Thursday, December 31, 2009

What are the plans for 2010?

There are just a few hours to go in 2009 and I've been looking ahead to next year, trying to work out what I'm going to do with my running. I think I'll keep my targets quite simple:

1. To enjoy my running (most important).
2. To beat 1 hour 30 minutes for a half marathon.
3. To beat 40 minutes for a 10k.
4. To finish the West Highland Way race...
5. ... in a time under 22 hours if at all possible.
6. And to run 2,000 miles.

That's it. I'm also going to try and cut down on my coffee consumption, and to have more days every month where I don't drink any alcohol than those I do. I'm also going to try and fit in a regular sports massage, and eat more fruit and vegetables.

I've had a look at various websites aover the holiday period and I've decided that my plan is to run in the following races in 2010:

16th - Jack Crawford 10k, Bishopbriggs.
17th - Scottish Vets Relay at Strathclyde Park, 3.8 miles per leg (assuming we can get a team together from the club).

20th - National Cross Country at Falkirk, 7.5 miles (a classic - wouldn't miss it - if you get the chance this is well worth doing for the experience).

14th - Inverness half marathon. I've done it every year since 1994 with only one exception, so it would be a shame to miss it - in fact I entered it earlier today.

24th - The Highland Fling, 53 miles. A race I've never missed - I filled out my form today and wrote the cheque which is just waiting to be posted.

1st - Kintyre Relay - I'm hoping to get a team together from the club; how many we can round up will determine how far we all have to run. If there are 6 of us it will work out at a reasonable 11 miles each; if there are only 2 of us it might be a more difficult session..
5th (?) - Troon 10k - my old club and a brilliant 10k. It's a bit of a trek from Edinburgh but well worth the effort.
15th - Cateran Trail, 55 miles - another one I enjoyed last year and I've entered the 2010 race today.
30th - Mull of Kintyre half marathon. This race was number 2 in the 'Runner's World' top races of 2009, so it seemed like a must do event. Guess what? I entered it today. It's been an expensive day.

19th - West Highland Way Race, 95 miles. The biggie. Looking forward to it already. Wearing my organisers' hat, just hope everything goes ok.

Recovery month (although I have to admit that I'm eyeing up I'm the Harris half marathon on the 10th...)

21st - Coll half marathon. Phil and I did this a couple of years ago and it was a great weekend. This time I'm planning on going with allybea, but I think it might be a B&B this time rather than wild camping...

4th - Dingle Ultramarathon, 50 miles. This looks like a good one - a lovely part of Ireland, and there is also a marathon and half marathon the same day. Hoping to head over there with allybea and the doctors.

3rd - Loch Ness Marathon - I've only missed one since it started in 2002 so need to do it in 2010. Definitely my favourite marathon.

7th (?) - Strathaven 10k - a classic. And Lee would not be happy of it wasn't in my plans, so I better make sure it is included.

That's all for the moment. I'm looking forward to it already. In addition to the above I'll need to fit in a few training runs for the West Highland Way, a few speedy races (5ks and 10ks) and a few other bits and pieces, such as island half marathons. Looks like it will be an interesting year.

Before signing off, I would like to wish all my readers (!) the very best wishes for 2010. I hope you all have a great year, and achieve all of your goals.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My review of 2009

Since I've started writing this blog, I've written a 'Review of the Year' post which has looked back at my running year. I've been planning to do the 2009 review for a few weeks, but every time I've sat down to do it I've not been able to find the appropriate words, and have put it off till later. This time I'll try and make a better attempt... here goes...

2009 will be remembered by me, and by many of the readers of this blog, as the year we lost a very close friend as a result of Dario's tragic death on 12 July. There were many lovely tributes to Dario at the time, not least the very moving and appropriate tribute at the end of the Adventure Show. The love, support and kindness shown at that time was a great comfort and strength to us all, demonstrating what a fantastic group of people make up the West Highland Way 'family'; I feel privileged to be a part of that group.

Nearly 6 months on, I still feel a huge sense of loss. I feel it every time I come out of my drive and look across the fields to Blackford where Dario and Gilian lived; I feel it when I am sitting on the train in the morning on my way to work, which was a time Dario often phoned; I feel it on days like today when I am out a long run: and I feel it when I think of some of the races and runs we used to do, such as the 24 hour race at Perth. I even feel it when I pour myself a whisky, particularly a Glengoyne. At the moment I am writing these words with tears streaming down my face but the pain I feel must be nothing compared to Gilian, especially at times like Christmas. My thoughts are with her. I hope she is able to take some comfort from the love and support of the WHW family.

But life goes on. Dario would have wanted that. Karen D has taken over the organisation of the Cateran Trail, and I'm sure she will make an excellent job of it. The WHW race committee will ensure that the 2010 race goes ahead, hopefully to the same high standard as the races that preceeded it. And we will all continue to run, to set our various targets, and to try and run further, faster, and in more obscure places.

So what happened in terms of my running in 2009? At the start of the year I set a few targets, which are shown below (in italics), along with a comment on whether I achieved it or not:

1. To finish the WHW race;
ACHIEVED. I finished in 23 hours 11 minutes. Not my fastest time by 2 hours, but given last year's DNF I ran more conservatively and was delighted to finish. One of the highlights was finishing and seeing Keith Hughes at FW Leisure Centre, wondering why he looked so cheery, then finding out that he was about to keep running a further 73 miles up the Great Glen Way to Inverness! Nutter.

2. To finish the 'Big 3' WHW races (the Highland Fling, the WHW race, the Devil O' The Highlands);
ACHIEVED. I had a very poor run in the Fling (loads of cramp) and suffered a bit over the latter stages of the Devil, but at least I finished all 3 races. I suppose that in itself is an achievement, although I wasn't overly happy with my performance in any of the races.

3. To complete 5 ultras (including a 24 hour race);
ACHIEVED. I did 7 ultras: the 3 WHW races (WHW, Fling and Devil), the Glasgow to Edinburgh race along the canal (54 miles), the Cateran Trail (55 miles - brilliant event - highly recommended), the River Ayr Way (40 miles - a bit boring and hard to follow the route at some bits), and the Tooting 24 hour race (which I ran 100km and then stopped after 12 hours 28 minutes - don't think I'll be back in a hurry). I was really pleased to do 7 ultras, which a few years ago I would have considered impossible. Howwever there is no doubt that my times suffered from doing so many. It was a year of quantity rather than quality.

4. To run at least 25 races;
NOT ACHIEVED. I only ran 20 races this year: 7 ultras, 1 marathon (Loch Ness), 3 half marathons (Inverness, Edinburgh and Kilmacolm), 4 10ks (Nigel Barge, Troon, Milngavie and Strathaven) plus 5 other races (Glen Lednock 8.5 miles, Brig Bash 5 miles, 2 cross countries and the Morrisons Academy 5k). That means I've now done 485 races in total,including 74 marathons / ultras, 86 half marathons and 94 10ks. With a bit of luck I should run my 500th race in 2010, and might even run my 100th 10k.

5. To run 5 new races;
ACHIEVED. I did 7 new races: the Glasgow to Edinburgh, Cateran Trail, River Ayr, Tooting 24 hour, Kilmacolm half marathon, Run With The Wind 10k at Strathaven, and the Glen Lednock road race.

6. To run a race on a Scottish island I haven't visited before;
NOT ACHIEVED. I didn't really plan this very well - doing so many ultras meant there was not much time left to visit a new Scottish island. Maybe next year.

7. To beat 40 minutes for a 10k;
ACHIEVED (just...). On 1 November I headed south to Strathaven, having failed to beat 40 minutes in my previous 3 10ks, and knowing this was the last chance I would have in 2009. I had also heard that the course was a bit downhill but I didn't care about that - a sub 40 would be a sub 40. Well, I pushed my body to the limit and was overjoyed to cross the line with a comfortable 6 seconds to spare. Definitely one of the highs of the year.

8. To beat 1 hour 30 minutes for a half marathon;
ACHIEVED. I ran 1.29 on an icy cold March day in Inverness - and then had a 6 hour drive home via Aberdeen as I thought (wrongly) that the A9 was closed. I also beat 1.30 at Kilmacolm, but I have to be honest and point out that my sub 1.30 there was more to do with a short course than my performance.

9. To finish in the top half of the field in the National XC;
NOT ACHIEVED. I missed this by miles; well, by at least a minute, which in cross country terms is a lot. It is a tough target - I have to be running really well to make the top half of the National XC, and haven't achieved it for a few years - so this target may be dropped going forward.

10. To run 2,000 miles.
ACHIEVED. Today I did a 13 mile run in the snow and ice, which took me to 2,001 miles for the year with 4 days to spare. Although I am the first to admit that this is a pretty meaningless target, it does have the positive effect of forcing me out the door in the cold December days and nights, when I might be tempted not to bother. For that reason alone it is worthwhile.

