Kinnoull, What Happened There?

I’m now well into the first week of my taper. I had Monday off, went for a lovely mountain bike ride into Tentsmuir Forest on Tuesday, had a short, sharp training run on Wednesday, then yesterday went over to the outskirts of Perth to do the Kinnoull Hill Race. The race is a 4-mile dash around Kinnoull Hill, a fine wooded hill, with a folly, Kinnoull Tower near the summit, only about 1 mile east of Perth’s centre.

I had a little trouble finding both the registration and somewhere to park, so, for the second time within the last week, I arrived very much ‘warmed up’ to a race start.

I was very aware of the ‘weight’ of the recent miles in my legs throughout the race: I didn’t even make the overly eager, too-fast-paced start I do for a lot of races. I was wary that, once we’d got to the summit, only about ¼ of the way in, there would be lots more big climbs, but actually it just rolled after that until the dive down towards the road near the end.

There is a very well marked ‘bear left’ near the end, which I managed to miss anyway, thanks to running in convoy with other competitors. One minute I was charging past pieces of red and white marker tae every few meters, the next I was wondering why there was a fence to climb over of the race route, and suddenly realised there was no tape! There was, at least, still a path on the other side of the fence, so we charged onwards, ending up on a road that took us to the A85 (which we shouldn’t have been on), then going up a side road to the finish line from the wrong direction.

The people taking down the times were a little perplexed, and the couple of women in our breakaway were annoyed because they had been in 3rd and 4th positions. I had no real ambitions for any glory, just a desire to give my legs a hard, but short, workout, so I didn’t mind too much. Looking at the route we took on my Garmin Connect page, I would say we must have run a little further, which must be all the more displeasing for those who missed out on a prize.

It’s not the first time I’ve got lost in a race, although I could definitely blame the marshals the last time. That one knocked me down to 3rd, only losing one place because the other ‘lost’ runner and I were so far ahead of the field (which is why we caught the marshals out). Lesson: always look for the course markers, not just the runners in front.

I finished ahead of my Friend, Dave Turner: I would normally expect to beat him by a narrow margin, but still beating him despite the detour, and with seriously sore thighs from my recent exertions, was a good indicator of my current fitness. I hope that bodes well for Kent.

I’m off walking in the Cairngorms with my girlfriend, Jan, over the weekend, which should give my legs a gentle workout, in keeping with the taper.

Please don’t forget why I’m blogging:


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The Hump Part II

Ah-ha! The hump is done.

Today I cycled the Etape Caledonia; quite an undertaking! I completed it in 5:25:09, coming 3255 out of 4229 finishers. The winner managed an astonishing 3:26:01 – I find it hard to believe that someone can average over 50% faster than me, as I felt like I was ‘shifting’, so my deep respect goes to those who can. Considering I’m not a ‘proper’ cyclist, I was riding a bike with hub gears, mudguards and a pannier rack, and after the grief I’ve given my legs in the last week or so, I’m pretty pleased.

A Singular Peregrine frame with Shimano Alfine 11-speed hub gears and TRP Spyre disc brakes, spray painted alloy mudgurards and a Dutch retro chrome pannier rack.

My Bike – A Singular Peregrine frame with Shimano Alfine 11-speed hub gears and TRP Spyre disc brakes, spray painted alloy mudguards and a Dutch retro chrome pannier rack.

Now, at last, I can taper.

Please don’t forget why I’m blogging:

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The Hump Part I

I’m just about the start my taper: wahay! Standard practice for marathon prep is a 3-week ‘taper’; ie keep up the running, but nothing overly long or arduous. Training conditions the body and legs, but also tires them, so doing anything too tough in the ‘run up’ to a race will do more harm than good.

‘Part I’ for me, today was the Loch Leven Half Marathon. We had good conditions – not too hot, dry when I was running anyway (not sure about later), and light winds. Despite my heavy previous week, I managed 1:31:22 ‘chip time’ and came 59th out of 532 finishers. I hope this means my legs and body are well conditioned for 3 weeks’ time.

Now I’ve off to bed so I can get up at 4:00 for Part II, the Etape Caledonia.

Please don’t forget why I’m blogging:

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Nearly Over the Hump

The training plan seems to be going well, and I’m starting my taper soon, hence the title of this blog. I say, ‘seems’ because it’s too early to know if it actually has: the 31st of May will show me for sure.

