Thursday, 26 January 2012

January Reflections.

Although not one of my highest mileage months, January has been one of my most satisfying. Here are it's highlights:

West Highland Way Training Run: Milngavie-Arlehaven-Milngavie:
After a well earned rest day, from the 'Marcothon', it was back to buisness on the 2nd with a shorter than planned run on the WHW. I had planned on running from Milngavie to the Beach Tree Inn and back as a gentle start to the new year and to mark the start to my WHW Race training. However, the weather closed in shortly after passing Craigallan Loch and I wasn't kitted out for a wet run. So at Arlehaven I called it a day and turned to run back to Milngavie via a detour into Mugdock Country Park. At just over 10 miles it was a good short run to ease into the longer runs that would come later in the building up to my first event in March, the D33.

Storm damaged Glen Park:
Running on the Glennifer Braes forms the 'back bone' of my training as its on my door step and offers some great hilly terrain and many great routes.  Most of my routes on the Braes start and finish by running through Glen Park. Hurricane 'Bawbag' and the subsequent stronger storms had swept through the park with an awesome display of destructive force. It was quite a spectacular sight that greeted me in the few days of calm we had between squalls. The photos don't really fully portray the scale of the destruction created. Most of the parks paths were blocked by fallen, broken and smashed trees or had been wiped away from landslips. It made progress slow on my runs and the novelty of climbing over and crawling under trees soon wore off!
West Highland Way Training run: Tyndrum-Bridge of Orchy-Tyndrum:
I had planned on running to the cairn on Mam Carraigh, overlooking Loch Tulla, but ended up turning at BoO railway station platform. I had to run against a strong headwind in both directions and had rain, hail and sleet with a 30 minute spell. However, when the cloud did lift, oh my god! The views were spectacular and made up for being cold and wet for 2 and a half hours.

Ben Lomond (via the Ptarmigan):
The day after my WHW run above I decided to walk up Ben Lomond, going via my prefered route over the Ptarmigan. The weather after reaching the Ptarmigan was mingin. Ice, snow, rain and then there was the wind! Christ,  i've never 'walked' in such a ferocious wind than that before. On the steep pull up to the summit, through the rocky outcrops, I was actually reduced to all fours to get to the summit! The snot was being blown up my nose. Not surprisingly the summit was deserted (I met 4 people on the mountain all day). The decent was pretty miserable as the wind was so powerful it drove the rain straight through my waterproofs. I broke into a jog a few times on the decent just to get down below the foul weather quicker. On the plus side I got a great resistance workout!
Training plans and me just moaning!:
Over the last few weeks in January I had been catching up with other peoples plans for the coming year by reading their Blogs. The common thread has been 'Training Plans' and them worrying about their mileage leading up to the various events coming their way. Each persons plans, schedules and approach to preparation appeared unique to each individuals needs and targets for the year ahead. Different things work for different people, with the the key word being 'different'. So what works for me? Answer: Not having a specific planned approach or a 'written' down schedule or plan. I tend to make it up as I go along! I can hear some of you gasp!! I run when I want to. I run for as long as I feel im in the mood for. And I run for as far as I feel comfortable. If I ever felt I had to force myself to get out the door and run, I'd burn my running shoes. When running becomes something other than fun and enjoyable I won't do it. I'm confident this won't happen. I'm not a n'up at 4.30am to run' person, bugger that! I take my hat off to those who have the motivation and enthusiasm to do so but think you really need specialist help! I like my bed too much and my dedication doesn't stretch that far. I wont be a 'slave' of my own making by devising and then feel obliged to stick to a structured training plan. You won't hear me cry 'Oh crap only ran 9.8miles when It says here I MUST do exactly 10'. Making it up as I go along has worked for me so far for the type of running that enjoy. Farlek, hill training, speed, interval.... I do them all, but in my own way by just going out on a mixed terrain route and running rather than running specific session work. My knickers wont get in a twist if dont stick to any plan. I'll push myself to improve in areas want to do better in, but not to the point of vomitting up my lungs and spleen. I've heard stories of runners pushing to the point of hallucinating, kidney failure and worse. Yeah that sounds like fun and something i fancy trying. Don't misunderstand my lazyarsed approach to running, I do have targets and aspirations, but they are in my head and change on a regular basis! I have great admiration and respect for those who have taken the time to sit down and work out daily, weekly and monthly training plans and then rigoursly stick to it. Good on you for being so organised and efficient in your approach to running. Not for me. I just want to run. Paperwork, arithmetic, charts, pace per miles, splits, statistical analysis....not my thing. It's the same with all that 'tech' that we have at our disposal. I use a battered old watch with a 24 hour stopwatch and have only recently begun to use a tempermental phone app to log my runs (Endomondo). It has a gps thingy to track where I've been and works out all the statsitical nonesence for me. It's other use is to help me rescue myself when I predictably get lost. I don't use digital training aids attached to my shoes that speak to me in the voice of a 'famous' athlete, shouting abuse (known as encouragement) at me. I don't use a garmin that give off a multitude of irritating beeps. I very rarely use a mp3 player, but I am considering so for the WHW race. Now as for footwear, first we had 'minimilst' which was akin to running barefoot and now we have 'Hoka' which looks like running in platforms. I can't help but feel it gives their users an unfair advantage by allowing them to bounce past the rest of us. What's next, springs on the soles? When I first started going to events I would turn up looking all new and shiney like I had just stepped off a catalogue page with my hair brushed and my teeth combed. Now I have the appearance of someone who got dressed in the dark after a night out on the fizzy pop! Yes I know if I took it more seriously I am capable of far better performances, but would I enjoy it more? I'm not sure, but at the moment I'm having a great time running and as i turn 40 (Hard to believe from my youthful looks) in a couple weeks I hope this continues to be the case. 2012 is going to be an exciting year with the prospect of this landmark birthday and taking on the 95mile challenge of the West Highland Way race. I find running more satisfying than the unlikely prospect of watching university challenge and getting a single question correct. I set my targets low so it's easier to suceed! So just finishing the WHW Race in the 35 hour time limit will be an achievement to be proud of.
Back to the running:

