Tuesday, 18 April 2017

THERE’S NO “TIN” IN TYNDRUM – The Highland Fling Training weekend

What does that spell?

First problem of the weekend was how to pronounce the name of the little village we were staying at. It was firmly established that the proper and correct pronunciation was “Tyne –drum” and most certainly not “Tin-drum” after all, I was informed there’s no Tin in “Tyne-drum” (there is gold but that’s another story) That sorted out it was time to do some running….and talk about running….and listen to stories about running.

No sooner had I signed up for this weekend did I end up with a gammy hamstring which was less than ideal prep for a weekend based around running, and not just running but ultra-running. However it was a weekend that I had been looking forward to so I decided to go along. It wasn’t as though I’d actually have to do much actual running was it?

Leaving late from work and roadworks wherever I looked meant that I didn’t reach the “by-the-way hostel” until late but re-assuring my arrival was met with a lovely degree of enthusiasm from people I had never met before. Although the fact that I had bought a cake with me might have been the reason. I was given a delicious bowl of veggie stew before heading to bed in my “camping cabin”, a camping cabin being a sort of shed containing bunk beds, a posh shed mind you, it had a heater and a window complete with curtains. The hostel itself was lovely and John had organised everything amazingly well especially the group meal on the Saturday night which was served complete with wine.
A camping cabin
Group dinner with the other runners
The following day saw people taking lots of different options. The majority were there for the official Highland fling training run of 33 miles and they caught the early bus taking them south along the west highland way to their start point. There was also a 20 mile option if you got off the bus a little bit earlier. Other people and smaller groups headed off to do their own thing and so I joined Lorna who was also struggling with a hamstring injury for a run north from the Inveroran Hotel which was also the starting point for both Emma’s run to Kinlochleven and Sandra’s epic run all the way to Fort William. Sandra had run over 40 miles the previous day and was in training for the South Downs way 100 mile race. Ian, her husband and better known as the West Highland Way Race director, had taken the car down to Bridge of Orchy and he was going to run to Fort William from there.
Lorna, Emma, Sandra and me!

A sunny day on the West Highland Way

Cheery West Highland Way walkers
Ian Beattie on his way to Fort William

Owls eggs maybe?
 It was a bright, sunny, breezy day and we all enjoyed a relaxed run over the first part of Rannoch Moor. Frogspawn on the water and a frog on the trail confirmed that spring really was here and it was all too soon that Lorna and I had to turn back to the car at Inveroran leaving Emma and Sandra to carry on their way. We turned back into a slightly stiffer breeze but both of us reached inveroran hotel after 2 hours of gentle running with our injuries none the worse for it. 

The advantage in being back earlier than the main group was that the showers were all free and so I got washed and settled down with a cup of tea (ok, ok it was actually a glass of red wine…) to listen to a practice run of one of the talks that was to take place later in the evening as people started to return gradually from their adventures in varying degrees of knackered-ness, head for showers and crack open a beer before dinner was served.
Running essentials
 After the group meal we were entertained firstly by a talk from Paul Tierney and Sarah McCormack of “Missing Link Coaching”. Based in Cumbria they offer an online coaching service and they went through some coaching and physio basics with us. Paul is an experienced ultra-runner, recently winning the epic Lakeland 100mile race and Sarah is a former Irish Cross country champion, European cross country gold medallist and top 10 finisher in the world mountain running championships. They both clearly knew what they were talking about. 

The following day they took us through various exercises including running with sticky tape over our mouths to prompt breathing through the nose. This is not as easy as it sounds and it makes sure you get some very odd looks from other users of the West Highland Way path. Paul also took us through some foot exercises but I was distinctly nervous about these given the injuries I have suffered in recent years but I gave them ago – until my feet got too cold to stand it. He had us on the damp morning dew covered grass in bare feet! It was freezing!
How to plank!
A talk from Paul and Sarah of "Missing Link Coaching"
Question and answer session with the panel
After Paul and Sarah’s talk Kirsten Cowling, the last place finisher in last year’s Highland Fling race, gave a talk about her race prep and training and the race itself and his has got to have been one of the best, funniest and most entertaining running talks I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. I really look forward to hearing her account of this year’s race that she is in training for.

