Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A new training partner!

Meet my new training partner - Jess.

OK so maybe I can run further than her at the moment but I'm sure that won't last long. I've wanted a Springer Spaniel for years and after much family discussion, we decided that the time was now right. Jess is only 12 weeks old at the moment but hopefully, by the time the worst of the winter months are behind us, she'll be able to join me for some short runs and eventually, she'll be charging off ahead leading me on my longer sessions as I prepare for next years West Highland Way Race.

My training has been very light over the last couple of weeks - I think I'm averaging about 15 miles per week but it's quite nice to give my body a bit of a break and given the dark, very wet and cold evenings, it doesn't exactly inspire me to get out there.

However, as I mentioned above, my entry for the WHW Race next year has been accepted and so I now have a goal to motivate my butt out of the door on a Sunday morning. I have also started to plan some other races for next year and a few planned "excursions" At the moment I have;

The Highland Fling
The West Highland Way Race
The Longmynd Hike
The Mighty Deerstalker
Great Glen Way
Speyside Way
Southern Upland Way

I think that's enough to be going on with - best get some training in!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A Run With The Glee Club

Saturday saw my first group training run for a while. The plan was to run from Tyndrum to Kingshouse and back, a total of 36 miles with various options to drop in and out en-route. This was quite a long run for this time of the year and after running 28 miles the previous Sunday, I was in two minds as to how much of the run I would do.

However, as the the day drew closer, I decided that I would set off with the intention of completing the full 36 miles but that, depending on how I felt, I could stop at Bridge of Orchy on the way back (31 miles) and get a lift back down to Tyndrum.

About 16 of us set off on a very wet and cold morning in full waterproofs feeling remarkably jovial and upbeat (it is the Glee Club after all). The first 6 miles or so went in easy and we reached Bridge of Orchy still pretty much grouped up and picked up a few more people who were joining us there.

The climb up and over to Victoria Bridge was wet and by the time we had dropped down to the Inveroran Hotel, the group had started to spread out.

The time had passed quite easily though and I had chatted away to the likes of Keith Hughes about the wonders of Penfolds Grange and George Reid about his progression towards barefoot running.

Rannoch Moor was somewhat bleak but is sometimes all the more majestic because of that. Early on we spotted a small herd of deer running across the peat bogs and a little later a big stag taking a dip in one of the many small lochs along the route. I ran with Mike Thomson for much of the Moor and it was good to catch up with him and what he's been up to. Unfortunately, he is still having back problems and was forced to stop at Kingshouse and make use of Davie Hall's taxi service.

We reached the Kingshouse in just over 3.5 hours and it was my intention here just for a quick refuel and to set off on the return leg. Many of the others were opting for going inside for soup and warmth before heading back but I knew if I got sat down inside, I would never get going again.

So myself, Bob Steel and Jamie, set off back up the hill and onto Rannoch Moor once again. We met Ritchie Cunningham at the start of the climb who had set off with Lucy Colquhoun some time after us but, not surprisingly, had caught up by the half way point. Lucy had turned back earlier but Ritchie was putting in some miles before heading off to the states for a 100 miler in a couple of weeks and turned back with us.

By the time we had reached the top of the hill, Ritchie and Jamie had pulled away, Bob was gradually disappearing off which meant that I was on my own as I went over the top and headed onto the Moor. I quite liked this bit of solitude and the bleakness of the Moor adds to the sense of isolation so I plodded along quite happily lost in my thoughts.

The light had now started to fade slightly and the rain had not really let up all day so I started to get cold and put on my gloves and hat and kept up the pace to stay warm. By now, my feet had started to hurt again and I was beginning to feel that really, I'd had enough for the day and as I reached the gate at Victoria Bridge, Bob and Jamie were waiting for me and we set off together back up over the hill to Bridge of Orchy. I decided at this point that I would stop at Bridge of Orchy rather than carry on to Tyndrum. I could have kept going as I still had enough left in the tank but my feet were hurting and to be honest, I'd just had enough. I was very wet, cold and with no immediate racing incentives to pursue, it made sense to take advantage of a lift from Jamie back to my car at Tyndrum. Bob carried on on his own and finished the last few miles in ever fading light.

I got to my car in Tyndrum and, sheltering under my open boot lid, got into some dry clothes and headed into the Real Food Cafe for coffee and a bacon roll - boy was that GOOD!

Lucy Colqhoun was already there and it wasn't long before we were joined by Davie, Ritchie, Karen, Stan and David. All of us agreeing that conditions had been somewhat challenging to say the least.

After a bit of a chat, I headed home for a bath, more food and a very welcome glass or two of the red stuff!

As well as providing taxi services, Davie took some great photos which you can see here:


Friday, 23 October 2009

Every which Way but Loose

October has traditionally been a quiet month for me. My last long race at the Longmynd Hike is at the start of the month and I usually take some time out to rest and recouperate until November when I start to venture out once more.
What is also does is give me some time to mull over what my plans are for next year and I've had an idea thats been going through my head for some time now and I think next year may be the time to put it in place.
I'd like to run all four official Long Distance Footpaths in a single year. That's The West Highland Way, The Great Glen way, The Speyside Way and The Southern Upland Way. There - I've said it now, it's out in the open and I feel better for it.
At the moment, it's just a vague plan and is by no means confirmed. There are numerous logistical issues to tackle and, of course, staying injury free long enough to complete them.
Here are my thoughts at the moment:
  • West Highland Way - Having raced this over the last two years, as long as I get a place in next years race, this one is tried and tested.
  • Great Glen Way - at approx 60 miles, this is doable in a single day but I may split it and do it over 2 days. This does require some degree of support and accommodation etc. which makes the single day option more appealing.
  • Speyside Way - This runs from Buckie to Aviemore along the River Spey and at about 70 miles is also a possible single day run but again, could be done over 2 days with a bit of organising
  • Southern Upland Way - This is the biggest challenge of all 4 and at 212 miles is a mjor undertaking. At the moment, my thoughts are to do it over 5 days which equates to about 45 miles per day. Not knowing the route, I don't know if this is unreasonable or not. The biggest decision will be the logisitics of accommodation, food etc. and this is an issue still to be resolved.

As far as timing is concerned, I'd like to run the Great Glen Way and the Speyside Way prior to the WHW race at the end of June and then set up for the Southern Upland Way in September. Given that I also want to run the Highland Fling in April and I have a cycling trip to France in May, this might be over ambitious for the first halsf of the year but, like I said, it's just vague plans at the moment.

So, if anyone reading this has any experience of either the Great Glen, Speyside or Southern Upland Ways, your comments, advice and thoughts would be appreciated. Leave a comment here or contact me separately. I should also point out that I am more than happy for anyone to join me on all or parts of any of the trips and so let me know if you are interested.

Before all this, there is the minor issue of trying to resolve my list of current injury woes which I am hopeful will allow me to last the pace for a busy year.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Longmynd Hike

For the past half hour I had been rationalising in my head why it was perfectly reasonable to pack in the race there and then. The wind was doing it's best to blow me off the ridge, the rain was hitting my face with such ferocity that it hurt and what's more, I was tired! I was by now, 20 miles into a 50 mile race and if the weather stayed like this for the duration, it was not going to be fun.

However, for some reason, I was still moving forward and perhaps there was a glimmer of hope that the rain was easing and the forecast was for the wind to drop so, I resolved to keep going and see how things felt.

This was my third year at the Longmynd Hike. A 50 mile run through the Shropshire hills covering 8,000 feet of ascent and, starting at 1:00pm meant that a large portion of the run is completed in the dark. I had enjoyed the previous two years and being local to my in-laws it had become a "must do" race. It also happened to be the final race in the Vasque Ultra Series and so does tend to attract a large field.

I line up with 500 other souls in the middle of a field waiting for the signal to go and no sooner were we off than the first hill loomed ahead. There are 17 check points on the route and many of these are perched on top of some of these hills so within the first 20 minutes, I was through the firts check point and heading down towards the second climb. It is quite a shock to the system as within the first 4 miles, you have already climbed two hills and your legs are feeling the effects. I was prepared for this and had set off easily determined not to trash my quads early on and so I felt OK as I left the hills behind and set off on the long drag up to check point Nr. 3. What I wasn't ready for was the strength of the wind which although forecasted, was still a surprise. The next 5 miles or so was spent with the wind head on as i climbed slowly to the next check point. I could feel the energy being sucked out of me and the noise of the wind around my ears was deafening. What amazes me on this route is that despite the inhospitable conditions and remote locations, the check points are all manned by incredibly cheery and enthusiastic volunteers who send you on your way with some words of encourangement and a huge smile.

As I turned and headed across the rough grazing land on my way to the next check point at the Bridges Pub, the rain started and within seconds I was soaked to the skin. The track eventually brought me out onto a country lane and I dropped down steeply to the waiting marshals and a refill of my camelback.

