Sunday, May 27, 2007

The most boring run of all time

On Friday I decided to travel part of the way home from work by running from our office in the centre of Edinburgh to Falkirk Grahamston station. I left Edinburgh around 5pm. The first hour was spent heading westwards along the A8 out towards the Gyle, past the RBS headquarters at Gogarburn, and out past the airport. There was traffic everywhere, as people tried to get home by more conventional (and some would say sensible) means, and I was running into a strong, fairly cold wind. That first hour was dull, but things didn't get any better in the second hour: in fact they actually got worse. I crossed the M9 motorway by the footbridge, headed down the A89 towards Broxburn, turned right along a back road towards Winchburgh, and then joined the Union Canal. I have run along the Union Canal on a few occasions, and I have to say that I've always found it the most boring place to run in the entire universe. Apologies to Bristish Waterways, who are trying to get people to use the canals, but from a running perspective it is dire. The path never changes at all - no hills, no real changes in scenery with the same boring view of a canal to my left for mile after mile after mile, and just about nobody else about. At one stage I stopped to count my jelly babies, which was probably the highlight of that second hour. I discovered that I had 9, so I spent the next 20 minutes trying to work out how often I could eat one without running out of them too early. What a way to spend a Friday night. I'm a real fun guy, no doubt about that.

After an eternity I came to Linlithgow, and thought very seriously about packing it in and getting the train back from there. By that stage I had covered about 18 miles and was feeling cold. I had done enough, but for some odd reason that I still don't understand I carried on towards Polmont. The 3 hour mark arrived with my GPS showing I had run about 20.6 miles, so I guess I must have been about half way between Linlithgow and Polmont. I have to say that I really don't remember much about it, as just about every bit of that section looked much the same.

Incredibly the same thing happened to me at Polmont. I had made up my mind to stop and get the train from there, or so I thought. For some stupid reason I ran on past the station exit and continued towards Falkirk. Eventually I came off the canal, headed down the hill into Falkirk, ran passed Callendar Park, and pushed really hard to try and catch the 8.37pm train.

I finally arrived at Falkirk Grahamston, having covered the 26.1 miles in 3 hours 46 minutes. It had felt much, much longer. I missed the train by 2 minutes, and had to wait a full 28 minutes for the next one. By the time it arrived I was frozen. That kind of summed up my day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Racing again

Last night I decided to head up the road to Crieff for the Knock Hill Race. I don't normally do hill races, and I wasn't particularly in the mood for it after a hard day at work. However it is part of the Strathearn Harriers club championship, and as I was one of the people who suggested that a club championship would be a good idea, I felt somewhat obliged to support it. If I'm being completely honest, I also went along because I thought it was a race where I thought I might score quite a lot of points. The club championship scoring system is fairly complicated, and I won't bore you with the details here (if you are really interested you can find more information on, but there seems to be 3 key factors which influence your points: your own time, the winner's time, and your age. I can't do much about my age, but I didn't expect the winner's time to be particularly good, as it is not a high profile race. I therefore hoped to score quite a few points.

Well, I ended up finishing 17th (out of 46) in a time of 36.54, and I think I scored 13.8 points. This has put me in 2nd place in the club championship, 0.1 points behind the leader, Gordon Morrison. I should really point out that both Gordon and I have both done 3 events, while quite a few of the other serious contenders have only done 2. The race was a lot harder than I expected. I have been for a walk up Knock Hill with the dogs, and I don't remember it being particularly steep. Last night it seemed like a real slog. It didn't help that I was desperate for the toilet and had to stop half way up the hill, losing at least 30 seconds in the process. However I worked hard throughout, and passed 4 people in the second half of the course. All in all it was a good workout - a good hard run, without killing myself.

John's blog ( has a timer to the start of the West Highland Way race, and when I looked a few seconds ago it told me the race starts in 29 days 3 hours 39 minutes and 10 seconds. That doesn't seem too far away (and since I've been typing this it has changed to 29 days 3 hours 38 minutes and 8 seconds). I'll try and have another couple of weeks of relatively high mileage, then start tapering down for the race with about 3 weeks to go. My taper will be helped by the fact that I'm backing up one my friends Bobby (free Bobby! - anyone who listens to Robin and Cat on Real Radio will get it) in the Devil O' The Highland Footrace on 9 June. This race covers the second half of the WHW, from Tyndrum to Fort William. (Free) Bobby came with us for last week's long run, and looked in good shape. I'm confident he'll do well in the Devil O.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

2 days on the West Highland Way

Well, that was a good couple of days. On Friday morning we left Balmaha just before 9am to run the 41 miles up the West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy. Feeling that was not quite enough, we followed it up with the 35 miles from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William on the Saturday.

