Stubborn Goes A Long Way!

New post at ‘The Running Bug‘, ‘Stubborn Goes A Long Way‘.

It’s been a while since my last post here on The Running Bug, coming up for a month now – a veritable drought!

That’s not to say that nothing has been going on. Quite the opposite in fact!

Since my last post, I have run 2 different ultramarathons, The 40 mile Clyde Stride, and the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands, and I am now just one race finish away from completing my goal of 7 ultras in 2012. Technically one more than in 2011 but, given that the ‘one’ was a 95 mile race, I feel like it counts for a whole lot more!

On 21st July, exactly 4 weeks on from The West Highland Way Race, I took part in the Clyde Stride. Starting in Partick, the route takes runners along the Clyde (funnily enough!) out towards the finish in historic New Lanark. It’s an excellent race, well organised and a great option for anyone looking to step up to ultra distance, which is reflected in the large number of first time ultra runners in amongst all the ‘usual faces’.

I thought that a month would be sufficient time to recover from the 95 miles of The West Highland Way Race, even though there were many runners who suggested otherwise. The lack of West Highland Way Race runners in the starting list for The Clyde Stride should also have served as an indication that this was a commonly held view. Turns out I should have listened more carefully!

I don’t know if it was the lack of running in the interim (I could count the number of runs on one hand!) or that the body was still fatigued. Whatever it was, it made for an uncomfortable race, with a feeling of running on empty accompanying me over the last 22 miles, and that’s a long way to go on an empty tank!

I contemplated a DNF – briefly – but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull out. If I could make it through the apocalyptic weather and the projectile vomiting of The West Highland Way Race, I could surely make it to the end of The Clyde Stride. What’s more, I had left my wife back home as she was attending a wedding and I should have been accompanying her. I had also disrupted the weekend of Sandra and John (part of my West Highland Way support crew). I had impacted on enough people’s lives this weekend. Stubbornness kicked in and I told myself to “quit whining and finish!”

And I did, but with my first non PB of the year, missing my previous years time by some 12 minutes. I was gutted, albeit temporarily, before appreciating that I had ground out a finish, something that had not been assured just 20 miles earlier.

At the end of the race I saw fellow ultra runner Colin Knox. “See you in 2 weeks at The Devil” he said.

2 weeks? 2 weeks??? 2 weeks!

I thought that I had 3 weeks to recover before The Devil. Turns out I should have checked on the dates just a little bit more carefully.

Bugger! I had just experienced one of my toughest races and was going to have to do it all over again in just 2 weeks. 43 miles, with a LOT of ascent!

So, a different approach to recovery this time. I did run, although still not as much as I normally would. I cross trained and, mostly, spent time on the spin bike.

The night before The Devil, I did not sleep. I can only assume it was nerves. Whatever it was, it wasn’t exactly conducive to a good race performance. And then, at 4am, it was time to rise and prepare for the 6am start.

Even at 6am it was apparent that the forecast of rain, possibly even hail, was some way short of the mark (or at least was some way off!). It was already hot and the dreader midges were out in force. Their breakfast – some 130 runners waiting for the start of the race. ‘Fortunately’, it later got so hot that even the midges sought shelter, providing some relief for the runners, marshals, support and spectators.

This race, over the top 43 miles of The West Highland Way, is a glorious, scenic run at the best of times. With the sun shining, it showed our surroundings at their very best.

From that initial climb out of Tyndrum, on to Bridge of Orchy and the 1000ft climb up on to Mam Carraigh, through the stunning Rannoch Moor, down through Glencoe with the imposing Buachaille Etive Mòr in the background, up over The Devil’s Staircase, at 1798ft the highest point of the route, down into and back up out of Kinlochleven onto the Lairig Mor and finally down towards the finish at Fort William, it truly is an epic race.

Despite the heat, I did not experience any real lows. I had put any notion of a PB out of my head, based on my experience at The Clyde Stride. However, realising in the latter stages of the race that there was the potential for a PB, I pushed particularly hard in the last 7 miles, hoping to reverse my fortunes from the previous race.

And I did – by 12 minutes! (What’s with the 12 minutes!)