The next stage is a long, very steep climb up a tarmac road which seems to go on for ever and as the intensity of the rain increased, my spirits started to fall. At the top of this climb, you leave the road and start the steep climb up to the top of the Stipperstones. This is a hill from hell as the ridge is about half a mile long and is made up of brick sized rocks at every possible angle preventing you from placing a foot flat on the ground. Coupled with the wind and rain, it was at this point that I had started to entertain thoughts of a DNF.

I was determined to get off the ridge as soon as possible and so put my head down and pushed on. Sure enough, as I dropped down to the bottom, the rain stopped and, as forecasted, the clouds cleared and the sun actually came out. This lifted my spirits considerably and suddenly the task in hand didn't seem quite so bleak.

I passed the 20 mile mark and set off up the next climb of the day which was completed at a slow but steady pace. My quads were hurting on the descents now but I was managing a reasonable shuffle on the flats. The next check point at Bank Farm, allowed me to refuel with some soup and a rice pudding and as I set off into the forest section I was feeling more positive than I had felt all day.

One of the rules of this race is that the organisers group you into groups of three during the hours of darkness and I knew that by the time I reached the next check point at Shelve (30 miles) I would be getting grouped. It was therefore time to suss out the opposition and try to position myself with some one who i thought looked like they would run at my pace. There were a couple who i had been running behind, off and on for some time and they seemed the most lilely options so I spoke to them as we arrived at the checkpoint and they were happy to group up. It turned out that the lady was the same person I had been grouped with the previous year, so I knew we were evenly matched and after a quick introduction to to the other runner (her husband) we were off into the night and heading for the next climb up Corndon Hill.

Although the pace was higher than I would have liked, I was feeling OK as we climbed up under what was now, a bright, clear night with a full moon. A quick stamp on the tally card and we were off down the other side towards the trickiest navigation section of the route. We managed to work our way through the dense woodland and out the other side with a minimum of problems and got out onto a road for a brief flat section before tackling the next climb. Although tired, I was going OK and still felt that I had enough in reserve for the remaining 15 miles and that a reasonable time was on the cards.

We pressed on up the climb of Black Radhley, passing another group on the way. This gave us a bit of a boost and after a very quick check in, we decided to push on hard to the next stage to try and open up a bit of a gap. 38 miles in and we reached the check in at Stipperstones Car Park, the scene of my depression a few hours earlier. Oh how things had changed and we pushed on hard down the road that I had plodded up in the wind and rain earlier that day.
I had been surviving so far on instant soup and coffee provided at the check points and this was being supplemented by some gels, dried apricots and the occassional mini mars bar. It seemed to be working as we kept up a strong pace to the second last check point where, conscious that we were still not clear of the following group, we briefly checked in and then headed for the final climb. By the time we reached the base of Ragleth, I was all but spent and those last steps up to the summit were like walking at high altitude. Very slow, small steps and then a brief pause every couple of minutes to catch my breath before carrying on. Eventually, the summit check point came into view and we knew were as good as home. We got our cards stamped and then mustered up a final push to descend through the trees and into Church Stretton for the last few yards along the pavement to the finish at Church Stretton School.
We crossed the line in 11 hours 25 minutes exhausted but delighted and 15 minutes inside my previous PB. The results are not published yet and so I don't know my position but last year with a slower time I was 38th.
This is a really tough race but now in it's 42nd year, it is really well organised and is over subscribed every year. The challenges this year of the weather at the start and the 8 climbs merely adds to the whole experience.
In the words of Arnie..........."I'll be back"

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Roundabouts - a metaphor for life?

Few things in life really annoy me. On the whole I'm a calm, relaxed kinda guy who doesn't let things get to him. There are however, one or two exceptions to this and one of these is:
Why don't people signal at roundabouts?
This drives me mad. It is not a difficult concept to grasp and is one of (or used to be) the key parts to a driving test. It is simple;
If you are taking the first exit, signal left on approach to the roundabout and maintain the signal until you have exited.
If you are going straight on, do not signal on approach but as soon as you have passed the first exit, signal left to indicate to other road users that you are exiting the roundabout.
If you are turning right, signal right on your approach to the roundabout and then immediately on passing the second exit, signal left to indicate that you are coming off.
Why then, do so many drivers experience a total memory loss and fail to give any form of signal at any stage in their trip around the roundabout?
Maybe I am doing them an injustice, maybe there is something deeper, more psychological about their inability to signal which mirrors their attititude to life. Perhaps they are people lacking in direction in their life, when faced with a choice they feel unable to commit to a decision and simply let life lead them by fate or chance. They cannot decide on a route or a way forward and so they are unable to inform others of their intentions.
Alternatively, perhaps these are extremely focussed, driven individuals who know exactly where they are going in life and how to get there and see no reason why they should let others know of their grand plan as it is none of their damn business! There may be a fear that they will be followed, or worse still, overtaken and no longer find themselves to be a leader!
Whatever their reasons, it is rude, ignorant, dangerous and very annoying that they cannot simply flick their indicator wand at the appropriate time and keep us all safe!
Oh, there is one other possible reason; perhaps they're all women!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Mugdock Turbo X and bunking off

Last Saturday, I raced the latest in the Saab Salomon Turbo X series in Mugdock Park. Billed as a 10mile trail race with plenty hills, mud, trail, mud, hills and more mud, it lived up to its billing. Over 400 people set off on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning on a route that took us through Mugdock Park, onto the West Highland Way and back up through woods and bog back into Mugdock Park again. It was a brilliant race and as it bears no resemblence to any other race , there is no pressure to make a certain time. For the record, I finished in 1 hour 33 mins in 60th place.

Picture courtesy of Chris Upson

I decided to take Wednesday afternoon off work to take a "fitness test" in readiness for the Longmynd Hike in 2 weeks time. I have completed the Longmynd the last 2 years and it's a tough course over 50 miles with 8,000 foot of ascent so it's not to be taken lightly. As I have banged on about in recent weeks, I 've had foot and ankle problems since the WHW and this has meant a reduced volume of training. Yesterday' s run was meant to provide a final decision as to whether I was going to get to the start line or not.

I decided to run an out and back route from Milngavie to the Beech Tree Inn and back but on the outer point, I would cross the road and run up Dumgoyne twice. Kind of extreme hill reps! this was a total of about 22 miles that I hoped would feel "comfortable". The weather was brilliant and I felt great up till the last couple of miles through Mugdock Park but kept my head down and pressed on quite well. As I sit here typing this, my legs are a bit stiff and my PF is giving me some gip but I've decided to go for it and head down to Shropshire for a wee trot through the hills! - wish me luck!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Great Scottish Run 1/2 Marathon

Sunday morning saw me line up for my 20th Glasgow Half Marathon. I have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks whinging about my sore feet and ankles and how my legs have been tired and how my running just wasn't going well. Generally the kind of attitude that really annoys me in other people and so I'm not overly proud of my own self pitying. I had decided that I would run on Sunday with the plan to just get round in somewhere under 1:40 and to try and enjoy it.
The race got under way 10 minutes late and just as the rain started. Not heavy rain, but just enough to keep the temperature down. I was determined not to set off too quick and managed to settle in to a 7:15/mile pace feeling surprisingly good. The first few miles went in fast and I was enjoying the atmosphere and all the crowds who were standing in the rain cheering us on.
6 miles in and I was still on pace and feeling really fresh so I decided to step it up a bit and brought the pace up to about 7:00/mile.
I normally hate the section through Pollok park as there are some sneaky wee hills that sap your legs at about 8-9 miles in but yesterday I kept pushing on and came out of the park still with plenty left and starting to think that a reasonable time might be on the cards.
I decided that I would wait till 10 miles and then see if I could up the pace again for the final 3 miles in to the finish. I hit 10 miles and, feeling strong, I pushed hard and stayed at about 6:40 ish all the way to the finish to come in on 1 hour 31 mins.
I was absolutely delighted, not only with my time but at how good I felt all the way round.
I have an entry for the Longmynd Hike, the first weekend in october and I've been unsure as to whether I should start or not as training hadn't been going well and my feet are still bothering me but after yesterday's run I am much more positive. I am running in the Saab Salamon Turbo X race at Mugdock on Saturday and, if that goes ok then I'll commit to the Longmynd.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Thank You Darling!

I'm not much of a Political animal. I have no allegiance to any particular political party and have little time for the petty squabbling and points scoring that goes on at Holyrood and Westminster. As a business owner, I have to have a weather eye on what is happing in government circles particularly as most of my work is within the public sector and just occassionally, something comes out that is actually of tangible benefit to us, the working public. I'm not talking about policy reviews or complex and inpenetrable incentive schemes. Alistair Darling will help you buy a bike! How cool is that.

