Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goodbye to 2006

It's already New Year in Sydney. I was listening to Radio 5 Live this morning on my way back from a club run in the Comrie Hills, and was listening to the live broadcast from Sydney Harbour. We were in Sydney in April this year, which made it all seem very real. The broadcast was from the Museum of Contemporary Art, which we visited; people were being interviewed people in the Circular Quay area, which was only a couple of minutes walk from our hotel; and on top of that I have a few friends who are in Sydney at the moment on holiday. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if I had heard them on the programme.

We've had a brilliant year. In January it was my 40th and we had a couple of parties and 'birthday run' on the WHW to mark it. Then in March it was the Domestic Female's turn to become old. This gave us another excuse to celebrate in some style with friends at Andrew Fairlie's restaurant at Gleneagles. Soon after that we went for a 2 week break to Australia. After 5 days in Sydney, we spent a few days at Uluru (to give it its proper Aboriginal name), then headed north for a cruise up the Great Barrier Reef, before spending a night in Cairns before flying home. It was the holiday of a lifetime. As an added bonus Elle McPherson was on our flight from Cairns to Sydney. She couldn't keep her eyes off me.

In June it was the WHW race, then we headed north for a week in Skye at the end of July. This was the first time we had been in Skye but were sadly disappointed, and came home about 4 days early. There were too many sheep, so we couldn't walk the dogs properly, and too many ticks. It was also a hell of a long drive to get there. At least we've been now, so can't be accused of ignoring our own country, although we won't rush back. We made up for the disappointment by celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary with a night away at Dunkeld.

At the end of September we moved out of the town and into the country in the southern part of Perthshire. It is the Domestic Female's dream house, and I'm quite taken by it as well. Although it rains a lot, and it has been dark almost all the time since we moved in, we wouldn't swap it for anything. I've joined another running club, Strathearn Harriers, and I'm getting used to sticking on my headtorch and green wellies every night and walking the dogs across the moor. The dogs think they have died and gone to heaven. We just love the tranquility. Some nights the sky is so clear that we can see thousands of stars.

So, goodbye 2006. We are almost at 2007 which is just over 4 hours away as I write this note. Who knows what lies ahead? If 2007 is half as exciting a year as 2006 I won't be disappointed, although a sub 21.39 WHW in 2007 wouldn't go amiss, I have to say, along with some decent weather, a top six finish in the SPL for Falkirk and an MBE for me in the next honours list.

Finally I'm going to do the pretentious bit. Assuming there are any, I'd like to wish all the readers of my blog a happy and successful new year. Happy new year to you all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

2007 targets

I noticed a thread called 'Targets for 2007' on the Troon Tortoises website (, and I thought it would be interesting to set my 2007 running targets as well. Thanks to Bobby for the idea (although I think he might have borrowed it from another website). So here goes:

1. West Highland Way: pb - 21 hours 39 mins; last year - 22 hours 14 mins; 2007 target - anything under 21 hours 39 mins. While I would love to beat 21 hours, I think that is probably a bit too aspirational to be my target. So I'll settle for beating my pb. Having said that anything under 22 hours would be great and under 23 hours would be pretty good as well.

2. National XC championship: 2007 target - to make the top half of the field. Although it may not sound it, this will be quite a hard one to do. From experience if I'm running really well, such as at Linwood in 2003, I'll make the top half relatively comfortably. However it doesn't take much to miss out. Last year at Falkirk I didn't make it, finishing something like 230th out of 400 or so. It's back at Falkirk again in February, and it isn't my favourite course, so I'll being doing well to achieve this.

3. Marathon: pb - 2.56 (in 1998); last year's best - 3.18; 2007 target - under 3 hours 10 mins. Call me a dreamer, but I actually believe that I still have another sub 3 hour marathon in me, although only if I give up all the ultra running and make a sub 3 hour marathon my main goal for the year. Realistically, that isn't going to happen, so I would be delighted with anything under 3.10. The last time I achieved this was at Loch Ness in 2004, when I ran 3.05.

4. Half marathon: pb - 1.17 (1996); last year's best - 1.27; 2007 target - 1.26 or better. Not much to say about this one - 2006 wasn't the best year for my half marathon times, so it would be nice to get back to something a bit more respectable. My best chance is probably at Inverness in March, as the WHW training tends to take over after that.

5. 10k: pb - 36.09 (1996); last year's best - 38.53; 2007 target - sub 38 minutes. A secondary target here is to beat 40 minutes in all races.

