View From The White Lady

Popped into Cairngorm Mountain this weekend while I was up staying in Coylumbridge for the weekend. Was delighted to see my photograph ‘View From The White Lady’ included in the ‘CairnGorm Mountain 50 Year Anniversary Photos Exhibition’. A great reminder of a cracking days skiing in the Cairngorms and, if I remember rightly, my first shot on the White Lady ski run.

More photos from the exhibition can be viewed online (Flickr)

Barefootin’

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Barefootin’

When it’s all you can do not to pump your hands in the air as one of your favourite trance tracks comes into the mix, you know that it’s as near to a perfect run as you can get and this run was certainly a contender on that front.

Coming off the back of the Highland Fling in late April and then The Cateran Trail Ultra the previous weekend, I was still carrying the niggle in my right ankle that I had picked up early on in The Cateran. With this in mind, I had planned a fairly gentle weekend of running but, as is so often the case, things just didn’t go to plan.

The location was the first part of the plan to change. We received an invite to join Mrs Mac’s mum and dad staying in Coylumbridge, just outside Aviemore and right at the foot of some of my favourite trails. Little did we know when we accepted the invite that we would arrive on the Friday to temperatures around 28 degrees and that the temperatures were set to continue right through the weekend – bonus!

Waking just after 5.30am on the Saturday to a glorious sunny day, I set out to run the 5 miles approx. of uphill that takes you from Coylumbridge to the mouth of the Lairig Ghru, one of my favourite, rooty, rocky trails consisting of approx. 3 miles of forest road and then a further 2 miles of singletrack.

As they say, what goes up, must come down and, as I have blogged before, this has to be one of the best descents in Scotland, taking me back down to Coylumbridge in time for some pre breakfast sunbathing before everyone else got up (yes, it was THAT hot!).

As the temperatures rose, the plans for the day were scaled back slightly and we ended up spending the morning walking from Glenmore to the Green Loch and then on to Ryvoan Bothy where we had lunch. We took a high path on the way there and then the lower route that we usually take on the way back and, with the discovery of yet another rocky, rooty path, I made a mental note to run the high path in future.

Waking at 6.00am on the Sunday, I set out again, this time in the direction of Loch Einich for a run that totalled just over 12 miles. It felt even hotter than the previous day and I ditched the top to run in Anton Krupicka style (only a ‘slightly’ more rotund version!). I figured that I wasn’t going to meet anyone this far out as 6.00 am. I can only apologise to the two people that I did see – I sincerely hope you were able to erase the image from your minds!

The waters en route were quite high and, coming to the last of these, I waded in until my legs felt like icicles (strangely refreshing) before turning around and heading back to Coylumbridge. I was approx 1 to 1.5 miles short of Loch Einich itself but was conscious of the time and wanted to be back before the family were up. An all day breakfast from the excellent Mountain Cafe was planned and, considering that my food intake up to that point had consisted of half a pack of Honey Stingers, I had built up quite an appetite!

Heading back along the high route this time, listening to Armin van Buuren in the mix, takes me back to the start of this post. I was having an absolute blast. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Now there was one significantly different element in all of this. I spent the entire weekend, both running and walking, in Merrell Trail Gloves. Back at the end of April Merrell were kind enough to send me a pair of their Trail Gloves to test. I have been running in the Trail Gloves through the week over shorter distances but, this weekend, I wanted to give them a real test on some of the best technical and harsh trails that I know.

I have dabbled with minimalist shoes in the past and, after reading Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” the first time, I experimented by running barefoot on a treadmill (gets surprisingly hot underfoot!) before ‘progressing’ to a pair of neoprene surfers booties (gets surprisingly hot in the shoe!). I have since tried a few different minimalist shoes.

The idea behind minimalist running is as follows:

1. Align your posture
2. Balance your foot-landing
3. Count your cadence

As simple as ABC! There is considerably more information over at http://www.merrell.com/UK/en/Barefoot

Be sure to check out the Running Bug Good Form Guide as well.

