Saturday, 24 December 2011

Oh, I'm so unfit!

During a little pre-Christmas break in Scotland, I had a run out on my favourite section of the West Highland Way. The original intention was to run from Drymen to Rowardennan, however, I noticed that there was a diversion in place to avoid the forest above Drymen. After a quick consultation with the WHW Race Forum to get the full story from the horses mouth, I decided to change plans to avoid the fallen trees and run from Balmaha to Rowardennan and back instead.

When I am running well, this is without doubt the section of the WHW I enjoy the most. The scenery is breathtaking, the trail interesting without being too tough and it's always sheltered from the worst of the weather. During the previous week, my confidence has been growing as I have suffered less and less from the stiffness/soreness in the evenings after a run, but did realise this would be the biggest acid test so far.

As I left Balmaha, it felt great to be back on this section again and I had a nice spring in my step. I allowed myself to run maybe a little faster than I have done so far and just tried to concentrate on a fluid style. For a while, I did not really think about my heel, everything felt normal and smooth as I settled into a lovely rhythm. As ever, I walked up the small climbs, but I noticed how much I was enjoying the downhill parts. I remember thinking how my quads would pay for that later; how right I was!

After an hour, I started to feel the heel, though it was more awkward rather than sore or painful. The problems seem to occur in the calf muscle as it tries to "protect" the tendon and, at present, the muscle is just not strong enough to make this compensation. Unfortunately, the only way to build up the muscle is to keep stressing it in a controlled way; it is just going to take time.

I do not think my running style was compromised on the return journey (take a look at the video) but I did take things noticably easier on the way back to Balmaha. Once I got past the 2 hour mark, I started to feel knackered, made worse as I remembered how I would zoom along this section when fit and here I was struggling to finish. It was great to get 3 hours under my belt, but it has highlighted the length of the road ahead to get back to full race fitness.

I am hoping to start a more structured training programme in the new year but am just going to concentrate on a few easy weeks at first, then in the middle of January, I'm going to try a "medium" week and see how the legs cope. Between now and then, I'm going to limit my runs to a maximum of 1:30 hours, with the majority under an hour. I find that writing things down in the blog tend to make them stick in my mind better and I'm more likely to follow the plan. That gives me another 4 weeks of steady training before I have my next serious test.

Happy Christmas to all!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Keswick AC Christmas Handicap Race

Yesterday, I competed in our club's traditional Christmas handicap race. We start and finish at the cricket pavilion in Fitz Park, doing a loop up into the woods on the lower slopes of Latrigg Fell. I set myself the same targets as last week; never faster than 10 mins/mile and walk all the hills. This did make my handicap rather difficult to work out, but I slotted in fairly near the front of the field.

It was a beautiful morning and I was just so excited to be in a "race" again. My previous competitive outing was in March and I've been so looking forward to this moment. It was a rather inauspicious start as the runners in front steadily ran into the distance and those behind slowly but surely caught and passed me, but I was loving it!

As we got on to the muddier and rougher ground, I was better able to keep up, though, stopping to keep filming did ruin my chances of a comeback win. Towards the end, I felt like I could have pushed the pace a bit, but forced myself to stick to the plan, using the video camera as an excuse to walk.

I eventually toddled over the line having been passed or outrun by the entire field, bar one, to claim second last place. Never has such a lowly placing felt so good.

In the last week I have been out running four times and each one has felt a bit more comfortable than the previous one and I have suffered less and less from soreness and stiffness in the evening. I feel very close to the point where I might be able to start a more structured training programme but have decided to keep this ad lib training going for the time being. The problem at present is the strain that hills put on the tendon, but even this is getting easier. During the last week of term, I got back into the habit of running from school after work and it felt really good to get back into that routine.

I received a few entries for the photo competition from last week, thank you to those that entered and I hope you enjoyed working out where the shots were taken and how far along the route each site is. Most seemed to comment that Photo 3 was the most difficult to pin-point. For those that had a look, here are the actual answers;
   Photo 1 - Crossroads in path at Arlehaven, just after crossing B821 (4.49 miles)
   Photo 2 - WHW marker post in last field before Drymen checkpoint (11.76 miles)
   Photo 3 - Ruin in Mugdock Woods, just as path swings to the left (1.43 miles)
   Photo 4 - Sharp left turn just before Gartness (9.55 miles)


Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 3
Photo 4


Ian Wallace






Debs M-C


John Kynaston



Congratulations Tim, less than a quarter of a mile out overall. First name in the Hall of Fame!

