Friday, 27 March 2009

La Palma

23rd to 30th March 2009
Slideshows: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 5 (II) | Day 6 | Day 7

A week of trail running on La Palma in the Canaries, based at Santa Cruz. I haven't been anywhere with such diverse landscape, climate and vegetation in such a small area.
All Photos

Hiking trail maps
La Palma trail map Day 1 - Pico de la Nieve at EveryTrail Day 2 - La Palma Southern Volcanoes at EveryTrail Day 3 - Ruta de los Volcanes at EveryTrail

Day 1, 23rd March - Manchester to Roque de los Muchachos - Day 1 Photos
Day 1 started with a 4am alarm call at the Cresta Court Hotel, Altrincham to catch the Thomson flight from Manchester direct to Santa Cruz, La Palma. As soon as I arrived I picked up a hire car and dropped my stuff off at La Fuente Apartments where I have been staying this week. The weather was pretty cold, misty and rainy, but I was assured it would be better at the top of the mountain which climbs (by road) to just over 2400m up endless hairpins.

I drove to around 1800m at which point it looked like the mist was about to clear, so I ditched the car and ran up Pico de la Nieve, 2200m, only to discover the summit was in thick freezing fog. Once back at the car I decided I might as well drive up past the astrophysics observatory to the summit of Roque de los Muchachos at 2426m. Things didn't look too promising until I was at the turn off for the telescopes, at which point I suddenly burst upwards out of the mist into blazing sunshine with a sea of mist below.
Pico de la Nieve Roque de la Muchachos - highpoint of La Palma Telescopes above the mist Looking down on the clouds Strange-looking gamma ray telescopes Edge of the World

Day 2, 24th March - Southern Volcanoes - Day 2 Photos
I felt absolutely shattered after my long day yesterday, so it took a while to get going and decide what to do. Eventually I opted for Los Canarios at the south of the island. This gave me a chance to check out the start/finish of Ruta de los Volcanes, plus has some easily accessible recently active volcanoes down at the southern tip of the island.

Day 3, 25th March - Ruta de los Volcanes (twice) - Day 3 Photos
I tried to start reasonable early, and was on the trail at 9.30am from Refugio del Pilar for the famous "Ruta de los Volcanes" along the spine of La Palma down to Los Canarios. The route in one direction is about 17km, but seeing as I only had one car I needed to turn round at Los Canarios and hike the 17km back to the start. A fairly long and very scenic outing of almost 7 hours.

Day 4 - 26th March - Barranco de la Madera and Peurto Espindola
The route around the Barranco de la Madera looks like nothing special on the map, but turns out to be a very special outing indeed. It also has the advantage that you can hike directly from the appartment in Santa Cruz.

I was quite tired from yesterday, so didn't make a particularly early start. The route heads up a dry river bed to Las Nieves before climbing to reach a steep zig-zag trail through pine forest. This climbs to almost 1,000m where you suddenly pick up a dramatic super-exposed narrow trail contouring across the barranco wall following a water channel. The path is no more than a metre wide and has a huge unprotected drop off the side in places. In other places you are grovelling through tunnels in near total darkness.

Eventually just at the head of the barranco you emerge from the final tunnel and the return route is a far more relaxing saunter down the floor of the barranco.

I was back in Santa Cruz with time to kill so took a drive up the winding coast road northwards to Los Sauces where there is a huge new bridge with 135m span and 150m drop to the barranco floor. I drove down a tortuous road to Puerto Espindola to find a very small black beach where it definitely didn't look safe to swim.

I took a look at Los Tilos before heading back, but it was too cold and dark by this stage to bother going for another run.

Day 5 - 27th March - Pico Ovejas and Mirador de la Concepcion
My plan this day was to connect onto the main spine at the Reventon Pass and then head northwards along the mountain tops as far as I could get. Ideally to Pico de la Nieve, and possibly a bit further around the Caldera Rim.

I duly set off from the pretty church of Ermita Virgen del Pino, the only car in the car park, and the weather looking rather iffy. I climbed 500 metres to the pass where it was cold and windy, and as I headed north it almost immediately started hammering down with freezing rain. I was glad I had brought my goretex jacket, but the rain was really pelting down and turning to hail.

As I climbed above 1600 metres the hail was lying on the ground turning the ridge white. My bare legs and hands were taking quite a beating from the rain and hail, but I pressed on, determined to reach a logical turning point. Thankfully I reached the small summit of Pico Ovejas 1854m which gave me an excuse to stop and turn round, now totally soaked and hands stinging.

The 950m descent back to the car didn't take too long, but was quite tricky down greasy sloping rock slabs.

I was back at the apartment just after mid-day, so as soon as the rain cleared I decided to head out again.

I couldn't be bothered to drive anywhere so aimed for the Mirador de la Concepcion - the impressive rock feature towering 400 metres above Santa Cruz - however my maps were distinctly unhelpful in showing how to get there since they don't include the new road blasted across the hillside above Santa Cruz which kept blocking my attempts.

