Sunday, 30 November 2014

Training Log Analysis : Consistency is the key to improving fitness

Today I wrapped up a running every day this November, and also marks the 12 months from when I began training for the West Highland Way Race back on the December 1st 2013.  These past 12 months have been real breakthrough for me in  a range of different ways:
  • First year that I've avoided serious injury 
  • Was able to train consistent training month after month.  
  • Settings Personal Bests in all but one race this year - from 10k to 95 miles.
All these aspects on my year are inextricably linked - by avoiding injury I was able to training more consistently, and by being more consistent my fitness and robustness became protective from injury.    With consistent training fitness built and the PB's.

Training Log Analysis

Being a scientific type I'm drawn to analysing my own training and performance to see how what I can learn from it and become a better runner.  The first step to analysis is collective as data on training and racing, and with modern phone with GPS's and running app's that enable one to track every run conveniently - the one I've used over the past four years has been SportyPal.  While these app's provide an online means of tracking training and racing they don't provide any scope for in depth analysis.

To do the training/racing analysis I've had to logged my Heart Rate, Calories (estimated by HR monitor), Route, Pacing and Elevation/Descent details into a Spreadsheet and from their can compute various parameters, such as Effective Efficiency - how many Calories I used per mile.  Different routes have different amount of ups and downs, and running longer introduces HR drift, and adrenalin during racing also affects the HR, which in turn affects the HR monitors estimate of Calories used, so I've come up with a formula for normalizing the Calories/Mile to give an Effective Calories/Mile so that two different runs can be more directly compared.

This approach allows me to compare all runs and races throughout the whole year using a single metric to see how my fitness might be progressing.  Using just a single metric is huge simplification, but looking at my logs for training and racing there my race performance do broadly follow the ups and downs of my Effective Efficiency.  This metric is an effect a proxy for my Aerobic Fitness.  Being able to compare all runs means I can analyse trends and relationships - and tease out how different changes in my running affects my fitness.

Year on Year Trends

Follows is a graph showing how my average monthly mileage has progressed over the past five years:

Average Monthly Mileage Progression

The key change in being able to do a higher monthly average was avoiding serious injury.  All previous years I've had several different injuries that have knocked me out for lots of consecutive weeks or curtailed mileage to try and allow injuries to heal.  Almost all these injuries were overuse injuries of different types - running too far or too fast too often without sufficient recovery.

What I have learnt this year is that recovery shouldn't mean inactive, rather the opposite - active recovery has the bed rock of my running this year.  I have ran far more recovery runs and far less stressful runs like tempo, sprints and 2:30hr+ long runs.  Shifting my training to include far more recovery runs is reflected in the average speed of my runs:

Average training run speed Progression

My slowest average speed has been 2014, the closest I've come before is 2010 when I experimented with Maffetone style low Heart Rate Training, that year keeps things slower helped keep the mileage up, but didn't prevent injury entirely as I still was training more to a fixed plan rather than just listening to my body and deciding upon runs based on whether I felt my body was capable of doing it comfortably.

While my average training speed has got slower my racing speeds have all increased, in particular my ultra speeds that are now 20% better than they were back in 2010.  A key lesson from this is:

Running slower on average doesn't make you slower on race day.

One can see the affect of getting injured more clearly when we look at the month by month mileage that I've been able to do since January 2010. 

Monthly mileage from Jan 2010
In 2010 I only managed two months over 150 miles before I seconded to injury.  In 2011 I didn't even manage to get over 110 miles in any one month.   2012 was my first year I tackled the Highland Fling and my training went pretty well, and was able to build to a 200 mile month, but for the rest of the year things become more injury dominated.

In 2013 I tried to recapture my success in the spring of 2012 and did two high mileage months on January and February but ended up injured in March and subsequently had to pull out of the Fling.  I got to marshal just before Drymen which meant I didn't go completely to waste :-)

 During this period I started reading about different diets and late spring adopted a diet based on the Perfect Health Diet - a paleo inspired diet, which entained reducing the amount of carbs, especially from sugars and grains, eating more healthy fats (mono-unstaturated and saturated fats, avoiding omega 6 polyunsaturated fats) and more healthy proteins, and lots veg and mineral rich foods.   A diet higher in far, lower in carbs meant that my body shifted from primarily carbs for fuel to fats for fuel, something I could feel through the day with feeling more even energy levels, and this also became apparent when I started to race.

My injuries didn't settle until a month before the 2013 Devil O'Highlands race so I had to quickly ramp up the mileage and then race.  Despite doing hardly any training I ran far better than I had ever imagined finishing in 7:17 - and hour faster than I was expecting.  I believe the change in diet was a big factor in running a good race and finishing really strongly.  Another factor was racing by heart rate.  Curiously the theme "listen to your body" appears even in my racing now as racing by heart rate ensures you can never ignore how you body is responding to the demands of the day.

Finally when we look at 2014 we can see first 6 months of the year during my build up to running the West Highland Way Race I managed a block of consistent training - every month of 150 miles, and four of which over 200 miles.  The only dip in the mileage was in July directly after the WHWR when I was taking it easy recovery from a calf injury incurred during the big race.

Once this was healed up I got back into serious training and doing over 200 miles in August, a bit less in September of October when I dipped into over training and started to get a serious of minor injuries that knocked me out for a week at a time.  The over training was caused by too many tempo runs and races - two 10ks, two ultra and half marathon.

Since my final ultra in October (the Jedburgh 3 Peaks) I have been taking things easy - no runs longer than 13 miles and no runs faster than 8 min/mile pace.  I have however ran every day so the mileage has racked up - 2011 miles the 30 days of November is my second highest mileage ever, and it was a doddle, just a few niggles here and there, but no injuries, just feeling stronger as each week progressed.

The only little interruption has been having a bit of cold this last week, but it has stopped me running, just led to slightly elevated heart rate when running.  I haven't ignored this though - I've taken things even easier this week with more recovery paced runs (9 to 10 min/miles.)

If we now look at the effect that all these ups and downs in mileage, or consistent higher mileage achieved this year we can look at my Effective Calories Per Mile:
The overall trend year on year is greater Effective Efficiency (less Calories per mile reported by HR monitor), but it's far from smooth graph - with big spikes upwards when injury strikes and mileages severely affected.  My good block of training in the spring of 2012 is reflected by a block of better Efficiency, but then when injury hits I loose fitness quite rapidly, and for the rest of 2012 and 2013 is up and down like a yo-yo.

