Monday, 19 March 2018

Newtonmore No More and the great Lynx Pack Renaissance

The hills above Glen Banchor

Last year it looked as though the Lynx Pack were in terminal decline, and I’m not just talking about running. Their post race efforts too were just becoming lamentable with folk sneaking off to bed early and such like. 
That is not a promising start....
Bert tries to hide the evidence
This time however it’s the turn of the race to go into terminal decline as opposed to the runners as after a stint of 10 years as race organiser Geoff has decided that the traffic, police and marshalling problems have just gotten out of hand and he has understandably decided to call time on it. Yes folks, sadly the Newtonmore 10 mile race is no more. So what to do to fill the gaping void left by the demise of this fun weekend? After all some form of running related activity was definitely required. Unwilling to let the weekend die out the slightly less ambitious target of Aviemore park run was decided upon as the weekend’s race and so off we went.
Mike was just saying how much he was looking forward to the run
I was debating the wisdom of this as I had spent the previous morning skiing at the Lecht and the previous afternoon running (or more accurately sliding around in the snow) around the hills of Glen Banchor but as soon as I started a warm up run the stiffness left my legs and I felt fine. I was starting to regret the cooked food that I’d had for breakfast though. I finished warming up just as the race was lining up for the start and off we went along the trail. This parkrun is a fun low key event on an out and back route along a stretch of the Speyside way starting at the edge of the industrial estate in Aviemore and luckily at least the first part was in the shelter of the trees on this cold windy morning. Happily though the ground was frozen solid and was dry so that there were no patches of ice to contend with as the previous week’s parkrun had been cancelled due to the icy conditions. This week the path was hard and although a bit rutted in places it was completely runnable. The shelter of the trees meant that the wind wasn’t too noticeable for the first half of the race but it certainly made itself felt on the return journey and I felt a bit sorry for the race marshal at the turnabout point which was at just about the most exposed section of the course. I had started out reasonably quickly and had found myself in the lead (all the while mildly regretting the cooked breakfast) before the turning point which left the second half of the race for me to worry about being caught by Bert (and majorly regretting the cooked breakfast) who I had supposed was rapidly closing me down and I was thankful that the path was slightly undulating as I could keep a good pace up. I was quite relieved to see the finish line though. Everyone finished well, the cooked breakfast stayed down – always a bonus, and Geoff did a grand job of taking photos before heading back to the café for the compulsory post parkrun tea and scones while warming up again.

In the afternoon the group dispersed and everyone did their own thing, Hamish went for another run. Yes, really. John went for a trip up to the Cairngorm Ski centre in the funicular railway on what was possibly the windiest day of the year while Geoff headed for the pub to watch the rugby. Feeling that a race of only 5k wasn't really quite enough to justify an afternoon in the bar Bert and I decided on a wee mountain walk and did the loop from the visitor centre taking in Meall a Bhuchaille. Many of the ski lifts were actually closed by Saturday afternoon due to the strength of the wind and it was testing enough at the summit to make me glad that we hadn’t attempted anything higher than a corbett. It was very cold. But despite the cold day there were a lot of people about taking in the glorious sights of the Cairngorm mountains such as the green loch (Lochan Uaine) tucked in amongst the ancient Caledonia pine forest and Ryvoan bothy .
Lochan Uaine

Ryvoan Bothy
A room with a view

I hid in amongst the ring of stones on the summit next to the trig point in an attempt to stay warm and out of the wind while I took in the views and tried to take some photos until the battery on my Iphone succumbed to the cold and finally gave up the ghost. We finished the walk at the visitor centre both feeling a bit washed out, the cold conditions and the mornings run possibly taking a bit more out of us than we realised, but we quickly recovered once we had hot food inside. 

