Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cluanie Ridge

On Friday night I headed up north to stay up at the Cluanie Inn with friends Colin and Neil - with the aim of walking the 7 Munros of the Cluanie Ridge on the Saturday.  We stayed in the Club House which is located in a separate building that sits alongside the main hotel building.  The rooms were great, and on opening the windows we were treated to the sound of the Stags bellowing errie in the night.  Welcome to the Highlands in Autumn!

On the Saturday morning will stocked up on a full Scottish Breakfast, packed the pack lunch that the Hotel provided in our rucksacks and headed off for our walk at half 9.  Sun was shinning, wind was calm and the Stags were making themselves heard once more.

Neil and Colin, Ready for a long day of walking

The start of the walk follows the private road between the Cluanie Inn to Tomodoun.

Looking north back torwards the Cluanie Inn.
The road slowly climbs the lower reaches of the Southern Ridge, providing great views over Loch Shiel.

 We ignored the first path up to first summit Creag a' Mhaim as Colin had done a recce back in August and found it to be boggy and hard going, instead we continued on the road to a path the south west end of ridge.  The path is well maintained and zig zags it's way up to the top.  The view looking back eastwards towards Loch Loyne was spectacular.

View from half way up Creag a' Mhaim, looking east towards Loch Loyne
We got the summit feeling fresh and revealing in the great weather and stunning views.

Summit of Creag a' Mhaim, 947m

Viewing looking north towards Loch Shiel

The Cluanie Ridge was stretched out before us, all the first summits were clear of cloud, but the end of the Ridge had their heads in the clouds.

View looking West along the Cluanie Ridge
As there was six more Munroe's left to cover we didn't hang around, and jogged the descent down to the ridge and headed onto to next summit Druim Shionnach.

Looking west from ridge towards Druim Shionnach

The southern side of the ridge gently slopes away and is covered with grass, heather and rocks and makes for good running.  The northern side of the ridge drops away steeply into cliffs, one would want to take care when in cloud, thankfully it was clear at this stage.
Looking back east towards Creag a' Mhaim

Druim Shionnach summit cairn, looking west towards the next Munroe, Aonach air Chrith
We arrived at Druim Shionnach, 987m, pretty quickly, paused from some quick photo's, even some cheesy ones!

Neil pointing out where we'd come from - the Cluanie Inn.

Progress to next Munroe was slower thanks to the steady climb up to the highest point on the ridge - Aonach air Chrith at 1021m.

Aonach air Chrith
Once passed the summit the path is initially just grassy and gentle, but then descends via some of the most technical crags on the route.

We caught two fellow walkers on the descent down the crags, they were planning to do all 7 munros, but suspect they will have been too slow to do it before nightfall as we only just managed it.

Looking back to the craggy descent, looks rather more benign than it was.
It was now after nearing 2pm and while making good progress still didn't have lots of time to complete the walk before nightfall so, inspired what we do in ultra-marathoning, we eat our sandwiches on the ascent up Maol Chinn-Dearg.  Some of the ascent was rather craggy and steep so one breathed in half of our sandwiches.

Maol Chinn-Dearg summit, 981m
The further west we went the lower cloud base was so when we arrived at the summit of Maol Chinn-Dearg we were in cloud for the first time.  As the wind had picked up we didn't hang around at the summit and headed west once more and down out of the cloud.

Looking south towards Loch Quoich

The descent from Maol Chinn-Dearg and traverse of the ridge to Sgurr an Doire Leathain offered lots of good ground so were were able to jog most of it.

View west towards Sgurr an Doire Leathain, hidden in cloud
Just before the summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain the wind picked up and drizzle was falling so for the first time we all donned our jackets.

Just before the summit, looking back east
The summit of Sgurr an Doire Leathain at 1010m was well in cloud so no views to admire, so again headed on after the obligatory photo.

Sgurr an Doire Leathain summit, 1010m
During the descent from Sgurr an Doire Leathain the clouds opened up briefly and we were rewarded by a great cloud scape, with clouds above and below us, with an occassional ray of sunshine breaking through it all.

Cloud scape on the descent from Sgurr an Doire Leathain
The next munroe, number 6, Sgurr an Lochain should have offered great views of the ridge spread out to the east, but alas was in cloud.

Sgurr an Lochain, 1004m
Having followed the path continuously all along the ridge it felt natural to keep following the path at the summit, and being in cloud there was little to hint that it might be in the wrong direction.  I was a bit unsettled though as I recalled Colin showing me the map earlier in the walk and mentioned that one of the summits had a short out and back section.

We got out the first compasses to double check the direction of the path we were on, were expecting west, but it suggested we were heading north.  This just didn't feel right as we never recalled making a right turn at any point during the ascent.  A second compass agreed with the first. But still we weren't convinced, finally smart phone with compass agreed as well.  Three blokes think west, three compasses say north.

Out comes the map on Colin's phone, then the actual OS map.  Yep there is an out and back on this munroe, with a T junction just before the summit that we missed.  We back tracked and eventually found the path to the right heading off to the west.   Relieved to have caught our navigation mistake before it we wasted too much time/risk heading off down a very steep descent, we then made our way down out of the cloud and heading back west towards the final Munroe of the day - Creag nan Damh.

I polished off the last of my food just before the ascent and enjoyed this final climb.  Neil and Colin were reporting being pretty knackered on this climb, but with all my ultra races and training found myself nearer the end of journey still with plenty of energy.  The last hundred foot of the climb I just let rip and ran up to the summit, bounding up like an excited puppy.