After about 7 wrong turns, I eventually found a rough trail across wasteland to reach the waymarked GR130 trail and a proper route up the hill. I reached the mirador just before the sun sank behind the Cumbre Nueva and took some photos looking down on Santa Cruz, and watching the Tenerife ferry head towards the horizon.

Day 6 - 28th March - Barlovento to Gallegos and Los Tilos Bridge
Once again the weather was grey and gloomy. Not a day for the mountains. The hills were shrouded in thick mist. I opted for something lower level and headed north to Barlovento along the tortuously winding coastal road.

The roads on La Palma are so winding that nobody in their right mind would attempt to drive round the island in a day. I did drive to the summit on the first day, but once was enough for that mind-numbing hairpin descent.

Anyhow, when I reached Barlovento it was cold and raining. I waited a while for the rain to ease off, then jogged out along the GR130 coastal footpath towards Gallegos. The 6km route from Barlovento to Gallegos looks nothing special on the map, but what you can't see is that the path drops in and out of steep-sided heavily overgrown barrancos.

The barrancos are full of lush green vegetation and numerous small flowers, and the trail is steep and greasy. I was quite tired when I reached Gallegos. I stopped for Fanta and shortcake biscuits and vaguely considered continuing, but it was cold and started raining again, so I just headed back the same way to Barlovento.

On the drive back to Santa Cruz I took a break at Los Sauces to check out the Los Tilos Bridge. I ditched the car and walked down the old road into the Barranco del Agua, now bypassed with the bridge. The walk along the old road was far more interesting than I exepcted with great views of the bridge plus terraced banana plantations and palm trees laden with dates.

Day 7 - 29th March - Pico Bejenado and Cascada de Colores
This was my final day of the holiday and thankfully the weather was a little better. I headed west towards Los Llanos though the road tunnel in the middle of the island and turned off at the Caldera Visitor Centre for Pico Bejenado 1854m, the most prominent single hill on La Palma. I drove until the tarmac became dirt track, then ditched the car and started running. There is a higher car park, but it only takes a few minutes to run up the track. The trail then follows a good path through pine forest.

I was getting a little worried at the cloud building up, and realised the summit view would soon be obscured. I had to put my foot down on the climb to reach the top in bright sunshine, but with cloud quickly spilling up from the south. The panaromic summit view of the Caldera Rim is quite awesome. A bit like looking across the Grand Canyon.

As I jogged back down, dozens of walkers were rambling up the hill, but far too slowly to get any sort of view from the summit.

I had one final afternoon left, so opted for a trek into the bottom of the vast Caldera de Taburiente. The access road snakes down a dangerous hairpin road strewn with fallen rocks and boulders from the precipitous hillside. In fact driving down this road was the most dangerous act of the holiday.

I took the trail for the Cascada de Colores which follows the river bed into the Caldera. I stuck to the river bed for as long as possible, until getting knocked back by some deep pools and tricky rock slabs. The trail was OK, but dragged on a bit before I finally came to the bizarre Cascada de Colores - a semi-artifical waterfall down a barricade, with strange bright orange water coloured by mineral deposits.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Alloa Half Marathon

22nd March 2009
Results | Route details at EveryTrail

Another Sunday, another half marathon.

I'd not done Alloa Half before, but I knew it has reputation for always being windy, and today didn't disappoint. The calm conditions of yesterday had vanished and were replaced with a blustery westerly wind, perfect for ensuring that miles 6 to 10 would be tough going.

I tried to set off as conservatively as possible, and slotted into a largish group of 1:17/1:18 type runners aiming to shelter from the wind. I tried to sit on the back of this pack with Mark McColl, Dan Gay, Wull Hynd, George Taylor, Toni McIntosh, etc. but all these runners were too skinny to get any shelter and after 3 miles or so I couldn't keep up with them anyhow, so instead decided to jog alongside Ewan Jack who was keeping a nice steady pace that I thought I could live with.

My plan of running with Ewan worked fine until about mile 5 when we turned into the wind at Tillicoultry with a slight uphill rise. I was feeling jaded already and could feel myself falling off the pace, allowing a small but uncloseable gap to open between me and Ewan.

Neil Deerey caught me just before mile 10 which spurred me into action, and I managed to regain a bit of pace for the last 3 miles. I was fairly sure I had missed the 1:20 target but with 2 miles to go I decided to give it all I had left. As I arrived back into Alloa I knew I was getting very close to dipping back under 1:20 so gave an all out sprint for the last 400 metres, which saw me nip past Ewan just before the line to cries of "yah scumbag!".

My gun time was 1:20:18, so less than a second per km off my target pace, which I suppose isn't that bad, although I still think I should be aiming at more like 1:18. Toni McIntosh was first lady in 1:17:47, and the race was won by Eritrean athlete Tsegezeab Woldemichael in the incredible time of 1:07:42.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Cycle Round Arran

15th March 2009
Photos | Route details at EveryTrail
Ellie and I went for a 55-mile cycle round the Isle of Arran.
Felt like the first proper day of Spring.

