Thursday, August 24, 2006

Irvine 10k

I've been feeling a bit better - I've been doing my stretching every night and my hamstrings haven't been as sore. On Monday night I went out for a run and on route met my friend Kim. We ran together for about 3 miles and just got faster and faster. Neither of us wanted to admit we were feeling the pace hard (at least I didn't - Kim probably felt fine) so we just pushed on and on and on. It felt good and was a great confidence boost, so I decided to test myself out in a real 10k race at Irvine.

Lining up at the start, I realised that the field was made up of pretty much the same people that had taken part in the Irvine 10k 10 or so years ago. It was like stepping back in time. Where are all the newcomers? I set off at a good pace and just tried to keep it going for as long as I could. At the turning point just before the half way(about 4.5k) I noticed that a friend and ex clubmate from Troon Tortoises, Bobby, wasn't far behind, and I spent the next 5k expecting him to come past. To my great surprise it didn't happen and I crossed the line in 38.53, 25 seconds in front of him. It's nowhere near my best time but it is a lot better than some of my more recent performances, so I was quite pleased. It was great to run with so many people from the Ayrshire clubs - I have definitely missed that in the 3 years since we moved away from Troon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Great Trail Run (10k), Falkirk

Today I ran in the Great Trail 10k Run in and around Callendar Park, Falkirk. It was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The course was a mixture of cross country, trails, tarmac, with a few steep hills thrown in for good measure. I set off at a very cautious pace, well aware of the fact I had run a 16 mile training run on the roads yesterday. After 1km or so I felt pretty good, so started picking it up a bit and passed quite a few people. It was a great advantage knowing the course so well - this is one of my regular training runs, and it is only about a mile or so from our house. I was through the half way point in about 21.30, which I was pleased with, then did the second half a bit faster to finish in just over 42 minutes. It's been some time since I've enjoyed a run so much. I'm even thinking of entering the Loch Lomond version which takes place on 9 September, but I'll need to check out my diary first. I have to say that the organisation of the 'Great Run' events is always first class, and today's race was no exception - well done to John Caine and his team at Nova International.

As I mentioned I did a 16 mile run yesterday. I went out at 8.30am with a friend who is training for the Moray Marathon in a couple of weeks, and he had done about 7 miles on his own before meeting up with me. I struggled a bit over the last 4 miles - my hamstrings were very tight again - but I was generally pleased to get a decent long run in on the road, averaging below 8 minute mile pace.

Friday, August 11, 2006

On this day 15 years ago (11 August 1991)..

..I ran my first sub 3 hour marathon at Inverclyde. I finished in 2.59.00. Forgive me for the unusually sentimental nature of today's blog, but on this anniversary I'm going to tell the sub 3 hour story in all its glorious detail.

After running a couple of Glasgow marathons in 1984 and 1985, I had given up running (and every other form of exercise) and allowed myself to turn into a VFP - a very fat person. In 1990 we moved to Troon from Houston (the one in in Renfrewshire, Scotland rather than the one in Texas, USA). I was playing 5-a-side football a few days after our move and about 20 minutes into the game I became stranded in the middle of the pitch. I was unable to breath, let alone run. This was quite a shock to me and I resolved there and then to sort myself out and get fit. I went out a run the very next night. Although it was excruciatingly painful I didn't give up, ran a lot more throughout the summer, lost 3 stone in 2 months, then joined Troon Tortoises in October. I trained hard through the winter and improved from a 1.28 half marathon in October (Falkirk) to 1.23 in March (Alloa). In April I felt ready for a full marathon and entered Lochaber. Unfortunately I made all the usual beginner's mistakes: I went off too fast at the start; I didn't eat enough beforehand, and I didn't take on adequate fluids throughout the race. I arrived at the finish beside Fort William railway station in the back of a police car, having been found staggering all over the road at the 19 mile point and then being sick on the pavement. I was distraught at my failure.

Despite this setback I was determined to finish a marathon, and went to Dundee 3 weeks later. I set off really easily. I didn't even wear a watch, to make sure I wouldn't push too hard. I finished in 3.17 and felt ok. A few weeks later I adopted the same tactics on a very hot day at Loch Rannoch, and finished in 3.18. These were not particularly impressive times, but they gave me the confidence that I could finish a marathon in relative comfort.