A number of years ago, the Government introduced the Ride to Work scheme which lets employers purchase a bike on which they claim back the VAT, the balance is then deducted as salary sacrifice from the particular employees monthly pay over a 12 month period meaning that the employee doesn't pay NI or Income Tax on the monthly amount. In real terms, what this means is that we, the bike riding public can save around 45% on the cost of a brand new bike and pay the balance on a 12 month, interest free loan. Good eh!

So being the kind, understanding employer that I am, I registered with Evans Cycles Ride to Work scheme last year and have recently acquired my second bike through their scheme. Isn't she nice?...............
So my training is now interspersed with the occassional bike ride to and from work made all the more pleasurable by knowing that Mr Darling is helping to pay for it!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Good times, bad times

Last Sunday saw me on the start line for the Helensburgh Half Marathon, trying to better my time of 20 years previously. The weather was unusually warm and with not a breath of wind, it was going to prove to be a harder run than planned.
I didn't realise how much harder until, the race began to unfold.
I had decided to set off at 7:00min mile pace, thinking that if I could hold that as long as possible and maybe push on the last two or three miles, I may just sneak in a 1hr 30mins. My first mile was 6:45min, a bit fast but ok. The second one was 6:59mins, bang on schedule. Mile 3 was 7:15mins but that was ok as there was a bit of a hill here. That was when it all started to go wrong!
By the time I'd got to mile 4 my legs felt completely done and I was struggling to keep going. I couldn't figure out what was wrong as I was only 4 miles in, the pace was high but not excessive but there was just nothing there. My mind started to get in on the act too by saying that this could be my first DNF, I may as well just stop there and then coz it was only going to get worse! I had given up looking at my splits by now and just decided to keep my head down, plod on and hopefully things would pick up.
Miles 5 to 9 were a battle between body and mind but my body was just managing to keep on top and the miles crawled by. By mile 9, I knew I was at least going to finish (phew!) and so resolved to try and make a reasonable attempt at chasing my 1989 time. I was enouraged on route by Ellen McVey and Aileen Scott who were marshalling and supporting respectively and their presence kept me going so thanks ladies!
I tried on a number of occassions over the last two miles to pick up the pace but each time I tried, nothing happened. The final mile is along the main street which is flat all the way and I was determined to salvage some dignity and managed to hang on to the heels of a couple of guys who passed me to cross the line in 1:38 and 130th place out of about 350.
So, what was my 1989 time.................1:44. Despite my physical stress, I had manged to run 6 minutes quicker than I did 20 years ago. I don't recall anything about how that race felt all those years ago but I'll bet it didn't feel as hard as today's. I also have the certificate for the following years race but if I want to beat that time I'm going to have to have a hell of a lot better a day than this year!
Looking back, I don't know why I struggled so much on Sunday. It was pretty warm which didn't help but not roasting. I had had a hard 10 miler on Thursday night but I felt that was out of my legs so I've just put it down to "one of those days".
I've been hobbling around this week a bit as the PF in my right foot is playing up and there seems to be some nerve damage in my left ankle which has never really recovered from the WHW Race. I've booked in to see my Physio next week to try see if she can keep me going as September is looming with a couple more races followed by Longmynd at the beginning of October.
I also have some big plans for next year, but more of that in a future post.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Holding back the years

I was having a bit of a tidy up at home the other day and came across a couple of finisher certificates for the Helensburgh Half Marathon for 1989 and 1990. At the time, I was a young, fit 23/24 year old exploring my running limits and training for my first Marathon.
Co-incidentally, I have entered this Sunday's Helensburgh Half Marathon (which I don't think I've run since the aforementioned dates) and so I find myself, 20 years older, wondering whether I can still run the times I did as a younger man.
I'm not giving too much away at the moment but suffice to say that, on a good day, I think I may be able to pull one out of the bag. I'll divulge both past and current times in my next post.
Helensburgh was also the venue for my 10k pb of 35mins 12secs back in 1990 something which I can confidently say I will never come close to again. Last year I ran my first marathon since 2001 and came very close to a pb but due to an over enthusiastic couple of sub 7 min miles early on, I died horrible in the last three miles coming in at 3:29.
In recent years, I have joined the ultra running community having now notched up 8 ultras over the last 2 1/2 years and, with the exception of this years Highland Fling, I have gone faster in each race.
As I get older, I therefore seem more suited to the longer events. This is no doubt in part due to the combined effect of years of training and running resulting in a deep reserve of fitness but it must also be down to the mental approach of running longer. The requirement for patience and to "think" your way round a course that perhaps isn't there in the youthful enthusiasm we exhibit in shorter events. One look at the age profile of a typical ultra is clear evidence of this with many competitors well into their forties, fifties and beyond.
One other trait which seems to benefit me in these longer races is my sheer bloody mindedness not to give in. I have never yet experienced a DNF and whilst I'm sure it will no doubt come, it will not be for lack of trying. In my first year running the Longmynd Hike (50 miles) I was in a pathetic state after 20 miles and was considering throwing in the towel when I grouped up with a couple of other guys who knew the route and so I tagged along behind eventually finishing in 12hours 15mins, totally spent. During those 30 miles running with the two guys we had chatted away and it was clear to them that I was only just hanging on in there. We sat down after the finish to enjoy the hospitality at Church Stretton School and one of the two turned to me and said "you are one stubborn bastard!" Now there's a compliment!
So, what happens on Sunday will be as a result of being a fit, middle aged, stubborn bastard - that's got to look good on my CV!

Friday, 31 July 2009

Best Interview Answer Ever

I came across this today whilst clearing out some old files. A friend of mine sent it to me a few years ago and I thought it was brilliant then..........and still do:

In order for the admissions staff of our college to get to know you, the applicant, better, we ask that you answer the following question: Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realized, that have helped to define you as a person?

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice.
I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently.
Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes.
I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru. Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries.
When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie.
Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a travelling centrifugal-force demonstration.
I bat 400.
My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy.
I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening.
I know that exact location of every food item in supermarkets. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair.
While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid.
On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin.
I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

It's been a few weeks since my last post and this is down to a few reasons.

I went off on holiday for a fortnight the week after the WHW race and had planned on writing a full account of my family's exploits navigating a 23 foot camper van around the North of Scotland but on my first day back at work, I received an email telling me of the tragic death of Dario Melaragni whilst on a training run with friends around Lochnagar.

I didn't know Dario well and my only contact with him was as a participant in the West Highland Way Race which he organised for the last 10 years. What was clear was his endless enthusiasm and love for what he did and his encouragement and concern for the wellbeing and success of all the runners he came into contact with. Other people who knew him much better have written some very touching and heartfelt comments and reading through them all has confirmed his position as the ""Father" of the West Highland Way Family. He will be sorely missed.

Eve is down visiting her parents with the kids for a few days just now and so I have been left to fend for myself (and the cat). It has meant that during this brief spell of solitude, I have had time to reflect on recent events and to how the death of someone you know with still so much to give can have an impact on your own perspective. I had planned a weekend camping trip on my bike last weekend and spending 14 hours pedalling away gives you the opportunity for a lot of thinking time

I've long been an advocate of the "seize the day" school of thought. It is easy to spend time sitting around talking about things you would like to do or places you would like to go and for many people, this is a far as it gets. The next time you hear yourself saying "one day, I'd like to........." why not make that "one day" tomorrow? To live your life and look back and say, "if only I'd done this" or "if only I'd done that" is a life unlived. What is painfully clear from recent sad events is that you never know what is round the corner and when your time will come so don't sit back and think, "maybe next year". We all have plans and dreams and it is times like this that give me the impetus to bring these to the fore and start to make them a reality.

I lost another good friend to cancer at Christmas last year. She was only 40 and left behind a husband and two small children. Her death and Dario's have had a profound affect on me. Perhaps more so than elderly relatives who have passed away who, although closer in relationship terms, had lived a full and active life. To have all of your dreams and possibilities wiped out when you had so much more to give is tragic indeed.

I have spoken many times before on this blog of "enjoying the journey". In an ultra, if you keep going, persevere and endure you will reach your destination but the key is to enjoy the journey on the way there. In life, we all have a cast iron guarantee of reaching our destination so I for one fully intend to enjoy the journey.

