Sunday, 22 December 2013

Tour of Destruction, Floods and Snow

The last few weeks in Callander have seen a series of Atlantic storms sweep through, in between the wild weather I've got on with my training for the West Highland Way Race, now just 6 months away.  Local trails have mostly been cleared enough to allow passage, but several require clambering around trees. Follows are pictures from three of my recent runs, if you are impatient for festive ones scroll right to the bottom as I played in the snow just before the sun went down.

One of my regular hilly routes takes me from Callander up to and over the Bracklin Falls Bridge then on to Scout Pool, then back down the Backlin Road to Callander.

View of Bracklin Bridge, many branches brought down in the storms.

Beyond the Bracklin Bridge the path heads up hill towards the forestry track, but first you have clamber through this sorry loooking tree that has been blown down across the path.

As soon as your get to the Forestry track you have to clamber through a mighty fir tree that completely covers the junction with the path from Bracklin Falls.

Next set of tress on the way up the Forestry track.

Looking back to all the trees that have already been cleared.

There was once dense Forest here, a football pitch swathe of trees all victim of the storms

More tree clearance

As I emerged from the forestry the exposed edges have been decimated.

Viewing looking north towards local Munroes Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vortlich, I take the left track down.

Mid afternoon winter sunset, looking down Bracklin Road towards Ben Gulipen with Callander lit up below
A couple of days later I headed around a 6 and half mile loop we locally call the Four Bridges, the route back took me along the cycle path back to the Callander meadows witnessing floods thanks to all the rain that's been sweeping through day after day after day.

Normally a dry field!

Back in Callander with the Meadows Carpoark and playground flooded.
My longest run in December was a 15 mile run from Callander up to Stank Glen.  I squeezed in the run between showers and stayed mostly dry, and even got above cloud base.

Not a great photo, but this used to look very different, another huge swath of dense forest gone, trees blown down at the routes or snapped like match sticks.  The destruction is incredibly localised, some areas are untouched, others every tree in the area has been flattened.

At the head of Stank Glen looking East, 1500ft of descent to come :-)

Emerging out from Stank Glen into the main valley above Loch Lubnaig the clouds boiled away from the forestry.
My run today I headed out at 3pm and squeezed up to Bracklin Bridge and the Scout Pool just before it got dark - the same route as from my first set of photo's above.  I just had to head out as it had been sleeting most of the day down in Callander and knew that higher up I might be able to capture some Christmas scenes.  Alas with sunset half and hour into the run the light wasn't really sufficient for great photo's.  I ran back through heavy snow falling which was wonderful.
View from Bracklin Bridge

The snow and storm felled trees on the forest trail beyond Bracklin Falls had an errie Narnia quality.

Out from the forest and into the snow storm

Heading down Bracklin Road I pass example of impromptu ditch parking!

I saw this view and had to skid in the snow to a stop to capture it.  Christmas lights of Callander.
I've been slowing ramping up my mileage and distance of runs this month by still keeping the weekly mileage relatively low - average mid thirties each week and run at a easy pace for all my runs and seeing steady gains in fitness, for instance in the 9 days between the first Bracklin Falls loop at the start of this post to the one today my efficiency according to my HR monitor has improved 5%.  I am noticing that my HR for a given pace has dropped this week which is really encouraging sign that I'm regaining the fitness I lost during the month of November when I took it very easy (just 54 miles ran in November, while 106 miles already in the first three weeks December.)

Festive greetings to all!

Monday, 9 December 2013

I'm now officially training for the West Highland Way Race!

This evening I got the email saying that I'm one of the 300 hundred lucky souls that will need to toe the line at Milngavie, Glasgow at 1am on Saturday 21st of June 2014, and then head 95 miles north along the West Highland Way to Fort William, covering 14760ft of ascent and finish in less than 35 hours.

