Thursday, 20 December 2012

Winter arrives in the Trossachs

With my last post I provided a few photo's of my runs in October and November, the theme was lots of autumnal colours and mud.  This post will chronical the rapid change in weather that ushered in winter of the 1st of the December, the theme is snow and ice, and more ice!

At sunrise on the 1st December I headed out with two friends, Toby and Andy, to do the run/cycle the 15 mile route around Glen Finglas. Toby planned to cycle, which Andy and I were running.  This plan hit the buffers as soon as we head out on the farm track, it was covered in ice, walking without slipping was a problem, let alone cycling or running.  It was beautiful though.

Toby walking his bike on the icy trail, Loch Finglass and the Glen Finglass hills ahead.
After a couple of miles Toby abandoned the bike as it was clear that the constant ice wasn't going to abate, and we gingerly joggled/walked around the first real ascent at which point Toby headed back, leaving Andy and myself to start the climb.  After 5 miles of constant icy trail the climb rewarded us with  snow covering and suddenly the run was transformed - we had grip and even more awesome views!

Andy at the summit of the trail.

A picture for shoe geeks - Inov-8 Trailroc 245 + Inov-8 Gaitors worked well in the snow 
The first few miles of descent was a blast while the snow cover lasted, but as got down into the valley bottom the glass like ice on the trail returned.  Both Andy and I slid on the ice, neither Andy's Mudclaws on my Trailrocs were up to the challenge.

A couple of days later the snow fell down in Callander, so I had to head out in the virgin snow for a run the 6 mile Scout Pool loop.  I was the first person out on the trails, not the first animal though - plenty of deer and bird prints added the wildness of the day.

View looking west towards Ben Gulipen and Ben Ledi
View south towards Keltie Bridge.

View looking from south bank towards the new Bracklin Falls Bridge
View looking north from Bracklin Falls Bridge

Looking down from the bridge toward the south bank where the early photo was taken

Heading north from Bracklin Falls
Emerging from the Forest looking North West, Ben Ledi and Stuc a'Chroin in the distance
Cross the concrete bridge, looking south towards the Scout Pool
View looking north towards Stuc a'Chroin an Ben More.
Return leg takes you down the Bracklin Road, here looking South West towards Callander

 A few days into having the snow all the trails that I run on had vehicle tracks and plenty of foot in prints that compressed the snow and with the slight daytime thaw the trails became more and more icy and rutted.

View looking West towards Ben Ledi with spectacular wave system set up above, trail was awful to run on though.
My children had lots of fun making this snowman, but as the week progressed it's waistline become improbably thin, alas the next day he was no more.

By the second week of December most of the snow had melted in Callander but the all trails had undergone so many cycles of freeze thaw that became treacherous.
The side to side icy on the Cohallian Wood trail
After giving up on the Trails on one run I headed up the Invertrossachs Road to Loch Venchar

On my return trip something caught me eye
A red squirrel feeding on a tree by the road, they are tiny and sooo CUTE :-)

In an attempt to make running the trail a little safer I put screws into the bottom of an old pair of Roclite's and tried them out on a run up Ben Gulipen

Running on Ice? Must have a screw loose!
View from Summit of Ben Ledi, just below cloud base

Starting descent down Ben Ledi, heading East back towards Callander

Footprint in light snow covering over 3cm thick ice, note screws work cutting down to ice but not enough to cut into it.

Even with the screws in the shoes I was still slipping where ice was on a gradient, the ice was just too thick and solid for the screws to cut into it.  The screws scratched the surface to provide a bit of resistance so while I was still slipping at times most of the time had enough grip to keep balance. 

After two weeks of running on icy trails the weather finally warmed up enough to start melting the ice, since mid December the local trails have been clear.  While I never fell in the all the hours on the ice, I did slip several times and once jarred my back - paradoxically it was the lack of resistance on footfall that caused by back to jar as my core muscle were activated in preparation for the expected landing forces.  The constant small slippages and hard uneven trails have also stressed my Achilles and Soleus muscles so am now having to take my training easy while they recover.

On a more positive note, my plantar fascia problems that have plagued my running since August has started to improve - I'm no longer need to hobble around for the first few minutes on getting up each morning, and only tend to find aches from the feet in the first mile if at all.

With Christmas Festivities just round the corner and heavy rain currently falling the tone of December is changing once more.  I can't wait till Christmas, I'm sure Santa will be able to deliver a few running goodies :-)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Autumn in the Trossachs

I've had half a dozen blogs posts on various topics that I've wanted to write over the past six weeks but been so busy with work and family life that the blog has rather languished.  My training hasn't though, after being ill for a bad cold through October by the time November came I had got over it and have been out running and steadily getting back my fitness.

