Wednesday, 26 June 2013

#whwrace2013 twitter addition and 7 questions on ultramarathons

Through this Saturday (26th June 2013) I, like many others I'm sure, was sucked into checking up on progress of West Highland Way Race via the #whwrace2013 twitter feed, and the SPORTident webpages that reported who was through each checkpoint and when.

Even devoid on any video, pictures or audio this text stream of information was addictive - better than watching the grand prix any day!  Through the day I got to see some amazing performances unfold.  Have to admit I'm rather astonished by Paul Giblin and Marco Consani who both took around 2 hours off their already impressive PB's.  Paul's performance is still difficult to comprehend, being half an hour faster than record pace for much of the second half and somehow holding it together right to end.  Later in the day I was chuffed to bits to see other come in within their goal time.  Tracking all these performances unfold on my phone and tablet even got my youngest daughter (aged 9, who loves running) a little hooked too.

At one point my eldest daughter (aged 13) quipped so "why aren't you running it Dad?".  Which I didn't provide a proper answer, but realistically right now I can't stay injury free long enough to put in the required training.  Last year when I finished the Fling I was happy to not going any further, the thought of another 42 miles was rather difficult to comprehend.  There is a lure about the West Highland Way Race that is difficult to not be drawn in by.  Partly I think it's about the route itself, it's beautiful and challenging, partly about "surely" you can't run that far in a day craziness, and partly it's about the community and tradition behind it - being part of group of like minded that are daft enough to find supremely difficult and painful challenges as perfect hobby.

So like a month to a light I am drawn, so while I didn't run it this year, someday I want to be there on the start line in Milngavie and if at all possible very much later that day I'll potter in to the Leisure Centre at Fort William exhausted yet elated to have conquered something special.  I have gone from never wanting to do a marathon, to now think if it might be possible to an ultra, now to wondering when I might be able to take on the challenge of the WHWR.

If to prove I have an obsessive enough a personality to train for the WHWR I just came across a little quiz on the bbc website "7 questions on ultramarathons". I answered all 7 questions correctly, does that make clever or just a little over indulging in my passion for running long distances?  I fear it might be the later... However, it is nice to see ultra running getting a little bit of exposure in wider media.

Well done to all those who finished the 95 beautiful miles of the WHWR, and thank you to the organizers, marshals and supporters that provide us with great updates on the unfolding race.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Lochalsh Dirty 30 : Race Report

This year's Lochalsh Dirty 30 was blessed by wall to wall sunshine, and I was lucky enough to there to experience it.  Memories of bejeweled sea lochs and grand vistas overlooking Skye and mountains inland will stick with me for many years, long after the memories of aches and pains have faded.

The adventure started with on Friday evening trip up with friends Andy and Tom, in Tom's motor-caravan.  The motor-caravan, nicked named "Sloshie" by Tom's kids, is not the fastest of vehicle, combined with a route diversion via Loch Lomond due to an accident meant that it took over 5 hours to get up from Callander to Glenelg.  We arrived at sunset parked up "Sloshie" and had a quick pint in the Glenelg Inn before turning in for the night.

"Sloshie" parked up Glenelg
We awoke to low cloud clinging to hills above and on Skye, it wasn't cold, and the forecast was for sunshine later so we dressed for a warm day.  Tom treated us bacon rolls for breakfast, while I taunted Tom and Andy with my pre-race drink of Beetroot juice.  Andy and I would be running, while Tom was going to walk up Beinn Sgritheall, a local Munroe that he hadn't yet tackled.

We enjoyed breakfast all too much as suddenly it was 8:30am and time to lace up and head down to registration at the Glenelg community hall, with 170+ walkers and runners it was buzzing when we arrived. The organizers did a great job of getting us registered efficiently, we had time for a few final tweaks to our kit and then we were outside for the briefing.  To everyone's amusement a local cat decided it wanted to be the centre of attention, upstaging our event organizer!

Then we were off, with last years winner Scot Kennedy and ultra runner Donnie Campbell leading the way and a bit over 30 runners and well around 140 walkers in their wake.

Race start, Scott and Donnie setting off at record breaking pace, everyone else sensibly didn't follow!

Section 1: 6miles, Glenelg to Ardintoul Point.

The route starts on small roads that take you to the Glenelg/Skye Ferry point, with first half mile shaded by trees, but the next mile we were now bathed in sunshine.  Andy and I settled into a steady 8 to 9 minute/mile pace along the road, it looked like were in about 13th+14th place as we made our way along the road at the Ferry point.

View out towards the Ferry Point and over to Skye
Due to a foot injury my training over the last few months has been next to none existent, I had injured my foot back in mid March, running too many miles in a worn out pair of shoes.  Since mid March I have tried resting up, the trying a little bit of running, then resting up, progressively I've had to cut the running back more and more over the last two months and had to pull out of the Highland Fling.  In the last month I only put in 3 runs of 6 miles in a desperate attempt to rest up and fix my injury for race day. However, my foot wasn't fixed and I could already felt the strange sensation like a having a pebble in my shoe under my 3 and 4th metatarsal heads.  The sensation wasn't bad, but with 29 miles to go it was a reminder to take things easy.

Given my lack of training, the least I've ever done going into an ultra, I had a plan to take it easy and use my heart rate monitor as guide for my pace to make sure I didn't get carried away.  Previous three years I had run the Dirty 30 with an average HR of 163, 165 and 164 respectively, so I figured keeping my HR below 165 was sensible, and for the first section wanted to keep it below 160 to gently ease myself in.  As we hit the first incline just before the Ferry point my HR started heading upwards so rather than match the pace of others around me I told Andy that I was going to ease off and he moved on and joined two runners ahead.  Once past the Ferry point the path heads up and short incline and along a path that traverses a low wooded coastal ridge.