Top of big hill from Sannox to Lochranza Top of big hill from Sannox to Lochranza Heading towards Blackwaterfoot Arriving at Blackwaterfoot

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Lairig Mor Trail Race

14th March 2009
Results | Photos | Route details at EveryTrail

22km trail race from Mamore Lodge to Fort William along the West Highland Way

This was my 4th outing at Lairig Mor and almost certainly the windiest. Before the start I chatted with Craig Mitchell, Tom Smith, Mark Harris and Jason Williamson, and as luck would have it, this was precisely the group I ran with until about the halfway point. Jason and I were doing most of the sheltering, and Mark and Craig were taking most of the wind.

The pace felt pretty pedestrian until halfway at which point Craig stamped his mark on the race and really took off. Tom gave chase, with Mark, Jason and myself strung out in 3rd, 4th and 5th positions. I lost sight of Jason for the last few miles into Fort William, but kept working hard to make sure I would finish under 1:40, which I just managed with 1:38:41.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Balloch to Clydebank Half Marathon

8th March 2009
Results | Route Map | Photos | More Photos (1) | More Photos (2)

Wild blizzardy weather first thing thankfully calmed down in time for the race.

I tried to run tactically by resisting the usual urge to hammer off too hard at the start. Instead I tucked in behind 2 of the many Bella runners, and sheltered from the wind during the first 5 miles down to Dumbarton. My other plan was to stay behind Paul Thompson for as long as possible, and resist any urge to overtake. This plan more or less worked up until the A82 Bowling Roundabout, but like last year at Mile 8 I started feeling tired, and could feel my pace dropping, which allowed Paul to open up an uncloseable gap, and Robert Rogerson to catch me around Mile 9.

I was overheating by now having started in a long-sleeved Helly, but I managed to extricate this and throw it to Muffy at the Mountblow roundabout. I then hoped to chase down Robert but instead was caught by Graham Kennedy of Motherwell. We ran more or less side by side until the final mile, but I couldn't keep the pace going and Graham got away.

My main goal was to get properly under 1:20 as part of the general marathon training. As I passed under Kilbowie Road with 250 metres to go, I was slightly stressed that I might miss 1:20 like last year. I didn't want to make the same mistake twice, so upped the pace and managed to cover the final 250m in 47 seconds, which is 5:02/mile pace - and by far the fastest I ran in the entire race!

So I finished 21st in 1:19:30, just 11 seconds behind Graham and Robert who were 3rd and 4th V40s. This was faster than any of the half marathons I ran last year, so I was reasonably happy with the result, especially seeing as I felt pretty comfortable with the pace most of the way, and all the kilometre splits were well within my target 4:00/km pace for a sub 2:50 London Marathon.

The race was won by Kerry Liam-Wilson of Ronhill Cambuslang in 1:12:30. The only other Westies running were Katy Mackintosh and Tony Ritchie who ran 1:33:17 and 1:40:20 respectively. Thanks for all the shouts of support from the Westie marshals on the second half of the course! And thanks to Davie Hall for some of the photos.

Sheltering in a group at Mile 4 Feeling the pain at Mile 11 Only about 400 metres to go at this point

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Lasswade 10-mile Road Race

1st March 2009

After feeling ill with a virus for 2½ weeks, I knew I wouldn't have a great run and in fact it wasn't really a brilliant idea to be running at all. Also I woke up this morning with my lower back in spasm, possibly caused by slumping over the laptop the whole day yesterday getting the SHR Calendar put online. So I arrived at Rosewell with back aching and feeling generally washed out, and that was before I'd started running!

However it was a beautiful bright spring day to be running in the lee of the Pentlands, albeit with a stiff westerly wind. It was good to see former Westies Alan Wilson and Marc McColl on the startline. The first time I'd seen Marc racing in years.

The race was started by an old guy with a serious-looking starting pistol that made those standing near him feel a bit nervous. The first mile was uphill and straight into the wind, so just a case of tucking in. The next mile drops steeply into Roslin Glen, then the 3rd mile is a killer climb back out of the glen that knocks the stuffing out of you. I thought 2 of my closest hill-running contemporaries Dave Burgess and John Kay might provide useful pacing, but in fact I couldn't keep anywhere near them, and they both pulled away after mile 3.

Miles 5, 6 and 7 are more or less all uphill, and I didn't feel too lively on this section. Just before the highpoint of the course I caught and passed Marc McColl who seemed to be suffering with cramp or hamstring problems. But once the course levelled off and started descending, Marc scampered past me again.

I felt pretty washed out and sluggish for the final 3 miles, and got passed by Alistair MacDonald of Dundee Hawkhill. At mile 8 it was nice to get a friendly shout from Stewart Whitlie who looked to be on domestic duties. Then just before mile 9 I shuffled past a labouring Corstorphine runner. The final mile was through the scenic grounds of St Joseph's Hospital. Jogging towards the sign "400m to go" I had a Portobello runner barrelling down on me, so I had to put in a very uncomfortable sprint for the final 200 metres to hold position, which was probably about 18th in a watch time of 1:01:40, which is a second faster than I ran on the old course 3 years ago. My Garmin 405 indicated I finished at 5:12 min/mile pace!

Race route Race route Course profile Pace vs distance