So in summary, 7 targets were achieved and 3 were not achieved. At the end of the day, however, it doesn't really matter. 2009 has been a tragic year, but I want to finish on a positive note, with a reflection on Dario. Dario loved running; running in general and the West Highland Way Race in particular. At Dario's funeral Eilish said we should all remember one positive memory of Dario. More than any other memory, I remember the way that Dario had time for everyone who took part, whether they were at the front, the middle or the back of the field, and made everyone feel part of the family. To me, that is what makes the WHW race special and unique. Like any family there are many differences betweem its members, but everyone is linked by their involvement in this special event. It would be a fitting legacy to Dario if this continues to develop in the years ahead.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Running without a purpose

Unfortunately I seem to have lost my running mojo. Up until the end of November things were ok, but as soon as we moved into the darkest month I have had no enthusiasm for running at all. My training diary for December reads as follows:

1st - no run.
2nd - no run.
3rd - no run.
4th - a very poor quality 4 mile jog round Glasgow first thing in the morning (after attending the Sunday Mail Sports Awards the night before).
5th - an even worse 3 mile run in Crieff with the dog (with a break for a rest at the half way point).

There seems to be nothing in the tank at the moment. I pack my running stuff each day and carry it in to work, then carry it home at the end of the day, unused. On Wednesday I had planned to run after work. I even made it to the changing area and had started getting changed before a voice in my head said "Fuck this, you don't really want to go out there in the cold and the pissing rain, do you?". I agreed with the voice, put my shirt back on, and headed home. Not good.

So what is going on? I am not the biggest fan of the winter, but I can usually force myself out the door for a run, regardless of the weather. I've been busy at work and busy with various sportscotland events, but I am normally able to organise my days in such a way that I can fit a run in at some point. Not at the moment, it would seem. And the less I run, the more fed up I become, and the less I feel like running. It's a vicious circle.

So far this year I have run a total of 1,879 miles, so have only 121 to go to reach my normal target of 2,000 miles. Not that it matters a jot, of course, but it would be nice to get there. I have done 20 races, a few less than normal, but that total includes 7 ultras and a marathon which is quite a few more than I have done in a single year before.

I think I need to work out a more structured plan for next year. My next marathon will be my 75th marathon/ultra, and my 50th actual marathon, so I'd like to do a good one, possibly around the end of March. That means a) finding the right event and b) starting to train a lot harder than I have been training recently, including sessions like fartlek, intervals and other forms of speedwork. The thought of it at the moment is horrible, but hopefully my enthusiasm will return at some stage. I also need to think about my club. Strathearn Harriers is a small club, and I find it almost impossible to get there during the week. Not many of the members have the same running ambitions as I have. Should I look for a club in Edinburgh, which I can go to more regularly after finishing work? Would that help? It would certainly be good to be part of a club who were keen on taking part in the various cross country events, for example.

And of course there are the big events next year like the Highland Fling, the Cateran Trail and the West Highland Way race. The only one I have entered so far is the WHW and I'm not sure about the others yet - I am trying to work out a sensible running plan for 2010 before committing to any other long races. The only certainty at the moment is that I will not be back in Tooting for the 24 hour track race.

Maybe I'll go out for a run tomorrow and the magic will have returned. But at the moment I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I went a run today

I went a run today. I ran for 4 miles round Edinburgh. It took me around 31 minutes. I wore a blue helly hansen top, a blue pair of tracksters and a pair of Saucony road shoes which I bought a few months ago from Adrian at Run and Become. After my run I had a shower and went back to work.

Everyone happy with this post?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

There's quite a few numpties out there

I spent a bit of time yesterday going through the entries for the 2010 West Highland Way race. Now I would have thought that the instructions were quite clear: you fill in the form, then send it to me with a cheque for the right amount and a stamped addressed envelope. Simples, yes?

Unfortunately, no. Quite a few people were unable to get this rather basic part of the WHW race administration right. If they can't even do this bit, what chance have they got of making it to Fort William on 19 June 2010? Somewhere between nil and f*ck all, I would have thought.

A few examples:

One potential entrant sent me an envelope containing a cheque and a SAE, but no entry form. And, to add to her embarrassment, she's a race organiser in her own right! And what does 'SAE' mean anyway? I thought it was 'Stamped Addressed Envelope'. So why did at least half a dozen people send me an envelope with a stamp but no address on it? No problem - I've plenty of spare time to write your name and address on the envelope. Grrr. But I suppose that was better than the 10 people who didn't send any sort of envelope at all.

I also received a cheque for £98 from someone who was not a scottish athletics member, so they had underpaid by £2. Perhaps more surprisingly I received a cheque for £100 from someone who was a scottishathletics member, so they had overpaid by £2. I'll just set one off against the other. And one person (another race organiser) sent a cheque made payable to me personally, rather than to the WHW Race.

There were also the usual predictable admin errors: someone forgot to fill in their first name on the form, so they will be known as 'J'; quite a few people forgot / didn't bother to sign it; and there were the inevitable few who said they were scottishathletics members (and paid the reduced rate) but didn't know their membership number.

I look forward with some trepidation to the next delivery of entries tomorrow....

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Under 40 minutes!!!!

One of my targets for the year was to get under 40 minutes for a 10k. I've managed it every year up to now but hey I'm not getting any faster in my old age, so it was never going to be an easy target to achieve. Well, the good (in fact better than that - the great) news is that I did it today!!!! I finished the 'Run With The Wind' 10k at Strathaven in 39.54. It may have taken me 305 days of the year to get there, but I made it at last, in what was almost certainly my last realistic attempt of the year.

It wasn't easy. The first half is mainly downhill, and I was well ahead of 4 minute per km schedule as I passed the 4k mark. However as we turned the corner there was a strong wind right into our faces, as well as a long climb back up the hill, and suddenly sub 40 didn't look in the bag at all - it was clearly going to be bloody hard work to achieve it. I passed through the 8km mark in something like 32.06, which was just outside 40 minute pace, and knew I was going to have to push myself to the limit over the last 2k. So push myself to the limit I did. I was still slightly outside schedule at 9km, but thought that the last km was mainly downhill and ran as fast as I could go towards the school. I knew it would be close and indeed it was, particularly with the small uphill just before the finish, but I was thrilled to bits to come over the line with 4 seconds to spare. 39.57 gun time and 39.54 chip time - woo hoo!!! I did my usual coughing and spluttering - DQ just ignored me, as he's seen it all before, but some of the other marshalls looked a bit concerned - and then headed to the school for a lovely cup of soup and sandwich.

I thought it was a very enjoyable, friendly event, which was very well organised by Strathaven Striders. Well done to Lee and everyone else involved. I'll definitely be back :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What a contrast...

Last weekend I was in south London, going round and round a 400 metre track with the constant background noise of people, traffic and fireworks. Today I headed up into the Ochils with my dog Lucy, and it couldn't have been more of a contrast. The scenery was wonderful, it was peaceful and quiet, and I hardly saw another soul for the 2 hours or so that I was out there. It was fantastic. I ran from Blackford, up the old drovers' route towards Tillicoutry then took a left when I came to Upper Glendevon reservoir, before heading all the way round in a clockwise direction. I lost the path a couple of times but came across it again quite easily; I even stumbled across a 'Public Right of Way' signpost, pointing to Blackford, which confirmed I was heading in the right direction. At one stage I took a step forward and found myself knee deep in water; a couple of times I fell as I was running through the thick grass - all of which added to the fun. The last 2 miles back to Blackford were almost the best of the day, thanks to the downhill path and the strong wind pushing me from behind. I'll definitely be back up there soon - there is something wonderful about being out on the hills on a winter's day with your dog, the wind blowing hard into your face, without a care in the world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Look what I found!

I was rummaging through my drawer last night and guess what I found? My blister from last year's 24 hour race at Perth! It's a bit harder than it used to be - a bit like a poppadom in fact - but considering it is now more than 13 months old it is in excellent condition.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any of my toe nails from the same event, but I'll keep looking :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections from Tooting

It's time for me to stop posting on my 'event specific' 24 hour blog and to move back to this mainstream site, where I plan to share some of my thoughts from the weekend. First, the facts: I completed 250 laps of the 400m track (exactly 100km) at Tooting Bec in 12 hours 28 minutes. I had real problems from about 8 hours onwards keeping any food down, starting getting really cold, and hit a complete low after about 10 and a half hours when I could see no way of carrying on. It was a great surprise that I managed to get going again and for a while was running reasonably well, but within an hour I was heading for yet another low. I decided to cut my losses and stop when I reached the 100 km mark, and this time no-one was able to persuade me otherwise. A day or so further on I am disappointed that I didn't run for the full 24 hours but still don't think there was any way I could have continued: I just couldn't get my head round the thought I would be out there, in the close to freezing temperatures, for another 11 and a half hours, and my body was not prepared to push through the barrier, perhaps because of the lack of food.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the run there were many positives from the weekend. It was great to spend a bit of time with Dave and Lee. The level of support they gave me the whole time I was in London was incredible. Nothing was too much trouble for them, even down to making me my pre-ordered Friday night dinner of pasta and chicken, and my pre-race breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast. Guys, you were just brilliant - you couldn't have made me feel more welcome. I was also really touched by the number of people who sent text messages of encouragement and posted comments on the blog. A particular mention is due to Brian, who travelled down from Milton Keynes with his daughter, and watched the first few hours of the race. Dave has already said it on his blog but I want to say it again here: the WHW family is a very special and close group of people, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

A couple of members of that family produced outstanding results. Paul Hart ran more than 140 miles to finish in 2nd place, and Aileen Scott ran more than 117 miles to finish 1st lady. Wonderful performances from them both. Congratulations also to Rachel McCuaig, who reached her target of 100 miles - I thought she had dropped out at one stage when I thought I saw her in non-running clothes, but quickly realised I was looking at her identical twin sister who was providing support - and to Ian McCuaig and Ray McCurdy, who both put in their usual gutsy performances.

