Monday, May 26, 2008

Reflections on the weekend

I've had a few glasses of wine tonight and a barbeque to celebrate the bank holiday, even though I was back at work. It seems like a good time to post a few reflective thoughts on the weekend.

1. Despite a lot of advice to the contrary (Coach George, allybea, John K etc etc), I'm glad I did the 2 marathons. I don't think it is any harder than the 2 day WHW training run, and it is good training to get the body used to running tired.
2. Stornoway was a really hard marathon. Running up a hill and into a strong wind non stop for 15 mile is hard going. No wonder I felt tired at the end.
3. I liked Stornoway. I should really try and do more of the Scottish island races - they all seem to be really friendly and well organised. And they appreciate people making the effort to turn up.
4. I also enjoyed the long ferry crossing. The journey took 2 hours 45 minutes, the same time it takes to get to Islay. It was particularly good meeting the Trotters on the way over and having a couple of beers.
5. With the price of petrol I might have been better going in the bus, rather than taking the car. Having said that I always enjoy the drive up north, and having the car is a lot more convenient.
6. I might also have been better staying at a B&B rather than a hostel. Then I might have had a decent night's sleep.
7. That's me up to 64 marathons and ultras (47 marathons and 17 ultras). At this rate I might get in to the 100 marathon club by the time I'm 50. A lot of the runners at Stornoway were members of the 100 marathon club, and I felt a bit envious.
8. Well done to Caroline (mrs pacepusher) on her PB at Edinburgh. She smashed her previous PB, and came in under 4 hours for the first time. Brilliant performance. WHW race next year?
9. I'm a bit surprised to be saying this, but the Edinburgh marathon was really good. I even enjoyed running in a reasonable sized crowd. Maybe I had just been lonely running on my own for so long the previous day.
10. I got a couple of new t-shirts! The Stornoway one was a proper technical running shirt - none of this cotton nonsense. I might even throw out a couple of my old ones :)
11. It's now less than 4 weeks until the WHW race. In the last 2 weeks I've done 86 miles and 66 miles. So this week I should do 46 miles, then 26 miles the next week. That would be a very structured taper.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Stornoway and Edinburgh

Well, it's done. 2 marathons in 2 days, which is a first for me. So what was it like?

I had never been to the Outer Hebrides, so part of the reason for wanting to do the Stornoway marathon was the chance to visit one of Scotland's remote islands. I left the house just before 12 noon on Friday and arrived at Ullapool around 4pm, in plenty of time for the 5.15pm ferry. I was not at all surprised to meet quite a few people I knew on the boat, and passed the 3 hour ferry crossing very pleasantly having a couple of beers with some of the Hunters Bog Trotters, who happened to be staying in the same hostel. Aftet arriving I registered for the race, checked in to the hostel, met Ellen and Murdo for a (non alcoholic) drink, and headed back to the hostel, which was full of excited runners, including a couple of members of the 100 marathon club. Its been quite a few years since I've stayed in a hostel and the dorm of 7 was quite noisy, but at £15 a night (including breakfast) I can't really complain. After a few hours sleep I was up just after 5am, had some breakfast, then caught the bus at 7am to head to the marathon start at Callanish Stones.

Callinash Stones was an incredible place. The stones are reputed to have been there since 3,500 BC - that's a long time by any stretch of the imagination. It was also "blowing a hoolay", as the locals would say. I was glad that we didn't have to hang about for too long, and the race started on time at exactly 8.30am.

The course was one of the most difficult marathon routes I have run. We ran north for 7 miles along an undulating road, then turned onto a minor road which headed east across the moor. I am not exaggerating when I say that the road climbed for the next 15 miles across barren moorland, with the entire section being into a really strong headwind. It was a real struggle, and I was very relieved by the time I reached the outskirts of Stornoway at mile 22, even though we still had 4 miles to run through the castle grounds. I had managed to keep my pace below 9 minute miles across the moor, and managed to pick things up on the more sheltered castle grounds. I passed a few of the half marathon backmarkers and finished strongly, managing to dip under 3.40 in an official time of 3.39.52, in 15th place from 89 finishers.

The post race buffet was fantastic, and after a few sandwiches and cakes I dragged my weary body to the pier for the 1.45pm ferry. I arrived in Ullapool just in time to hear the end of the Scottish Cup final (how disappointing Queen of the South didn't manage to get an equaliser), and with the roads being quiet I was back home by 8.30pm. The thought of doing it all again the next day was not appealing at all - my legs were stiff and I felt really tired -but it is amazing how quickly the body can recover. I went to bed around 11pm and slept like a log.

