Sunday, 4 March 2012

Fear, Loathing and Inspiration ( Warning, contains much rudeness!!)

Luss-Tarbet-Luss 16.5mile Training Run.
Last year I ran on the tarmac cycle track that runs from Lomond Shores, in Balloch, to Luss and back. I didn't really enjoy it. So I have no idea why I decided to run the continuation of this path (No.40 cycle path) going from Luss to Tarbet and back to Luss. It was just as hateful. This is a shame considering what is normally a stunning backdrop. It's the path I reserve my hatred for, especially the bits that run right alongside the A82. The only protection from the road you get are from the pathetically flimsy crash barriers or the occasional bush. The bits that run on the 'old' A82 road are mildly acceptable in that you are taken away from the new bit and therefore don't get thrown off your feet from the passing thundering lorries. It rained all day. It was cold and windy all day. The views today were rubbish. There were no views to speak of really today. The Loch and Ben Lomond and other hills were all obscured by thick cloud and rain. It was still cold and wet when I reached Tarbet and took shelter at the 'tourist' centre building overlooking the pier. The 'Cruise' boats were all moored. Who in their right mind would want to go 'boating' in this manky weather?
I had a coffee at the tourist centre but wasn't impressed by it. It was fair mingin' if I'm honest. But it was hot and tasted better after I shovelled in 8 sachets of sugar. A few touristy looking people milled about, looking as grey as the weather. I didn't wait for long as I was getting cold from being wet. Maybe I should do this route in the summer to enjoy it a bit more. But I doubt I would. Give me a 'Trail' path anyday. I despise tarmac now. I loathe the stuff, so I still don't know why I decided to run this route. All throughout the day my attention was drawn to the opposite side of the loch, over to the WHW route. It was odd seeing parts of the path from over the water. I paused a few times to squint over at it to see if I could see anyone running on it. Not a soul. The only good thing from today was that I managed to run in both directions at a resonably consistent pace. Apart from that It was miserable!! Normal service may not be resumed for some time.
D33 Ultra Prep.
I had hoped to do a training run on the D33 route with Jonathan Mackintosh long before now. I first ran with Jonathan during the Clyde Stride Ultra last year and then met at various other events. I had mentioned on Facebook about going up and he fancied doing it with me and hopefully a few others. It was really just to refamilarise myself with the route and terrain and do so in good company. I also thought it would be a good change of scenery from the WHW route. But getting the time to head up to Aberdeen has proven illusive thus far. So I'll just have to play by ear on the day. I'm looking forward to my 3rd D33 and will use it to work on my WHW race pacing.

New Dawn?
I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago. My thanks to all the kind birthday greetings I got. This landmark proved less traumatic than I thought. No grey hairs yet and nothing has fallen off or began to sag or droop. Although some of my running 'friends' burst my aging bubble by taking great pleasure in reminding me that I now have to tick the 'Veteran' age category box on race entry forms. Thanks for that! And also, as Jonathan kindly pointed out, I get an extra hour to finish the 'Fling'. I may need it!!

Calendar Update.
This year has seen a huge change to my 'running' calendar. Normally throughout the year I'll run every type of distance event, ranging from 5K to Ultra, but this is shaping up to be a primarily Ultra distance year. I'm missing all the 10K and Halfs that I have enjoyed over the last few years. But I took the decision last year that in 2012 I wanted to spend more time learning how to be an Ultra Runner. Last year I struggled during a couple of Ultras, partly down to running too many shorter faster races inbetween the Ultras and therefore not allowing myself time to recover and rebuild. The last few years have been busy, with an event an average of every fortnight, sometimes I had 2 a week. So this year I wanted a longer gap between events. As things stand I've only entered 6 races so far in 2012, all Ultras. There are 3 more I'm considering depending on how I feel after the 'Devil' in August. I was considering reverting back to 10K and Halfs after August for the remainer of the year. I'll see how I feel nearer the time.
Commited to:
D33 (March)
Fling (April)
Cateran (May)
WHW (June)
Devil (August)
GO33 (November)

Clyde Stride (July)
Speyside Way (August) or Glenmore 12hr Event (September)
RAW (September)

Another of interest that I wish I had run last year is the 'Winter Ultra' so depending on fitness levels at the end of a demanding year I might be tempted to run this too.