In finishing, I completed not only The Devil O’ The Highlands and race number 6 for 2012. I also completed ‘The Triple Crown’, a finish at The Highland Fling, The West Highland Way Race, and The Devil O’ The Highlands, in a single year. I hadn’t given much thought to this until some Facebook posts over the past couple of days.

I have Iain Wallace to thank for considering The Triple Crown as follows:

None too shabby!

I have John Kynaston to thank for the following statistics: In completing the Triple Crown, I am one of 13 to have completed the Triple Crown in 2012. Since 2007, when runners first completed all 3 races, some 60 people have completed the Triple Crown.

So, 6 down, one to go – the 37.5 mile Speyside Way Race, 2 weeks from now.

Before (finally!) finishing, it’s worth considering the following:

  • I am still struggling to get the weight down, ideally by another 2 stone
  • I am still far from being fast, although have now started to incorporate speed work into training, or at least, the training that takes place when I am not in recovery or taper mode!
  • I still have a lot to improve on overall

However, hopefully my experience this year demonstrates that ‘Aim high, anything is possible’ is a good strategy. You don’t have to be the fastest or the fittest. What I will say however, is that stubborn goes a long way!

Happy running

The Devil O’ The Highlands 2012

Tyndrum enjoys a steady stream of people throughout the year, partly as a result of its location on The West Highland Way. However, twice a year it is invaded by hundreds of ultramarathon runners, in April, at the end of the 53 mile Highland Fling, and in August, at the beginning of the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands Ultramarathon.

This weekend past it was the turn of The Devil O’ The Highlands runners.

The race itself always sells out well in advance and a waiting list then is operated on a one out, one in basis as people invariably, unfortunately find themselves injured or otherwise committed.

This year 138 runners were at the line for the 6am start. Of these, 124 completed in times ranging from 5.36.17 to 11.43.50.

The winners were as follows:

Males:

  • Thomas Loehndorf: 5.36.17
  • Casey Morgan: 5.55.47
  • Craig Cunningham: 6.21.27
  • 1st Male Vet: Robert Soutar: 6.21.28
  • 1st Male Super Vet: Graham Harcus: 7.09.47

Females:

  • Debbie Martin Consani:6.54.06
  • Hazel Dean: 7.23.45
  • Michelle Heatherington: 7.23.54
  • 1st Female Vet: Mellanie Sinclair: 7.57.34
  • 1st Female Super Vet: Louise Burt: 7.25.59

The Route

The Green Welly Stop, one of the landmarks in Tyndrum, opens its doors and cafe to runners for the 4.30am – 5.30 race registration. At 6am runners set off from Brodies store, with an immediate climb out of Tyndrum, heading for the first check point at the Bridge of Orchy, approximately 7 miles away. No such thing as a gentle start to this race!

Leaving Bridge of Orchy, the route climbs approx. 1000ft up on to Mam Carraigh which, according to the race info, “heralds the beginning of rougher country underfoot that continues more or less unabated until the end of the race”.

The speedy descent offers tremendous views of Loch Tulla before crossing the scenic and desolate Rannoch Moor. Fortunately the glorious weather on race day showed Rannoch Moor at its best. Take it from me when I say that it is no less pretty yet considerably more daunting when crossed in whiteout conditions!

The welcome sight of the Peter Fleming Cairn up on the hill to the left of the trail signals the end of Rannoch Moor and the close proximity of checkpoint 2, at the White Cottage, Glencoe.

From here the route then heads towards Kingshouse, with the imposing Buachaille Etive Mor in the background. Climbing alongside Beinn a Chrulaiste, the route takes runners to Altnafeadh, at the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase. Once at the top of the 849ft Devil’s Staircase there are amazing views of Buachaille Etive Mor to be had behind you. At 1798ft this is the highest point of the route.

The descent down into Kinlochleven is both brutal and never ending. What should be a glorious bit of downhill is obstructed somewhat by the ‘difficult’ (understatement!) conditions underfoot. Kinlochleven hosts checkpoint 3 and, on leaving Kinlochleven, the route includes another steep climb, up to the Lairig Mor (the high pass).

The final stretch of the route takes runners over the Lairig Mor and finally down towards the finish at Fort William, some 43 miles later.