Monday, 12 December 2011

At last! A run on The Way

In the early stages of my recovery, I set a target to have an outing on the West Highland Way before Christmas. Initially, I hoped to get as far as Balmaha but over the last month I have had a sensible head on and realised that would be a bridge too far for now. Instead, I thought the relatively flat 12 miles from Milngavie to Drymen would be a more realistic target.

I set myself a couple of ground rules before I set off; firstly, I would walk every uphill section regardless of how small and secondly, I would not run quicker than 10 mins/mile at any point. Following these rules would ensure I did not put any strain on the tendon and I could really enjoy just being out there.

It was a fantastic day, with a light dusting of snow but nothing to cause concern or risk slipping. Once settled in to the run I tried to run as smoothly as possible, but I am aware that at times I am perhaps not as balanced as I would normally be, trying to inflict as little pounding on my tendon as possible. It sounds so easy to try and run normally, but as soon as you start thinking about your running gait, it changes. I think running is best left to the sub-conscious.

It is moments like these that remind you why we do this - what a small number of people get to experience what we do - how few people see the vistas we see!

I got to Drymen in about 2:30 hours which was suitably slow but gave the tendon a good controlled workout. More importantly, I felt that buzz again. Getting all the kit together, packing for a weekend away, zooming up to Glasgow on Friday night, it's all part of my running regime and something I've missed.

I was a little sore and stiff in the evening but no more so than if I do a 3 mile run, so I guess things are going in the right direction. I feel a little more confident about the next few months now, so much so that on Sunday I spent a couple of hours with John Kynaston planning our training runs round The Lakeland 100 route. We are aiming to cover the route in 4 stages, each approx. 35 miles, once a month between March and June. This suits us both as we have generally kept to that kind of plan with our individual training over the last few years. I think it's safe to say we are both a little bit excited about this adventure!

As I ran along the WHW on Saturday, taking in the view and snapping away with the camera, I came up with the idea for a little competition. This one is for those of you with a knowledge of the WHW route (or who are especially good with maps/Google Earth). I have taken 4 photos along the route along with an exact distance for each via my GPS watch. I started the watch at the WHW post in the middle of Milngavie and took a split at each photo. What you have to do is estimate the distance travelled to my standing position for each photo from the start (in miles to 2 decimal places). The person with the least cumulative error over the 4 photos wins. The photos are NOT in the correct order!
If you send an entry via the comments box, I will not publish your comments until after the closing date which I'll set at midday on Sunday 19th December.
Hope it gets you thinking and looking at some maps - enjoy!

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3


Photo 4

Also got thinking about some other ideas for competitions, so we will see how those develop in the future.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

First Run

I am still very much in the dark as to how sore I should expect to be at this stage of the recovery. On Wednesday I went for a run/walk (mainly run) along the old railway and found myself chugging along at 8 min/mile pace, which at the time felt great, thinking I'm well on my way now, but later that night I was in quite a lot of pain and hobbling round the house. It feels a different kind of pain to the tendonitis trouble I've suffered with for a number of years, but I'm still not sure if this is what I should expect for the next month or so, or am I doing some damage. Each morning it feels OK, which is again, very different to tendonitis. I'm going to make an appointment to see the physio again next week, mainly for a chat rather than some physical physio.

On a positive note, I had my first full run for 8 months last night. Earlier in the week I fired an email round at work, inviting anyone who would like to join me for my first run. Most of the usual suspects responded, though I did get a few surprise responses along with comments like "this is my only chance to beat you". In the end, the weather was atrocious and only the hardy few toughed it out.

Pre-run photo
We did a nice steady 5.5 miles, working our way past the rugby club and theatre, down to the lake shore, along the shore through the woods, returning through the woods parallel to the Borrowdale Road and back to school. Everyone was chatting away, commenting on how much they were enjoying the get-together, suggesting we could make a regular thing of this - I hope so.

