Saturday, 22 February 2014

Highland Fling Training Weekend

Although I was very much looking forward to this weekend, as has become depressingly regular, I ended up with my work taking me to more or less exactly the wrong place for convenient travel to Tyndrum.
With apocalyptic storms forecast for Wednesday I found myself on a Virgin Train from Carlisle to London, as it turned out, this was the last train to get through before the entire West Coast mainline was shutdown. What should have been a 3 hour journey, took 7 hours including 90 minutes stationary in the pitch dark, inevitable I suppose when they turn off the power and your on an electric train. The train crew were brilliant, but what should have been an easy journey, meant I rolled into my hotel after 9pm and what had been a slight back niggle was now full on back ache and to add insult to injured pride, no executive upgrade at the Holiday Inn.
I was in London to chair my last luncheon meeting of the wonderfully named London Softwood Club, and I suspect the 5 hours I subsequently spent standing knocking back pints of London Pride didn't help my at back all.
A mere 4 hour 30 minute journey back to Carlisle and then driving to Larbert, helped neither my back or my tiredness. A couple of hours in the office and then a mere 2 hour drive to The By The Way hostel, through driving snow, meant I was pretty washed out on arrival, not even the magnificent fish and chips at the Real Food Cafe, could revive me, and I'm sure my chat in the pub, nursing my single pint of Guinness (thanks Johnny Fling), reflected this.
I sneaked off early hoping that a good nights sleep would revive me; sort out my back and boost my enthusiasm for the planned 30 mile run.

It didn't, its depressing sitting on your bed in so much pain you cant get your socks and pants on, but I eventually got dressed, fed and was on parade at 9am. The main group were planning to drive South to Beinglass Farm and then run out and back to Rowardenan. Having run a big chunk of that route two weekends ago at the Balmaha training weekend, i wasn't keen to cover the same ground.
In truth, I was also concerned that my sore back would curtail my run and I'd either be hanging around waiting for a lift or letting others down by having to drive away and leave them. So I opted to join a group of around 10 who were running North, out and back on the WHW.
We did seem to hang around for ages outside before actually heading off and I was getting pretty chilled. We ran as a group to Brodie's Store but still not having generated any heat I opted to put my head down and run to the top of the glen to get warm, I wasn't being anti-social and since all my Mabie runs involve at least a 1 mile uphill it was similar to my normal trail training runs.
The underfoot conditions for this first 2 miles uphill were truly horrible, 2 to 4 inches of slushy wet snow mixed with puddles meant that by the time I crossed the railway line, my feet were both soaked and cold, not ideal with another 3 - 4 hours in prospect. The snowy descent under the railway line was a particular delight. The slight drop in altitude did however mean that the track was clear of snow and I decided to push on in the hope that my feet would warm up slightly, which they did albeit at the cost of getting so far ahead of the rest of the group, that I now knew this was going to be a solo effort.
This was the first time I'd run this section since the WHW race last June, when the insoles in my Salomon Speedcross 3s has decided to disintegrate just before Bridge of Orchy, so not a section resplendent with happy memories.
Although I'm a fan of the Speedcross 3, I've been having persistent problems with them recently when running downhill when its wet, the insoles slip forward and bunch up giving real blister potential. Combined with the fact that I've worn all the grip of the soles, I'd opted to bring my Inov8 roclites out of retirement, a position they will be rapidly re-assuming. I'd also had to stop to put on my waterproof trousers as the combination of cold wet feet and an icy headwind, were not putting me in a happy place. I was however happy with my pace overall. I headed up Murdo's Mount scaring a herd of deer off the path in front of me. Once above the tree line, the snow made a reappearance, making any kind of running all but impossible and with some sections calf deep over the summit I'd made my mind up that I was going to run back on the road as walking through snow is of zero training benefit to me.

