I was going to write this post a couple of weeks ago before going into the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra race, but time got in the way. Below are five short reports of the long training runs that I did in the period from end September to mid October, which I alluded to in my Glen Ogle Ultra Marathon race report.
Jedburgh Recce Run
On the last weekend of September a recce run had been organised which included both the new race organisers, a number of runners who were new to the course and a couple of us who knew the course from the previous year. The race organisers were new to the course at this point too so Michael Novicki and I who had run the route before helped with guiding everyone round the course.
6 of the runners went out to do just under 30 miles that day whereas myself and two others would join them after the first 10 miles. The weather on the day would be one of the best you would find on an early autumn day, stunning, and it was great to see the course in a completely different light from the mudfest it was on race day in 2012. This was aided by the dry summer that we have had.
For me it turned out to be quite a long day as it had started with cycling up to Balerno for some swim coaching with Pentland Triathletes, then I rode round to Hillend from where I got a lift to Maxton with Alison.
The group that started from Jedburgh were slower than expected and we had spent time chilling in the sun up to their arrival. The run up to and over the Eildon Hills was fantastic and the banter was great. We did gradually split up into smaller groups depending on ability and regrouped regularly. On the descent off the Eildons we did get lost at one point which turned out to be useful come race day but did add an additional 2 kms to the run. Descending off the 2nd Eildon hill I tripped and fell at rather high speed. I was lucky to just get a bit of mud on my hands, as it could have turned into much more such as rolling down the hill or hitting knees, hands or other part of my body on a rock.
Although according to Strava I had only done 4 hours of running (20 miles) I had been on my feet for more than 6 hours and felt suitably knackered. I got a lift back up the road with Nigel and cycled back home from Hillend. Luckily that was all downhill. I got home around 8:30pm.
Pentland Skyline Recce Run
Only 3 days after the Jedburgh Recce run I was off onto another recce run on the Pentland Skyline Route as John Duncan who was planning on running the race a couple of weeks later wanted to check out the course. So I guided him, Joe Rae and Noanie round most of the course. My plan was to do approx. 20k on the day but in the end it turned out to be another 20 miles.
It was though less tiring than on the Jedburgh run as I did spend most of the 4 hours in this case on the move. Weather again turned out to be great even though it was quite windy over the tops and it was great to have the Pentlands in some of the driest conditions I had ever seen. We did all of the Southern Hills, John tried to sprint to the top of every hill so easily took the King of the Mountains title although there is some dispute if Sam the dog doesn’t actually get that title having summited the top of most hills first and then more than once.
I took the three of them back along the Northern hills – Hare, Black and Harbour – but then turned off to head back down towards Currie and catch a bus home. The weather though got nicer and nicer so I just got on the Water of Leith path and ran all the way home which is why my planned 20k turned into 30+k. It felt like a fantastic training run though (Strava trace).
Munros in the Mamores
Another 4 days later we were up in Kinlochleven for the Jacobites Mountaineering Club Annual Dinner Dance – a club both Fiona and I are members of. Just under a year earlier I had been on a club meet and for the first time ran to the top of a Munro Top. At the time I had decided that I would do some more mountain running as it felt like a great way to discover the Scottish mountains covering the flatter sections and downhill sections more swiftly.
Having spent last winter and most of the summer miles from any munros this was the first time (except for the Celtman Recce) that I would have the opportunity to run a few munros. Sadly the weather forecast wasn’t great with heavy showers and low cloud expected. Fiona rightly was concerned as I am not that great with my navigation skills. I can read the land pretty will but can’t really use a compass all that well – yet.
So that morning I had mapped out a low level route with the option of going higher if the weather cleared. After my first 6km running along Loch Eilde Mor I looked up to my right and realised I could see the top of a mountain, checked the map and saw that this was a Munro of around 1000m of height. Excellent – Cloud level was higher than expected, so when I got to the end of the loch I started heading up, rounding Sgurr Eilde Mor, a Munro I had done a couple of years ago – dropped into the next valley and headed for the top of Binnean Beag. The winds at the top were pretty strong so I didn’t stop for long.
Next on the list was Binnean Mor which looked rather more cloudy from the top of Binnean Beag so I waited until I got down to the col to decide if I would head to the summit. When I got to the col the cloud lifted enough for me to proceed and on the way up I was actually able to see the summit. Had a great climb up and made some really good route choices on the way. Sadly the moment I got to the top cloud level dropped around 300m and visibility was vastly reduced. Navigation wasn’t really an issue though as I just had to run along a ridge straight South and then turn left at the next cairn. I did contemplate heading for the next Munro but the weather seemed to be turning for the worse so heading back down the mountain seemed the more sensible option. Two munros on my first solo mountain run in less favourable conditions is pretty good.