I felt OK as we were jogging along, but I made sure I kept my pace much slower than Wednesday's outing, generally keeping between 10 an 11 min/mile. Didn't feel too sore after and was just happy to get muddy and be with runners again.
Muddy again at last

It was lovely to have such support, but it was also simply one of those occasions where everyone enjoyed having some running company on a horrid night, rounding off the working week with a bit of banter. Who could ask for more?! I suppose there was only one way we could finish the whole occasion; this last photo is of the cool down. We are all stretching and having a few protein recovery drinks!

Cool down
There has been a bit of talk about "The Man Suit" and how you adapt to the toughness of the challenge. The general theory seems to be that when things start to get tough, you zip up your man suit and get on with it. If things get worse, you might also have to roll up the sleeves. I had an email from a friend in Spain (Hi, David) who suggested the next level of hardship would require spitting on your hands. Where do we go from here? In terms of a 100 mile race, the man suit might come into play at the 3-4 hour point which always seems a bad patch, the sleeves are rolled up at the 35 mile point when you realise you need a caffeine blast and you spit on you hands at the halfway point knowing you have to do it all again. How do we cope with the rest of the race?

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Nearly there!

When I saw my physio again on Tuesday this week, I asked her about the stiffness after I do some jog/walk sessions and she said that it was to be expected, nothing to panic about. The general rule of thumb I need to use is if the stiffness/ache is still there 24 hours after a session, I've slightly overdone it and need to ease off a bit. Fortunately, I've had less of a problem this week and each morning no stiffness at all. This is a big change from the last few years and my morning ritual of hobbling for the first half an hour of the day.

So far this week I've done three sessions of about 3.5 miles each, jogging more and more each time. I am now able to actually get some work done in the sessions and today actually labelled the outing as a "steady run" in my training diary rather than a recovery session. I feel confident that I could now run for this length of session so I have set next Friday (2nd Dec) as the great comeback run. After work, starting at 4pm, I'm going to do about 5 miles on trails down to the lake shore. I'm inviting friends from work to join me and then go to the local pup after for a celebratory drink. Everyone has been so supportive over the whole injury/operation/recovery process, that I would like them to be with me at the end of the "recovery" and the start of the "beyond".

As a treat, I've brought myself a new pair of training shoes. I wanted something with supportive but soft uppers, some cushioning, but not too much. For many years I have been a Salomon man; I do most of my training in the Speedcross shoe which offers a good blend of comfort, grip and cushioning. I've probably had 7 or 8 pairs of these over the last few years. I have a relatively new pair of these, brought just before I had to stop running, so they are ready for some hard workouts. Today I brought a pair of The North Face Singletrack shoes. They felt great as soon as I put them on and if they are good enough for Jez Bragg, they will be good enough for me!!

On the topic of shoes, a friend of mine, who was part of my support crew on the 2010 WHW race, has recently purchased a pair of Hoka shoes. He has previously suffered from a stress fracture in his femur and wanted something to give maximum cushioning. He has entered the Highland Fling next year which is sponsored by Hoka and thought he would give them a go. As you can see from the picture below, they are a little radical and you can imagine the hours of fun we have had sending him emails with pictures of Herman Munster attached.
Our recent text conversation went like this;
My friend - Showaddywaddy trail shoes. I was 6 foot 2 and now 6 foot 4! For the ultimate cushioned run.
Me - Remember, at one point in the Fling you have to duck under the A82, you might not make it!
My friend - I'm going to wear an LED light on top of my hat as I believe I might be on the flight path for Glasgow Airport!

Joking aside, I can't wait to have a proper look at them. Five years from now the barefoot/minimalist approach could be passe and we are all running tall, literally!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

More run than walk

As the title suggests, I have managed to do a couple of outings where I have jogged (10-12 min/mile) more than I have walked. The first one was on Thursday night along the old railway. After, I felt a bit sore and stiff in the heel area and was worried I had done too much too soon, though, the following morning, it felt OK. Prior to the operation (and for 5 years before that) I would hobble when I first got up in the morning, so it was nice to not have that feeling despite being sore the night before.

