Monday, 24 March 2014

kintyre weekender

March 22~23

So I went away for an all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-drink weekend and came back 4lbs lighter. I did run nearly 70 miles though. Over 31 on Saturday and possibly 38+ Sunday. And although the weather started out pretty bad it improved greatly and by Sunday afternoon was brilliant sunshine and blue skies. All in all a pretty good weekend.

The weekend was organised by Mike Lynch of Carnethy. The Kintyre Way is the venue for the Kintyre Way Ultra and Relay Race. There are a couple of distances (67 and 35.5 miles,) and the purpose of this weekend was to familiarise the Carnethy Relay team with the course for the 10th May race. While I am not doing the relay I enjoy an adventure and thought it would be a good idea to have a look at the route before doing anything hasty like signing up for an ultra. The longer option is 14 miles beyond my longest day out which foolishly made me think it must be relatively easy ground. That was to change over the 2 days running.


Rob met us in Tarbert and kept us right for the first couple of miles.
(This section, one of the trickier for navigation, will be marked and marshalled on race day.)

The ever-smiley non-socked Rob.

There are lovely views climbing the hills above Tarbert. If the low drizzling cloud isn't doing it's thing.

There were very soggy narrow tracks on which a couple of the runners with less grippy soles took fliers; then some broader tracks (as above) although there are regular detours over really boggy swamps as well.

Mike showing off his mocha choca Hokas

Around 10 miles we descended to the coast at Skipness. (Which was closed.)

Then along to the ferry terminal at Claonaig. The ferry runs between here and Lochranza and the last time I was here was immediately after the Arran Half, my first ever race, in 2000. I ran with Mary (first and last time we tried that) in 1.56 and was surprised and pleased to get a medal afterwards (see inset photo). We were heading to Mary's sisters near Lochgilphead.

The Way is marked with these posts; some have directional arrows (and mileage details) attached. However it is strongly advised (possibly mandatory) to carry a map and be familiar with it as various junctions are not well marked and it would be easy to go wrong.

And you are going to get wet and muddy feet - road shoes not recommended.

These boardwalks do a good job of keeping your feet clean and dry!

From Claonaig you go across to Clachan on the opposite coast. I found it quite confusing having the sea on one side then the other: it felt at times like we had turned around and were heading in the direction from which we had already come. It helped that Craig had met us halfway (having been dropped off by Kate,) as he was familiar with the route having run it in reverse from Clachan. There were a couple of places we might otherwise have gone wrong, following the main path when in fact a smaller path was the one we had to take.

By this point, 22 miles into the day and 9.5 miles to go, several of the team decided to use their thumbs rather than their legs to get to Tayinloan - our B&B for the night. I was glad of the Filling Station as I had run out of drink. I drank a Red Bull and put a bottle of Highland Spring into my back pack. I had been eating various sports bars and sandwiches through the day but was beginning to flag. The Red Bull began to work it's magic almost immediately, and as the sun began to shine in earnest for the first time, I perked up. I reckoned we would make the B&B long before the hitchers, (who would pick up 4 filthy runners?) who had a back-up plan of catching the bus sometime later.

The route goes through the coastal grounds of this mansion which is being renovated. The route from Clachan to Tayinloan is mostly on or beside the beach. I am a fan of beach running - well I was until very recently. There was a nice tarmac road running parallel to the beach. Various parts of the beach route were twisty and undulating whereas the road was smooth and flat. However on race day it would have to be the beach. And once you get to the point where the road and beach part company you have no choice. The beach is made up of marble sized (and larger) pebbles. Imagine running through a deep field of marbles. It robs you of traction and energy. We searched fruitlessly for the best line across the tiers of stones and if it wasn't for the caffeine I think I'd still be there wandering lost and aimless, kicking stones into the sea. 

As we ran there was an amazing spectacle unfolding. The sky and clouds were blowing about like crazy throwing up beautiful scenes which I was stopping every mile to snap. 

We had the occasional shower of hail or rain blow through but I don't remember it getting so bad I had to put my waterproof back on.

Is that Red Bull working yet? 

There were many opportunities, in fact obligations, to clean the mud off our shoes.