Walking up the incline I joined Helen and Mark Legett who were doing the event for the first time.  Andy was obviously feeling good and left us behind, while Helen and Mark and I formed a relaxed running trio, walking the inclines and running the flats and descents chatting all the while about living and running in Scotland.  Both Helen and Mark had run the Highland Fling several times, both with PB below 10 hours, well under my own time of 10:46 set last year so I was expecting them to leave me behind at some stage.  New to the route they seemed happy to just follow me along the coastal path to the first check point at Ardintoul point.

We pass through the check point after 55 minutes running, pretty close to my previous times and faster than I had expected as so far the pace had felt very relaxed.  Helen and Mark stopped at the check point to fill up with water while I just ran though so suddenly I was on my own.

Section 2: Ardintoul to Letterfearn.

After the check point the you follow a road briefly inland and steeply uphill, as I began my climb I could see that Andy and few other runners were at the top, some heading left along the 30 mile route, with some heading back right and inland to complete the 12 mile route.  By the time I got to the top and started the descent down the path all the runners ahead had been swallowed up by the countryside leaving me on my own.  The sun was shining and views over to Skye were stunning, my foot pain had eased off and I was running with ease, life was good!

After a descent of couple hundred feet the path goes through a small wooded glade and wooded bridge, then turns right and heads uphill through an area where the forestry has been felled.  The path is broken and immediate landscape pretty scrappy, but beyond the mountains, forests and sea lochs stretched out. The lack of shelter along the path combined with the cloudless sky meant the ascent  was a hot one so I took my T-Shirt off and attached securely with my rucksack straps.  Fair skinned I burn easily so decided to just run an hour without my T-Shirt.

The ascent takes you into a woodland where the path mostly petters out, disappearing and reappearing as you follow fire breaks in the woodland, or going directly through the woodland in places.  Event organizers had put out red and white streamers on route making the route easy to follow, and thanks to the recent dry weather the wooded section was only a little muddy in places - it's this section that gives the Dirty 30 it's name and this wasn't living up to it!

Once through the forest you come out onto open hill side before descended rapidly down to Totaig,  the views was just amazing, the Skye bridge at Kyle arcs out elegantly over the water in the distance towards the west, while the first glimpses of Eilean Donnan Castle across the other side Loch Alsh comes into view.  It seems so small dwarfed by the mountains and vistas.

Once down from the hill you join the road and head south east towards the next checkpoint at Letterfearn.  The road is nestled amoungst trees and meanders along so you rarerly get to see far along it.  A mile along the road Letterfearn comes into view and for the first time in an hour I see three runners ahead, one of them I guess must be friend Andy but it's a bit too far to know for sure.

Section 3: Letterfearn to Shiel Bridge

As I approach the checkpoint two of the runners had moved on while one had been drawn in my the Jelly Baby Pitstop - a table laid out with Jelly Babies and water.  As I came across to the table he moved on leaving me to feast!  OK, I only took a couple of sweets but certainly made the most of the cups of water provided as my the litre of water in my Camel back was not going to last all the way to Shield Bridge.   My pitstop left me 30 meters behind the nearest of the three runners, so for the first time  in the race I started thinking about placings, this was further cemented by own of the spectators saying that I was in 5th place.   Given how many runners that was ahead of us earlier in the race and I had only overtaken a couple of them I was perplexed, did most of them go round the 12 miler route?

The sight of runners ahead would normally spur me on to up my tempo to catch them up, but with my HR pacing plan I found it easy to avoid this competitive urge, we were still just 11 miles into the race. I would allow my HR to get to 165, but no higher, if my pace at this HR meant that I was catching them or being left behind I'd accept it equally.  It found it a bit odd thinking in this detached way, but it did mean that I could focus on the day itself rather than race places, and what a day it was!

The views were so good I could resist getting my phone out on my ruckstack to take a photo, as I took the phone out of the zipped up pocket a small poly bag that I had used to store my money, caffeine tablet and salt tablets ripped and exploded out on the tarmac.  I picked up what I could find on the road, stuffed it back in the pocket, took my photo and heading on my way.  With this caffufal I lost a bit of time but was still in touch with the 2, 3 and 4th place ahead:

After another half km I was now catching the 4th placed runner and looked like I'll pass him before Rattagan, and likely catch the two next runners some time around Shiel Bridge, despite my severve lack of training over the past two months things were looking good.  Then... it dawned on my T-Shirt was no longer attached to my rucksack, in adjusting my rucksack to get my phone I must have dropped it, even before my little incident with my supplies falling.  Frustrated and anoyed I was tempted to crack on regardless but I knew that this was foolhardy, I had already had my hour in the sun, another 3 hours would fry me so dejected and sligtly angry turned around and headed back, hoping that it wouldn't be too far back along the route.

I passed several bends in the road, each time hoping to see my T-shirt waiting for me on the road but nothing, so I had to keep going and was now starting to wonder if perhaps I'd missed it.  Half a km back along the route I meet another runner who had just passed it, and there it was just waiting for me.  Ahhghghh, the frustation of loosing time and another place all because of wanting to take a photo.  In the end the mishap had cost me 5 and half minutes and an extra km.

I donned my T-shirt not wanting to risk another dumb mistake and headed off in pursuit.  This time I found it more difficult to run by my HR monitor, my instinct just wanted to up the tempo and catch back up to where I'd been.  My head knew that such a mid race spurt would be suicidal and thankfully overruled my heart, if I was to catch them up it would be done slowly and steadily.  A little luck was on my side as the runner that I had just passed while running back to get my T-shirt had stopped to water the verge and I regained my 5th place.