Today I went for a lovely run/walk in Great Wood and down by the lake. I estimate I ran approx. 75% of the time and just walked on the rougher sections. It was one of those mornings that remind you of why we do this sport; incredibly mild, dry and the Lake District looking her best.

Catbells and Derwentwater Lake

Most pleasingly, I don't seem to be suffering with any pain this time. The only things that were different this time are that the trip was made in the morning, not after a full day at work and I wore a different pair of trainers today. The previous trainers have a different style of insole which may be a factor, so I think I'll swop the insoles back to the originals that came in the shoe.

I have done a couple of core stability sessions as well this week; those words are still ringing in my ears - "... more economical runner". However, I had some problems with the plyometrics (skipping). Early in the week I tried the suggested 10x30 secs and was crippled in the evening. Midweek, I dropped down to 5x30 secs and still suffered. I have decided to keep away from these until I see the physio again on Tuesday. What I really need to know is should all ths stuff hurt as it's just the process of strengthening and will ease with time OR am I doing some damage and need to hold back a bit. If it is all to be expected, then fine, I'll just zip up the man suit (maybe even roll up the sleeves) and get on with it, if I need to hold back, that will be a lot harder.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Blair Witch Project

Just a very quick post.

Thought I would see how the mini camera copes in very low light and darkness, so took it with me on a 4 mile walk/jog. With very little light it obviously struggles to get any quality, but it does give a flavour of the route. The view over the fells was stunning tonight and I'm glad some of it was picked up on the video.

Don't imagine I'll be doing much night videoing anyway; just wanted to do a bit of a test. Without the music, the video is very "Blair Witch Project" so I thought I needed to put an upbeat sound track over the top to stop anyone having nightmares!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Race plans for 2012

Seems a bit strange to be doing this post now. Last night I managed a 3 mile session, walking 2 minutes, jogging 2 minutes, repeat, along the old railway. My legs feel a bit heavy today, but this has to be expected as I have not done any running for SEVEN MONTHS. I did feel that I could have run longer, however, I don't want to overcook things yet.

In order to celebrate running for 2 minutes, I thought I'd commit to my racing plan for 2012. All this is obviously dependent on my tendon, but I'm being positive and looking forward to next year.

Those that follow John Kynaston's blog, will already have a heads-up on my number one target for next year. Even before my injury problems, I had decided that in 2012 I would do the Lakeland 100, rather than attempt a quicker time on The West Highland Way Race. I know I will return to the WHW race at some time as the race and everyone involved make it such a special occasion. Getting under 20 hours for the WHW race is still an aim I have tucked away after running 20 hours and 21 minutes in 2010. I want, however, to have a good crack at my "local" race so this will be my focus for next year, having the added bonus of being in my summer holidays so I can rest up properly beforehand.

John is also doing this race and we intend to do some significant training/recces together over the first half of the year. I might be able to run with him but I certainly can not keep up with his blog reports!

By missing the WHW race, it frees me up to have a "proper" go at running the Highland Fling at the end of April. If you have read my thoughts on training for the WHW Race you will know that I consider the Fling too close to the big race to give it my all as I know I do not have enough time to recover and train again between the two races. My two times for the Fling are around 10 hours, so an obvious target is to get that time lowered down to something like 9:30.

At some point in May or June I would like to go off the grid and spend a weekend doing the Bob Graham Round mountain marathon style over two days with a wild camp overnight. I completed the round proper in 2007 but have a hankering to do a more "pure" round without support, whether that be solo unsupported, unsupported but with a friend or two, mountain marathon style or even a winter attempt. The start is about 500 yards from my house so I can just wait for a nice weekend and go for it. Lucky git!!

Three weeks before the Lakeland 100 is Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon which is a great two day event. The elite class (called Klets) is a solo category and offers a great deal of route choice as the controls can be taken in any order. I think a personal best may be just out of reach as I hit my zenith in 2009 when coming 2nd in the event based at Coniston. I think that weekend will lead me straight into my taper for the Lakeland 100 so, although I'll give it a good shot, I will keep those following three weeks in mind. The Lakeland 100 is the priority.