Rest in Peace Dario and Jo.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

WHW Race Report

I thought I should write my race report whilst it is still fresh in my mind. Time has a habit of blacking out the bad bits and only remembering the good so hopefully this covers them both.
My support crew arrived in Milngavie early on Friday evening and after a restless wait at the house, I finally persuaded everyone to move out and walk round to the car park for about 11:45pm. As last year, the place was buzzing and I spent some time catching up with some friendly faces before registering and gathering for Dario's briefing. Right on time at 1:00am we were off! One thing that always intrigues me about teh race is that there is no starting gun or claxon or even a "GO!" It just seems to start.
The first few miles although through the dark, are so familiar to me I could run them with my eyes closed anyway! I was determined this year to start off slowly and kept an eye on my Garmin to make sure I was around the 9:30min/mile I wanted to sustain as far as Drymen. I was feeling very comfortable and glad to be on my way and I passed the Beech Tree in in 1hour 5mins only just seeing Eve and Cameron as I ran past. I kept my steady pace and already the field was starting to thin out. My other plan this year was to keep drinking and eating throughout the day and to pop an S-cap every hour. After the mess I was in during the "Fling" with cramp, I was determined not to let that happen again.
I arrived in Drymen right on 2 hours and met Eve and Cameron. I had a rice pudding, topped up the water and carried on through. Another tactic for this year was to ask my support crew to move me on through the check points as quick as possible in either the 5 or 10 mins allocated. By the end of the race, they were like an F1 pit crew and had me refuelled and out in no time at all. As I plodded up through the woods at the back of Drymen I started to get some pain in my left foot, nothing significant but annoying none the less. This was also my first low point of the race, I was feeling slightly light headed and very, very tired. I put this down to lack of sleep and pressed on but by the time I topped out Conic Hill I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to make it. As I descended down to Balmaha I passed my son's Scout Troop who were doing their annual midsummer climb up Conic Hill. The cheer I got must have been heard in Balmaha and it was just the tonic I needed to perk me up and I arrived in Balmaha feeling much happier - Thanks guys!
My F1 pit crew quickly had me fed and ready to go and the ferocity of the midges meant I wasn't going to hang around so I set off towards Rowardennan once again feeling more positive. This has historically been a really bad stage for me and I have always struggled getting in to Rowardennan but I was determined this year to stay steady and not worry about where I was heading but to just concentrate on running the 6 foot in front of me. This was a tactic I used throughout the day and I'm convinced it helped me cope with some of the tougher legs later in the day. I arrived at Rowardennan, bang on schedule and Eve and Cameron were there to see me through and refuel me. This was their last support stage of the day and so they were heading back to Milngavie to handover to Crew 2 and to get some sleep before joining us much later in the day.
I set off towards Inversnaid and am always suprised by how long the climbs are along the lochside at this stretch but kept walking hard up them and running all the flats and downhills and before long I appeared by the waterfall above Inversnaid and carefully made my way down the steps to the carpark to collect my drop bag. I was feeling OK still although my left foot was becoming increasingly more painful. I looked through my drop bag and realised that there was nothing in it that could face eating and so decided to take my bagel with me in the hope that I may change my mind as the next few miles passed.
I actually don't mind the stage from Inversnaid to Beingals Farm that much and managed to keep up a good steady pace up and down the rocks and over the roots and before long I emerged at the top of the loch and the climb up above Inverarnan. It was at this point I was ambushed by the BBC and was asked on camera to "Describe how you're feeling!" I'm not sure how much of my response they can show before the watershed!
Leaving Beinglas I started to struggle again and had a tough time getting over the undulating track to pass Derrydaroch but knowing that my support crew were at Carmyle Cottage, I was spurred on and took a real lift when I spotted my brother waiting a few hundred yards along the track before the checkpoint. At Carmyle Cottage I changed my shirt and had some soup and a fruit bowl and feeling much better, I set off on the climb away from the A82 up towards the path leading to to Bogle Glen. I quite enjoyed this stretch and was making good progress again as I rode the rollercoaster path through the forrest before emerging by the roadside once again and I ran strongly over the bridge and into Auchtertyre. I was now about 20 mins ahead of my schedule and feeling fairly good. After being weighed (I had dropped 3.2 kg but this apparantly was fine!) I had some more food and set off on the short tretch to Tyndrum.
I arrived in Tyndrum in 11 hours 35 mins, 1 hour and 10 mins faster than I had completed the "Fling" in 7 weeks earlier, all due to avoiding the terrible muscle cramps I had then.
A quick stop at Tyndrum to change my socks and I headed up the hill towards Bridge of Orchy. This is a great stretch for running and I made good time arriving in Bridge of Orchy still 20 mins ahead of schedule. I had hoped to briefly see Eve and Cameron here as well but it would appear I was too quick for them! It was our intention that Alistair would join me at Victoria Bridge to run over Rannoch Moor with me and so we checked with the Marshall how far ahead the leader was. Although he was only 3.5 hours ahead, we were told that I could be paced from Victoria Bridge.
I ran over the hill from Bridge of Orchy and as I was heading along the road section past Victoria Bridge, Cameron ran up to join me. He and Eve and arrived at Bridge of Orchy jaust after I left and decided to run round to Victoria Bridge to see me there. This gave me great boost but by now my main concern was how many painkillers I was allowed to take and in what combination. My ankle was really bothering me now and I was starting to feel the effects of the previous 60 miles of running. Suitably dosed up, Alistair and I set off on the long drag up Rannoch Moor. Despite starting to tire, I managed to run pretty much anything that was falt or downhill and only walked the ups. The final climb before the descent into Kingshouse really took a lot out of me and I started to feel light headed and needed to stop a couple of times to steady myself. The top eventually came and as I started towards the descent I was surprised to pass Thomas who was obviously in a bad way and eally struggling. Silke was with him and after a quick pat on the shoulder I set off down the descent. Alistair and I managed to run most of the descent down to the Kinsghouse and we arrived on schedule.
My support crew were ready for me but by now, nothing in the food bag appealed to me at all. Knowing that I had to eat something, I forced down some pasta and some flat coke, popped a couple more painkillers and set off with Donald towards the Devils Staircase and Kinlochleven. The climb up the Devils staircase was tough and I started to get light headed again but kept going and eventually reached the top where I had to have a brief sit down. The view was spectacular in verely direction and helped to dull the pain I was feeling in my ankle. Last year, I had to walk slowly down from here into Kinlochleven but this year we managed to run about 80% of the descent despite someone having sneaked out and added 6 miles onto the road from the power station (or so it felt!). We arrived in Kinlochleven running strongly but behind schedule which in hindsight was due to an over ambitious time split rather than a slow run. Another weigh-in and refuel and we set off up the climb to the Larig Mhor. The plan was to run this stage with Alistair but Donald stayed with us and decided to run over the Larig Mhor ahead of us and wait at Lundavra. Donald is doing Ironman Swtzerland in 3 weeks and at my pace, wasn't getting the training run he needed!
As we crossed the Larig Mhor, I started to see some rather bizarre objects by the route. I could have sworn I saw a cow up a tree, a crowd of people gathered under a tree, several tents and hundreds of little flickering lights amongst the grass (I didn't tell you about that last one Aistair, in case you started to get really worried about me!) Along the never ending path we kept pressing on, still managing to run the down hills and a few of the flats until the welcome site of the bonfire and the last check point came into view. By now my ankle was so sore that it was actually less painful to run that it was to walk. It had focussed on the tendon running down the front of my ankle and on to the top of my foot, so every time I bent my foot upwards I was in a lot of pain so I had managed to develop a kind of flat footed hobble rather than a walk or run.
Alistair, Donald and I left the last check point in fading light but I knew I had 2.5 hours to get under 24 hours so, barring any great disaster, it was looking good. We took up the same positions as last year with me sandwiched between Donald & Alistair as they kept the pace up. We decided that we would try a fast walk through the woods and then run as much of the forrest road into Fort William as possible. We soon arrived at the top of the road and I set off on the best run I could muster. I managed about 300-400 yards before I had to have a break as my quads were completely shot and the steep descent was more than they could handle. After a minute or so, we would do another few hundred yards and then another break and we continued like this all the way to the Braveheart Car Park. We had aranged to meet up with the rest of both crews here and Cameron and my Dad were changed and ready to run in with us so we set off in a group of 5 shuffling along the road into Fort William. As soon as I saw the 30 mile an hour sign I knew we were nearly there and from some untapped source I set off at steadily increasing pace until I was flying along round the roundabout and into the leisure centre carpark at what must have been close to 7 minute mile pace. I charged through the doors and gave in my number - Finished! 23 hours, 30 mins 37th place.
I was absolutely delighted and so relieved to be finished and able to stop at last. I had a quick shower but after I came out I had became very light headed and only just made it to the bench outside to avoid passing out. I sat there for five minutes with my head between my knees before eventually shuffling into the car and making my way back to the B&B where I crawled into bed, very tired, very sore but very pleased.
Today, mt foot and ankle is badly swollen and bruised so I have an appointment with my physio just to make sure there is nothing too serious going on. Other than that, I have the usual sore muscles and a general overall sense of fatigue but I can honestly say that it was an incredible experience. To run for so long and push yourself beyond what you think you can do is a hugely rewarding and empowering experience. It gives you a sense of perspective on your life and breaks down all the boundaries and obstacles that you put in your own way to stop you from achieving things. You come away with a sense of "nothing is impossible" and that is a wondeful feeling.
I could not achieved this without my fantastic support crew of Eve, Cameron, David, Pete, Donald & Alistair. Thank you so much

Monday, 22 June 2009

WHW Race 2009

A quick post to say that I finished this years race in a time of 23 hours, 30 mins in 37th place out of 142 starters. Obviously I am delighted and now somewhat tired. I'll post a full report in the next few days.
Now next year, if I could just.....................................................