The summit was only just in cloud so we get occasional hints of views around. It was no 4:50pm with the first hints that sunlight was diminishing. 
Creag nan Damh
Colin produced a hip flask with Highland Park Single Malt Whisky so we all celebrated with a invigorating swig and then followed the ride down to the south west.  A little way from the summit the route heads down to the foot of crag that you then have to scramble up.  Behind the summit of this crag the sun shone through the cloud and evoked a scene that would have been placed in a druid ceremony.

Last scramble before the final descent.

The scramble up required some good stretches off the arms and legs to get to the required hand holds and foot holds, all made a little tougher by being over 7 hours into the walk and having bagged 7 munros. The view back down the crag was impressive though!

View back down the scramble crag
As we descend the ridge we finally got out of cloud and were rewarded a great view down the glen to sea Loch Duich.

His raised his arms and the clouds parted revealing the way ahead
We could see the forest next to where the car was parked so it felt very much like we we'd back down soon.  The descent down to the bottom of the glen was wet, muddy, slippery, steep and slow going.  My right knee became pretty painful with the constant twisting steps down.  Colin and Neil were both having their own battles too.

It took us another 1:40 to get down to the car, only 2 1/2 miles away but it was a real slog.  It felt like the end of the glen never got any nearer, and the path that we hopped would improve as we got to the bottom of the glen never improved, only got boggier.

One final hurdle was a small river we had to cross, we couldn't spot any bridge so stepped across the stones, Neil with his long legs made it across without incident, me and my short legs ended up slipping and only just avoiding getting wet, while Colin slipped on the first stone and ended up in the drink and waded across the rest of the river.

Once over the rive it was easy walking back to the car, just before it got dark. By the time we had driven the 6 miles back up to the hotel it was dark.  One more surprise was awaiting us - right next to our accommodation three female red deer were standing close by and looking right at us.  They didn't show any fear, were calm and just watched us.

Deer at the Cluanie Inn
Speaking with bar staff later it turns out that visitors often feed the deer so they often come looking for easy picking.  After a good meal, a few beers and lots of banter we finally turned in.

The next morning we work to brilliant, unfortunately Colin needed to be back in Aberfoyle to be with his family so we all headed back home straight after breakfast.

Not before a few final photo's.  The following captures the Cluanie Ridge in all it's glory.  Sadly the staff accommodation and generator and equipment rather spoiled the otherwise epic view.

View of the Cluanie Ridge from the Cluanie Inn.

The drive home was stunning, especially the descent down to Loch Garry, the Loch sparked in the early morning sunshine whilst banks of mist boiled around the loch, forest and hills producing scenes of jaw dropping beauty.  Alas we were in too much of hurry to stop and take photo's, so I only have memories of this. If only I had a means for downloading images from my head... Just wait a few more decades perhaps...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

(Note quite) Great Scottish Run 2014 : Race Report

Pre-race Journey

My last week of preparation for doing the Great Scottish Run half marathon was a bit of train wreck - picking up four separate injuries, all relatively minor, but enough to stop me running through the week to give them time to heal.  I wrote up this sorry week first my in Triple Taper Trouble post, and then the evening before the race in my Should I stay or should go? post.

The last roll of the dice to fix things was getting a good nights sleep on the Saturday night before the race.  Despite being really tired and ready for sleep at 10pm I just couldn't get to sleep once I went to bed.  Hour after hour of tossing and turning, occasionally getting up to break the cycle, my body just wasn't wanting to switch off.  It's not unusual for me to struggle to sleep before a race, and it usually doesn't affect my performance too much, but on this occasion I needed the sleep to help patch up my calf injury.  Finally at must have been around 5:30am I actually got some sleep.

I woke at 6:40am before the alarms went off, I still felt tired but knew that the day had now begun and I needed to make a decision about whether to race and if possible before the alarm went off waking my wife Julia and the kids so they could have a lie in rather getting woken for no reason.  On getting up I was amazed to find my right calf feeling comfortable so I quickly got dressed it my race kit and headed out the door for a half mile test run to see if I I was good to go.

The wee run went went, I was able to cruise along comfortably at sub 7 min/mile pace.  Chuffed and relieved I got home and began the process of getting Osfield clan up, fed and out the door.  We headed off to Glasgow at 9:00am, arriving just before 10am.  We got parked and even had some time for some pre race shopping, heading into Forever 21 - we have three girls under 15 so sometimes one just has to go clothes shopping!!

My friend, Neil, based in Glasgow was also doing the half marathon so we met up and eventually coaxed the girls out of shopping mode and joined the masses all heading to Gorge Square.  When we arrived the White Wave runners were already well into assembling so I didn't have long to soak up the atmosphere together.

Julia and I, just after arriving at George Square
I stripped down into my race kit and then searched for a way into the White Wave section.  The barrier separating the square from the runners was unbroken all the way to far end of the Square where I got into throng.

Rather taken aback my just how many runners were lined up ahead I guess that surely thousands wouldn't be ahead of me at the finish so the nearer to the start I could get the less over taking I'd need to do. I weaved in and out until the "Warm Up" session began.

I'm really not the one of pre race aerobics, I'll go for a jog, do a couple of strides, perhaps some gentle dynamic stretches.  The whole crowd around me was getting well into, arms waving, trotting on the spot.  I played along doing a subset that I felt would warm me up, but stopped playing once the "Motivational Aerobics Guide" started directing everyone to do static stretches, telling us it's the most important part of warm up and required to prevent injuries.  I couldn't believe that someone so clueless sports science was being paid to guide tens of thousands on runners.  Pretty well everyone around me joined in with the static stretches.  Jikes, does no-one take any interest in studies into sports science?

My girls who were stationed just next to the start  amused themselves that I'd be shaking my head at the insanity of doing static stretches before a race as they know me too well.  They also noted the fact that the elites were not following the warm routine, or doing static stretches, they were jogging and doing strides for warm up...

