Monday, September 06, 2010

My 500th race - Perth 24 hour

I've been running for a few years now and realised a while back that I was likely to complete my 500th race at some point this year. When I reached number 498 a few weeks ago (I keep a detailed spreadsheet of them all - you can always tell an accountant) I decided I would try and do something 'memorable' for the big one, and the Perth 24 hour race seemed to fit the bill perfectly. So I sent off my entry, did the Kilmarnock trail race a couple of weeks back to get to number 499, and tried to prepare myself for Perth.

I had done two 24 hour races before. At Perth in 2008 I completed 106.74 miles, then did 100k at the Sri Chinmoy track race last October before stopping after 12 and a half hours. As I had failed to finish this year's West Highland Way race, I decided that my main goal would be quite simply to complete the full 24 hours; if I achieved that then I reckoned the distance would take care of itself.

We arrived early at Perth to give us plenty of time to put up my tent and to get things ready. Allybea was involved in a school barbeque so I was not counting on having any support during the race, although I had had a number of offers of help from people who were going to be there. As it turned out George and Karen looked after me for the entire race, and were completely superb, and allybea also came back up to Perth to help out after the barbeque had finished. There were also a lot of excellent support from various friends from the ultra running community - most of whom seemed to be members of Carnegie Harriers!

The race started at exactly 10.00 am on Saturday morning. My tactics for the early part of the race were to run very comfortably, and not bother about anyone else's pace or time. Each lap is almost exactly 1.5 miles, and I knew I could do 8 of these comfortable in the first 2 hours (6 miles an hour pace). If I did that I 'only' needed to average 4 mile an hour pace for the other 22 hours and would cover 100 miles. Probably a bit easier said than done, but that was the plan, and I completed my first 8 laps comfortably within schedule.

At midday the 100k and 50k races started, which meant we had a bit more company. I went through the marathon distance in 4.28.08, the 50k point in 5.21.19, and the 50 mile point in 9.12.55. I was going well and in a very positive frame of mind; my feeding plan (basically Complan, bananas and water with electrolytes) was also working well, and unlike in previous ultras I wasn't having any problems with my stomach. Phil, John and Davie all arrived at various points to watch the race for a while, which gave me another boost. I reckoned if I could get through the 100km point in less than 12 hours I would be in pretty good shape, and was pleased to achieve this target in 11.55.46. It was all going well.

I continued to work away well through the night, covering approximately 5 laps every 2 hours. After 16 hours or so I was a bit sick (the only time I had any problems with my stomach), but felt a lot better afterwards and managed to get going again right away. It started to get light again around 6am, by which time I was mainly walking but still getting through the miles at a reasonable pace. At that stage I knew I should manage 100 miles with time to spare, although it didn't stop it becoming more and more of a slog as I approached the magic figure of 67 and a half laps.

At 8.10 am (after 22 hours 10 minutes and 17 seconds) I passed through the 100 mile point. I was absolutely delighted. For the remaining time my legs became sorer and sorer - particularly after sitting down for some porridge - but I was determined to stay on the course and complete the full 24 hours. I kept going, managed a few more laps and finished up at exactly 10.00 am yesterday with a total mileage of 105.54 (169.838km), in 13th place from 28 finishers.

Although I can hardly walk today, I am really glad I chose this for my 500th race. Running a 24 hour ultra is an incredible experience, and this is an amazing event. A huge thank you to all the organisers, particularly Adrian, and also to everyone who offered so much support to me throughout the race. Someone described it beforehand as "just a very long run with some special people". I think that sums it up rather well.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Update from the WHW Race Committee

I posted this update earlier this morning on the WHW race forum, but thought it would be useful to post it here as well.

Update from the committee

The committee met recently to review the 2010 race. In general the race was considered to be a great success, with thanks due to the many helpers who played such an important part in helping things go so well. As with any event, there were undoubtedly a few areas where improvements could be made, and these have been considered for future years. The main points discussed at the meeting are outlined below.

1. The 2011 race will take place on Saturday 18 June, which is the week after the Caledonian Challenge. It is planned to open the entries on 1 October with the entry process running through to 31 October. There will be no paper entries - all entries will have to be submitted online with payments being made by credit card. The race limit will remain at 175. The criteria for entry will be the same as this year - details have already been published and appear on the website. The cost will be £80 for member of scottishathletics and £82 for all others, including overseas entrants.

2. If an entrant requires to withdraw from the race, a refund of £55 will be paid as long as the withdrawal is notified on or before 31 May 2011. No refunds will be made for withdrawals notified after this date. It will not be possible to carry forward entries to subsequent years.

3. All entrants will be given the chance at the time of entry to request a specific race number. The committee will endeavour to meet these requests on a 'best endeavours' basis, although obviously there can be no guarantees that everyone will be able to be given their number of choice.

4. The first formal checkpoint will be at Balmaha rather than Rowardennan. This change has been made to help ease some of the congestion at Rowardennan, which has a smaller car park. Other formal checkpoints will remain the same as 2010, i.e. Auchtertyre Farm, Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe Ski Centre and Kinlochleven. The same drop bag arrangements will continue to operate for Inversnaid, Beinglas Farm and Lundavra, and a drop bag option will be introduced for Rowardennan.

5. The parking arrangements at Beinglas Farm appeared to work well, although some concern was expressed about the length of time taken for food to be prepared and served. We plan to discuss this with the owners and see if a better solution can be put in place, such as a buffet type arrangement.

6. There was a bit of confusion over the weighing guidelines. It was confirmed that weight gain or loss is only one factor in assessing the fitness of a runner to continue, albeit an important one. Any runner whose weight is outwith the guidelines will be referred to Dr Chris Ellis or Sean Stone, who will take any necessary decision on whether to withdraw a runner from the race on medical grounds.

7. As in previous years, all runners will be required to have 2 support crew at all stages of the race. The committee are looking at ways of ensuring that all runners comply with this rule, such as insisting that support crew sign in at the checkpoints - further details will be provided in due course. The suggestion of allowing unsupported runners was considered, but it has been decided not to proceed with this due to the additional burden it would pass on to the race organisers in terms of participant safety.

8. No dogs will be permitted to accompany any runner at any stage in future races.

9. There was a bit of concern about the level of noise from spectators at the Beech Tree Inn. The owners of the property are happy for us to use their car park, but have asked us to ensure that there is no noise or other disruption. We will remind everyone of this in next year's instructions,and will look at putting a marshall there on the night.

10. The committee are going to look at the issue of race day and post race communication, with an objective of providing regular updates on the website of the progress of the race.

11. It has been decided to make a small donation to the WHW ranger service as a contribution to the ongoing maintenance of the West Highland Way. It has also been suggested that we could hold a 'WHW volunteer day', which would allow people associated with the race to get involved in the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of the route. More details will be provided in due course.

Monday, July 19, 2010

WHW 2010 - a tale of failure, and of success

The 2010 WHW race was ages ago - more than 4 weeks now - and I'm only just getting round to writing a few words about it. Sorry for the delay - work and holidays have got in the way, as well as a lack of motivation to sit down and put together a few words.