At Rattagan the youth hostel had put out a table beside the road with cups and jug of water but as it was unmanned when I arrived I just helped myself, no body to thank in person but still very much appreciated on such a hot and relentlessly sunny day.  As I drank my water another runner arrived, Australian Patrick Harrington.  Patrick had gone the wrong way just after the first checkpoint at Ardintoul, following the 12 mile route for a distance before he realized and then got back on track.  Patric was running more strongly so left me behind, again my plan of following my HR was tested but the pace felt right when keeping my HR below 165, above it felt too much effort so my confidence in using the HR monitor as a pace tool was growing.

As we ran the last mile into Shiel Bridge and at the half way point I was now aware that knees and hip flexores were all begining to feel fatigued and sore.  Both feet were also feeling rather raw, especialy behind the toes so began to suspect that blisters were begining to form.  I very rarely get blisters even in really long runs so was surprised to have this level of discomfort in my feet.  The discomfort in the legs I was expecting though, I had now run the furthest I had been in 3 months.

Loosing my caffeine tablet when I pulled out my phone was blow, my plan was to take it at Shiel Bridge using it as a boost for toughest section of the race to come and to down regulate the pain that I was expecting to build through the later stages of the race.  On the positive side I was still running smoothly and was coping far better with the heat than I have ever done before - I'm convinced my shorts spells in the sauna once a week has helped acclimatise me for the heat, getting rid of the heat without my usual salt loss was apparent as normally I'm caked in salt in these conditions.

Section 4: Shiel Bridge to Moyle

I arrive at Sheil Bridge with 2:45 on the clock, 16 miles down and 14 to go.  After going through the checkpoint I nip across into adjacent the camp site and refill my empty camel back.  Patrick had also stopped at the camp site and departs just ahead of me, again looking strong.  Once you leave the camp site the route immediately changes into more barren and rocky outlook that is classic for the highlands. The path follows the bottom of the valley rising steadily uphill towards a mountain pass.  Patrick pulls away steadily and by the end of the valley is a couple of hundred meters overtakes a runner that is ahead.  The path narrows and starts steeply up the right end side of the valley.

All of us are now reduced to walking, but at different paces.  I keep using my HR monitor to guage my intensity letting it climb no higher than 167, I know that there is still over ten miles to go and I've already run further than I've ran all year so won't to make sure I get home in one piece.  With the HR monitor holding me back I actually find the walk up quite easy and comfortable eat and drink.  I catch the next competitor ahead who is stopping regularly to rest and take in the view.

Not long after I hear heavy breathing behind and get passed by David Gallie and and Karren Lyons who are rapidly marching uphill, I briefly chat with them to find out they are hill runners that were slow on the road.  I don't attempt to keep with their pace, instead keep using my HR monitor as a guide to make sure I run my own race efficiently.  I keep the same distance behind Patrick so I know I can't be doing too bad, after another ten minutes climbing Patrick is also passed by David and Karren, shortly after we all reach the top of the pass and begin our descent.

On the steeper parts of the descent I began to catch Patrick who looks to be struggling more or the rocky and narrow path.  David and Karren are no where to be seen clearly there hill descending matched their hill climbing.  Once off the hill the route goes across rough moorland that is mostly runnable and Patrick pulls away again.  On every step my knees and hip flexors are now sending painful reminders that I haven't trained enough to run 30 miles over rough terrain, but my energy levels remain good.  I have to start a mental battle to keep moving when my body is asking to stop and walk, apart from the discomfort I am still feeling positive so mostly can keep moving.

Near the end of the mile long moor crossing I come close catching another runner who is now run/walking.  It turns out to be Andy which gives me a lift, looks like we might be able to finish together like we did the first time we ran the Dirty 30 back in 2010.  I catch up with Andy at a small river crossing where he's cooling himself and drinking water.  Once across the water the route becomes a forest track and head uphill into what was the forest.  The forest has almost completely been felled though so it's a bit eerier running through the barren land.  Andy is struggling more than I, walking more of the inclines, he's not in pain but just out of salts, perhaps literary given just hot and relentless the sun had been.

Section 5: Moyle to Balvraid

We arrive at the Moyle checkpoint and have a cup of water the marshals provided.  Scott Kennedy, last years winner  was helping out with Mashalling, having just ran the 12 mile route and reported that Donnie that had already been through an hour earlier and was on course to set a new record.  Our time through Moyle checkpoint was 4:03 which was only five minutes down on the time that Andy and I went through back in 2010, on the way to finishing in 5:24 so I'm boyed up and get on my way.  Andy is dragging behind and I call for to get going but he suggests that he's just going to taking things easier and I should go on.

Disappointed, in pain, but still feeling reasonably fresh I head on and not long after meet Patrick who is heading back towards me along the track.  Patrick wasn't sure about the route ahead so decided to back track to get instruction but in turning had rolled his ankle on a stone.  After several hours running on really rough ground rolling your ankle on a seemingly benign forest track is tough, just shows how you can't ever entirely relax and just coast along.  We walked the first incline together and once the track flattened off we got running again, Patrick's ankle was sore but looked to be easing off.

Running together we began a good conversevation about running and life in Scotland.  I lead the way on narrow paths with Patrick struggling on the more technical parts due to his ankle but when the trail widened and returned to paths we'd run abreast.  Patrick was an Australian now living in Edinburgh, back in April he'd ran the London Marathon in a time 2:50, over forty minutes faster than my own PB, so I rather felt a bit of impostor.   For next half hour we chatted, walking the uphills and jogging the flats and downhills making steady progress towards the next check point at Balvraid.

