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.