So what now? I maybe need to have a bit of a rethink, and take on board 'John's' comments which were left on my other blog (Incidentally if John is reading this can you let me know who you are? The comment was valid but I would rather know who had made it. Thanks.)

I think the time has come to rethink what you want to achieve as a runner. In the last 2 years all you have achieved is a giant step backards. ultras, marathons, half marathons, 10k and cross country you are now just average. You are better than this Ian.

There is no doubt in my mind that I have done a lot, probably too much, this year: 7 ultras and a marathon is definitely not a recipe for achieving PBs (unless your name is Richie Cunningham or George Reid...) However there are other factors that affect my ability to achieve faster times, particularly how busy I am at work. I have been running consistently now for almost 20 years, and when I look back at my best spells they have always coincided with periods when I have not been as busy or under the same pressure. I have also felt that my running has not been as good since I left Troon in 2003. Prior to that, I would be down at the club twice a week, bashing out high quality sessions with 5 or 6 people of a similar standard; I don't get the chance to do that now. Also, George and I used to meet up almost every Sunday morning for a long run of between 15 and 25 miles at a decent pace, and we would often go out on a Wednesday night for a tough tempo run of up to 10 miles - some nights we could hardly move because of the gale force wind, but it certainly helped improve both our times.

I plan to have a week or so without running to let my body recover, then have a fairly easy period throughout November. That will give me the chance to have a serious think about my plans and targets for next year.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Loch Ness

Yesterday allybea and I were up at Loch Ness forthe 5k and marathon respectively. I don't have a lot of time to blog at the moment so I've jotted down the main points:

1. Allybea achieved her target by finishing the 5k without walking. More details are here

2. I had the perfect pre race marathon breakfast: sausages, bacon, egg, haggis, mushrooms and potato scone, with some toast and coffee. Allybea went for the more conventional option of porridge and toast.

3. The marathon race start was delayed for almost an hour because of problems with the buses. Given my breakfast (see 2 above) I was quite pleased by the delay as it gave me an hour longer to digest it. I suspect I was in a very small minority, however - it is normally a complete pain if you have planned to start running at 10 but don't actually start till 11, and I felt sorry for those whose plans were thrown into disarray. I also felt sorry for the guy who was panicking because he had a flight to catch mid afternoon, and thought he might be struggling to make it. He will just have had to run a bit faster than he originally planned...

4. As I am doing the 24 hour race in 2 weeks, I had decided to treat this as a long training run and not worry about my time or pace. It worked very well. I reached the half way point in 1.42.17, feeling comfortable, and then ran an almost identical time for the second half (1.42.04) to finish in 3.24.21. I reckon I passed about 100 people over the last 10 miles, most of them going up the hill after Dores.

5. As I was feeling good I had time to look around and just enjoy the whole event. We were really fortunate to have almost perfect running weather, particularly after the rain and wind the day before. Once again I was left with the view that Loch Ness is a fantastic marathon. It is well organised (apart from the blip with the buses), has a great atmosphere, and the scenery is brilliant. It is definitely my favourite road marathon, and one I would highly recommend.

6. I felt pretty good at the end of the race and my legs feel fine today, so hopefully I haven't done myself any damage before the 24 hour. I suppose I'll find out soon enough.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Many of the readers of this blog will know I am doing the Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race in a couple of weeks. I don't normally try and raise sponsorship from my running (I think the last time might have been the New York Marathon in 2002) but given the slightly unusual nature of this event I have decided that this would be an appropriate time to do so. The charity I have chosen is called SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health. I have posted below a copy of the email I sent to a number of contacts and workmates earlier today, which provides more details. If anyone reading this feels able to help with a small donation, I would be most grateful.

On Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th October I am taking part in a 24 hour race in London. The objective is simple - to run as many laps of the 400 metre track as possible during the 24 hours, from noon on the Saturday until noon on the Sunday. It will be my second 24 hour race. Last year at Perth I covered a distance of 106.74 miles, and for weeks later I had some of the most impressive blisters you could ever hope to see!

I have decided to use this event as a chance to raise funds for a mental health charity, SAMH. SAMH is Scotland's leading mental health charity and has been promoting mental health for 80 years. It works to combat stigma and discrimination on mental health grounds and to promote the importance of mental health and wellbeing both for individuals and for society as a whole.
I would be really grateful if you would consider supporting my fundraising attempts by making a donation. You can do this by visiting my justgiving page which can be found at the following link:

For a bit of fun (and to help generate more interest) I am also arranging a 'Guess My Distance' competition (with a small prize!). To enter is simple - all you need to do is email me with your assessment of how many laps of the 400 metre track I will complete during the race. Please note your guess should be in laps, not in miles. You might get a bit of help by looking at my targets: these can be found at the blog, which I have set up to provide details of my progress during the race. I should make it clear that everyone is welcome to enter this competition, whether they make a donation or not - although obviously donations would be very welcome! This means that Gift Aid can be recovered on the donations, increasing the benefit to the charity.

Finally, if anyone is interested in what it is like to run in an endurance event like this, The Adventure Show this Sunday (BBC2 Scotland, 7.00pm) features this year's West Highland Way race. I took part in the race, and finished in just over 23 hours, although do not feature at all in the programme.

Many thanks for your support.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

A wee run home from work

On Friday I decided to run back from my work in Edinburgh to my car at Bridge of Allan station, a distance (it turned out) of 41 miles. The route is relatively flat, with a lot of it on the canal, so I reckoned it would be a good training run for the 24 hour race in 3 weeks time.

The reaction of people in the office was quite amusing.

"Are you running tonight?"
"Yes, plan to."
"Where will you run?"
"Home? Don't you live in Perth or somewhere?"
"Perthshire, but not quite as far north as Perth. I'm going to run to my car at Bridge of Allan"
"How far's that?"
"About 40 miles."
"When will you get home?"
"Oh, about 2 in the morning."
"Bloody hell. You're off your head."

Surprisingly I wasn't the only person who fancied running on a Friday night. Davie had seen my plans on my blog, and had arranged to meet up with me at Broxburn, about 10 miles in to my run. We met as planned and he stayed with me for the next 20 miles or so to Larbert, which was brilliant; we just chatted all the way along and the time passed a lot more quickly than it would have had I been on my own. By the time he left (his son was picking him up) I was into the final quarter of the run, a lot of which is downhill, with the hardest bits already done. Thanks a lot Davie; I really appreciated and enjoyed your company. A couple of Davie's mates phoned him during the run to see if he fancied going for a pint. Their reaction when they heard he was out running along a windy, dark canal path on a Friday night was similar to my workmates, although perhaps more to the point.

It took me 7 hours and 42 minutes to reach the car, so I must have arrived in Bridge of Allan about 1.30 am. I felt really good for most of the way, which was hugely encouraging so close to the big race (and only 2 weeks after the 40 mile River Ayr Way race); no problems at all with my legs, despite the constant pounding on the flat canal path. The only downside came after I arrived home and found I couldn't sleep, and had to get back up for an hour to try and let my body unwind. I found that really odd. I never have any problems sleeping and am usually out like a light about 30 seconds after hitting the pillow. But when I've just run 41 miles, and am feeling shattered, I can't sleep at all. It's the same after the West Highland Way race - I don't seem to be able to sleep properly for a few days. Weird.

I was up quite early on the Saturday morning (because I couldn't sleep very well) and felt pretty good, so took Lucydog for a longish walk in the hills behind Comrie. It is fantastic up there. It's only about a half hour away but could be in the middle of nowhere, - just so quiet and peaceful. I'm sure the steady walk did my legs a lot of good, and I was able to go out for an easy 6 mile run today without any problems.

Last night I spent a bit of time trying to get information from the Hardmoors 110 mile race. Communications were not great, but I managed to speak to JK around 10 pm. He had been out for about 27 hours, was lost, was tired and was struggling, but had only about 12 miles to go. Fortunately he managed to get back on the right path, got himself going again, and finished in a time around 32 hours. Very well done John (and also well done to Neal and Caroline, who did John's backup) - it sounded like a right hard struggle, but you kept going and finished. Finishing is always the most important thing, and is a great achievement. I'm looking forward to reading the full report over the next few days.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

At last - a post on my blog!

My blog has not exactly been overwhelmed with posts in recent weeks; in fact I haven't posted anything at all since my epic 60 laps round the track at Stirling Uni a couple of weeks ago. That is more a result of an inabilty to find the time to sit in front of my computer rather than a lack of things to write about, so I thought I would try to address that by giving a quick update here.

Last Saturday was the River Ayr Way Challenge, advertised as a 66k/44m race along, not surprisingly, the River Ayr Way. In actual fact it was 40 miles, not counting the bit where I got lost around the half way point. I thought it was a pretty good event, but after a few hours I was getting a bit fed up of seeing the River Ayr, and could have done with a bit of a change. At no time did I have any real idea where I was was, and I am sure that contributed to my struggles between 20 and 30 miles. All came good in the end, however, and I finished like a train (ok, quite a slow train) as I stormed through Ayr Town Centre (incidentally one of 3 racing drivers named after a Scottish town, the others being Stirling Moss and Johnnie Dumfries - Ayr-ton Senna, gettit?) and along to the Citadel, where I crossed the line in 7 hours 12 minutes. I was a bit surprised to see DQ already there and lying on the grass drinking beer, as I thought he was behind me, but he must have passed when I took my little detour. Either that or he got a lift :)

Although the RAW was a good event, I have to question the arithmetical abilities of the East Ayrshire Council organising team. By my understanding 1 kilometre equates to 0.6214 of a mile (that is why a 10k is 6.214 miles). If you do the calculations, you will see that 66k equates to 41.0124 miles, and 44 miles equates to 70.8078 kms. So the race cannot be both 66k and 44 miles. I have to say how pleased I was to find that it was a lot closer to 66k.

