Thursday, 17 December 2009

Chimera 100 - The Race That DNF'd

We know only too well here in Scotland that we're all at the mercy of the weather sometimes, but it's not what you expect when you go to "sunny" California! So, when the Chimera 100 was hit with a freaky rain storm it was like being back at home again.

Relaxing in the psychedelic van in some typical Californian sun

The rain started on Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning the mist was so thick at the start line that it had to be delayed until daylight as you couldn't see more than two feet in front of you with your headtorch beam.

At 6.30am we finally got going and took off at a good fast pace. The first 9 miles followed a singletrack loop and then returned past the start line and continued onto sandy "truck trails" up into the mountains. Top US runner Karl Meltzer had taken the lead and myself and Dominic Grossman were not far behind as we climbed up into the Saddleback mountains. The rain had been torrential and had soaked through my waterproof and the wind was blasting which meant it was getting difficult to maintain body heat on some of the more exposed sections. After about 15 miles my legs were getting so cold because my leggings were soaked through that I ditched them at an aid station and took the chance of running in just shorts hoping that I might be warmer that way. It was much better and by the time I got to the Trabuco Peak aid station I was feeling like I was getting into my stride, for me the weather was perfect! The aid tent was taking a battering though and I made some comment about hoping it would still be there when we passed on the way back. We continued on with Dominic disappearing out of sight for a while and when I reached the next aid station at Santiago Peak, which was about 5500 feet up, he was sitting in a chair with a blanket wrapped around him not looking too good at all. I filled my bottle, ate a small potato and grabbed a couple of gels then got straight out of there before I got too comfortable. The tent up there was taking a real battering too and I was glad when the trail became a bit more sheltered as it descended to the next aid at Maple Springs. When I got there the two girls had their hands full trying to keep the water out and the tent on the ground but did a great job in making sure I had what I needed and getting me turned around quickly. I asked how far ahead Karl was and was told about 5 minutes and that he was having problems with the cold and had had to go into one of the cars for a few minutes to get warm again. This perked me up a bit, I certainly felt the cold but felt, literally, at home in these conditions and started to think that once we got back up high again I might have a bit of an advantage.
The next section was a long descent down to Silverado Canyon and the last few miles were on a great, rocky single-track which I hammered down at a good pace, the more technical terrain taking my mind off the battering my quads were taking. I reached the aid station, had a few crisps and topped up my drink then headed on up the next section, at 45 miles, which began with 3 miles of tarmac road. I was hating this section, the road was gradually climbing up and at each corner I was expecting to see the track but it took ages to come. I was reduced to walking a few times, being so uninspired by the terrain and I wondered if I was heading into a bad patch. Soon though I was back on the trail winding up into the mountains and I was running hard again, this is more like it, I was starting to feel like I was really coming onto my game and hoping I might catch sight of Karl in front soon. Then a runner appeared coming towards me, "it's done" he shouted "the race has been called off". My heart sank, I decided to keep pushing on to the next aid station to see if it was true but a few minutes later Karl appeared with a couple of other guys and confirmed the race had been abandoned.

                                                             The Trabuco Peak aid station before and after

It was a massive disappointment to say the least but the right thing to do. It turned out that two aid stations had been destroyed by the wind and the safety of the runners could no longer be guaranteed, so that was that.

It's a strange feeling sitting here a few days later. I'm obviously disappointed but it's not like I had an injury or got sick and DNF'd, it just feels like I've got some unfinished business with a US 100 miler somewhere, sometime...

So, in finishing off I'd just like to publicly thank the organisers and all the volunteers at Chimera for looking after us and working into the night to make sure everyone was safe, hopefully I might get a chance to go back and do this race again... who knows...

Monday, 9 November 2009

A Slight Change Of Plan

December's training plan is in the bin, I just couldn't resist this one it looks like a cracker!

...Ah well best laid plans and all that...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

24 Hour Training Plan

HERE is my freshly written training plan for Athens 24 hour race next March.

It is based on the training I did for the West Highland Way race this year and I've tried to incorporate the following into the plan-

  • a lot of flat, steady paced running (race specific)
  • back to back long runs to build endurance
  • weekly fast/rep. sessions but no more than 90% intensity(use HRM to keep check)
  • train to handle the steady pounding soreness/ stiffness which flat running causes
  • cross-training to supplement the running and strengthen supporting muscles.
I've planned it in 4 cycles with 4 weeks in each cycle then a taper in weeks 17,18 and 19. Most of the time week 1 in the cycle is a recovery week, weeks 2 and 3 medium mileage weeks and week 4 a high mileage week. The only exception to this is on the 4th cycle where weeks 1 and 2 are 50 mile weeks to allow for the Draycote Water race and not risk overload with only 5 weeks to go before the 24 hour.

When I put the WHW training plan into action work and life came into play, races were slotted in here and there and the actual training was quite different to the plan but I stuck to the general principles so I anticipate the same happening here (also I've a few adventures in the plotting stages...) but I need a plan to work around.

So, have a look through it and leave your thoughts in the comments. I've one or two things I've thought about changing so it'll be interesting to see if anyone else thinks the same.

Training starts 16th November so you'll have to flick the calendar forward to see it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Best Thing About Training To Breaking Point

It was a beautiful day for the Round Rotherham 50 miler, perfect conditions, and as I watched the two runners I'd been hanging on to for the last few miles disappear into the distance I decided that was it. I retired at the 25 mile checkpoint, legs feeling like someone had poured concrete into them, and decided that was my last ultra of the year.

