Gear Junkie

My long awaited Ultimate Direction Signature Series PB Adventure Vest will not be with me in time for Christmas. Fortunately however, I will have a lovely new Montane Minimus to test out on the trail and, given the weather these past few days, it’s going to get a considerable amount of use!

Christmas is a great time of year for the gear junkie, especially when friends and family appreciate that you use the opportunity to get much needed items of kit, whether it be smaller items like socks (Drymax) or larger items such as a new waterproof and vest pack.

I came across a great blog post by Red Wine Runner that documented the transition from ‘casual hobby jogger‘ to ‘runner (with a capital R)‘. The turning point for Rhona (Red Wine Runner) was the realisation that, despite numerous non-running events (festivals, weddings, holidays), all she had bought throughout the year was running kit.

The sentiment of the post struck a chord with me. While I haven’t been to any festivals or weddings this year, I seized the opportunity presented by a holiday in the sun to stock up on some new Salomon running vests and Salomon recovery sandals.

A quick glance in the shoe cupboard confirms my fears. My trainers outnumber my wife’s shoes by at least a ratio of 5:1 (conservative estimate!). Bag check. I win again. Waist packs, vest packs, rucksacks, lightweight packs, all day packs – a running pack for every eventuality.

I have a confession to make. I am a gear junkie, and I have no problem with it. I love the feeling of getting some new kit to try out, be it a new pair of trainers, the latest running pack, or some running clothing. Whoever said running was cheap certainly didn’t have my fondness for new gear! Fortunately, I have received a fair bit of kit this year for review which helps keep costs down, something that will be even more essential in 2013. Thanks to everyone who has supplied product for review.

Hope everyone gets some great new kit this Christmas :o)

Menorca and the Camí de Cavalls

Back at the beginning of August I blogged about returning to Menorca and the Camí de Cavalls.

Menorca, the second largest of the Balearic Islands after Mallorca, has a coastline of 216km, is 47km in length and has a width of 20km at its widest point. The island boasts over 100 beaches and coves.

Last year we stayed in Ciutadella, the former Menorcan capital, which provided an excellent base from which to explore the island. Having explored many of the island’s attractions last year, the aim for this year was considerably more R&R interspersed with early morning trail runs for me.

On our travels last year we came across Cala Galdana in the South of the Island, providing the perfect mix of beach and easy access to trail. It was an obvious choice when considering where to stay this time around and, in all likelihood, will be somewhere that we return to in future years.

In terms of running potential, Cala Galdana lies on the Camí de Cavalls trail which runs around Menorca and, from my hotel, I was no more than 1/4 mile from routes East or West.

“Menorca is encircled by an ancient bridle path, known as the Cami de Cavalls, which enabled soldiers to ride between the many watchtowers situated around the coastline. Recently reopened for the first time in 400 years, the path stretches for almost 220 km and provides a link between idyllic sandy beaches, hidden coves and deep blue inlets. Over the centuries, it has been trampled by Moor, Catalan, French and English occupying forces. Today, it offers a perfect way for rambles, horse riders and mountain bikers to discover Menorca’s hidden secrets from stunning bays, coves and deserted beaches to woodlands and green valleys full of flowers and wildlife, through to medieaval and prehistoric remains.”

http://menorca-live.com/cami-de-cavalls/

We stayed at the Son Gavilanes hotel and could not have asked for a better experience. Our room, a family double room with an excellent sea view, was huge. The food was excellent, with morning and evening buffets providing ample opportunity for experimentation with local food as well as catering for all tastes, from seafood dishes through to Italian. The proximity to the beach couldn’t have been any better, with easy access to the lovely Cala Galdana beach right in front of the hotel.

Throughout our stay, despite it being the beginning of September, we enjoyed temperatures in the late 20s to early 30s. Even early in the morning, the temperatures were approaching and climbing in to the 20s and I will admit to toiling in the heat. However, given the fantastic trail, there was never any question of not running! My aim was to explore as much of the Camí de Cavalls and the various other routes as possible early in the morning before returning in time to catch breakfast. My longest run was just over 10 miles and, on this occasion, I returned to the hotel looking like I had been thrown in the sea!