The Autumn of 2013 was a bit revelation - boosted by my diet changes and more relaxed attitude towards getting the mileage in with training I had a great series of races, Devil O Highlands, River Ayr Way and finally the Jedburgh Three Peaks. After doing better than I expected in these races it finally felt like I was getting ontop of how to eat, train and race ultras so I entered the West Highland Way Race.

With the knowledge of lots of training ahead I decided to take November most off from training, only running when it was sunny and only to play.  It was fun but with only covering 57 miles in November 2013 my aerobic fitness was knocked back significantly.  If you look at the 11/12/13 column in the above graph you'll see my Effective Efficiency went from 83 Calories/Mile to nearly 89 Calories/Mile.

Once I started training in December 2013 I fully expected to regain the good fitness that I had in October 2012 but it wasn't to be.  My training went well but improvements in Effective Efficiency were slow coming, but they came average month till April.  At the end of march I ran a blinder at Loch Katrin marathon and set an new PB but in the recovery week afterwards strained my calf and then had to back off for doing higher mileage and just stuck to shorter recovery runs for another week.

With this break in the consistent mileage, and then the taper for the Highland Fling at the end of April I found my Effective Fitness values getting worse.  I still ran a great Fling though - knocking over an hour of my 2012 time.  After the Fling I got a good block in training in and fitness improvements returned.

In June I taper for and ran the West Highland Way Race, then took the rest of June off.  Another great race, but with the lower mileage and possibly the effects of pre race nerves my Effective Efficiency got a little worse. 

In the second half of July my calf injury sustain in the big race had healed and consistent training was possible again and with it my fitness marker was back to improving.   In August I got back to doing a 200 mile both, doing tempo runs and sprints as well lots of recovery runs all in prep for the Killin 10k where I did another PB.  Efficiency was also up.

With only 3 weeks between the Killin 10k and River Ayr Way Challenge (41miles) I had to recovery, training and then taper.  This turned out too short a time to squeeze all the training in and I ended injured from a 20 mile long run on week before the RAW so had to take most of the week off.  My Effective Efficiency suffered as a consequence.  I also feel my actual RAW performance also suffered a bit as well.   I still did a half hour PB, but it was 15 minutes slower than I expected.

After the RAW I had three weeks to recover, train and taper for the Great Scottish Run (Glasgow half).  Training looked to be going well and ran a great Trossachs 10k with another PB 8 days before the half, but ended with a niggle that turning into an injury that I had to rest up the week before the race.  This time my race went pear shaped from mile 11 onwards and really struggled home.  My average heart rate was a crazy 176 for the race, 2 higher than it'd had been for my 10k but despite the huge effort missed out on a half marathon PB (by four seconds).  I suspect I had a virus that day that compounded my wayward taper.

After half marathon the rest of October things came back good, my Effective Efficiency values improved steadily through the month and came close to matching what I saw in October in 2013.  Given the fitness markers were around the same I expected a similar time around 6:28 I achieved in 2013, but ran a perfect race finishing in 6:06.  What a way to finish my racing year :-)

Having lots a lot of fitness by taking last November off, and taking such a long time to get back to that level of fitness I decided this year to just keep training, but take things easy.  This approach has really bedded in the fitness gains I've seen over the year, with this month being best Effective Efficiency figures I have ever recorded, with a pretty big improvement from last month - from 82 Calories/mile in October to 78 Calories/Mile in November.

To say the least I'm chuffed to bits finishing the year where I've ran some amazing races feeling strong, relaxed and fitter than I have ever been in my adult life.  The broad conclusion from looking at the training logs and my race performances:

In 2013 I fixed my diet.

In 2014 I fixed my training.

Detailed Analysis effects of training in past thirteen months:

The last thirteen months have seen me go from a month off through various higher and lower mileage months, with my Effective Efficiency generally trending in the right direction but with ups and downs along the way.  When deciding how to further improve on my training I want to learn what types of training improved my fitness most.

Two simple questions of training are :
  1. how often each month is it best to train?
  2. how much time each month is it best to train?

1. How each month is it best to train?

To answer the first question I've taken the looked at the ratio of efficiency to ratio of % of days run between consecutive months.   A ratio of 1.05 on efficiency delta relates to 5% improvement in Effective Efficiency, while a 0.5 ratio of % of days run relates to a halving of the number of days run.  A ratio of 1.0 for either axis relates to no change of that parameter.  When I plot these ratios I get the following graph:

Vertical Axis is Efficiency Ratio, Horizontal is % days run ratio

There are several things that jump out from the graph:
  1. The graph shows that 9 out of 13 months I improved my efficiency
  2. All 4 months where efficiency got worse I reduced the number of days I ran
  3. Two months I reduced the number of days a modest amount and still improved efficiency
  4. All 7 months where I increased the number of days I ran I improved my efficiency
Apart from the December outlier that sits on the right side of the graph where I returned to running last year all the other 12 months fit surprisingly well along a curved line where increasing % days of month than your run increases efficiency.

The above results suggest that the more times your run each month the better. Perhaps this one of the key reasons when Elite athletes typically find it best to run twice or more a day?

2. how much time each month is it best to train?

To answer this second question I used a similar approach plotting a graph of Ratio of Effective Efficiency vs Ratio of Total amount of time per Month of consecutive months.

Vertical Axis is Efficiency Ratio, Horizontal Axis is Total Time Ratio

The plot is far more noisy with no clear progression.  Grouping the months by which ones I saw an improvement/worsening results we can say:
  1. Of the 9 months out of 13 that improved on Efficiency, 4 months I reduced my total time running, while 5 months I increased total time training
  2. Of the 4 months out of 14 that I saw worsening Efficiency, 2 months I reduced total time training, while 2 months I increased total time training
If one draw an averaged curve through the points we'd see a slight improvement in efficiency with increasing total amount of time running, however, the range of values above and below this curve is very wide.

The level of noise on these figures may well be influenced by the nature of the months that I ran lots of time - the months when I ran long ultra's like the Highland Fling and West Highland Way Race.  These months I reduced the number of runs I did but increased total time.  I was tapering, racing and recovering all of which do have an influence on my efficiency figures.

Given these possible influences it may be that increasing training time will have a stronger positive influence on efficiency.  However, such a correlation is clearly much weaker than the correlation between running more often and improving efficiency.