When the alarm went off at 5.30am this morning, I wondered why on earth I had decided to do 2 marathons in 2 days. It seemed a totally idiotic idea. I felt shattered and my legs were a bit stiff, although not as bad as I had feared. Another 5 hours in my bed would have gone down a treat. However within 15 minutes I felt a lot better: my legs had loosened, I enjoyed my pre-race meal of beans on toast, and left the house for Edinburgh at 6.30am. I parked and the office and walked the mile or so to the start at the far end of Princes Street. There was a big race feel to the event, and by the time we were lining up for the start I was actually looking forward to it, but determined to run at a sensible pace.

And I did. I set off at just below 8 minute mile pace, and felt good. We hit the wind on the promenade at Portobello. It was strong and into our faces, but nowhere near as bad as yesterday's wind on Lewis, and I just worked away at a steady pace. I was through the half way in about 1.46.30 and was still feeling good: by the time I turned at the far end of the course (around 18 and a half miles) I was still feeling good and beginning to think I could better yesterday's time, which would be a great result. After running into a gale force wind for the best part of a day and a half, it was lovely to have the wind behind for the final 8 miles or so, and I managed to pick things up and pass quite a few people, including Duncan from the club (who incidentally was wearing the largest rucksack I've ever seen anyone wearing in a marathon. I'm not really sure why. Maybe he thought the course was too easy and wanted to make it as hard as possible).

I felt remarkably comfortable over the last few miles, which were still at 8 minute mile pace, and crossed the finish line at Musselbrough racecourse in a time of 3 hours 34 minutes and 44 seconds. I was more than 5 minutes faster than the day before, and felt a lot better. To be fair was a much easier course, and running in a bigger field did make a difference.

I've been a critic in the past of the Edinburgh marathon, but I have to give credit where credit is due. It was a really good course and very well organised. The facilities at the start and finish were good - there were even plenty toilets at the start, which has been a criticism in the past. The baggage trucks worked very well. The finish at Musselbrough racecourse was great, with spectators able to see it all from the stand, and the route was varied enough to be interesting throughout: through the city, along the prom, through towns, along a rural road, and through a big estate. I'll would definitely recommend it and will hopefully be back.

All in all a great weekend, but with less than 4 weeks to go it is now time to start thinking about tapering for the WHW race. In the meantime I plan to have a bit of a rest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another big weekend of running coming up

This weekend I'm going to attempt something I've never tried before - back to back marathons. The plan is to drive up to Ullapool on Friday to catch the 5.15pm Stornoway boat, stay overnight at the bunkhouse, then run the Stornoway Marathon on Saturday morning. I should be able to get a boat back in the afternoon, giving me just enough time to drive home, grab some sleep, then head through to Edinburgh on Sunday morning for the marathon there.

Needless to say I'm not expecting brilliant times, but I'm just using it as another good training weekend in preparation for the WHW and a chance to visit the Outer Hebrides, where I have never been before. Hopefully the weather will be cool and overcast on both days. Light drizzle would do perfectly.

John K is running the Kirkcudbright (almost) half marathon on Saturday. As you can guess from my sarcastic use of the bracketed word 'almost', various questions have been raised in the past about the length of the Kirkcudbright course. I ran it one year in 1.20, although I found it hard to believe I had been running that quickly. To add to the doubts, the number of people who came in with PBs was truly astonishing - almost every person who crossed the line looked at their watch and commented on the fact they had run a PB. To be fair that was quite a few years ago, in the days when the course was rumoured to be measured with a car mileometer, so hopefully it will be properly measured now.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two days on the Way

This was a BIG weekend in the training for the WHW race on 21 June. A 2 day outing: Balmaha to Bridge of Orchy on Friday (41 miles), followed by Bridge of Orchy to Fort William on Saturday (35 miles). In this age of technology, I'm expecting to read numerous blog tales, look at various photos and even watch the 'training run film', but I thought I would jot down my various thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind. Which means I'm doing my 2nd blog posting in 2 days - surely some kind of record?