While there was plenty of rain and flooding here in Trossachs in November there were days in between when I got out and the weather and scenery were spectacular.  I recently downloaded photo's from my phone that chronically some runs as Autumn progressed.  I thought I just upload the Autumn pictures for this post, and will follow up with another post for pictures now that Winter has become in earnest.

My first set of Autumn photo's was from my last long run the weekend before the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra, I might have been full of cold by the forest colours and sunshine were uplifting.

Looking north from the Cohallian Wood trail next to the Mollands Estate
Looking south over Callander from the Crags - I climb it three times on this run.
A constant theme for Autumn, muddy shoes!
Scene of destruction left by storms earlier in the year - there used to be a small path here!

A few weeks later for a lunchtime run I headed out up Ben Gulipen for a 9.5 mile, 1250ft ascent/descent hill run, a great run for big skies and wide vistas.
Emerging from the  Cock Hill woodland and looking north towards Ben Ledi
Looking south east from the summit of Ben Gulipen, Stirling and Ochills in the distance
Return leg looking north east back towards Callander and home

Towards the end of November for I headed out for an early morning 11 mile from Callander up to Bochastle hill, then down the switch backs that take you southerly end of Loch Lubnaig and then back along the trail past the Falls of Lenny and then finally the cycle path back to Callander.

Callander Meadows heading west towards Ben Ledi, crowned by the first snow
Looking back along the cycle path towards the sun rise
After ascending the trail up Bochastle hill, looking back east towards Callander, low lying mist clings to the valley bottom
Back to earth, heading east along the Cycle path back to Callander, there was a grazing roe deer right in the middle of the path, alas phone camera just doesn't capture it well.

The blue skies in this series of photo's doesn't really convey just how many days were overcast and wet this Autumn.  Almost every run in November my shoes ended up seriously muddy and in need of a wash.  A small price to pay for getting out in the country side as the trees change colour.

As Autumn was drawing to close so was my running season, thoughts turned to next season.  The lure of West Highland Way races loomed large, and a few more grey hairs appearing added a little reminder that I'm not getting any younger, if I am to tackle the great race then it's probably sensible to start planning sooner rather than later.  After much reflection I decided to put another year of more modest ultra's under my belt, and entered Highland Fling and Devil O' the Highlands.  I did the Fling this year and really enjoyed it, and have long wanted to do the Devil but always left it too late to enter, not this year thankfully!  With entries in my focus is now the slow ramp of training for these two races.  I plan to enter other races, but these will be a lower priority and will be done to support my build up to these "A" races.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Cold Virus One : Ultra Nil

Last night I struggled with another interrupted night sleep, only getting about 5 hours sleep, again down to my cold.  This morning I woke with the feeling of being hang over from too much partying.  I sit here now feeling crap, worse than same time yesterday.

Last night when awake I came to conclusion that the chance of being well by Sunday morning was basically zero and decided it best to pull out, but left the door open to making a final decision in light of day.  I still feel rotten, and while I'm familiar the marathon taper madness that can suppress ones feeling of well being prior to a big race what I have is in a different snotty league of it's own, I'm ill plain and simple.

Lessons learned from past bravado

About ten years ago I faced a similar situation, a heavy cold prior to a two day hiking expedition across to Knoydart on the west coast of Scotland.  It rained for the whole first day and I just put my hood up and got on with it.  We camped in the boonies and the next day I awoke to having a cold and painful inner ear.  As we were out in the wilderness with no roads we had only one choice - to go on to our destination Inverie or back to our car, both were equal distances and at that stage I was just uncomfortable so we pressed on.  Through the day my ear got progressively more painful until the last few hours I could really speak to me friends, I was just hunkered down in my own world of pain putting one foot in front of the other to get the youth hostel where I could rest.

We arrived at Inverie and headed to the pub for tea, but I was in so much pain that I had to leave early unable to eat, and couldn't sleep either, during the night my ear drum burst.  The only route out from Inverie is by boat and the first one headed out the next morning so we caught the first one back to Malaig we could and found the doctors and was given a presciption for pain killers.  This helped but on the drive back I was close to passing out so we had to pop into A&E in Fort William where they prescribed even stronger pain killers.