First, my result. I didn't finish the race, pulling out after 62 miles at the Inveroran Hotel. So another DNF. That's 8 goblets and 3 DNFs in my 11 attempts.

I knew things weren't right when I arrived at registration. I wandered around a bit getting various cheques signed, and was one of the last to register. I listened to the briefing, and when I went back to the car told Alison that I wasn't up for it. She gave me one of those looks - I'm sure she knew then that it was going to be a long day.

The first section to Drymen was ok. I managed to avoid falling - one of my main objectives on this section after a heavy fall a few weeks before - and my body felt fine as I arrived at Drymen after just over 2 hours. Despite that, I was already having thoughts of pulling out. As I told George, my legs were fine but my head wasn't in it. The backup team told me I'd be fine, I felt a bit better, and I headed off towards Balmaha having had my first Complan.

The next bit was ok too. The sun rose really early, and the views from the top of Conic Hill were wonderful. A quick stop at Balmaha and I was on my way. I met Andy Cole and chatted for a while, but I was finding it tough as we approached Rowardennan. By the time I arrived there I was feeling really low. I didn't feel like going on, but the backup team didn't give me any choice and had me back out on the course before I could think too much about it. I then struggled all the way to Inversnaid, being passed by around 20 runners. If I could have pulled out at Inversnaid I would have done so, but the only option seemed to be to head to Beinglas farm. Ellen came in to Inversnaid just as I was leaving and said she would run with me for a while; that seemed to give me a boost and I head along the tricky section feeling a lot better, expecting her to catch up with me. Around Doune Bothy she still hadn't caught me and I was surprised to see George. He had heard from a number of runners that i was struggling, and realising I was so late thought he should run in to check I wasn't injured. I was actually in good spirits then, and feeling much more positive, so had decided to keep going beyond Beinglas.

Beinglas to Auchtertyre wasn't too bad, and even though I was a lot slower than previous years I felt happy enough to be plodding on. I met George and Phil at Bogle Glen, where I was in reasonable spirits, then met them all again at the Auchtertyre checkpoint. My weight was fine and on I ran, meeting the backup team briefly again at Tyndrum. At that stage I was still doing ok. Shortly afterwards, however, the wheels feel off completely, on what is normally one of the easiest bits of the trail. I just couldn't get moving at all, and took an eternity to reach Bridge of Orchy. By the time I arrived at the checkpoint my mind had pretty much given up, although George and Alison persuaded me to try going over the hill to Inveroran and see how things were after that. It was no better. By the time I saw Murdo at the top of the hill I had decided to call it a day, and no amount of persuasion could convince me otherwise. I walked down to the Inveroran Hotel, jumped in the car, and we headed to Fort William. Race over.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, what went wrong? I don't want this to sound like a series of excuses, but I think there were a few things that affected me. It was difficult to combine being part of the organisation with running in the race. I think I was more focused on the race as a whole than I was on my own race. That doesn't really work - when things get tough during the race (as they always do) you have to have the desire to get that goblet. I was more concerned about the race as a whole being a success than I was about getting that 9th goblet. I don't think I had the necessary hunger and desire this year to complete it. A few months earlier, after my poor Fling run, I had been having serious doubts about whether I should take part. Geraldine made a very apt comment - she said that she could understand why I was struggling, as I was "covering old ground more slowly than I had covered it before". On the day it turned out she was right.

Perhaps Dario's death had more impact on my run that I thought it would. I found it very difficult at the start when Adrian gave the tribute to Dario and Davie, both of whom were very good friends. I know others were affected in a similar way.

So from a personal running perspective, it was a failure. From an organisational perspective, it was a big success. I was delighted with the way it all went, and believe we managed to put on a race of which Dario would have been proud. Certainly the feedback so far has been very positive; most importantly, the camaraderie that makes this race so special has continued and I'm sure will continue in future years.

What now for my running? I'm going to have a break from running ultras for a while and try and get a bit faster over some of the shorter distances, such as 10k, half marathon and even the marathon. I've done a lot of ultra running over the last few years and suspect that my body is crying out for a bit of a rest. It has been very frustrating to see my times get slower and slower, despite doing the same or similar training. It would be nice to get back below 40 minutes for a 10k and 1 hour 30 for a half marathon - these were times I achieved with relative ease up to 3 years ago, but I haven't been able to get near them recently. I am not going to enter next year's WHW race but will get more involved in the organisation side of things (assuming the rest of the committee will let me!)

Congratulations to all of those who completed this year's race - there were some fantastic performances, too many to mention individually - and better luck next time to those who didn't make it. Finally, a huge thank you to my back-up team of Alison, George and Phil. As ever, you looked after me superbly well and could have done no more. From a running perspective, it just wasn't my year.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bad cold and sore ribs - must be WHW race week....

3 sleeps to go to the biggest race of the year, and I'm sitting here with my nose dripping onto my keyboard. And for the last couple of weeks my ribs have been getting sorer and sorer - not only when I'm lying in bed, but also when I'm swinging a golf club.

But in case you think I'm in a right panic, please be assured that I am not. I am completely convinced that it is a good thing to have a cold now, as it means it will be gone by Friday night. I'm actually feeling a lot better today than I was yesterday - yesterday the snot wasn't running out of my nose but I had a blocked head and sore throat. There's no doubt that snot is better out than in. I'm on the mend.

As for my ribs: well, they shouldn't be a problem as I don't plan on lying down during the WHW race, nor do I plan to swing a golf club. In any case I don't feel them (much) when I'm running. If they get sore it will only take the pain away from other, more traditional parts of my body, such as my feet or legs.

So I'm full of positive vibes today. As this might be my last blog post before the race, I thought I would take the chance to pass on some of my top tips to the many newbies taking part. Here they are, in no particular order (and based on my experience of 8 previous finishes and 2 failed attemps):

1. At Milngavie Station you will probably be shitt*ng yourself. That is a perfectly normal reaction and everyone will be feeling the same. Don't follow the example of the guy a few years ago who was shitt*ng himself so much that he went home. It was only discovered when the Mountain Rescue people were about to start looking for him after he failed to turn up at Balmaha. He's never been allowed back.

2. Don't give blood before the race. We aren't being asked to do so this year, but last year I gave blood and my arm came up in a lump the size of a football. "Don't worry, it will be fine", said allybea. She later told me (post race) that she had been lying through her teeth and was really worried about me. Just as well I didn't know that at the time.

3. In the early stages keep an eye on the path. Last year I fell after 2 miles or so. I didn't do any serious damage but it was bloody sore, and looked quite dramatic when I arrived at Drymen covered in blood (I had wiped it on my face, which made it look even worse). On a similar theme don't follow the runners in front if they are going the wrong way. Instead shout at them and tell them to come back. In 2001 30 of us ended up on some golf course in Milngavie, rather than staying on the proper path through Mugdock Woods. I believe that Mike Mason has also gone off course in previous races, as has past record holder Kate Jenkins.