On our return we found Geoff in the bar, looking as though he had been there all afternoon, as the party raged all around him. Scotland had beaten England at the rugby and the bar was jumping. Even the Camanachd Cup was filled with whisky and passed round for us all to share. 
The celebrating the score

He hung in there well...
Still going strong...
It was the kick off to of a very good evening and this year nobody was sloping off to bed ridiculously early. So, is this the Lynx pack renaissance? Have the party animals of old made a come back? Such was the enthusiasm all manner of different ideas for running related weekends away and holidays were being discussed by the end of the evening.

The next morning I woke up silly early for some bizzare and inexplicable reason and decided to try to see the sunrise over the hills, returning in time for breakfast.

Sundays entertainment was more leisurely. A wee trip on the funicular railway up to the ski centre and ptarmigan restaurant on Cairngorm. I had never been on the funicular railway before having always preferred to get up the mountain under my own steam so it was quite a nice novelty trip and a relaxing way to travel as the driver (is there a driver on one of these things?) gave her wee talk about the history and mechanics of the funicular. We went outside to watch the skiers as the wind had dropped considerably overnight (yes I was jealous, the snow looked great), visited the museum and café (yet more coffee and scones) before returning to the foot of the mountain.

Bert thinking about investing in some mountain climbing gear...

A frozen Loch Morlich

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Fling Training Weekend

The Highland Fling Training Weekend

Mr Highland Fling himself - Race Director John Duncan
For a nice change I didn’t arrive in the dead of night, such is the joy of living and working in Aberdeen ie: miles from anywhere and traffic generally at a standstill. Hurrah for the early Friday flier from work! My arrival was greeted with unexpected enthusiasm, probably due to the two large tubs of cake that I was carrying, and I was presented with my training weekend “goody bag” containing, amongst other things a nice Sportiva hat and some Injinjii socks as Malcolm Croft, the rep for Sportiva, was on hand all weekend to let runners try out various Sportiva products. I had enough time to quickly get changed before heading out on the evening “headtorch run” with a brand new super duper Petzl headtorch to try out courtesy of Gregg, the rep from Petzel who was also at the training weekend. We set out into the freezing cold night to run a small loop behind the By the Way hostel, HQ for the training weekend up on to the West Highland Way stopping to re-group at the gate at the top of the hill. The head torch was fabulous but it was also £140 of fabulousness and sadly it wasn’t to be part of the goody bag contents. 
Stopping to regroup
There was less snow than I thought there might be and it was very still and chilly but on getting back to the hostel there was a welcome meal of stew and a nice glass of wine waiting and a lot of chat with the other runners on this training weekend. It was such a good chance to catch up with folk.
I was later to bed than planned, had a few more glasses of wine than planned and far less sleep than was required – not as planned! However, I was not as late and my wine consumption was no where near as impressive as some I could mention. These ultra runners party like they run! And then fail to find the actual bed they should be sleeping in. Carol Martin’s sleep tracker had some interesting data!

I didn’t sleep well, the dorm room was stifling hot and I slept fitfully but I hadn’t realised how hot the room was until we were all woken from our slumbers before 6am by the fire alarm and all piled out into the coolness of the corridor. We were swiftly assured that it was a false alarm and so we all traipsed back to the room. I’m not sure those who had attempted to put on the highly complicated item of clothing that is the Injinji sock actually made it out of their rooms in the first place such was the logistical puzzle that pulling on a pair of these in the dark whilst semi conscious poses.
Fairly sure it was pointless going back to bed by now I opted for an early bowl of porridge while curled up on the sofa. 