On Tuesday it was the screening of the Adventure Show programme about this year's WHW race, at the Behind the Wall pub in Falkirk. The screening has been widely reviewed elsewhere and I would echo the general theme of the comments - I thought it was a superb programme which really captures the true spirit of the race. Well done to all the production people. It was very moving seeing Dario looking very calm and peaceful, as the Subversive Runner said on his excellent (and I'm glad to say no longer vomit inducing) blog. Dave, thank goodness you have restored it to its previous version. The new colour scheme was giving me a headache.

On Thursday I attend the Law Awards where my firm picked up one award and one second place. Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary was there, and I was pleased to get the opportunity to congratulate him on his excellent decision to free the 'Lockerbie bomber', Al Megrahi. I know this is not a universally accepted view (and I enjoy an argument as much as the next man, so don't worry at all if you are in a different camp - life would be dull if we all thought the same way), but I do not really like when American politicians try and tell us how we should run our criminal justice system. I am sure they would not listen to us telling them how to run theirs; for example they didn't listen much to our appeals against the decision to extradite Gary McKinnon, did they? In any case it was becoming clearer and clearer that the conviction would not stand up to the scrutiny of an appeal, with the new evidence that was now available - which is why I have placed, somewhat provocatively, punctuation marks around the words 'Lockerbie bomber' in my comments above. So I think the decision was not only correct, but politically expedient (both here and in the US - a fact I am sure has not escaped the Scottish, UK or US governments). Can you imagine the outcry in the Arab world if the conviction was overturned on appeal, not to mention the commpensation that would have been payable from the Scottish Government? I'd rather have trams in Edinburgh than pay out that sort of cash - and as you may have guessed I am not a fan of the Edinburgh trams project. A comedian at the fringe summarised it well: a hell of a lot of money to replace the Number 22 bus.

But I have digressed into one of my favourite after dinner discussion topics, politics, and should return to the less contentious issue of sport. Yesterday allybea the runner (superb run today by allybea - more details on her blog), son no 3 and I travelled to Oban for the final of the Camanachd Cup, the main event in the shinty season. Fort William beat Kyles Athletic 4-3 in a thriller of a match: FW were 3-0 up and coasting but Kyles pulled it back to 3-3, before FW scored their winner with a couple of minutes left. It was live on BBC2 and BBC Alba, so some of you may have seen it, and may even have seen me standing on the touchline - I was wearing my fluorescent WHW top to make it easier for the cameras to pick me out. Shinty is a wild game and thoroughly enjoyable; I'm sure we'll be back for more.

Today I headed back to my old stomping ground of Kilmacolm for the half marathon. I actually managed to get under the hour and a half barrier for the first time for a while - my finishing time was 1.29.45 - but I have to be honest and say that I thought the course was about 300 yards too short. The first and last miles (which were the same bit of the course) were suspiciously fast, a fact confirmed by my GPS which showed a final reading for the route of 12.81 miles. I hate short courses. There is no excuse for them at all, particularly in an event where you head down a cycle path to a marker, turn round, and then come back up the same way. Apart from that the event was well organised, but they need to get the distance sorted out for next year. I ran pretty well for the first 8 miles, but then the wheels fell off and I shuffled slowly towards the finish line for the last 5 or so. Was last week's 40 miles still in my legs? Perhaps, but I wouldn't want anyone to think I am making excuses. It is more likely that I am just crap.

I am planning a big week's training this week before starting to wind down for the 24 hour race on 17 October. I even sense a run home from work on Friday night coming on: I would aim to leave Edinburgh after work (about 5 pm)and head along the canal to Linlithgow and Falkirk, over to Larbert and possibly on to Stirling. If anyone wants to join me for some or all of it please let me know - the company would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Running in circles

Running in circles, Comin' in tails
Heads on a science apart.
Nobody said it was easy,
It's such a shame for us to part.
Nobody said it was easy,
No one ever said it would be this hard.
Oh take me back to the start.

Today was the Glasgow half marathon, but I didn't feel I was in half marathon shape at the moment so didn't enter - the first time I haven't entered since 1989. Instead I headed along to the local track at Stirling University, to do a few laps as preparation for the 24 hour race at Tooting.

The woman at reception was quite happy for me to use the track, so I stuck my wee radio on and got running. I found Radio Clyde, which was covering the half marathon, interviewing various 10k and half marathon finishers, and that helped pass the time. I ran round, and round, and round again, occasionally seeing people who were out to run a few laps, but mostly on my own. It wasn't the most interesting run, but it wasn't as bad as you might think - I would actually recommend it if you fancy running somewhere a bit different, particularly if you are looking for a circular route with no hills whatsoever :)

I had planned to do 20km (50 laps) but managed an extra 10 laps to take me up to 15 miles, covering the total distance in 2 hours 17 minutes. So only another 21 hours and 43 minutes more on 17th/18th October and I'll be home and dry. Nae bother.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

You can't do too many ultras, can you?

I've decided to do the River Ayr Way (RAW) a week on Saturday - if nothing else it should be good training for the 24 hour race. And at least it won't involve running / climbing / scrambling up hills, unlike my session on Monday after work when I joined a few guys for a 'run' to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. I have no head for heights at all, and therefore find hill running a bit of a struggle, even on 'easy' hills like Arthur's Seat. I would love to be able to do it, because I miss out on a lot of excellent races, but just can't. I'm too scared. So until I conquer this fear (and stop being such a big girl's blouse, as I'm sure the mad Aussie will say) I'll have to restrict my running to the trails, roads and (very occasionally) the track.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

High quality sport

On Friday night I had the pleasure of attending the UEFA Super Cup, an annual match played between the winners of the 2 UEFA trophies, the Champions League (Barcelona) and the UEFA Cup (Shakthar Donetsk). My brother stays in Antibes in the south of France and the game is played just along the coast from him in in Monaco, so it seemed like a good chance to go out and see him for a few days.

The standard was quite a bit different from anything I am used to seeing in the Scottish Premier League. Barcelona in particular were superb; the way their players controlled and passed the ball was just incredible to watch. Despite their superiority, there was no scoring until late on in extra time, with the Barcelona substitute scoring the winner with only a few minutes left to play. We were very pleased it did not have to go to penalties, as the last train to Antibes was at 11.50 and we wouldn't have been able to stay for them. I had been in the stadium once before, when I finished the Monaco marathon there in November 2004, but even I have to admit that the atmoshere at a top football game was somewhat more impressive than the atmosphere at the end of the marathon.

I was in France for 3 days (Thursday to Saturday) and am pleased to say that I managed to do the following:
a) ask for a train ticket from the the man at the station ('un billet a Antibes, s'il vous plait'),
b) order a coffee in a town square cafe ('un expresso, s'il vous plait'), and
c) go out a 5 mile run each day.

c) was actually the hardest, because of the intense heat - somewhere around 30 degrees C every time I was out running. It was so hot that I had no choice but to go into the sea for a swim when I finished my run, then treat myself to a cold beer to help me cool down ('un bier froid, s'il vous plait'). Unfortunately it was about 15 degrees colder when I stepped off the plane at Edinburgh last night, and I must have looked like an idiot waiting for the car park bus in my shorts, t-shirt and sunglasses.

Today No 3 son and I wrapped up warm and went along to Gleneagles to watch the last day of the Johnnie Walker Championship. It was a good day out. We followed a Swede, Erlandsson, for a while, and saw him shoot a 62 - a quite incredible round, and one which could have been even lower had he sunk a couple of putts on the 16th and 18th. He eventually finished 2nd, one shot behind the winner. I'll settle for a performance like that at the Arthur Andersen reunion golf day this Friday.

Since arriving home I've spent large amounts of time in front of my computer screen watching to see how the guys were doing in the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc. I'm pleased to say that most of the WHW squad managed to finish - hugely impressive performances on what must be one of the toughest races on the planet. A big well done to those who made it; I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep going for that long on such difficult terrain. The climbs look never-ending, and the descents don't look much better. Bad luck to those who didn't finish - I'm sure you will be back in future years, learning from this year's experience. I would love to give this race a go at some point in the future, but at the moment I don't have anywhere like the climbing/hillwalking experience that is needed. Until that changes I don't think any attempt would be realistic, and it will be a few years before I consider it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Four runs in four days - maybe I'm back as well???

Woo hoo! After struggling for the last couple of months (pretty much since the WHW race), I've finally managed to put together 4 decent runs in the last 4 days. Not the faffing about, stopping for a snack, and walking up the hills type of run, but 4 proper runs - runs where I can feel my heart pounding throughout, where my top is drenched with sweat after a couple of miles, and where I have to spend around 5 minutes barfing at the end (or occasionally during) the run because I have worked so hard. And it feels great, I can tell you. The niggle at the bottom of my hamstring even seems to have cleared up all by itself - although taking allybea's advice I still went along to my appointment at the physio in Stirling this morning, a decision that cost me a whopping £58. That was a lot more painful than the injury.