4. Carry the right batteries for your headtorch. If the torch takes AA batteries, there isn't much point in carrying AAAs as spares, as I learned in 2003. Luckily I was fast enough that year I didn't need to use them. And make sure your torch works. A few weeks we went a night run with someone whose headtorch was as useless as a one legged man at an arse kicking competition. He shall remain nameless to save his embarrassment, but you would think a doctor from Comrie, ex president of Strathearn Harriers and member of my 2010 backup team would know better, eh Phil?

5. Try not to fall out with your backup team. Yes, at various points in time they might be acting like the most stupid people on the planet - for example, why on earth have they given you a tea when you said you wanted a coffee? - but they are giving up their entire weekend to help you achieve your dream. At least make an effort to be civil to them. Like I always am.

6. Bring a pair of sandals or loose fitting shoes for the prizegiving. To be honest I've never had any issue at all getting my shoes on the next day, and I've never brought a pair of sandals for the prizegiving. However Murdo the Magnificant has posted this tip on the forum for the last 5 years (at least), so it would be remiss of me not to include it.

7. Avoid hooking up with anyone who can talk non stop for the full 95 miles to Fort William. In other words if you happen to come across Jim Drummond, it may be an idea either to speed up or to go into the bushes and pretend you need the toilet. At first that might seem a bit rude; in the long term your ears will thank you for it.

8. Don't park your campervan on the lawn at the Kingshouse Hotel. Hard to believe, but it happened a couple of years ago. Even better, don't bring a campervan at all. They are too big for the narrow roads.

9. The prizegiving is a great event and well worth attending. It is a chance to catch up with all of the runners, most of whom you'll not have seen at any point during the race. As allybea said on the forum, it does take a bit of time to hand out all the goblets to all the finishers, so please be patient and stay for the whole show to recognise everyone's fantastic achievement.

10. Finally, at some point on the route, take a few seconds to pause, look around, and think of Dario. It will be strange this year without him, and it will be a difficult year for many of us who knew him well. I'm sure he'll be watching us. One of Dario's greatest achievements was generating a unique cameraderie amongst everyone involved in the race. Being a member of the 'WHW Family' remains a special thing to so many people and it is up to us all to build on this legacy in the years ahead.

Good luck to all running, supporting, helping, or involved in any other way. I look forward to seeing you at Fort William on Sunday.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

(And I could run) 1,000 miles

I reached my 1,000 miles for the year today. I reached it 6 days earlier than last year. I've now moved into my taper phase for the WHW race, so my longest run this week was a 10 mile trot with the dog today round the trails above Comrie. It was a superb run; I enjoyed every minute of it. I also ran a 10k in Auchterarder on Wednesday night. It is quite a tough, hilly course (although perhaps a couple of hundred metres short) and I was pleased enough to get round in 41.49. Other runs this week included a good blast along the canal/River of Leith with Adrian on Tuesday night, a similar run on my own on Monday, and a steady run in the centre of Edinburgh on Friday.

I'm pleased with the way I've been feeling - I've enjoyed just about every run recently and I'm starting to get excited about the WHW race, which is now less than 2 weeks away. The WHW related blogs are full of nervous adrenaline with various people worrying about whether they haven't done enough long runs, whether they have done too many long runs, and so on. Race plans are beginning to appear, setting out in great detail the tactics for taking on the race. I've decided that I'm not going to do a race plan this year - my strategy will be to go out and run as I feel, smell the flowers, and (with any luck) enjoy it. Bring it on.. :-)

Sunday, May 23, 2010


On Friday afternoon I had a meeting with one of the country's top sports nutritionists, in an attempt to improve my eating for the WHW race. I have always had problems with my food strategy: I find it difficult to stomach anything when running, and I have had a lot of problems with cramp over the years. I was sure there must be things I could be doing better, and I was keen to get an expert's opinion.

In a nutshell, there are so many things I could be doing better. It was a fascinating discussion. I am sure this is an area where a lot of us could learn - while the advice given was specific to my issues, a lot of the principles are applicable to anyone taking part in an extreme endurance event such as the WHWR.

I've noted the main points below.

* As I find it very hard to stomach solid foods, I shouldn't even bother trying. For the race we have put in place a 'no dry food' rule; instead my main meals should be liquid foods, such as Complan or Build-up. These are specifically designed for people who have small appetities or find it difficult to digest solid food - in other words me when I'm running an ultra! They contain all the things that I need, so there is no need for anything else that will be more difficult to digest and is likely to lead to nausea and sickness. I should try and have one of these Complan meals every 3 to 4 hours.

* We have also put in place a 'no milk based products' rule. Milk is a great food, but not a great food for extreme endurance events as it will upset the stomach and cause nausea.

* One of the main reasons I have been getting cramp is because I am drinking plain water, which is flushing the electolytes out of my system. If cramp is to be avoided I need to ensure these electrolytes are replaced. So I should not drink water on its own, but ensure electrolytes and glucose are added to it. A good way of replacing electrolytes is by adding a rehydration treatment powder to the water (the same products used if you have had diarrhea on holiday). I should also add glucose polymers to the water - around 40 to 60 ml per litre of water. Both the glucose polymers and electrolyte replacement can be added to the same drink.

* Fructose is a good thing to take - it was suggested that I might want to have a couple of spoonfuls of honey in the later stages of the race.

* For optimal performance I should be trying not to lose much weight during the run but should be replacing the lost fluids and maintaining my weight at a similar level. To achieve this I need to know how much fluid I am losing during the event - it is known as my 'sweat loss' calculation, and can be worked out by comparing my weight at the beginning and end of the activity with the amount of fluid I have taken on.

* Iron is also very important for extreme endurance, but building up iron levels will take a a number of months and require me to focus on my longer term diet, There is not much I can do now in respect of the 2010 race.

* I drink quite a lot of coffee, and I was surprised to hear that this was not really a concern. On race day caffeine can be useful - it helps alertness and it provides a slight cushion against pain. However these benefits will only be achieved if the body is getting something it is not used to - therefore it probably makes sense for me to cut down a bit on my coffee prior to the race.

Yesterday was the ideal opportunity for me to test out the things I have outlined above, and see if it made a difference. I followed the advice very closely: I had no dry or solid foods, my eating was restricted to 2 Complan meals (one after 3 hours and one after 7 hours), I added glucose and electrolytes to my water, and didn't drink any water on its own at any time. It was probably the hottest day of the year, with temperatures for the most part in the low to mid 20s. We were out for just under 10 and a half hours, covering 41 miles.

Despite the intense heat, I had no problems with cramp at all, which I found incredible. Had I not changed my nutrition strategy there is no way I would have been able to cover yesterday's run without serious problems. Also I had very few problems with nausea or sickness, apart from one small period just after I had taken my second Complan meal. I am sure the reason for that was the fact it was one of the strawberry Complans, with a higher milk content than the more savoury ones. For race day I plan to stick to the savoury ones.

