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.