The one thing that I just can’t stress enough is to start slow and build up barefoot activities, especially if you are new to running any distance.

The idea is to stimulate and strengthen your feet and this may well prove painful in the initial stages until your feet have become accustomed to running without the rigidity and cushioning of trainers. I found that my calf muscles in particular often tightened up during or after a barefoot run so I wore Compressport calf compression whilst running and this appears to have totally removed this issue from the equation.

As regular readers may be aware, the Merrells are quite far removed from my usual medium to long distance trail shoe. Weighing in at only 176g the shoes have a 0mm ball to heel drop with 4mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions and a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate that maintains forefoot flexibility and protects the foot by distributing pressure.

Up until this weekend I had been testing them on the trails around Ellon and along the old railway line, the Formartine & Buchan Way. Compacted gravel trails, rooty, rocky forest trails, grass and mud all proved no problem as the Trail Gloves took everything that I could throw at them in their stride. Running through muddy puddles, they filled up and emptied again just as quick, leaving the feet to quickly dry off before encountering the next puddle. This was equally true this weekend as they filled with ice cold river water and emptied again, providing temporary refreshment for my feet in the heat.

The things that struck me were the roomy toe box, allowing the feet to splay, the breathability of the shoe, and the change in my running form that came (mostly) naturally. My cadence was increased, taking smaller steps so as not to stride out too far and land on the heel.

The main difference, and possibly even more exaggerated for me given the cushioning that I am used to, was feeling every rock, root and stone underfoot. Whilst strange at first, I soon learned to be more careful in picking my route rather than just trying to run over the top of everything and, in doing so, found myself ‘skipping’ about.

On a rare occasion I would misplace my foot and/or there simply would be no ‘good’ spot for footfall, and on these occasions I would feel whatever was underfoot. However, I actually found that this connecting with the terrain underfoot added to the run.

Blinded by the sun at one point this weekend, I kicked a rock which, unfortunately, turned out to be well rooted in the ground. I was surprised not to break my toe but it would appear that the rubber toe bumper on the Trail Glove offers more protection than might be expected of a shoe that can roll completely into a ball and, other than the initial sharp pain, there were no long term ill effects.

One thing that I can say for sure about running in the Trail Gloves is that it is FUN!

My experience with the Trail Glove has actually left me wondering just how far I could run in them, though with the 95 mile West Highland Way Race now less than 4 weeks away, sensibility prevents me from testing this out… for now at least. Certainly, I know of a couple of ultra runners who have run around the 50 mile mark in Merrell Trail Gloves. Going by my efforts of 10 and 12 miles this weekend, I reckon I could run at least 20 miles in them, if not more. Once the West Highland Way Race has passed it will definitely be time to put my theory to the test!

I have also found myself wearing the shoes for everyday use. Funnily enough, I took to running in them quicker than I did to walking in them and, if anything, it is my walking style that needs improved!

The Merrell minimalist range now includes ranges for Run, Train, Water and Life. Runners contemplating the minimalist approach to running should check out the Trail Glove and/or the Road Glove. Merrell have also recently added the Run Bare Access shoe to the range. Described as “For distance runners and those new on the path to barefoot running”, the shoe maintains the 0mm drop but with additional cushioning. Now that sounds like my next shoe for sure!

Don’t just take my word for it, check out what everyone else thinks online.

One reviewer wrote “The trail glove is to trainers what Apple Macs are to computers”. I don’t think you can pay much more of a compliment than that!

“I bet you can barefoot all night long
Take off your shoes and throw them away,
Come back and get them another day
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin'”

Robert Parker – 1966

The Search For Pack Perfection

I was pretty impressed with the inov8 Race Elite pack. However, I was still looking for something with a little more capacity and also something that could comfortably take 2 water bottles.

I may have found this in the Osprey Talon 4. I have noticed the Talon 4 before but, in all honesty, just thought it looked over-sized. However, one of my running friends, Colin Knox, has been using the Talon 4 for a few years now and, at the recent Cateran Trail Ultramarathon, there were at least 4 or 5 of these on the go in the small field of 70 runners.