Despite following the advice I still lost a significant amount of weight, so perhaps I was not taking enough on board (I will follow up with the sports nutritionist on this and find out). I monitored all my food and drink intake very closely, as well as my weight. At the start of the run (just before leaving Balmaha) I weighed 87 kgs (13 stone 11). When I arrived at Bridge of Orchy my weight had fallen to 82 kgs (13 stone 0). So I lost 5 kgs (11 pounds) throughout the run - a significant weight loss. My food and liquid intake was as follows:

2 Complan meals
3.6 litres of water/electrolyte/glucose drink;
2 small coffees (about 0.4 litres in total);
2 and a half cups of tea (about 0.5 litres in total).

I am seeing the sports nutritionist again this week, so I'll have a chance to talk through yesterday's run in more detail.

Although my original plan was to do another 35 mile run today from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William, I have decided to give that a miss. Yesterday was very hot and the forecast is for another hot day today. I think I'll benefit more from an easy recovery day today than I will from depleting my body further.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Baby Cateran

At the moment I can't face a 55 mile race so soon after the traumas of the Fling, so I've pulled out of next week's Cateran Trail Ultra. However I really enjoy the route and the area, so decided to do the 'baby' 23 mile version which took place today. And what a cracking run it was. There were about 30 of us at the start, including Scott, Lucy and Richie, 3 of Scotland's top ultra runners, so a more quality field would be hard to find anywhere. The weather was ideal for running; sunny, but not too warm. There was also a 3 leg relay which started half an hour later. Although the race was only 23 miles (how ridiculous does that sound - 'only' 23 miles) it was a tough old day out, especially the 5 mile climb just before the finish. I finally made it to the top - an ascent that my calves certainly felt, particularly when I tried to run hard again down the last steep hill to the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel - but I was delighted to cross the line a few minutes quicker than 4 hours, in 3.57.10. I think I ended up in 7th place, but a couple of people who were in front of me went off route at one point (including Bobby) which definitely made my finishing position a bit more flattering.

All in all a great day out. Well done to the organisers and to the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel, who put on a barbeque and generally made us all feel very welcome.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

13 good years

On Tuesday we said good-bye to our old dog for the last time. Isla was 13, not a bad age for a labrador, but she had slowed down a lot over the last couple of years and was almost blind. All so different from her first 10 years or so, when she would walk miles and miles with me along the Ayrshire coast, day after day, and we thought she would never calm down. When we moved to our current house she loved walking on the moor, sniffing the smells of the wildlife, and eating the horse and rabbit poo. Her love of food stayed with her to the very end - she never lost that.

We often said she was the friendliest dog in the world. It took her years to learn how to bark, and throughout her life she didn't once show any signs of aggression towards anyone or anything.

Ali took her to the vet on Tuesday afternoon - she was strong, it was the right thing to do - and when I came home from work there was a dog missing. The house feels strange without her.

Last night I was in Troon and ran along many of the streets and pavements where we used to walk. It just seemed like an appropriate thing to do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I want to be an ultra runner, so I need to run ultras...

I had a crap run on Saturday at the Highland Fling. I finished in 11 hours 47 minutes, my worst time out of the 5 races. I didn't feel good for most of the race, being sick a lot in the early stages, but I managed to keep it together reasonably well until the top of Loch Lomond. Then the wheels fell off. I had cramp, was sick, bored, scunnered, fed up, and wanted to pack it in. It was a horribly long last 15 miles. But I got there in the end - although I don't think I looked at my best when I came over the line or for the rest of the evening.

On Saturday afternoon and night I had more or less resigned myself to withdrawing from this year's WHW race. I've found every long run a struggle this year and it hasn't been enjoyable. "Covering old ground slower than before" was a perfect description from Geraldine. It's not a great place to be; I think the volume of ultras over the last couple of years has probably taken its toll on my body. So what should I do? I resolved to make no firm decision before Wednesday, but to think things through in some detail before deciding.

In the few days since Saturday I've spoken to a few people about it and have now reached my decision: I'm going to do the WHW race. I think I have to accept it won't be my fastest time, but I'm sure that I'm still capable of getting to FW in 24 hours or so, which would be fine. The decision was helped by the reaction of some of the guys at the sportscotland board meeting earlier today. They were hugely complementary about the fact I had just run 53 miles, and the time was pretty irrelevant from their point of view. I suspect we all get a bit caught up in all the great times from others in the race and it diminishes the sense of achievement in finishing - but at the end of the day we all have to set our own targets and goals. As I said last year before the WHW race - it's my race, no-one elses.

There is also the Dario factor. Dario's death continues to cast a long shadow for many of us who knew him well, and has certainly made it harder for me to find the motivation to push myself through tough events like this. Last year, and the year before, and the year before that, I would have been on the phone to Dario after my Fling run, talking it through in detail, analysing the various stages, and looking for things I could have done differently. By the end of the call everything would have been sorted out and I would have been back on track, keen and ready to take on the WHW challenge. I miss these chats, and know others do too. But I think Dario would have wanted me to run this year's race, and would have encouraged me to do so.

So, assuming my body doesn't give up on me, I'll be lining up again at the underpass at Milngavie Station just before 1.00 am on 19 June. And hopefully I'll be bringing home my 9th goblet on the Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another poo story

I've been inundated with requests to tell another story about jobbies. So here goes.

I was out running the other night with the dog on the on the King's and Queen's Courses at Gleneagles. It was superb. Not a golfer around - it was after 7 pm and everyone at Gleneagles would have been in one of the expensive bars (£14.50 for a G&T, would you believe). It was a pleasant, sunny evening, albeit a bit cold. I had beautiful lush, well manicured fairways to run on (I tried to stay off the greens and tees); and I was running with a dog who was completely in her element as she ran up, down and across the various holes. A better run it is hard to imagine.

After a while the dog needed a poo, so she stopped beside one of the tees to do her stuff. I'm a good dog owner and always carry poo bags to lift her poo. I absolutely detest dog owners who leave it lying. There is no excuse. These people should have their dogs taken off them, given to a better owner, then forced to clean dog poo from pavements every day until they have understood the error of their ways. I'm no lily-livered liberal when it comes to dog poo, am I Mr Subversive Runner?

Anyway I lifted the poo and, not wanting to leave it in one of Gleneagles' posh bins, decided to carry it back to the car to dispose of it elsewhere. So I'm running along quite happily, loving my run, poo bag in hand and not a care in the world. Then I realised the poo bag didn't feel quite right. I looked down and saw that the bag had burst. A significant amount of poo was now spread all over my shorts, top and bumbag, and there was also some on my hand. Fortunately the remainder was still in the bag - another few minutes and it would all have been on me. So in that respect I was quite lucky.

I took immediate action. I ran into the rough, found some large tufts of grass, and wiped as much as I could off my shorts, top, bumbag and hand. That got rid of a lot of it. Then I put the remainder in to another poo bag and, just to be safe, into a third. You may think that was shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted, but I thought it was a sensible precaution. Then I continued my run, thankfully with no further leakages.

When I reached the car (Alison's car, fortunately, rather than mine) it was difficult to put on my seatbelt without it touching the poo on my shorts and top. But at least I tried. When I got home, all my clothes went straight in the wash. Normally I would wear my shorts for at least a couple of runs, but on this occasion that didn't seem appropriate.