Anyway, to the run. We were a bit late leaving - no surprise there - and didn't arrive at Balmaha until about 10.15am. From the sounds of it John K, Neal and Richard had been there for hours and hours, and had been in to the Oak Tree Inn to have a pre-run cuppa and generally pass the time. Richard had started running before 10, expecting to be a bit slower, and we finally started about 10.30. The conditions were 'pleasant' - sunny but not too hot, at least at first, although as the day went on it became warmer and warmer. Allybea had very kindly offered to provide a mobile snack van, and met us at Rowardennan after just less than an hour and a half with a welcome cup of coffee.

About 2 miles before Inversnaid, disaster for Neal. He went over on his ankle, and the loud expletive showed that it had hurt him a lot. When we had a look at Inversnaid it had swollen up quite a bit. It didn't look too good, but he seemed to be able to keep going at a reasonable pace: in fact after Crianlarich he shot off up the hill, not to be seen again until Bridge of Orchy. Unfortunately his ankle had swollen up like a balloon that evening, and was even worse the following morning, so he wasn't able to run at all on Saturday. We're keeping our fingers crossed that he'll recover in time for the race.

By Beinglas Farm the day had turned into a scorcher, and I was dripping in sweat as I made my way up and over the hills towards Crianlarich and Tyndrum. John and I were both beginning to moan about the heat, and saying that we could do with it being much cooler. By the time we left Tyndrum the rain was teaming down, and for about 15 minutes we were feeling a bit cold. What a change - you can never predict the weather in the Scotland, and it was yet another reminder to make sure you carry waterproofs on a run like this, even though the weather might look perfect. It doesn't take long to cool down, and if you body is depleted you can get chilled very easily. Despite the rain John and I arrived together at Bridge of Orchy with smiles on our faces, 8 hours 24 minutes after setting off, completely soaking but delighted to have had such a good day's running. We enjoyed a meal and a couple of beers (the service was very slow, so we didn't eat until 9.30pm), before heading off to bed. This year we were in the hotel rather than the bunkhouse - allybea did not enjoy the previous year's bunkhouse experience - although to be honest neither of us was convinced it was worth the extra cost.

I am a big fan of cooked Scottish breakfasts, and I was determined to get my money's worth on Saturday morning - despite of the fact I was going to be running in a little more than an hour's time. It may have been a high risk strategy, but I'm pleased to report that the bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, black pudding, potato scone, beans and toast went down a treat and didn't re-appear at any time throughout the day. At about 9.15am we set off from Bridge of Orchy in absolutely perfect running conditions - still, dull and overcast -having been joined for the day by Tim, Morgan, Iain and John.

We all arrived at Kingshouse together, the only incident of note to report being a hilarious fall by John K when he was walking backwards and filming with his camera. Thankfully he was fine. The other 4 picked up the pace heading towards Kinlochleven, leaving John and me to bring up the rear. We were still behind leaving Kinlochleven, but by the time we had reached allybea's snack van at Lundavra we had managed to catch up with and pass all of the others. I didn't hang about long at Lundavra - I just wanted to get it finished - and, having watched John K pull away into the distance as though he was just out for a 5 mile training run, worked away well over the last stretch and down to the leisure centre in Fort William. I was delighted to see I has covered the full run in under 7 hours - 6 hours 56 minutes to be exact, and had been particularly pleased with the fact I had done the last bit from Kinlochleven in 2 hours 43 minutes. I'd certainly take that on race day.

I look forward to reading everyone else's tales of the weekend. Thanks to everyone for their company, and a special big thanks to allybea for her support. It definitely makes it a lot easier to run when you have such high quality backup - even though I admit that I may, on the odd occasion, not be very good at fully expressing my appreciation :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A distinct lack of blogging

It must be about 2 weeks since I last blogged, which to be perfectly honest is not very good. I get a bit hacked off when I go to look at someone's blog and it is just the same story from the last time I visited - so there really isn't any excuse. In case you think I am a boring person who hasn't done anything, I'll try and give a very quick round up of what has been happening since my last post.

Sunday 4th May - son no 3 and I went to Liverpool for the Liverpool v Manchester City game, as a birthday treat for son no 3. It was a great day and a fantastic experience. Liverpool won 1-0 which pleased no 3 son greatly. It was a 5 hour drive back up the road in terrible weather, so given it was a 4 o'clock kick-off we didn't get home till close to midnight. Tired for a few days afterwards.