About a mile before Balvraid and with improving underfoot conditions it was beginning to be clear that Patrick was moving more comfortably once more and was running more of the inclines than I felt comfortable doing so - my HR readings were above 165 once more and home made energy snack I had just eaten was causing indigestion suggesting at this work-rate my digestion was shutting down.  I bided him good luck and eased off.

Within five minutes my stomach had settled but hip flexors were now not only painful but beginning to tighten up so my stride became more of pained shuffle.  With no company to distract me I resorted to mind game to keep myself running.  I'd allow myself to walk inclines but set myself a bush or stone that I'd have to reach before walking and another before the each summit that I'd have to run from.

Section 6: Balvraid to Glenelg

The farm at Balvraid come into view and when I arrive with two marshalls welcomed me, that took my number, clipped my race card and gave me another cup of water.  No bottles to take with us this year, the hottest year by far, but thankfully I still had a little water left in my Camel back to see me through the last four and bit miles.  Looking over my shoulder I could see another runner perhaps 400 meters behind.  Now in 5th place I wasn't about to just roll over and let it go, while I was in pain and not moving well I still had plenty of energy left and was coping remarkably well with the heat, my head was still in the race even if my connective tissue didn't want to be.

After Balvraid the route is along a road that gently meanders down a narrow valley that is mix of pasture and light woodland.  The small sections of road that were shaded by trees were bliss, as were the gentle descents.  As I had a runner not too far behind I knew I'd need to keep moving, running all the flats and descents and only allow a brief walk for any short ascents.  I was in pain but was able to keep moving, average 10 minute miles, certainly not fast by I hoped it'd be enough to keep ahead.  I kept checking over my shoulder on the straights with no one in view, looking back this was a clear sign that I really was wanting to be able to take it easier, walking was so much less painful that running and was an ever present lure.

I made it out of the valley joined the road that goes around the headland and the last mile into Glenelg and was back into unbroken sunshine.  Just before a little rise I so wanted to walk it, but on looking over my shoulder down the straight behind I was taken aback to see that my pursuer was within 50m.  Yikes, this was a re-run of 2010 race when Andy and I found ourselves being caught and finally passed in the last run into Glenelg.  I wasn't yet ready to loose a place after pushing through so much pain for the last hour, I knew competitively the right thing to do was make a decisive increase in pace to make it clear to my pursuer that they'd really have to work hard to have any chance to catching me.  

The spurt of adrenalin associated with the surprise of being caught was enough to override the discomfort from my knees and hip flexores and I made may we in to at a blistering Glenelg at 8min/mile place!  It's amazing how much effort even an slow run can be after running for over 5 hours.

The view was stunning though and just couldn't let the view go unrecorded so I got out my phone and slowed to a jog to take this photo of the bay at Glenelg, Sky the hill to the left:

Turning back to the road I was presented with the sting in the tail, the route doesn't go around the nice flat road around to left, no... it goes right and up steep hill, it's the sting in the tail after 30 miles of running:

I allow myself to walk half this little road section, it's not a big hill but it's about as welcome as a needle in the eye.  I have got my racing head back on and quickly get back into running and while in pain it was great to actually running strongly.  Off the top of the hill the route goes down a steep path and then joins the road past the Glenelg Inn, through the village center and on to the finish. Tom had great walk and was back in Glenelg in time to catch me running in.  Tom took a great sequence of me running past, and even caught me fleeting glance over my shoulder as I checked to see if my pursuer was going to challenge me to a sprint finish:

I was comfortably clear though.  I finished in 5:37 in 5th place, whilst my pursuer, George Lees , ended up finishing 2 minutes later 5:39.  I'm really glad that George appeared when he did, the prospect of bit of competition spurred on a strong finish.  Patrick finished in 4th, a couple of minutes head of me in 5:35. Mark and Helen Leggett whom I had run the first section with finished not long after George, in 5:41 and 5:43 respectively.

Donnie Cambell came in first setting a new course record 4:15, ten minutes faster than Scott Kennedy's time in 2012.  David Gallie and Karren Lyons who passed me on the big ascent at mile 19 came in together 2 and 3rd in a time of 5:22.

Andy came in at 6:15 having walked much of the way from Moyle.  He had been in 2nd place at Shiel Bridge when the runner who he was with pulled out due to ankle injury.  He stayed in 2nd place till the descent from the mountain pass but then really struggled on the descent down to Moyle, dropping down to 6th.  While he wasn't in much pain or low in energy, his motivation to keep running had melted away and just wasn't bothered by loosing another 10 places in the last 8 miles.  It was such a lovely warm day taking it easy and enjoying the day I can't blame him for taking it easy.

My own time of 5:37 is the slowest I've ever ran the race, a well behind the 5:12 I ran last year, but had I not messed up dropping my T-Shirt I would have done it in 5:31 and taken fourth place. I'm sure had I not dropped my caffine tablet I would also been able to run the last 10 miles faster and in less discomfort.  I don't know whether the potential of a 2nd place would have driven me to run harder as well, but realistically I don't think I could have ran the faster than 5:22 required.  While this is all speculation, what I do know for sure is that I'm chuffed to ran as well as I did, completing a tough 30 mile run on a hot day without so little training in the months running up to the race.  The result breaks my preconceptions on just how much raining is essential when you have experience behind you and your head in the game - sure without the right training it hurts more and you run slower but it's still possible.