Ready to race

Thankfully the "Warm Up" finished and left us a few minutes with the announcements of the who was attending in the elite field. Haile Gebrselassie was last to be announced and got a great roar of support from the field.

Race plan:

11 days before the race I had a great 8.3 mile tempo run, where I gradually increased pace from a 6:44 pace down to 5:50 paced last mile, my average pace for the route was 6:32.  My average HR was 171, pretty high for a tempo run but then it was the fastest tempo run I had ever run, the last mile my HR was reached 180 but even with this high heart rate my breathing was under control and my legs felt strong and responsive. The speed came easy.

This tempo run really set expectation high, if I could run that well again on race day a big PB would be mine for sure, perhaps even 1:26 or below.  My Trossachs 10k just after my temp run I nailed as well.  6:22 pace at an average HR of 174.

Then things fell apart in the last week with injuries and enforced rest.  My resting HR had also gone from 44 mid-week to 50 by the end of the week.  Even with my right calf and feet healing up through the week I was still aware that my calves were twitchy at night  Then straining my calf turning over in my bed two days before the race was just crazy.  I had gone from a finely tuned athlete to a twitching, creaky tinder box.

So race plan of a big PB at run well below 6:40 pace turned into a plan to try and bag a PB, this meant a sub 1:28:58 time, or 6:47 pace.  With all the strides I've made in fitness this year I still felt that this should be doable.  For simplicity I set myself a loose guideline 6:40 pace as this is exactly 9 mile in a hour, so hitting 3, 6 and 9 miles at 20, 40 and 60 minutes respectively.  If I could manage this then I'd be on for a 1min 30 sec PB.

The half marathon race I ran back in 2010 when I set my PB my average HR was 169, but that day there was a frost, so expected on normal running day to see a high average HR.  My analysis of HR vs time during races suggested an average HR of 170 to 171 was likely range I might be able to achieve, so planned to race at around this HR for the majority of the race race, and let my HR go higher during the last two miles racing to the finish.

Race start: 

The starters gun went off, the crowd roared by nothing happened for all those around me.  After a few seconds we all begun a shuffle forwards then a walk, then as we progressed to the start line proper we finally got into a jog.  I haven't been in really big race since like this since the Edinburgh Marathon back in 2010 so it was a bit of shock.

Once across the line we were into an easy paced run, no-one around me seemed to be racing, it seemed more sedate that many ultras I've done.  I looked in and was dumb struck by the sight of the sea of runners ascending the hill up St. Vincent's street.  The road was completely packed with runners both across and up the road.  I really have no clue how many were ahead, but it seemed like thousands.

The shear number of runners ahead and the easy pace that all were moving at was not at conducive to me doing a PB, 8 min/mile pace wouldn't do so I picked up the pace and begun weaving between runners, squeezing along the curb between the runners and crowds.

By the top of the hill there was a little more space, and to cheer us along a large Choir was singing with great spirit which was fun to witness.  Down the other side of the hill the field stretched out as far I could see and I did my best to relax and let gravity pick up the pace for me.  My pace dropped to sub 6 min/mile pace quite easily but suddenly my closing speed to other runners became a nightmare so quick footwork and dodging barriers and curbs was required.

I charged to the bottom having picked up dozens of places by my HR had suddenly shot over 170, so I took note to ease off a little.  It still felt I had lots quite a bit of time with the slow start so was expecting to behind my 6:40 target.

The 1st mile marker appeared shortly after we crossed the M8, with only 6:32 on my watch.  I was rather perplexed at this, but also encouraged - if I had done the first hilly mile with all the congestion so fast then perhaps I might be on for a decent PB after all.  After the week I had I knew not to get carried away, and with my HR creeping above 170 I deliberately eased off a little, and concentrated on running smoothly.  Well as smoothly as one can when constantly trying to squeeze between slower runners.

Motorway Racing!

The second mile took us up the slip road off the M8 and onto the Kingston Bridge. It's a bridge I've driven over my times so it was quite bizarre to crossing it on foot.  The views were about as good as they get in Glasgow so I took it all in briefly between the weaving.

Mile two came and I had lots a little time with the climb over the bridge, then on the other side and on our tour of the South side of Glasgow.  Mile three came in 19:47, comfortably under my target of 20:00, so I was still going well and the pace felt comfortably hard, but at this stage seemed like it would be manageable for the rest of the race.

My heart rate however was saying other things, it was now well heading up to the mid 170's, a heart rate that I'd see in 10k race, not with 10 miles to go in a half marathon.  The day was only going to get warmer, my body wasn't going to magically find the pace easier, so either I'd need to get used to the super high heart rate and risk crashing and burning, or back off and accept that my PB was out of reach.

Mile 3 to half way

The second half of the 4th mile the route ascends up St. Andrews Drive, I continued to steadily pass other runners, weaving my way through or going round the outside.   The hill came at a cost hough, my heart rate headed up over 175 for the first time, and I also had dropped behind my target of averaging 6:40 miles.

At the end of St. Andrews Drive the route turns left along Higgs Road, and as I approached this junction I say the lead 5 runners passed on the opposite side of road having just finished their loop through Pollock Park.  It was great to spot them, but I didn't spot Haile Gebrselassie amongst them and so suspected that something must have been amiss for him.  After the race I was saddened to see that he pulled out of the race.

Soon after the route headed into Pollok Park, and when going past Burrell Collection I picked up a bottle of lucozade from the aid station.  I figured taking up some fluid and sugar might be a good thing, but boy it's taste boggin.  I was tempted to discard the bottle soon after picking it up, but for my race thought it better to at least get a couple hundred ml down.  Yuck... the things you do when chasing a PB!

