 hour record of 162 miles. This guy knew his stuff! A few more miles, though and we'd be onto the hilly section above Crianlarich a good push up there might give me some space.
I ran this section feeling really strong and pushed the descent down to the road really hard, I felt like I was into the "ultra zone" now and could keep this going forever. As I crossed the bridge and ran hard on the flat section towards the 50mile checkpoint at Auchtertyre Farm I felt I must have gained some distance on Mark and was quite dismayed when I looked over my shoulder to see him running hard not far behind. Maybe this guy could run hills as well I thought!
Auchtertyre was my crew change-over, Ken and Robbie took over from Mark and Neil and told me I was only a few minutes behind Craig and he wasn't looking too good. Wow, I thought, this wasn't in the plan. Did I want to catch him so early and then be the hunted for the rest of the race? Run my own race, that was the plan so I pushed on feeling comfortable and passed Craig just after the road crossing at Tyndrum. He was walking at that point, we chatted breifly and I ran on planning to step up the pace again. There was a strong headwind now but I decided to stick with the plan. This section is pretty flat and running hard here can gain you vital minutes so after the initial undulating section then under the railway line I blasted it into Bridge of Orchy not looking behind at all because if those guys were still keeping up, quite frankly, I didn't want to know!
More food at the checkpoint then into the short climb over to Inveroran. As I headed up into the forest I looked back and there was Mark still behind. I worked hard over this section and was further inspired by Murdo the Magnificent standing waving like a madman on top of the hill with the Saltire flag flying against the blue sky. He gave me a jelly baby and I ran hard down to the road briefly looking up to see Mark starting the descent.
     Pic courtesy of Murdo the Magnificent
There was a huge cheer from all the people sitting outside the hotel in the sunshine as I passed, now was the time to hit it hard. I felt strong and in the groove, even with this wind. I thought if I was Mark I'd sit on the shoulder of the local guy, let him do the work then go for it with a few miles to go. I really needed to lose him quick. I hit the road at full speed, ran hard for the mile or so to Forest Lodge, quickly ate some food then blasted onto the trail over Rannoch Moor. I felt brilliant here, running at full tilt, hammering all the little downs and pushing hard on the ups imagining myself eating up the route like some sort of little Pac-Man computer game. Push, push, push. Don't ease off one bit and no looking behind. The real race starts at Glencoe.
I ran into the car park at the Glencoe checkpoint (70miles) so early that Ken and Robbie were still eating lunch and had to sprint down to meet me, I wasn't so keen on food now and had to force a little down, I was still drinking sports drink all the time and eating sweets so I could manage on this in the meantime.
Hard running to Altnafaedh and a little food from my crew at the bottom of the Devils Staircase, then a strong run/walk got me to the top in around 10 minutes. Alan Young was there taking pictures and a large crowd of walkers gave me a great big cheer as I passed sending me hurtling down the other side at full speed after a quick glance behind to see no-one in sight for the first time, I was getting some space!
This was the real high point in my race, I was flying here and felt like I could go on forever. I remembered running the descent into Kinlochleven really hard last year, so as I hit the smooth track I blasted down glancing at my watch and aiming to be at the checkpoint within 15 minutes. As I got lower down and out of the wind I noticed how warm it was, the back of my top was soaking with sweat and it was lashing off me now. I got into the checkpoint (81 miles) and was quickly weighed and sent on my way with encouragement from Caroline and Neil who were manning the aid station. Ken, Robbie and Adrian walked with me trying to get me to eat a bit more but I had it fixed in my mind that I could keep going with a squirt of honey and not much else thus gaining 10 minutes on last year when I stopped here for a good feed. Someone said they thought I had a 35 minute lead and I was also starting to think a sub 16 hour finish was possible so I ran on and started the climb out of Kinlochleven.
As I got to the track at the top of the climb I gulped back the last of my drink, the heat was noticable here with it being sheltered from the wind and I ran on looking for a stream to get some water. I didn't really care whether I filled up from the dirtiest of trickles now as I was so thirsty and before any nastyness could affect my stomach I'd be finished anyway, but it was so dry there was nothing at all. Meanwhile I was getting low on energy so I ate a gel and eventually found a stream and climbed down to fill up. I gulped back a full bottle, filled it again and ran on. My pace was slowing and my stomach was sloshing, the wheels were coming off I thought. Flashes of the 2005 race went through my mind, when Paddy Jumelle had a huge lead only to blow up and lose it. Would I be Jan Alberted? Passed in Glen Nevis with only a few painful miles to go. Did I care? Did I really want to put myself through all this pain for some mad race? As I went through the sheep pens a mile or so from Lundavra I wanted to walk, to stop, to give up. I remembered my 4 day training run and told myself to keep any kind of meaningful run going, at least to the checkpoint. When I got to Lundavra (89 miles) I had already decided I was going to stop for 5 minutes and sort myself out. As I sat with my head in my hands Ken and Robbie were really concerned as I said I just needed to stop for 5 then I'll be ok. I think I ate a small amount of food, but I knew finishing this was all in my mind nothing to do with my legs or my stomach, my fuel would come from my head, my thoughts, if I could sort that out I would do it. How was I going to achieve it? The same way I got this far, break it down into small parts and take each part as it comes, #1 from here to the spooky woods #2 through the woods to the track #3 down the track to the junction #4 the junction to Braveheart car park #5 along the road to the finish. Easy. Go.
I shuffled out of Lundavra, a shuffle became a jog and a jog a run, I took each small section at a time and as I approached Braveheart I knew I had done it and had a mixture of joy and sadness thinking about how strange it would be not to see Dario at the finish. Minutes later I thumped the doors of the leisure centre, supped whisky from the quaich, said my "never agains" and collapsed on the bench at the finish after 16 hours and 36 minutes of running and reflected on what had been the most fantastic of days.