As such, I decided to give it a try and ordered the Talon 4 with the hope that it would be here in time for this weekends visit to the Cairngorms. It arrived yesterday and my first impressions are favourable. Despite the size, it feels comfortable and doesn’t appear to bounce. The real test will be when I actually hit the trails in it so I should be able to comment with more authority by the end of tonight if all goes to plan!

Cross Training

I have kept a note of my mileage for approximately 3 years now. I love to see the increase in miles but, at the same time, I have also used it as a rod to beat my own back. Most recently, I was beating myself up about my ‘low’ monthly mileage for May, a ‘mistake’ from last year that I was determined not to repeat.

What I failed to take into account was as follows:

  1. Recovery from the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling, held on 28th April
  2. Tapering for the 55 mile Cateran Trail Ultramarathon, held on 19th May
  3. Recovery from The Cateran Trail Ultra

This alone would account for the ‘low’ mileage.

However, I proceeded to chastise myself for my May 2012 mileage which I felt just wasn’t good enough, and especially so when 55 of the miles came from the same race.

And then it dawned on me – muppet that I am! The Cateran took place on 19th May, not towards the end of the month like so many of the other events. As such, this left me some 12 days of May in which to ramp up the monthly mileage. Doh!

However, as it turns out, with the ankle injury I picked up on Saturday, I might not add that much to the total after all. I am taking it easy for a couple of days with the plan to return to cross training initially rather than running. This should give the ankle a chance to heal (fingers crossed!).

With a bit of luck, all will be well by the weekend. We are unexpectedly heading to Coylumbridge this weekend, putting me right on the doorstep of some of my favourite Cairngorm trails. It’s the perfect excuse for some hill training and/or some medium length runs. I might even throw in a night run into the mix. It would certainly be a perfect opportunity to hit the trail with the head torch and get some practice in for the night running element of the West Highland Way Race.

I have been giving some thought to the shoes for the weekend and, especially given that I am aiming at medium length runs, I think it will be time to go minimalist, in the excellent Merrell Trail Gloves. I need to finish my review of the shoe for Merrell and where better to do so than in one of my favourite stomping grounds.

After the The Cateran Trail Ultra I also decided to invest in yet another waist pack in my search for THE perfect pack. 3 of my ultra colleagues are all now running in the Osprey Talon 4 waist pack and they all have nothing but praise for the pack. I am sure there were a good few more using it at the recent Fling & Cateran races.

If it is as good as they say then it will certainly do the job for all those events where there are fairly regular checkpoints at which to refuel. It will also help to ‘free up’ the back which should hopefully cut down the sweating and occasional stiffness that comes from wearing a pack. Fingers crossed that it will arrive in time for my Friday departure! I will be sure to post a review once I have given it a good test.

It’s All In The Eating

New post at The Running Bug, ‘It’s All In The Eating‘.

It has been two days now since my second Cateran Trail Ultramarathon and I am feeling more than a touch battered!

I had an excellent day. The race organisation was superb and the marshals were on top form as always. John Stanton, author and founder of Canada’s Running Room recently tweeted “Race volunteers – some of the nicest people you have never met” and this is definitely an apt description. Having said that, I did know a few of the marshals and I am starting to recognise quite a few more of them from all of the various ultras that I have run of late. A huge thanks to them all – your positivity and helpfulness certainly played its part in getting the runners to the end on Saturday. Thanks for giving up your day to help make ours so special.

Thanks also to Race Director Karen Donoghue and to the RD’s assistant George Reid. It really was the perfect day, from the family like atmosphere at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel all weekend, through to the race itself, including the perfect weather for running, and, finally, through to the prize giving ceremony at the end where each finisher received their quaich.

The race itself was quite daunting. Despite having completed it the previous year, there were certain bits of the course that had somehow filled me with dread, including some particularly boggy sections that, certainly last year, felt like they were never ending. With a small field of runners, there was also the possibility of getting lost and I really did ‘try’ my best to do this, especially in the first 6 miles. As one of the marshals said, you really do need to “look aboot ye”!