I now have just over 6 months to prepare myself physically, mentally and logistically to cover the distance.  The furthest I have ever run in a day was the 53 miles of the Highland Fling that covers the southern half of the route.  It's only 42 miles further to each Fort William, that's not even twice as far so it'll be easy then :-)

I am under no delusions, running 95 miles along this particular trail will be the biggest physical challenge of my life by a long way.  I have enough basic aerobic fitness to put myself in the top third of the those entering the WHWR if we were to run a 10k, but you need far more than just aerobic fitness to travel 95 miles in one day.  

I've been pondering just what factors are key in enabling a running to transition well to running huge distances, it's not just aerobic fitness, there are other physical and mental factors that provide the resilience to make effective use of that aerobic fitness.  To train for all these, sometimes conflicting, factors is what I must now do, to put a label on all these factors together I'm drawn to the term "Aerobic Resilience."

I have various thoughts on how to train to build Aerobic Resilience through the next 7 months, but I'll leave these to follow up posts.  For now I'll just wrap by saying.

GULP!!! I have to run 95 miles!!!! Daunting and exciting in equal measures :-)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Trail of destruction

Wednesday night we experienced the severe storm that hit the whole of the UK, Hurricane force winds battered the Trossachs and left a trail of destruction.  Thanks to the storm we had no electricity till dinner time on Thursday, so the schools were closed, phone networks and of course all computers were off through the day.  Our children even dug out and played Monopoly!

The highlight of their day was at 5:30 when a neighbour popped by to say that an Electricity Company had hired a burger van to give out free meals.  We have a gas hob so were planning on cooking but the girls just too excited by the ideal of free food so I took them down and got burgers and hot dogs.  Felt a bit of fraud as the electricity had just been switched back on.  It was a good atmosphere down at the burger van though with a number of school kids and parents we know down there as well.  My eldest daughter (14) and here friends declared that this was the most exciting thing that had happened in Callander for a while.  I guess youtube and facebook just doesn't beat FREE FOOD!!

Friday the weather was sunny and calm, but hovering around 0 after a cold night.  Curious about the effect of the storm, just before lunch I headed out for a 6 and half mile loop.  One mile in and passing the Primary school I had to squeeze past some barriers erected to close a section of path up to the High School called the "Creep".  In the space of 50 metres I had to clamber over and through three fallen trees that blocked the path or torn it up.

2nd Tree on the Creep

2nd tree on the Creep

Looking back down the Creep to the fallen trees. 
After the creep I headed along the A81 for 50 meters and then followed the path up to Cohallian Woods.  Straight away I had another tree to clamber over.

1st tree down on the path up to Cohallian Woods

Looking back down the trail after 2nd fallen tree
 The rest of the trail through Cohallian Woods was clear of debri but cycle of freeze thaw had left frozen puddles with curious concentric shapes, just had to stop and take a photo.

Nature can be savage, but it also can be perplexing and playful

Mid day and the sun just over the horizon...
 After descending down to the Invertrossachs road I headed over the hump back bridge and up to trail the passes under Sampson stone.  One of the signs had been blown off it's mounts.

Another Sign of storm damage!
A couple of miles further on and on the return leg along the cycle path back to the Callander Meadows park rangers were out clearing trees.  Their chain saws were the only ones that I could here echoing around the valley.

Park rangers clearing trees

Working picking up Chistmas Trees sign
 As I neared the Meadows a road in the sky signed that an Airforce Hercules Transport plane was practising low level flying.  Shortly after a second fly through.

First of two Hercules out on training flights
 As I left the path I can to skip over one last tree.

Looking back down the path, an old Railway line, one last tree ended it's life.
The final mile and half of my run took me through the back streets of Callander, thankfully no more signs of damage around the housing.  Looking up the Callander Crags that sits above Callander looks to be a different story though with a number of trees at the cliff edge had been blown down and now dangled sadly over the crags.

Seeing once majestic blown down leaves me with mixed emotions, it's sad to see the damage to the tree and any wildlife that would have made it's home there.  After the destructions comes new life as the fallen trees open up the ground to allow other plants and trees to grow.  Fallen wood also makes great homes for fungus and the invertebrates that will be part of the food chain for the birds, foxes and pine martin.  I say pine martin, I've yet to see one locally but there are known to be in the Queen Elizabeth Forest.