On returning home I was bed ridden for two weeks and got prescribed several rounds of anti-biotics to clear up the ear infection.  I had never known discomfort like this in my life and never been bed ridden before so it was pretty humbling.  I lost the most of the hearing in my left ear during this period, and didn't fully get it back for many months afterwards.  Even now a decade on my hearing, especially in noisy environments, isn't as good as it once was.

Risks and rewards

I have really been looking forward to running the Jedburgh Ultra.  It's a perfect distanced ultra to end my race year and the route looks great, and save for problems with my plantar fascii that have dogged me over the last 8 weeks I knew I was in good shape both physically and mentally for race.

This time last year I did the Glen Ogle 33 Ultra on the back of rather insufficient training due to injury, but was realistic I raced well within my fitness level and finished strong.  I really really enjoyed the race and it gave me a new sense of confidence about my ability to run longer races.  It's this race that gave me the confidence to sign up for the Highland Fling 53 mile tour of the first half of the west highland way, this represented a big step up from my previous longest race which was the 41 mile River Ayr Way Challenge race back in 2010.   The confidence was well founded as my training this year and my races have all gone well with PB's on almost all the races I've run this year.

I really wanted to be able to gauge things again, and sign off the year with a good race.  With this done it would be time to re-evlauate prospects for next year and what races I should considered signing up for.

Another motivating factor of doing the race is the inner science geek in me what to know just how well one can predict race performance on a new route based on training data.  This science geek also was curious about just how the body would respond during and after the race given my rather unfortunate illness during taper.

Counter to all this, I'm a family man and I run my own business and have clients that depend upon my ability to function efficiently and intelligently.  The big risk is not that I might have a crappy snot filled death march of race but doing an ultra would break down my body enough that opportunistic infections would take hold.  Having had a bad ear infection floor me before I know just how foolhardy it can be ignoring illness when undertaking big physical challenges.

Sense over Bravado

In my heart I really wanted to race, and still do, but even with a foggy head I know that it makes sense to pull out and not risk getting more ill than I already am.  So with a heavy heart I've decided to pull out.

Best of luck to all those who will be toeing the line at all the races in Jedburgh and elsewhere tomorrow, my envious thoughts will be with you!

Friday, 26 October 2012

When Tapers go bad

Taper plans meets the Reality of Life

October has been a peculiar month training wise - in the first week of the month I was in the last week of tapering for the Kielder Marathon.  With my Kielder Marathon taper I cut back in volume and concentrated on marathon pace runs of 6 to 7 miles over a similar route to the hilly Kielder course.  This worked well, with my efficiency at target place remaining pretty stable and I got a good sense of the level of effort for my target place and was able to knock out impeccable splits for the first 20 miles till an ill judged drink led to me faltering a bit in the last few miles.

The past three weeks has been been my second Taper, this time for the Jedburgh Ultra to be run this Sunday.  My plan was to recover from the marathon then build back up to doing a long run about 10 days before the Ultra then back to taper, throughout this period concentrating of practicing race pace - around 9 min/miles and lots of hills.

The week after the marathon I had a very busy week with family and work commitments so didn't run till the following Saturday.  This was fine as I still had some residual stiffness after the marathon that took most of the week to shake down.  For the second week of taper (last week) I was on a family holiday at the Sherwood forest Center Parcs, with has little scope for much more than 3 mile loops around the campus, so I got a few short runs in at the target race pace, but with nothing more than 50ft hills to contend with couldn't really get much race specific training in.

Middle the way through last week I caught a cold, and the following day having signed up for it already did a 1hour Spin class and a 3 mile recovery run to follow up.  I felt fine when doing the training but the cold got worse in subsequent days, along with the usual stuffed up head, sneezing and coughs I struggled to get any full nights sleep.

On my return last weekend the cold was showing a few positive signs of getting better, and with great weather in Callander and still my long run to get in I headed out on the Sunday for hill walk/run on a route with a similar elevation profile to the Eildons.  The long run was only 11.6 miles long, but included over 2000ft of ascent/descent and took 2hours 20minutes.  It was a stunning autumn day on the Trossachs so it was a real pleasure to be out on the trail, and my cold didn't seem to hold me back too much. 

After the long run my body came down from the elation of a good run to being exhausted.  In subsequent nights and days the cold got worse, with all nights being interrupted.  My original plan was to do race pace (9min/mile) runs on the Tuesday and Thursday, but with the cold not getting better I held off till today Friday.  While I didn't get a good nights sleep I still felt the best I had for ten days so was optimistic.  My plan was for a gentle 6 miler, but cut it short to 4 on finding my heart rate 10 to 15 bpm higher than usual for the pace.  My plantar fascii injuries were also a more uncomfortable than had been.  Post run I've recovered fine, cold still looks to be on the mend, but my feet feel more uncomfortable now.

