The Deer Runner

The Deer Runner

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Wrong Side of the Loch

The last few weeks have been a bit turbulent.  One of the three legs, the mental one holding up my stool of running went a bit wobbly. I lost practically all of my running mojo and struggled to get out and run even the shortest distance.  I was desperately trying to repair this leg when a second, the physical one completely fell off.   As I write this I'm trying to fix the stool so I can make the start of the Cateran.

So how did I manage to miss one of the main ultras of the year, and which by all accounts on social media was the best yet?  I won't go into the mental side of things, I'm still working on that but I will detail the physical side.

First, I haven't been stretching, not before and not after any of my runs, even though I know I should.
Second, I changed my safety shoes at work.  Something I don't like doing, particularly before races.
These trainers are the minimalist footwear of the safety world with no cushioning, minimum heel to toe drop and are very light.
Third, I stupidly used these safety trainers for a training run at work when I forgot to pack the Hokas.
Fourth, that same day, I was running with Skye, trying to teach her good running technique which exacerbated the problem.

All of the above meant I woke up Wednesday morning with calf pain.  The muscle was so stiff I couldn't walk without discomfort.  With only three days before the Fling, that's when it dawned that I might not be fit for this race.  Needless to say, all running was postponed while I iced and tried to rest the muscle as much as possible.

All accommodation was booked and paid for so we would still be heading off for the weekend.
I still thought I could shake off this injury enough to run the Fling but was mindful that the Cateran was only three weeks later.  This was a juggling act, so on Friday afternoon we drove south to the Pond Hotel where I felt the strain was easing off.  I would go out for a test run then make my decision.

As soon as we arrived, I changed into my running gear.  Two miles, I thought to myself.  If I can run two miles pain free then I'll make my way to registration in the morning.  It took ten steps to make up my mind.
There wasn't a snowball's chance in hell my calf could do this ultra.  I walked back to the room and withdrew from the race.

I would still go to Milngavie on Saturday morning, I had a runner to take to the start.  I took the SLR to take some pictures but felt completely out of it.  I withdrew from the race too late to volunteer or help out.
I stood on the bank and took some pictures of the assembled crowd before moving to the Main Street.
The atmosphere was electric as runners assembled under the bridge.  Lighting under the bridge flicked off and on adding to the tension.  Then they were off to clapping and cheers,  I stood taking pictures, all of which I screwed up with the wrong settings on my camera, this weekend just wasn't going well at all.
Once all the runners were through the street emptied.  I decided to head back to the room and take a hot bath to aid recovery.

We had a room booked in Fort William so we fully intended to stop off at the finish and see the first runners in.  It felt strange driving North on the West side of Loch Lomond, I kept glancing over to the other side, hoping to see a splash of colour through the trees, fellow runners enjoying the beautiful trail.  It looked even more scenic when viewed from the wrong side, I still couldn't believe I managed to screw up my training and miss this race.  We stopped and went down to the shore.  I could see where the West Highland Way was by the tree line and wished I was running with friends.  The rain came on just as we drove through Tyndrum where I didn't feel like stopping, I just wanted to get to Fort William and spend quality time with my family.

I would just like to say well done to John Duncan and all associated with the Fling, going by the feedback on Facebook, the high standards of this race were raised again, looks like everyone had a ball.

The race is on to recover in time for the DC110.  It's not an ideal lead up to my main ultra of the year and my confidence has taken a knock but I'm determined to toe the line on 16th May.  For the first time ever I've booked a sports massage, then I'll resume running this weekend.  It's imperative I run pain free and consign the calf strain to history, otherwise the Cateran will be in jeopardy, that would be another tough ultra to miss.  
Tuesday 7 miles.  Weekly total 7 miles.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Three Men and the Moon

I'm looking out the window as I write this post, it's dusk and the moon breaks away from the horizon and rises slowly into the sky.  It's been showing off the past few nights, illuminating the landscape, a tantalising scene which makes me want to get out and run.  Run with like minded people once again.