It was here that my Boy Scout training kicked in, if I run back by a different route, the group following won't see me, they might assume I'm lost or injured or dying in a ditch somewhere and send out Mountain Rescue; Police; helicopters the A-Team etc. I didn't have anyones mobile number with me, so I opted to write a message in the snow in 2 foot high letters telling them I was running back on the road, I forgot to ask subsequently if anyone even noticed it, probably not.
Just past the Inveroran Hotel I startled a sodding great Stag, grazing in a garden, probably a brown trouser moment for both of us. I'd settled on 11 miles out and back and I'll admit to being thankful when my Garmin beeped just before the snow line on the road over Rannoch Moor.
As I ran back past the Inveroran Hotel, the main group appeared with Kirsty, John, Amanda closely followed by Bill and Mike and Carol, a quick hello and we were off on our respective ways, with Kirsty telling me to look out for her friend Bridget who was running back to Dalmally by the road.
I stopped briefly and sat on the bridge parapet to take off my waterproof trousers as the sun had made a fleeting appearance and to throw down a rice pudding and switch to thinner gloves and then headed off down the road, the lack of cushioning on the inov8s making its presence felt!.
I caught up with Bridget just before BoO, unfortunately before I had a chance to shout hello and warn her, I must have loomed into her peripheral vision and gave her a bit of a scare, sorry Bridget.
With the added benefit of a tailwind, I covered the section between BoO and the railway bridge satisfactorily, and managed to run most of the uphills. Crossing under the railway, the climb up on the path through the snow was difficult. To use Amanda Hamilton's phrase 'it was here that I suffered a proper sense of humour failure". Whilst there is an obvious benefit in winter training, slipping and sliding through slushy melting snow, unable to see whether your foot is landing on path; puddle; stream or pot hole and risking injury isn't sensible, still nobody made me do the run!

If anything the underfoot conditions were even worse now, a mile and a half through snow, puddles and slush chilling the feet again, the only upside being bumping into the infamous Colin Knox to give me some company for the run in.
Back to the hostel with 22 miles clocked at 10:30 average pace and no issues with my back, not as far as I'd ideally have wanted to run, but more than I thought I'd make at the outset and the added advantage of no queue for the showers and Lorna McMillan with a cup of John D's home made soup to warm me up.
By the time the light faded all the runners had made it back, and social glow was the order of the day. Marcus Scotney gave a very interesting talk on structured training and the risks and symptoms of over training, all followed by a fantastic meal.
There was a real buzz about the room after the meal, with a great mix of old hands; Fling virgins and elite athletes all chatting happily away, sharing experiences.
My sensible head, sent me to bed around 11pm, sadly not early enough to stop my love of red wine demonstrating itself.
I had a great nights sleep, but really didn't feel up to a recovery run on the Sunday, so opted to pack up and head home sharpish.
Having had 48 hours to reflect on Marcus's words of wisdom, I think I have probably fallen into the over training trap.
I ran the Marcothon in December and then put in 216 miles in January, with back to backs runs most weekends and running Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights too. That's even more than I put in last year when training for the full WHW race. I was taken back a bit by Marcus's figures that 50% of your runs should be at recovery pace. I'm really guilty of making every run a hard session, so I think I do need to ease back somewhat, especially as I've got quite a full fixture list of marathons and ultras this year.
On the plus side the sore back didn't manifest itself too much on the run, but as I type this on yet another train journey to London it's making its presence known.

I'm also playing my train game again (see blog post from 4th December 2013). The couple opposite me got on in the Lake District, she with a pile of Country Life magazines and a Penelope Keith accent, and he with a checked shirt and brown brogues, a beard you could hide a ferret in and a tablet that he has no idea how to use. She has spent the last hour musing about crossing a springer spaniel and a labrador, which gives you a Springador apparently if you're interested and he's farted around with a white bread Virgin Trains ham sandwich, probably the first white bread sandwich he's ever seen. She wolfed hers down, except the crusts, whilst making little mewing noises with every bite, definitely not lottery winners, you can spot old money and class a mile away can't you?


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