I ran my last big run on Wednesday, out from my house to Kilconquhar and back, running just shy of a marathon and climbing 490 metres! A real milestone for me was getting the run in a little under 4 hours. Because motivation to keep a good pace in a ‘practise’ marathon is lacking compared to a race one, practise times tend to be relatively slow, so I was chuffed to break the 4 hour barrier. Looking back at the previous long (c35k) training run I did in the middle of April, I saw that not only did I run a further 6 km on Wednesday, but my pace was better by about 20 seconds per kilometre.

Wednesday’s big run was nearly all on roads, but they were fairly quiet and Fife is very scenic. The run out was great because I could see the sea from not much over half-way, which approximately coincides with the high point; then the run back is equally attractive because the hills of northern Fife burst into view on the high point.

I used the private roads and tracks of the Balcarres Estate in both directions, which added some variety to the run: It looks like an area that is worth further exploration. I also used the Kinneuchar Inn in Kilconquhar as my half-way rest stop, which was enjoyable thanks to the very friendly landlord, Tom: I’d like to cycle over there one evening for a meal.

For my pre-taper finale weekend, I will run the Loch Leven Half Marathon on Saturday and cycle the Etape Caledonia on Sunday: I’ll definitely need a taper after that.

Please don’t forget why I’m blogging:

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3rd Time Lucky

Saturday, 3rd May saw me back at the Stuc a’Chroin 5000 Hill Race, having had a rather interesting experience of the race in 2013. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that, in 2013, I abandoned my race and helped a distressed, hypothermic runner off the hill. You can read about it here. That was actually my second unsuccessful attempt at Stuc a’chroin: in 1996 I walked up its neighbouring Munro, Ben Vorlich, in near white-out, and discovered I had left my compass at home, and so took the wise decision to go back down the way I came up, rather than carry on to the Stuc!

Conditions for this year’s race were, once again, not typical of the very good conditions it often has. The summit temperature forecasts were similar to 2013; 3 degrees Celsius. However, there the similarity ended, as the winds were rather light and, although it was rather murky high up, it wasn’t raining.

The route is more or less an out and back from Strathyre, climbing up through forest on rather runnable tracks for a few miles, crossing over a very boggy ridge, making a steep descent into Glen Ample, then an even steeper, and longer, ascent out of the glen to the Corbett summit of Beinn Each. It is then ‘simply’ a matter of following the path over to the summit of Stuc a’Chroin, before turning around to follow the same path back towards Beinn Each, to join a path that missus its summit and makes a traversing descent into Glen Ample, where the outward route is rejoined back to the start/finish.

I certainly felt faster than last year, as much a anything because I wasn’t wearing tights! I felt the lack of hill running over the winter and spring in my legs on the climbs, but really enjoyed the descents: my core strength is improving and I was wearing very grippy Inov8 Mudclaw shoes, both of which made the ‘technical’ downhills feel doable at speed!

The last few fast miles through the forest were a real test: I was nearly caught by Colin Wilson, from my club, the Lomond Hill Runners, which made me really push right up to the line.

The sun was out when I finished. I lay on the grass, panting and grateful that it was over. At last, I’ve summited Stuc a’Chroin!

Please don’t forget why I’m blogging:

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Since I missed my marathon time target in London 2012, this blog has morphed into a general blog about my ‘doings’. It took a lot of energy to both train and keep people informed (and I hope interested) of my progress up to VLM 2012. I had various plans to make another concerted effort to target a new event and make another big fundraising push, but personal circumstances (marriage break-up, re-establishing my life in Scotland), together with minor health issues (just ‘under the weather’, but enough to stop me training like I wanted to), conspired against them.

I’ve re-targeted my running efforts to the Kent Roadrunner Marathon for 31st May. I know I’ve mentioned this in a couple of previous posts, and said I would re-launch the fundraising, but whilst the effort has gone into the training, I’ve neglected the fundraising: no more.

Whilst I will write big blogs when there’s something big to write about and I’ve the time to do it, I will mostly post ‘little and often’, ‘just keeping my supporters up to date’ blogs, as I did before VLM 2012.

Here’s a quick précis of what I’ve been up to to train since I entered the KRR in January:
Various big mountain walking days;
The Carnethy 5 Hill Race (that’s 5 summits, actually about 6 miles)
The 55 mile Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra (that might be worth a post);
The Clachnaben Hill Race (8.5 miles);
The Angus HaM Half Marathon (might also be worth a post)
A training weekend in Glencoe with the Lomond Hill Runners.

I have been doing quite a bit of short, sharp running in-between, although I think my basic pace is sufficient for my desired time, I just need the wheels to stay on past about 18 miles on the day!