I'd just like to say a big thanks to my support, Mark, Neil, Ken and Robbie. To the race committee for the brilliant job they did in making the whole thing happen and to all the volounteers and supporters who gave me masses of encouragement on the day. The thing that made it all the more special was the spirit of the race, the camaraderie between the runners, the support crews and all the people out on the Way cheering and supporting. That's what sets this race apart from the others.

Monday, 26 April 2010

I'm Not A Runner, I'm A Very Naughty Boy

Well I didn't half blow that one!

There's nothing like that horrible feeling of grinding to a halt halfway up Loch Lomond.

Like a novice i stuck two fingers up to a mega miles training week only 2 weeks ago and stepped on the gas just before Balmaha, racing with Thomas the crazy German who was running a blinder. About 5 miles later I discovered the tank was empty. By the time i got to Rowardennan (27 miles) the gods of the quads had declared "let there be mush" and my quads were mush. I hastily made some foot repairs at the checkpoint, tried to revive myself with the contents of my drop bag and pushed on determined to work through the bad patch. I was glad to see the back of the very runnable first half of the race and felt sure that i could click into my rythmn on the rougher sections of Loch Lomondside but it wasn't to be. I was struggling to keep up with some of the supervets from the earlier start and by the time I reached Inversnaid (34 miles) i had decided to jog it in to Beinglas and call it a day. It wasn't a day for toughing it out, i've done plenty of that over the last few weeks, and i didn't want to risk pushing on to possible injury either.

In the back of my mind i think i knew this was going to happen and the reasons are pretty obvious, so no point in getting hung-up on it.

Apart from my DNF I really enjoyed the day, it was great to see so many friends and i even survived the pub with some dodgy weejies from Garscube and all their trophies followed by a night at the ceilidh with a subversive bloke!

Well done to everyone who ran it and thanks to Murdo and Ellen for making it possible and to those who marshalled and gave encouragement. On to the next one!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Run Like Fun

Victor and I are in the car park at Milngavie station (again). I've managed to convince him this is the ultimate training run. He's going to thank me for the rest of the year (maybe even the rest of his life) for the incredible fitness benefits this one is going to bring.

A quick comparison of the weight of our rucksacks reveals Victors is about double the weight of mine, i can't believe he's not cut the end off his toothbrush, is carrying enough toothpaste to clean his teeth for a month and has enough food for us both until a week on Tuesday. He realises his mistake and promptly decides to leave his toilet bag, smoking jacket, slippers and some food behind.

I've done this before, made all these mistakes with kit and have got it down to a T.

1x sawn off toothbrush
6x slithers of toothpaste
3x dods of shower gel
1x pair of socks
1x pair of running shorts
1x w/proof jacket
1x w/proof trousers
1x spare hat
surgical tape
pen knife
cash/credit card
1x copy of "The Lore of Running" for technical reference (had you there)
Enough food/drink to last to the next shop/pub

This is going to get us up the West Highland Way and back over 4 days, stopping at Tyndrum, Fort William, back to Tyndrum then to Milngavie.

It poured with rain all the way to Drymen and as we discussed how we could tell by the cloud formations, wind direction and using our highly tuned sense of nature and the outdoors that the rain was on for the day it cleared up and the sun came out. Magic! Victor even took his shirt off to try and scare off the hoards of walkers out for the Easter break. It didn't work though. We had such fun tippy-toeing along behind them, shouting "good morning" and watching them almost crumple in fright under the weight of all that kit they were lugging to Conic Hill base camp ready for the final ascent. Some of them were even doing it without oxygen.