Liquid refreshment

After a shower, a very welcome soup made by volunteers at the village hall Tom, Andy and I headed over to the Glenelg Inn for a pint.   What a beautiful location that pub has, with great views from the beer garden:

View on the way to pub
One of the world's great pubs!

Myself enjoying the shade, while Andy enjoys the sun

Andy (left) and Tom (right) enjoying one last beer at Glenelg Inn, with views of Skye over the water

"Sloshie" takes us home

It was so very, very tempting to just stay at the pub and relax for the rest of the evening.  We all have families to get back to so we bundled ourselves back into Tom's van and headed back home. The first obstacle for poor "Sloshie" was getting up over the mountain pass and then safely back down the other side.  Smell of hot break pads filled the cabin on the descent so we took a short breather to let the brakes cool and to enjoy the view

And what a view down to Loch Alsh, Shiel Bridge at the end of the Loch and five sisters lined up above:

It's a rare day when great weather and an event take place on the same day.  While as a runner it being hot and relentlessly sunny might not be ideal, it was simply epic to be out driving, running and hanging out.  Looking back over the photo's now and finishing up the account brings it home to me just how great a day it was, and one that that took part will cherish for the rest of their days.

My thanks go out to race organizers, marshals and volunteers who put on another great event.  Thanks also to Tom McCourt and "Sloshie" for transport accommodation and some great photos.

Personal stats: Average HR 161, Time on HR monitor 5:36:42.  30 miles (+0.62miles for being an idiot :-) and 3000ft ascent/descent.

Full race results for runners (taken from Lochalsh Dirty 30 website):

Campbell, Donnie4 hours 15 minutes
Gallie, David5 hours 22 minutes
Lyons, Karen5 hours 22 minutes
Harrington, Patrick5 hours 35 minutes
Osfield, Robert5 hours 37 minutes
Lees, George5 hours 39 minutes
Leggett, Mark5 hours 41 minutes
Leggett, Helen5 hours 43 minutes
Clements, Gordon5 hours 44 minutes
Morrison, Gary5 hours 53 minutes
Britain, Frances5 hours 59 minutes
Redgrove, James6 hours 0 minutes
Fortune, Carole6 hours 1 minutes
Owen, Russell6 hours 3 minutes
Vinall, Jo6 hours 7 minutes
Dimmer, Andrew6 hours 15 minutes
Budge, Neil6 hours 18 minutes
Lothian, Kristeen6 hours 26 minutes
Burton, Mark6 hours 29 minutes
McWhinnie, Jim6 hours 29 minutes
Gall, Allan6 hours 55 minutes
Dalrymple, Claire6 hours 55 minutes
Gilligan, Steven7 hours 7 minutes
Merrett, Andrew7 hours 7 minutes
Milne, Ronald7 hours 33 minutes
Nicoll, Elizabeth7 hours 33 minutes
Fay, Elspeth7 hours 39 minutes
McKerral, Lesley7 hours 59 minutes
Dyer, Adam8 hours 22 minutes
Fay, Peter8 hours 34 minutes
Duggan, Donna8 hours 47 minutes
Morrison, Peter9 hours 55 minutes

Friday, 7 June 2013

Lochalsh Dirty 30 Q&A

This Saturday (8th June 2013) I along with other runners and walkers will be taking part of Lochalsh Dirty 30 Challenge, there are always last minute questions that pop during preperations, so I posed these to race organizer Ewen Kerr who kindly answered them.  I'll also add a few details from my own perspective as someone running this great event for the fourth time.

Q1: How long has the Lochalsh Dirty 30 been running?
[Ewan Kerr] We've been running since 2007, so this will be our 7th year.

Q2: Can walkers and runners enter on the day?
[Ewan Kerr] Yes.  The event was initially set up as a walking event, but
we've seen a growing number of runners taking part over the years and are
happy for everyone to take part.

Q3: What is the cost of entry on the day?
[Ewan Kerr] The Dirty 30 is £25.  This is for the full, 30 mile course.
There's always the shorter Dirty Dozen route, which is only 12 miles, and is
£20 entry fee.

Q4: Can on the day entrants catch the shuttle busses from Shiel bridge campsite?  Should they contact anyone ahead?
[Ewan Kerr] We have  limited places available on the buses, so you should
email if you need a space on a bus and have not
already registered.

Q5: How many walkers and how many runners are already entered?
[Ewan Kerr] We've got 33 runners on the Dirty 30, and 5 runners on the Dirty
dozen this year.  The walkers are just over 100, and another 22 registered
for the Dirty Dozen event.

Q6: How dry is the course?
[Ewan Kerr] The course is fairly dry, though as usual, the forest section is
always muddy -- that's why it's the Dirty 30, but you would manage with
lightweight boots this year.

Q7: Are there any route changes?
[Ewan Kerr] There are no changes to the route this year, but you will see
the new permanent way-marking that is being installed in conjunction with
the Forestry Commission.  This will hopefully mean that the route is enjoyed
by people throughout the year, not just one day in June.

Q8: Is the Jelly Baby Pitstop at Letterfearn raising money for charity? Which one?
[Ewan Kerr] Yes, the ever-popular Jelly Baby Pitstop will be raising money
for a local charity -- last year it was for the open-air swimming pool at
Also, the parents from the Glenelg primary school PTA will be manning the
kitchen at the start/finish, with teas, coffees, rolls, delicious home made
soups and even more delicious cakes, with proceeds going towards the school.

Q9: Will water be available at the checkpoints?
[Ewan Kerr] All entrants are expected to carry the necessary food and water
with them for the Journey.  That said, we will be able to provide drinks and
sweets at the famous Jelly Baby Pitstop, and the Ratagan Youth Hostel are
also hosting an open day, and refreshments will be available there too.
There's a tap for water at Shiel Bridge as well as the garage shop, and
we'll have a limited supply of bottled water at Moyle, but you should not be
relying on that.