This Saturday should see me running the Stuc a’Chroin Hill Race (13.5 miles, 5000 ft ascent), and on the following one I will run the Loch Leven Half Marathon on Saturday and the Etape Caledonia (cycling sportive) on Sunday. This will leave me with a 3 week taper, during which I will do some hill walking over the weekends and continued short, sharp stuff in-between.

I will keep you posted on my progress. Please support me.

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I’m Spreading Myself Too Thin

I’m now 1 month away from my new ‘3:15’ target marathon, the Kent Roadrunner. I’m not sure where all the time goes, but I will post here to promote my fund raising for Excellent, Pioneers of Sand Dams, in the next day or so.

In the meanwhile, as if to illustrate my point about spreading myself too thin, here’s a report I wrote on walkhighlands, dated 4th April. Yes, you guessed, I still haven’t produced Part 2.

Time Out – Part 1
I’m taking a little time out at the moment. This gives me the opportunity to make impromptu hill trips during the week, which is nice, but can be a little inefficient as far as ‘miles and time driving’ versus ‘time on the hills’ goes. This trip entailed about 360 miles of driving, with a good 7 hours of driving time. The forecast was looking like there would be just one decent night and following day, before it got overly windy for anything ambitious. Even if I’m only planning 1 day’s walking, an overnight in the hills turns that into ‘one day plus a half day’ in my mind, so I will immediately cast my net wider if I can get an ‘overnight’ on.
The good evening forecast got me thinking about the Alpkit tarp that I bought last year and hadn’t used yet. There is an old, roofless shooting shelter on the plateau, east of meal Gorm’s summit in the Fannaichs: prime candidate to be ‘roofed’ and made cosy with a tarp. I’d also read David Lintern’s thoughts on winter camping, specifically the use of synthetic over down sleeping bags. My new summer weight Haflofs sleeping bag would be used over my trusty 300g Rab zipless down bag: with reasonable weather and a tarp over my head to keep the dew off, I wouldn’t even need a bivvy bag. Fool proof.Thus my ‘Fannaichs Bivvy’ plan was born.

I parked up at the bridge over the Abhainn an Torrain Duibh, near Loch Glascarnoch, at about 16:30, rather later than expected. I’m always parking up ‘rather later than expected’ when I set out on a walk, which begs the question, why was it ‘Rather later than I expected’. It just was, OK? I’m a badly organised optimist.

The lower reaches of the river are a little dreary, as was the weather, but I was excited by what lay ahead. The sun started to show itself , giving me more confidence in the ‘clear overnight’ forecast.

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The sun peeks through the dull sky over the Fannaichs

After I’d been going an hour, a horrible thought struck me: I hadn’t packed a sleeping mat. Oh dear. The super-duper modular sleeping bag arrangement wouldn’t be that good. I anticipated an uncomfortable night. I worked out a damage limitation plan as I walked: I would sleep on the tarp on grass or heather (using the limited insulation that provides), which I hoped would make for a bearable night. I doubted I could use the tarp for overhead shelter as well. but, hey, who wants their view of the stars blocked?

As I followed the valley up into the massif, I had a problem that is becoming too familiar to walkers now. I followed a tributary upstream and picked up a vehicle track that came from the junction of the Abhainn an Torrain Duibh and the Allt an Loch Sgeirich, which was ‘going my way’. I followed it until looked like it was heading off up the hillside to the north of the main valley, to some prime shooting spot, I assumed. I struck off towards Loch Li, making slightly laborious progress. It was annoying to later find I met the same track near the outflow of the loch; I could have just followed it. It wasn’t on my map, and neither is it on the latest OS maps on their website, so I had no way of knowing where it went. In an ideal world, these tracks wouldn’t be proliferating on our hills, spoiling the wild atmosphere, but if I am gong to come across them, I would at least like to be able to use them to ease my passage through the landscape, confident that they’re ‘going my way’. Still, it’s sad that many landowners are bulldozing tracks on the hills at will (they seldom seek planning permission), just so they can take ‘golf-cart’ shooters into the hills: heaven forbid that they get some exercise whilst out shooting.

I could see up the slopes towards my goal, now. However, as I wasn’t going to be able to use the tarp as a cabin roof and a ground sheet, getting all the way to shelter that evening seemed unnecessary, especially given the rapidly failing light (did I mention I’d set off a bit later than expected?) I looked for a likely spot on the slopes above the loch. There were no non-lumpy bits of ground to be seen, but I was moving into the snow line, so perhaps a patch of snow might be more comfortable, if rather chilly.