6. Overall - to run 2,000 miles in the year.

Well, that's it. As I write this it strikes me that I have a lot of work to do if I am to achieve any of these targets. It's less than 7 weeks until the National XC and at the moment I am not in particularly great shape, and have been struggling a bit with a post Christmas cold. I took the dogs a great walk today up Knock Hill in Crieff. We were out for more than an hour and a half and the dogs had a brilliant time, but it's not really the same as a decent run.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rain and more rain

It has rained a lot here over the last week, more or less non stop from Sunday through to Thursday. Not just a few showers, but torrential downpours, day after day after day. I found myself getting quite depressed coming down each morning to be greeted by yet another monsoon. I ventured out for a run last Sunday around lunchtime. It was raining when I started, raining when I finished, and just for good measure raining all the time in between as well. I covered about 15 miles in just under 2 hours, and was completely drenched, cold and miserable by the time I got home at 3.15. To add to my woe it was almost dark by the time I finished. Roll on the better weather and longer days, I say.

However that wasn't as bad as Wednesday. I had run from the office in the morning (in the heavy rain, of course). By mid afternoon most of Perthshire was underwater, and the main road to our house had been closed due to flooding. I was out at a dinner at night and was driving home around 10pm, wondering if I would make it or not. If I had had a clean shirt with me I think I would just have headed to the nearest Travel Inn, but the thought of wearing the same clothes 2 days in a row (and not having any dry running stuff) was enough to persuade me to try and get home. All was fine until I reached the back road from Auchterarder, about 5 miles from home. As it was pitch black, I didn't realise I was heading for a huge puddle until I found myself right in the middle of it. Fortunately the car spluttered through but it was not a pleasant experience, made all the more nervewracking because my mobile phone battery had died a few hours earlier. About half a mile further on the same thing happened, then again, and again. Much to my relief I finally made it to the house, not one moment too soon. It has to rank as one of my worst ever driving experiences.

Imagine my surprise to get up on Saturday morning and find it wasn't raining. Pitch black, yes - it was only 5.30am - but not raining. I was meeting a first time West Highland Way runner, John Kynaston, for a run along the Loch Lomond section of the route. All did not go to plan, however, as Loch Lomond had flooded the road at Balmaha, and there was no way to get through, either by car or on foot. So as an alternative John and I met at Drymen and ran from there over Conic Hill to Balmaha and back the same way, then added on another section to Gartness and back. We covered 20 miles in total. I really enjoyed the run and John's company.

There is no doubt that one of the best things about the WHW race is the quality of the people who take part in it - and that includes other competitors, backup crew, and organisers. I've met some fantastic people through the race, a lot of whom I now consider to be close friends. Daft as a brush, most of them, but very good friends nonetheless. I think it is brilliant (or 'amazing', as Zara Phillips would probably say) how I can turn up for a run with someone I have never met before (like John on Saturday), and just know instinctively that we'll get on really well with each other.

Friday, December 08, 2006

London calling

I was away on business for most of this week - London on Monday and Tuesday night, then on to Newcastle on Wednesday and most of Thursday. In London I was staying in a hotel on the south of the Thames, just across the water from Canary Wharf. Before I arrived I hadn't really appreciated that the hotel was on the south side of the river - I felt the name 'Hilton Docklands' was a bit misleading, to be honest, as that had made me think it would be on the Canary Wharf side - but it did turn out to be a pretty good place to stay. For a start, it meant I was able to get a boat to and from the centre of London each day, rather than stand crushed beside 50,000 grumpy Londoners on the tube or the DLR. Getting a boat to work reminded me of Sydney, albeit about 15 degrees colder, and I found it to be a very satisfactory and relaxing method of travel. During my trip I managed to see the world famous Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly - I felt a warm glow as I walked past - and another highlight was my superb breakfast both mornings. It may not be the ideal runner's meal, but it is hard to beat a Hilton breakfast of bacon, sausage, 2 fried eggs, a couple of pieces of fried bread, mushrooms, beans, haggis and toast. I'm hungry now just thinking about it. It was absolutely superb.

The other advantage of my hotel's location was that I was able to go out a run on part of the London Marathon course. On Tuesday night I headed from the hotel up to Surrey Quays, then along the marathon route backwards to Greenwich. I even went round the Cutty Sark (which, incidentally, had had its mast removed, something I hope is fixed before the 2007 London Marathon), before turning round at a petrol station and coming back more or less the same way. I ran for about 75 minutes in total and covered about 10 miles. It was certainly better than sitting like a sad and lonely old man in a hotel room (or bar) on my own.