We made our first pit stop at Rowardennen, it was much warmer weather than we were used to so we quickly chugged a Coke and inhaled a scone and set off up the loch. The recent snow had also made the paths as wet and muddy as i'd ever seen them which made the going underfoot a bit harder, but the sun was warm, the sky blue and it was a pleasure to be out there. When i was up, Victor was down and vice versa so between us we managed a nice steady pace up to Tyndrum and into the Real Food cafe for fish cake suppers. By this time it had become quite overcast and was a good bit cooler so we shivered as we ate quickly then after a quick shop at the garage for breakfast we reached the By The Way hostel. What a welcome we got there too! The couple who were managing it were quite taken with our adventure and we chatted for a while then shower, more food and bed. 53 miles done.

Apart from the guy on the bottom bunk watching films on his laptop till late and Victor telling him to put it off or die, i had a good nights sleep (managing not to fall out of the top bunk, seriously its dangerous up there especially when you thrash about in your sleep like i do). We awoke to a torrential downpour of the stair-rod variety, had some porridge whilst listening to the walkers talking about changes of plan and how it was "life threatening to go out in that" and "its best to have a rest day" so got out and running before they started to convince us. As always it was ok once we got going but stopping wasn't an option because we got very cold very quickly, which also made us run a bit harder than we should have, so when we saw the Kingshouse hotel in the distance we had no hesitation in agreeing on a food stop for 20 minutes. 30+ minutes later we left puddles on the floor and wet seats in the posh bar as we went through the ritual 5 mins of pain, working the stiffness out of the legs and getting back into the long-distance running rythmn.
The rain carried on relentlessly as we ran down into Kinlochleven and up over the Lairigmor with the wind picking up quite ominously, that was the last thing we wanted for the journey back. By the time we got to Morrisons in the Fort we had taken on the homeless jakey look; soaking wet, unshaven, smelly and snottery as we squelched, stiff-legged around the aisles trying to work out if we craved pasta, potatoes or crisps or all three. 42 miles done.

I must admit as we ran into Fort William my legs were trashed, every step was pain and the thought of turning around and repeating those 2 days was really daunting. That's the start of the mind games. Your brain is telling you it's not sensible to keep going, all these tweaks and niggles are surely going to become tears and twangs, it's not sensible to continue without support in these conditions, in this condition. But it is. That's the whole point. You've got to go beyond, to show yourself its possible to push further than you think, in the words of the great metal songsmith and slayer of dragons Ronnie James Dio, "we're a ship without a storm..." and a storm is what we seek to toughen ourselves up for the mighty hurricane of the West Highland Way Race.

Sitting at breakfast in the b&b after an uncomfortable nights sleep tossing and turning with my knees, hips and quads waking me up throbbing in pain, Victor was glazing over as i told him (yet again) how we would emerge back in Milngavie as strong as the Mighty Thor. I think he had just had enough of running in the pishing rain  and going down that bloody track again and anyway 95 miles in 2 days was good enough going without having to do it all again and listen to some nut talking about slaying dragons in his head...

So i made a major concession. Will it impact on me psychologically as i stare down the demons who have come to sabotage my dreams, to steal my spirit and send me a slavering, bonking wreck to the leisure centre to think again?? Maybe.

I had agreed to let Flora, our b and b owner give us a lift to the Braveheart car park to avoid running the 2 miles of pavement hell in Fort Bill. It was lashing with rain as we headed towards Lundavra, the path had now become a river and i was really starting to think this was a bit dodgy. If you'd tipped a bucket of water over my head i wouldn't have been any wetter and it was really cold too. We were glad to get into the Copie in Kinlochleven for a brief heat and some bits of food. As we sheltered amongst the shopping trolleys slurping down chocolate milk we came up with a brilliant idea for a race. Get this, The West Highland Way 100 (ish) start in Fort Bill, climb the Ben then down to Milngavie. About 19 000+ feet of ascent and imagine running those gnarly boulders on the loch-side with almost 70 miles in the legs then all that runnable stuff from Drymen to the finish to really challenge you, and of course the cheering crowds as you near the finish, Ultra Tour Du Milngavie(UTMG) anybody??

Renewed with the mystical powers of flavoured milk we galloped up the climb from Kinlochleven and back down to Kingshouse, wading rivers which hadn't existed on the way up and deciding to keep running all the way to Tyndrum in case we stopped and lost the will to start again. Rannoch Moor was murder and i was bonking by Inveroran so grabbed a can of Coke at the hotel which saw me through to Tyndrum. We were a sorry state when we reached the bunkhouse, so much so that when we arrived the nice couple from the other night made us tea and biscuits and told us stories about boy scout walkers wading through water up to their waists on the lochside the flooding was so bad. It was at this point that Victor decided he'd had enough, he was going to run the 5 miles down to Crianlarich then get the bus or train from there. I tried to convince him that he'd be ok once he got going but i knew it was his decision and wouldnt be a good idea to twist his arm into doing something that might end in injury or something. 42 miles done.