This weekend I have a couple more runs planned. I'm taking part in a relay race tomorrow round the Tour of Strathearn route, which is part of our club's 25th anniversary celebrations. I have the pleasure of being selected for the 'challenging' leg 3, which goes from the park in Comrie up to the dam at Loch Turret. Should be fun; probably a lot more fun than the tug o'war competition or the rounders at night, which are also included in the celebrations. On Sunday morning I'm meeting a few guys from Kirkintilloch Olympians for a 20 miler on the roads around Kirkintilloch. I expect this to be a good test of whether I really am starting to run better.

Good luck to those doing the John Lucas Memorial Race at Strathaven on Sunday. It's 50 miles, all on road, and would have been a great training run for the 24 hour race. Unfortunately it's a couple of weeks too early for me, particularly after the Devil O, so I'll just have to make do with the reports from El Presidente Mrs Mac and the Subversive Pirate. Good luck guys.

Finally, a few words from me on the 'Great Blog Debate' which has been raging on various blogs about approaches to training and motivation for running. First point: I am as competitive a person as anyone I know. Running (or more specifically racing) helps satisfy my need to be competitive. Whatever condition or state of fitness I am in, I am always keen to beat whatever target I have set, and is the main reason I race so much - I've averaged around 25 races a year for the last 20 years, covering a range of distances from 2 miles (which hurt like hell because it was so short and fast) to 106 miles in the 24 hour race (which hurt like hell because it was so long).

However I also enjoy a lot more about running than just getting the chance to be competitive. I love going out with some great friends and enjoying their chat and company. I love going away to places like Islay, Stornoway, Coll, Inverness, the WHW, and so on, just so I can run. I can think of many fantastic days where I have left the house at some ridiculous time on a Saturday or Sunday morning, with friends like George or Phil, so that we can take part in some obscure race that we have seen in the fixture list. To me that is what it is all about: travelling away to Arran, Islay or Coll on the first ferry; going up to Inverness and back in a day for the half marathon; driving up towards Fort William to do the 10.8 mile Two Ferries race, simply because we had been told about the quality of hospitality and friendly welcome given by the race organiser; or going away for a day in Stonehaven to see how hard the half marathon could actually be (quite hard we discovered but not impossible, and yet another first class day out).

When we started arranging group runs on the WHW a number of years ago, the purpose was not to get from A to B in a certain time, but to go out as a group, enjoy the day, and almost as a side benefit get some quality training on the WHW course. We carried our own kit and didn't ever think about having support - why bother when it wasn't really necessary and it would just make things more complicated? For the same reason the runs were almost always out-and-back, as that was a lot less hassle than doing a point to point. We often stopped at the half way point for a coffee, had something to eat, and for a chance for everyone to regroup. Those taking part were of differing standards but I think we all took a lot from the runs.

One good example of those runs was the first time I met Ellen, Mags, and Russell. The four of us had arranged through the WHW forum to meet at Tyndrum and run to Fort William. None of us had ever met before but that didn't matter - we stayed closely together all the way to Kinlochleven, stopped for a bowl of soup in the pub, then ran together up the Lairig Mor. The chat was great throughout. It was only over the last 6 miles or so that we split into 2 groups and finished in FW a few minutes apart. Then we travelled back down together by train and shared our stories of the day. It was a great day out and I know that we all took a lot from it, as well as becoming good friends.

Over the years I have been on many other brilliant runs like the one I've just described, and I have no doubt that there will be many others in the years ahead. I'm already looking forward to running with many old and familar faces, as well as meeting new people who have heard all about ultra running and want to experience the fantastic camaraderie.

So when are we all meeting for the next run?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Devil O

Yesterday I ran the Devil O'The Highlands Footrace, a 43* mile race from Tyndrum to Fort William along the northern half of the West Highland Way. * Note: the WHW map suggests it is actually 42 miles rather than 43, a fact confirmed by my GPS. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was trying to claim an extra mile. Also, as the WHW race is 95 miles and the Highland Fling is 53, it would seem to make sense for the Devil O to be 42 rather than 43. For the record I'm putting it in my training diary and race spreadsheet as a 42.

However I don't suppose the actual distance really matters that much. It is still a long way on challenging terrain. I finished in a time of 8 hours and 2 minutes - my slowest time for this event (I have done it 3 times previously, with a best of 7.28), but all in all a reasonable result given the way I have been feeling for the last few weeks. I probably went off a bit too fast, reaching the first checkpoint at Glencoe in 2.47, and paid for that on the next bit to Kinlochleven. The section to Lundavra was long and difficult, but from there I ran quite strongly and still had an outside chance of getting under the 8 hour mark as I came out of the forest at the top of Glen Nevis. I need to do the last downhill stretch in 31 minutes to make it - not impossible, but not easy either. I gave it my best shot, but had a few twinges of cramp which forced me to walk for a couple of minutes, and meant that I was just passing the 30 mile an hour sign at Fort William as the clock turned to 8 hours.

There were a few fantastic performances. Debbie finished 2nd lady in a time not much over 7 hours, a performance which moves her up to the 'elite' level of woman's ultra running. John ran to his usual high standard and finished in 6.55, 2nd vet 50. I ran with both John and Debbie in the very early stages and was really impressed with both of their running techniques. Debbie has one of the most efficient ultra running styles of anyone I know - she looks effortless and seems able to continue for ever at the same steady pace. It is the first time I have run with John for a while and I was impressed by how much his downhill running technique had improved - he now looks like a hill runner on the stony descents. Silke completed her first ultra in not much over 9 hours, which was a brilliant time for someone who only took up ultra running a short time ago. And Richie continues to impress with a 4th place finish in a time just over 6 hours - yet another quality run. Another noteworthy performance came from Andy Cole, who I ran with into Kinlochleven, but stormed away from me after that to finish in around 7.40.

Yesterday was my 5th ultra of the year, inluding the 'Triple Crown' of the Highland Fling, West Highland Way Race, and Devil O'The Highlands Footrace. While I am delighted to have finished them all, I am a bit disappointed with my times in these races this year, all of which have been a bit slower than previous years. That may be a result of doing so many long races, but it doesn't seem to have affected Richie Cunningham, George Cairns or George Reid, so it may not be the only reason or indeed a valid reason at all. That said, I am still enjoying doing these events, which is really the main thing. It's just I would enjoy it even more if my times were a bit better :)

Finally, a big thank you to Phil and Alison for providing my backup. I am sure that the heavy rain towards the finish was much more welcome to me than it was to you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

43 miles? You're having a laugh...

It is just over a week until the next ultra on the circuit, the 43 mile 'Devil O'The Highlands' footrace. At this stage I should be in the middle of a relaxing taper, looking forward to a 'short' run less than half the length of the WHW, and generally feeling great. I should be planning my splits with great enthusiasm, and working out how I am going to come storming home over the last few miles, leaving others such as JK in my wake.

But I'm not. I'm sitting here wondering what on earth has happened to my body, and why it has chosen this moment to rebel against my perfectly reasonable demand to complete another ultra race. A visit to my massage lady Amanda on Wednesday evening confirmed what I already suspected: my legs are not in their best shape. In fact they are very close to their worst shape. The general condition of my body has not been helped by yet another heavy fall when I was out training on the WHW last Sunday, something that is starting to occur with depressing regularity. It was an almost identical fall to the one during the WHW race, with me landing once again on my left knee and elbow, resulting in a gaping hole in my knee which has throbbed for much of the week. To compound my embarrassment 4 lady walkers witnessed it, or at least witnessed my expletive loaded cry for help and turned around to find me lying face down in the long grass, just off the main WHW path.

In case anyone is wondering, however, I am not considering withdrawing from the Devil O. No chance. I will be there and intend to finish. I'm going to have a few days off running, and expect to feel considerably refreshed after that. It is the first ultra since Dario's death, which will make it an emotional, unmissable event; all the more so as allybea and I backed up Dario in last year's race.

In the meantime I am off to have my last gin and tonic before beginning a self imposed alcohol ban for most of the month of August. Something tells me that is going to be a more difficult challenge than the Devil O... :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Farewell Dario

Today was Dario's funeral. It was a lovely service; a fitting send off to a great friend and an inspiration to all of us. It was moving to see the huge turnout, including many who had travelled a long distance to be there. Among the people I spoke to were Jez Bragg, Mike Mason, Dave Waterman and Ian and Rachel McCuig, all of whom had travelled up from England to pay tribute to a man who clearly had such an impact on so many people's lives.

One of the WHW family, Jody Young, brought his bagpipes and played one of my favourite tunes, Highland Cathedral, as we left the service. I found it incredibly moving. I've put a link to a YouTube version of the tune below.

As I type this post I am sitting here drinking a Rosebank malt whisky and thinking of Dario. Rosebank Distillery is now closed, but it was located in Falkirk, a few hundred yards from where Dario's funeral was held earlier today and close to where Dario was brought up. Given Dario's love of malt whisky, I can think of nothing more appropriate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My friend Dario - some memories

I have been in a state of shock this week since receiving news on Sunday evening of Dario's death. I have known Dario since I first showed an interest in the West Highland Way race in 1998. I was given his name and telephone number by Jim Stewart, who was the race organiser at that time, and encouraged to call him if I had any questions or was looking for any advice. I spoke to Dario a number of times before the race, most of the calls lasting well over an hour, and even though I did not complete the race that year I valued greatly his help and support. More importantly I had made a very good friend - someone who would remain a close friend for the rest of his life.