Ian Parnell Lecture.
Those unfamiliar with the name, Ian Parnell is a renowned photographer and Climber. The lecture was at the Glasgow Climbing Academy. The title of his lecture had envoked interest from me, 'Wild at Heart, a lifetime of Adventure'. His talk centred on his biggest and most challenging climbing adventures which included Alaska's highest peaks of Mount McKinley and Denali. It was an informal atmosphere in front of a 'family' sized audience, so I count myself lucky to have been there. He chatted about when he first became interested in climbing and about his 'hero' Doug Scott. He talked about Alaska with a passion and it was clear he prefers this for climbing than the better known peaks in Nepal. Another North American peak he loves is El Capitan in Yosemite, having climbed it 9 times now. The one trip he spent time talking about was with Andy Kirkpatrick and Paul Tattersall. This became a unique climb and one that made the headlines around the world
They were climbing to help paralysed army Major Phil Packer raise 1 million pounds for 'Help the Heroes' achieve his ultimate dream of scalling this 3600 foot high monster of a rock. Tough for any able bodied climber, but for Phil, who was Paralysed from the chest down while serving in Iraq, would present a herculean challenge. The accent took nearly 5 days and was both physically and mentally draining on all four men.
However, against all the odds Major Phil Packer became the first person with his disablilities to summit El Capitan (there are a few videos on You tube worth a watch). Indeed, anything is possible if you have the will and stuborness to never give in. Ian showed us some video footage taken during the climb. It was awe inspiring.
He then talked about climbing closer to home, firstly on Ben Nevis and then Beinn Eighe, in Torridon, both in the winter. This included a couple of attempts of climbing new winter routes on Beinn Eighe's Triple Butresses. One such attempt resulted in a horrifying experience of seeing a climbing partner being swept down off the butresses by an avalance. He himself had to fight to stay on the rock face, only being saved when he became jammed against the wreckage of an old Lancaster Bomber. He reflected on how recent fatherhood has made him change what challenges he now undertakes and how he has dealt with the constant fear of not going home from a climb. The love for his two toddler children has changed his climbing ambitions but not dampened his sense of adventure. As Cameron McNeish once said ' Adventure is not that without risk'. He had some fantastic stories, backed up with amazing photos and videos which had me leaving feeling inspired and invigorated, which is the biggest compliment I can give him. I've been an admirer of other climbers such as Andy Kirkpatrick, Tim Emmett and Dave MacLeod for a while and now I'll be seeking out more on Ian Parnell.
The TCA is a fantastic centre and I'm tempted to use it a couple of times a month to help with 'core' strengthening. I've done a bit of winter 'climbing', but nothing near to the extremes of Ian and his peers. I value my mortality too much!

After January, February hasn't been anything writing home about and I'm a bit dissapointed with my running during the month. So, I need to regroup and get my Mojo back sharpish.

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was going to spend time trying to find out what things work for me to eat and drink before, during and after my Ultras. This would hopefully give me a 'menu' for the WHW Race. So a quick update, the following tasty treats are working well.
I've used the 'for goodness shakes' before and they taste great and are very easy to drink. The 'rocket fuel' coffee is a great instant ccoffee you buy in a 100g jar, but here is a self heating cup version. It's not cheap but tastes great and gives you the desired kick up the ass. The 'sweet' stuff pictured are great tasting melt in the mouth fare. The 'camp food' is quick and easy to reheat (can be eaten cold) and they are packed with slow release carbs, which i'll maybe use at checkpoints further up the course when i'm having a longer stop to refuel.
Now we get to the potentially embaressing one and the rudeness, so I'll just come out and say it (cover your ears mother!). Here goes, Pussy energy drink.
I didn't name it so stop wagging your finger and tutting at me you lot! It says on the can that Pussy is best when chilled and it tastes great. This isn't getting any better. No matter what I say it's going to come across as filthy and smutty, which is not my intent. Well, not entirely.
I can picture the scene. I'm approaching a checkpoint during the WHW Race and I'm tired, sweaty and thirsty. There's a large crowd gathered, I see my support team and scream out for all to hear 'I need some Pussy!'. There are several Blog Posts worth of jokes here so I'll bide my time and bite my tongue for now.