4 of us did the full 2 day session - Hugh, John, Phil and me. We were joined on Friday by Bobby, who came with us to Tyndrum, then on Saturday by John, Peter, Joe, Ellen, Mark and Aileen. My wife Alison and Phil's wife Liz joined us at Bridge of Orchy on Friday night, and provided exceptional backup services throughout Saturday's run. Friday turned into a bit of a race, with us reaching Bridge of Orchy in 8 hours 39 minutes. We decided to take things a bit more gently on Saturday, but the pace was still good. I put my foot down half way along the Lairig Mor, completely ignoring our previous agreement to stick together (that was my revenge for the toilet stop incident the previous day, which I have described further at 2 below) and reached Fort William in 7 hours 28 minutes. This may sound quite impressive, but in fairness I should point out I was more than half an hour behind the group in front, and about 4 hours behind John.

For most of the weekend the weather was awful. It was showery on Friday, but at least we had some reasonably long spells where the rain went off. That didn't happen on Saturday, when it poured for pretty much all of the day. Despite the weather it was a great weekend, made all the better by the fantastic company. I've jotted down some of the highlights and lowlights, in no particular order. Highlights are marked with an 'H', and lowlights with an 'L'.

1. Starting out from Balmaha in a monsoon. Fortunately it only lasted about 10 minutes, although by that time we were soaking (L).
2. Stopping for a quick toilet stop on the route from Rowardennan to Inversnaid, and finding myself almost a minute behind the other 4. Guys, thanks for waiting for me... I realised then that this wasn't a friendly training run but a full blown session, and that no quarter would be given. In fact, I'm sure John referred to it as a 'race' on more than one occasion - a freudian slip, no doubt... (L)
3. Getting a coffee at Beinglas Farm, my first coffee for almost 7 hours (H).
4. Covering the section over Crianlarich without getting cramp (H).
5. The hot shower at the Bridge of Orchy bunkhouse (H).
6. Buying a round of drinks for 6 of us at the Bridge of Orchy hotel, and being told that the total bill was £1.40 (4 pints of water, a coke and an orange juice) (H).
7. Trying to decide whether to have the full West Highland breakfast on Saturday morning. My heart said yes, my head no - I went with my head, and had porridge and toast instead. Mind you, the full breafast didn't do Hugh any harm - he shot off before Kingshouse and we didn't see him again until Fort William (L).
8. Saddest moment of the 2 days was the look on Alison and Liz's face as they stood waiting for us in the middle of the storm at Kingshouse. Ladies, you went far beyond the call of duty. In fact, it was so wet there was a man beside them rounding up animals two by two into a nearby ark... (L)
9. It was so miserable that Aileen packed it in at Kingshouse (L)
10. But the rest of us went on (H).
11. I made it to Fort William just before the Leisure Centre closed, and managing to get a hot shower (H). However, I feel I have to comment on Lochaber Leisure Centre's opening hours. Why does it close at 5pm on a Saturday? Does no-one in Fort William want to do leisure after then?
12. Finally, having a fish supper at Tyndrum (H+).

All in all a great couple of days. Can't wait for 23rd June, when we get to do it all again, plus a bit more, and all in one go!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A quick update

I haven't much blogging time tonight, but I know many of my readers get frustrated when there is no update. So, with apologies for the summary format, here goes:

I had a bit of niggle in my left groin for the first part of the week. It was possibly brought on by playing football at my son's 9th birthday party last Sunday, or even by falling down a hole on the moor when I was out walking the dogs. Whatever caused it, I thought it was better to be cautious and that meant I missed the Troon 10k on Wednesday night. It was disappointing to miss it, but probably the right decision.

I had an easy run on Thursday and another easy run on Saturday. My groin felt ok. So today I went up to the West Highland Way and ran from Tyndrum to just beyond Forest Lodge and back, 20 miles in total. I felt pretty good, covering it in just over 3 hours.

Next Friday and Saturday I'm doing most of the West Highland Way with a few other race entrants, including Phil and John. The plan is to run from Balmaha to Bridge of Orchy on the Friday (40 miles), then stay at Bridge of Orchy overnight and run from there to Fort William on the Saturday (35 miles). I'm looking forward to it. There is a chance we'll be interviewed by a reporter from the Independent on Sunday who is doing a feature on the race, so look out for that.

