Monday, 15 March 2010

The View From Benarty

Yesterday at about 6pm I stood on Benarty Hill, a hand on the stone pillar at the summit. Looking north I could see Bishops Hill and the Lomonds, in the distance the snowy southern-most Cairngorms, west the Ochils and south across the Forth to the Pentlands. It was a pity it wasn't clear enough to see Ben Lomond above the West Highland Way because it would have been all of my most recent playgrounds, all there to see, in the setting early spring sun.

The first big adventure weekend was mid-January when the temperatures were dropping to around -15 and nearly everywhere had a good covering of snow. I thought it would be a great idea to run a two day-er from Milngavie up to Doune Bothy, stay the night and run back next day. And brilliant it was! Luckily Lucy believed my stories about how it would be great fun and agreed to go with me (they were all true of course) and we ran, slipped, skidded and enjoyed some of the most spectacular views you could get on the run. An early start back down the trail again the next morning after a great night blowing on the 'fire' and a faint memory of a too hot Pot Noodle in my rumbling belly. It was a tough weekends running when my nail-shoes ceased to be effective after about 20 miles of the 75 which made it much more interesting chasing Lucy with her new fangled "snow-grip-grab do-da's" on her shoes (too much like performance enhancers for a purist like me...).

As nice as it is to go further afield and run it's also quite satisfying to run from the door. It's almost like getting something for free in a way. So, I worked out a route from deepest, darkest Ballingry which had only just emerged from the receding ice sheet, over the Lomonds to Falkland then back again in a big scenic circle. I Memory Mapped it (guaranteed it was going to be wrong then...!) and set off for what was to be about 30 miles and 6500' of up-ness. After a big circuit of the mountains of Fife and Perthshire I arrived on top of Bishops Hill, checked my gps and realised I had underestimated my distance slightly, which was confirmed when my wee jelly legs eventually shuffled back home having consumed a good 34 miles. Not a disaster but also not good when you've scheduled a 30 miler the next day with two speedsters who go by the nick-names of Sonic and the Crazy German!

So, about 16 hours later I'm standing in Drymen with Sonic and CG and we're off running up the West Highland Way to Beinglas farm. There was some sort of very precise heart rate monitor training going on which I couldn't understand. My heart rate monitor is my nose which starts to run and blow bubbles when everything is going swimmingly, then my stomach which starts to push its contents towards my throat when I reach threshold pace and my legs which go all rubbery when I reach anoraknerobic pace. We all happily trotted up the way, me blowing bubbles and the boys beep-beeping until the Crazy German decide he had had it with the hrm and hit the gas. Us being the non-competitive types that we are took that as game-on and started elbowing each other out of the way because no-one wanted the disgrace of being the hairy kipper at Beinglas.

A much easier week followed and was rounded off with the Forfar multi-terrain half marathon. I really enjoyed this race last year and remembered all the talk about the man-eating bog at mile 8 which turned out to be very tame, so I took it with a big pinch of salt when this was what all the talk was about again at the start. Sure enough at mile 8ish we headed under a bridge and through a big puddle... all that fuss, eh!... then as I rounded the corner I began to understand as I waded up to my thighs in the most freeeezing water for about 400 metres. In fact my feet took about another mile before I could get any feeling back into them, yes this is my kind of half marathon, not one for pb's though. Once back at the finish I took my customery 10 minute dip in Forfar Loch to cool my quads, still burning from their re-entry into Forfar from the tattie fields of outer space (it's where they grow the spuds for Smash, it is!... fact).

After a week of slightly bigger mileage it was time for some fun at the Carnethy 5. There was a good turn-out of Carnegies to tackle the 6 mile 2400' ish course and I set out at jelly leg pace to try to reach the bottle neck at the gate before it got too choked up. I kept up a pretty good pace the whole race considering and finished up strong enough with a sprint through the bog trying (and failing) to hold off Bruce Smith from Carnethy. I was pleased with 59 mins odd though, still under the hour! The hill races seem to fit in really well with training for ultras, almost like tempo sessions. I seem to be able to run long the next day without much problem which is just as well...

The next morning, after about 6 different changes in route going from one end of the country to the other because of the amount of snow, I met with Lucy and Victor ( the holder of the Dava Way race record (he's never claimed it but i'm giving him it because its a laugh) and, ok, it's only been run once but a records a record...) who will now be known as Dava Man, a new super-hero from the Grampians. So, Lucy, Dava Man and I set off from Glenmore Lodge to run to Forres mostly on the Speyside and Dava Ways, about 40 miles each day. I really felt Carnethy in my legs and was glad of all the snow on the ground forcing the other two speedsters to run at my slow pace. At one point we had to do a bit of cross country and climb a banking onto a nearby road because the trail became impassable with deep snow and fallen trees but we soon picked it up again and all agreed it was a really cracking, scenic run. Just as well because we were doing it in reverse the next day!

That 80 mile weekend was enough to give me a 130 mile week, my biggest mileage for a while and I felt stong doing some decent days after that of 10, 17, 12 and 15 miles but then picked up a cold which floored me for the whole of the next week. At the same time, without doing any running, I seemed to pick up a niggle in my back which worsened over a day or two to the point where I was struggling to sit, stand or walk without excruciating pain. My cold went but the back pain didn't so I decided after 6 days of no running to go out and try and do a few miles. I ground out a painful 6 miles and as it hadn't got any better or worse the next day I just kept running. The pain and stiffness hung around for about a week or so, easing with some treatment from Tommy, and I still managed to edge over 100 miles for the week finishing up with the short, sharp Bishops Hill race (3miles 1500' ish). I had a good climb but as soon as I started on the descent my back just jammed up so, with the 7 mile run home over Benarty still to come, I just jogged down to the finish enjoying the run all the same.

Tommys back-magic treatments seem to have done the trick and I managed a good, solid 85 miles last week with a spectacular run/wade through deep snow in the winter wonderland that is the Ochils at the moment. I was a bit caught out by the knee deep snow but it was a good strength session in the end and the scenery was mind-blowing!

And so, yesterday at the top of Benarty with another 20 miler under my belt I stood enjoying the view and thinking about next week and my first ultra of the year at the Hardmoors 55 (if I get the entry form in on time, oops). With a body full of niggling muscles and a head full of nagging doubts, the customery week-before-the-race feeling, I wouldn't have it any other way.