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