Once I got back down to around 700m above sea level and out of the cloud I rounded a smaller loch to drop down to the loch I started out at. Rounding the loch I had another moment similar to the one on the Eildon hills the previous weekend tripping over a rock and landing rather unceremoniously. It was more a belly flop with mud all over me. Luckily again I didn’t hit anything hard but made sure I took the rest of the run a bit easier.
As I felt the run was going to be a bit shorter than expected I added a bit of a loop heading across towards the Blackwater Reservoir.
The evenings Dinner Dance was very good and the next day I went on a hill walk up onto one of the Corbetts after getting entangled with the Glencoe Marathon, meeting Marco Consani and cheering on a few other runners I knew.
Glen Affric – Day 1
Fast forward 2 weeks and I am on another Mountaineering Club meet, this time to Glen Affric Chalet Park in Cannich. The forecast was similar to when we went to Kinlochleven with early heavy rain and low cloud. I was hoping to get out for a good mountain run on the Saturday and do a hill walk on the Sunday as I did in KLL. This time though I’d have someone to run with, Caroline. She is an accomplished mountain marathon runner, so had the navigation skills I lacked. She had been on the Kinlochleven meet but was ‘resting’. This weekend we both should have been taking it easy with me having Jedburgh the following weekend and Caroline heading off to Wales the following weekend for the OMM Mountain Marathon.
Well taking it easy didn’t really happen. During the week Caroline had sent me a link to one of Steve Fallon’s routes in the area. I got a bit of a shock when I saw the route – 55k and 12 munros. Luckily Caroline’s idea was to only do part of it, the mountains north of Glen Affric.
Saturday morning dawned with a mix of calm and heavy showers but they receded earlier than forecast. The clouds though hung in there as you can see from the pictures. We parked up at the eastern end of Loch Affric and headed for the top of Toll Creagach, a soggy ascent in low visibility. The sogginess disappeared once we got to the top but the visibility didn’t improve. We made good progress heading West along the ridge which initially was nice and wide and therefore runnable but then gradually got narrower and steeper. The lack of visibility stayed as we topped out on Tom a Choinnich, An Lethchreag and Carn Eighe. On the other hand though light winds made for a fairly pleasant run. By the time we reached Carn Eighe we had covered approx. 14km. Our original plan had us doing around 30k by the end of the day.
Next on the list of Munros would be Beinn Fhionnlaidh, an outlier on our route. Descending off Carn Eighe the cloud suddenly lifted and granted us some fantastic views all be it only for a short period of time. Beinn Fhionnlaidh was a ‘quick’ 4k out and back. The back though we were hoping to contour below the summit of Carn Eighe which we successfully did but lost a bit more height than planned and had a bit of a climb to get to the top of Mam Sodhail. During that climb we got our only serious rain of the day and we were fully engulfed in cloud again. It was now roughly 3 pm and we were confident that we could fit in one more Munro before heading back down to the valley. Our target was to get to the top of An Socach before 5pm. We made a bit of a mess of the descent to the col from Mam Sodhail mostly because I didn’t expect us to be dropping as much as we eventually would. It didn’t turn into much of a problem and the clouds lifted once again which in turn lifted our spirits too. Down onto the col at 700m and back up to just over 900m to get to the top of An Soccach. It seemed to take longer than expected though as there was quite a ridge to run along until we reached the actual summit. Made it just before 5pm. Now the simple matter of getting down to the valley and back to the car. As mentioned earlier, we were planning on 30k for the day. Top of An Socach we had already done 30k and it would be approximately 4k down to the valley and we then thought it would be 10k back to the car. Well that wasn’t too far off the mark.
The descent was fantastic although rather boggy and slippy in places, once we hit the bottom I pushed the pace as good as I could but as Caroline had confessed, she is good going up mountains and good going down them but the valley flats are not her thing, don’t blame her. We were still making good progress but as the light faded, it would be unavoidable that we would have to finish the run with our head torches. Depending on what calculations we were making we would either finish on 45km or 50km. When we drew level with Affric Lodge we were suddenly closer to the car than expected and that really lifted our spirits knowing we now only had 3km left. The Strava trace doesn’t include the run back along the valley as the phone ran out of battery.