Monday, 15 June 2009

Pre-Race Thoughts

My work is done, all that is left now is a gentle 4 miles tomorrow night and then it's time to count down the hours until 1:00am on Saturday 20th June when me and 174 others embark on a 95 mile trot from Milngavie to Fort William on the West Highland Way Race.
Rightly or wrongly, this has become my main focus for the last 12 months. All my training is geared up to this one race. My mind is constantly flicking through mental check lists, logistical options and different completion scenarios. Eve and the kids have had to put up with my anti-social running exploits and I have spent far too much time updating training logs instead of working. As with last year, Race Day accelerates towards you and before you know it, it's here and it's time to deliver the goods.
I could spout forth here about pace schedules, target times, nutritional requirements yadah, yadah, yadah but the thing is; this is a really simple concept. You start running in Milngavie and keep going until you reach Fort William. If you don't stop, you'll succeed, if you do, you wont.
Now I know that there is a bit more to it than that but I've decided that if I get too caught up in obsessing about splits and pace then I'll panic if I don't hit them and if I start to get defeated mentally, the race is over.
Goal number 1 is to finish (safely and in one piece). Last year I ran 24 hours 42 mins and so it would be nice to run under 24 hours this year but we'll see what the day brings. My support crew is the same as last year with Eve and Cameron (wife and Nr. 1 son) doing Milngavie to Rowardennan and then David, Pete, Alistair and Donald (Dad, father-in-law, brother Nr. 1 and brother Nr. 2) from Carmyle Cottage to Fort Bill.
It will doubtless be another emotional and physical rollercoaster with some glorious highs and a few deep troughs but one thing is for certain, if I keep moving forward, I will finish. That may sound obvious and kind of simple but when you've been out there for 15 hours, your legs are completely shot, your feet are in pieces and you're not quite sure which way is up and which is down, moving forward is quite a challenge.
I have written before in this blog about "enjoying the journey" and not focussing on the destination and that is what I hope to do. We are very fortunate to be able to take part in an event like this and so I for one intend to enjoy it.
So my overall race plan goes something like this:

Eat well, drink a little and often, start off slow and be patient. The end will come!
Wish me luck and I'll talk to you on the other side.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

70 Wild Miles

Saturday saw me and my two oldest friends team up to take part in 70 Wild Miles. For those of you not familiar with the event, it consists of a 47 mile bike ride from the White Corries Ski Centre in Glencoe to Taynuilt at the head of Loch Etive, competitors then embark on a 10 mile canoe, the length of Loch Etive before handing over to a runner to run the 13 miles up Glen Etive to where it meets the A82 just beyond the Kinghouse Hotel.
It can be done as either a solo or a team event but the main purpose is to raise funds for CLIC Sargent, the childrens cancer charity.
We chose to enter as a team with Peter doing the cycle, Graeme doing the canoe and myself running. The cyclists were set off in 1 minute intervals and Peter was allocated a 7:50am start time and was away pretty much bang on time. As soon as he left I took the car back to Ballahulish where we were staying to pick up the rest of his and my family and set off to see him finish in Taynuilt. Peter had an absolutley storming ride such that we arrived at the finish pretty much at the same time as him. Despite some very poor course directions resulting in a 5 minute tour of the backroads of Taynuilt Peter did a fantastic 2hours 19mins.

Although the weather was fairly good, the wind direction meant that the organisers changed the planned 10 mile canoe up Loch Etive to a 2 mile thrash around the calmer waters by Taynuilt pier. Not put off by this slight change of plan, Graeme joined the other 90 or so competitors for the mass start and powered his way round the course to finish in a fantastic 15th place. As he carried his canoe up the beach, I retrieved the timing chip from him and we set off towards the run start.

Due to the change of canoe route, the run had to be amended to start at the finish point and run 6.5 miles down the course, turn and then head back up to complete the 13 miles. Given that the route is pretty much uphill all the way, this was a slight blessing allowing the first half to be run downhill. The runners were allowed to start as soon as we reached the start and so I was third away and very quickly passed the other two people to find myself in the front. Knowing that the second half of the run was all uphill, I tried to relax as much as possible on the outward half, holding back for the return leg. Although I was only in the lead because I was one of the first to start, it was a very strange experience to be leading the field and having no-one to chase and it meant I had to concentrate on doing my own thing whilst feeling the pressure of being chased by everyone else. I had a great uphill leg and ran strongly all the way to the finish in 1hour 29min and the 8th fastest run of the day. There was a fair amount of shock on my family's face when they heard that the first runner was coming in only to see me cresting the hill and sprinting home. My youngest son still believes that I won the race and it would be cruel to tell him otherwise - wouldn't it!?
Our team finished a very creditable 6th out of 18 teams competing and at the last count we had raised just over £1,250 for the charity.

It was a great weekend and one that I'm sure we are all planning on repeating next year. Thanks to Peter and Graeme, the event was all the better for being able to share it with you guys!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Last run on the Way

Last Thursday night saw me line up for the Helensburgh 10k. Conditions were perfect with clear skies, a light breeze and a flat course. I was feeling pretty good and looking to get under 42 mins. In the back of my mind however was the prospect of an early start the next morning for my last long training run on the West Highland Way. Is a 10k race the best preparation for a 40 mile trail run?
I decided I would try and hold a bit back in the race so that I wouldn't be completely done in for the next morning so I joined the 1,000 other runners on the start line nervously jumping up and down and doing last minute stretches. Bang! - as soon as the gun went off, the red mist descended and any thoughts of holding back went out the window. I weaved my way through the slow runners who always manage to start too near the fron and eventually found some clear ground and settled into a surprisingly comfortable 6:30 pace which I managed to hold onto uncannily accurately the whole way round finishing in 40:24 and 110th place.
I stretched out, had a gentle jog back to the car and relived some childhood memories by calling into The Palace chippy for a fish supper before heading home.
I got home at about 9:45pm and after running around sorting my stuff out for the next morning, I was showered and in bed by 11:00am.
6:00am the next morning, the alarm woke me from a fitfull sleep and it was off to Tyndrum to meet up with Mark Hamilton and Ellen McVey. I was running from Tyndrum to Kingshouse and back and they were running straight through to Fort William. My legs felt OK considering the previous night's efforts and we set off at a nice steady pace jst after 9:00am.
The weather had looked a bit ominous with black clouds up ahead over Glen Coe but other than a light shower as we passed Bridge of Orchy, we stayed dry. Running the flats and downs and walking the hills we made steady progress, reaching Kinshouse in 3hours 40mins. After a quick scoff, I turned around and left Mark and Ellen for my journey back to Tyndrum.
It is the first time I've run over Rannoch Moor in that direction and it's only then that I realised just how much of a climb it is as I managed to run the whole way across back to Victoria Bridge with a steady descent the whole way.
By this time the clouds had gone and it was a glorious sunny afternoon. I pressed on passed Bridge of Orchy and reach my car in Tyndrum 7hours 30mins after I left it.
On the whole, the run went well especially after racng a 10k the night before. I had to work pretty hard from B of O back to Tyndrum but the coffee in the Real Food Cafe in my Highland Fling mug made up for it!
So, this week is a bit of a recovery and I've got 70 Wild Miles next Saturday, the Milngavie 10K, the following Saturday and then WHW the next one - Bring it on!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Well Sunday morning's run broke new ground once more and I managed 18 miles through some very attractive scenery. Looking at the map, I had anticipated more of it being on rough ground and so I wore my trail shoes. Unfortunately, the disused railway line which is now a cycle path had been tarmaced and so by the time I got home my feet were pretty sore.