I found a level patch and laid my tarp, doubled over, on it, being careful not to stand on that area first, so as to keep the fairly thawy snow as even as possible. I set my Trek Mates Flameless cooker off reconstituting my Gallo cheese risotto (a good value alternative to ‘specialist’ dehydrated meals, to be found in the ‘rice’ section of may supermarkets), and enjoyed the sounds of it steaming away whilst I laid out my bags and sorted everything else out. My patch felt lumpy, and as cold as you would expect, but I’ve had uncomfortable nights out in the hills before.

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Looking North across Loch Li from My Bivvy Site

The weather was still rather dull, which worried me. I listened to a podcast (the joys of modern technology), whilst snuggled down, trying to stay warm, in my sleeping bags. I got to the point where I was too sleepy to follow the glorious witterings of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s 5Live film review show, which I considered a good sign, and turned them off to settle down to my sleep. I slept fitfully, but as I said, it’s not something I’d not experienced before.

What was that sound? Rain. Sh*t. I looked at my watch: it was 03:00. It wasn’t that heavy, and I knew the bag would hold it off for a while, so I decided to wait it out, see if it was just a passing shower. Well, it was just passing, but its passage took half an hour, which is too long to lie out with no waterproof cover, so I methodically packed my stuff, ignoring the slightly damp bits of my body that had had water leaking through onto them, mostly from what was gathering on the tarp.

I headed up, aiming for the shelter, a good place for a spot of breakfast. I was setting off on my day’s walk at 03:55: not a bad achievement for a late riser like me. The sky was already looking rather promising, with the rain well passed and stars and the waning moon out. I took my time climbing up to stop me overheating from the Aldi ‘pretend Primaloft’ coat (really great and it only cost £10, half the extravagant £20 RRP) I’d worn overnight and kept on for the climb to the shelter (I’d rather be a bit warm than chilled).

I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and cup of tea (I’d brought a stove) at the shelter.

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Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich from the shelter on Meall Gorm

I think the rest of this account can be mostly taken care of with pictures. I’ll give you the highlights.

There were some impressive cornices on the ridge

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A cornice near the summit of Sgurr Mor

I could now see that there was a lot of cloud in the valleys on both sides of the ridge: it wasn’t quite a ‘sea of cloud’, but it was close. This cloud did not burn off until the middle of the day, although the valleys immediately to the north and south of the Fannaichs seemed to clear more quickly than those further away.

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Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich from Sgurr Mor
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The view south from Carn na Criche

The wind carved snow looked lovely, even if it wasn’t very firm.

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Looking across the slopes of Carn na Criche to Sgurr Mor

Sgurr nan Clach Geala is the crowning mountain of the Fannaichs, with its impressive eastern corrie and gullies.

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Sgurr nan Clach Geala from the north-east

As seems to be the way at the moment when I’m away from the honeypots on a weekday, I had one encounter, this time with a local, retired man who was out taking advantage of the good weather.

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The ‘local’ I met on the slopes of Sgurr Mor

Although it isn’t a match for Sgurr nan Clach Geala, Sgurr Mor is an impressive peak too.

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Sgurr Mor’s north-east corrie

I noticed that Carn na Criche has a huge north-east facing crag, above Loch a’Mhadaidh, although it is probably too vegetated to be of interest to the summer climber. It is fairly low down, but on the other hand would be in shadow all the time in the winter, so a cold spell would yield some sustained mixed climbing, although it lacks distinctive lines.

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The north-east face of Carn na Criche

The views got less distinct into the early afternoon. It feels weird to me to be on a hill just after lunch, but to have already been out for over 8 hours. The way over Creag Dhubh Fannaich was pleasant enough, and I stayed as high as I could, to keep off the unattractive but very convenient track as long as possible. When I got lower, I found it easily and followed it all the way to the confluence. It was a shame to leave it, as the way down the valley seemed rather mundane and I just wanted to be back at my car. I also found the Allt an Loch Sgeirich surprisingly difficult to cross (I’d crossed it much further upstream on the way in).

The anti-climax of the walk out along a nothing-to-write-home-about, but also quite awkward and boggy valley didn’t do that much to dampen my spirits: this is a fairly standard experience and I usually have the ‘glow’ from my hill experience to sustain me. Thus, I was in high spirits when I got back to my car, although I still had the way-over-long-for-just-one-day’s-walking drive to get me back to Fife.

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