We had a business dinner in Newcastle on Wednesday. A great deal of wine was consumed, and I consider it quite impressive that I managed to get up early the next morning and go for a 4 mile run along the quayside. It probably wasn't the fastest run I've ever done, but I'm pleased to say that the fresh air did me the world of good. When I'm out of town I often use my run as an opportunity to see a bit of the city - this was no different, and I enjoyed seeing the way Newcastle's quayside has developed in the 10 years or so since I was last there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ian's running awards for 2006

Well, we're now into December and I don't have any more races planned. It therefore seems an appropriate time to present 'Ian's running awards for 2006'.

I told everyone that this would be coming a week or so ago, and I've had a bit of feedback suggesting it should be opened up to my blog's readers for their opinions. So I'd invite anyone reading this to take advantage of the 'Comments' facility and let me know whether you agree or disagree with the nominations and awards. At the end of the day, though, it's my awards so my decisions are final :)

So to the awards themselves. The categories are as follows:

My best performance of the year
My favourite race of the year, split into a few categories - marathon distance and above; half marathon; other;
Biggest running shambles of the year;
And finally - best business development initiative of the year with a running connection (Intrigued? Keep reading...)

1. My best performance of the year

I've done 24 races this year, and I have to say that there are a disappointingly small number of contenders in the 'best performance' category. In fact there are probably only 2 performances that are even worthy of consideration which, to be frank, is depressing. The winner won't be a surprise - it is my 22 hours 14 minutes and 14th place in this year's West Highland Way race. This was my second best time ever for the event, and was the end result of a much more specific WHW training programme than previous years. I would still like to get this time down further - in particular I have an ambition to get to Fort William in time for a hot meal on the Saturday night - but how I am going to achieve this I have still to work out. I'm hoping to work it out in time for the 2007 race.

The only other contender was my best 10k of the year, a 38.53 at Irvine in August. I had to work hard to stay in front of the Troon guys, particularly Bobby, and this result was achieved after a long and difficult day at work. A pretty satisfying performance, and great to catch up with so many people again from the Ayrshire clubs - even better to beat a lot of them.

2. Favourite race of the year - Marathon and above

I did 5 marathons and ultras during the year - the Dumfries Marathon in March, the Highland Fling (Milngavie to Tyndrum) in April, the Fife 50k in May, the West Highland Way race in June, then the Loch Ness marathon in October. The West Highland Way race was my favourite and wins the award. It is more than just a race - it has become a pretty important part of my year. Many others who have been involved in the race, either as runners or support, know exactly what I mean, although it is hard to explain this to those who haven't become part of the 'West Highland Way Family', to use Dario's words. If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, I suggest you watch the race dvd.

Both the Dumfries marathon and Loch Ness marathon are worthy of commendation. I've done all 5 Loch Ness marathons and think it is great- it's a lovely scenic route, the field is just about a perfect size, and it's incredibly well organised. Dumfries was also most enjoyable,or at least the last 11 miles were enjoyable when I had finally been able to get my act together. The Highland Fling was a bit low key this year - only 18 or so entrants - but promises much for the future. I found the Fife 50k bizarre - 14 laps of 2.2 miles round the roads and industrial estates of Glenrothes. Although tough, it had a strangely cathartic effect, and a point worth noting was the commitment shown by the officials and lap counters, which was most impressive. These guys gave up a full day (and in fact most of them give up just about every weekend) to allow us to take part in our chosen sport. They deserve an award. Maybe I'll introduce one next year.

3. Favourite race of the year - half marathon

The only reason this has a category of its own is that I have done so many half marathons this year - 7 in total. The first one was Inverness, for the 12th time in the last 13 years. The Troon lot and many others didn't make it because of heavy snow, but I had the good luck to have travelled the day before and finished in 1.27, which was my best half marathon time of the year. My abiding memory of the race was being passed by my friend Kim at 9 miles, but I dug in, gritted my teeth and passed her again at 10 miles, then held on to beat her by about 15 seconds. It was a good feeling, although short lived - Kim took her revenge at the Glasgow half later in the year where she passed me at 4 miles then beat my by around 4 minutes.