The photos below are taken en-route to give you an idea of what it looks like

Tomorrow night sees me running in the Helensburgh 10K which, many many year ago, was the sight of my PB. Those days are sadly long gone but never the less it is still a fairly fast, flat route so i would like to sneak in somewhere under 42 mins. Unfortunately, my timing is somewhat lousy as I have also planned my last long training run on the WHW for the following day! So it will be an early start, up to Tyndrum to run the 40 miles from there to the Kingshouse Hotel and back.
I hope to run the outward leg with a few others who are carrying on up to Fort William so it will be nice to have some company for a change.
I'll let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

New discoveries on my door step

Tim Downie blogged a while ago about heading off on routes close to home that you've never done before and so, in this spirit, I decided last night to head into pastures new.
On my usual run around the quite country lanes of Baldernock, I regularly pass a signpost indicating a footpath to Lennoxtown and so I decided that tonight was the night that I would investigate.
Immediately I was onto a rough Landrover track that started to head steadily up alongside a Beech Wood and after half a mile or so, another signpost took me left, through a gate and up onto the moor heading towards Lennoxtown Forrest. It was probably a combination of late evening blue skies, great running terrain and a steadily improving fitness that resulted in a fantastic run. As I reached the top of the moor just before heading into the forrest, I took a detour over a fence and up to a small cairn on the brow of the hill. From there I watched the sun set behind Ben Lomond with all the surrounding hills perfectly silhouetted as far as the eye could see. After a brief dip into the forrest (where I spotted some great tracks for possible future runs) I turned and flew back down the tracks to emerge back onto the road and the continuation of my normal route.
Envigorated by the experience I sped along the last four miles on the road at 7:00min mile pace (it's all down hill!) and arrived home with 11 brilliant miles in the tank .
I can't believe that I've lived in my present house for almost 12 years and not been up into this area before. From what I saw, and from studying the map last night, it looks as though I could link up well over 20 miles of off-road trails and track straight from my front door.
I am planning a 25 mle run on Sunday and rather than the intended trip up through Mugdock Park and the WHW, I'm heading for Lennoxtown forrest and some more new adventures!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Reflections on a far flung Fling

So it's now almost 2 weeks since I finished the Highland Fling and I've had a chance to reflect on how the race went on what lessons I can learn from it. As always, it was a superbly organised race and Murdo and Ellen are to be congratulated on a job well done.

The race didn't go exactly according to plan and my hopes for sub 11 hour time were scuppered by significant cramp. I am however, a firm believer that you gain more from a bad experience than from a good one and so what have I learned?
  1. Pacing - OK so I know this is rule nr. 1 in running ultras but I still managed to head off too fast, worrying about times and splits when I should have had the confidence to set off slow and let others go off. I'm sure I paid for this by the time I reached Rowardennan as I was already feeling tired at that point. So for the WHW race I need to set off nice and slow!
  2. Nutrition - My problem is that there is no real strategy behind what I eat and when I eat. I tend to try to fill up at check points when I think I need to nibble away at something every 15 mins or so and then top up at the check point. As the race progresses, you tend to feel less and less like eating so I need to find something that fills the tank and that I actually want to eat. I generally eat gels, dried apricots, baked beans and rice pudding which I think are all fine but it's how much and when I need to improve on. During the Fling I carried water with me and drank some coke and lucozade at the drop bag points. As it was quite warm during the race perhaps I should have drunk more which may have helped with teh cramps. I don't tend to measure how much I drink, rather doing it by thirst but I think I should try and keep tabs on how much so that I can increase if necessary.
  3. Supplements - There has been much discussion over why I cramped so badly during the Fling but one point that comes out time and time again is the issue of salt balance. I generally take Hammer Endurolyte caps but rather erratically instead of every hour. I have switched to Succeed S Caps which contain about 4 times more sodium than the endurolytes and am determined to stick to a one an hour plan so hopefully this will help.
  4. Mentality - I have run enough ultras now to know that you have periods when you are feeling pretty low and you just need to keep your head down and press on and you generally come out of it. In the Fling, I became very negative by about Rowardennan, convincing myself that I was not going well and that i might have to pull out which, as you would expect doesn't do a great deal for your motivation to keep going. I need to remain more positive and focus on the good elements at a particular time. I wrote a piece recently about "enjoying the journey" and not worrying about the destination and I think I need to practice what I preach.
  5. Perspective - when you are involved in the ultra running community you tend to loose focus on what it is you are actually achieving. Being disappointed in only running 11 hours 42 mins for a 53 mile trail race when most people shudder at the thought of running 5 miles is putting myself down.

Since running the Fling I have been back training with avengance and am now really looking forward to the WHW race which is now only 6 weeks away. My plan for the rest of May is to put in a 56, 65 and 75 mile week and then to gradually ease off from the start of June onwards. I,ve got three races before then with the Helensburgh 10k next Thursday and then 70 Wild Miles and the Milngavie 10k in the two weeks preceeding the WHW.

On a final positive note - whilst not completely gone, my Plantar Fasciitis seems to be in remission and is now only slightly tender if I have done a lot of road miles.

Monday, 27 April 2009

In pain, me? - Nah!

DSCN2563 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

The Highland Fling

Saturday saw me on the start line for my second running of the Highland Fling, a 53 mile ultra marathon from Milngavie to Tyndrum along the southern half of the West Highland Way.
I started at 7:00am along with about 170 other runners in the Male Senior and Male Vets category. The ladies and supervets had set off an hour earlier and the realy teams would be leaving at 8:00am an hour behind us.
The weather looked great with no wind and some light cloud cover but as the day wore on things would warm up and I think contributed to my difficulties later in the race. I set off at a steady pace trying to keep around 9min / mile and to resist the temptation to push on too hard when your body feels fresh and the adrenalin is pumping. There were a lot of runners around me as we left mugdock wood and decided to drop back a bit to give myself some space and run on my own. I got out past the Beech Tree Inn feeling comfortable and kept a steady pace all the way to Drymen, getting there in 1:55 slightly ahead of my 2 hour schedule.
I topped up my water and set off up through the forrest towards Conic Hill. I don't find the climb up Conic Hill too bad but I hate the descent and managed my usual slow progress down into Balmaha where I picked up my first drop bag. A quick pot of rice pudding and I was off along the lochside towards Rowardennan feeling the effects on my quads of the earlier descent. I always seem to struggle on this section and Saturday was no different. I went through a really low period that saw me contemplating imminent failure. It was along here that I started to get my first cramps in my calf muscles which, after a quick stretch seemed to pass but which were to cause me serious difficulties later.
I reached Rowardennan feeling pretty down and already struggling but after a pep talk from Alex who was in charge of the drop bags I got going again and shuffled my way off towards Inversnaid. I managed a bit of momentum along the roadway and kept the cramp at bay with regular stretches and was delighted to see the waterfall that signals your arrival at the Inversnaid Hotel. Because of the weather, the car park was full of tourists who all look somewhat bemused by the sight of these shuffling runners appearing out of the woods, scoffing down rice pudding and sandwhiches before shuffling off again.
The stretch along the top edge of the loch was slow as always and I continued to struggle with my motivation to keep going but by the time I left the waters edge and started the climb up towards Bein Glas I had rallied a bit and manged to up the pace again.
In an attempt to carry as little as possible, I had decided to use my bum bag instead of my back pack but the continued pressure on my stomach was making digesting food harder than normal and left me feeling nauseous on a number of occasions. I'll need to decide whether to go back to the backpack for the WHW race and try to address the chaffing that gives me in some way.
As I left Bein Glas, I was struggling again and started my run for 200, walk for 100 mantra to try and keep the progress going. The trouble was that by the time I got to about 120 on my run, the cramp set in and I had to stop and stretch then walk for a bit before I could start running again. I had arranged to meet my support crew (Pete my father-in-law and Cameron and Stuart my two boys) at Carmyle Cottage and it was this that kept me going. As I passed under the railway just before the cottage Stuart spotted my and came charging up to me shouting and cheering which was great and gave me a real boost to snap out of my depression. I tried some crisps at this point to see if that would help my cramp and after half a bottle of coke I was on my way once more - 8 miles to go!
The path along the top of the A82 was unusually dry and I met up with Mark Hamilton at this point and the two of us plodded our way up into Bogle Glen. By this stage, my hamstrings were cramping as well and I cursed the uphills and the downhills through this section but had a brief resurgance as I dropped down the last descent and ran into Auchtertyre Farm for a quick stop before the final 2.5 miles into Tyndrum.
I was determined to run this last section but I was fighting with cramp every hundred yards or so which was so frustrating as I felt could run if only my legs would let me. As I came out of the woods into the back of Tyndrum, people were passing me but there was nothing I could do about it. I had decided to try and keep something back so that I could at least run the last section along the edge of the river up to the finish and as the finish line came into sight I could feel my muscles going into spasm once more and despite my best efforts I had to stop 10 yards from the finish to stretch them out one last time. I crossed the line in 11hours 42mins; 20 minutes slower than last year.
There were many times through Saturdays race that I convinced myself that i wouldn't be able to finish and that if I found this race hard, what chance did I have of completing the WHW Race? Despite that though, I persevered and kept on going and I look back now and can see that that is what makes this kind of racing so special. It is the ability to endure, to keep going when everything within you is telling you to stop. If I can sort out the cramp problem, I know I can come back stronger and I'll be on the starting line in Milngavie at 1:00am on Saturday 20th June. What possible reason could I have for not!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A pre-Fling Update