The other aspect that was quite daunting was the relatively close proximity to the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, now less than 5 weeks away. Anything less than a finish on Saturday would have been a bit of a psychological blow as it was the last race in my build up to the WHW Race and was a key training component in terms of a last really long run.

As it was, it was a really positive day for me but with a single niggle.

Getting the niggle out of the way – The first 6 miles contained some pretty muddy, boggy terrain. Hardly surprising given the weather of late and, to be honest, it was a relief not to arrive in Glenshee to snow covered mountains. Somewhere in those first 6 miles some gloopy mud grabbed my right foot and refused to let go without a fight, causing me to over extend somewhat. The back of my ankle is red and swollen, as I found when I removed my shoe back at the hotel. Throughout the day, it resulted in a sharp stabbing pain on both the uphill and flat sections. Regardless (definitely stubbornly and possibly stupidly) I was determined to push on and I spent the next 49 miles approx. nursing the ankle to the end.

The real success story of the day for me was my nutrition and hydration. A number of runners have been advocating the natural food approach to ultrarunning, especially for those of us about to tackle the 95 miles of the West Highland Way. The thought of relying on gels for 95 miles turns my stomach just thinking about it and, following the Fling, where I barely touched a gel for the whole race, I set out with no gels whatsoever, replacing them with ‘real food’. The Slimfast cafe latte shakes, mini cans of Coca Cola and pots of Muller Rice that had worked so well at the Fling were also in my drop bags for the Cateran but were joined by McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake and cheese & onion sandwiches. I also took a slightly different approach at the checkpoints, downing the Coca Cola and Slimfast and eating the Muller Rice but opting to carry the rest of the food, nibbling at the sandwiches and Ginger Cake on steep uphill sections. Overall, I found that my energy levels were much more consistent throughout the race and I didn’t suffer quite as many lows as usual, even with the dodgy ankle slowing things down!

If you have ever googled for ultrarunning nutrition advice or read Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run, you may have come across the following definition of an ultramarathon from Sunny Blende, MS, Sports Nutritionist:

“An eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.”

That definitely sums up my day and, following the success of the approach, will also be my strategy for the West Highland Way Race. I have already started compiling a food list for my crew which includes all of the above but also things like tomato soup, porridge, pasta and baked potatoes. Without a doubt, this will look more like a weekly shopping list by the time the race comes around!

I met up with many familiar faces this weekend and spoke with quite a few new ones who all helped to take my mind off my ankle and keep me heading forward. One in particular, Angus, was determined to see me up and over the final hill at the end with as little slacking off as possible and, for that, I thank you. I am sure you could have shot off to the finish as you were looking so fresh. Thanks for sticking around to give me company over the hill and down to the finish line – it was much appreciated.

I finished the race in 12.27, a new PB by 38 minutes and an improvement on my 12:36 from the Fling. With an extra 2 miles, same ascent but slightly less technical terrain, the 2 races generally give comparable times and, last year, I was 2 minutes over my Fling time.

The sections that I had dreaded passed without incident and, looking back, actually passed far quicker this year. It probably does help knowing that you are in fact going the right way and are not totally lost (suspected this at a couple of points last year as the terrain was so boggy!).

I had a surprise visit from Mrs Mac at the Blairgowrie checkpoint (31 miles) which was an unexpected boost. We had a leisurely journey home the following day, following a hearty breakfast at the Spittal of Glenshee and stopped off in Braemar to climb Creag Choinnich which helped loosen off the muscles a bit.

So, that’s The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon for 2012 done and dusted. From 75 who signed up, 65 made the start line and 54 finished.

The countdown to The West Highland Way Race has now begun!

Why Trail Wins & The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Why Trail Wins & The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon’.

I received a message from a running friend, Alan Stewart, last week to inform me that he had just “caught your little article in May’s Men’s Running mag”. I had no idea what he was on about initially but, admittedly, had fallen behind on my reading and still had both the May and June issues of Men’s Running to read. Flicking through the May edition of the magazine, I soon found the article in question (page 52, in the Trail section).