In 2000 Dario 'moved upstairs' to become race director, or 'race co-ordinator' as he described himself in the 2005 WHW film Closing Distance. (That makes me laugh every time I see it - he did so much more than co-ordinate.) 2000 was also the year that I finished the race for the first time, and received my first goblet from him. Our friendship grew over the years - I remember him telling me after the 2001 race how glad he was to see me back again, and how much it meant to him that people came back year after year to run what he always regarded as(and always has been) the best event on the calendar.

The race developed significantly over the next few years, with numbers increasing along with the demands on the race organiser around safety issues. I think it was 2005 that 4 runners ended up in hospital, with 2 in a very serious condition. Fortunately all survived, but Dario was determined to make sure similar problems would not arise in future if at all possible, and arranged for a group of around 10 of us to meet in Edinburgh and discuss areas where improvements could be made. I've always thought that meeting said a lot about Dario - the race was a huge part of his life, and he wanted to make sure that it was as good as it possibly could be, with as little risk to the runners as possible. The involvement of Chris Ellis and his team is one of his many legacies. It has ensured that the level of medical support and knowledge is now much greater than it was back then, and everyone is much safer as a result, but the risks will never go away entirely - how can they when people are pushing themselves to the absolute limit? On a few occasions we discussed the view that a fatality during an extreme race like the WHW was almost inevitable at some point. Although Dario agreed with this, he was determined to do everything possible to minimise the risks of such a tragedy occurring and leave nothing to chance - in particular by the diligent way in which he vetted each potential entrant's application form and running experience. He would often phone the individual concerned for further information, or would even send them out on a trial run with more experienced runners, or ask other runners for informal references, before allowing them to apply for an entry form. Once accepted, you were welcomed with open arms by Dario as part of the very special WHW family.

In 2006 I moved to Perthshire and Dario became one of my near neighbours, living no more than 5 miles away. One of my pre WHW race routines was to go round to Dario's house on the Thursday before the race, and spend an hour or so chatting about likely race winners, who was in good form, whether there were any problems with the route, and so on. I really enjoyed these chats which set me up nicely for the race. The fact Dario lived so close also meant that we were able to arrange a few whisky nights, where Dario, Phil and I would put the world to right and sample whiskies from all over Scotland - always malts and inevitably finishing with one from Islay. I will always remember Dario arriving a bit early for a whisky night at our house, when I was just finishing clearing out the garage and putting a lot of rubbish in a skip (a most unusual event, I have to say). I was hot, sweaty and enjoying a cold beer, and of course offered one to Dario. I'll never forget his response. "No thanks - I don't want to spoil my palate for the whisky tasting". I wondered if he was having a laugh, but realised quickly that he was completely serious. Among his many talents there is no question that Dario was a whisky connoisseur :)

This year we have been for a couple of runs together. The first was in early May on the section of the Cateran Trail between Alyth and Blairgowrie. This section of the route is not marked and Dario had offered to show me the route prior to the race. We had a really enjoyable run that day, and it is a tribute to Dario's navigational skills that I managed to find my way along that section on the day of the race without getting lost. The other run was on the WHW, not long before this year's race, when a group of us were doing a night run from Milngavie to Balmaha. We dropped Dario off at the Beech Tree Inn and then met up with him at the finish at Balmaha. I know that he really enjoyed it, although on more than one occasion asked us why on earth he had decided to take part in a night run, when he wasn't even running in the race.

That was followed by a great day out at this year's Scottish Cup final along with Alison (allybea) and Gordon (No 3 son). Dario and I are both Falkirk supporters, and Falkirk don't get to cup finals very often, so it was a 'must do' event. We had cracking seats in the south stand, the weather was brilliant, and Falkirk played really well, although were somewhat unfortunate to lose 1-0. Despite the defeat we all enjoyed a great day out, and after the game had the usual light-hearted chat about whether either of us would ever be alive to see Falkirk in a cup final again. Little did we know that Dario wouldn't live to see another Falkirk game, let alone another cup final. With the benefit of hindsight I'm so pleased that I was at that game with Dario. Alison and I will remember it as a very special day.

Dario had bought tickets for us to go tomorrow night to Falkirk's first ever European game, a Europa League tie against FC Vaduz. He had queued last week for an hour and a half for the tickets, and was really looking forward to it. I'm just so sad that we won't be there.

There are a few other things about Dario that many of the more recent members of the WHW family may not know. Firstly, he was a quality runner himself, with a PB for the marathon of 2.52. He told me the story of the day he turned up at a Glasgow marathon to try and pace a friend to get under 3 hours, planning to drop out about the 16 mile point. By the 16 mile point it was clear that his friend could not make 3 hours, so Dario pushed on himself to record another time in the low 2.50s. Incredible. I remember Doug Gillon (the Herald's athletics correspondent) telling me about a track and field meeting he was covering, when Dario took part for his club Harlequins. Dario was the only member of the club and did every event on the programme that day: 100m, 200m, 400m 800m, 1,500m, high jump, long jump, and everything else in between. By all accounts he was very annoyed by the official ruling that he could not take part in the 4 x 100m or 4 x 400m relays!

I am still finding it really difficult to accept Dario is no longer here. He was a great friend. I have shed many tears this week, as has Alison, but our pain must be small compared with that of his wife and close family. I hope they take some comfort from all of the great memories of Dario, and from the outpouring of love and affection that has been so apparent on the WHW forum.

Dario, thank you so much for your friendship for the last 11 years. I miss you. RIP.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Half term report

We are now into July, so it seems like a good time for me to have a quick look back at the first half of the year, at least from a running perspective.

In the 6 months to the end of June I completed 13 races. Although I enjoyed most of them, none was in a particularly great time, so it is probably fair to describe it as a year so far of quantity rather than quality. 4 of the 13 races were ultras (Glasgow to Edinburgh, Highland Fling, Cateran Trail and West Highland Way); 2 were half marathons (including a sub 1.30 - just - at Inverness); 3 were 10ks (all over 40 minutes); and the other 4 included a new 8 mile race at Glen Lednock and the National Cross Country, where I didn't get near to the top half of the field.

I was really pleased to finish the West Highland Way race this year, although felt I ran quite cautiously and would hope to push it a bit harder next year. The WHW is definitely the "biggie" in my running year and, despite my best attempts to stay calm, found it remains the only race where I get really nervous beforehand. It may be a bit of a surprise, but I would nominate the Cateran Trail as my favourite race of the first 6 months - perhaps because it was good to run something new which, unlike the G to E, was run over an enjoyable and scenic route in a lovely part of the country.

My mileage for the 6 months totalled 1,120. That is quite a bit less than a lot of the other guys, but given everything else that I have going on is perfectly adequate for me, and leaves me well placed to reach my target of 2,000 miles for the year.

So, what about the rest of the year? I'm planning to have an easy July before taking part in and hopefully enjoying the Devil O'The Highlands in early August. Other probable races include the Glasgow half marathon (although I haven't entered yet); the River Ayr Way (I quite fancy it but am a bit worried about getting lost, as it is not well signposted); the Loch Ness Marathon (already entered - it's my favourite road marathon); and then the 24 hour track race in Tooting. If I do all of these it will probably be time to have a bit of a rest, as that would be 7 ultras and a marathon in the space of 8 months - probably not what any of the coaching manuals would recommend.

Next year I need to focus more on quality....

Monday, June 22, 2009

My race report

I thought I would write all of this down when it is still fresh in my mind. By later on this week, the whole experience will have been "wonderful", "trouble-free", and "thoroughly enjoyable" - it is quite amazing how the memory can play tricks, and how quickly the pain fades. So here is the real version, while the pain is still here, and I am able to remember the bad bits as well as the good.

I felt very nervous this year when I arrived at Milngavie. It didn't help that I had agreed to give blood (it is to be analysed on a pre race and post race basis, which will be interesting) but it left me with a big lump and bruising on my right arm. I tried not to worry too much about it, and it turned out to be insignificant compared to the mess of my left knee and elbow when I fell just 2 and a half miles into the route, having tripped over a stone. Not a great start. I brushed myself down and carried on, but it definitely nipped for a while, and was still bleeding when I met up with Allybea and George for the first time at Drymen. Still, I wasn't going to let it spoil my race, and fortunately there was no serious damage done.

I arrived at Drymen in exactly 2 hours, which was fine. I wasn't really worrying too much about the clock this year, and was determined to run my own race and not concern myself about anyone else. I still felt good as I came over Conic Hill and into Balmaha car park, although even after all these years there is still something a bit surreal about arriving in a car park in the middle of nowhere at 4.30 am on a Saturday morning, and finding it full of people, cars and vans. On to Rowardennan, still feeling good and quite relieved to pass the point where I dropped out last year, and then onto Inversnaid. So far so good - my time looked ok and I felt positive. The midges were out in their thousands and even Allybea was bitten, which is most unusual, but they weren't causing me too much distress, apart from a few of the wee buggers that found their way in my eyes.

But my positive feelings soon disappeared when I hit the northern part of Loch Lomond. This part of the course is hell on earth, particularly when it has been wet and the rocks are slippy - as it was on Saturday. It seemed to take me an age to negotiate my way along the track, and it was a great relief when I started heading up and over the hill at the head of the loch, and down towards Beinglas Farm. I had lost a lot of time but, as mentioned already, that wasn't my main concern - it was more important to be moving forward. The checkpoint had been moved this year to Carmyle Cottage, which was not very pleasant because of the huge number of cars and limited space. I was a bit grumpy here (probably for the first time in the race, but certainly not the last), and was glad to get going again, having taken onboard some soup.

