Friday, 30 April 2010

If you want to get a head................

Get a hat!

Ultra running trend setter Andy Cole has taken sartorial elegance to a new level by sporting a very fetching flat cap during his outings into the wilds of the British countryside. Andy claims it has numerous benefits including thermal, waterproof and UV protection qualities as well as being rather dashing!

This got me thinking as to what other types of headwear may be suitable for my own race calendar this year. There is clearly a desire to gain some technical advantage by the correct selection of headwear but perhaps we should go further and try and celebrate and embrace the cultural associations that go along with the relevant race.
Here are some suggestions:

The Mighty Deerstalker - bit of an obvious one here and, considering the type of race, of no practical use other than allowing you to blend in with the other 999 people wearing the same thing.

The Highland Fling - This race presents a number of options, some of which are perhaps more obvious than others. The race is understandably proud of it's Scottish roots and and prides itself on its informal approach so I would suggest the following:

Note the extended peak and rear neck protection to prevent excessive exposure to the frequently experienced suuny conditions on this race.

The red "bobble" providing easy identification for waiting support crews and the added ability to blend in seamlessly with the groups of young chaps enjoying the outdoor camping life at Salloch Bay.

West Highland Way Race - a surprising selection for this race but one which I think you will agree is perfect for any prevailing weather conditions that you may experience:

The wide brim provides excellent protection from rain, hail, sleet, snow and sun - all of which can be experienced within the duration of the race. Perhaps, it's biggest benefit however; and I'm quite pleased with this; is midge protection! Anyone who has experienced the joy of passing through Balmaha or Rowardennan in the wee small hours of mid-summer morning will appreciate the benefit that this form of fashion accessory will provide

Clydestride - this is a new race that follows the clyde walkway from Partick in the west end of Glasgow to New Lanark. The race presents some notable cultural challenges and the ability to blend in with ones environment should be considered a high priority when passing through the East End of Glasgow. I think I have come up with the ideal solution however that provides both practical and cultural solutions:

It is imperative however that when sporting this particular fashion accessory you ensure that your camelback is refilled with the appropriate isotonic replacement drink of choice. I understand that Achilles Heel and Run-4-it are able to order in the requisite quantites of Buckfast.

Finally, some local jargon may assist your passage through this tricky race route with phrases such as:
"How you, ya fanny, geez a sook o yer ginger!" or "I can see yer baws in they shorts!"

Speyside Way Race - this is my first venture onto this race and one I am very much looking forward to. The choice of hat is a tricky one but given the nature of the location I would sugest the following as an ideal choice:

There is ample space to attach your flies as one of the principal rules of this race is that you must catch your own food en-route. The welcome waters of the river spey will give ample opportunity to ensure a plentiful supply of salmon although the accompanying Ghillie may be deemed to be illegal support on this particular event.

So there you have it - your perfect hat choice for this seasons races. Whilst I cannot hope to follow in the fashionable steps of Andy Cole, I hope I have gone some way towards helping my fellow runners in this difficult process.

On a final note, should your budget not stretch to race-specific head gear and you are looking for one hat that can cover every eventuality, I can do no better than suggest this:

I know - there's no need to thank me.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Montane Highland Fling

Saturday saw me running my third consecutive Highland Fling and my fastest yet (by a whole 6 minutes!)

I set off in the second wave consisting of all the male vets. The older vets and ladies had set off an hour earlier and the young guys were to set off an hour after me. I had no real race plan other than the loose targets in my previous post, but as I headed out of Milngavie and through the woods I felt comfortable and was looking forward to the day ahead.

My early pace was a bit quicker than planned and I reached Drymen in just under two hours. I ran straight through and as I joined the forest drive at the top of the path I was joined ny Ian Rae and Keith Hughes. We chatted away with some good banter all the way up conic hill at a pace that was a bit quicker than I had planned but the company was good and the running felt fine.

Keith picked up his drop bag at Balmaha and kept walking whereas I stopped to eat and had a quick chat with Ian Beattie. I thought that would be the last I saw of Keith but we kept crossing each other all the way to Beinglas.

I always hate the section from Balmaha to Rowardennan and I was determined this year to try and get there feeling ok. I kept the head down and plodded on and about 2 miles before I got there I was passed by the eventual race leader who had started an hour after me! Rowardennan arrived and whilst I wasn't feeling great I was OK and after a quick refuel I was on my way again.

I quite enjoy the lochside section and despite the growing fatigue, I kept a steady pace and arrived at Inversnaid tired but pleased to be 33 miles in with 20 to go.

I suffered my first batch of cramp as I stepped over the rocks and roots of the next section and cried out in pain as a knot the size of a golf ball formed in my right hamstring. I managed to stretch it out and I was able to get going again but I was concerned that this was the start of a repeat of last year. I had been taking "s" caps regularly so far but the clear skies and warm sun meant I had been sweating hard and clearly hadn't been replacing enough salt.

The cramp seemed to stay away however and I plodded on towards Beinglas where I would meet up with Pete (my father-in-law) and my two boys. This gives me a huge mental boost and allowed me to swap my long sleeved Helly Hansen top for a short sleeved one. I left Beinglas feeling ok but very wary about the constant flickering of my hamstrings, calfs and quads all of which threatened to go into a cramping spasm any moment.