Shortly after passing the Burrell you head up hill into woodland.  The grip on my Nike Widlhorse was pretty crap on the greasy road, it's really a trail shoe, but still was annoying to waste a little energy on every stride.  The hill takes you to the highest point on the route, but surrounded by trees there no vista, but it sure was nice to no be running through city streets for a few minutes.

At the 6 mile maker my time was 40:19, so I'd slipped off my 6:40 average pace target, but with expected the downhills to come I'd be able to claw back some of this time.  After the 6 mile marker there was the 10k timing mat, and I then expected a marker for the half way point, but none came.  Instead we popped out of Pollok Park and back on Higgs Road, heading north.

Half way to mile 9

The rate that I was passing runners was now beginning slow, partly due to the field spreading out a little at last, but also the differential speed was getting less. Was I slowing?  Or was it simply that I had caught the faster runners?

I passed through the 7 mile marker, with the aid of little downhill and pushing hard I had completed the last mile in 6:39.  Achieving this had come at cost - my heart rate was now hitting 178.  Also over the last couple of miles the first signs of muscle fatigued had started to make an appearance - both calves were feeling over used and had a little discomfort in my right knee.

I passed through the 8 mile mark just before entering Bellahouston Park, with a flat mile just covered in 6:49, but with no let up in my own effort level, it was now increasingly clear that maintaining 6:40 pace wasn't going to be possible.  My job now was to hang on for the best I could.

For the first half of the race I had found the effort level "comfortably hard" but now it had just become "hard".  For a little light relief at the 8.5 mile mark there was a commentator giving runners high fives and general proclaiming how great we looked and not long to go... It was a fun distraction to get into the spirit and given him and the others in the small crowd a high five too. 

Mile 9 came with a 6:51 mile, shortly after we headed out from Bellahouston Park.  Just before leaving I got a view of my the House of the Art of Lover, back in 2000 I worked there for a year as a Virtual Reality Researcher so it was nice to see bit of personal history.

Mile 10 to the finish

After exiting Bellahouston Park the route headed to Ibrox.  The route was flat but I still felt it a struggle.  While I was still catching groups of runners ahead, there was no often gaps in between so bridge the gap would take a while of running on my own.  Another 6:50 mile passed, so I had started too loose the buffer I had built up ahead of my 1:28:58 PB.  Any mile slower than 6:47 and I loosing ground.

I just hung on for the best I could, and turn my thoughts to the last mile and half along the Clyde - I was determined to run this strong and put everything I had left out on the course.  Just before mile 11 I runner behind me had start talking *really* loudly, I just wanted to concentrate on my winning own battle - not deal with bolshy runners that felt the need to comment on anything and everything.

Eventually the runner passed with a gaggle of other runners wearing the same vest, then it dawned on - he was pacing a set of club runners and coaxing them all to PB's.  This burst the bubble of annoyance that had built up.  However, to just annoy me back they all cruised passed and despite my best attempts to stay with them they moved away.  Running past the BBC centre we reached the mile 11 marker and I had slowed more, 6:54 now.

Shortly after we went of the squinty bridge and then headed east along the north shore of the Clyde, 1.6 miles of flat tarmac to cover.  The 12 mile mark seemed to take an eternity to reach.  It was the home straight so I was steadily upping the effort level to try finish strong, my heart rate headed over 180.  My calves and now my quads too were fried, every step was an effort and filled with pain. Despite the intense effort my pace was slowing, I passed the the 12 miler marker with my pace having slip to over 7min/mile pace for the first time.

I tried my best to work out how much time I had left to do the last 1.11 miles to secure a PB, I had around 7:40 which meant that I'd had get back down to below 7 min/mile pace.  For all my effort I just couldn't pick up the pace, my HR was heading over 180, I was in more pain than in another race I'd done this year, putting in more effort by the speed was just bleeding away.

I set myself targets of runners to catch ahead but for the most part they just stayed the same distance ahead, but stronger runners passed us.  I normally the one finishing strong in races, here I was with my body failing and no amount of will power could drive my legs faster.

The painful drag along the Clyde eventually finished and after a quick left right we headed into Glasgow Green with the finisher line ahead.  As the I looked down at my watch, I had a minute seconds left to get my PB, it looked possible but it was so hard to know just how far it was to the finish.  The crowds were great and as I approached the finish it looked like I was going to so close.  I gave it everything I had in the 100m sprint to try and secure a PB.

I crossed the line and stopped my watch and walked forwards to clear the finish in a world of pain.  Breathless, exhausted, my legs shattered.  I looked down at my watch 1:29:02.

4 seconds slower than my PB.  All that effort, everything that I had to give, and I was 4 seconds too slow.  My year long PB streak was over.


Stats: Average HR 175, Max HR 185 (during "sprint" finish)
          355th overall, 32nd in 45-50 age category, 1:29:02

Post Race:

I collected my medal and goody bag and then headed out onto the Green to meet Julia and the kids.  They had watched me finish from the Grandstand.  We waited for Neil to finish, which he did in 1:48, rather outside where he'd like to have been, but work and life had got in the way of consistent training so it's a time he expected.  Together we walked the mile back to the car and then had very enjoyable lunch at Neil's house on the Southside - thanks Neil :-)

All afternoon I hobbled round in pain.  My body had taken a bigger hammering than when I've done full marathons, really not far off where I was after running the 95 miles of West Highland Way back in June.  I'll leave trying to work why I struggled so much to a follow "Lessons Learn Post".

On the drive home, Julia thankfully drove as I was in no real shape to, but why I was shattered I didn't get to sleep. My daughters did though, payback is taking a photo and posting a photo of them, aren't they adorable ;-)

Drive home, three tired girls... who won't forgive me for this photo!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Great Scottish Run : Should I stay or should I go?