The Inverclyde Marathon was on 11 August. I had been running well in events like the Irvine Beach Run, and was ready to go for a sub 3 hour time. From what I remember it was a good day for marathon running, not too hot and not too windy, and I ran very steadily at 6.45 pace. The last few miles back from Gourock were hard, particularly the last mile down Greenock Esplanade, but it was one of the best feelings of my life when I crossed the line with the clock at 2.59.00.

After the race I remember thinking that I had cracked it, and there would be a lot more sub 3 hour marathons to follow. The reality was that, despite numerous attempts, I couldn't manage it again until 1996 at Crossmichael, when I ran 2.56.56. I only ever managed it 4 times in total, the other 2 being at Nottingham in 1997 when I ran 2.57 and Inverclyde again in 1998 when I ran my PB of 2.56.19. Not surprisingly these 4 runs are amongst my most treasured running memories. It is such a fantastic feeling to cross the line of a marathon in under 3 hours. I do sometimes wonder why I wasn't able to do it more often, however - 4 sub 3 hour marathons out of 41 in total is not a very impressive percentage, particularly at a time when my half marathon times were normally around 1.20 to 1.23. But perhaps, as usual, I'm being too hard on myself, and I should just appreciate the fact that I achieved it at all.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Helensburgh half marathon

I'm just back from the Helensburgh half marathon. I finished in 1 hour 31 minutes (and 20 seconds, just for the record). It is the 3rd half marathon in a row where I have failed to beat 1 hour 30, so I am now resigned to the fact that I am a 'has been'. It doesn't seem that long since I had a disappointing run at Glen Clova and 'only' managed 1.26 (November 2003, according to my records), or where I did the Mull half marathon in 1.28 a week after a really good 43 mile time at the Devil O' The Highlands footrace (just a year ago, August 2005). It is a bit longer since I was throwing out sub 1.20 half marathons like confetti at a wedding (ok, I only managed it on 3 occasions, during 1996 and 1997, but I exaggerate to make the point. I am now running almost a full minute a mile slower.)

What has caused this remarkable deterioration? There are a few possible reasons:

1. After reaching 40 in January this year my body has fallen apart;
2. All the ultra running (and the specific ultra running training) has meant that I'm in good shape to run 95 miles up the West Highland Way, but not in great shape to run at a faster pace;
3. I'm not training hard enough;
4. I'm still not fully recovered from the WHW.

I don't think 1 or 4 are valid reasons. In terms of 1, my body should not have fallen apart exactly 40 years after I was born - if it has then that is a remarkable co-incidence. In terms of 4, it has been 6 weeks since the WHW so I should have recovered by now. Also, WHW tiredness can't be used an excuse for my 1.31 in Edinburgh at the end of March, or for my 1.31 at Loch Leven at the end of May. So we're left with 2 and 3. Both of these have some merit. A few years ago Dario, the WHW race organiser, expressed some surprise at my half marathon times, believing them to be too quick for a real ultra runner. "Wait a few years", I remember him saying, "and the ultra running will have slowed you down dramatically". It looks like his prediction has come true. I am currently finding it difficult to run quickly on the roads for any more than a few miles as my hamstrings get really sore. This happened again today. It is a bit of a vicious circle. When I run hard on the roads or on the track, my hamstrings get sore. This means I do not tend to run hard, but instead go for gentle long runs on trails, up hills and anywhere else where I don't have to run too hard. While this is enjoyable, it means I am not training as hard as I should be, so my times get worse.

Perhaps I should be more positive, however. At my medical last year, the doctor told me that long slow running (such as the WHW training runs) was the ideal way for someone of my age to train, particularly someone who holds a relatively stressful job. His view was that this will allow me to keep running for the rest of my life, whereas bashing out track repetitions will inevitably lead to longer term injury problems. Maybe I just need to accept it. I'm no longer able to set personal bests on the road. My focus is now on events like the WHW, which regular readers of this blog will realise is a special event to me. I've completed 6 already and my times have been good - generally in the top 20 each year, a best time of 21 hours 39, and currently 59th on the all time list.

Mind you, I still hate being beaten by runners I used to beat comfortably..:(