Today was the Glasgow Women's 10k. A large number of women from our firm were doing it, including 2 from my department, Linda and Morag. Morag has done it a few times but it was Linda's first. They finished in very good times, so congratulations to both of them. Hopefully they will have caught the running 'bug', and will be thinking about doing the half marathon in September!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Scottish elections

This is my first ever political blog. Up to now I've tried to steer clear of politics and concentrated on running instead. However I have always had an enormous interest in politics, and I think the results of Thursday's Scottish elections merit some comment. So here goes.

First of all congratulations to the SNP for ending up the largest party - 47 seats compared to Labour's 46. At the time of writing it isn't clear what is going to happen. However my preference on the way forward would be the not so obvious solution - why don't the SNP and Labour form a coalition government? It has to make sense - between them they have 93 of the 129 seats, so a coalition between these 2 parties would provide a great chance to deliver 'the will of the Scottish people' - and isn't that what it is all about? Labour would have to accept that the Scottish people are entitled to a referendum on independence. In my view this isn't a bad thing. I'm actually moving more and more in favour myself. It would also give the SNP an opportunity to learn from Labour's many years in power, and to make sure that knowledge was not lost.

One of my main concerns about the SNP manifesto was their proposal to abolish sportscotland. I am a board member of sportscotland, so I have a particular interest in this. However, trying to put my personal interest to one side, I just do not see how replacing the sportscotland board with a group of politicians makes any sense at all. The sportscotland board is made up of independently appointed people, all of whom are (from my experience) very high quality individuals. Sportscotland was established by Royal Charter to ensure it remained independent from the normal political process, and I just don't see how changing this will improve sport in Scotland. I applied to be part of it because I believed I could make a difference. I would be disappointed if this was opportunity was taken away, with sportscotland replaced by another yet another government department.

I am actually very supportive of pushing for Scottish representation in all sports, i.e. having a Scottish team at events like the Olympics and World Championships. I cannot see how this can be a bad thing for Scottish sport. It will give significantly greater opportunities for Scottish athletes to appear on the world stage, and that will in my opinion lead to far greater motivation from our athletes, resulting in improved performances. We already see improvements in performance standards in Commonwealth Games years across a number of sports - athletes suddenly have an achieveable target, so are prepared to push themselves that bit further to get there. I hope that the SNP and Labour, working together for the benefit of the Scottish people, take this on board.

There is no doubt in my mind that sport needs to be a higher priority for any Scottish government. There are 2 aspects to this - as outlined in the recently published strategy for sport - which are to increase participation and to improve performance. Both are equally important. We need to get this right - I worry greatly about our ability to fund the health service in 10 to 15 years time if we don't take steps now to improve the fitness of the population of Scotland. Initiatives like jogscotland have such an important role to play in this. I think it can be done. Next week is the Glasgow Women's 10k, and we have around 50 women from our firm taking part. When you bear in mind that we only have about 400 people in total (both men and women) then I think that is a fantastic response. It just goes to show what happens when you get a few enthusiastic people in a workplace and it becomes 'cool' to take part. The London Olympics in 2012, and hopefully the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, have the potential to be a key influence in helping people moving to a better and healthier lifestyle. Let's hope everyone makes the most of these fantastic opportunities.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A sprint finish - but who was it against?

During Saturday's Highland Fling race I ended up in a sprint finish, as I reported in my race review:

Just after coming into the forest before Tyndrum I passed someone else, then managed to trip and had my first fall of the day. I shouted a few well chosen words, picked myself up, and powered towards the finish, determined to stay in front of the person I had just passed. I succeeded, but only just. I'm not sure I needed a sprint finish at that stage.

Well, the results of the race were published on Monday and I was very surprised that there was no-one listed as finishing just a couple of seconds behind me. Steven King was 36 seconds in front and Kendra-Anne White was 2 minutes and 3 seconds behind. Being a very pedantic person, this puzzled me greatly. I could only think of 2 possible explanations: either Murdo (the race organiser) had mixed up Steven King and me in the results, and then got the times wrong (which seemed unlikely), or the person I had the sprint finish with wasn't in the race at all.

As it was still puzzling me today, I e-mailed Steven King to ask him if he was in a sprint finish with someone - in other words to check out the first possible explanation. He came back and said that he had indeed finished about 36 seconds in front of me, and remembered my sprint finish well, as he was sitting on the ground beside the finish line at the time. The results had confused him too, as he had thought there were 3 people between him and his clubmate Lynne Kuz, but the results only showed 2.

So the only possible explanation would appear to be that I got involved in a sprint finish on Saturday, over the final quarter mile of a 53 mile race, with someone who wasn't even in the race. I have to say that I find that greatly amusing.