There is a lesson to be learned from this story. Don't try and save money buying cheap poo bags. It's a false economy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Take after each loose bowel movement"

My stats for the week read as follows:

Number of runs - 1 (10k);
Number of visits to the toilet - thousands;
Number of solid jobbies produced on visits to the toilet - nil.

You can probably guess what kind of week I've had. It's been a week where I've had a horrible bug, making me feel sick most of the time, making me need to rush to the toilet on frequent occasions, and where I've been unable to face any food. Brilliant; just what an ultra marathon runner needs, especially when there is a 53 mile race in less than a week. Had I drunk from any of the streams during my WHW run last weekend I would have blamed that, but it seems quite a few people have been suffering from similar symptons this week (including a few people in the office, my mum, and from the sounds of it mrs pacepusher, who was trying to walk the Great Glen Way).

Anyway it seems to have gone now and I was able to run today for the first time this week. I took part in the 'Bridge of Allan Toughest 10k'. I have to say that I don't like events billing themselves as 'the toughest' anything. How do they know? Have they run every other event on the calendar to make that judgement? I would rather call it 'Bridge of Allan Quite Tough Slightly Less Than 10k' - there was a general consensus amongst the GPS owners that the course was not quite the full length. Despite that it was a really enjoyable event - there were a few 'interesting' hills, it was well organised, and the facilties at the start and finish at Bridge of Allan Sports Club were excellent. We got a huge goody bag, a burger and a carton of milk. Great value. Dr Phil finished 5th and first vet, so well done to him, and he took away a very nice Saucony running top. I finished in a time of 44.28; not great, but not bad considering it was my first run of the week. Most importantly I enjoyed it and feel like a runner again, rather than someone who won't go more than 100 metres away from a toilet.

Time to change the subject. Most of my readers will be aware that this was a historic week in British politics - the first time there had been a live debate between the leaders of the 3 main parties. It took place on Thursday night. I thought the 3 leaders were distinctly unimpressive. I like politics, but I'm finding myself increasingly disillusioned with all of the main parties at the moment. I think the system in Scotland is much better, where no single party holds a majority so the parties have to reach some kind of consensus to get things done. The SNP have worked out what they need to do to get things like budgets approved, and I think the country is being governed better for having input from parties across the political spectrum.

Anyway, in case you are remotely interested, here are my main beefs with the current lot:

1. Don't promise in your manifesto that you aren't going to do something (like raise tax rates) and then do it anyway, a few years down the line when you think people have forgotten about the manifesto. That's breaking a promise, and means that I can't believe a word you say this time around.

2. Don't say that your plan is "to offer every citizen in this country the chance to make decisions in their local community". What a load of pish. How is that going to work? Let's think of an example. Cameron says he wants to give parents the chance to sack teachers. So wee Jimmy gets a row from his teacher, and his parent takes the huff and decides he or she wants to have the teacher sacked. So no teacher will risk giving any child a row in case their parents object and try to get them sacked. I can see that will improve the standard of education in this country - NOT. I wonder if the Subversive Runner would like us all to have the right to sack him because we weren't happy with the way he was putting out a fire? Of course not. We don't know enough about it to make decisions like that. What a stupid idea, Davey C. Is it beyond your intellectual abilities to think things through a bit further?

3. I'm getting bored by the bankers being blamed for everything under the sun. Ok, they messed up. But it's time to get over it. Bankers get bonuses. It may not be fair but who said life was fair? Public sector workers get great pensions, unlike anyone else, and I don't see people moaning about that (although I think they should, and the government should be looking at the whole issue of the public sector pay as an area to reduce cost).

4. I'm also completely bored by the response of the 3 leaders to the expenses scandal. Each one of them knows that MPs have historically used their expenses to make up for the fact that they will not get paid as much as they do in the jobs they did before they were MPs. But not one of the leaders has come out and said that - instead they feign anger and disgust, despite being been part of the same corrupt process for the last 10 or 20 years. In my view the problem is that MPs are not paid enough to attract enough people of genuine talent. I'd get rid of half of them and pay the remaining ones more. That way we might get a bit more quality.

There, rant over. I'll be glad when the election is decided.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Just a quick post to say I ran the Deeside Way 33 mile ultra yesterday and finished in 4 hours 37 minutes, in 21st place from 89 finishers. It was a really good event; a nice course, good weather, and the usual friendly atmosphere before, during and after the race. Well done to George Reid and everyone else involved in the organisation.

I was quite pleased with my run. The toughest bit was probably the 3 miles before the halfway turning point, when my hamstring felt a bit tight, but after turning I seemed to get a second lease of life and pushed on well. As usual the last 6 miles or so felt quite hard, but I didn't slow down and felt reasonably strong as I crossed the finish line in Duthie Park. Perhaps surprisingly it's the first time I've ever done a race in Aberdeen.

There were 2 other runners from Strathearn Harriers, Graham and Kenny, who were both doing their first ever ultra. It was good to see them both finish, particularly as they had smiles on their faces and within minutes of finishing were talking about "the next time". That's always a positive sign.

I managed a steady run this morning with the dog, so hopefully haven't done too much damage to my legs from yesterday's efforts. After all it's only 3 weeks until the next one, the Highland Fling on 24 April...

Friday, April 02, 2010

Running for 20 years

Tomorrow is the Deeside Way 33 mile ultra. It will be a big day for me: the 20th anniversary of the day I realised I had turned into an unfit, overweight 24 year old slob, and started running in an attempt to do something about it. That was on the 3rd of April 1990, just a few days after we had moved to Troon. Prior to that I had run a couple of marathons in the mid 1980s (Glasgow in 1984 and 1985), but hadn't done anything in the intervening years, a fact you could tell very easily by looking at me. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I enjoyed getting back in to the running and feeling fitter, lost 3 stone in 2 months, did a half marathon in June of that year, joined Troon Tortoises in the October, and have never really looked back since. I'm now approaching my 500th race (488 completed so far); I've run well over 30,000 miles, with every one of them recorded in my training diary; I've been a member of 5 different running clubs in the 20 year period; and assuming I finish tomorrow it will be my 75th completed marathon/ultramarathon. I've also met a huge number of great people, many of whom I consider to be very close friends. A lot of them will be running tomorrow so it will be a great chance to catch up, even if a 0530 departure time on Easter Saturday morning may not be everyone's idea of the perfect way to spend a holiday weekend.

Despite the fact we are now into April and the clocks have gone forward, we had another heavy snowfall this week. I'm hoping that's the last of the year's snow as I'm completely fed up with it now. I was out a run on Tuesday lunchtime and it's a long time since I've been as cold as I was that day. It was absolutely freezing with horizontal rain and a biting wind, all very unpleasant. To add to my misery I couldn't get the car out the drive (again) and needed to get a lift to and from the station. Bring on the better weather.