It's Thursday and three ultra runners gather in Blairgowrie.  Conditions are perfect for a 32 mile trip north to Spittal of Glenshee.  It's the Cateran, a beautiful circular trail in central Scotland.  There's one thing in common that's brought them all together, the first ultra race in Scotland over 100 miles.

The streets are deserted, sodium glow is left behind. Uphill they run, general chat as they make their way to Drimmie woods where torches show narrow paths through outstretched limbs.

Islands of orange - streets, villages, towns and a city -Perth in the distance.  All sparkle on this clear night as they descend the road to Alyth.  All is quiet in a deserted car park, this is checkpoint Alyth for DC110 crew.

The streets are deserted, sodium glow is left behind.  Uphill they run, general chat as they make their way to Glenisla where torches show tracks through fields of livestock and lambs.

Houses in slumber with a light on, sleeping with one eye open as runners pass by.  Silent, mostly silent. Virtually no canine activity, surprising in the still early morning air.

Down off the hill, descend to rushing water.  Cross the bridge, rapids white in torchlight.  All is quiet in the deserted car park, this is checkpoint Kirkton of Glenisla.

The road is deserted, light is left behind.  Uphill they run, general chat as they make their way to Dalnaglar where torches show tracks through fields, marsh and heather.

Mist lying low - hugging and hiding still water, dark Loch Shandra.  Over the hill then descend, down to the river once more.  A road this time, empty of traffic with bright light ahead.  A celestial body has followed, lighting the wonderful landscape and hills around.  Beauty through trees - flickering, tantalising, watching and guiding.  All is quiet at checkpoint Dalnaglar.

The home straight, not so straight, or straight forward.  Twisting and turning - stiles, track and marsh.  A small detour before back on track.  Lights ahead, the Spittal awaits, dawn prepares to chase the dark.

Job done, take a seat.  Recovery drink and separate ways, until Fling in a few weeks.

Tues 4, Wed 4, Thurs 32, Sun 4.  Weekly total 44 miles.
Tues 2, Wed 4, Thurs 4, Fri 4, Sun 3.  Weekly total 17 miles.



Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Walk On

At my level, there's been a lot of walking involved during the two WHW races I've completed.  Obviously there are sections where I have no alternative but to slow to a walk, the steep uphill sections and loch side for instance.  Later in the race, fatigue usually meant completing the last section with very little running.
This is fine if there's plenty of time to complete the section but I won't have this on the DC110.

It's surprising just how much time and energy the Cateran terrain can demand.  After the steep start, I can honestly say there weren't too many steep up hills all the way to Blairgowrie, yet the 23 mile journey still took me 5 hours.  I've already said I'll settle for that time on race day but it's how my legs felt which was a slight concern.  If this was running the 55, it would be a case of getting my head down and just toughing it out to the end, probably walking a good part of it.

This obviously won't be an option during the 110, especially only being a quarter of the way in.  During training I am finding it difficult to find and stick to my perfect ultra pace for this distance.  I would settle for around 12 minute miles on the flat to conserve energy for the whole race but find my pace creeping up to 10 minute miles, sometimes just under.  This pace ends up being too fast and after five or six hours I start running out of energy.  It's then a battle of will to keep running as much as possible, sometimes alternating between running and walking as mentioned on previous posts.

Why am I blogging this?  Well recently I turned the spotlight on walking.  During my first Speyside Ultra, a runner breezed pass me on an uphill section.  Both of us were walking but the other runners technique was so much stronger and better.  It's now time to build up strength for uphill walking.  Anyone who has been to Aberdeen will know the state of traffic, commuting to Dyce in particular is a nightmare.  Lynne and I came up with the idea of parking on the outskirts and walking the mile to and from work.  This was the perfect opportunity to build up leg muscles for power walking.  It wasn't long before I could feel the effects, particularly on my shins.  It's surprising how little I was walking in the past, even while training for ultra races so I'm sure this fast walking will help in future events.

My training has been going as well as expected for the amount of weekly miles I can fit in.  On the positive side of things I have been on the hills a few times, completed some long runs including the D33, ran brisk shorter distances and avoided running related injuries.  The negatives?  The back to back weekend long runs were dropped a while back, I've neglected building up core strength and I don't stretch, even though I know I should.