This week was my designated taper week  before tomorrow's Great Scottish Run. My original plan for taper week fell apart last Saturday when I bruised the ball of my right foot whilst running a storming race at the Trossachs 10k, and then made things worse in the evening by over straining my calf fatigued calf muscle when feed the family rabbit that lives in pen in our garden. Rolls ones eyes, I can run 95 miles but I can't even feed a rabbit...  I wrote about this sorry tale in my previous post Triple Taper Trouble but in a comment after I recalled the best scene to encapsulate my predicament:

After being savaged I couldn't even run away, and had rest up for the week rather than do my usual taper.  My injured calf began to clear up right away and was pretty comfortable by Tuesday.  The ball of left foot was still sore though so I stayed off my feet avoiding walking and running.

The only training I did this week was to go out for a cycle on Tuesday putting in a 30 minute interval session.  The session was broken down into 20 second sprints followed by easy cycling.  This was a surprisingly tough sessions for my quads but didn't stress my calves or balls of my feet.  All seemed to going well - one step forward!

After my cycle I put my kit in our washing machine, the door was playing up worse than usual and wouldn't lock and required a sharp kick with my left foot to get it to lock and start functioning.  The kick worked, but was a bit too sharp and right afterwards the ball of my left foot started to hurt.  Argghgh!!!! 

Through the rest of the week I've rested up, no more fights with washing machines or rabbits and by Friday my calves seemed completely settled, and my the right ball of right foot was back to normal, and my left well on the way to settled down.  I tried out a few calf raises and couple of short 20m strides and everything looked to be good to go.  Yay :-) 

All I needed was two more healing sleeps and I'd be back ready to race...

Then the night demons struck at 3:30am Saturday morning.  I awoke from a dream and went to turn over and got a shooting pain right down my right calf.  It was like the full length of a muscle fibre had just gone ping.  This woke me up pretty quickly, I couldn't believe how I could injure myself just rolling over.

I ended getting up, massaging my calf and found my upper calf a little knotted, and the whole calf a bit tender, and painful when stretching it when flexing my ankle pulling my toes towards my knees.  My left calf was a bit tender too.  Both had felt fine for several days, and had felt strong, I hadn't done any training to stress them.  Perplexed I tried my best to relax the muscles and relax mentally, and then got back to sleep.  Sleep in theory being the time when our bodies repair damage so if was to have any chance of fixing myself in time I couldn't short change this aspect of the healing process.

Thankfully when I got up this morning the level of discomfort from my right calf had gone done substantially.  It still felt tender and highly strung, but I could walk pretty comfortably, so perhaps all not lost quite yet.

Today I did two walks, one flat one of 40 minutes this morning, and another one for an hour this afternoon that included walking part way up the Callander Crags.  The views were mixture of beauty and devastation - the damage from the storms from the beginning of the year is still evident.

View from the lower crags path looking towards Loch Venachar

On the crags path looking back towards Callander, first sign of storms

Another 100m up the path, having climbs over two trunk covering path, view below path

Further up, swathes of forest just felled like match sticks
The park rangers haven't touched the crags path yet, so it's impassable without scrambling over lots of trunks that cover the path.  If you want to know why the Crags race has been cancelled twice this year one only needs to look at these pictures.

After these walks and some more massage my right calf is still sore by it's certainly quite a bit better.  I've tried a couple of short 10m jogs and haven't pulled up in pain, I'm not confident enough to risk running further today though.

The woodland up on the crags seem like nature is mirroring what is going on inside my calves.  From the outside it all looks normal and healthy, but inside muscle fibres/trees have are in a bit of mess in places.

Which brings me to the big question.  I'm I fit to run tomorrow?  I don't know how to answer this one yet.  The obvious one is to say pull out and not risk it creating a more serious injury.

The less obvious answer would be to look at what is actually going on in muscles right now.  Just how bad could you damage your muscles fibres by just rolling over in bed?  Were the fibres just not healed and ready to fail on a smallest load?  Or perhaps it's just scar tissue that's binding muscle fibres together that has torn and the core of the muscle fibres is likely still in one piece.

Another possibility is might be that it's my central nervous system that hasn't properly wired itself up after muscle repair earlier in the week.  Could the nerves serving my muscles be wired up in faulty way having not been exercise much during the healing this week?  Could the walks today helped develop the neural pathways required to coordinate these newly repaired muscles?

For me to run tomorrow I have to believe that scar tissue and CNS issues are the primary cause for this hiccup and not a injury to the muscle fibres that will need to do the heavy lifting tomorrow.

Will another nights sleep fix things?  Will adrenalin hide the discomfort and allow me to run when perhaps I shouldn't?

I still really want to do the race tomorrow.  I still would love to lower my half marathon PB.  I haven't run a half marathon since the Buchlyvie half in 2010 when I ran 1:28:58, as I've lowered all my adult PB's at other distances this year so know if I'm fit I should be able to beat it comfortable.

Should I stay or should go (and run!) ?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Triple Taper Trouble

My training plan for the Great Scottish Run was a 3 week schedule of 1 week to recover from the 41 mile River Ayr Way, 1 week of training and for 1 week of taper - which is this week.  Recovery from the RAW went exceptionally well and was back in proper training last week culminating with the Trossachs 10k race where I did a course PB.  All looked to be going perfectly...

Two injuries have since appeared, the first I was aware of immediately after finishing the 10k - the ball of my right foot was sore.  I hadn't felt it during the race, in fact my whole body seemed in great shape during the race with no hints of injuries looming.  My foot wasn't too sore though, but in the afternoon after the race I walked to and from Callander town centre with my family, only about 2 1/2 miles of walking but on a sore foot, so perhaps not the best treatment.

My second injury came about when feeding our family rabbit, it's hutch is in the garden and requires a little stretch to pop the feed in and this little stretch was too much for my fatigued right calf. 