You can see how weary we were from the body language. The beach was just awful. After a long way we climbed up onto the foreshore and ran along the edge of the fields there. Then back onto the beach at the headland which was a better, more sandy surface for running.

Nasher splasher

Steven, you are a plumber - can you fix it?

At last after 31 miles we get to Ferry Farm B&B. Very good value for money and great cooking. After a wash (and putting clothes and shoes next to radiators to dry them out) we had a great dinner with a few beers before retiring to the lounge. The hitchers had had way more luck than expected and caught a lift minutes after we left. There were only 3 available seats so Phil (who had been swithering about running vs riding) ran the last section. If we had known we would have waited. It was a very long section on spent legs, although the weather had improved and made it do-able, just. I was now beginning to re-think ideas about doing all 67 miles in one go. After all, that was the "short" half and none of us found it easy going.

Day one: 31 miles

Day two: 37+ miles

Next morning the sun was out. Happily the monstrous downpour of hail had come and gone at 5am. The hardcore four were planning on a 7am breakfast so we could run the 36 miles and still maybe catch the 3pm bus from Campbeltown. There was a 5pm plan B. I changed my breakfast order from cereal and toast to a fullish cooked. So I didn't like to make a fuss when the guy put a porridge in front of me. I began to eat it out of politeness but actually really enjoyed it. Then ate the bacon and eggs, sausage and beans! I was properly stoked for a long day outside. Although sunny from the kick off, it was baltic, and the hail from the ice-storm lay around the corners of the building.

Leaving Ferry Farm. Highly recommended B&B - very nice rooms, superb food (apple pie and custard 10/10) and beers on tap.

ice beach

There are a lot of climbs in the first section and soon we were taking off hats and jackets.

So from Tayinloan we again crossed the landmass to the East coast heading to picturesque Carradale. There were a load of hills to climb then some flat along the high plateau before a descent on some pretty paths before heading down and into Carradale.

Flurries hiding our view of Arran

There were some steep downhills just beyond this point. My Hokas are build for comfort not grip and at various points I did one footed slides, where your heart jumps into your mouth. The most gymnastic was a 2 footed job on a fairly steep incline, the green slime prevalent after the soggiest winter of all time. As both feet shot forward and I leant back to about 45 degrees, I prepared myself for that thump on the bum and back. However at the last moment my heels hit some decent traction and the impetus of my forward motion stood me back upright and I continued running. Craig, just ahead, had heard the long swoosh and was surprised not to hear the thud.

In the distance, between the trees, a ghostly Ailsa Craig

Someone has a sense of humour.

This Carradale resident spoke in tongues but managed to convey his enthusiasm.

This was one of the few places we got lost. There were several signs all pointing in opposite directions to services (East and West) and we nearly came unstuck. We failed to find the famous tearoom but did find a shop and I invested in some more Red Bull and Highland Spring pouring it all into my pack reservoir this time to keep me going till 3pm. It was about 15 to Carradale so (with stiff legs) we pulled away from this pit stop looking to do another 21+.

Possibly the prettiest section of the route.

With views across to the Himalayas Arran.

Arran with fresh snow on top.

Although very scenic this is some of the trickiest terrain to cover. And there can be tidal issues.

The rest of the day was a heady mix of climbs and drops. Some huge hills to chug up with long descents often on tricky ground - my knees took a pasting and I normally prefer going downhill.

Craig here is reckoning that our route (after a long descent down to the trees in the centre, over some VERY muddy ground in the valley) will take us back up that path over towards the top left corner. He is, unfortunately, correct. It was tough. Once down in the valley, after slogging through the ankle deep splosh and cowflop, in anticipation of the next climb, we all reached into our packs for sustenance. I had a Gu Roctain gel and a whole pack of tablet bought from Ferry Farm. About a dozen cubes. I nearly ate the tartan bow off it as well. Sort of thing you would hate yourself for doing, sitting on the sofa; but I think by the top of the next hill I had burnt most of it off.