The Race

Scotland’s ‘summer’ so far this year has largely consisted of the occasional sunny day sandwiched between torrential rain and, unfortunately for many of the runners, the day of the race turned out to be a gloriously sunny day. Whilst it made for a great day for spectators and support crew alike, many of the runners suffered in the heat which, according to a temperature sign in Fort William, was in the low 20s. While the temperature showcased the splendour of the route, it also made for a tough day and made staying fully hydrated that little bit more difficult.

From a personal perspective, I was pretty nervous about the race and this was the likely cause for the total lack of sleep on the night before the race. Having completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in apocalyptic weather conditions towards the end of June I next ran at the 40 mile Clyde Stride, expecting to have fully recovered by this point, 1 month later. However, the reality was quite different and I toiled to grind out a finish, with the body running ‘on empty’.

With only two weeks between The Clyde Stride and The Devil I was not overly hopeful of a good result! Fortunately things fared better for me than expected on the day, despite the heat in which I always suffer. I took 12 minutes off of my previous time, finishing in 9.50.55 in 90th position.

Perhaps more importantly than the time or position, I felt like I had a good overall run, with only the occasional dip and none of the absolute lows experienced in the previous two races. I had suffered particularly badly in the long climb out of Kinlochleven and had all but seen any chance of a PB slip away. However, managing to put in a good final 7 miles, I pulled this back.

I was even lucky enough to win a spot prize, a set of High 5 gels and energy source powders.

Next up is The Speyside Way Race in 3 weeks, my 7th and final ultramarathon for 2012.

I was supported by my wife Leanne and her brother Ross on race day.

The following is taken from last year’s Devil O’ The Highlands race report. The compulsory kit, elevation profile and route have not changed.

Compulsory Kit:

This list of safety equipment is to be carried by each competitor and a duplicate copy is also advised to be carried by the backup team:

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Space Blanket
  4. Full body waterproof clothing
  5. Water
  6. Food

Devil O’ The Highlands Elevation Profile

Devil O’ The Highlands Route

A Great Start To The Year

New post at The Running Bug, ‘A Great Start To The Year‘.

I was lucky enough to be able to extend my festive holiday to accommodate a short break in the Cairngorms. My wife was not quite so lucky in that she had to return to work briefly before we could both head up to Aviemore. Having taken a couple of days off to recover from 61 days of consecutive running, I thought it would be a great idea to run the 18 miles from our house to my wife’s work, arriving at the end of her working day. The perceived benefits of this were as follows:

  • I could get a long run in, my first of the year
  • It would save the wife having to travel all the way back (in the wrong direction) just to pick me up and head back that way again
  • As I would be running at least some of it in darkness, I would get the opportunity to test out my recently acquired Hope head torch

I was sincerely regretting the decision by approximately mile 2! My legs felt stiff, I felt generally lethargic and mentally I really was questioning my sanity!

Fortunately I settled in to a good pace and despite a fairly cold wind I began to enjoy the solitude of the run, south towards Aberdeen along the old Formatine & Buchan railway line. By the time I arrived at the end of the line in Dyce, approximately 15 miles later, I was ahead of schedule and thoroughly enjoying the torchlit run. I would even go so far as to say that it was the best I had felt whilst running South on the line – quite a turn around from my earlier feelings!

Having arrived in Dyce I phoned the wife to ask for her work address postcode. Her company had previously been situated right at the end of the railway line, perfect for those times when I would run in to meet her there. However, a recent move had seen the company move away from the end of the line, leaving me in a position of having to navigate an industrial estate and airport!

I had a rough idea of the new location and, when I ran right past the Google Maps postcode pin, I started to suspect that all was not well.

With helicopters coming in from all directions, planes landing and the general darkness of the night, I just could not get my bearings and phoned my wife again to ask for more specific directions. At this point, she admitted to having given me the wrong postcode. An easy mistake to make, and especially as she was focusing on getting things finished so that she could go on holiday with nothing on her mind. Armed with the correct postcode, I set off circling around the airport to the other side of the industrial estate.