It took me a while to get running again, and I needed to make an emergency pit stop in the field -never a pleasant experience, even though I was carrying toilet paper and hand gel -but once the food kicked in I felt a bit better and started to run more strongly. I arrived at the Auchtertyre checkpoint in a bit over 11 hours, and was pleased to see that my weight was fine. I had lost 2kgs by this stage which was within the acceptable range. I got another mental boost by passing through Tyndrum just a shade under 12 hours - I knew that meant I should be able to do sub 24 relatively comfortably (or as relatively comfortably as you can be while running 95 miles). I am usually strong on the next section, but wasn't as good this year, and gave another very good impression of Mr Grumpy when I arrived at the checkpoint at Bridge of Orchy. My legs were hurting, I was on a bit of a downer, I had been on the go for 13 and a half hours and I knew that I still had another 10 hours or so to go. As Allybea and George admitted afterwards, they were a bit concerned about me at that point, but they have both been doing this long enough to know that a) I go through various highs and lows throughout the race, and b) it is really crucial on these downers that they remain positive and help lift me through it. As ever, they did it superbly, and I was in a slightly happier frame of mind as I left Bridge of Orchy and headed up the hill.

That positive frame of mind saw me right onto Rannoch Moor, but before too long I hit my biggest downer of the day (and probably one of the biggest lows I have ever hit in this race). For 20 minutes or so I just couldn't run at all. My legs wouldn't move. Before it hit me I had been doing quite well, even running some of the uphill parts, and keeping close to a few other runners who were round about. Now all I could do was watch them disappear into the distance, with my body completely incapable of responding or doing anything about it. I convinced myself that I would have to walk all the way in to Fort William, as there was no way I would be able to run. I went through all my pre race motivational thoughts: 'would Ellen MacArthur keep going?', 'this is my race - don't worry about anyone else', 'we are privileged to be able to do this, so lets enjoy it'. And not one of of them made the slightest difference to the way I was feeling. I was struggling to move forward, and I was hating it.

And then, as if by magic, it lifted. I tried running again and, to my great suprise, I was able to do so. I was too scared to stop, in case I couldn't get going again, so I just kept running - down towards Ba Bridge, across the bridge and all the way along to the climb off Rannoch Moor. I must have run for close to half an hour without a stop. It was such a relief. Suddenly I was positive again - I was going to finish this, and I was going to finish it in a bloody good time. I headed towards Kingshouse with a spring in my step, the only disappointment being where I passed a clearly injured Thomas hobbling slowly down the path. It was obvious that he would not be going much further, despite the great encouragement he was getting from Silke, and I was gutted for him. That's 2 years in a row he has had to drop out at Kingshouse. Hopefully next year will be 3rd time lucky. He is an incredibly talented athlete, and it would be great to see him collect his long awaited goblet at next year's prizegiving.

George - who with Allybea, was doing my support - ran with me from Kingshouse. I had been running more or less on my own for the last 50 miles or so, and was really needing the company. It was therefore a great relief to find that I was a lot more than 4 hours behind the race leader and was allowed a support runner at that stage. I ran well along to the Devil's Staircase, but the climb up was the usual torture. Whose idea was it to put in a 1,000 foot climb, 75 miles into a race? And if I thought the assent was bad, the descent was 10 times worse, with my quads screaming all the way down the steep path.

I arrived in Kinlochleven after exactly 19 hours' running. I was weighed - my weight seemed to be fine, although I can't remember what it was at that stage - and had a quick word with Karen and Al from our club, who had travelled all the way to offer some support and see what the race was all about. (Incidentally Karen did the Highland Fling this year and I will be amazed if she does not enter next year's WHW race. There was even a rumour she was taking some notes!). After some more soup - to be honest I was getting a bit fed up with soup, but couldn't face anything else - George and I headed off up the next 1,000 foot climb onto the Lairig Mor. The Lairig Mor was the usual long hard slog, but eventually we turned the corner and I knew we were getting closer to the end. I stopped briefly at the checkpoint at Lundavra and tried to eat a banana, but only succeeded in bringing up everything I had eaten over the last few hours. Not very pleasant. I quickly headed on my way before Uncle Dunc, the checkpoint marshall, had time to question whether or not I was in a fit state to continue. I was definitely finishing now and nobody was going to stop me.

It was starting to get dark. This slowed me down, as there were sections where it was just not sensible to run, but I was quite happy to power walk at a good pace across the stones. About 4 miles from the end we passed Marco and Debbie. Marco was going slowly and was clearly dead on his feet, but there was no way he was stopping. He eventually managed to keep going all the way to the end to come in well under 24 hours, which was a great effort and must have taken some amount of willpower. Or perhaps he was just too scared of Debbie's reaction if he stopped. She can be a fierce woman when she puts her mind to it and according to reports from the Lundavra checkpoint, she appears to know an impressively large number of expletives, many of which were used to 'motivate' Marco.

The last section down the forest track to Fort William seemed to last for ever, and I was getting quite cold - I should have changed out of my shorts a bit earlier on - but eventually George and I passed the Braveheart car park and hit the road for the final mile. I ran the bits I could run, walked hard when I couldn't, and after 23 hours 11 minutes arrived at the finish at Fort William Leisure Centre. I was 33rd from 122 finishers. I had expected it to be a hugely emotional moment, especially after last year's failure, but it wasn't at all. I just felt completely relieved it was all over and glad I could stop.

As soon as I finished I was weighed and found I had lost a total of 5.5 kgs over the course of the day, 12 lbs in old money. As I felt a bit light headed I didn't give blood at that stage, although came back and gave it the following morning when I felt a lot better. I had a quick massage and headed back to the Premier Inn. As usual after this race my body was just too sore to sleep comfortably, so I ended up getting up at 6 am, having a bath, then going back up to the Leisure Centre to watch some of the finishers come in.

So, mission accomplished. I have now completed 8 WHW races, and have moved up to 5th pace on the all time list for the number of completions. It is still far too early to say that I am looking forward to next year, but I'm suspect that by Thursday I'll be phoning the Premier Inn to confirm our annual booking...

There were some great performances from many people. As this is my race report I am not going to comment specifically on these, but well done to everyone who finished - it is a great achievement. Finally, a huge thanks to my support crew Allybea and George, who, as ever, were quite superb. They have been my support crew since my first WHW race finish in 2000, and I couldn't ask for anything more from them. I am incredibly lucky to have 2 people who are so committed to helping me do this race as well as I can. They put up with my highs and lows, and keep smiling throughout. I couldn't do it without them, and am hugely appreciative of all their efforts. And a huge thanks as well to Dario, the race organiser, who puts in so much work to ensure that this remains far and away Scotland's top running event.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

West Highland Way race

Just a very quick post to say that I completed this year's WHW race in 23 hours and 11 minutes, finishing in 33rd place from just over 120 finishers (and 147 starters). I would describe my run as "satisfactory" - I've been faster, but the whole objective this year was to finish and put last year's DNF to the sword. As you would expect it was hard, really hard at times, but I'm delighted to say I came through these difficult stretches to record my 8th finish.

I'll post a more detailed report when I am not so tired.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Diary of the week before the race: Saturday to Wednesday

Saturday 13 June

I had decided that today would be my last hard run before the WHW race. There was a 10k on in Milngavie, organised by Marco’s club, Garscube Harriers, so I decided to go for it and use it as my last hard run. There were 2 main reasons for this: to sample the atmosphere of Milngavie one week before the WHW race, and to repeat my preparation from 2003, which was the year that I finished under 22 hours for the first time.

Allybea was driving down to Kilmarnock to see her mum and dad, so rather than take 2 cars all the way to Ayrshire I decided that I would just get the train to Milngavie, and then take the train down to Kilmarnock after the race. The first sign that this might be a problem came at Dunblane station. I explained to the Scotrail ticket man that I wanted to travel from Dunblane to Glasgow Queen Street, then on to Milngavie, then back to Queen Street, then walk to Glasgow Central, then finally get a train to Kilmarnock. I would not be coming back by train, as I would get a lift from Allybea. What was the best ticket I could buy? Oh, and before he answered, he might want to take account of the fact that I had a half price voucher that I wanted to use.

It was not a surprise to find out he had no idea of the best ticket. He eventually sold me a return from Dunblane to Kilmarnock, with my half price discount, but forgot to give me a ticket for Queen Street to Milngavie and back. As the queue was getting longer and longer, and a train was about to arrive, I settled for this and got my Milngavie ticket from the guard on the train.

I had more hassle when I arrived and registered for the race. Having paid my £8, I asked the girl at registration if there was somewhere I could leave my bag. “No, I don’t think so” I was told. “Can you not leave it in your car?” “No, I don’t have my car with me - I came in the train”, I said. “Do you not have any mates you could leave it with?” “No, I don’t have any mates”. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a look which left me in no doubt it was my problem, not hers. Fortunately at that moment JB appeared,with whom I used to run at lunchtime when I worked in Glasgow. He was going to be doing the results and suggested I leave my bag in the results room, beside him. So, problem solved. I still needed to get changed behind an ice cream van as there didn’t seem to be anywhere else.