13 miles to go now so I knew I was going to make it. I had been on my 11 hour schedule up till now but I knew from past experience that this next section is where the wheels can come off - and they did. The threatened cramps now started to appear and I had to adopt a curious straight legged shuffle to avoid too many bouts. I had been running with a guy called Liam since Beinglas and we had chatted away quite happily. As I started to slow up Liam pulled away and I thought he had gone for good but as I turned a corner I saw him lying on the grass by the side of the track trying to stretch out a cramping muscle. I clearly wasn't the only one suffering today!

Up and over the roller coaster hills above Crianlarich and I'm telling myself that I'm almost home - "just a 10k to go - come on Graeme!" I push on, running when I can, walking when I can't and have a brief strong spell coming out of the woods and into Auchtertyre. I meet my support crew briefly and then decide to push on and give it all I've got to the finish in Tyndrum.

I emerge out of the woods into Tyndrum and can see the finish arch ahead. As I pass the piper 100 yards from the finish, I have to stop again to stretch out my cramping muscles but then finish with a smile in 11 hours 16 mins in 113th place (out of about 350)

As I sup my cold bottle of Coors and chat to many familiar faces waiting at the finish, the memories of the pain and suffering are already starting to fade but then I look across the road to the West Highland Way path as it heads up the valley towards Bridge of Orchy and think to myself "only another 42 miles to go!"

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Pre-Fling Thoughts

Saturday sees me taking part in my first Ultra of the season with the Montane Highland Fling. A 53 mile trail race following the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum. I'm starting to get that wonderful pre-race feeling of exitement, fear and anticipation as the day gets closer.
I don't have a particularly detailed race plan but given that this is my 3rd running of the event I have had a chance to consider some problems that have dogged me in the past and hopefully, I will avoid on the day. So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts, targets etc.
  • Start off slow
  • Take "s" caps every hour to prevent a repeat of last years cramp
  • Drink a little and often
  • Eat a little and often
  • Get to Rowardennan feeling good (never managed this so far!)
  • If I have to walk; walk fast!
  • My main goal is just to finish, but I would like to get close to 11 hours and so my splits would work out roughly: Drymen 2hrs, Balmaha 3hrs 15 mins, Rowardennan 5hrs, Inversnaid 6hrs 40mins, Beinglas 8hrs 25mins, Auchtertyre 10hrs 25mins, Tyndrum 11hrs.
  • Enjoy the event

That's kind of it really. I don't want to overanalyse every aspect of the race as I'd rather just set off and deal with how I feel on the day. There has been a lot of talk on various blogs about different pace strategies with scatter graphs, percentages, in depth analysis and comments. I'm sure this is all very important and interesting if you're up there contesting the podium positions but for all the rest of us it all seems a bit anal and unnecessary. Just get your gear on and go and run and don't forget to smile occassionally, it definately helps.

So for everyone else who is running on Saturday - the best of luck and don't eat all the stovies at the finish before I get there. If you're not running - get your gutties on and get out there, you've got just over 12 months to be ready!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Up till that point I had been feeling pretty pleased with myself!

Easter Sunday brought the usual family commitments what with hiding easter eggs, finding easter eggs, not finding the easter eggs that I had hidden half an hour before and preparing for a meal time visit from my parents, so my long run had to be squeezed in to it's usual early morning slot.
I decided to drive up to Gartmore and run from there over to Balmaha and back. A total of 20 miles with the added bonus of a couple trips up and over Conic Hill. I set off at 7:00am and was feeling quite spritely as I trotted along the road and then up through the forest behind Drymen before the first ascent of Conic Hill. One or two little patches of snow left but nothing much and I slid my way down the wet grass before the lovely little downhill section through the trees to the car park at Blamaha.
I arrived in good shape having really enjoyed the run so far and munched on a Hot Cross Bun and Jam (it was Easter after all!) before heading back from whence I came.
The second ascent of Conic Hill was a breeze and I was up and over dancing my way down the river bed that masquerades as a footpath on the other side of the hill. By the time I got to the bottom, I decided to step up the pace as I was feeling comfortable and wanted to push myself a bit. I continued this pace all the way down to Drymen, passing hoards of walkers going the opposite way with a cheery, "morning!", "morning!", "hiya!", "morning!", "morning!"
I crossed the main road at Drymen and was heading across the field to join the road back to Gartmore when I spotted Ritchie Cunningham and another runner coming in the opposite direction. We stopped for a quick chat:

R - "Hi, have you been far?"

Me - "No just over to Balmaha and back but I'm going really well today. How about you, where are you heading?"

R - "Tyndrum"

Me - "Whoa , good for you"

R - "Then Fort William tomorrow"

Me - " Really?!"

R - "Then back again over the next two days"

Me - " "

R - "See you then, have a good run"

Me - "Yeah, you too"

So there you go - just when I was starting to feel like I was going well, along comes Ritchie to put it all into perspective - Thanks Ritchie!

Not too dispondent, I pushed on and finished my last couple of miles at breakneck speed before reaching my car and heading home. I did console myself however with the thought that as I was sitting there supping my first of several glasses of Tempranillo later that day, Ritchie would have been battling with the cow shit just past Derrydaroch - at that brief moment I did feel slightly more pleased with myself!