My travels took me to the following beaches, both East and West of Cala Galdana:

  • Cala Mitjana
  • Cala Trebaluguer
  • Cala Macarella
  • Cala Macaralleta
  • Cala en Turqueta
  • Es Talaier

The trails were generally undulating and varied from hard packed dirt, to sand, technical rocky sections and sharp eroded rock. The trails I followed took me slightly inland, in to densely forested areas, along the cliffside and, at times, deposited me onto one of the many Menorcan beaches or coves. Certainly in the location that I ran, the trails could be described as being similar to Cairngorm routes and to the technical lochside section of the West Highland Way. Despite the relatively short distances between beaches, I often felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. However, with numerous Camí de Cavalls signs, waypoint and cliff route signs, there was never any real danger of getting lost. There were even reflective strips on posts and trees to aid running, walking and/or biking in the dark.

The scenery was varied, from remote, rugged landscapes, to forest and sandy beaches. One of the main problems I encountered was taking in all the scenery whilst also keeping one eye on the trail. With the prevalence of sharp rocks, loose stones and tree roots, this was not somewhere I wanted to fall!

The following images hopefully illustrate the kind of terrain and views that you will encounter, at least in the area surrounding Cala Galdana.

The Menorca Net website contains some excellent Camí de Cavalls maps:

I can’t recommend Menorca enough as a great destination for anyone looking to run on rocky, rooty, technical trails and hope to return again in the not too distant future. I was surprised at just how hot it could get even in September and would consider going even later in the year in future to make the most of the trails and to get in some longer runs. However, having said that, there’s a lot to say for relaxing on the beach in the sun after a great morning run!

Final Race Of The Season – The Speyside Way Race

This Saturday I will be joining approx 110 other runners in the penultimate race of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series, The Speyside Way Race. This will be my last race in 2012. With so many great ultras still to come this year, it seems almost premature to be discussing my final race and I know that, for many of my ultra friends, there are still at least a couple of months of training and racing to complete.

However, assuming I make it to the finish line on Saturday, I will have completed 7 of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series of ultramarathons and, at least according to my body, I am in need of a break. Fortunately, this will come soon enough as I depart for Menorca on 3rd September. My idea of a ‘break’ does involve some trail running, on the Camí de Cavalls trail around Menorca. However, I do plan on ‘mixing it up’ with plenty of walking, swimming (hopefully avoiding jellyfish – this time!) and actual relaxing as well! Once I return, I am going to focus on shorter runs, speedwork and minimalist running for a while.

This will be my 3rd time at the Speyside Way Race and am hopeful of improving on my previous times, 7:46:00 in 2010 & 7:23:45 in 2011, but will, as always, just take it as it comes. At this point in time, the forecast is varying between light and heavy rain.

The route follows the Speyside Way, from Ballindalloch to Buckie, including Ben Aigen.

The Route

  • Ballindalloch to Craigellachie:
    12 miles: Mostly old railway line, Suspension bridges
  • Craigellachie to Fochabers:
    13 miles: Some road sections, Woodland paths, Forestry tracks
  • Fochabers to Spey Bay:
    6 miles: Riverside & forestry tracks, Grassy paths
  • Spey Bay to Buckie:
    5.5 miles: Shore line path, Some pavement, Old railway line, Woodland paths
  • The route continues into Buckie town centre for approximately 0.5 miles

Best of luck to everyone running The Speyside Way this weekend and also to those who will be missing Speyside this weekend as they are tapering for the Glenmore 24 or UTMB races, both of which are on my bucket list.

Happy running.

Menorca And The Camí de Cavalls

My last race of the year will be The Speyside Way Race on 25th August and then, shortly after, I will be heading back to Menorca with Leanne. We visited Menorca for the first time early last summer and thoroughly loved it, although the heat did impact on my ability to run long distances and, as a result, my training and subsequent race times suffered. Or at least, that’s my theory. It could also have had a lot to do with the really fine food on offer in Ciutadella where we stayed. It would have been rude not to make the most of it!