I have the 55 mile Cateran Trail Ultra this weekend and, reading over the article again, I felt that it was appropriate in describing how I feel as I approach the race.

“I have no great aversion to road running, but I would always choose a trail run over a road run regardless of the time of day, the season and/or the weather conditions.

The trail offers me greater freedom and lets me reconnect with nature. It offers me a greater variety of terrain which is both more challenging, more rewarding and yet kinder to my body. It offers me a chance to reach places that are not often visited other than by those who are willing to put in a similar effort.

It offers me the chance to explore and to see the best that our country has to offer. It tests me and pits me against the elements, in a way that the road could not. It offers me an escape from the mundane, the 9 to 5. It offers me freedom!

Since discovering the trail I have gone on to take it to extremes in the form of ultramarathon running.

In 2012 I am aiming to complete seven off-road ultramarathons, from the 33-mile D33 run to the 95-mile West Highland Way Race, with runs of 37, 40, 43, 53 and 55 miles in between.

In completing these races I will log many, many hours on the trail, some of which will leave me wondering why I even bother to put myself through this, but ultimately, they will all be rewarding.

That’s why the trail wins.”

The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon

The Cateran includes 7450 ft of climbs, including a final 5 miles approx. of climbing up and over Glenshee before a 1.5 mile descent to possibly the best race finish ever. Starting just along the road from the Race H.Q. at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel, runners follow a highly scenic trail that takes in muddy fields, forest trail, road and moorland.

There are 6 checkpoints in the race, meaning that you do not need to carry too much with you. These are as follows:

  • Dalnagair Castle (6ish miles)
  • Kirkton of Glenisa (15ish miles)
  • Den of Alyth (26ish miles)
  • Blairgowrie (31ish miles)
  • Bridge of Cally (38ish miles)
  • Enochdhu (49ish miles)

Last year marshals gave the order for compulsory waterproofs as the weather closed in and boy did it rain! By the time I reached the final 5 mile climb, the path resembled a stream, making for a long slog up and over Glenshee before an ascent that involved much slip sliding as I fought to stay upright.

Everyone at the rain soaked finish line was keen to usher us into the hotel and, at this point, it was obvious why. Each and every finisher is greeted with cheers and applause and, ironically, the later you finish, the more runners, support crew and families are there to greet you!

I have yet to experience a race finish to match this one!

The Cateran is a small race, with 75 runners. The evening after the race is more like a family get together than anything else as many of the runners, their support crews and families choose to stay over at the hotel after the race. The Spittal of Glenshee hotel kindly runs a special offer for those involved in the race, a discounted room rate plus the option to stay for free on the Saturday evening if you have stayed the previous night. This cracking offer encourages people to stick around for the prize giving where each finisher is called up to collect their memento.

I would definitely recommend the Cateran!

Come Saturday evening, I hope to have finished the race, ideally with a new PB and, at this point, the final countdown will begin to this years big race, the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. There will be only 35 days to go… gulp!

Quote For The Day

“There is no time to think about how much I hurt; there is only time to run.”
Ben Logsdon

This was, I thought, a rather apt quote of the day from www.runnersworld.com

Cateran Trail Gear Testing

I spent the weekend testing new gear for this weekend’s 55 mile Cateran Trail Ultramarathon. I have used Hilly Twin Skin socks for a couple of years now and so didn’t expect any problems with them. If anything, the new 2012 Twin Skins are even better than the previous versions.

The Ron Hill Trail Half Zip top arrived Saturday and was soon put through its paces. The main thing about this top was the half zip so that I could cool down sufficiently if required mid race. Although it was far from hot this weekend, I am pretty sure that it is going to do the trick! If previous years are anything to go by, the West Highland Way Race apparel will be provided by Ron Hill so it is good to know that this will be a functional race t-shirt.

Speaking of which – The West Highland Way Race instructions went live on the website this weekend and will soon be mailed to all competitors. Going by the comments on Facebook, this has fairly brought home the close proximity of the race to many competitors!