3 Parks Run:
Another regular run takes me through Bellahouston, Maxwell and Pollok Parks in Glasgow and as you can see from the photos they too took a hammering from the winds during January.
West Highland Way Training Run: Victoria Bridge-White Corries-Victoria Bridge:
The alarm was set for 6.45am for a planned early start to avoid any build up of traffic. After hitting the snooze button umpteen times I got out of bed just after 9am. Opened my curtains to reveal a beautiful blue sky. Yeeehaaa! Dressed, breakfast, kit packed, out the door, drive to BoO, arrive at Victoria Bridge at 12pmish. Good to go. I last ran this WHW section during the Devil O the Highlands race and back then during the race I didn't appreciate just how amazing this area, hidden from the road, really is. The weather was better than perfect as you will see in the photos. I never met another soul the whole day, which added to the enjoyment of the run. I stopped at the cairn on the Black Mount high point before dropping down towards the ski centre. I held my breath for around 30 seconds. Not a sound, no bird song, no wind and no noise from the road below. Astonishing. The Buachaille looked fantastic with it's white powdering of snow and the sharp blue sky above. I ran back feeling hugely lucky to be out here today and soaked up the big sky and mountain views. A day of days indeed.
West Highland Way Training Run: Balmaha-Inversnaid-Balmaha:
The week before this run I had been a bit sniffy and tired so had taken 3 days off from running. On my next run after this rest I felt like my legs had lead weights attached to them. As a result I decided I would be happy if I only managed to Rowardennan and back. But I would see how things during the week went and how I felt on the day of the run. This wasn't going to be a race, just a run with friends and otherWHW Race hopefulls. There would be a variety of running abilities in attendance so the important thing to do was just go at my own pace and enjoy the day in good company. Runners from all over the country were converging on Balmaha for the weekend, including an overseas contingent (Grumpies from Skye and Bute). The weather on my short drive to Balmaha was an indicator as to how it would be throughout the day. Windy, wet and windy. The Oak Tree Inn bar was full of runners ready to go. Despite the hoolie outside there was excitement in the air. With this being a training run there were no set distances to run, you do what you felt you could. Although you had to bear in mind that what you run out you had to run back and the limitations of daylight hours at this time of year. There was no pressure to run the full planned 30 miles. I think most folk ran beyond Rowardennan and the majority of them went on to Inversnaid and back. A few people had started running just after 9am but the majority started at 10am. After a quick brief from Ian and some photos outside the Oak Tree Inn we were off on our way. It looked like there were around 60 runners here today. Some were away very quickly and I had no intention of going out too fast today. The wind was getting up as we climbed Craigie Fort. I met some of the 'Grumpies' on the climb (Fiona, Rachel, Victoria and Fiona R). After decending and running along the shoreline I pushed on and didn't see them again until I passed them on my return leg about a mile from Inversnaid. The outward leg was incident free and I felt good and was happy with my pacing. The weather was changeable but the main constant was the wind driven rain. My waterproof was on, off, on , off and I eventually gave up and left it on. Underfoot progressively got worse as the miles went by. I was behind a couple shortly after Craigie Fort when one of them went down like a Sumo Wrestler. He limped for a bit but soon looked ok. This was the ever present danger today. I didn't fancy falling on my face in all this mud.  I kept meeting familiar faces as I ran and chatted for a bit with some, including Andy McHendry a couple of times. It's good to see the NPA is on the ball and have removed all the fallen trees from the WHW route. It was a fair mess in parts of the track from fallen trees and landslips, including one MASSIVE big rock on the high point between Rowardennan and Inversnaid. Starting from Balmaha on fresh legs meant it went fairly easy for most of the day.  I arrived at Rowardennan in around 90 minutes and passed a few runners sheltering at the 'tourist hut'. Between Rowardennan and Inversnaid there are two main climbs which were best tackled by walking up them. In today's weather this felt like a right old slog. I ran/walked with the same couple of runners on and off until the top of the first climb. Here I managed to reel in a small group including Ian, Sandra, Helen and Andy and managed to keep pace at their backs until we got to Inversnaid. Along the way we caught up with John K and passed Silke and Katrina who were running together. At Inversnaid every possible place of shelter had runners huddled together, some only arrived and immediately turned around and started their return leg. I decided to refuel for 10 minutes. I'm sure the hotel staff wouldn't have thanked us if we had trailed mud through