Whilst touring the islands’s many attractions, we visited Cala Galdana, situated on the south coast of Menorca and known for its towering cliffs and horseshoe beach. One of the things that immediately appealed to me in Cala Galdana was the Camí de Cavalls, the ancient coastal pathway completely circumnavigating the island of Menorca.

We spent some time walking along the Camí de Cavalls last year at various points on our travels and I was particularly impressed with the trail in and around Cala Galdana.

So, rather than immediately rest up upon conclusion of my SUMS season, I plan to make the most of the running opportunities afforded by the Camí de Cavalls. The trail east starts right at the back of our accommodation, with little more than a few hundred yards before hitting the trees. The trail west is a short distance across the famous horseshoe beach.

Both directions offer unlimited running potential and access to beaches unspoiled by tourism. I have no plans to run huge distances and my plans may or may not be curtailed by the heat. However, the intention is to make the most of the trail, probably early in the morning for most runs and then again for leisurely walks with Leanne later in the day.

I am looking forward to a change of scenery after a particularly wet summer running in Scotland and am hopeful for some decent weather (Temperature averages are from around 21°C to 24°C at this time of year).

The only thing from last year that I would be keen to avoid would be my ‘session’ with the jellyfish while snorkelling. Having only given the jellyfish guide at the hotel a cursory glance upon arrival, I was not sure whether ‘my’ jellyfish fitted into the imminent death/anaphylactic shock category or the stings like hell but you will live category. The fact that you are reading this now points to the jellyfish being of the latter variety although, at the time, I wasn’t so sure, especially given that it felt like a combination of a bad burn and electrocution (neither of which I have admittedly experienced – thankfully!)

So, jellyfish aside, I can’t wait to return to Menorca!

Thanks to http://www.menorca-net.co.uk/ for providing me with some excellent PDF maps of the Camí de Cavalls route. No excuses for getting lost now!

The West Highland Way Race – The Final Countdown

New post at The Running Bug, ‘The West Highland Way Race – The Final Countdown

Wanted: West Highland Way Race Support Crew. Must be prepared to give up an entire weekend, put up with interrupted sleep (at best), drive around the countryside and ensure that your runner is clothed, fed and constantly running/walking/shuffling/crawling forward. Basic first aid skills and thick skin may be required.

If I saw this advert I would personally think twice (at least!) about responding! Fortunately for me, my friends and family didn’t and, as a result, I have a great crew in place to help me on my way to trying to complete the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, my longest race to date by some 40 miles.

Essentially the object of the West Highland Way Race is simple. You start at Milngavie Railway Station (7miles north of Glasgow) at 1am on Saturday 23rd June 2012 & run/jog/walk to Fort William Leisure Centre by noon on the Sunday 24th June 2012, 35 hours to cover 95 miles including 14,760ft of ascent. (www.westhighlandwayrace.org)

There is less than 2 weeks to go now until the race and, due to an achilles niggle picked up at The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon, I have cut right back on the running these past few weeks. As a result, I should reach the start line well rested, an enforced taper of sorts!

Mrs Mac will be there to try and ensure that I don’t do myself too much damage! She will be joined by her aunt and uncle, Sandra and John Donnelly. The three of them will be in the motorhome that we have rented for the weekend and I hope that they enjoy the event as much as I will.

I am also fortunate to be joined by Ian Minty (known as ‘Minty’), who will be my pacer for the later stages of the event. I have known Minty for a short while now as a result of various training runs and ultramarathons. We ran almost all of the 2011 Cateran Trail Ultramarathon together, pulling each other along to the finish and it was this run in particular that cemented a great friendship.

I was delighted when Minty offered to run the last 45 miles (approx.) of the race with me, joining me at the earliest permitted opportunity for pacers on the race. Having ‘only’ run 55 miles before, I appreciate that the last 40 miles will be totally unknown territory and, as such, I am even more grateful to have Minty running alongside, keeping me upright and on track!