My experiences over the last 5 years and the analysis presented in this post together paint a picture of work works best for me:
  1. Training to a pre-prescribed training plan can easily lead to injury so be very wary about trying to match others, or a fixed training schedule
  2. Injury leads to time off training which significantly impacts fitness
  3. One should train as often as can make time for:
    1. Every day is great (can be difficult possible for amateurs like myself)
    2. Double is even better (something only Elite's typically strive for)
  4. Training more often is more important more time on feet
  5. Training every day is more important that training fast or long
  6. If training slower allows you to run more often then train slower!
  7. If training with less long runs allows you to run more often then train shorter!
  8. Avoid injury, listen to your body, you can only improve when your body is ready for it
  9. Training effect and training volume depends entirely on how well one recovers from training and racing - put extra effort in making sure you recover as best you can
    1. Eat well
    2. Sleep well
    3. Make sure you relax quickly after bouts of mental and physcial stress
    4. Take hot baths after training
    5. Only Take cold baths after racing
    6. No static stretching
    7. Self massage (foam roller etc.) can be beneficial

With the Macothon starting on the 1st of December (tomorrow as I write this) is a challenge where you run at least 5km every day for every day in December.  My experience and analysis of training logs all point to how beneficial training everyday even if it's a modest distance at modest intensity can be - exactly what the Marcothon promotes so lace you trainers and join us!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra 2014 : Race Report

Recovery, Training and Taper

After a disappointing race at the Great Scottish Run my PB streak for the year was over, and this little Glasgow half marathon road race also trashed my legs so I no longer had high expectations for Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon.  Rather than attempt to get into peak fitness for running and ultra in the three weeks between the GSR and Three Peaks I simply focused on recovering from the half marathon for the first week and then taking it easy thereafter.

Six days after the GSR I went up with friends to the Cluanie Inn for a couple of nights, on the Saturday walking the 7 Munro's along the Cluanie Ridge.  My legs had only just recovered from the half marathon so I was a bit nervous about a full days walking but they held up fine, and we completed the 17 mile walk just before dusk.  Over 6,000ft of ascent and descent and 9hrs on my feet walking is longest I've been on my feet since the West Highland Way Race so I had DOMS for a few days afterwards. 
Traversing the South Cluanie Ridge with friends
However, I was more than happy to have DOMS, as hill walking served as great training for the covering the Three Eildons come race day. 

The final two weeks training and taper I kept low key, keeping my pace down to 9 to 10min/miles on all runs, mixing in lots of hills and range of distances between 4 and 15 miles.  Everything was done at an low intensity, for a couple of reasons:
  1. Fully recover from the GSR and Cluanie Ridge walk
  2. Avoid over training like I had for the GSR, RAW and Killin 10k
  3. Re-tune my brain/muscles from road racing to hilly ultra pace.
  4. Relax and enjoy the colours of Autumn
The weather wasn't always great but I had some really beautiful runs and rather than taper continued running right through the week before the Three Peaks race, only taking off the Friday before the race as I needed to spend the time getting my kit and food/drink supplies together.

I covered 35 miles in the 6 days before the race, but was pretty happy as my legs felt fresh after each run thanks to the relaxed pace.  This all looked like I had avoided the over training problems I had with my previous races this Autumn, but out of the blue in the last two days my hip flexors decided to become tender. Taperitis even when not doing a normal taper?

The Friday night before the race I went to bed at 10pm and feeling tired, with the knowledge that I'd need to be up at 4:30am and out the door by 5:15am the next morning to get down from Callander to Jedburgh for the race.  I tossed and turned all night but never got to sleep - I didn't feel particularly nervous but my body was just getting itself into race mode.  I have given up trying to fight this process, so ended up getting up shortly after 4am and left for Jedburgh just before 5am with the thought than just maybe I might be able to register and then get a little shut eye in the car.

The 2hr drive down it was dark all the way and got buffeted by some pretty strong cross winds, otherwise it was a pretty straight forward drive - being on my own I also got to enjoy a few CD's that the rest of my wee family haven't acquired a taste for yet.

At registration I was processed very efficiently by Noanie and got to catch up with few of the usual suspects - Karl Zeiner was gunning for a sub 6hr, and Donald Sandeman was loving doing an ultra for his birthday and Craig MacKay was being his usual mischievous self... The friendly atmosphere of ultra's is such a nice contrast to anonymous masses of the big city races like the Great Scottish Run.

Race goals and pacing plan:

Unlike the rest of my races this Autumn I really didn't set out with any strong objectives - I just wanted to enjoy the race and if possible get near to my time of 6:28 that I had done at last year's Jedburgh Three Peaks.  My average calories per mile for my training runs through October were very close to what they were in the weeks before last years race so loosely aiming for around the same time seemed reasonable.

In my previous article Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon 2014 Splits I included the following goals for the day:
  • Platinum : sub 6:10
  • Gold        : sub 6:20
  • Silver      : sub 6:30
  • Bronze    : sub 6:45
Any faster than 6:30 seemed like a bonus, so I ran with splits for this 6:30:

   Start          8 am
   Maxton         10miles   9:35am   1:35hr
   Ryhmer's Stone 18miles   10:45am  1:10hr
   Maxton         28miles   12:50pm  2:05hr
   Jedburgh       38 miles  2:30pm   1:40hr

This would be just a general guide for progress though, my plan was to run by heart rate aiming to average around 160 like I had achieved in this years River Ayr Way race.  Last year I averaged 158 at the Jedburgh Three Peaks Race but felt that getting cramp had slowed be in the last 8 miles, something I was hoping to avoid this time around and keep the intensity up right to the finish.

Race start: Jedburgh to Maxton, 10 miles, split schedule 1:35hr

At 7:45am we given a short race briefing at the Leisure Centre, then all assembled on top of small mound outside the Leisure Centre.  Before I really had time to sort out my jacket, set my phone to record a GPS trace were sent on our way at 8am so I jogged off still stuffing things in my AK Race Vest.

The field quickly settled down to four abreast doing 9 min/miles heading along the path with some runners spilling out on the road.   The pace was bang on where I wanted to be so just bobbled in the crowds.  About a mile along the road checks against my Heart Rate monitor confirmed that we were taking things nice and easy, and my first real sign that today might be a good day my heart rate wasn't doing it's usual race thing of shooting up to 160+ within the first mile.