their foyer. As it was I squeezed into the front porch with another 7 or 8 runners, including Karen D, George R and Mike R. I had a museli bar and a quick drink. One by one everyone was on their way again. I met Andy again, who took a photo for me. He wasn't heading back to Balmaha and instead was pushing on to Tyndrum. Hopefully he made it ok as it looked like the northern end of the loch was getting hammered. So I set off back down the lochside on the heels of Mike R, who quickly dissapeared ( I caught up on the climb just after Rowardennan, but again he soon pulled away). With all the rain and runners out today the return on the same route had churned up the already rubbish surface. I slipped on my ass twice  the return run, luckily only my pride was pummelled. On the long climb and then decents towards Rowardennan I kept close to a couple of runners, until I had to answer a call of nature. One of these being Katrina (Johns wife). I caught up with Katrina again at the hotel at Rowardennan but again had to stop for the toilet. Well done Katrina, you were running strong on the way back and looking good for the Fling.  Not long after Rowardennan I passed George and Karen. I saw a bit more of George than I was expecting as he had stopped for, call it, a 'rest stop'! The remaining 5 miles or so were run/walk/run/walk. My feet were very cold from all the water soaking into my shoes. I was no longer avoiding the muddy puddles. What would be the point as I was soaking and covered in mud. On the final shoreline section I nearly got blown off my feet such was the strength of the wind. Climbing Craigie Fort was mental with that wind. Then it was done, back into Balmaha. I spent about 25 minutes trying to peel of my running kit in the car, causing me to get cramp in one leg. Anyone who saw me must have thought I was having a seizure! It was well dark now and I was glad I wasn't still out there running. Despite the mingin manky weather and ending up manky mingin from a couple of falls it was a good day out and has boosted my confidence on longer runs. Good to see some familiar faces and meet some new ones. do it again soon.
West Highland Way Training Run: Crainlarich-Tyndrum-Crainlarich:
This was my 5th Training run on the WHW this month and again I had all sorts of weather thrown at me. I parked in Crainlarich and used the 'link' path to join the WHW at the Bogle Glen junction. This is the hill we all love to hate, the start of the 'rollercoaster'. It marks only 6 miles to Tyndrum and this is where I was finished off during last years Fling. However, today I was on fresh legs so it was pleasantly straightward. As I climbed here, the first flakes of snow began to fall. It's quite a tough wee climb that seems to toy with you. Just when you think you are at the top and after a great fast downhill section, it goes back up again, and so on, hence the nickname 'The Rollercoaster'. The route was very wet underfoot today and got boggy on the path approaching the bridge at Strathfillan. I only passed two people today, both farm staff from Strathfillan and Kirkton Farms. Luckily the river crossing at Tyndrum into Cliffton was easy today despite all the recent rain. I had a cup of tea in the Green Welly. £1.50!!! for a mug of brown water. When I left the Welly the snow was getting heavy now, so waterproof jacket on. The return run took around 3-4 minutes longer than the outward and was just as uneventful. I didn't rush things today as I just wanted to re-familiarise myself with this section as its the crux section for me during the Fling in April. Enjoyable day that seemed to pass very quickly. I can only hope it goes the same way during the Fling and the WHW Race later in the year.
So February is apon us and I want to keep up the training momentum. Having had a good few very satisfying WHW training runs in January, I plan to do more in February. I want to concentrate my next few runs on the 'northern' end of the route. So my next few runs will vary in length and I hope to cover the following:

White Corries - Top of the Staircase - White Corries
Altnafeadh - Kinlochleven - Altnafeadh
Kinlochleven - Lundvadra - Kinlochleven
Fort william - Kinlochleven - Fort William

All I need to do is find the time!
Although I dislike structure that training programmes lean towards, the basic plan each month is to do a couple of shorter WHW runs and do one longer one which will increase each month. Having said that, April and May already have a long run penned in, in the form of The Fling and The Cateran Ultra races. I'm lucky to have the Glennifer Braes a 10 minute run from my house so I have easy access to hills and off road stuff. As each week goes by the anticipation, excitment and nervousness grows. Bring it on!


  1. Hi Colin,
    I like your blog and some terrific photos but sometimes find it hard to read as you use no paragraphs. put a space in now and then and it would make it easier. Not meant to be a criticism.

  2. Some great photos and rants in that post. You're training is going pretty well - keep it up and June will be no problem.

  3. You've had a good January. Good to see you last Saturday.

    All the best as you build up to June.