Now perhaps they just don’t want people walking around that area, or maybe they just don’t expect people to walk there but the lack of pavements was something else. On top of this, it was not ‘just’ grass verges underfoot. The verges were as unkempt and pot holed as they could possibly be and, navigating by torchlight, it was all I could do not to trip up. Due to the long line of traffic attempting to exit the industrial estate, I felt like a bit of a circus attraction and I am sure the people in their cars were not accustomed to seeing someone bumble along the verges, attempting to run.

This was definitely my least favourite part of the run and it has to be said, it took the shine off of an otherwise cracking run. However, I finally made it to my wifes work, just in time to throw back a couple of coffees. With her work finished we were now officially on holiday and were bound for Aviemore. My objectives of a long run and of saving time in getting going were both achieved.

The following day, feeling none too worse for wear, I joined the family on a hiking trip in Glencoe. The weather was fairly kind to us and we soon ascended up into the Hidden Valley of Glencoe (Coire Gabhail is the hidden valley where the MacDonalds of Glen Coe apparently hid their rustled cattle) where the views of the valley itself and back down to Glencoe were simply stunning. With a good deal of climbing and descending, this was also perfect training for the ultramarathons that lie ahead in 2012.

The next day I was intent on running but had no set destination and no idea how far and/or long I wanted to run for. I cadged a lift to Glenmore and set off from there, off along the route towards the Green Loch. Given the wind, bitterly cold temperatures and the treacherous conditions underfoot, I opted to stay low and decided against a run up and over Meall a Bhuachaille. As the conditions underfoot worsened I realised that I had forgotten to take any form of spikes and, as such, would have to rely solely (no pun intended!) on the tread of my Hoka Mafates.

I passed The Green Loch and decided to venture on to Ryvoan Bothy. I was relishing the tough conditions underfoot, a mix of boulders, compacted snow, and ice, with the last option being the least preferred! There were times when it was preferable to run through the water streaming down the path as it was often better to get wet feet than to take any chances on the sheet ice!

I continued on past Ryvoan Bothy to the fork in the path that takes you to Abernethy (left) or Braemar (right). Despite having been to this point many times I had never continued further. Realising that there would be no easy was to return from Braemar, I opted to go left towards Abernethy Forest, the largest remaining remnant of the Ancient Caledonian Forest in Scotland. I was enticed along the way by the beauty of the landscape, made all the more glorious by a dusting of snow.

When the opportunity arose and my phone picked up a signal I texted the wife to let her know my intentions. I had experienced enough slip sliding by this point to realise that this could all go pear shaped without anyone being any the wiser to my location! Better to be safe than sorry (and to remember the spikes next time!).

What started out as a run with an unspecified destination and distance ended up as an ‘accidental’ 21 mile run taking me through Abernethy Forest (many forks, few signs, much beauty!) to Nethy Bridge and then back to Aviemore via Boat of Garten on The Speyside Way.

It was great to see a bit of The Speyside Way that I have not seen before. I am more used to the upper half of The Speyside Way thanks to The Speyside Way Ultramarathon.

It was also great to exceed the boundaries of past visits and to be able to continue running and exploring.

Finally, it was great to get some more long run miles in the legs. When I set off, I had thought that I might run somewhere between 10 to 13 miles and, as such, I surpassed my expectations by a fair bit!

As it happened, all of the family returned from their various walks, runs, and ski trips at the same time and so everyone settled down to relax in the knowledge that they had made the most of the day, in their own chosen way.

When I toed the line at the start of The D33 Ultramarathon last year, my longest run had only been 18 miles. 7 days into January and I have already matched and beaten that. All in all, not a bad start to the year.

Happy New Year to you all!

Men’s Running Brooks Pure Project Competition Winner

I knew Men’s Running was scheduled to hit the shops on the 29th of December and I was looking forward to picking up some reading material for over New Year. Standing there in Tesco, flicking through the pages, I was shocked to find that my photo taken at the top of The Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe had won the competition!

The photo, taken while out on a training run, shows the view looking towards the Blackwater Reservoir. Can’t wait to try out my prize of Brooks Pure Project running shoes, gilet and running tights. Thanks Men’s Running :o)

The approximate location of the photograph on Google Maps:


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