In a group ahead I recognized Kathy Henly, in the River Ayr Way in 2013 she had beaten me 7 minutes with her overtaking me after the 5 mile point never to be seen till the finish.  By mile two the the little group I had begun to fracture and Kathy was already 50m ahead and moving away, this spurred me to evaluate my own pace.  As my HR was below 150 I decided I had the headroom to pick up a gear began over taking runners.

This year the entry to the river side path that takes you away from the main road and then over the river was marshalled so there was no mistakes like last year where the whole field headed up the road following the half marathon cones.  Following the official St. Cuthbert's way route was 0.2 mile longer but along a quieter country road.  Along this road section I was moving well enough, but both hip flexors were a little tender and had some tightness in my right calf, neither affected my gait or pace, but it was disappointing to now be warmed up and still having these niggles - would they get worse through the day?

Around the 2 mile mark Craig Mackay appeared on my shoulder, he hadn't started with the main field, instead opting to wave us all off as if he wasn't competing - all as a ruse to convince Donald Sandeman that he was just supporting.  Once we had left he changed into his running kit and sped after us with the "cunning" plan of giving Donald a lovely birthday surprise.  Donald and Craig have established a bit of "friendly" rivalry and take much joy in beating each in other races.

Craig and I ran together for the next two miles, chatting away and steadily moving through the field.  By the time we got the wobbly bridge Donald was only 100m or so ahead.  Crossing the bridge was pretty horrible with so many runners trying to cross at once.  One second you'd be cruising along getting a bit of helpful bounce, the next the waves would suck every once of energy from your legs.  Once over the wobbly bridge there is short incline and here Craig pushed on to catch Donald while I kept to my plan of keeping my heart rate down to around the 160.

The two miles of the trail were mostly gently uphill through woodland.  There were lots of leaves lying on the trail which made spotting footing difficult, and went over my ankle once when stepping awkwardly on a hidden stone.  The trail was drier than last year and the colours were glorious so overall this section felt more like play than running a race.  To my surprise I caught and passed Kathy, did this mean I was going out too fast?

Around the six mile mark we left the woodland and then follow the trail up and over the more open countryside with great views either side.   The relative cool conditions, around 10 degrees C,  meant that my body wasn't having to work hard to get rid of heat like it had during this year's RAW, so found it easy to keep jogging uphill at a descent pace with my HR heading over 160.

Half way along the heath I feel into step with Jedbrugh Ultra first timer David Hanna.  We got chatting, we discussed various things on route, David's goal was for a sub 7hr time, and he mentioned about a blog he'd read in the week about splits for the race... well urghh... that'd be my blog you then :-)

David and I were both moving well, I was pretty confident of being quicker to Maxton than last year and once we got onto the road that takes you downhill to Maxton we were soon clicking away the miles at 7:30min/mile pace and arrived at 9:30pm, 5 minutes ahead of my 6:30 schedule.  My guess for finishing time if we kept up the pace was 6:10 to 6:15, well ahead of my own expectations and far ahead of where David had planned.

At the checkpoint I put my empty bottles in the provided bin bag and unpacked my drop bag and left stowing my snack and two bottles.  As I left David was still busy with his own drop bag, as I had already taken longer than I was intending to I headed off and was on my own once more.

Jedburgh to Maxton, 10 miles, 1:30:08, 44th place, 5 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule

Maxton to Rhymer's Stone, 6.8 miles, split shedule 1:10

After passing the church at Maxton you go through a short section of woodland heading downhill and then down wooden steps to an undulating section just above the river Tweed.  I enjoyed this little section till the runner I was catching in front discarded an empty bottle from the path with it tumbling down the wooded slope.  What a "fecking tosser" ran through my head, I was close to having a go at him, but with more than a marathon left to go I decided creating a bad vibe wouldn't do either of our races any good so bit my lip and went past.

After less than half a mile you descend downs steps to the river side running through a field of cows.  The sun came out on this section which made the jogging along in lovely surrounds very civilized indeed.  I kept to my pacing strategy of running with a HR around 160 and found myself steadily passing other runners.  Just before the B6404 crossing caught up with Donald Sandeman and Craig MacKay, Craig had entered under the anagram/pseudonym "Gay Crack-aim" to hide his entry from Donald. As I approached Crag shouted out with a mischievous tone "how's the heart rate?".

Craig had caught Donald back in the woods around mile 4 so poor Donald's birthday ultra treat of being able to run without his nemesis had been dashed.  He claimed that he already had enough of the banter, something that he had to put up with quite a while longer as Craig would cling on till they returned to Maxton.  After the final check-point at Maxton Donald finally pulled away for a richly deserved win over Craig who limped in over an hour later than Donald.  This was all to unfold for them, for me I had my own race to run, and as my heart rate was dropping keeping pace with the duo so I bid them good luck and moved on.  Not before Craig called out that I was making my move too early!

Was I?  Well I hadn't actually made any move apart for maintain the same intensity throughout the whole race, the fact that I was steadily pacing other runners was down to them slowing rather than me speeding up.  It was great to be able to run comfortable at the 9 min/miles, my heart rate and engergy levels both looked to be well under control.  I was eating and drinking to plan.

The only physical warning signs were from my hip flexors and right calf, both were uncomfortable niggles but weren't affecting my gait.   As were approaching the 2hr mark I made the quick decision to take painkillers, with 4hrs left to run I couldn't be bothered with having nagging pain for the rest of the way.

The various milestones on route came by quickly, first the golf course, then St. Boswell's.  One of the race route signs had the world "Toilets" on which was a nice touch, I presume they meant the public lavatories across the road rather than pee on the lamp post, woof!

After St. Boswell's you drop back down to the river side which look magnificent with all the Autumn colours and little bit of sunshine.  The trail can be narrow and quite technical in places, but apart from a couple of very short sections was free from mud.  I loved this section, back to play rather than racing.

Eventually we popped up next to the Golf course then across to the A68 crossing.  The crossing was well marshalled, but also unfortunately quite busy with traffic so ended waiting with a follow runner.   We fell in step and chatted for most of the way to Rhymer's stone, just before the check point a friend of his caught up with us.  Once on the downhill road section to the check point I relaxed and let gravity speed me up and ended hitting the check point first.

I did another awkward change over of my empties and supplies, probably taking less than 30 seconds but it still felt longer than it should.  Part of the problem is that I had wrapped up my drop bag with tape too securely so it was hard to get the bottles and snacks out.