On the whole March was a good month in terms of my running. I managed a total of 213 miles (making it 573 for the year), including 2 half marathons in successive weeks and a 38 mile run on the WHW. I also succeeded in my 'more non alcohol days than alcohol days' challenge for the 3rd successive month, yet again by a 16-15 margin. Although that may sound close it wasn't really - I was 15-10 ahead after 25 days, so was able to have a few more 'relaxed' days as I approached the end of the month. To be honest 16-15 is ideal - what would the point be in achieving it by a bigger margin?

Good luck to everyone running tomorrow, especially Graham and Kenny from Strathearn Harriers who (I think) are taking part in their first ever ultra. I'll try and post some thoughts about the race over the weekend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quite a weekend

It was quite a weekend. On Saturday I was dragged from Balmaha all the way up Loch Lomondside to Doune Bothy by the gang - Keith, Norman, Ian, Jon, John and Jaimie - before we turned around and did it all again in reverse. In total that was almost 38 miles and 9 hours of running on the WHW, including the section from Inversnaid to the top of the loch twice. What a slog. These training runs aren't getting any easier. For a lot of the day I had no idea how I was going to make it back but just dug in, gritted my teeth, and told myself to TTFU - as I'm sure Keith would have told me if he hadn't been so far ahead. The way back was a bit better than the way out, although I was very glad to reach the finish at Balmaha just before 6 o'clock and be able to stop. I had a few twinges of cramp during the drive home, but after the pain I had been through for most of the day it didn't seem that significant. I was just pleased to be finished. It had been a lovely day - almost perfect running conditions - which was probably just as well, as I found it a difficult enough run without the added difficulty of poor weather.

Not surprisingly I travelled to Alloa for the half marathon on Sunday morning without any great hope of a fast time. I was keen to do it for 2 reasons, however: it was a good chance to do 2 hard back-to-back runs, which would be good training for the forthcoming ultras, and it was a race that the club had targeted and was encouraging as many members as possible to take part. My warm up felt ok, the weather was just about perfect, and I set off at a fairly steady 7.25 pace feeling reasonably good. I managed to keep that pace going for most of the run and was pleased to finish in a time of 1 hour 36 minutes and 25 seconds, only 5 minutes slower than Inverness last week. It was probably a much better performance than Inverness, given the efforts of the previous day, and proved once again that it is speed rather than stamina which is my issue at the moment. It was also good to see 9 club members taking part, some of them doing a half marathon for the first time.

I was completely shattered last night, but with the benefit of hindsight I'm pleased at getting the 2 runs done - I'm sure I'll look back on the weekend as an important stepping stone in my preparation for the WHW race. And, on another positive note, at least I didn't have to face the wild and wet conditions at the Hardmoors 55. The weather there sounded appalling so well done to all who took part, whatever you finished or not. Let's hope there's no repeat of these conditions on the 19th June...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March - it must be Inverness

I've been doing the Inverness Half Marathon every year (with one exception) since 1994. Today was the day for the 2010 edition of the event. My thoughts on it are set out below.

I knew this was going to be a busy weekend. Sportsman's dinner on Friday night; Scotland v England rugby yesterday, with full hospitality; followed by the Inverness half marathon today. I decided to forego alcohol both at the dinner and at the rugby to give myself a fighting chance of surviving it all, although it was incredibly difficult to sit through a lunch at Murrayfield with the wine/beer/champagne flowing and restrict myself to a few glasses of still water. I managed, and at least it was a decent game - although it would have been even more decent if Scotland had won rather than hold on for a 15-15 draw.

Anyway, back to the half marathon. I just wasn't up for it at all, either when I woke up this morning with a nose that refused to stop running or when I arrived at the sports centre. I registered, collected my chip and number and went out a warm up - and still felt no better. To be honest I felt crap. My legs were heavy and I didn't want to run the race. I went back to the car and tears ran down my face. Should I go home? I just wasn't up for this at all. Fortunately at that moment I saw Adrian Stott walking towards his car and gave him a shout (having wiped my tears away first). He came over and we had a decent chat. After that I felt a bit better, got changed, and felt more ready for the race having changed into my shorts and club vest. Adrian, you have no idea how much I appreciated seeing you. It made a big difference.

Even when the race started, however, I wasn't sure I wanted to be doing it. I saw a lady with 2 black labradors near the start and felt hugely jealous: I wanted to be the person at the side with the dogs, rather than the one taking part in this shitty race. But I settled down, found myself going through 3 miles in slightly better than 7 minute mile pace, and felt ok. I was around the same pace at 6 miles, the same at 9 miles, and pretty much the same to the end. I finished in a time of 1 hour 31 minutes and 28 seconds - my worst time at Inverness by almost 2 minutes, but not too bad a performance considering the way I felt before the race. On the whole I ran quite well and kept going at a steady pace, but had no speed at all and could not pick it up. Note to self: that's what happens when you bash out mileage as part of your training, but don't really hurt yourself by running fast for long periods. If I want to get back below 1.30 I need to address this and do some harder training. The problem is I'm not really sure I want to.

So, what else has been happening in the months since I last blogged? I was planning to do a review of February but never quite managed it, so here is an abridged version:

* February was a weird month: 13 miles one week, 70 the next, the 50 something the next then 20 something in the last week. Very up and down. In effect I ended up with 2 good weeks running and 2 bad weeks, and a total of 159 miles (360 for the first 2 months for those who are interested in that sort of thing). I suppose it wasn't too bad a total for February considering the crap weather - for those that don't know we had more than 2 feet of snow around our area, as allybea explained on her blog, along with posting a few photos:

* I did one race (the National Cross Country, which I have already mentioned on my blog) and a great 36 mile run on the West Highland Way. The 36 mile was a struggle but I managed to hold on, got there, and made it in time for the 17.35 train from Fort William back to Bridge of Orchy.

* For the second month in a row I succeeded in my 'alcohol challenge' (which is to have more non-alcohol days each month than alcohol days). I think it was 15-13 but will need to check - it might have been 16-12... Who cares? A pass is a pass...
(Ps - At the moment I am 8-6 ahead in the March alcohol challenge so looking good :) )

And that's it. Next weekend is a biggie - a 42 mile run on the WHW with the Glee Club on Saturday, followed by the Alloa half marathon on Sunday. If I am not too tired to climb the stairs to my computer I'll try and write an update of how it all went.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

National XC

Well, another National Cross Country championship completed. That's my 17th in total; since 1992 I've done them all except 2 (1995 and 2000). It is a classic race, one that in my opinion should be included on every endurance runner's schedule for the year. More about that below.

First the facts. I finished 284th (from 447) in a time of 51.57. I was delighted to hear that the winner was Ali Hay from Central, particularly given the tragic death of his dad, Big Davie, at the beginning of the year. I wasn't so delighted to finish in 3rd place from the club, 29 seconds behind Phil M and 21 seconds behind Phil T. I was further behind than that at the end of the first lap and was making back some ground, and by the start of the 3rd lap was confident I would catch them both. Unfortunately they got into a race of their own, and I couldn't close it any more.