I reviewed the efficiencies on my training runs through the taper and they are mostly stable till the last two where my efficiency has got much worse, and todays run was the least efficient calories/per mile wise that I've done in the whole year.  My cold is better today than it had been in the previous ten days so to see such a regression is a bit alarming.  I usually notice higher heart rates in the week prior to big races but it's normally a few bpm not 10bpm+ more.

The following graph plots the effective efficiency (after normalizing for elevation and duration of run) on my runs in October, September and August, with today run on the far left, progress to the 1st run in August on the right.  Early August my effective efficiency was around 70 calories/mile, and September it stabilised around the mid 70's as I wasn't able to keep the mileage up due to my Plantar fascii injuries, this month I expected to not stray too far from this, but in the last two runs on the left you can see a significant regression upwards to now over 90 Calories per mile.

I now have one day, and two more sleep till the race.  My cold is steadily getting better so I'm hopeful it'll mostly be gone by Sunday, but I'm not so sure about where the rest of my fitness is at. The regression in my plantar fascii is another concern.  Will it all just shake out on the day?

Estimating Realistic Jedburgh Race Time

With my current fitness markers looking rather sorry I will have to be realistic about what I can achieve on Sunday.  For the Kielder Marathon I came up with a technique of analysing training runs to make predications about how the training runs would map to average heart rate and pace when running the full marathon route and over the elevation profile of the race.  I have applied the same technique to my training runs this month and get the following predictions of the finish time and extrapolated heart rate.  Below is a graph of extrapolated time to finish the race and extrapolated average heart for all this months runs except for the last two cold effected runs.

The area of interest is around the 158 to 162 mark as this is average heart than I'm likely to be able to sustain for 6 to 7 hours (based on previous runs of similar length).  This would suggest a time of 6:30 to 6:45 should be possible.  Given that the estimate I provided on entry was 6:30 it was good see the analysis falling in the same ballpark.

However, if I look at the graph that includes the last two days then instead of getting a pretty straight line we get two points that sit above the original straight line at a slower pace - around an hour slower for a given higher heart rate for todays run.

So should I be realistic I start looking at a 7:30 time?  I had thought that 7 hours should be possible given my runs last week, but as going out too fast is usually a bigger mistake than going out too slow then logic would suggest that starting off with splits for a slow time would be sensible.

And then there is my feet, it seems not running regularly has led to a set back, or might it simply be extra inflammation due to my cold that will clear up with the cold?

Finally might doing a hilly 38mile ultra just be too much for my body right now? I am cutting it too fine with recovery from the cold?  Might it be more sensible to graceful bow out and live to fight another day? 

Lots of questions, alas the only way to answer is to go out a do the race which I've been looking forward to doing for several months now.  Time for me do my best to get better now and rest up!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultramarathon Splits

As part of my preparation for the Jedburgh Ultramarathon I decided to have a bash at estimating the splits that might be reasonable to expect for the route. As the complete route hasn't been run before I've had to based my estimates on my own experience from others similar routes, the route profile and terrain and where possible feedback from others that have run parts of the route.

I started off with some preliminary estimates and sent these to John Kaynaston as we've exchanged splits for Highland Fling earlier this year, and knew that he was very likely thinking along the same lines.  Indeed he was and he kindly sent me his splits, and he's now posted them on his blog.  While we've chosen some different legs division for our splits the actual paces we both estimated were surprisingly close, with my original splits a bit more optimistic about the hills times, and all little more pessimistic on the return leg.  John's far more experienced an Ultramarathoner than I so I more than happy to defer to estimates so I've amended mine a little to be more in line with John's.

Once I had reasonable estimates for the % time of each leg it's then an easy to recalibrate the paces so that we can provide split for a range of finish times.  Follows are the splits from 6 hour to the 10hour cut off, with hopefully no one will need to go near as it'll mean staggering home in the dark!

6 hours



7 hours



8 hours

9 hours

10 hours

I expect that the winners will be under 6 hours, and pretty confident John will go under 7 hours.  While I originally estimated 6:30 for myself when entering the Jedburgh Ultra I now feel given my current health (I've had a stubborn cold for the last 8 days) that aiming for around 7 hours would be more sensible and any time under 7:30 would be great.