Maxton to Rhymer's stone, 16.8 miles, 2:38 elapsed, 37th place, 1:07:52 split, 33rd place, 7 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule

Rhymer's stone to Maxton, 10.9 miles, split schedule 2:05hr

Immediately after the check point you start heading uphill, intially along a path between hedges, then up onto the open ground on the lower slopes of the first of the Eildon's.  Above half a dozen or more runners stretched out on the ascent, how many might I be able to catch them all before the end of the race?

This year the ascent felt easy, I didn't have anyone chasing me up so I was able to just get into my own groove, keeping my HR down to around 160 without much difficulty.  I felt comfortable climbing but still was quick enough to catch a couple of runners before the first summit.

Great views from just below the first summit, photo courtesy of Mark Davey (Border Telegraph)

The ascent had been sheltered from the wind, but as soon as you got to the summit you had to push into a 30+mph head wind.  There were great views all around, topped off by a rainbow.  I didn't hang around on the top and charged gleefully into the wind and down the other side.  The wind took some of the intensity of the ascent out of your legs so it was fun descent, bounding down and past walkers.

At the base of the next hill I passed another runner jogging until the path steeped up.  A pair of runners were 50m ahead at the start of the climb, and by the summit had closed this to 20m.  I thought I was climbing well but was caught by another runner.  I complimented him on his climbing ability and we got chatting.  He was new to ultra running but found the ascents easy, something he put down to his background in cycling.

We then popped up on the second Elion summit, passed a few walkers and with me in front we charged down the other side into the wind once more.  The second descent is steeper and more technical down a stony and broken path.  Within a few seconds I passed the two other runners that passed summit before us.  The descent was pretty frantic with intense concentration required to spot footing and stay upright, but boy it was exhilarating!

Once at the foot I headed left and along towards the third and final Eildon summit.  I turned out to see where the other runners were, the pair I had overtaken just after the summit were still taking the descent very carefully and looked to only be two thirds the way down.

My companion at the summit was no slouch on the descents and was close behind me, and once we started to the gently climb the third summit caught me up and we started chatting once more.  The third summit is much lower than the first two so pretty quickly we had gone round the top and were heading down to the woodland.

Descending through the woodland we passed a group of walkers and then without evening making a conscious decision found ourselves following the trail around to the right and traversing the hillside rather than descending it.  Even though I've done the race before I didn't spot this mistake.  We only found out that the wrong path when a gaggle of frantic runners came charging down the trail towards us saying that they had gone wrong and ran an extra mile thanks to the mistake.

I began walking and looking around to get my bearings.  The rest of the runners were all confused but not really hanging around to make a ground decision so various runners were heading off in different directions.  I spotted a broken path a little bit along the trail that heading down through the trees, and guessed that heading downhill till we hit a fence and then turning right was probably the safest thing to do.  My hunch was right and once I got down to the fence at the edge of woodland there was a path and not far along it a St. Cuthbert's Way route post.  I was the first to get down and confirm the right route so called out a positive identification, and the good news was relayed out across the runners spread out across the wood.

I didn't hang around as it was race day so just follow the path downhill and started to see familiar elements of the route once more.  Pretty quickly I was passed by Jonathan Pritchard who was clearly wound up about loosing lots of time to the navigation error, he didn't hang around and tore off down the trail and was quickly out of sight.  Half a mile later as we crossed the park above Bowden village and had to call ahead to Jonathan to confirm the route.  Others from he original group that had made navigation mistake caught me at this point, as I they had al been well ahead me I full expected them to pass.

We all headed down and through Bowden village and then down along the road briefly before turning left along a small footpath that takes you north east towards Newtown St. Boswells.  Here I fell into step with John Connolly, a runner from the "Lost Group" and he was happy for me to lead the way.   From his efficient running style and easy breathing it was clear John was a pretty capable runner, so I expected him to head on at any minute.  It was John's first ultra though so he was happy to chat and take things at my pace.

Once we hit the road just before Newton St. Boswell's Jonathan was ahead and looking back for confirmation that he was on track.  Again I shouted to go straight ahead, and again he opened up a gap of couple of hundred meters.  We then dropped down into the town and followed the back streets and then over the main street where a marshal kindly guided us in the right direction.  After passing between a few more houses and garages you then find yourself back in woodland, then under the A68, then right down along path through the woods back to where rejoin the out and back section of the route.

Last year when I hit this point, around 23 miles in, I was struggling with sore hip flexors and finally gave in to taking pain killers, and was beginning to feel tired and was more than happy to walk up the steps.  This time around I had already take pain killers and they were obviously doing their job as I was feeling pretty comfortably despite the discomfort much earlier in the race.  I was also feeling fresher and much more within my comfort zone - running was still pretty effortless, there was no battle of wills required to keep running at a good pace.

John been sticking close behind me for while but suddenly things went quite behind.  I was surprised at his absence as he seemed to be running so comfortably.  I passed another runner then a few minutes later John re-appeared, turns out that he'd stopped to get out supplies, and the runner we had passed was a friend of his that he had been ahead of earlier in the race, but thanks to the navigation error had ended up behind. 

John and I ran together up till the ascent up St. Boswell, but I think John must have stayed walking longer as once I was running through the streets I no longer had company.  I passed another runner on the main street then at route turning met Jonathan and at a guess from splits was probably Victoria Reid.  All three of us weren't 100% sure that the road to our left was correct as the sign-age wasn't entirely clear.  Victoria and I were reasonably confident of heading left and so we headed up and soon were back on familiar road past the church above the golf course.   Jonathan took again and I passed Victoria.

The route of the route between St. Boswell and Maxton the sun came out making the running next to the river quite enchanting with in shimmering in the sunlight.  Briefly I found myself getting a bit warm for the first time, this was quite a brief interlude though as the wind picked up and kept the temperature perfect for running.   Jonathan pulled out a lead of couple hundred meters but on the longer stretches I'd see him.  Both us were steadily overtaking runners, but the distance between us didn't appear to change further.  Sooner than expected I found myself climbing up steps away from the river, through the woods and popping out at the Maxton check-point.

It's funny how time flies when you are running well and enjoying yourself, but can seem to take an eternity to cover the miles when you are struggling.  Looking back to 2013 it was quite a contrast.  Relative to the rest of the field I was running strongly in 2013, but was finding it more of an effort to keep the pace up.  This year I trotted into Maxton feeling surprisingly fresh and check of the watch confirmed that I was now 10 minutes ahead of my time back in 2013.