An email from Minty a few weeks back brought home the close proximity of the event. I can only really liken it to Christmas. There is this long, drawn out build up followed by a mad panic in the couple of weeks preceding the event and then, all too soon, it will be over for yet another year. Hopefully, come noon on the 24th June, I will be about to receive the best present that I could wish for – one of the prized finishers goblets and entry to The West Highland Way Race Family.

Minty’s email got me thinking. There were so many good questions. Things I had barely considered. I was in the frame of mind that I was going to turn up and run. End of story. The email was just the kick up the backside that I needed.

The email broached the idea of starting my taper, my plans for the day itself, consideration of where I should be at what time, how hard to push through the day, how hard I should ask my support team and support runner to push me, what goals and/or approaches are important to me, and, equally as relevant, what goals and/or approaches aren’t!

The email also mentioned the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) scenario. Under what circumstances would I accept a DNF? (fatigue? Injury?) Should the support team ever suggest a DNF? Should the support team try to put me off of a DNF if I am feeling low?

All good questions that got me thinking, and not before time. Minty’s aim was to best prepare for the race so that he could help steer me in the direction that I wanted to go, especially when my own mental faculties might be impaired through exhaustion and sleep deprivation.

All of these questions, and more importantly their answers, were equally relevant to my crew in the motorhome.

So, after considerable effort, I came up with a game plan for the day.

Barring serious injury, a DNF does not factor into my plans. I am, of course, saying this with no experience of how it feels to be at mile 80 with a further difficult 15 miles to go and suffering from aches, pains and sleep deprivation. In my head, I hope that I will be strong enough to follow this conviction! (I really hope this one doesn’t come back to haunt me!)

I have now prepared and sent a spreadsheet with estimated timings to my support crew. I have set myself gold, silver and bronze standards to aim for. Gold is anything under 28 hours. Silver is 28 to 32 hours, and Bronze is 32 hours to 35 hours. Anything over 35 hours is beyond the permitted completion time for the race and, as such, is outwith the ‘medals’.

I have also given some thought to food requirements. As with The Cateran, I am going with ‘real food’ but will have a small supply of gels just in case. I am planning on eating everything from potatoes, porridge and tomato soup to cheese and onion sandwiches and Jamaican Ginger Cake (the latter two were staples of my Cateran ‘diet’) and drinking everything from water with High 5 Zero hydration tablets to Coke, Coffee and Slimfast shakes.

The main aim of the day is simply to finish. It doesn’t have to be pretty – it will likely be anything but!

With a bit of luck the weather will be on our side. Last year I followed the race via Twitter while on holiday in Menorca. Back home it was torrential rain, bad enough for races of 13 hours, never mind 30 hours! The previous two years were very hot by all accounts. For me, something in between would be just perfect and hopefully would minimise the need to change kit too many times (Race regulations are that you must have 5 different sets of kit available).

The 230 runners who were originally allowed entry to the race have now dwindled to 180 approx as injury and other circumstances take their toll. I hope that everyone who makes it to the start line at Milngavie at 1 a.m. on Saturday 23rd June has a great weekend and that they all reach Fort William.

Hopefully the support crews and runners will also have a great weekend. By all accounts, there is a great camaraderie between the teams as they each help their runners to try and achieve their goal. Seeing your runner at his or her worst, battered, bruised and deprived of sleep can be tough on crews, often including loved ones. However, this will hopefully be balanced out by the fun of the day and, with a bit of luck, by the site of seeing their runner finally cross the line, whether it be in 15 hours 44 minutes (Course record set by Jez Bragg in 2006), in 34 hours 59 minutes, or anything in between!

Thanks again to everyone in my team. Your efforts are hugely appreciated. The West Highland Way Race has been a goal of mine for a while now and I am grateful of your help as I try to reach that goal. With a bit of luck I will not be moody/stroppy/quick tempered etc. etc. From the various podcasts and articles that I have listened to/read it is clear that runners may not always be at their nicest once the miles and hours start to take their toll. As such, I will get my thanks in now and apologise in advance for any of the above.

Finally, thanks in advance to the organisers and marshals, without whom the race would not be possible.

See you all in Fort William!

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