Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Running Backwards

I had the sudden thought that I set up this blog to record my training and progress towards an attempt at the West Highland Way race in 2012 and so far I've pretty much steered clear of the whole topic of training.
Magical Misty Mabie
I'd love to set out a detailed 4 weekly cycle, with each week containing 5 or 6 sessions, but the nature of my job means there is seldom such a thing as a typical week. So what is this job that keeps me from my running? fighter pilot; international jet setter, long distance lorry driver? No...... I sell wood for a Scottish sawmill business. I live in Dumfries, am officially based in Lockerbie, usually spend 1 or 2 days a week in central Scotland and my sales patch covers Inverness to Dover to Cornwall and I rack up between 30 -35,000 miles per year, so work constantly interferes with the more serious business of running.
As an aside when I took up running I also held a private pilots licence and was seriously into camping and outdoors stuff and spent a lot of time away from home, so much so that one of my friends became totally convinced I was a secret agent, much more exciting than selling wood but sadly untrue.

Anyway back to the training, the backbone of my regime is the Saturday long run and this week was no exception, a bright but chilly 8am saw Caroline, Andy, Ian G and yours truly setting off on the mountain bike trails of Mabie Forest near Dumfries. Like most distance runners our warm up consisted of ...... well sod all really. Basically its jump out the car and start running, its far too cold to stand still.

Ready for the off

It really is this nice
Our regular route is a 12 mile loop mostly following the Red Mountain bike route round the south of the forest and starts with a 1 mile steady climb from the Bike Shed, co-incidentally this is the first mile of the Mabie Trail Race route. I'd woken early on Saturday and had a brian wave that we should run our regular route, but backwards, not actually backwards but you know what I mean. No-one objected, and I suspect that the thought of not running the first mile uphill won out. What I'd failed to consider is that the last 2 miles of our normal loop is pretty much downhill from the highest point of the forest all the way to the Bike Shed and that reversing this meant substituting a 1 mile climb for a two mile climb! Bizarely though it felt like we were running a completely untried trail, albeit challenging on the legs.
Mile 3 - downhill for a change
Andy climbing Descender Bender
As we set off Caroline announced that she had seen snow on top of nearby Criffel Hill and much amusement was had as we totally failed to convince her that what she had realy seen was cloud shrouding the summit. Mile 9 on our normal run is a long uphill on a fire road with a horrid sharp switchback climb at the end, running backwards this transformed into a very enjoyable downhill with a couple of 1/2 mile loops as the sun started to ooze over the skyline and actually deliver some watery warmth. Sadly this pleasant downhill section was soon over and the looming grey sweeps of "Descender Bender" beckoned. The advantage of running on MTB trails is that the bikey fraternity have a great propensity for naming almost anything other than the flat bits with dramatic names like "The Scorpion", "The Slab","The Elevator", even if they do sound like B list horror films. Descender bender is great fun to run down, its a series of sweeping embanked curves running from the highest point in Mabie dropping about 400ft in 1 mile, or backwards its a b*ll breaking slog.


After this bit my detailed memory gets a bit hazy, being male I'm genetically incapable of multi tasking, so trying to navigate the route backwards, remembering to take photos (involving periodic sprints ahead of the group in a futile atempt to get dramatic "running towards the camera shots"), ensuring I didn't fall over on what can be tricky technical trails, remembering to hydrate and joining in our ongoing babbling, rambling running conversations (chafing and racing always feature highly), I pretty much don't remember much of miles 5 through 12.


Our average pace for the 12 mile loop is pretty consistent around the 9:45 mark, backwards it was 10:30, and the slog up the fire road second time really was a slog. With another 4 miles to run I crammed in a gel and took a good dose of isotonic, before we tackled "The Ridge", our name for this section not the bikeys. Not sure if it was physcological or if I'm getting fitter, but after the gel I felt really strong, we usually pretty much always run together, but today I decided to push on a bit and try to improve my average pace. Mile 13 9:08; mile 14 8:42; mile 15 7:31 and mile 16 6:37, not a bad last mile even if it is all downhill.
16 trail miles, 2100 of ascent & descent, average pace 9:39, total time 2 hours 34 minutes, feet wet but otherwise unscathed.
Working on the incentive and reward theory it was back to the Bike Shed for a nice hot cuppa and a slice of Malteser cake which I reckon contained about half your normal daily calorific requirements in a single slice, very yummy and well worth the effort.

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