Rhymer's Stone,  27.7miles, 4:35:52 elapsed, 23rd place, 1:57:52 split, 14 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule.

Maxton to Jedbrugh, 10 miles, split schedule 1:35

At the check point I dropped my empties and picked up my last drinks and a stick of liquorish and stowed them jogging away from the checkpoint.  The marshal recording times of competitors coming through said I was 23rd, last year I was 11 minutes slower but in 13th place at this point - a real sign of just how competitive the race was this year.

As I jogged away I passed another runner and soon after joined by Jonathan and for the first time in the race he settled in beside by rather than tearing off.  We started chatting, with Jonathan explaining his pre-race goal of sub 6hr time and was keen to see if he could still achieve it despite the costly navigation error.  Looking at splits I think it probably cost the "Lost Group" between 10 and 15 minutes, for me I likely wasted around a minute.

Jonathan was optimistic that if we worked together than getting a 6hr time might still be possible.  We had 1:25 left to cover the final 10 miles, this would require me to be 5 minute faster than my outbound leg, and 20 minutes faster than I achieved back in 2013.  Even though I was still feeling far fresher this year I knew that this was likely too much to achieve, I didn't share this outlook with Jonathan though as there was still a chance that he'd be able to push on.

For a mile an quarter after Maxton you follow a country lane uphill, along this we were averaging around 10 min/mile, but were able to chat side by side.  Once off the lane and back onto the trail we were running single file.  I picked up that this was Jonathan's first ultra and his usual domain is road racing - I rather felt out of my depth with his half marathon times nearly 15 minutes better than mine, but was glad for the company.

Our pace was very evenly matched as we made away along the twist, turns and undulation of the trail.  Once we hit a longer and steeper hill section it became clear that my heart rate was rising a bit too quickly keeping up so let Jonathan go and just concentrated at running at my own pace.  At the summit of this rise we caught a fellow runner who was still moving well enough just not at the pace we were managing.  In a friendly gesture he moved aside and wished us well.

On the descent that followed Jonathan was initially 50m clear but rather than capitalize on the great ascending had stopped to walk.  I caught up quickly and got him back running with some friendly abuse about being a ultra newbie - he he was walking downhill to get gels and drink out. When I caught up Jonathan got back running and on the next rise he began walking again and I followed suit.

A few seconds after stopping to walk I was caught by the runner we had just passed and I commented about him having a second wind.  He pointed out that he had just been making steady progress but now we were walking!  With that we all got back running up the hill as a convey in single file.  We got chatting as group, our new companion Clive was a seasoned ultra runner having manage a 22hr Bob Graham Round a number of years back - but this was so tough on his body it took him a long while to recover, and never was able to get back to where he once was.  He was still moving pretty well today though!

Once over the last hill you then go down a gently sloping grass field, here I attempted to coax the others into upping the pace - I relaxed and just let gravity pick up the pace and I soon moved from the back to lead our little group.  I was first over the style out of the field and into the woodland.  Once into the woodland I was off - it was play time with gravity doing all the hard work!

I was expecting the other two to be able to stick with me as they both seemed to be running well but found voices behind getting quieter and found myself charging downhill on my own.  I caught another running on one of the steeper descents, having to jump to the side of trail to tear past him.  I was absolutely loving being able to run fast and smoothly downhill.  Last year I was struggling with cramp and in maintenance mode at this point so really appreciated being able to enjoy the descent and make good time.

Once the descent levelled off a little I slowed down but still had fun following all the twists and turns in the trail as it navigates the woodland down towards the river.  One one of the level sections I got my first warning sign - a cramp rippled through my right calf.  The cramp released immediately so didn't stop me in my tracks but it was a signal that fatigue couldn't be brushed aside by my enthusiasm.

Having had cramp so many times in later stages of ultra's I knew what I had to do - slow up and keep my heart rate below 160 and run as smoothly as I could. The route finally leaves the woodland heading downhill between fields to woodland alongside the Tweed.  At the bottom of the hill you turn right and head along the woodlands towards the wobbly bridge.  At this junction I looked briefly looked over my shoulder and see what I assumed was Jonathan and Clive perhaps 40m behind.

I wasn't going to wait for them, but as hill descents are one of my strengths, I'd be reeled in at some point in the next half mile and we'd be back together.  Another brief cramp fired through my left calf just the bridge so I made my way over the bridge as smoothly as I could - it's much easier we you don't have other runners on it.  With the open views from the bridge I could see several runners at ahead, two of which were less than a 100m ahead - my next target.  I was focussing too much on scenery that I took the right turn at the far end of the bridge too tight and wacked my ribs against the hand rail.  For a minute I was in agony, thankfully the pain wore off as I followed the trail along the fields edge.

Despite having to back off due to cramp I was still moving well and over took the pair ahead within half a mile of crossing the bridge.  The next runners were much further ahead, and wouldn't be catchable on this section of the trail.  I just focused on running as smoothly as I could, drinking and eating a little bit and doing my best to avoid further bouts of cramp.  I even took an S-cap and bit into and let it dissolve in my mouth in an attempt to convince my body/central governor that it cramp wasn't necessary.  It's a pretty grim thing to do though so I not sure I'd recommend it unless you are desperate.

I was still managing 9 minute miles so the section running at the fields edge alongside the river passed quickly as did the slightly muddy wooded section up to the road.  I walked up the steps to road crossing and got told by the attending marshal to run up the steps!  I was amused but unable to oblige.

Two mile to go!  Photo courtesy of Allan J Porterfield.

Once over the main road you then have a quite country lane to follow, it meanders from left to right and gently up and on the straights I could see a couple of runners ahead.  I looked to be gaining on both and caught the first at the final rise before the route drops down and then to the right to cross a small footbridge across the river.  I had expected Clive and Jonathan to be hot on my heels by this point but didn't appear to have any company so I just focused on reeling in the next runner.

As I got to the main road that takes you the last one and half miles back to the finish.  I could see the next runner a couple of hundred meters ahead and was still optimistic that I could reel him in but another calf cramp put paid to any thoughts of picking up the pace.  I then resigned myself to maintaining my pace as best I could without provoking a full cramp that would stop me in my tracks.  With this more inward focus I was also more aware of being pretty tired now, 36 miles of relentless forward progress had finally revealed itself.