.....or specifically kit malfunctions. My 2XU calf compression supports had to be replaced this week due to the seam stitching in my current ones falling apart. I changed to 2XU from 'Skins' on a shop recommendation. The Skins I had been using didn't hold their compression qualities for very long and became too loose and saggy, like Nora Batty's pull ups!!
To start with I was well impressed by the 2XU's comfort and compression and they look good on me! Shame about the stitching quality, but maybe I just got unlucky with that pair. I emailed the company a couple of times to comment on the problem I had, but unfortunately they haven't bothered to acknowledge my messages. I only bought a new similar pair as I liked the fit and they do the prescribed job well. Hopefully this pair won't fall apart as quickly.
Another bit of malfunctioning kit was my Nathan water bottle during my most recent WHW training run. A knackered valve resulted in it emptying itself as I ran and I never noticed it until it was around two thirds empty. Binned.
I'm hoping that I don't need anymore new kit until after the WHW Race, with the exception of getting an additional pair of compression shorts. I had a pair of Skins, which like the calf supports, didn't impress me. The gusset mesh area quickly developed a hole and caused no end of chaffing around my unmentionables. Binned. For the last 6-7 months i've been using a  pair of 'Kalenji' compression shorts from Decathalon. The Skins cost £30, the Kalenji were £8 and have been fantastic in compression, comfort and durability.
It really goes to show that the 'big' names sometimes just don't perform and that by going for a non-big brand manufacturer you can still get quality kit. Thumbs up for Kalenji.

