Sunday, 19 February 2012

West Highland Way training run

This has been a really important week for me. Those that have viewed the video in my previous post will understand why, but it goes deeper than just being able to call myself an ultra distance runner again.

On Monday, Tracey and I travelled up to Arrochar at the tip of Loch Long where we had booked 5 days in a self catering apartment. It turned out to be a superb little base, immaculately presented with every mod-con you could need and we had a lovely week. (Check it out here)

For me personally, Tuesday was the big day. I decided that I would run from Balmaha to Tyndrum, along the West Highland Way. This particular run was my first experience of the WHW back in 2009 when I ran with a friend who was training for the WHW race. Back then, I had such a fantastic day out that I entered the Highland Fling Race as soon as I got back and have been concentrating on ultra running since. I have done this route for the previous 3 years during the February half term holiday, getting a little faster and more confident each time, though last year I knocked something like 35 minutes off my previous year's time.

1st training run on WHW - Feb 2009

This year, I didn't really know what to expect. Most parameters seemed to be against me; double the longest run since the operation, 7 month lay-off during the injury, normally done 2 1/2 months training at this point (only 1 1/2 this time), blah, blah, blah. On the plus side, I was just so excited to be out there again, I thought that might help me through.

I set off from Balmaha feeling so much better than I had just before Christmas when I dragged my self to Rowardennan kicking and screaming. I knew straight away that this was going to be a much nicer experience. I took lots of video clips along the way as I have done on many of my outings, including some where I place the camera on the trail side and run past so I get some footage of myself running. Not only does this look good on the video but it also gives me some insight into how I am running mechanically; something I think more runners should try and do.

I knew I was making good time, though it wasn't until I reached my first marker after 35 minutes or so, that I realised just how fast I was going. Not long after this, I met John and Katrina Kynaston as they drove past on the way to Rowardennan to walk up Ben Lomond. We had a short chat about our future training plans for the Lakeland 100 and our first outing together in a couple of weeks time. As ever, John was straight out with the camera and kindly sent me a copy of the photograph.

I carried on, still with a lovely bounce in my step, reaching Rowardennan in around 1:18 hours, 12 minutes quicker than in December. From that point I knew one of two things would happen. Either I would have a storming day out and finish in a better than expected time or the wheels would fall off and I would have to dig deep to get to Tyndrum, leaving Tracey to pick up the pieces.

There is a long climb out of Rowardennan, so I used this time to walk a little. I tried to visualise where I would attempt to run or walk during the Fling race in April, trying to break the long climb into smaller sections which make the whole thing easier to cope with, both physically and psychologically. Once I reached the single track section, I let things fly a little. This is a really nice trail with lots of short ups and downs, requiring smooth running and quick transitions from a walk to a run; really interesting stuff. I reached Inversnaid in just over 2:30 hours.

The next 3 miles are the "Marmite" section of the WHW, you either love it or hate it! Fortunately, I love it. It is really technical with lots of rocks, short climbs, longer climbs, tree roots and just about anything else that could throw you off your stride. I find the key is not to fight the trail but relax and be smooth - easier said than done. Not long after, you pass Dario's post and have to take in the view - it's the law!!!

View from Dario's Post
It is always a relief when you reach Beinglas Farm and can put the loch behind you. I still felt pretty good at this point, well as good as you can be after running for 4 hours, though I did begin to think that I might be able to hold this pace together to the finish. The next few miles do allow you to get more of a rhythm and the miles seem to go that little bit quicker.

The most important point of the whole day came after crossing the main road and railway, just before Cow-poo corner. I kept a close eye on the GPS and stopped when the distance ticked over to 26.3 miles which officially made me an ultra distance runner again. Yippeee!!

From this point on, I suddenly became interested in what time I could do for the whole route. My quick calculations suggested I could better last year's time which would be some kind of small miracle and a huge confidence boost. So I set about being smooth and running as much as I could, picturing how I would do this in the Fling. It was pleasing how I was able to respond despite the growing tightness in my calfs and I simply ground out a steady pace through the rollercoaster woods and on to Tyndrum.

I finished in 6:08 hours for the 33.5 miles and, to be honest wasn't in too bad a shape, certainly good enough for a quick change and drive back to Arrochar.

My confidence has taken a wonderful boost from this and, in many ways, it has taken some pressure off as I know I am getting back to my pre-operation levels of fitness. What I am still doing well is to listen to my body. I have done things very easy since the long run, despite the programme asking for more, I have missed some sessions to allow myself to recover properly and am going to have another easy week next week. That is perhaps the next target; to be able to complete the mega long runs and then recover more quickly to resume normal training. We'll see how I cope after the first Lakeland 100 training route in a couple of weeks time.

A happy boy, signing off!


Ali said...

Good running, Dave. Maybe you should have an operation and seven months off running every year.

John Kynaston said...

It was great to chat briefly on Tuesday.

I'm really looking forward to our first recce run in a couple of weeks!