Saturday, 26 October 2013

Hills, new to me

Two hill runs, largely in pictures. Heading off the sun was catching a little of the beautiful autumn colours.

I think these sheep were intrigued by someone on foot
As I headed up this beautiful valley, I saw windmills.

A derelict shepherd's cottage, complete with mounting block from the days when the shepherd tended his flock on horseback
At the start of my 2nd run of the day I saw this tree. "God loves a trier" sprang into my mind.
The rest of the run was tough and quite scenic but not great photographically.

End result was 16+ miles, 2500+ feet of climb. 3 or 4 "getting lost"
But I did it !

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hill runs

I planned a wee outing in the hills not far from me. First up though I had to retrieve my van from the pub. Half day friday now that Ive hit 50 is the law for me and invariably involves beer. So first up on Saturday morning was a run to retrieve the van. I ran up through Duns Castle woods (3.1 miles and 289ft of climb). Leaving home at 7am, this was a lovely trot up to Duns. It was murky but the colours of autumn were magnificent in the woods. I met no-one. It was just me, nature and my thoughts of the day ahead. 
My first hill destination was Earlston Black hill about 20 miles away. I do remember going up there as a kid 40 years ago, but other than that it was new ground to me. I parked up and headed upwards not knowing what to expect in terms of the route, the ground conditions, the severity of the climb. I always find it difficult in these situations to choose my shoes. I chose Inov8 Roclites and got this right. Long gradual climbs around fields led me to this photograph, from where I followed the hedge on the right up the hill, all the while thinking "that looks steep!"
As it turned out, the path swung left and then right so I had a long gradual climb to the summit, rather than a short brutal one (that was to come later!). Reaching the top without having had to resort to a walk was very satisfying. I could see enough to realise that the views are pretty spectacular, but it was too cloudy. In addition, I had forgotten my camera and so had to use my phone. Below is a photo that in no way does justice to the view and the lovely autumnal colours.

Me, the trig point and a very grey sky atop Earlston Black Hill (4.2 miles and 647ft)

Once back to the van, I headed over to Melrose, which has looming over it volcanic beauties called the Eildons. Looking at an OS map I see them called "Mid", "North" and "Wester". Well I was at school in Melrose and we always knew them as "Mummy", "Daddy" and "Baby", so I'm sticking with what I know !
After parking up in the town, I headed towards the hills, sticking with my Roclites. This was a mistake. Within a quarter of a mile I met this. I either counted 122 or 132 of the buggers!

I consoled myself that once at the top things would change. They did. The steps stopped but the gradient was the same. I started to try to take the whole situation in.  I had once before run here but I had approached from the other side, effectively half way up. What was in front of me was way more than I'd expected. I listened to my breathing and it was ok. I thought about my legs and they were all right too. Then I remembered that I'd gone up the Black Hill without having to walk. I'm not someone who has unbending will power, super inner strength or whatever you may call it. Sometimes though I get a thought that I really want to execute: run all the way to the top. No stopping, no walking, no excuses. Can I do it? Well yeah I did. 1.5 miles, 25 minutes, 1000ft. I may not look too happy in the photo, but believe me I am. I'm atop Daddy Eildon.

Running down "Daddy" was tough as its so steep, with loose stones but I made it to the Saddle before heading up "Mummy". Thats Daddy with Baby on the left from the Saddle.

As soon as I started up "Mummy", flushed with confidence having got to the top of "Daddy" without having to walk, I thought "Oh F*ck my legs have gone". I really wanted to walk up and be done with it, but how could I give in at this point?  Well I didn't and here  am atop "Mummy".

I headed down in quite a euphoric mood. I was aware that my Roclites werent the best shoe for this (X Talons resting in the van wouldve been the shoe but hey ho, they were in the van not on my feet). I only fell twice on the way down and by good luck rather than judgement, missed the rocks.
In summary: being able to run up hills gives me a great feeling of achievement. Running down them is simply great fun.
The day ended up as: 10.8 miles and 2150ft of climb (and a happy laddie)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Coniston 15k trail race