I was up at 5.30am and wide awake eating scones and jam and trying to remove an ingrown toenail with my penknife having had another uncomfortable nights tossing and turning. Victor woke up in a completely different frame of mind not quite ready for his day of leisure yet, as i contemplated staring the demons and dragons in the eye. I had to kick his butt out the door by 6.30am because i knew i had a good 12+ hours in front of me and after what was now 10 minutes or so of coaxing the stiffness out of the legs we ran well through Auchtertyre Farm, over the roller coaster and Victor down to the road in Crianlarich as i carried on to Beinglas. I stopped to buy some biscuits and a coffee then it was head down and onto the lochside. That jumble of rocks was made even more challenging because it had all become so slippery and my legs seemed to be lagging a few seconds behind my brain but absorbing as it was it took my mind off things until i emerged at Inversnaid in the sunshine, feeling like Robinson Crusoe washed up on a desert island after floating about in the ocean for a week. I didn't want to frighten the tourists so kept going passing more walkers now as the nicer weather brought them back out. Soon i was at Rowardennen again and had been craving Coke and a scone and as i waited at the bar i felt a tap on my shoulder, it was a walker i had met a few days previously "you made it back!" he said and we chatted a bit then i sat in the sun, drank my Coke and resolved to not stop until The Beech Tree 20 miles further on and give myself 15 minutes to refuel then on to Milngavie, always good to have a plan!
I was nicely into my stride as i rounded a corner and came face to face with Peter, one of my clubmates on a training run to Beinglas. It was good to chat and it gave me a big lift to see a familiar face. I pushed on through heavy showers of rain then warm sunshine, through Balmaha, over Conic Hill and past Drymen fighting demons all the way to the Beech Tree. 15 minutes was the deal and i was off again along those torturous cycle paths thinking about William Sichel and his 1000 mile run and how this was childs play in comparison, only 190 miles in 4 days, i should be fresh as a daisy! I wasn't though as i trundled into Milngavie, dragons slayed and demons drowned in chocolate milk.

I couldn't resist rounding the weeks mileage up to 200 by jogging round the Edinburgh Parkrun 5k a few days later and now just over 2 weeks later i'm wondering how this is going to effect my run at this weekends Highland Fling?? Only one way to find out...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

How Late It Was, How Late - The Hardmoors 55

I thought I'd better post this before the Fling and all the other races are on top of me! It's a bit of a hasty report that I posted on the club forum after the race but it does the job. I was meaning to add a bit more detail to it but ended up running loads of miles instead...

This was the first running of the Hardmoors 55 race, a counter in the Runfurther UK Ultra series. A late change to the course to avoid a few extra road crossings meant it was only 54 miles, but a tough and eventful 54 miles it turned out to be.

The route follows the first half of The 110 mile Cleveland Way in the North Yorks National Park from Helmsley to Guisborough and has about 9000 feet of ascent thrown in.

Not really knowing the route at all, I decided to stick with a local runner who set off like a rocket at a much faster pace than I felt comfortable with. This tactic seemed to be working out ok until the first main checkpoint at 22 miles when I lost sight of him and took a wrong turning, losing about 10 mins before getting back on track again. By 25 miles I was starting to really feel the effects of the faster pace and also running on the exposed moors in strong winds and driving rain was taking its toll.

I decided to ease off the pace and take it nice and steady to the next checkpoint at 42 miles then get some food in me and hammer the pace to the finish. By the time I reached the village hall at Kildale (42 miles) I needed food quickly and devoured my Tuc biscuits and coke, grabbed some fruit pastilles and headed back out determined to make up some lost places.

I ran hard up to Captain Cooks monument seeing no-one then headed for the steep climb up Roseberry Topping which was a spur off the main route so I might see some of the runners ahead of me as the route returns back on itself. Sure enough when I got to the turn the leader came through the gate closely followed by the 2nd placed runner and as I approached the top of the hill 3rd place came running down towards me. I was only a few minutes behind him and when I got back to the gate checked my watch to see I was about 18 minutes behind the first two. Time to blast to the finish I thought!

After a mile or so I caught the 3rd placed runner but he wasn't keen on giving up his place easily so we battled through the slippy, muddy track for a few minutes before I managed to lose him on the winding forest trail down to Guisborough. After what seemed an age I reached the disused railway which meant I was a mile from the finish and after glancing over my shoulder too many times to see if I was being caught I arrived at the rugby club finish and crashed through the door. Hang on! No signs of a race finish here, just guys in blazers looking at me a bit strangely! I went back outside and caught sight of a course marker further down the path so I ran towards it then saw the flags marking the finish at the CRICKET club! Ahhh yes! Well I managed to finish in 3rd place in 9 hours 11 mins so was delighted with that.

The stormy weather meant only 41 of about 75 starters finished the race, a thoroughly enjoyable route and it's got me thinking about the full 110 mile race next year...!!