All in all I ran about as well as I expected. I haven't been doing much fast stuff, and it was my first race since the Strathaven 10k on 1 November last year. However, the facts don't lie. My position meant I was at 63.5% in the field; last year I was at 57.4%. My actual time was 5.1% worse than last year; the winner was 1.2% worse, the 100th person was 2.9% worse and the 200th person was 1.3% worse. So my relative performance was a lot worse than last year.

Having said all that, I don't really care. C'est la vie. I thoroughly enjoyed it today and would hope to be taking part in this race for years and years to come. As I ran down the home straight at the end of my 2nd lap (with 1 lap to go), I tried to remember the thoughts that were going through my mind so I could record them later. They were along the following lines: I'm 44, I'm running as hard as I can through a muddy field on a Saturday afternoon, what the f*ck am I doing here? But you know what? I'm loving it... I'm really lucky to be able to take part in a great event like this...even if I'm a bit slower than a few years I'm closing on the Phils... I'm going to get them this lap... bugger... they've seen each other and are starting to pick up the pace as they race each other.. I'm closing again... shit no I'm not, it's just because we were going up the hill.. they've pulled away down the other side..I'll keep digging in...still half a lap to go...need to watch I don't slip in the mud at this bend...I've a chance here, they look a bit tired, might get them over the last section...oh no, they've pulled away way back now. Finished. Cough, cough, cough, splutter, cough. I forgot my new inhaler which would have made a huge difference to my time... probably 30 seconds...:)

In the first paragraph I mentioned that the National is a race I think all endurance runners should do. I have to say I was disappointed how few from our club (4 from a membership of around 50) and how few members of the WHW family took part. Don't get me wrong, there were some: I saw Kate Jenkins and Gail Murdoch in the women's race; Mags Turnbull was there supporting; the men's race had the 2 Phils, Marco Consani, Iain Rae, Hugh Kerr, Jim Drummond and I'm sure many others. However a lot of runners think that the National is too elitist and not for them, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. What other sport gives you the chance to actually participate in its 'Blue Riband' event? I don't see me ever getting the chance to take part in the Scottish Cup final at football, the final of the Scottish Swimming championships, the Camanachd Cup final at shinty, or the Open Golf championship at golf, so it is a real privilege to be able to run in the top Scottish endurance event of the year. Come on guys, let's see a bigger turnout next year - we probably aren't going to win it (I have even dropped my target of getting into the top half - top two thirds is now a satisfactory performance), but it is a fantastic experience just to be part of it. If you don't you're missing out - you can do a long slow run on the WHW any weekend, but you can only do the National once a year.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another 4 years

This was announced today on the Scottish government website...


Minister for Public Health and Sport Shona Robison today announced the re-appointment of 3 non-executive members to sportscotland.

The New members are:

Mr Ian Beattie is a Chartered Accountant and Chief Operating Officer of Lindsays, a firm of solicitors. Prior to this he was Finance Director of another Scottish legal firm, and has held a number of senior financial roles in the financial services sector. He is currently Vice Chair of sportscotland, acting as interim chair from February to June 2008, and chairs the Audit Committee. His skills in these areas highlight his importance as a Board member, particularly his finance acumen. He is an experienced long distance runner, having completed more than 70 marathons and ultramarathons, and is treasurer of Strathearn Harriers and of the West Highland Way Race Association. Mr Beattie does not hold any other Ministerial Appointments.

This re-appointment will be for a period of 4 years from February 13, 2010 to February 12, 2014.

Kim McAully is an Accountant with Angus Council's Education Department. With over 25 years experience in finance in both the private and public sector, Kim brings a wealth of knowledge to the Board, especially from a financial and governance perspective. A member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants(CIMA), she is also Secretary for the Dundee branch of CIMA. Kim has been heavily involved in local community groups and enjoys walking in the Angus glens in her spare time. Ms McAully does not hold any other Ministerial Appointments.

This re-appointment will be for a period of 1 year from February 13, 2010 to February 12, 2011.

Carolan Dobson is a Competition Commissioner and Deputy Chairman of the Finance and Regulation Group as well as a Chairman and trustee of a number of private and public sector pension schemes. She is a Non-Executive Director of Shires Smaller Companies plc an investment trust and Chairman of Lomond School. Past achievements include being Head of Abbey Asset Managers' Investment Floor in Glasgow with funds under management of £30billion and a Director of Murray Johnstone. She has also worked for British Waterways as Non-Executive Director where she worked closely with local authorities and helped to establish private public partnerships. Through these appointments she has had extensive experience of working effectively as a non-executive board member with particular expertise in setting strategy and finance. She competed internationally for Scotland in three day eventing and downhill ski racing and has been involved for many years in performance sailing so is experienced in grass roots and performance sport. Ms Dobson does not hold any other Ministerial Appointments.

This re-appointment will be for a period of 4 years from February 13, 2010 to February 12, 2014.

These posts are part-time and Members receive a daily fee of £158 per day for a time commitment of approximately 6 days per year.

Sportscotland is the national agency for developing sport in Scotland, dedicated to helping increase participation and improve performance in sport. The organisation work with and bring together key organisations in Scottish sport, such as Governing Bodies and Local Authorities, supporting them in delivering their single plan for sport and investing National Lottery and Scottish Government funding in the shared outcomes which contribute to the National Strategy for Sport - Reaching Higher.

These Ministerial re-appointments were made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland's Code of Practice.

All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, in accordance with the original Nolan recommendations, there is a requirement for appointees' political activity within the last 5 years (if there is any to be declared) to be made public. None of the above re-appointees have been involved in any political activity within the last five years.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Doesn't time fly?

It's hard to believe it's the end of January already. I was about to sit down and do a review of the month, thinking that would be an original and interesting post, when I noticed John K had already done exactly the same thing. Shit. I can't have anyone think I'm just copying John K, so here are a few random thoughts and reflections from January.

There was a hell of a lot of snow and ice, at least for the first few weeks. My car couldn't move for 4 and a half weeks, and when it did it had a sort of damp smell every time I opened the door. Despite that I managed to keep my running going reasonably well, and actually got over 200 miles for the month - 201 to be exact - despite a very poor first week when I was just back at work after the holidays and only managed a pathetic 18 miles. I managed 2 decent runs on the WHW, both hugely enjoyable, especially the run from Kinlochleven to the Lairig Mor and back with Keith and the gang. That was a top day out.

I'm still on course for my 2010 alcohol challenge. I had 16 days where I didn't drink alcohol and 15 where I did. That sounds close, but it wasn't really - I reached 16 non alcohol days last Thursday and have been able to enjoy myself ever since.

I was 44 on 24 January. Spent my birthday at a cousin's baby's christening party. I hadn't seen my cousin (or my aunt and other cousins) for 20 years. For the first time in my life I feel quite old. I was at a Burns Supper in the office on Friday night and was sitting beside 2 of our trainees. It turns out they are both younger than my oldest son. Bloody hell.

No races this month. Anything I was hoping to do was cancelled becasue of the snow and ice. Probably just as well as I don't have any speed at all at the moment and no doubt I would have been hugely disappointed with my times.