The race began at 11.30am from the centre of the Highland Games field. I started off at a steady pace and worked away solidly in the heat. At about the half way point I passed Graeme Reid, and managed to stay in front of him for the rest of the route. The last few kilometres up the hills were hard work, but I finished in a time of 41.39, which I was perfectly happy with. It had not been easy, but was exactly the session I had hoped for. Now on to my taper!

The journey from Milngavie to Kilmarnock was a nightmare. When I reached Central Station I realised that there were no trains to Kilmarnock, due to engineering works. It would have been nice to have been told that earlier on when I bought my ticket. Instead I had to get a train to Barrhead then change to a rail replacement bus – the only problem was that these buses were only running every hour, so I had to sit on a wall outside Barrhead station for about 45 minutes before the bus was ready to leave. It was roasting and I had no sun cream on. I finally arrived in Kilmarnock at 5.40pm, a full 4 hours after setting out for the train in Milngavie. What a nightmare. Next time I’ll be ignoring the green agenda and taking my car.

Sunday 14 June

I had a quiet and relaxing day today. I slept until 10 am, clearly needing the extra sleep after my busy week at work. After a leisurely breakfast, I took Lucy (Dog No 3) for an hour’s walk in the grounds around Braco castle, including a swim in the river. She loved it. Then in the early evening I went to Amanda for my pre race massage. My quads and calves were a bit tight and it was sore when she got right into them, but generally I think my body is in reasonably good shape,and I am feeling relaxed. Both Allybea and I are determined to enjoy the whole experience of this year’s race, trying hard to remain calm and not get too worked up about things. Hopefully that will continue throughout the week.

Monday 15 June

Back at work today. Things were going fine until I had a meeting with someone at 10.00. Imagine my horror when, after making the introductions, he said "Sorry, I've been feeling completely lousy all weekend (cough), think I'm getting back to normal (cough cough), feeling at least 80% which is 75% than I was feeling yesterday (splutter splutter cough spit)". A look of horror crossed my face and I spent the entire meeting trying to stay out of his line of breathing. I almost fell out of the meeting room door at one stage, so far away from him I had moved. I can't remember much about the meeting at all, but I do remember that as soon as it was finished I rushed to the toilet, washed my hands at least 3 times, and put on some of that disinfectant gel intended to prevent the spread of swine flu.

For the next hour or so I was convinced I was coming down with the mother and father of all colds, probably a virus, and that there was no way I would be fit for Saturday. At lunchtime I went out for an easy run (my second last before the race), and I was relieved to feel, er, normal. In fact I would almost say I felt good. I had an easy 4 mile trot through the streets of Edinburgh, and that helped to calm me down.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I arrived home from work at about half 7, had some tea, took the dogs for a short walk, then relaxed in the bath for half an hour. I made it to bed by 10.30, and slept like a log.

Tuesday 16 June

A rest day today (at least in terms of running) although very busy at work. That was undoubtedly a good thing, as I had no time at all to worry about getting / being ill or having sore legs, feet, knees or other parts of my body. My stomach was a bit sore, but that was because I had drunk too much coffee today at all my meetings. As I write this it is 6.50 and I am about to leave the office for the long journey back to Perthshire. Allybea is going out at the school show and has left a voicemail on my phone, telling me that I'll need to pick up some tea from Sainsburys on the way back home. I better choose something easy and quick to cook, high in carbohydrates: perhaps a pizza or a couple of scotch eggs?

Update: just as I left the office Mr Race Director phoned, so it was good to have a quick chat with him. And I went for the sensible option for tea – ravioli with smoked salmon. Yum.

Wednesday 17 June

At a sportscotland meeting in the morning, then back to the office for a quick check of my emails before heading across Edinburgh to meet a number of the WHW runners for some lunch. It was great to catch up with everyone – the excitement is certainly starting to build. This was my last day in the office, so I finished quite late then headed out for my last pre race run, a 4 mile jog round the centre of Edinburgh. To be honest it was a bit of a waste of time, and I might have been better not bothering at all. I felt like I was going through the motions and my legs felt a bit heavy after a few really busy days. Still, I followed my plan and did it, with no ill effects. The next time I run will be from Milngavie station, early on Saturday morning. Can’t wait!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Problems in the country

I've been meaning to do this post for a few weeks, ever since some idiot thought it was a good idea to scatter carpet tacks around the halfway point of the Etape Caledonia cycle, somewhere near Kinloch Rannoch. A 62 year old man (solicitor, church elder and leader of the local community council, if you believe the local press) has been charged with a number of offences relating to that incident, so in the interests of justice it is probably best that I don't comment directly on him or on his alleged acts. It does however highlight a more general point that has been concerning me recently - why do people who live in the country have a problem sharing the countryside with others?

As well as the Etape incident, there were problems in last year's WHW race and in this year's Highland Fling. Both arose from the fact that a lot of people were wanting to support the runners but there were inadequate facilities for parking, particularly around Beinglas Farm and the Kingshouse Hotel. At Kingshouse someone contrived to park their camper van on the hotel's front lawn, which quite understandably did not go down well at all with the owner. However I have sensed a general antagonism from many land owners to runners which is not at all healthy, and seems to me to be based on a selfish desire to keep the countryside to themselves: "this is my countryside and I don't want you anywhere near it, you smelly runner". Surely the countryside is big enough for all of us to enjoy? And I am surprised that the owners of local businesses, such as Beinglas Farm campsite and Kingshouse Hotel, are not able to see the opportunities of attracting the running fratenity - if each support person bought something from the Kingshouse hotel, for example, their day's takings would probably be up by more than £1,000. For a small business that seems worthwhile.

I should say quickly that not all businesses on the WHW are the same. The Real Food Cafe and the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum are very welcoming, and have both been involved as sponsors of the WHW race, the Highland Fling or the Devil O. And guess what - these are places we (and many friends) make a point of visiting when we are on our way through Tyndrum. It is no surprise to me at all they are both successful, thriving businesses - they know the importance of looking after their customer base, and the need to make their customers feel welcome. Auchtertyre Farm is another good example of a business that puts its customers first, and Tony Waterhouse, the manager there and a past president of Central AC, has been a great help in allowing the Farm to be used as a WHW checkpoint.

However if we are going to be welcomed in the countryside, then we need to respect it. I have to say that I was really disappointed by the amount of rubbish that was left on the route during the Fling - things like gel packets, sports drink bottles and so on which had clearly been dropped by runners. That is just unacceptable. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is a fantastic piece of legislation that gives us the right to run just about anywhere in Scotland, but with that comes responsibilities, one of which is 'care for your environment'. That includes taking your litter with you, so here is my plea to all runners and support taking part in the WHW race next week: DO NOT DROP RUBBISH ANYWHERE ON THE WHW ROUTE. Put it in your bag and take it to the next checkpoint. If everyone does that there will be far fewer problems, and we can all enjoy the countryside in our different ways.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What a great weekend

It has been a brilliant weekend. The sun has been shining - how unusual is that - and I've been for a couple of runs on the West Highland Way, sandwiched by a trip to Hampden on Saturday for the Scottish Cup final.

On Friday night a crowd of us met for a night run along the WHW from Milngavie to Balmaha. We met up at the car park in Balmaha where John left his minibus, then I drove us all back down the road. We dropped Dario and Sue at the Beech Tree Inn - they were doing a shorter run - then started running from Milngavie about quarter to 11, just as it was getting dark.

I'm not sure there is any real benefit to be gained for the race from running in the dark, but that didn't matter at all. It was something different and great fun; and a really good chance to catch up again with a few of the guys. We didn't push particularly hard and arrived in Balmaha at around 2.30 am, having been running for 3 hours 42 minutes. My headtorch worked very well and I had no problems following the path at any stage. By the time we arrived back at Milngavie around 3 am it was starting to get light, and when I finally made it to bed just before 5 am it was broad daylight.

So on to Saturday. I got up about 11 am having had a few hours sleep and started to get ready for the Homecoming Scottish Cup final. My team, Falkirk, were playing Rangers, and as Falkirk don't get to too many finals it was a game we could not miss. Allybea, son No 3, WHW Race Director Dario and I arrived at Hampden more in hope than expectation. Unfortunately the result didn't go our way - Falkirk played really well but were a bit unlucky to lose 1-0. The atmosphere at Hampden was fantastic, and the fact Falkirk were far and away the better team made it an excellent day out, despite the result.

As today was the last day of May, and as it is now less than 3 weeks until the WHW race, I was keen to get another decent run in on the WHW route. It was yet another glorious day and the hour drive to Tyndrum - with the car roof down and the Pogues' album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash playing - was an absolute pleasure. My car is made for days like today. It is not so good when it is icy, but that is long forgotten when summer finally arrives and the sun comes out. Anyway, just before I started running from Tyndrum I noticed that the temperature was 24 degrees. That is hotter than I am comfortable with, and I knew it would make it a hard run, but at least I would be running at a relaxed pace, unlike those poor souls doing the Edinburgh Marathon.

I reached Bridge of Orchy in exactly an hour, stopped for a couple of minutes at the hotel, then ran back in almost the same time (well okay, I was a couple of minutes slower, but on a day like this the 2 minutes didn't really matter). I felt good and enjoyed the run. I got a bit hot towards the end, not helped by the fact that my water had heated up inside the bottle and was almost impossible to drink. However I made it in one piece, and after a quick stop to try out my Magic Mug at the Good Food Stop (it worked - I got my free coffee) I put the roof down and headed back down the road.

All in all, a great weekend.