Why the "Triple Taper Trouble" when I only have two injuries to heal by next Sunday?  Well this is the third race that I've now attempted to taper for and got it wrong by over doing training in the week before taper and then ending up injured or overly fatigued.  The first compromised race was my Killin 10k back in August, the second was the RAW, and now the Great Scottish Run.  The only one I haven't screwed up was the Trossachs 10k where I didn't taper and in theory used it as a training run.  A race is race though, and I got carried away and ran a blinder, but am now paying for it...

I really should know better by now.  I know my body is injury prone, particularly when adding high intensity training. Doing so many races so close together is probably a big factor too - a 10k race, three weeks, 41 mile ultra, two week, 10k race, 1 week, Half marathon race this Sunday. 

My schedule won't end there I have a hill walk with friends along the Claunie Ridge the weekend following the half marathon, then two weeks later I'll be running the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra Race.  This means it'll be a four key races each with 3 weeks in between, with extra stuff added in between.

I am loving the training and racing though, I'm in the best shape of my adult life, having PB'd in all races I've done this year, the fitness is their to do a PB at this weekends half marathon and the Jedburgh Ultra at the end of October.  All I have to get to the start line of each race in one piece, and excute them well.

So... back to familiar story, asking how to heal injuries within a week without loosing fitness.  I explored this topic in my "How to heal injuries as quickly as possible" and it worked a treat for the RAW. 

So far this week, on Sunday and Monday I rested up completely.  My right calf muscle is one the mend already and while not ready to run on should be fine in another day or so.  The tender area on ball of right foot is more of concern - it's settled a bit but still uncomfortable when I walk around the house.

Today rather than sit around an wait for my foot to heal I headed out for my first bit of cross training this year - I got on my bike and did a half hour interval session.  I warmed up for 10 minutes with steady cycling then started a series of 20 second sprints with gentle cycling in between waiting for my heart rate to recovery to 130bpm before starting the next sprint.  I managed 12 sprints before getting back to my house.  Getting off my bike I looked like I'd lost my horse, waddling round the house awkwardly with my quads fried.

I followed up the interval sessions with hot bath.  These hot baths can be as tougher than the training sessions as once your core body temperature gets up, your heart starts racing and sweat drips off you, it's not a relaxing bath to have.  My body is getting better at dealing with heat though so am able to get through these hot baths OK now.  These hot baths serve several purposes - gets you clean of course, but training wise the benefits are that it boost aerobic fitness adaptation and boost heat adaptation.

I will need to be careful with the cycling training - I don't want to go an introduce another injury before Sunday, but in general it's a low impact way of keeping the body tuned up.  More hot baths will help retain the heat adaptations that I've built up from all the training. 

A final bit of jigsaw will be getting as much good quality sleep as can this week to help my body heal the injuries.  I don't always manage it, but I will be having a post lunch lie down each day to see if I can get a short nap.  Even if I don't succeed in napping the quieten time will help lower stress and with it Cortisol levels and thus avoid suppressing my immune system when I need it most. 

The night time sleeps and naps are when the bodies does the bulk of it's healing, which is why it's such an important part of getting back to full health and injury free.  I have five more nights sleep left to complete the healing process, fingers crossed.

As the week progresses I'll see how my foot is and if it feels OK try out a walk, and if can complete it wihtout discomfort then the next day I'll try a short recovery run.  Ideally I'd like to have a couple of runs at the end of the week to dial back into running and if possible do a little running at race pace - 6:40 min/mile pace is my target.

Fingers/toes crossed.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Just a quickie : Trossachs 10k 2014 Race Report

As part of my training for the Great Scottish Run (Glasgow half marathon on the 5th of October) I had pencilled in an Fartlek interval session last weekend, a tempo run mid week and left the option open for the Trossachs 10k race this weekend before I do a weeks taper.  My tempo run on Wednesday went well but I overdid it in the last four miles putting them way 10k PB pace, so had DOMS for two days after.  This put my idea of using the Trossachs 10k as my last speed session in doubt... would my overused calf muscles be ready by Saturday?

Thankfully Saturday dawned with sunshine, which always perks me up, and legs that had mostly settled with just a little residual fatigue - I was good to race.  My parents were up for the weekend so drove myself and my two eldest daughter over to Aberfoyle for 10am.  I entered and at registration got chatting with Prasad, a local hill running legend who would be racing the on the relative flat, it's all relative though... the Trossachs 10k is still quite a hilly course with around 300ft of ascent/descent.  Prasad wen't on to win in it 32:30!

At 11am we all assembled at the start around and behind an arch made from Rainbow balloon's.  The arch was to signify the charity that the 10k was racing money for, but structural problems with the arch meant that it had to be reduced in size from one that could span the road to one that could span just a couple of metres.

Even me and my mum look tall next to the starting arch :-)

This little arch was placed at the start in the middle of road and we all assembled around and behind it not really knowing what to do.  This was a bit of of "Spinal Tap" feel to moment.  No time to dwell though, as soon as we were assembled the horn went off and we all scrambled through/around the arch.

My started a bit too far back from the front line of field so my first hundred metres were quite slow as I weaved through the field.

Shortly after start, plenty of road congestion, but sunshine so who minds?  Not me :-)
The start felt very slow as I weaved through the traffic.  My GPS trace suggests I was doing 7 min/mile pace for the first 100m so not too bad really.  I eventually got a bit frustrated an popped up onto the pavement and dropped to the pace to 6min/mile to get past the slowing field, and then slowed back down to pace pace once we turned right and up the first hill.