Finally it was a Q&A session with Paul, Sarah and 15 time West Highland Way finisher and all round ultra-running legend Adrian Stott and some useful running hints and tips materialised from this. The ones that I found most interesting was the lack of focus on mega-mileage. I was surprised by how little mileage many of the participants of ultras do (or say they do!) so maybe the Don Ritchie Style of 140 mile per week isn’t totally necessary. The other was that walking can be a useful addition to a training programme. Bob Graham round record holder Jasmin Paris cites some of her best races coming after holidays featuring long days of walking in the mountains and it seemed to confirm my own experience of how strong people with a mountaineering background rather than a running background were when it came to races like the Tour de Monte Rosa stage race.
Sunday recovery run
The following day it was time for a short recovery run on the West highland way before heading home after a fun weekend with lots learned and new friends made. It actually felt like a very relaxed weekend despite it being all about running mega distances. The people that I got to know there were not running bores as I had expected and were friendly and welcoming towards an obvious non-ultra-runner and I definitely plan to go along to another one of these Highland Fling training weekends next year. I might even do the race some time. Maybe….no rash promises now…

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Lynx Pack Lethargy. Has the rot set in?

I got the prize for the first old lady to finish

I’m not sure why but for some reason this Newtonmore weekend felt a bit, well, flat. Maybe it was because of the increasing number of “no shows”. Lets face it we get more Lynx Pack sign ups for a curry night than we do for a race these days. Maybe it was due to the number of folk who sneak off to bed increasingly earlier after dinner. Maybe it was because my plans for climbing mountains or going mountain biking were thwarted by a flat car battery. Who knows?
Nice Spring weather over the Lecht
I drove over the Lecht in the gloom of a grey wet evening which was promising snow, although the hills were white the road remained black, reaching the Balavil in time for red wine and freshly made pizza. The hotel has undergone yet more of a makeover during the winter months and I had a room which was plush and comfy and the heating worked and there was plenty of hot showers. Changed days! Maybe the refurbishment of the Balavil is to blame- the demise of the Lynx Pack has been in direct proportion to the level of posh-ness achieved by the Balavil and the Lynx Pack cant handle that level of luxury. It was a slightly depleted number that had appeared at the Balavil this year with Mike and Innes both having better options for the weekend, It looks like it’s going to be the same for Barra as well this year with no Mike, no Geoff, no Innes and with John muttering about not going…the cracks really have started to appear. Oh well, sometimes things have to move on and change so maybe it’s time for pastures new and to try new races/weekend activities.
Race Prep...
Despite the less than promising weather on Friday night race day dawned bright and clear, bordering on warm. Not quite warm enough for me to wear shorts and a vest but warm nevertheless and the outward stretch had the wind behind us so it was really quite pleasant. I ran with Robin for a wee while with Bert just ahead which I took great joy in pointing out to Robin. It was even more fun seeing Bert’s face at the turn when he realised where I was, that is right behind him.. This was having had to spend the last 4 weeks getting earache from Bert fretting about who was going to beat him. Yawn.

During the first half Carrie and I changed places several times until she took off just after the turn leaving me for dead as I plodded back. The course had been deemed too short by those who wear garmins and who care about that sort of thing and so an extra couple of hundred yards had been tacked on to the start. By about mile nine I was beginning to curse those extra yards.

There was the usual array of cakes and pizza at the finish and John, Robin, Bert and I all picked up prizes for various age category wins.
Race booty
Prize for the first banana home goes to...
Prize winners
Unusually the evening at the Glen was quiet for us Aberdeen runners although the large number of Hunters Bog Trotters appeared to be having a great time – so no change there. A couple of the group called time very early on and we didn’t head back to the bar at the Balavil for a night cap as per usual so this the first Newtonmore race not featuring whisky since…well…forever. As I say, the rot really has set in!
Personally I blame the refurbishment of the Balavil for the demise of the Lynx Pack
 With bigger plans for the Sunday I decided to just skip the hangover mile and head off after breakfast to either climb some hills or go mountain biking but then disaster struck. Somehow my car battery had died, maybe I had left the lights or radio on, who knows, but basically I was just stuck in Newtonmore and certainly was not going anywhere fast. A quick phone call to Eric who appeared with jump leads (my knight in shining armour) and the car was sorted but we decided it was best to let the engine run for a while to charge the battery so all plans were abandoned in favour of lunch with Eric and Lynda and we were joined by Hamish for a guided tour of their B&B which is now up and running. 
Bert in the Hangover Mile

I suppose there was still enough time and daylight for me to have done something in the afternoon but I was very nervous about the car battery running flat again especially if I was in some remote car park at the foot of a mountain with no phone signal so I decided it was safest to head straight home. The outdoor shops in Aviemore were all advertising that they had sales on so it was probably safest to head home for a number of reasons the second one being the safety of my credit card. Still it was a shame and was a bit disappointing. I tried to console myself by thinking that it was quite cold and windy on the summits and so may not actually have been that pleasant but to no avail as it was a clear dry day and so a little adventure of some sort would have been possible. Still the weekend hadn’t been a total washout, it had been lovely to catch up with people from HBT that I hadn’t seen for a very long time and hopefully there will be a good HBT turn out at the Heb halfs this year too. It’s certainly not looking promising for the Lynx Pack!