The WHW Training and Inspiration evening took place on Wednesday night. Around 150 people attended and from the feedback I think it was a great success. I chaired it and was pleased to see we got through all the business on time.

A group of us have started doing Tuesday night runs in Edinburgh (Keith, Norman, Adrian and me). These are great fun - we normally set off around 6.30 from Run and Become and do 8 miles or so. It's a steady pace and the chat is good. if anyone fancies joining us you are more than welcome - the more the merrier - just drop me an email first to make sure there have been no changes in the plans.

Allybea and I went to London to see Billy Connolly. It was a brilliant concert and a great weekend.

And that's it. Now on to February....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lesson of the week - how to deal with difficult cattle

There are a few sections on the West Highland Way where cows regularly block the route, such as the section above Crianlarich before Bogle Glen. Up until a few years ago I wasn't sure how to deal with this, but I was taught one day when out running with my WHW backup man, George McGregor. It was an invaluable lesson which I have put to good use on many occasions since then. George is the perfect man for advice of this nature - as a McGregor he is a distant relative of the famous cattle thief, Rob Roy McGregor, and moving cattle is clearly an old skill which has been passed down through the generations of McGregors.

I have many friends who find these cows frightening, and are not sure what to do when faced with this situation. If you are in this category I suggest you read the following carefully, and hopefully you will never have problems with cattle again. Ellen and Fiona, take note, and remember the advice comes from the master himself, George. Good luck...

Moving cows out of your way - George's top tips

1. Approach the cows in a confident manner. Do not stop running - the cows will sense you are frightened, which is not good. They need to understand who is in charge, and it's not them.

2. Do not deviate from your route. Run directly along the path, whether the cows are in your way or not. Just keep going.

3. As you get close to the cows move your arms to either side and shout 'Shoo, shoo'. Keep running towards them. If necessary, shout 'Shoo, shoo' again and keep waving your arms.

4. The cows will move to the side and let you past. Run past, maintaining a confident appearance at all times. If they are a bit slow, tell them to 'get a f*cking move-on' and wave your arms some more. That should do the trick.

5. Once successfully past the cows, pass on your knowledge of moving cows to any frightened walkers you happen to meet. It will save them taking a massive detour back the way they have come, down to Crianlarich, then along the busy A82 road.

There are only 2 occasions where I have found these tactics to be unsuccessful. The first is when one of the cows turns out to be a bull. Bulls are not as receptive to cries of 'Shoo, shoo' as cows. Instead of moving out the way they tend to stand there looking aggressive and hard. At that stage a decision needs to be made and taking a detour may be the best option, depending on the hardness of the bull. The second difficult situation is when you are out running with a dog. Cows like to chase dogs and can run surprisingly fast, considering their size. In these situations I have found that the best answer is to run like hell towards the nearest wall or gate, lift your dog and throw it over the wall or gate, then make sure you get yourself over before the cows arrive. Following this course of action may be embarrassing, but you are much less likely to be trampled to death by a herd of rampaging beasts if you are in a different field. For that reason I have never taken my dog on the Crianlarich section of the WHW, and have no plans to do so.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

At last - a decent ice and snow free run

I wanted a long run this weekend but a Friday night of beer, red wine, white wine and whisky* put paid to any realistic chance of that happening on Saturday. Instead I tried to plan a Sunday run on the WHW but feedback from Marco, Thomas and John was not good - texts from them reported difficult, icy conditions and strong recommendations to stick to the roads. It was only when I received an update text from John last night, telling me he was up at the Rowardennan Hotel for a pint and the paths looked fine, that I decided to go for it.

I'm so glad I did. I drove to Balmaha and ran north for 12 and a half miles (to a few miles before Inversnaid) before turning round and coming back. Conditions were pretty much perfect. No snow, no ice, and a very pleasant temperature to run in. A lot of it was a struggle of course - the first long run of the year on the WHW always is - but I finished quite strongly and was well under 5 hours for the trip, despite a 15 minute stop in the Rowardennan Hotel on the way back for a coffee and a scone. A quick change and then I warmed up nicely with some excellent soup and coffee in the bar at the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha. I would recommend this place. Today it was absolutely jumping with people who had headed out for a drive and some Sunday lunch.

It's been a decent week for my running. I've managed to get 60 miles done, despite the poor conditions earlier in the week. In case anyone new to ultra running is reading this and starting to panic at this level of mileage, I should quickly add that 60 miles is higher than normal for me. However I'm keen to build a good January base, so will try and keep my mileage high for the couple of weeks if possible. I plan to do the new ultra that George Reid is organising on 3 April along the Deeside Way (for more details see ) and would like to be in decent shape for that, as well as the 2 half marathons in March at Inverness and Alloa. George's race will be a special one for me - it will be my 75th marathon and ultra, and it takes place exactly 20 years to do the day that I took up running.

* despite Friday's excesses, I'm currently sitting 9-8 ahead in the no alcohol challenge... and there are a few work days coming up, so I should have an even better lead by next weekend. Will update in due course...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A flying start to 2010

Wow! That's more like it! Not even 2 days of 2010 gone, and already I've done a decent 9 mile tempo run on New Year's Day and a hill session today (yes, you heard correctly - a hill session) with the 2 Phils. 8 x 2 minutes up a snow covered hill, with a jog back down to the bottom as a recovery. It means I've now done more hill sessions in 2010 than I did in the whole of 2009. I'm sure I need to do more sessions like this if I'm going to start improving my times - even though it just about killed me, leaving me coughing and spluttering for what seemed like hours afterwards. However, with the benefit of a few hours recovery, I think I might actually have enjoyed it - the memory does play funny tricks sometimes, however...

We had even more snow here today. I'm starting to get fed up with it now. A couple of weeks ago when the snow first arrived it was very nice to see and good fun to play in or go walking in with the dogs. That was in spite of the fact it created havoc on the roads: it took us almost 6 hours to travel from Kilmarnock to Perthshire on the Sunday before Christmas (normally a 1 hour 15 minute journey), due to a lorry jack-knifing and leaving the A80 (the main road north out of Glasgow) shut for 4 hours with us stuck in the queue. The A9, which is just beside us, was also closed on a couple of occasions last week, again due to lorries jack-knifing in the snow and ice. Just a thought to all lorry drivers out there: why don't you go a bit slower in these tricky conditions, like everyone else does, rather than continuing to drive like total ars*holes? Maybe then you wouldn't jack-knife and cause chaos for others... grrr....

Anyway, we had a further foot of snow fall on the Sunday after Christmas, making it impossible to travel anywhere and leaving my car completely stuck in the drive. (It's still sitting there now - there is no chance of it moving anywhere until some of the snow melts). As I've been on holiday for the last couple of weeks it hasn't mattered too much, but I'll soon be back at work and will need it to get to the station. I also want to get running properly again. The conditions make that very difficult to do - we still have about a foot of snow on the moor, so it's impossible to run there, and a lot of the back roads have turned icy which is no good for running either. That only leaves the main roads, which are generally clear but have too many cars on them or are dark. So to sum up, and in case you hadn't guessed, I've had enough of the snow. Let's hope it goes away soon.