Unfortunately, of the 238 starters who passed the race requirements, some 30 have already pulled out through injury. I wish them all a speedy recovery.

So, with a 6 mile hill run on Saturday and a 9 mile hill run on Sunday, that’s me started my taper for this weekends Cateran Trail Ultramarathon which I am really looking forward to. With approx 5 miles of ascent up Glenshee followed by a 1.5 mile descent down the other side to the finish at The Spittal of Glenshee hotel, this is possibly THE best race finish ever. I remember arriving at the finish last year to be ushered inside the hotel. At this point, each finisher is met by cheers and applause from all of the runners who have already finished and their support crews and families. The further back the field you are, the better the finish!

Hoping for better weather than last years torrential rain but will take what I get regardless (as if I have a choice lol!)

Best of luck to everyone running it.

Why Trail Wins

I received a message via Facebook last night from a running friend, Alan Stewart, telling me that he had “caught your little article in May’s Men’s Running’ mag”. I had no idea what he was on about but, admittedly, had fallen behind on my reading and still had both May and June issues of Men’s Running to read. Flicking through the May edition of the magazine I soon found the article in question (page 52, in the Trail section).

My contribution:

“I have no great aversion to road running, but I would always choose a trail run over a road run regardless of the time of day, the season and/or the weather conditions.

The trail offers me greater freedom and lets me reconnect with nature. It offers me a greater variety of terrain which is both more challenging, more rewarding and yet kinder to my body. It offers me a chance to reach places that are not often visited other than by those who are willing to put in a similar effort.

It offers me the chance to explore and to see the best that our country has to offer. It tests me and pits me against the elements, in a way that the road could not. It offers me an escape from the mundane, the 9 to 5. It offers me freedom!

Since discovering the trail I have gone on to take it to extremes in the form of ultramarathon running.

In 2012 I am aiming to complete seven off-road ultramarathons, from the 33-mile D33 run to the 95-mile West Highland Way Race, with runs of 37, 40, 43, 53 and 55 miles in between.

In completing these races I will log many, many hours on the trail, some of which will leave me wondering why I even bother to put myself through this, but ultimately, they will all be rewarding.

That’s why the trail wins.”

Thanks Men’s Running.

Brooks Green Silence

With the 55 mile Cateran Trail Ultra looming on 19th May and with the legs still recovering from the 53 mile Highland Fling, I have tried to make a point of cutting back (slightly) on mid-week running. Last night was a planned rest day but I returned from work to find that my patriotic Union Jack Brooks Green Silence trainers had arrived already. I won these in a Twitter competition run by @skeletonamy@sweatshoponline & @BrooksrunningUK last Friday.

I just had to try them out and ‘compromised’ with a 3 mile speed session on the treadmill.

I found myself in a bit of a quandry at first – should I wear them or keep them as a memento of this, Great Britain’s Olympic year??? As much as I wanted to keep them all new and spick and span, I opted for the former.

Slipping them on for the first time, I found them to be well sized, especially in the toe box area, something that I personally like as someone with a wide foot.

The lacing and shoe tongue system is quite ingenious and very different to anything I have found on a trainer before. The result is an instantly comfortably fitting shoe.

Anyone who reads my posts knows that I tend to run in Hokas for my ultra distances and then in minimalist shoes for the rest of my running.

The Brooks Green Silence fitted in somewhere in the middle of that lot!

I was surprised just how bouncy, springy and responsive the soles felt and it made for a good run on otherwise tired legs. I will definitely be making good use of these for road sessions and fully expect to turn some heads with the patriotic colouring :o)

Thanks to @skeletonamy@sweatshoponline & @BrooksrunningUK for my Brooks Green Silence – much appreciated.

That’s the second pair of Brooks to have impressed me. I won a pair of Brooks Pure Grit back before Christmas in the Men’s Running Brooks Pure Project Photography Competition and I have to say that I am loving running in these as well. With the comfort levels of these shoes, I seriously need to see what Brooks offers for the mid to long distance trail running that I do.