This run was my forth this week, all easy and modest length, but already my HR/pace figures are showing improvements.  There are a few minor aches an pains after a month largely off, but generally seem to be holding up well.  The West Highland Way Race entries have now closed and it's over subscribed so there will be a ballot, I haven't heard yet, so I don't know whether this weeks training is part of a larger campaign or not.  Fingers crossed that I make it in.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Salmon have been Running!

For my lunchtime run I headed out for a 11 mile Bochasttle Hill loop along the flank of Ben Ledi, it was beautiful if a little cold out with snow squalls come through.  As I descended down to the Loch Lubnaig I came across the most bizarre thing laying on the forest trail - the tail of Salmon!

I was still 100ft above and third of a mile away from the Loch, there was no sign of the rest of the Salmon and no clues to how it go there.  This section is popular with dog walkers, and the woodland is home to pine martins and foxes so I would guess that it probably hadn't been there too long.

Could a Buzzard, Eagle or Heron have scavenged a Salmon carcase on the loch shore and dropped part of it?   Could a dog have picked up at the loch shore and carried it uphill?  I will never likely solve this mystery.

Once down beside the Loch Lunnaig I saw a few fish rise and leave tell tale riples, and Heron stood in the Shallows (you can just spot it through the trees below if you are Eagle Eyed :-)

Perplexed and amused I completed by run with a bit of spring in my step.  Just three days back into training and I'm starting to feel a little fitness returning.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Detraining - what happens when you take it easy for a month

After my last race of the year, the Jedburgh Thee Peaks Ultra, I decided to take the month of November off training and just run when the sun was out and just for fun.  I ran a total of 58 miles in November, compared to 185 miles in October when I trained for and raced at Jedburgh.  This month I'm now returning to training but keeping things easy to gently ease myself back.

What has surprised me is just how quickly I have lost fitness over the past 5 weeks since Jedburgh, I have noticed that I am getting more muscle fatigue and even have had Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) in the days after even modest runs.  My heart rate for a given pace is also higher, and the calories per mile reported by my HR monitor for each runs has risen steadily through this period.

The average effective efficiencies (normalized for hills and distance) of my runs tell the sorry tale of the de-training I've seen - I averaged 82 calorie/mile for October, 87 for November and 90 for the two runs I've done so far this December.  That's a 10% reduction in efficiency in just five weeks and I didn't even stop running completely, just reduced by mileage from 45 miles/week to 13 miles/week.

I am quite perplexed by the extent of de-training I've seen, is this normal, is that what others see as well?  My scientific inclination is also drawn to finding out in what ways my body has changed during this period of lighter mileage and de-training.

My own thoughts are really just a jumble of possibilities:

  • Mitochondria populations in my muscles has decreased through lack of need for them all
  • Muscles have atrophied through lack of stimulus
  • Muscles have begun rebuilding after a big month of running and the newly configured muscles need to developed aerobically before I see the benefit
  • My aerobic fast twitch muscle fibres due lack of aerobic exercise have reverted to being more like fast twitch fibres rather than aerobic fibres
  • Weight changes - I might have put on roughly 1% in weight, pretty negligible but I guess it'll account for a tiny bit of the loss of efficiency
  • Blood volume has reduced
  • Loss of adaptations for heat loss

I suspect the last two might well be the most significant factors, but I've never read a paper or articles discussing de-training so it's all just speculation.  One thing I have noticed is that calories reported in the first mile of running has only gone up around 3% but the average has gone up 10% showing that I have much more significant HR drift than I did prior to taking it easy.  This makes me suspect that my ability to handle the accumulation of heat has been significantly impaired as I find it difficult to recoil my muscle fibres and populations of Mitochrondia have been slashed enough to explain a 10% loss in efficiency.

If you have insights please leave a comment as I'd love to know what others think might be happening when we de-train.  As I get back into training it'll be interesting to see how quickly my efficiency returns, fingers crossed it won't be months before I get back to near where I was back in October.