I'm the runner in blue on the pavement, getting a little impatient
I knew from my Killin 10k PB (39:14) back in August, and my last tempo run that I was in good shape and should be able to do a course PB, but as the course is different to Killin it was hard to know just how fast I might do it in.  I had attempted to go sub 40min at the Trossachs 10k three times before, failing each time as I slowed in the second half, my best attempt had been a 40:35 back in 2011.  A sub 40 min time felt like a good target, this meant 4 min per km.

Half a km into the race and I had made my way into the top ten, and by the first km marker I was in 7th.  The time was 4:08, ouch my slow start had meant I was quite well down on my target.  The next km was on average uphill so was slow too, I went through in 8:10.   Ouch.. A sub 40 min time wasn't going to come easy.

I was working comfortably hard, heart rate already up around the mid 170's - rather try and pull back the time quickly I just focused on running smoothly and keeping the effort level up to where I felt I could sustain it.  The 3km marker came with good news, I went through in 12:06 so I was now just 4 seconds down.  The 4km market came in 16:02 and I was slowly gaining on the 6th placed runner who was now only 30m ahead.

The half way point is always a key point in a race and my previous races at Trossachs 10k I had often got to the half way point just under 20 minutes.  This year was no exception I went through in 19:58, the difference this year was how I felt - I was pushing hard but felt stronger and more control of the race.  The second half has several more hills to tax ones legs so I knew the race wasn't in the bag yet.

I passed the 6km marker in 23:54, and 7km passed I was chipped some more time off my 4 min/mile target.  Each km also felt like it passed quickly.  Some races fatigued just warps time so every step, every marker seems to take forever, and previously couple times at the Trossachs 10k had been like this, with me desperately hanging on for the last few km trying to stay ahead of the 4min/mile target and loosing.   This year was different, I was running faster and still had a little in reserve. 

I had been catching the 6th placed runner from the 2nd km, and on the last hill before the 8km marker I got to within 5m on the ascent and waited till the descent to make a decisive move to overtake. I caught and passed strongly but knew the next few hundred meters were crucial, I couldn't just pass and then stay a few meters ahead if I wanted to secure 6th, I'd need to keep the surge going.

The last km you go from forest tracks and paths to tarmac path.  The path is very slightly uphill and when running hard at the end of 10k it can really drag.  For the first time in 8km I caught a glimpse of runners perhaps a couple of hundred meters ahead, I was closing the gap but they were way too far ahead to.  I steadily wound up the pace to best I could manage, racing against the clock, I was confident of a sub 40 min time, but how far below?

100 meters to go, my dad captures me flying!
 Massive crowds roared us in, ok, a few families and walkers, and for a bit of novely my dad was hear to capture it all.

Having fun running flat out

50m's to go.

I passed through the rainbow arch and stop my watch, 39:34 in 6th place out of 76th finishers.  A personal best for the route of 1:01.  I was completely out of breath at the finish so struggled to chat to my family and friends for a minute, but I was totally elated on running such a good race.

My thanks to Trossachs 10k organizers and marshals, it was another great race.  Thanks also to my parents for their support, and to my dad for the great photos.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Training for the Great Scottish Run (Glasgow Half)

Today my race number and timing chip arrived for the Great Scottish Run, time to reflect on what my goals and training will be!

Curiously the number comes in two parts, one for the front - my number 2581, and one for the back with a blank area for "I'M RUNNING FOR" for me to fill in. So what should I fill in.

My heart says "Scottish Unity" after all the divisions that Referendum created/highlighted. While the sentiment is how I feel, I'm not sure a running vest is the time or place for it. 

At a personal level I could just say "Personal Best" as that's why I signed up for the race.

If I was doing the Kielder Marathon again I could always use the tag line "A BUS" as nod to the daft bugger who skipped the last six miles when I ran it back in 2011, and yes I ran the whole way.

Chasing a Personal Best

So a half marathon "Personal Best" is what this race is all about for me.  My thoughts are primarily about Ultra-marathons these days, all my shorter races are fillers or as training for the Ultra's.  It's still nice to see progress with my fitness across the board though.  I've had a run of PB's this year across a full spectrum of distances, so it's only natural I'd want to a full set and have a go at bettering the 1:28:58 time I set back in November 2010 at the Buchlyvie half.

With PB's this year at the Killin 10k and Kielder Marathon one would expect the distance in between to be an easy target to achieve.  However, I ran a blinder at the Buchlyvie half, running much faster than I ever expected that frosty, still morning back in 2010.  Even now I still don't know quite how I kept up 6:47 pace for 13 miles as this wasn't much slower than my 10k pace back then.  Some days everything goes right and you run out of your skin.

I can't assume this will happen this time around, but I'll need to train and taper pretty flawlessly if I am to achieve my goal of PB.  My training for the Killin 10k last month went really well till the last 7 days when I over stretched myself and then screwed up the taper.  I did pretty well the same thing for the River Ayr Way Challenge (RAW) - injurying my calf in a 21 mile long run just 7 days before race day.

This time around I have to get the taper right, and this is dependant on the training I do now as well.  To complicate matters I ran a 41 mile ultra just 9 days ago, and there are only a totally of 22 days between the RAW, so within this three week block I have to recover from the RAW, training, then taper.

If I get everything right, then I think I should be able to get a few minutes under my old PB, but this means aiming for a sub 6:40 min/milling, this pace is right around the fastest pace that I can manage tempo runs at.  Hanging on at this pace for a full 13 miles rather than just the 8 miles I during tempo runs feels pretty daunting but doable.

The following is roughly how  I'm breaking my preperation for the Glasgow half up:

Ultra marathon race recovery : 1 week.

The classic rule of thumb for marathon's is that it take you a day per mile to recover fully from a Marathon, so 26 days.  If we use this rule of thumb for the RAW I've just done then it'll be 41 days, which is 19 days AFTER the Glasgow half.  OK. We'll bin that, it just won't do.