Q10: Are there flowing streams that can replenish water bottles out on the
hill after Sheil bridge?
Yes  - there are plenty of streams running where water can be replenished
throughout the course.

Q11: What websites should entrants check for any last minute updates on the
[Ewan Kerr] We'll post any last minute updates or changes on our website and on our facebook pages

Q12: Do you have an recommendations of where to pitch up a Motercaravan on
Friday evening?
[Ewan Kerr] There's a camp site at Shiel Bridge (details on website) at the
foot of the Five Sisters of Kintail, and another site at Moyle.  Another
popular spot is also on the beach near Glenelg, along the road to the ferry
where you'll get spectacular views straight down the Sound of Sleat towards
Sandaig (Camusfearna in 'Ring of Bright Water')

Q13: Can I do the event for Charity?
Absolutely -- Many people use the event to raise money for the charities
that are important to them so we don't have a prescribed list of charities.
Others just want to take part for the personal challenge, or to enjoy with
friends and family, and that's great too -- we just want everyone to enjoy
the day!

Here are my thoughts as a runner:

Q14: What's the weather forecast for the area?

Forecast currently (Friday 7th June) on bcc website for Kyle of Lochalsh:
Q15: What will you be wearing?
Shorts and T-Shirt, but carrying jacket.  Will wear my inov-8 debri gaiters to keep shoes clear as parts of the off trail and muddy - it's as much for piece of mind as avoiding blisters. 

On my feet I'll have my Trailroc 255's, these are light and work well on road and trails.  Some runners have worn road shoes but there a couple of muddy bits and technical descents that are best tackled with trail shoes.  Fell shoes won't be necessary though.

Q16: How will it take?
In the past three years I've ran it in 5:24, 5:34 when I suffered with cramp from mile 10, and last year 5:12 off the back of some great training.  I did this off the back of 10k times in the 41 to 42minutes range, so multiple your 10k time by 7.7 times are you'll roughly get what time you might get.

This year due to my foot injury have I've only run 18 miles in the last 4 weeks, and only 83 miles since the beginning of April.  I have never run the race with such little time on my feet.  The furthest I've run in this period was the Stuc a' Chroin hill race that is 14 miles long with 5000ft ascent/descent, finishing in 3:18, with a 4 minute PB.  So while I've not run long distances I'm optimistic that my legs are still robust enough to handle 5+ hours on my feet.   

If I manage a sub 5:30 time this year I'll be very happy, my goal at the start of the year was to be the second person to go sub 5 hour.

Q17: What is the course record?
Last year Scott Kennedy completed the course in 4:25, 36 minutes faster than anyone else has yet achieved. Scott is a 2:45 marathoner.

The event is not ran as a race though, it's ran as a challenge, it's only the runners that informally might place themselves or worry about times!

Q18: How easy is navigation?
The route is very easy to follow for most of the route - for the most part it's either clear path, tracks or roads.  There are however a couple of sections that people have made mistakes.  I'd recommend taking a map with you, I laminated a small section of a map that I fold in my running rucksack.

Q19: Food and drink?
I'm planning on lightweight running ruck sack and putting a 1 Litre of water in the camel back at the start, then topping this up at the Shiel bridge checkpoint.  I normally take around 200 Calories per hour of food but never finish it so this year I'll reign it in a bit.  In previous years I left food/drink at the Shiel bridge campsite to pick up on the way through.  

Two years ago I didn't top up with water at Shiel bridge expecting there to be water from streams on the way up to the pass but the once that normally cross the path had all dried up.  This year looks pretty dry so I'd err on the side of caution.

Q20: Splits?

These are my splits for my 5:24 time ran back in 2010, my split percentages when I ran 5:12 were pretty similar and feel I ran well judged pace on these occasions, so as % these are probably good guide.

CP Distance Total Section time Elapsed time Pace Avg. Pace
1 5.95 5.95 00:57:33 00:57:33 09:40 09:40
2 4.83 10.78 00:54:44 01:52:17 11:20 10:25
3 5.15 15.93 00:44:23 02:36:40 08:37 09:50
4 5.04 20.97 01:21:52 03:58:32 16:15 11:22
5 4.27 25.24 00:46:00 04:44:32 10:46 11:16
6 4.28 29.52 00:39:26 05:23:58 09:13 10:58

Q21: Pacing?

As a general pacing I'd suggest take it easy, walk all the steeper hills.  If you find yourself getting out of breath at any point slow down as going anaerobic will just fill the legs with lactate and waste precious glycogen stores.

I'll be taking my HR monitor, as well, I'm a bit of science geek...  In previous years my average HR was 163, 165 and 164, so as an experiment I plan to use a HR of 164 as a guide of the level intensity to work out.  For the first 20 minutes I plan to try and warm up slowly keep my HR below 160.  My lactate threshold is up around 175, so I'll be averaging 10 below this.

Q22: How tough is the course?

It's 30 miles with around 3000ft of ascent/descent.  It's a mixture of hills, tracks and road that individually are not too difficult, but together it's a nice challenge.  The 1500ft hill ascent up at mile 18 is the most demanding - just at the point your glycogen stores will be running low!  The descent down the other side is very technical and different to run smoothly.   It's this section that will likely make or break your race so hold plenty back for it.