With The Highland Fling now less than 2 weeks away, it's too late to worry about whether I've done enough training. I think, no matter who you are, you always feel like you should have put in a few more miles.
I looked back at my training schedule from this time last year and from the start of the year up to the end of this week, I've run 100 miles more this year and already competed in 1 ultra (the Wuthering Hike). This should make me feel quietly confident of getting round quicker than last year and perhaps even getting in under 11 hours. Why then do I feel concerned about getting round the 53 mile course a week on Saturday?
I went out on Friday for my last long run before the race and covered the 26 miles from the Drovers up to Tyndrum and back. The last few miles were a real struggle and I finished feeling exhausted and slightly dispirited. The rest of the day I was tired and I had a fairly quiet day on Saturday but then got up on Sunday morning at 7:00am and had a fantastic 9 mile run through the woods at the back of Mugdock - go figure!
So what's the plan for the Fling? - well first and foremost is to finish. Last year I got round in 11 hours 22 mins and so I would like to beat that time and maybe even get under 11 hours. With over 300 individuals and 30 teams taking part this year, the course could get a bit crowded but by the time we reach Drymen, it should have spread out enough not to be an issue. Pete (my father-in-law) and my two boys are going to come up to support the last few miles from Carmyle Cottage so it will be good to have that to focus on. Other than that, I hope to enjoy what is a great race and to set myself up for the WHW Race later in the year.
I'll get out for three runs this week and then an easy session next Tuesday, other than that, it's plenty of rest and mental preparation.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Getting from A to B

I remember back to just after Eve and I got married and we would be sitting having breakfast on a sunny Sunday morning trying to decide what to do with the day.
"Why don't we go for a drive?" Eve would ask.
"Where to?" would be my response
"Does it matter, why don't we just head off and stop somewhere for lunch?"
Now, this was my problem you see. If you go off in the car you are going from one place to get to another place - from A to B. My mindset would be to look at where we were going and to try and get there as quickly as possible (legally of course!) What was important was the destination and the more obstacles that got in my way on route, the more stressed and annoyed I would get.
I'm glad to say that I have mellowed over the years and I can now relax and accept that if you want to get from A to B, it sometimes takes a while and you should enjoy the journey.
So what has this got to do with running? Well for a long time, I have had a similar attitude to going for a run. If I go for a run I am going from A to B, even if sometimes A and B are the same place (home) and my focus was on getting to my destination. Sometimes I did this well, sometimes it was a struggle but if you're always worrying about getting to B as quickly as possible, 99% of the time, you're going to be disappointed.
On the longer runs, if you focus constantly on the destination, you become overwhelmed, intimidated and, eventually, defeated before you even start. There are ways to make this more achievable by breaking these long runs down into smaller destinations for example, the next check point, or the next aid station. Focus on each small destination, one at a time. This however still encourages a mindset of the destination being the main focus.
I've realised over time that this takes away from the whole idea of why I go running in the first place. There is a real pleasure to be gained from the pure physical action of running, especially if you're feeling good. We've all had those runs when your legs are fresh, your breathing is strong and steady and running feels almost effortless. The faster you go, the easier it gets and you feel as though you could keep going forever. On those days, the destination is not important, nor is the time you get there. What is certain though, is that if you keep going you will get there, wherever that may be.
So my attitude has changed, I enjoy the process of running, I enjoy the environment in which I run and I can look around and take it in and appreciate it more fully. As with all runs and particularly in races, there is still a need to get from A to B but these days I can now enjoy the journey.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

70 Wild Miles

The more astute among you will have noticed the introduction of a Just Giving widget on this blog. This has been set up to make it easier for people to donate to the very worthy charity CLIC Sargent which aims to raise funds for children with cancer and lukemia.

Myself and my two teamates are taking part in 70 Wild Miles Adventure Race in the bginning of June and hope to raise bucketfulls of cash for this excellent cause.


So click on the link across the page and dig deep - thanks.

I have also got hold of some photos from last weekends Mighty Deerstalker which give a bit of a taster of what was involved...............

Just after the first bath of the race

Descending the steep hill just before the "catch nets"

Emerging from the pipe before the home straight

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Are you sure this is good for me?

Ive been running for over 20 years (not continuously!) and in that time I've achieved a fair amount - many many 10k's and half marathons, several marathons and numerous rather more obscure but no less challenging distances and events. During that time I've been pretty lucky on the injury front and managed to come through fairly unscathed each year. In fact looking back over my sporting life thus far, I seem to have avoided any kind of serious injury.
When I was at school, I played a lot of rugby both for school and club and most weekends and once or twice during the week, I would be running around a rugby pitch either in training or playing a match. As I left school, my rugby career came to an end and, other than a few scars and minor bumps, I seemed to remain remarkably injury free. Now some of my team mates may say that that demonstrated a lack of committment to the cause and whilst I full accept that my total try tally remained very much in single figures, I did pride myself on being able to tackle even the largest of opposition 2nd rows. Other team mates seemed to regularly break collar bones, arms, legs and other appendages but not me!
As well as running, I spent many years competing in Triathlons and managed some reasonable placings in National events. I finished many half Ironman events and a full Ironman back in '96. At this point I was training most days of the week, sometimes twice a day, and racing regularly. Much of my cycle training was spent on the main road between Glasgow and Helensburgh at 6:00pm when the mass migration of 4x4's takes place but again, never a crash, a bump or an injury did I sustain.
Three years ago I decided to get back into running seriously again and entered the West Highland Way Race. As I increased my mileage, for the first time, my body seemed to object and the first of a raft of injuries appeared. In that first year, they were enough for me to withdraw from the race before even getting to start the line and although I have since gone on to finish it and many other ultras, rarely can I say that I am running injury free. When I read other runners blogs and reports, it is clear that my mileage by comparison is fairly minimal. I'm not putting in 70 miles a week, week in week out but clearly what I am doing is causing me some damage.
When I tell people that I am prone to heading out for a 40 mile run at the weekends or taking part in a 95 mile trail race, their image is of an incredibly fit individual leaping through the hills for hours on end. The reality is that whilst my heart and lungs are pretty efficient, leaping and bounding do not feature very high on my list of abilities. It is encouraging however to know that I am not alone. When I talk to other runners, conversation normally comes round to injuries and from my experience, it's a miracle that any of us are walking at all let alone running. Everyone seems to be carrying some degree of ailment or injury that the doctor's said they should rest but we all seem to be able to carry on regardless. I once visited a local GP to seek advice on knee pain I was experiencing. After a brief consultation and a cursory look at the offending area he described me as being like a car that from the outside looked in great shape, well maintained, good paintwork and bodywork, but when you get behind the wheel and turn on the engine you realise that it's already done 100,000 miles! He told me that this was only to be expected and offered me a cortisone injection that would "see me alright for a few months and then you can come back for another"!. Needless to say I managed to find an alternative practitioner who was able to treat the problem and not just the symptoms.
So what does all this mean? Is running really good for you or is it a means of slowly inflicting an ever increasing degree of stress onto a weakening body? There is one factor that perhaps I have been deliberately ignoring - when I played rugby I was in my teens; when I started running I was in my twenty's, when I raced Triathlons I was in my thirty's - now I am in my forty's and much as I hate to admit it, this must have some impact. I know that 42 is not old and a look at this years WHW race entry list shows many runners competing well into their 50's and beyond but I can't hide from the fact that my PB days are behind me and that perhaps I need to pay a bit more attention to the daily maintenance to ensure that I've still got another 100,000 miles on the clock!

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Mighty Deerstalker!

This is the third year of this unusal event and the third time I have taken part. It is advertised as a 5k (and a bit) and a 10k (and a bit) and, like the last 2 years, I opted for the 10k. This year and last year, I measured the course on my Garmin and both come out at around 9 miles so the 10k is a bit misleading. Add to that the fact that it consists of several river crossings, a river run, some unusual man-made obstacles and the fact that the latter part is finished in the dark, it makes for an interesting event.

The emphasis is very much on the fun side and participants are encouraged to dress up for the occassion with tweed and country style being the outfit of choice. The race is based around the grounds of Traquair House near Innerleithen in the Borders and the start line is set up on the grassy avenue leading up from the House itself.

The weather was fantastic this year with blue skies and very little wind and at 5:30pm we were set off through a cloud of smoke as 900 runners sprinted off towards the first obstacle. Within 100 yards of the start, a line of straw bales had been placed across the route and after battling over these and a few prostrate bodies, we set off along the road out of the grounds of the house.

After the first steady half mile or so we were diverted off the road and down through a large pond of waist high muddy water, emerging slippery and muddy out back onto the road and straight off up a footpath for the steep climb through the woods to the high point of the first loop. Having done this race before I knew that if you were too far back within the main field, you would be caught up in bottle necks further on as runners queued to get through some of the obstacles so I put the head down and pressed on up the hill, passing runners all the time.