It was the last day of the stalking season and when we got back to the car a van pulled up trying to find Affric Lodge. The van had something like ‘fireworks and party events’ on the livery. Maybe we should have stayed on to see the show?
Although we only had occasional views, it was a fantastic day out which saw us run 47km and cover 6 munros. The homemade sausage and mash went down a treat when back at the chalet.
Glen Affric – Day 2
Well instead of being a good boyfriend and going on a hillwalk with Fiona, I took Caroline up on her suggestion of a 2nd mountain run. This time we headed for the next valley north of Glen Affric to cover the munros north of Loch Mullardoch. The planned route was to be around 22-24km with 2-4 munros. The weather was looking promising when we drove up to the Mullardoch dam with fog patches drifting through the valley. We got going a bit earlier than the previous day but also had a deadline of 4pm looming over us as I was getting a lift back to Edinburgh. So we needed to be back in Cannich by 4pm which would mean returning to the car by 3:30pm latest. The run started along the North side of Loch Mullardoch and we were then planning to head up the river of Allt Mullardoch. I saw a faint path that appeared to go up hill in the direction of our first Munro. This turned out to be a perfect ascent route, even if very steep but got us nicely onto a pre summit leaving us with a quick 200m climb to the top of Carn nan Gobhar.
1000m seemed to be the level of the cloud and the weather did not quite fit the forecast which should have been for a clear day. We just about got some views from the top of the first munro. A quick drop down to the Bealach at just under 800m gave us some great views North. Our next summit would be Sgur na Lapaich at 1150m above sea level with a very steep ascent. As with the previous summit the cloud was sitting at 1000m and so once we were above that our views ceased. As with the previous day though we had a decent ridge to follow so navigation didn’t really pose a problem.
Compared to the previous day we seemed to have much bigger dips and re-ascents between munros. We dropped down to under 700m at the next Bealach and then went back up to 1100m again. This time though when we got to the higher level we had quite a ridge to run along which made progress much easier even with the poor visibility. We reached the summit of An Riabhachan and met a couple of walkers. In 2 days these were 2 of only 3 people we had met in the hills. No idea where everyone else was but the last day of the stalking season may have had something to do with this.
Ideally we wanted to get to An Socach (a different An Socach to yesterday) and cover a 4th Munro but we were aware that we would run out of time. We had worked out a good descent route to the Western end of Loch Mullardoch. Good yes, but it didn’t exactly have a path so a bit of navigating was required to ensure we didn’t go over some crags instead. Did make for some good views though once we were out of the cloud. I felt we were making good time and once we would get to the lochside it shouldn’t take us long to get back. I was expecting a path similar to the one we had when heading back along Loch Affric the previous day. Sadly this was not the case and although it was a great path to run along progress was notably slower and Caroline was struggling a bit in terms of pace. The further east we got the boggier the path got making progress even slower. I was mighty relieved when we reached the landrover track that would signify the last 2k of our run although we did take a few ‘short cuts’ along it. During one of those I for the 3rd time in 5 long distance runs clipped a rock and went flying. This one was too close for comfort though as I stopped with my forehead only a few inches from a rock. Always a bit of a stark reminder how quickly something like this could turn ugly. Again though nothing but a bit of mud on hands and legs.
We got to the car for 4pm and back to the meeting point for 4:30pm. Not quite as planned but everyone was happy as the others had only just made it there by 4pm too so we could still have a nice pot of coffee before heading down the road.
We finished the day with 27km of running and 3 munros as you can see on this Strava Trace.
These have been 5 days of fantastic running all of which included some great mountains with ridges, awesome descents and great views when the cloud lifted. I learnt more about navigating and also that I need to be alert at all times so as not to trip and fall and seriously hurt myself. The Munro runs in particular I really enjoyed as they have shown me an entirely new way of exploring the Scottish mountains and I believe still taking in as much of them. Running with Caroline in Glen Affric was great and I think we both learnt from each other. Those runs though may put into perspective why I was not in top form at both the Jedburgh and Glen Ogle Ultra Races. It is worth mentioning that running mountains does not involve running up them, most of the ascent is a walk, mostly a powerwalk. A number of people have wondered this and I feel it is worth qualifying.
Time for some shorter runs now with my first XC race at Braid hills this weekend. That will be a shock to the system as the speed demons go hearing off but it will be good speed training for next year.