Thanks to Ewen Kerr for answering my questions, and thanks to the whole Dirty 30 team - it's a great event and with the weather looking like it'll bless us with a cool start and sunny conditions later it should be a great day this Saturday. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Ben Ledi Hill Race 2013 : Race Report

Ben Ledi is the biggest mountain in the Trossachs, while it's peak at 2,884ft is just shy of a Munroe, its vantage point on the edge of the Highlands make it possible to see far over the flatlands towards Stirling and Edinburgh and also offers great views of the Highland peaks to the north and west.  It's a mountain that begs to be run, but never had a regular hill race before, finally, Skidaddle  turned this long held dream into reality.  At last, after all the anticipation, the 1st of June came round and it was time to test ourselves with 2,500ft of ascent/descent and 6 miles of forest tracks and open hillside.

View from Ben Ledi looking south east towards Callander and Loch Venachar near by, and Stirling in distance
As I was going to help Skidaddle with registration I made sure I was up at 7am and ready for Rob to pick me up and take us to Race HQ at the base of the mountain.  Normally on the morning of a race I can't hold back the nervous excitement, with the adrenaline levels winding up for the race, (with adrenaline pumping my insides are normally a bit excitable too).  Strangely, however, I wasn't nervous, I put this down to tempering my expectations of a good performance as I'd had a bout of stomach bug mid week and even on Friday I still wasn't 100%. No nerves, but my insides were still complaining, it seems they just hadn't coped well with eating normally again.

At registration the sun was shining and the midges were still asleep, it was bliss.  Soon after registration opened there were runners lining up keen to join on the day, 32 runners entered on the day, with 30 pre booked online, and with only 3 no shows there would be 59 runners on the start line.  A great turnout for a new race.  Feedback from a number of runners about my blog entry on the route was very positive which is pleasing to hear - I'm not just wittering away on this blog, well not always :-)

After a short briefing we headed off at 11:02am.  I ended up starting right at the back of the field and have to admit kind of sleep walking into the race, ambling over the line in no particular hurry.  I caught up with one of the older entrants who asked me if I was the sweeper!  Errrr no, I was supposed to be competing... Still it was such a lovely warm and sunny start I just got chatting with him.  Like many others I was to meet today he expressed how glad he was to finally see a Ben Ledi hill race.

After a few minutes being sociable I remembered that it was supposed to be a race, so I picked up the tempo a little, but still couldn't quite bring myself to race yet.  I started over taking the tail enders and then spied a couple that both were both wearing what looked like Vivobarefoot Neo Trails, as I'm rather fond of my pair I couldn't help but slow down and chat - turns out they were from Callander and had even read this blog - alas I didn't catch their names.  As we approached the left hand junction just before the 1 mile point the prospect of getting stuck behind slower runners on the narrow path dawned on me so I bid them good luck and moved on once more.

The tourist path that heads steeply uphill from the forest track is runnable, but it takes a lot out of you unless you really slow down and shorten your stride. Many simply walk.  I shortend my stride to keep my cadence up, stayed up on my toes and steadily passed runners, I looked ahead expecting to recognize fellow Callander runners but couldn't spot any, oh dear my dawdling in the first mile had left me rather behind where I should be in race.  Now looking at my GPS trace for the day I was 2 minutes down on my Ben Ledi tempo run that I had done 10 days before.

Knowing that I had taken it rather too easy I moved into race mode, but as we were less a 1/3rd the way up  it was still a very measured effort.  Running steadily up the steps still got my HR up to 180 which is pretty high and well above my lactate threshold.  After the steps the route levels off which allowed my HR to drop away quickly and any lactate building up to dissipate.   Still feeling comfortable I kept picking off runners.  The path then heads over a stream and a stile and then heads up diagonally towards the shoulder, the path becomes more broken making its way through boulders and a new landslip.

You have to take your opportunities to pass along this part of the path and if you don't you're stuck moving at the same speed as the runner ahead which meant taking more walking breaks than I needed but once I started adding short walking breaks of a few strides it's kinda hard to break out of this and I couldn't keep up my resolve to run every step.  Truth be told I started feeling fatigued at this point, now about half way to the summit so I began welcoming the quick walking breaks.  I wasn't expecting to feel so fatigued so early in the climb, especially after such an easy start.

Once up on the shoulder I found that as long as I walked quickly and got back into running as soon as good runnable ground was available I was still passing runners regularly.  I wasn't feeling great but still making reasonable progress and was still wondering where fellow Callander runners Steve Field and Ally Morrison might be, usually we are well matched and often trade places in different races so I was expecting to at least see them at some point.  As I climbed the first blind summit I passed a lady who quipped "oh I thought you were a lady", she then explain my "pink" top had confused her.  It's a purple top!!! PURPLE!  Ok... it's a quite a pinky purple, thankfully having been married for 14 years and with three children I'm pretty secure in my masculinity, at least to know I can pull off wearing a bright top :-)
( It's pink - wife)

Now in first lady position(!)  I set my sights on the next runner, as I caught up it dawned up me that it was Steve.  My rapid rate of passing runners had long ceased so it took me a little while to draw alongside. Steve was struggling today having not run much in the last few months, with cycling being his main focus.  I was feeling pretty knackered at this point, three quarters the way to the summit and wasn't feeling great or competitive so I was happy to bobble along behind Steve up the last steep section before the summit.  Just as we bridged the final false summit an older runner tore passed us like he'd been set on fire.  An impressive turn of speed so close to the summit, or perhaps a sign just how much Steve and I had settled into a given pace.

The summit was in cloud but still offered perfect good visibility and the strong winds reported earlier  by Mountain Rescue weren't evident so it wasn't too cold.  Once over the summit the running became easy and fun as you traverse the ridge.  Fi Walker was taking photos of runners just on the ridge looking back towards the summit and caught Steve and I being chased down.  Steve and I put on Cheshire Cat grins for the moment, we were having fun, any shred of competitiveness was long gone by this point.