At the top of the climb you enter the woods and are faced with a long series of balance beams that zig-zag through the trees at the end of which is a tunnel built a foot off the forest floor that you crawl through before emerging out onto the forrest road at the top of the climb. Before you have a chance to catch your breath you're sent straight back down into the forrest following a mountain bike track complete with jumps and berms and after much windmilling of arms and uncontrolled speed you once again join another forest road. Along this for a hundred yards or so and it's back down into the forrest again down an incredibly steep series of hairpins with your passage blocked every twenty yards or so by a bar fixed between two trees about 2 feet off the ground. The technique here is to grab the bar with both hands and swing under, limbo style using your momentum to bring you upright on the other side. This works fine until some of the lower ones which are only a foot off the ground are reached and here it's best to go over. I tried this once with an ambitious leap but caught my foot on the bar and somersaulted several times before my descent was stopped by a large tree. At the bottom of this mad descent you reach the main road but to avoid any accidents, a large cargo net is stretched across the bottom of the path to catch you and prevent you becoming road kill.

Once on the road, you cross the river (on the bridge!) and follow a footpath on the other side which takes you in towards the town of Innerleithen. Once into the town, you're directed down a muddy bank into the river and for the next five minutes you slip and slide your way up stream through thigh deep icy water with spectators desparately hoping for some-one to slip and take an early bath.

After about 200 yards, your back out the other side and heading for the slopes of the main climb of the race. This is a very rocky and very steep climb through lots of loose scree and gorse which turns your quads and calves into quivering jelly. Once at the top there is a log bridge to negotiate before an equally quad thrashing descent back down through the woods to the bottom of the climb you've just completed.

At this point, compared to last year I was feeling great and knowing that the worst bits were over, I started to pick up the pace and try and make up some time. A little way along the road you're directed once again down into the woods, this time a straight drop down to the river. It is so steep here that they have a fixed rope in place to lower yourself down on but by the time I reached it I was going so fast there was no way I could grab it so I finished the descent on my bum.

Approaching the last mile or so, there are another couple of smaller river crossings before you reach the road bridge just before the return to the event centre. Rather than going over the bridge though you are once again sent down into the water and through a narrow tunnel the length of the road and waist deep in muddy water. Back up onto the bridge, over and off the other side through the water again before the final stretch in towards the finish. As you enter the finish field you head up the slope, through a length of large pipe, under a cargo net and then over the finish line.

My time last year was 1 hour 54 mins and because of the more favourable conditions, I managed to gallop across the line this year in 1 hour 36 mins in 79th place.


This is a fantastic event. Very much focussed on fun and so times and placings are irrelevant as you have nothing to measure them against. There is a large event village with food stalls and a beer tent selling specially brewed "Deerstalker Ale" brewed at Traquair House's own brewery.

Many people choose to camp but given that I was there with Eve and the kids, we returned to our Hotel in Innerleithen with enough time for a couple of well earned pints in the bar.

After a good nights sleep we spent the day in Edinburgh at Dynamic Earth and took a quick look at the Scottish Parliament building before heading home. A great weekend was had by all!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Wuthering Hike

My first race of the year saw me in Yorkshire for the Wuthering Hike - a 32 mile yomp through the Yorkshire Dales including a reported 4,000 foot of ascent.

I drove down on Friday afternoon and arrived in Howarth at about 5:00pm. After checking in to my B&B (excellent place - highly recommended) I set off to stretch my legs and see if I could find the start of the next days race. As I turned out, I didn't need to stretch my legs very far as the start was 100 yards over the road! I found a nearby pub and had some dinner and a pint of excellent Hound Dog before returning to my B&B to get my stuff ready and have an early night.

The next morning, over 200 runners gathered at the start for an 8:00am kick off and pretty much on time we set off up the steep cobbled street of Howarth and out into the country. As soon as we got out of the shelter of the houses, the wind hit us and for the next 10 miles it would be head on as we climbed up to Top Withens and then out to the far end of the loop before turning South.

My biggest concern for this race was the navigation and so I was determined to try and keep within sight of other runners. As it turned out this contributed to my downfall as the early pace of 8:30mins/mile into the head wind I knew was too fast but I stuck with it feeling pretty good. My aim was to try and get under 6 hours and I naively thought I might push 5:45 but as the race wore on I realized that this was not going to be my day. By 18 miles I was feeling tired and despite a quick refuel of beans, I started to struggle. My foot, which had been giving me problems for the last few weeks, was aching slightly but not really giving me too much bother, I just didn't seem to have the energy in my legs that I had hoped for.

At about 20 miles or so, the first of two climbs appeared which wasn't too bad as it gave my legs a change of muscle use and allowed the field to group slightly. Shortly after this, the main climb of the day loomed ahead and I plodded up Stodley Pike despite the winds best efforts to blow me off the summit.

It was the descent off here that I started to get cramp in both calfs and in my right hamstring. At one point I slipped and fell in a particularly boggy section but anyone watching would have thought I was on springs. As soon as I landed my hamstring went into severe cramp and I lept to my feet in desperation trying to stretch it out.

As I made my way across the fields, the field was now well spread out and I had lost sight of the those immediately in front. Another runner joined me (Mark) at this point and the two of us set off through the woods heading for what we thought was the next checkpoint. As we arrived at the main road we realised that we had missed a turn off some way back up the path which meant we were now about a mile further along the road than we should have been. At this point I was pretty worn out and the thought of having added another 2 miles onto our route was not the kind of moral boost I was looking for. Anyway, we managed to get ourselves back on track and chatted away as we plodded through the next few miles.

About 5 miles from home, we joined up with Shirley Colquhoun and the three of us slowly made our way towards the finish. My time was a very disppointing 6 hours 45 mins and I came in 170th out of 241. The race was won by Jezz Bragg in an amazing 4:13.

My initial reaction was one of disppointment, I was much slower than I had hoped, my cramp gave me problems, my navigation was very poor and the whole race felt much tougher than I felt it should. However, on reflection I still completed a 32 (actually 34) mile race, my foot feels OK and I can walk up and down stairs today with only minor discomfort!

I think I am in danger of setting my sights too high and forgetting that actually, there are not a lot of people out there who can do what we do. I did enjoy the race; more so now, in hindsight now that the mind has had a chance to filter out the bad bits. What it has made me realise is that there is no substitute for long days and long miles and with the Highland Fling only a few weeks away I'd better get my shoes on and get out there.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Still going

Well, after my weekend run, I'm still walking so next weekend's race at the Wuthering Hike is still on.
Sunday morning saw me head out at about 6:30am into heavy snow and sleet with the intention of running out to the Beech Tree Inn, up to the top of Dumgoyne and back through Strathblane. A total of about 18 miles.

I thought I'd try a bit of video on my phone - so apologies for the quality and as you can see, Im no Ron Howard!

Not long after heading out, I realised that the weather would put a stop to my plans to go up Dumgoyne so I settled for a low level route still of about 17 miles.

My biggest concern for the day was whether my foot would be OK but it didn't bother me at all whilst I was out. Despite the weather I really enjoyed getting back out onto the trails again for a long run and I was setting a good pace all the way along the old railway line into the Beech Tree Inn. After a quick gel, I crossed the road and set off up the path behind the Glengoyne Distillery and onto the Water Board track than runs along the bottom of Dumgoyne

The weather mixed from sunshine to blizzard and as I climbed the road out of Strathblane on what is locally referred to as "The Devil's Pulpit", the snow came on again and by the time I turned in at the Carbeth Huts, visibility was very poor.

I'm pretty pleased with my run and felt OK all the way round. My foot was quite tender for the rest of the day but today (Monday) it's back to how it felt before the run. I'm planning another steady run on Tuesday night and then a short one on Wednesday. After that I'll rest up until the weekend. I'm driving down to Howarth on Friday afternoon where I've booked into a B&B and after the race, I'm planning on driving straight back home.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Carry on regardless

Well I've eased back on my running only having completed about 20 miles in the last 2 weeks, I've replaced my road shoes and my trail shoes and I've been stretching, massaging and icing as often as possible. Has it made a difference? - not really, no.
Mind you, it's not any worse either. It seems to have settled out as an annoying discomfort that is there when I'm standing for any length of time but seems to all but disappear when I'm walking or running.
I've therefore decided; perhaps foolishly, to carry on as normal. I'll gradually build up the miles again and hope that my new shoes will prevent matters from getting worse. I'm planning on racing the Wuthering Hike a week on Saturday so I intend going out on Sunday morning for about 18 miles or so and if all is well, I'll race.
I've felt a bit down this last week or so and I've been snapping at the kids and Eve for silly little things. I thought it was mainly due to a stressful time at work but the more I think of it the more I'm convinced that it's due to my lack of running and my annoyance at another injury.
I read "To the Edge" again last week by Kirk Johnson which is a truly inspiring book about a New York Times reporter who went from very little running to competing in Badwater over the course of a year. It focuses on the psychological and emotional side of ultra running as much as the physical and I would recommend it to anyone.


Anyway - onwards and upwards and I'll post after my Sunday run to let you know the prognosis