I bought a season ticket for all the races in the Lakeland Trail series ( and today I ran the 6th out of 8 the above mentioned Coniston 15k trail. This is the last one of the series that I had never run before, so the course was unknown to me. I tried to look at the course map at registration but I didnt have my glasses so I was none the wiser !
The first part of this blog is about the race, the course, the conditions etc. A race report in a nutshell. I will then try to articulate my feelings and what this type of running does for me. Photos would help enormously to convey the surfaces we run on, but I don't take pics when I'm racing so its words only today. Dont leave now, please !! Read on
These races are quite decent value for money in todays climate (my season ticket cost £165 for 153km) and I now have more tech T shirts than I know what to do with ! The downside for me is the cost of travelling. I live 3-4 hours away depending on the event. Today I was away from home for 11 hours so my hours per km raced isnt so good !
Conditions today were pretty nigh perfect. Light cloud and 16 degrees with no rain and very little wind saw me run in vest and shorts very comfortably (in the Lake District in October !!). I decided that Inov8 Orocs would be my shoes and I was right there. They were excellent on the rocks and scree. Not knowing the course I just ran it as I found it. The first mile is very benign along the water (7.49) and then we went up ! More than the next 2 miles were uphill. The hard packed gravel type track changed to looser scree and ultimately single track rocky path (10.56 & 12.40). Lots of tactical walking was employed here. We then flattened out and had a fantastic mile downhill through some very technical sections. I thought I was faster than the recorded pace (10.01) so I guess the technical nature of it slowed me more than I imagined.
I really enjoyed this section, trying to run fast through difficult terrain is such fun. More on this later. I found the next half mile very tough. It was up again, not that steep, but into a fair breeze and I couldnt get my legs going again after the down section. Miles 6-8 are largely down as reflected in the splits (8.27, 8.13, 9.11) and these were hugely technical. Lots of loose scree and rock, it takes full concentration to make your feet go exactly where you want them to go. Slip up and you'll go arse over tit, literally. The last mile is back along the side of Coniston water, flat, tree roots to catch you out. I was pretty shot by now and chugged it out at 8.41 pace. A brief chat with a couple of Twitter buddies, a dip in the water (absolute bliss) and I was headed back up the road.
In summary, that is a fantastic course (as they all are to be fair). I felt a little disappointed at times with my performance as I often do, but am heartened when I see the stats on Strava ( 9.1 miles with 1344ft of climb at 9.32 pace will do me. A footnote to this series is that (without researching properly and I cant be arsed) I definitely get the feeling they are becoming much more popular (registered entrants today were 469 for trail challenge, 272 for trail race and 289 for 10k trail = over 1000 people) and as a consequence, the standard is rising considerably.
Part two then: what does it do for me? I'll give you a couple of snapshots from my thoughts as I ran today. Bear in mind that all the time there is an underlying feeling of pain and wanting to stop. Not pain because I was injured or hurting, just the pain you have (mostly mental) when you run. If you run, you'll know what I'm on about.
(1) As my watch buzzed mile 2 I was ascending as fast as I could i.e. very slowly. It was hard going, but what flashed through my mind: a slight feeling of disappointment that I had already run more than one fifth of this race. So soon it would be over.
(2) As I tackled a particularly slow technical single track section, slightly frustrated to be unable to pass the runner in front, I asked myself why I was doing this. The answer: because I can. Simple as that, but boy does that give me satisfaction. I wasted my years 20-40 sport wise and I am so happy that at 50 I can do this.
(3) On one fast tricky descent, I was concentrating hard where my feet were going so that I didnt fall. I must have been scared to blink as I was struggling to see for the water/tears in my eyes. A marshall said well done, I thanked him, without daring to look up. I thought of my steps as "dancing" (I must put my feet in the right place). I huge smile crossed my face and I almost laughed out loud. This was SO MUCH FUN.
(4) Puddles. Why do you think every little kids makes detours to jump in any puddle they can? Because its basic fun. Jump, splash, wet. Well its not just little kids, its 50 year olds too!
(5) Music. I never run with music. I started running on the roads 5 years ago and used music to distract my mind from what I was doing, the pain whatever. Now it would destroy a run for me. Once I settle into a run, I am very aware of my out breath. I always remember a Chinese proverb :in order to fill a vessel, one must first empty it. In other words, if you dont exhale fully, you wont be able to take in a good lungful of fresh air. So my exhalation becomes hypnotic: I hear it and more importantly I feel it.
When I get right into this zone, I feel very very in touch with my surroundings, myself, the earth. I"m not sure how to describe it, but its an almost Zen like thing/Hippy shit (delete as you see fit!). I am acutely aware of whats around me, but at the same time its almost as if I'm an observer. When the run finishes, so does this. Maybe this explains point (1) !

So thats it for today. This has just been rattled off, I havent even re-read it. I will in the morning and I may edit it. Then again, I may not. Thanks for reading.