I'll give myself lots of recovery time after the Lakeland 100; I think it took me two months to recover from the WHW Race! The latter part of the year will be the build up to the Original Mountain Marathon which is the biggest and most prestigious of them all. My racing partner (Simon) and I came 9th on the Elite class in 2010 on Dartmoor, so another top 10 finish is the aim.

The dress rehearsal race for the OMM will be the RAB Mountain Marathon at the start of October which is a superb event with a lovely laid back feel to it. If you are wanting to have a go at your first mountain marathon I can fully recommend it and it has that extra navigational twist, in that all classes are done as a score event (collect as many points as possible in a time limit, rather that the traditional fastest round a set course). Again, Simon and I have been the bridesmaids at this event in 2008, finishing 2nd when it was held on the Back o'Skiddaw area to the north of Keswick.

Depending on how I feel after that year, I may have a run out at the Tour de Helvellyn which takes place in the middle of December; if so, it would be as a means of kick starting the winters training for 2013. I will leave that decision to much later in the year.

As I type this, I'm smiling to myself. Last night I ran for two minutes at a time and here I sit detailing racing plans for seven events with a total running time of about 105 hours, or 15 hours per event! You've got to love the capacity of the human brain to ignore the reality and focus on the fantasy!!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A good time to be snotty

For once, the winter's cold has come at the perfect time. As anyone who works in a school knows; if it's going around, you're going to get it! I usually get a cold at some point over the winter and it often arrives when I'm in full training, just got the whole rhythm sorted, weekends away planned, etc, and everything gets kiboshed as I wollow in the self pity of man-flu. This year, I seem to have done my stint early (over the last week) and will hopefully build up some immunity for the rest of the winter. I actually lost my voice completely on Thursday and Friday last week, which makes being a PE teacher a bit difficult, but we somehow got through despite my voice tone wavering like a pubescent 14 year old.

Things are moving forward again on the training front. Despite having no voice, I didn't feel particularly ill, so on Friday last week I made my most significant foray on the trails post op. Doesn't sound much, but I did 3 miles in the woods below Latrigg fell, walking for 4 minutes, jogging for 1 minute. I had running kit on and used my headtorch for the first time this winter and I can't begin to tell you how good it felt to be out there doing it again. My favorite running is at night, off-road with a headtorch. I love just being out there, total solitude, just the cone of light and the sound of my breathing and footfalls - it's about as close to a Zen thing as I get anyway. During the winter, all my mid-week training is done like this. I walk to work with my kit in a small rucksack, get changes into running kit after work, jog the mile home as a warm-up, dump the rucksack in the hallway, turn straight round without thinking about the sofa and do the training session. (Always off-road, always in the dark)

I saw the physio again this morning. She suggested that I am now at the stage where only I can tell what I should and should't be doing. Don't know whether that is a good or bad thing!? So far I have been told what to do by the experts and now she is expecting me to make rational decisions. Is she mad? Anyway, I thought I would try 3 sessions over the next week where I cover about 3 miles doing 2 mins walk, 2 mins run and see how that feels. The physio said that sounds about right but I must mix that up with some simple plyometrics (that's skipping to you) to increase the power of the calf muscle.

It has been interesting how more and more of each physio session has been about core stability. She got me to do a series of exercises whilst I held my pelvis so I could feel how much it moved about. I thought I had quite good core stability, but this illustrated some deep failings. My abdominal muscles are fine, it's what lies beneath that needs sorting. It's not called CORE stability for nothing!! I had the typical runners attitude, it was all a bit blah blah blah to me, then she said "This will make you a much more economical runner". At this point, I sat up and started listening. I'm really going to try and incorporate this into my training, even once I'm running again.

My next target has to be a proper run, something in the region of 3 miles, without any walking. Once I can do that, I think I will feel that I am then in a position of training rather than recovering. Looking at the blog title; I'll be going into the "beyond" bit! I think I'm looking at round about two weeks from now to try that, but again, there is no need to rush things.

Finally, I have been thinking about next year a lot and have decided the major races I will target. (Even entered some of them) I will reveal all in the next post.