The last mile is gently uphill and while I was closing the gap a little to the runner ahead it was clear I wasn't going to catch him so I just hung on keeping up a 9 to 10 min/mile pace.  I had the finish from last year in my head as all I had left to run but when I got there it was clear that the finish had been moved another quarter mile along the road to where we started beside the leisure centre.

Finishing arch
In a further cruel twist the finishing arch was placed upon the little hillock which had started on, it's only 20 foot high but still rather it's rather a black sense of humour that came up with that idea!  With less than 50m's to go and having not been aware of anyone behind me all along the road section Clive suddenly appeared at my shoulder putting in a final sprint.  Sportingly Clive called out his presence with what I thought was a encouragement to sprint so I dug in a picked up the pace pushing up the hillock just finishing a whisker in front of Clive!

Clive had been steadily gaining on me all the way into Jedburgh and had been so quiet on the final grass section that I had no clue whatsoever that he was in pursuit.  We were so close over the line that we were given the same time.

My official time was 6:06:13, in 15th place.  22 minutes quicker than last year, but 4 places down the field - which just goes to show just how competitive the front end of the field was.   When I crossed the line I stopped my HR monitor and only looked later, I couldn't quite believe the Halloween themed time that it had recorded!

Number of the Beast!!

Jedburgh  37.7miles, 6:06:13 elapsed, 15th place, 1:30:21 split, 14 minutes ahead of 6:30 schedule!  (note outbound leg to Maxton was 1:30:08 so I was only 13 seconds slower on return leg)

Post race

At the finish I collected my goodies bag - beer, meddle, water, snacks and stuff and joined the other runners sitting in the sun.  The beer was the one most appreciated my most of the other runners around me, but while I was tempted, being a bit dehydrated and having a two hour drive home I elected to drink the water.

At the finish I chatted briefly with Karl Zeiner who had also had a great race setting a new PB, but just missing out on his sub 6hr goal with a time of 6:02:49. A couple of minutes after Clive and I finished Jonathan crossed the line having suffered with cramp, his time of 6:08:40 was outside his goal, but would have made it under 6hrs had he not been part of the "Lost Group".

The rest of the "Lost Group" all arrived between 6:17 and 6:24.  Joanne Thom came in first women with a time of 6:17:24, John Connolly that I had run with at 6:22:00, Elaine Omand second lady in 6:23:17.  Looking at the splits I think the runner than crossed the second and third Eildon's and was with when we bumped into the "Lost Group" with must have been Tom Wilely who finished in 6:24:30. 

After setting out for 15 minutes I was getting cold so headed into the Leisure Center for a shower, and some great soup that warmed me up a treat.  Atmosphere at the Leisure Center was great, a real happy buzz, which nicely sums up the whole experience.

Just before leaving I headed up to the finish to check the official finishing times and took a quick photo of the top twenty runners.  Matt Willaimson ran a cracking race, finishing in 5:01:48.  One of the conversations I had on route was about what the likely winning finishing time might be, and had suggested that 5hrs might be possible by one of Scotland's elite ultra runners. Matt got so close you just know that others of similar talents will be itching to be the first time under 5hrs, so I look forward to seeing what happens next year.

Top twenty finishers

As I was about to head off Donald Sandeman was walking back from the finish.  He was pleased to announce that he had finally dropped Craig back at Maxton.  Donald finished in 6:53, while Craig MacKay finished an hour later in 7:53.  Oh dear oh dear Craig, it'll take quite a while to live that down! :-)

And so I headed back to my car for the two hour drive home.  Took this last photo of the Abby from the car park.  One day I'll have to bring my family down and actually visit a bit of Jedburgh.

Jedburgh Abby looking splendid in the Autumn sun


Pacing wise I pretty well nailed it this year.  My pace for the outbound leg to Maxton was 9:01 min/mile and return leg from Maxton was 9:02 min/mile.  Had I not had cramp I'd probably matched or bettered it.  Had a I run harder earlier in the race I almost certainly would have had cramp sooner and struggled for good chunk of the final section, so I doubt I would been any quicker.

Photo's of me during the run, and comments from marshal's supporters and other runners all suggest I looked fresh even into the last couple of miles.  I felt pretty good until the last couple of miles.  This will be partly down to getting eating and drinking right, getting descent training in my legs, but a big chunk of it is pacing right.  What looks to be working for me is pacing by heart rate, and picking the right heart rate zone to stick to is the key - something that requires a little experience, but also confidence in the approach working.

The benefit of putting the effort in to pacing in such a disciplined manner is how much less mental and physical stress there is on your body.  I was just out having fun, running at completely comfortable pace till the last two miles.  Despite the how easy it felt and looked I was still racing to the best of my ability.

While my target heart rate was 160, on the day I found my heart rate below this target for much of the out bound leg - I'd run to an pace I felt right and rather than be held back by overly high HR readings, I found the opposite with my HR lower than expected and prompting me to push the pace on that little bit more. It's only in the last ten miles that I found my HR heading over 160 consistently.  Once cramp hit in the last few miles I had to hold my HR down below 160 but it didn't need to go too far below so I was able to keep my pace up pretty well. 

My average HR ended up being 157 beats per minute, 1 below my average for last year's race, and 3 below my average of 160 at this years RAW.  I believe the cooler conditions was one of the main reasons why my HR was lower.  I might also be just a bit fitter than I thought I was too!

Recovery and Reflection

Last year I used November as a month off from training, only running once or twice a week when the sun shone.  I saw a 10% loss in fitness in one month that took me many months to claw back.  This experiment with a rest month is something I'm not planning to repeat, and instead will keep training at a maintenance level.

So far so good - 11 days after race day and my efficiency is back near it's peak for the year and my legs feel recovered from the race.  If I can maintain this fitness level with regular but easy runs then it should form a better platform for building fitness for the big races next year.

I am still a bit surprised at running so well at the Three Peaks race and I bagging a 22 minute PB on a route that was 0.4 miles longer than we ran last year.  I really never expected a big PB from the day, I felt if things went well I might get 6:20, but would still have been happy with 6:30.  6:06 is just crazy, it of course begs one to come back at go sub 6hrs next year!