Wednesday 7th May - the Troon 10k. It was a hot night, but that was really no excuse for my disappointing time of 39.39. John K ran something like 38.47 (I thought he would do better than that as well) to go 3-2 up in our series - a series I had been leading 2-0 in the middle of February. Not good.

Friday 9th May - night out in the office. Decided to forget about the last train and treat everyone to a fantastic rendition of Robbie's 'Angels', using a TV remote control as a microphone. It didn't seem such a good idea the following day, what with my splitting headache and realisation that the taxi home had cost a fortune.

Saturday 10th May - didn't attempt the 20 mile Tour of Strathearn run I had been planning. Instead did a gentle and slow 8 mile run on the local back roads, which was a hard slog and more than enough.

Tuesday 13th / Wednesday 14th May - in Belfast for a UK Sports Cabinet meeting. It must be at least 10 years since I was last in Belfast, and the place has changed beyond recognition. It seems like a great city, and the hotel we stayed in was brilliant, with fantastic views over Belfast Lough. I hope to go back for a holiday sometime.

Thurday 15th May - completely gutted to read the Subversive Runner's blog and find out it has all been made up. Wife No 3 doesn't even exist! (Just kidding Dave - not gutted at all - your ex partner's comments amused me greatly).

Friday 16th / Saturday 17th May - 2 day WHW training run, from Balmaha to Bridge of Orchy on the Friday (with an overnight stay at Bridge of Orchy), then Bridge of Orchy to Fort William on the Saturday. 76 miles in 2 days. I'll write about it in more detail tomorrow when I am not so tired.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy birthday

No 3 son is 10 today. He's a Liverpool supporter but has never seen them live, so as a special birthday treat we are going to Anfield tomorrow for the Liverpool v Manchester City game. He's really excited about it. John K was able to get tickets for us from his Liverpool contacts, which was absolutely fantastic. I'm just disappointed that Liverpool lost to Chelsea on Wednesday in the Champions League semi-final, as it might mean the atmosphere will be a bit flat - although I'm sure it won't detract in any way from No 3 son's enjoyment, or from the whole experience. Let's hope they cap a great day with a home win!

I was thinking earlier on about what I was doing in 1998. At the time we stayed in Troon, I ran with Troon Tortoises, and I worked in Glasgow. I was just about to attempt the West Highland Way race for the first time, just 6 weeks after the birth of No 3 son. In hindsight that was not great timing. I was nowhere near as well prepared as I am now, and dropped out at Tyndrum after 53 miles. Despite the disappointment I felt at the time it was still a great experience, an experience which set me up well for successful attempts in future years. It also gave me a great base for the rest of the year, and I ran PBs at both 5k and the marathon (17.41 and 2.56 respectively) in September of that year. Today these remain my best times for both distances.

The WHW race experience today is considerably different from 1998. In 1998 the race was organised by Jim Stewart, and had only 20 finishers - although the 20 did include Adrian Stott, Jim Drummond, Alan Kay, Jim Robertson and Pauline Walker who are all still competing today. Dario was a competitor rather than organiser, although still a great source of advice. There was no internet and no blogs, so almost all the training tended to be done on your own, without the chance to share experiences with and learn from other competitors - other than speaking to Dario on the phone. The race started at 3am, not 1am, which changed the whole way you needed to approach it. The route was rougher in quite a few places, particularly the section before Inversnaid where the path was not as well developed, and the section between Beinglas and Derrydarroch where you had to negotiate the riverbank for a short section. And fewer people had heard of the race, or knew anyone who had completed it.

Since 1998 we've moved house twice and I've changed job 4 times, with spells working in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Back then the 2 older boys were not even teenagers; now they are adults. Our old dog, Isla, was just a puppy. Despite the fact I've changed my first claim running club twice (from Troon Tortoises to Central to Strathearn Harriers), running remains one of the 'constants' over the last 10 years. I still enjoy it, still go to a lot of the same races and still see a lot of the same people, most of whom have slowed down a bit, but not by too much. The great camaraderie of the sport was there in 1998 and remains one of the things I love about running today, particularly the camaraderie amongst the ultra running community.

So what about my own running this week? Not much to report, to be honest. I did an easy 4 mile run on Tuesday and another easy 4 on Thursday, but both times I felt a bit stiff after last weekend's Fling, particularly around my groin. I decided to take it easy this week and make sure I recover properly. I'll try and do a steady run later this afternoon, then start to think about the Troon 10k on Wednesday night.