Thursday evening sees the second recce of the Cateran trail, a night time run which I am really looking forward to.  This will be a chance to test all gear and equipment I'll be using on race day.
This is rest week, so I don't intend doing much more than the night Cateran run.  I'll use the weekend for a bit of recovery.

Mon 4  Tues 6  Wed 15  Thurs 6  Sat 29  Sun 7.  Weekly total 67 miles.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Back to the Cateran Trail

This past weekend I went on the first of two reconnaissance runs on the Cateran Trail.
I planned to start at Bridge of Cally and finish around Kirkton of Glenisla, getting to know a good chunk of the night time section of the race.  This was hastily changed when another DC110 entrant invited me to join him on a night time run in April.  This allowed me to recce the whole route anticlockwise, Spittal of Glenshee to Blairgowrie on Saturday, with the night time jaunt Blairgowrie to Spittal planned later in April.

Lynne and Skye dropped me off Saturday morning, a shopping trip in Perth beckoned while I spent time on the trail.

It was good to get back onto the Cateran, even low cloud and mist couldn't dull the beauty of this route.

I must admit, the straight uphill start of this run was a bit of a killer.  I made a mental note to warm up before the start on race day.  The famous finish is about to become the famous start to the DC110.

Once over the snowy top it was a muddy descent to the refuge hut.

I love the view of the track heading towards Enochdhu.

Previous high winds allowed me to skip using the stile.

The descent goes through the first of many farms on the trail.  This one was busy with lambing, a lot of agriculture vehicles were on the go.

The recycle point at checkpoint Enochdhu.

It's not long before I was running through fields.  I was careful not to disturb livestock on this run.

There were a few obstacles in the forest section between Enochdhu and Kirkmichael.

A quaint holiday home tucked into the trees.

Funny how I was noticing things on this training run, usually missed coming from the opposite direction.  Here is an abandoned church in Kirkmichael.

After Kirkmichael it was time for some track before turning off at the signpost and heading for marsh.

The waterway pattern caught my eye here.



A quick self timed selfie!

This is about a quarter of a mile of marsh, it wasn't as bad as I expected.

What makes the Cateran a great route is the variety of the terrain. 

Grouse, Pheasant, Buzzards, Hare, Red Squirrel.  There was an abundance of wildlife but I'm afraid I only captured this one fuzzy zoomed in picture of Deer.

I had to keep a lookout for the Cateran posts, it would be easy to miss one and take a wrong turn.

From here it was downhill all the way to Bridge of Cally.

Checkpoint Bridge of Cally.

From here it was a right turn to head for moorland.

My namesake was hated by the Caterans!

Very muddy on the moor, but passable if run at the sides of the track.

Another farm to run through before reaching a short road section.

The sign was a bit askew, but it's a left turn and nice run along the edge of farmland.

Another farm, but this one has a couple of gates allowing a short detour.

Onto the farm track, I kept going until reaching the road overlooking Blairgowrie.

A left turn took me down the hill before turning right and following the river.

Across the pedestrian bridge and up the steps took me to checkpoint Blairgowrie.
I always viewed Blairgowrie as half way in this race but I was only 23 miles in.  With 28 to complete I decided to continue.

I crossed the road and run / walked the 2 miles uphill to the turn off at Drimmie woods.
This was the end of my run, I had to double back and meet Lynne and Skye at the hotel.

Some thoughts on the run -
The food consumption went well for a change, no queasiness and I actually had an appetite.
I made it to Blairgowrie in 5 hours, that will be a good time to aim for on race day.
Hopefully there will be enough daylight left to cross the moor without torches.

Driving home on Sunday, we took the opportunity to locate all the checkpoints by road, this was a novelty for me having only run through them.

I'm looking forward to the night run, hopefully the route will be easy to follow in torchlight. 

I'll leave you with a blooper.  The camera on 10 second self timer, I stood on slippery rocks and fell into the stream. I felt like a right plonker getting snapped while I climbed out, a keeper for sure.  

Tues 6  Wed 15  Thurs 6  Sat 28.  Weekly total 55 miles.