I can't resist hill running in sunshine, there is something so invigorating, carefree and joyful about running free amongst the mountains in good weather. All morning I worked watching the sun shine down enticing me out, eventually I capitulated, deciding upon that I deserved a lunchtime treat and headed off on my bike to Ben Ledi with a plan to run the ascent as a tempo run and attempt to something I haven't yet achieved - to run every step of the 2500 ft ascent.
By the time I had got changed and ready to go high cloud had blown over and blocked out the sunshine and stiff westerly picked up making the cycle out a little cold and harder work than I expected. My spirits took a knock, I was really looking forward to some sunshine and now it was grey and rather less appealing, part of me was even tempted to turn back and come out another day, I really wasn't sure I wanted to risk exacerbating my foot injury on a drab day.
I locked the bike up at the start of the Ben Ledi Ascent route and headed up the forest track. The took the first mile that gently climbs through the forest relatively but still my heart climbed up into the 170's, still below my lactate threshold which is probably around 175, but still plenty high enough to start qualifying as a tempo run. After a mile a quarter the route turns off the forest track and straight uphill along the Tourist path. This section is steep and consists of plenty of stone steps, normally I'd walk the steeper parts but today I stuck to my aim and weaved in/out of the steps looking for the shortest possible footing so I could keep my cadence high and remain running bouncing upward on the balls of my feet.
After a quarter a mile of steep path my HR was up at 178 and my legs were starting to burn, so to great relief I got to the top of the steps and the path levels off a little and go back to dirt trail, allowing me to relax and recover. My HR quickly dropped back to low 170's, this gave me a mental boost as it boded well for my being able to run the steeper parts late in the ascent as well. The shallower incline also allow me to get off my forefoot and back to landing and baring weight on my whole foot, as it's my forefoot/metatarsal heads in my left foot that is injured getting off the balls of my feet was doubly welcome.
I stopped at the stream cross to drink, using my hands as a cup, but didn't get the timing right and breathed in as much as I drank so ended up spluttering for a few steps afterwards. Once over a style I was back running. This next section isn't that steep but has lots of large rocks to navigate over and around making it difficult to run. A couple of times I had to walk just to get over rocks and work out good footing, getting off the path helped make it more runnable, but with water seeping down the grass it was slippery making running difficult. Despite the problems I kept running all but a few steps, any shallower sections were welcome relief though.
Once on to the shoulder the trail become busier with lots of walkers heading up or down. I was expecting strong winds but it was calm, suggesting that a temperature inversion had set up trapping the stronger winds below. The cloud had started to thin too so it was hot work climbing so took off my T-Shirt to catch some rays and avoid sweating too much, running without water on a warm day requires a few sacrifices to keep hydrated!
The path up to the summit cross three false summits each one getting steeper which presented an ever tougher challenge to keep running. The foot holes made my the many walkers were too far apart to make it easy to use them when running so I had to weave in/out of the path looking for the shortest footing I could find. The final steep climb I passed several walkers and exchanged a few words with each, it's a bit bizarre to be able to be running close to ones limit and still be able to chat briefly, bizarre in a good way - I do wonder if this might be a sign that my body is now burning more fat in response to my change in diet. Still I did find it pretty tough with my HR up in high 170's, with lactate acid accumulating uncomfortably I was very glad that path levels off occasionally.
I stopped briefly before the summit to try and capture the stunning view to the west, alas my phone camera just doesn't quite capture how big the sky and vista is.
The brief stop to take the photo allows my breathing and the lactate acid build up to drop, feeling fresher I pushed hard up to the summit, with my HR reaching 181, but still short of my max HR, a sign that having been running at lactate threshold for half a hour limits one a little. Still I was chuffed to bit, I had made it all the way to the summit with only a few brief sections of walking. I noted the time to the summit of just under 40 minutes, ten minutes quicker than I had done it with Andy during the Ben Ledi Ascent Route recce run a week ago, and then headed immediate off towards Stank Glen. With a cool breeze and bout of modesty I done my T-shirt and head pass a school group that are just about to get to the summit.
The descent went smoothly and rather than stick to the path chose to run more of the time on the open heather/grass during the descent into Stank Glen. This experiment worked out well and had few of the problems with grip that I had the previous week. Once down into hard packed trail of Stank Glen I was back to running a more normal gait but felt pretty tired, the quick ascent and lack of food in the previous 18 hours were evident with my energy levels taking a gently dip. Rather than push the remaining descent hard I just relaxed and enjoyed the final mile back to the start. I drank from another stream but again didn't get it quite right, snorting up water - drinking from hands whilst on a run and breathing briskly is something I need to work on.
Running through the final forest section the sun started breaking through providing a delightful dappled light amongst the trees. A past several groups of walkers, everyone was a high spirits and really friendly and enjoying themselves. Unfortunately my relatively quick descent down narrow path caught one of the walkers by surprise who, walking downhill with back to me, was a bit startled when I jumped off the trail and went past him. This forest path section is really technical and requires very quick turnover and accurate foot placement, total concentration is required, but with it it's a real buzz.
Finally I break out from the forest and arrive back at my bike. Totally time was just under 1:18, 50 minutes for the ascent and 28 minutes for the descent, with an average HR of 168 and just over 1,000 calories burned. The sunshine was beaming down warming everything and filling valley with a real spring exuberance - what a contrast to ride out under cloud.
My joy was quickly brought back in check on finding that my bike key had worked it's way out of what should have been zipped up pocket. Despite retracing my steps to where I put the keys and phone in my pocket I couldn't find the key. I can only guess that it probably dropped out when I took a couple of photos on the ascent.
Thankfully my ever patient wife Julia was able to drive up and drop off my spare keys and save the day ;-)
A little note on the diet front. I have changed my diet, inspired by the book, Perfect Health Diet, so that I'm now eating less carbohydrates overall and in particular avoiding most wheat products - fermented wheat is OK, so beer is still on the menu! Most days I now practice what is called Intermittent Fasting (IF), skipping breakfast, instead drinking a bone broth with some cream or Bouillon with a teaspoon of coconut oil. I tend to eat the majority of my daily Carbohydrates as part of the evening meal. There are lots of facets to the changes in dietary habits that I'm now adopting, once I'm a bit further into this new approach I'll dedicate a post to it. Six months ago I would have said you'd be crazy to miss breakfast, and no way you could do a hard training sessions in a fasted state, but now it's become normal, my body and mind have adapted.