Then another long descent followed by a skirt round this reservoir or loch. Well the one below in the next photo. I was losing heart and failed to snap much of the ascents which were brain foggingly never ending. Steven stopped to fill a bottle from a stream and we let the other 2 get a bit ahead. They slowed by the bridge and we caught them up. I was forcing down a Cliff Builders Protein Bar which I had to eat while breathing through my nose. My mouth was far too dry and it wasn't going down well at all. I was nearly out of water and was reluctant to drink from streams at the same time as very inclined to drink from streams. The difficulty of making my legs do the right actions to get near enough to a stream was (literally) the tipping point.

Here's me utterly done in, pooped, bone-weary. However there's still seven or eight miles to go. Where is the Kielder bus? 

oooh another lovely hill. 

I was actually beginning to prefer the ups to the downs because they produced less impact on tired feet. The Hokas (slippage aside) were fabulous, especially on the few miles of tarmac we had. From that reservoir to the end was all metalled road. From what I can remember. Large chunks I have cast out of my mind; the (mostly internalised) tears and tantrums, the mental bribery, the mind games, and the physical discomfort. The 14lb pack bobbing about on my aching back. Next time, I am sitting in the B&B in just pants. No change of clothing. Just a B&B towel round the shoulders while I shovel food and beer down. (And custard.) I blame the absent women folk. Several of the fairer sex had been on the guest list for this bunfight when I jumped onboard, and I had imagined their influence would limit the spitting, the swearing, and all manner of foul ejaculations; while conversations would turn to art and literature and how prettily the spring flowers were blooming, instead of football and body parts. However one by one the ladies (and Jim H) were smitten by injury and malady until only 8 of the original 14 started the recce. And it was an all male event. So there was no real reason to dress for dinner. To be fair, Mike did discuss the latest books we are reading in book group, (between gobs.)

But it did go on and on. And then, after a long LONG way, it continued to go on. I said to Graham at one point around here ^, "the pleasure has now mostly left the day." And it's important to remember those bad moments because they are almost always present in an ultra. And not in, say, a half marathon. You start a half marathon and in 90 minutes you may have gone through mild disconsolation but after 90 minutes you could be sipping a martini with your feet in slippers on the bar counter. Sign up for the likes of this beast and you will have 12 long hours (minimum) to regret it while dreaming of martinis and slippers. The only "up" your feet will be, is briefly over your head while your back goes thud on the slippery slope. It would seem I have until April to sign up for this event. I have a feeling it might (at best) be the 35.5* version. Unless I have an aneurysm between now and 25th April, I think that I am not quite ..... for the full distance. I leave that space blank because I am uncertain what it is that I am not. I don't think it's a matter of not being tough enough. I like to think it's not that, and that I can face difficult challenges. I am just not rushing towards so much hardship for any purpose other than the hardship. I prefer to run fast and then stop. Rather than run slowly for a long time with wooden legs and a big red patch under one arm which screams in the shower, and a small screwdriver up my ass. But don't let me rain on your parade - go for it, it's a lovely part of the world, look at the photos: beautiful! Scenic! Fabulous! 

*We ran by my Garmin 37 miles on day 2, 38 by Graham's. The extra would have been circling Carradale looking for shops. The website says 35.5 and most of their info is spot on. Rob seems a great bloke and it was an honour to have him come out on an overcast day to run with us for a few miles. I believe you can get a bus from Glasgow to Tarbert, then possibly rent somewhere local and get yourself to the 5am start in Tarbert. Race day is May 10th and I'm sure they've ordered some lovely weather.

The photo above (taken by Roly) - the "at last we're finished and can now go to the pub" photo has Neil standing in for Steven, the fourth of the hardcore 4 who ran the whole route (although Craig strictly speaking didn't start in Tarbert, but did some early miles near Tayinloan before joining us.) On Sunday the other 4 got transport from Tayinloan to Carradale and ran the 20+ from there to Campbeltown. We all got in before 3pm.

Steven and Roly are signed up for the 67 miles. Roly had problems with his Altra shoes. He felt the no-drop aspect combined with the rough ground on Saturday caused havoc with his achilles and he reluctantly dropped out of Sunday's running. To pass the time he collected his car from Tarbert and drove to Campbeltown. Which was very convenient for myself, and I was able to nod in the back while himself and Phil chatted in the front all the drive back to Edinburgh in the sunshine. Big thanks to Roly for the lift there and back and speedy recovery with the achilles. I know he was very frustrated not to be able to recce the second half of the course.