West Highland Way Training Run: The Drovers Inn to Inversnaid Hotel to The Drovers Inn (14.5miles).
I had planned on a 'dawn of crack' start for this run and had wanted to do Drovers-Inversnaid-Bogle Glen-Drovers which would have covered around 25 and a bit miles.
But on the day decided to just do a shorter run and do a few more miles locally the next day.But the comfort of my bed prevailed and I didn't get up until 9amish, still early for me. It was a wet and windy drive up along Loch Lomond to Inverarnan. I stopped to take some photos just outside Tarbet, my first mistake. I pulled in opposite Tarbet Isle to get some shots down the Loch and then on walking back to the car a slow moving convoy of cars passed heading in the same direction I was going in. Within minutes I had caught up with them and was stuck behind them for the rest of the drive to the Drovers. 25mph was the fastest we got. With nowhere to pass it was a case of just sit there muttering and swearing. The sooner they widen this road to a Duel Carriageway, the better! The views are nice and it will be a shame if any improvements ruin it, but 25mph, come on!! I counted 10 cars in front and twice that behind,so please admire the views on your own time, muppet.
Anyway, after 3 days I eventually arrived at the Drovers, changed and off I trotted. I had no plans on time targets or pacing today, just an easy gentle amble to get in a few miles. This is the section that i've been avoiding and putting off time after time. I hate, despise and loath it. Of the 95 miles of the race route these are the 7 I wish you could by-pass on a nice tartan track. I know some people say that it's the bits you hate that you should run on more often, but I can't see the logic in that. It's unloveable in my opinion. No amount of inspirational Mantras or happy fluffy thoughts will change that for me. Tim Downie recently suggested to "not think of it as part of the race, but just to enjoy the views", good advice which i'll try during both the Fling and WHWR. I suppose thinking that normal service will be resumed shortly is the only way to get through it.
The cloud was low making it a bit dull and damp. I passed two runners in the Bein Glas car park who were getting changed into their running gear. They must have known the campsite owners as I thought parking here was an act of Blastphemy and punishable by a public flogging. I never saw them again so I guess they ran North. In order to run the route from Inversnaid to Bein Glas I first had to run 7 miles in the wrong direction, which turns out to be just as miserable and frustrating as the correct, or race, way. The duckboards were lethally slippy and had to taken with care. Most of this boardwalk section was flooded so getting wet feet was unavoidable.
I was passed by only 1 other runner all day, heading in the northerly direction and we passed each other near to Ardleish. One of my longer photo stops, of which there were many, was at Doune Bothy where I had a wee peek inside. Very homely and surprisingly neat and tidy. Before Doune I had paused at Dario's rememberance post. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but wanted to stop and pay my simple respects and take in the views from the hill. It's a very peaceful and surprisingly sheltered spot. I've read stories of WHWR family members stopping here and how it gets very emotional for them up here, now I can understand why. So when I got to Doune I thought I would try and find the 'book'. Despite having seen photos of it's rough location and descriptions of how to find it, I couldn't. So after about 10-12 minutes I gave up. Maybe thats the way it should be, left undiscovered.
Not long after Doune the path gets a bit rubbish and I think it's the constant stop start from running on this bit that makes it so unappealing. Climbing over rocks and under trees and remembering to watch out for those low branches along the way make it all the more 'entertaining'. Not that this makes it any more enjoyable. Parts of the path right on the lochside have slipped into the water making some bits potentially dangerous. Hopefully the NPA will attend to these bits sooner rather than later. I reached the climb at Rob Roys cave and remembered this is where I fell on my face and hurt my knee during the 'Fling' in 2009. I soon passed the boathouse and for a brief few minutes the sun came out. And then it was gone. I arrived at Inversnaid in a not very inspiring 2 hours. My first port of call was the bar, for water. At around the second mile on the outward leg I decided to put my hat on as it was pretty cold at the duckboard section. My hat hangs from my waist pack around one of my bottle holders. When I reached round to unclip it I discovered it was soaking wet and all sticky, My Nathan water bottle's rubber valve had broken and had been stuck in the fully open position and as a result it had been merrily emptying itself as I ran. This had resulted in only leaving around 150-200ml of fluid in it to last me until Inversnaid. I didn't want to chance using water from one of the steams as I knew the wild goats had probably been peeing in it. Luckily I always carry a few quid in my pack so I managed to get some bottled water from the hotel bar, which left me with nothing spare for something with a bit of a kick! Another mistake I made today was sitting down to reorganise my pack in front of the bar's open log fire. I nearly didn't get back up. The naked flames and the heat have a way of saying 'come hither' ye weary traveller!
But I pulled myself away and now I was going the right way and decided to try not to stop and take as many photos on the run back. The rain became quite heavy for a short spell on the way back and I got very cold for the last few miles. The rain had made the rocks on the downhill section at the end very slippy and a bit too dodgy for my liking. I still stopped a lot for photos, which I suppose may save me taking them during the Fling and WHWR. But I doubt it. The return leg turned out to be 21 minutes quicker than the outward leg so if I can do this in roughly the same time during the Fling I'll be very happy indeed. I'll probably not run this section again as a Training Run and just leave it for during the events themselves. Less can sometimes be better!!
The main fear, like many of you out there, is picking up a stupid injury before the next race and especially just before the WHWR this year. With the first of this years events just around the corner I'll just be hoping that I don't suddenly fall apart or over do the training and end up watching from the sidelines. I suppose it's about balance. Do enough to manage a long distance event, but not too much to endanger not finishing through tirdness. I know it's an obvious thing to say, but i've been caught out before and don't want something simple like a strained muscle to muck up my plans for this year.

Two weeks to the D33......Bring it on!!

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