Shortly after the summit, Steve Field  left, myself centre, pursuer unknown... Photo taken by Fiorella Walker
The route goes to the end of the short ridge section and then falls downhill.  Usually Steve is much stronger than me downhill  so I fully expected him to disappear off into the distance.  Instead both of us had our pursuer storm past us and make a mockery of our attempts to awkwardly descend the stony hillside.  I was rather in shock to be comfortably keeping pace with Steve on the descent - he admitted that his quads were suffering through lack of any hill running.  Once we hit the second steep section I moved ahead and just kept my sights on the path ahead.

While I was moving more quickly than Steve, and my legs were still stable and strong enough underneath me I was feeling progressively worse.  The jolting of each stride felt like it was tearing away at my insides, I have done plenty of running down big hills in the last 8 weeks and never had this issue so I knew it had to be a consequence of being ill earlier in the week.  I can only guess that my insides were still raw and inflamed and not ready for the abuse.

Whilst heading down into Stank Glen we passed Bev Field and her children, I call out to encourage Steve to get his act together as there is absolutely no way that I should be the one leading the way on the descent.  I stayed high on the heather above the path to keep grip as the path was muddy in places which is something I've found my Trailroc's just don't cope well with. On the grass and heather I get firm footing although it's rough underfoot.  In no time at all I dropped down on the path just above the stile which I tried to cross a little too quickly and caught  a foot on the way over. Luckily I was able to get it safely underneath me and avoid a fall in front of walkers and Marshals.

Once over the stile the path becomes much more easily runnable, and through Stank Glen you can really pick up the pace.  A piper welcomed us into Stank Glen which helped boost spirits.  However, as much as I wanted to really turn on the speed my guts were shredded, my legs jelly and I just didn't feel well.  I kept the best pace I could but it felt feeble.  Looking back at my GPS trace I was actually doing 6:20 to 6:50 pace through Stank Glen, but I couldn't escape the feeling that I should have been able to go much faster on this gently descending trail.

Once out of Stank Glen the route goes down a steep forest path that is broken by lots of rock and roots.  I've run the path many times so know it well, but it's extremely technical, you have to spot your footing and plant it accurately.  On one step my weary legs didn't lift my foot quite high enough to clear a rock and I clipped it pulling the leg through, I very very nearly fell, but somehow got my leg underneath me before I hit the deck.  Aware that my fatigue was compromising by ability to run this section fast I ease back and soon after two runners out of the blue shot past.   They both looked to be running strongly so deserved to get by.

After the quick but frantic little descent through the forest the path joins the main forest track that we had run up earlier, and rather than turn left off this to rejoin the narrow forest path the route had been changed on the day to make it a little safer and so we head down the forest track back towards the finish. Just over a third of a mile to go and while I could see the runners not too far ahead they are still running strong enough for me to be unable to easily chase them down, at least in my rather decrepit state.  Two more minutes of running average 5:35 pace I crossed the line, sounds good but it's downhill and perfect for running on.

My insides don't feel good at all, but the spirits at the end are really high, and when I look down at my watch I get pleasant shock, 1:10:41, in 19th place.  Originally I was hoping that I might get near 1:10, but given the week I had just had, and  consequently how my guts had felt during the race I really had expected something much slower. I was chuffed, somehow I had pulled off a decent time.

I caught up with the various runners that had already completed.  Craig Harvey won in an amazing time of 54:26, with Ray Ward in second with 57:29, and Scott Denny in third with 58:18.  To add a little drama, Scott had been in second but had suffered a major heel blister on the descent and had to hobble in loosing his place.  Maz Frater had the lovely job of helping tend to Scott once he took his shoes off. What she found wasn't pretty - a 4cm round chunk of skin had come loose from Scott's heel. Ouch...  Scott put the blister down to having done all his training on the flat trails as he's building up for the Nice Iron Man Triathlon and hadn't done any hill running.  It's less than a month to go to the Triathlon so fingers crossed that it'll heal quickly.

Ally had had a great race too, finishing 1 minute ahead of me.  Steve Field trotted in shortly after I finished in 1:12:14.  He was pleased to be back running again even if he felt rather out of practice.  The ladies winner, Alison Wyllie came in at 1:15:16.  Alison is Maz's sister which played against Alison -during the prize giving Maz  announced it was recently Alison's birthday and rather than clap we were instructed are sing "Happy Birthday" to her!

Looking back towards the Start/Finish, Maz piping runners in.
The atmosphere before, during and after the race was great.  Save a little shower later the weather was perfect for racing.  Feedback from the runners was the event was really positive - the Ben Ledi Hill Race is now firmly on the map.

Poscript:  Two days have now passed since the race and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) has set it in, but finally my insides seemed to have settled.  The race set back my recovery from the stomach bug as after the race it took my insides another 24 hours to settle, while I wasn't sick my insides felt really beaten up.  Looking back it wasn't a good race from how I felt - rather feeble and lacklustre,  quite a contrast to the Stuc a'Chroin race where I felt comfortable and strong despite the atrocious weather and conditions underfoot, with good energy levels.  Given that I wasn't at my best, I'm now really keen to get back and race Ben Ledi when I'm fit with some proper training behind me - what might be possible?  It's a shame that I now to wait a whole year to find out!

My next challenge comes much sooner - this Saturday, 8th of June, I'll be running the Lochalsh Dirty 30 for the fourth time...


Many thanks to Skidaddle and Callander Rotary for putting on a great combined hill race and walking event.
Full Race results.