I then did the new Edinburgh Forthside half marathon. It was a complete shambles from an organisational perspective, and I finished in a devastingly poor 1.31. I consoled myself with the excuse that I had done the Dumfries marathon the week before, and the Inverness half the week before that, but with the benefit of hindsight it was the beginning of a series of poor performances. I couldn't beat 1.30 at Loch Leven in May (1.31, my excuse being that I was in the middle of WHW training), then it was another 1.31 at Helensburgh in July (excuse - too soon after the WHW), followed by 1.31 at Glasgow in early September (excuse - not sure - still too soon after the WHW?). Things finally took a turn for the better in October, with a pretty good 1.29 at the fantastic new Aviemore half, then improved again in November with 1.28 at Fort William.

Half marathon of the year, by the proverbial country mile, was Aviemore. It was mostly off road on scenic trails amongst some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer, was well organised, and was just a fantastically enjoyable run. The overwhelming consensus is that this is a gem of an event. I'll need to make sure I get my entry in early next year, because I'm sure it will fill up in no time at all.

4. Favourite race of the year - other

A few contenders here: the National Cross country championship at Falkirk in February - not because I had a good run (which I didn't) but simply because it is the 'blue ribband' event of Scottish distance running, and I always feel somewhat honoured to be taking part. Also the Troon 10k was great - nice course, exceptionally well stewarded and organised; but I think the winner was the Crieff 10k. I was just back running after the WHW, and wasn't in great shape (time was 43.51) but this is a fantastic run over trails around Crieff, and then there is a brilliant buffet at the finish. It is just such a friendly race and to cap it all the weather was brilliant. Races like this make you remember why we run.

5. Biggest running shambles of the year

There are 4 contenders. The first was the Central AC cross country championships at Queen Victoria School in Dunblane. This was fairly well organised, but the course required you to cross a burn on 6 separate occasions. On the 6th and last occasion I fell in. When trying to climb back out I hurt my thumb, was passed by the person who I had just overtaken minutes earlier, then lost in a sprint to the line. My thumb got more and more painful as the night went on, and I spent the following day at Stirling Royal Infirmary checking it wasn't broken (which it wasn't - just badly sprained). I've resolved not to do races in future where you have to jump over a burn.

Next contender was the Edinburgh Forthside half marathon. I stood where I was supposed to stand at the start, only to find about 2,000 slower runners had lined up in front of me. I spent the first 3 miles trying to get past them, by which time I had completely lost interest in the run and seriously considered packing it in. A lot of finishers couldn't get across the line because of the crowds, then had to wait for hours to get their t-shirt. To add to the frustration, no-one could get their car out of Ocean Terminal until the race was finished, then it took over an hour to get out of Leith. I don't think I'll be back in a hurry.

Then there were problems with the jogscotland 5k at Inverleith Park. Some neds moved the course tape, which meant I ended up in a bed of flowers within the Botanic Gardens, unsure how to get out. I must have run an extra kilometre by the time I had worked it all out. My official time was 23.53, about 4-5 minutes worse than my normal 5k time. We received a nice email from scottishathletics apologising, and it is difficult to see what they could have done to prevent it, but it was nonetheless very frustrating.

Despite the cock-ups outlined above, I think the winner of this year's award has to go to the Edinburgh marathon relay organisers. How on earth could anyone think it was a good idea to start the relay 10 minutes after the start of the full marathon? The completely obvious and predictable outcome happened - all of the faster 1st leg relay runners spent the first 3 miles trying to run around, through or over the slower full marathon runners. It was demotivating for the marathon runners to be passed in this way, and it was frustrating for the relay runners. I've done the marathon relay for the last 4 years and it's always been a shambles - the buses don't turn up to take people to their changeover point, there are never enough toilets, the bagagge control is poorly organised, and so on. Considering our team paid £110 to enter (yes, you read this correctly - £110), it is just not acceptable. I don't plan to do it again, although I'm not ruling it out completely as there is always the chance that I will be talked in to it by some of my work colleagues.

6. Best business development initiative of the year with a running connection

I wasn't planning to do this award until earlier this week when I received an email from Trevor, my physio. He had read my blog entitled 'Aaaaagh' where I was complaining about sore quads, and had the good sense to send me an email, suggesting I come to see him for a bit of massage. I now have an appointment for Monday. Trevor, I'm hugely impressed by your marketing prowess - I bet there aren't many people who have gained business from reading someone's blog. Trevor's prize is that I'm going to give him a plug. He's been really helpful when I've had injuries or even just muscle stiffness or fatigue. He also has a huge interest in distance running, being a marathon and ultra runner himself. He's based in the centre of Edinburgh, and I'm happy to pass on his details, with my recommendation, to anyone who might be interested.