Today was the day for the long run, a chance for those doing the Fling to recce what is the most technical section of the route along the side of Loch Lomond. John recommended that we do an “out and back” run and run for time rather than a specific distance as the terrain would make it quite slow going. Some folk took this option with others heading north along the West Highland Way towards Kingshouse. Despite being early February it was a lot milder than I expected as we set out along the Lochside and despite the very late night had by some everyone made it to the start of their respective runs. Very impressive. It was a still day and from a distance Loch Lomond seemed as still as a millpond, just like a sheet of glass and I was soon peeling off the selection of far too many layers that I had worn.
Setting off from Bein Glas Farm
The group of runners soon spread out into a line
Loch Lomond
Soon the large group of runners were strung out all along the Lochside in a long line before fragmenting into smaller groups. I ran on my own for a while, passing some runners, being passed by others before tagging along with Carol for a while and enjoying the chat. I had decided on a 3 hour run so after an hour and a half I turned about and set off northwards back to the start point at Beinn Glas farm. John was correct in his advice, the path was extremely twisting and turning, narrow and strewn with rocks and boulders and mud and tree roots. It was very scenic running along by the waters edge with the snow capped peaks all around but it was very slow going. I could hear various birdlife such as geese but didn’t manage to spot them. Maybe the runners ahead of me had disturbed them. It’s not really the season for West Highland Way walkers but there were still plenty of folk out and about, no doubt startled by the number of runners coming past on the trail.
I bumped into Noanie who was “sweeping” along with her ever growing collection of dogs and a few runners who were behind me but who were carrying on to run for longer than I had chosen to but for the most part I was on my own and enjoyed the scenery and the peace and quiet. I got back to the car park just after another 3 runners and managed to scrounge a lift back to Tyndrum for a hot shower, soup, tea and cake and to wait for everyone else to get back. Interestingly my “unhealthy” cake went down really well but my “healthy” banana flapjacks were nowhere nearly as well received. Says a lot about runners.
Once everyone got back it was time for the afternoon entertainment to start. There were sports massages on offer and yoga classes by fellow Fife AC runner Morgan Windram who often features highly in the results of this race. Before dinner there was a showing of a film of top US ultra runner Anton Krupicka about his running history and life of adventure with lots of lovely film footage of various American landscapes and then a talk from top GB ultra runner Debbie Martin Consani the topic of which was women in ultra races. Did you know women have a higher percentage of completions in ultras per number who start than men? But that there are generally less women running ultras. These two facts appear to be linked as research has shown that women are less likely to attempt something unless they are sure that they can complete it whereas men are generally more gung-ho, confident and optimistic about their chances when sometimes their confidence can be misplaced.

Debbie Martin Consani
It was a very entertaining talk and Debbie went on to describe her last most extreme race which was the 330k Tour des Geants in the alps, an achievement most of us could only dream of.
I knew from attending the Fling training weekend last year that the dinner was worth waiting for and in particular the legendary sticky toffee pudding and I was not to be disappointed. 
Eating in amongst the array of Sportica shoes!

Double pudding!!

It was a relatively early night for me but again I slept fitfully even though the dorm window was wedged well and truly open for the night. I was still a bit sleepy as we set out on the recovery run, another loop of 4 miles taking in the west highland way (or in Morgan’s case two loops!) I got to try out some Sportiva shoes during the recovery run which were very comfy but I was unsure about how good their grip would be in true mountain conditions but they were ideal for trail running.
A trial run for these Sportiva shoes

Thanks to Morgan after the recovery run I got a chance to have a go at Thai massage, something I don’t think I had ever heard of before but I enjoyed it, so much so I’ve signed up for one of Morgan’s classes. I am hoping Yoga and Thai massage can help my old creaking joints and muscles.
When yoga gets silly...
Thai Massage
After more cups of tea it was time to pack up and go home after a very enjoyable weekend. Although I have no plans to do the Fling this year this was a useful fun way to spend a weekend. When you are training alone its sometimes easy to lose confidence in what you are doing and imagine that everyone else is doing so much more than you are and that their training is going so much better than yours so in some ways these weekends where you can get together with other runners are reassuring as you get to see that everybody has the same trials and tribulations in life that you do and they also have to manage their running around everything else that life throws at them.I think I have said before that these Fling training weekends are not how you would usually expect a training weekend to be, they are very relaxed with no dull chat about training programmes and pace times (it’s unlikely that I would be there if they did!), I get the impression you could come along and not run a step all and nobody would bat an eyelid. I can’t wait for the next one.