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.