As I've said more than once on these pages I'm an engineer. You learn the principles, how to do things, no need to remember the numbers, you can write those down.
At this time of the year we spend a week in Kinloch Rannoch because that's what we do. Overlooking the village is a hill, or rather the shoulder of a hill for it is no summit, more by the way of a viewpoint sort of thing. Each week that we're here I shamble up it once or twice; it's not far and it doesn't take long, it sits quite nicely between the main project of our day and drinks before dinner. Only I clearly didn't remember the numbers, just how far and how long exactly as I set out a couple of days ago. About a mile each way I said to Jan, back in half an hour or so.
It's just over a thousand feet of up (at least I remembered that right, wonder why...) and steep at the start. As I cleared the trees above the steepest bit I had the usual feeling that it was steeper and further than last year, but then there's a breather for a few minutes across a boggy but gentler-angled section before the final pull up to the top, which I discovered was nearly two miles from home rather than the one I had guessed. On the way down I tried to push on a bit and succeeded in sliding full length through the worst bit of bog. Not only late for tea now, filthy as well. I got back to the ranch and apologised, a bit disappointed with my efforts. The outing had taken 49 minutes.
I remembered that last year I had been up there two or three times, culminating in an end of week trip that I was quite pleased with. After dinner I bit the bullet and looked back over last year's logbook, and was fairly amazed to find that the run I had remembered as being a good one had taken 57 minutes.
It's seemingly unimportant little events like this that can change your whole attitude to things.
If you follow my blog even occasionally you'll know that I picked up an injury in the autumn of 2013 that took me well over a year to get (almost) sorted out. The first half of 2014 was a write-off and the second half saw me completing events at a very slow pace as I recovered. I tried harder in 2015, put in a lot of miles, but the overall fitness I had before the injury never came back. By the end of the year I had come to the conclusion that I would probably never regain it, but that I was still OK to go on enjoying events at a more modest pace - "just to finish" as they say.
So this year I changed my training. If I wasn't going to race so hard I didn't need to train so hard. I've done a lot fewer miles and I've kept to fairly modest speeds, in fact I've done fewer miles up to now than I have in any of the previous 8 years except 2014. I decided that distance and speed were the things likely to lead to more injuries. I still tweak things if I get too enthusiastic, but I know now to stop, have a rest for a few days, and not get too concerned about losing the miles. But one thing I have done is to start running up hills more (well, jogging to be strictly accurate - as the Sundance Kid said in the film.... "You call that running ?!!"). Near our place in Keswick we have plenty of hills that I can get to just by opening the door and starting to run - Latrigg, Walla Crag, Bleaberry, Skiddaw, Cat Bells, Grisedale Pike - just a big playground right outside the door. I now try to run as much of the uphill as I can. I'm reasoning that this should take the place of speed work and is less likely to cause injuries. But all this still against the background of having to take the events much more easily.
But recently, two or three events have got me thinking.
A few weeks ago I ran 10 miles on the roads round our house in Chester in just under 80 minutes. Pretty pedestrian for a real runner but not a time I'd seen since earlier in 2013. More importantly, I hadn't done any speed work to get there. I never run a single mile faster than 7.30 these days, and anything above 3 or 4 miles I go much nearer to 8 minute miles. Then last week, I managed to run all the way up Walla Crag, again nothing to write home about but there was one little steep bit that had always defeated me before. And now Craig Varr, the most encouraging one of all.
I'm cautious, but I think I'm beginning to believe that I'm fitter than I was last year. And if that is actually true, and I build gradually, there's no reason why I shouldn't carry that on for a while yet.
This time last year I failed to make it through the Dragon's Back Race, simply because I wasn't fit enough for the event. The next one is in May 2017, and I put my name down for it earlier this month. I couldn't resist it. I hadn't worked out how I was going to bridge the gap but it's just such a great event I wanted the experience again. Now I knew the route I could maybe think my way around losing the hour or so a day I needed to get round. But I'm now starting to believe that there is no reason why I can't be significantly fitter next year than last, and that's a much better plan.
Looking forward not back.
PS. Typical, since I started writing this last night, I went for a gentle 5 miles along the Loch shore road this morning. Steady 8 minute miles but in a pair of shoes I hadn't used on tarmac before. Came back with a little Achilles tweak. Not great with the Northern Traverse starting in 6 days, but it will probably be OK. Just shows how careful you have to be.