If we make a small adjustment from 1 day per mile, to 1 day per 6 miles than we have just under 7 days to recover.  Yep that's sounds doable.  What's a factor of 6 between friends?

So I've done my recovery week.  I took two full days off, just walking a mile the first day, then two on the second.  For the rest of the week I ran a four mile recovery run, then a couple of six milers and then last Saturday I ran a lazy 13 miler along Loch Venachar and had a lovely time in the sunshine.

My run on Saturday went really well, my legs felt relaxed and comfortable most of the way, just a little discomfort in my left calf and left quad in the last couple of miles.  Pretty amazing really, one week after an tough race and not far off fully recovered!

Training : 1 Week

My training started yesterday (Sunday) and consisted off at Fartlek session where I did a combination of 20 second hill and flat sprint intervals with a gently job in between.  I would start the next sprint when my heart rate got back down to 150, run fast but not fully flat out counting to twenty then easy off.  My aim was to maintain my running form at speed, keeping relaxed as much as possible as fatigue built up in the last 5 seconds of each interval.

I managed 10 of these sprints before my left calf felt a bit too uncomfortable to risk doing more.  I jogged the final three miles home and nice gentle 9 min/mile pace.  On my return leg I was caught by another runner and we got chatting and he said he recognized me.  Eventually he asked whether I had a blog... Small world!  It turned out that he'll also be doing the Glasgow half too.  Doubly small world!!  (Hi to David if you're reading)

After the speed session I took the whole family down to Loch Venachar to enjoy the sun and go for a walk along the loch side.  What I way to wind down. ;-)

Loch Venachar walk and chill

Classic Paragliding style selfie in my F-Lite 232's

Today I did a 6 mile recovery run at 10 min/mile pace to help build some aerobic fitness and also loosen us muscle tensions created by the faster running.  After a 10 days of elevated heart rate when resting and running today was a pleasant surprise - I'm already back to where I was earlier this month before the RAW and in the run up to the Killin 10k back in August.

To help with adaptations I had a hot bath right after my run rather than a shower.  Studies on mice and athletes have found that heat stimulus can help stimulate the immune system to improve aerobic fitness as well as providing adaptations for handling the heat itself.

The recovery run did it's job and since the run my legs have felt much more relaxed and ready for more training.

The next run I'll need to work around will be a possible 10k race next Saturday - the Trossachs 10k in Aberfoyle. While my focus is the half marathon this local race is always friendly and fun to run so it'd be a shame to miss it.  Training wise I can use it as a tempo run.

This gives me four days till the 10k to fit in any other training, which provisionally I'll break up into a Tempo run on Tuesday, Recovery run on Wednesday, Fartlek session on Thursday and another Recovery run on Friday.

This is potentially four speed sessions in one week which is a lot of stress to place on my body.  Sleep will need to be a priority, avoiding stress and eating well will all need to respected to make sure my body has the chance it needs to recover.  My recovery runs will be just that too, they'll be kept very slow, and down to four miles if I need it.

I will also listen to my body, if I'm not recovering quick enough I will either cut out the speed sessions or cut down the length, number or intensity of the speed segments to avoid overloading my body.

My aim with these training sessions is primarily to tune my body up rather than build a great deal of fitness.  You physically can't built that much fitness in a week, but you can adjust your blood volume and muscle tension and tune in the central nervous system (CNS) so that it's primed for running fast.

Taper : 1 week

The key things I need to achieve with the taper are:
  1. Recover fully from training week
  2. Maintain heat adaptation required to keep cool while running fast
  3. Maintain blood volume and aerobic fitness
  4. Maintain Muscle tension appropriate for 6:40 pace
Item 1 means that I need to cut my mileage down and the intensity of the training runs.  To do it would probably be best to do a series of recovery runs at the beginning of the taper week to iron out any niggles.

Once I'm recovered from the hard training runs I'll then mix easy runs with short stride sections at around race pace.  These race pace sections will be kept short to avoid creating a training load, but be enough to keep my muscle tension and CNS tuned into race race.

Finally to maintain blood volume and heat adaptions more hot baths and/or sessions in the sauna will be required.

Also staying relaxed, sleep well and eating well will all be a priority as well.

Race Day: Go FAST!!!

I'll there to get a PB, anything less and we'll... my PB streak will be at an end and where's the fun in that :-)

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Scotland, let this land inspire us to be united once more

I can think of no better way to gain a fresh perspective on the our place in Scotland than to go for a run through it's beguiling lochs and mountains.  The geology of this great land is unmoved by politics, it's mountains have watched over this land from well before humans first walked on this Earth. Storms, wars, volcano's, earth quakes, ice ages, all making their mark like lines on an old fisherman's weathered face.  Our little human epoch is just a blink of eye in geological time.

So here's my pictures from my humble little run, 13 mile out/back from Callander alongside Loch Venachar past Invertrossachs house and back.

Just leaving Callander, running along Invertrossachs road looking towards Ben Ledi

Camera Phone accidental photo... it was such a lovely day even the shadows and texture looked cool to me... OK might be suffering low blood sugar :-)

Arriving at the wast end of Loch Venachar looking east towards Ben Venue

Phone was playing up, couldn't handle the sunshine!

Red squirrel ran along across the road in front of me and up this tree - spot it if you can!  Trossachs is one of the remaining strongholds for these gorgeous wee creatures, but even so you only get to spot them a few times each year

Looking back east towards Callander.

Invertrossachs house nestles amongst the forest.  Ben Venue in background

Return leg, loch is so incredibly low right now, it's been an dry summer

Sunshine too warm for Highland Cow and her calves

With my shaggy hair and red beard, and short sturdy legs, I do wonder if I might be related to a Highland Cow...

Does Scotland not fill you wonder and pride? Does me, what an awesome place we live!!!