So far I've only entered the Highland Fling, and having ducked under Elaine Omand's 6:08 time for last year's Jedburgh Three Peaks race could I like Elaine also get under 9hrs for the Fling?  Elaine ran a phenomenal 8:49 time at this year's Fling.  Matching Elaine's Fling time will require me to run a minute a mile faster than I achieved this year when I ran 9:43.  I managed to run 39 seconds/mile faster this year at the Three peaks than last year so perhaps such a big improvement is a bit too much of ask.  There is nothing lost is dreaming big though :-)


I would like to pass on my gratitude to Angela and Noanie for leading such a great event, the marshal's too were brilliant - efficient, helpful, friendly and supportive.   The weather gods were in our favour again this year, perfect conditions made for a great day. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon 2014 Splits, Cutoffs and Race goals

On Saturday 2th October 2014 will be the third Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon, so in this post I'll publish a way to estimating finishing time, splits for a range of finishing times between 5hrs (course record pace) through to 9hrs, discuss cut offs and finish up with my own race goals.

Pacing sensibly is the key to running fast and enjoying oneself

I ran this race last year using my heart rate monitor as a guide and paced the race pretty evenly, save for the last 8 miles when cramp started to slow me and finally a navigational error added a bit over two minutes to the last leg, finishing in 6:28:38 in 11th place out of 100 finishers.  I was second fastest over the second half as percentage of finishing time, only bettered by Edward Crockett who I ran with for a while before cramp hit, he then powered away to finish 6 minutes ahead of me.  Ed's last leg back from the Maxton checkpoint was only 6% slower than the first leg to Maxton - while the average for the 100 finishers last year was a 32% slow down.  
I believe that starting out at the intensity you can manage for the whole race is crucial for running your best race, judging this purely by feel is hard so I have used my heart rate monitor as a guide for pacing my own ultra's.  Splits are still helpful in judging how well one is progressing towards different time goals, and can serve as a early warning that one is probably going too fast, or to speed up if one behind a schedule that you feel is possible.  

The vast majority of the field start out too fast so normally one needs to take heed of going through the first check point faster than is sustainable and then slow down to make sure you don't burn out and end up slowing dramatically in second half.  Slowing isn't inevitable - it's a direct consequence of going out too fast, so don't go out fast because you expect to slow down as it's the initial quick pace that is cause of the bulk of the later slow down.

While my own pacing last year wasn't quite perfect, with a little tweaking I believe it's should be a pretty good basis for running to the best of your abilities so have used it as basis for the splits below - the slow down I have accounted for is 5% which is close to what Ed achieved last year.  Back in 2012 I wrote a post on Jedburgh Ultra Splits but these were based on guesses for a race that hadn't been run yet, so this year's splits should be much better guide. 

Estimating finishing time

Selecting splits requires us to know roughly what time we might be able to expect.  Last year I ran a 10k in 39:36 and the Jedburgh Ultra in 6:26:28 (factoring out the navigational error) which is a ratio of 9.76.  So as a rough guide would be to take your current 10k time and multiple it by 10.  

Someone who is excels at ultra's relative to shorter distances you could use a lower ratio than 10, while one who struggles more with longer races may want to choose a higher ratio.  I'd guess a range of 9 to 12 times 10k time would probably be good enough for most runners.

Estimating Jedburgh Three Peaks Time from 10k times  
The rules for the Jedburgh Three Peaks have the final finishing time at 10hrs, and the last finisher at last years race squeezed in at 9:53.  The above table includes time estimates over 10hrs, so if you have a slow 10k time then you'll need to be very mindful of running a well paced race to make sure that you can finish under the cut off time.

Splits - 5hrs to 6hrs

Splits - 6hrs to 7hrs

Splits - 7hrs to 8hrs


Splits - 8hrs to 9hrs


Splits - 9hrs to 10hrs


Official Cut off times:

From the Three Peaks web page:
  • Maxton 10 miles – three hours (11.00am)
  • Rhymer’s Stone 18 miles – five hours (1.00pm)
  • Maxton 28 miles – eight hours (4.00pm)
  • Finish Line – ten hours (6.00pm)
If you have a look at my splits for a 10hr finishing time, you'll see it has 10:26am at Maxton (CP1), 12:14pm for Rhymer's Stone (CP2), and 3:26pm for Maxton (CP3) giving you 2:33 to make it to finish in time.  All of these times are well ahead of the official cut offs, and are based on only a 5% slow down so assume you'll be finishing strong. 

The official cut off times for the second half effectively require a negative split, so if you are struggling to beat them then you will almost certainly not make the 10hr cut off.  

Realistically I think one should base your cut offs from my splits if one wants to have a chance of making it back before the 10hr cut off.  If you look at the average pace required it's ranges from 14:37 min/mile pace for the first leg through to 17:39min/mile pace for the slowest leg between Rhymer's Stone and Maxton.  This means for all legs you'll need to do a substantial amount of running on the flatter and downhill sections to balance the uphill walking sections.

If you expect to be close to the 10hr time limit then I'd recommend making sure you pace efficiently and start easy with run/walking strategy right from the first section.  For reference running for 10 minutes, walking 10 minutes at 10min/mile and 20 min/mile respectively, will give you an average of 13:20 min/miles which is under the pace required for all the legs for a 10hr finishing time.

My own race goals and pacing strategy

Looking at my training logs I look to be in a similar shape to what I was for last years Three Peaks race so will expect a time in the 6:15 to 6:45 range is possible so will be printing off the 6 to 7hr splits and use this for reference as I progress through the race. 

I will pace myself minute by minute using my heart rate monitor.  At last year's race I average a heart rate of 158 beats per min (bpm), but slowing down in the last 8 miles due cramp brought the average down.  For this years River Ayr Way (RAW) Challenge I finished in 6:15 with an average heart rate of 160 bpm so expect if I can avoid cramp this year I should be able to achieve a similar heart rate.

When racing one can't precisely run to a specific heart rate so one just tries to stay within a small range around the target heart rate, with the range starting slightly lower in the first miles and moving higher in later stages as heart rate drift takes affect.  Practically this will mean aiming for a 155 to 160 HR in the first few miles, then 158 to 163 for the bulk of the race and 160+ in the final miles.

As I'm racing I'll try and finish as strongly as I can and leave everything out on the trail. This means if I have the energy and legs for it will happily ignore the HR monitor range once I know I'm going to make it safely back.  In the RAW I got my heart rate up to 180 in the finishing sprint and all going well will do something similar this Saturday!

My goals for the day are:
  • Platinum : sub 6:10
  • Gold        : sub 6:20
  • Silver      : sub 6:30
  • Bronze    : sub 6:45
For all those racing, good luck and see you on the start line :-)

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...