Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The perils of ultra running

Saturday's run reminded me of some of the things that make ultra running so unique and enjoyable. The joy of stopping for a number 2 in the fresh air, miles from anywhere, and then witnessing the shock on the faces of the two old ramblers who had just come round the corner to find a runner in mid squat. Or stopping for a quick streamie, only for one of the women in the race to choose that very moment to catch up - thanks Aileen. Or the odd sensation of running a bit too soon after eating a pot of Muller rice (with apple), not entirely sure whether it would stay down or not. Or watching my chicken and rice soup blow away towards the Falkirk Wheel. Or finding that both my legs had decided to cramp at the same time, with my arms joining them seconds later in a painful spasm. And finally, the serious embarrassment of trying to spit into the canal but making such a hash of it that most ended up in my hair and on my backpack.

So, dear reader, ultra running is not all glamorous, at least not where I am in the middle of the field. I am sure it is much more attractive at the front end, where Lucy, Jack, Thomas et al run with great style and panache - no jobbies in the trees for them, I suspect: I doubt they could afford to stop for that long and still get as good a time.

I am of course aware that I do all this for fun, and of my own free will, and that no-one forces me to take part. I paid the princely sum of £52 to experience those pleasures on Saturday and, even worse, had to decline a full hospitality invitation for the two of us to attend the Scotland v Ireland rugby match at Murrayfield. Allybea was not best pleased. Standing in a 40 mile an hour cold wind beside a smelly canal at Falkirk, Linlithgow and Ratho does not compare favourably with a free piss up at the rugby. This is a point she has made, and continues to make, very clear to me.

However the oddest thing of all is the fact that I am unable to sleep well after an ultra race. Does anyone else experience this? There is no doubt that I should be tired - on Saturday I was up at 5.15am and then I ran 54 miles, after a hectic week at work. I normally sleep like a log. But not on Saturday, nor after the last West Highland Way race. I lay awake for ages, then gave up around 1.30am and headed down the stairs to watch some football highlights. I returned to bed about an hour later but slept in fits and starts, and was first up the next morning. Even on Monday morning I was not tired - I normally sleep on the train into work, but instead I gazed out of the window, occasionally noticing the canal along which I had run just 2 days earlier.

I can only conclude that the body is a funny thing. Particularly mine.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Running across Scotland - the Glasgow to Edinburgh canal race

When I wrote my report of the 24 hour race last September, I said something like "Went round the 1.5 mile circuit. Then did it again. Continued to do this for 24 hours". Well, yesterday's race almost matched the 24 hour race in terms of excitement. I would describe it as follows:

'Ran from Ruchill Park in Glasgow down to the Forth and Clyde canal. Continued to run alongside this canal for 22 mile or so until the Falkirk Wheel. Crossed the Forth and Clyde canal and joined the Union Canal. Continued to run alongside this canal (which looked very like the last canal) for 32 miles or so, until the finish at Harrison Park in Edinburgh. Then stopped and went home'.

It is strange running along a canal towpath. It is completely flat - no hills at all - which is actually more difficult than running an undulating route, as it is constantly sore on your muscles. For most of the route there isn't much to see at all. The canals were built for commercial purposes rather than recreation, and pass through Scotland's industrial heartland, with only the occasional town or village on route. The Falkirk Wheel is quite interesting, and it was good to see a group of youngsters out canoeing at Linlithgow. There is a nice marina at Auchinstarry, and a traditional looking pub at Ratho. And that's about it - the only other highlights along the way were passing the Young Offenders Institution at Polmont, going under the M8 just after Broxburn, and going through a tunnel that is more than half a mile long just after Falkirk. Keith Hughes was just in front of me going through the aforementioned tunnel, so we amused ourselves by making loud noises (such as 'oooooooo') and listening to it echo. What a laugh. I spent most of the rest of the run listening to my radio.

Anyway back to the race itself. I finished in 11th place from 19 finishers in a time of 9 hours 39 minutes. I was quite pleased with that. My stomach was not good for the first few hours, necessitating a couple of emergency pitstops. Thankfully that improved as the run went on, and I finished quite strongly. Allybea and Liz T, despite being frozen, provided excellent backup at various points on route - their support was gratefully appreciated, as was the high quality chicken soup allybea had made. At one point the wind was so strong it actually blew the soup away. We were really lucky, however, that it was behind us for almost all of the race - it would have been a lot harder if we had been running from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inverness half marathon

Sunday was the Inverness half marathon. It was the 15th time I had done it in the last 16 years, and probably the worst in terms of the weather. It was definitely the worst in terms of my time. I crossed the line in a chip time of 1.29.38, a full 2 minutes slower than my previous worst for the course. Still, at least I scraped under the hour and a half, which I think was one of my targets for the year. Phil T was 3 minutes ahead in 1.26; Thomas set a new PB of 1.18; and Silke also set a PB of 1.51. Well done to them all. It's just a bit depressing when I look back on some of my previous Inverness times and see two 1.19s, two 1.21s, a 1.22, a 1.23 and five 1.24s.

Despite the weather I really enjoyed the run. We set off in a blizzard, but as the wind was behind for the first mile it didn't have much effect. I was a bit disappointed to look at my watch at the 1 mile marker and see I was around 6.30 - I had thought I was running a bit faster than that. The wind hit us full on when we turned at the bridge over the River Ness, and it was hard work for the next 4 miles or so. Just after the 5 mile mark I had to empty my bladder - the last coffee was definitely a poor idea - and I realised then I would have to work to stay under the hour and a half.

So work hard I did. Despite my hamstring tightening over the last few miles, I took advantage of the wind being behind for most of the way in, and crossed the line with 20 seconds or so in hand. My coughing at the end was a phenominal, record breaking performance, even by more own high standards, and attracted the attention of most of the first aid people who had been milling around in the hope of finding someone like me who needed their services. They were quite disappointed when I told them (cough) that I (cough) was always like that (cough) (cough) at the end of (cough) a race and (cough) there was really nothing (cough) to worry (cough) (cough) about. Then I topped it all by being sick.

As we were leaving Inverness we received news that the A9 was closed at Dalwhinnie. A choice had to be made: chance it and hope it wil have opened by the time we get to there, or go the long route along the A96 to Aberdeen, then down the A90 to Perth. Overruling allybea, we went for the long route which, with the benefit of hindsight, was the wrong decision. It added at least 2 hours and 100 extra miles to our journey, but at least we got home and weren't stuck in a car for the night in one of the most remote parts of Scotland.

I now need to recover in time for the Glasgow to Edinburgh 54 mile race along the canal on Saturday. My legs were quite stiff this morning, but I went out a very easy run at lunchtime and they felt a bit better after that. I'll do another easy run tomorrow, then rest on Thursday and Friday.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A great WHW run

As you may have guessed from the title, I really enjoyed today's WHW run. We ran the 31 miles or so from Inverarnan Hotel to Kingshouse Hotel, neither of which is recognised for the quality of its bedrooms, but both of which offer very good quality food. I started near the back of the pack and, after stopping to take off my tracksters, ended up right at the back with only a mile or so of the run gone. But that meant I had plenty time to chat, and spent a bit of time talking to Neal, Karen, Alasdair and Thomas. Thomas had made a particularly conservative start, but was to pick up the pace later. I pushed on a bit at Tyndrum, just as the weather deteriorated, then ran from the start of Rannoch Moor to Kingshouse with Davie. I felt good at the end, always a positive sign, and enjoyed a bowl of soup in the Kingshouse Hotel before we headed home. All in all a quality day's running. Many thanks to John for organising and best wishes to Sharon, who had to stop after a particularly heavy fall just before Bridge of Orchy.