This guy passed me in Round Rotherham

I've been stalked by the fatigue demon for the last few races and on Saturday he finally got me. He had introduced himself to me during the Devil O' the Highlands race in August and when I refused to heed his warnings he turned up at the TDS and punched me in the stomach causing me to throw up for the last hour of the race. At Keswick he decided to get serious, he wasn't going to let me eat anything and if I tried to drink, well that was going to re-appear on the pavement, causing me to grind to a halt. He even had the lap counters in on the deal!

As I approached the line to make 100 miles my lap counter appeared and said "listen mate, you've made 100 miles, look at the state of you, why not call it a day at that? There's no point in putting yourself through all that just for a few more miles!" I wasn't having that though, I had more resurrections than anything else at Keswick, by the end I think they were calling me Mandelson.
The thing is, the way to kick the fatigue demon's butt is not to fight him tooth and nail, gritting your teeth and taking the pain of race after race. The way to do it is to take a break, fool him into thinking you've given up all this knee-crippling nonsense and he'll go off and bother some other race junkie instead.

It's all in the training diary, the mistakes. Two weeks after WHW race and back into racing with the Dollar Hill Race just to mash the quads up again, then the next week I put in a 130 mile week and 30 000 feet of climbing on the UTMB route. Then next up, 7 days later, was the Ben Rinnes race on top of a 50 mile week, then the week after a 45 mile run from Linn o Dee to Aviemore and back rounded off a 90 mile week, and a week later the 42 mile Devil o the Highlands (still training through the week, remember!). Then 3 weeks later the TDS (65m +20 000 feet) and 19 days later Keswick (106m). Since I felt completely knackered by this point I had a weeks rest, then, since I'd had a weeks rest I rattled in a 90 mile week just to make sure I hadn't lost it and was fit for Rotherham! ( Just to illustrate how fatigue affects the brain, I had been on to the race organiser for the Tooting 24 hour race to try to get an entry since I hadn't performed at Keswick... just as well the race was full!!)

Every cloud has a silver lining as they say. The best thing about training to breaking point is the biscuits. A full pack of chocolate digestives in one sitting? No problem. A four pack of Kit Kat Chunkys in a oner? Easy. But, when the appetite went that's when I knew it was serious. After Rotherham's 25 miles I wasn't very hungry, didn't fancy any biscuits, in fact came home with a full packet of choccy diggies. I knew then that it all had to change (and I don't mean to those orange flavour ones, that's sacrilege).

For the next few weeks I'm not going to do much running, maybe a couple of club sessions in the week but keep them easy. The odd short race at weekends but at an enjoyable pace, and just rest up so I'm fresh for the next round of training.

I was hoping to complete 11 ultras this year, the same as last year, or even try for 12 to make it one a month on average but I'll settle for 9 and call it quits at that. That last sentence tells a story, doesn't it? I've improved a bit this year and have even been competing at the front end in races so I need to move forward and start to try competing in specific races instead of doing too many and not running as well as I'm capable. I'll still be running plenty races though, but I'll have my targets and the others will be part of the training.

So, what's next?

Three races for next year:- Athens 24 hour in March. West Highland Way in June and UTMB in September.

This time I'm going to train for the 24 hour so I've a few races planned as part of that, The Thames Trot, The Country to Capital and Draycote Water. So the adventures continue and it's going to be lots of tarmac and lots of flat running, training starts on 16th November, but for now where's those choccy diggies...??

Friday, 18 September 2009

Commonwealth Champs 24hour Update

Todays 24 hour race finished with Scotland winning team bronze for men and ladies. For me it was a disaster. It was going wrong early on with a shoe change needed due to foot pain, which is an early warning of fatigue for me. At about 9pm every time I ate I threw-up and I ran through the night eating next to nothing,still throwing up and rapidly losing energy. At about 8.30am, when the team prize was in the bag, I was able to stop.

Steve and William had great runs notching up 145m+ and 130m+ respectively, I managed approx. 106m. i'm glad it's all over, I've never had such a bad experience in a race before, my legs and body are completely trashed. Even Harry Potter couldn't have put some magic into that performance.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Archie Gemmill Magic

I remember Argentina '78 like it was yesterday. That ill-fated World Cup campaign when Ally MacLeod tipped his Scotland team to win the tournament and the nation believed him.

I was 9 years old at the time and it made quite an impression on me. That 3-1 defeat by Peru when we were taken apart by Cubillas, the dismal 1-1 draw with Iran, one of our star players Willie Johnston caught using performance enhancing drugs, only one game to go against 1974 runners-up Holland, who we had to beat by 3 clear goals, and it looked like the dream was well and truly over. But wee Archie Gemmill had other ideas. Having put us 2-1 up from the penalty spot Gemmill picked up the ball just outside the penalty box, jinxed past 3 flying Dutchmen and with his left foot, chipped the ball over the goalie to score one of the greatest world cup goals in history. It wasn't enough to save Scotlands world cup hopes though, and the team were on the next plane home.

The Gemmill goal was re-enacted all over the country by various 9 year olds often wearing wellies (the Brazilian kids used to learn to play football on the beaches in their bare feet, the Scottish kids played on the road in wellies) and the lesson that we might be down but we've all got some Archie Gemmill magic was learnt.

So, if you happen to be passing the 24 hour race in Fitz park in Keswick as part of the Commonwealth Championships on Thursday/Friday this week and you see a wee man in a Scotland shirt (no wellies), extracting the last ounces of magic from his legs, jinking past a few Englishmen, maybe to snatch some last minute glory, then you'll know it's the Archie Gemmill magic at work.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Tales of Random Scottish Punters

It was a hot afternoon in Chamonix, the town was starting to fill up with runners, some have just arrived, others have been here for a few days spending more time hanging around town as race day draws nearer and resting becomes a priority. In one of the towns supermarkets, searching out ingredients for a healthy meal was one of the worlds most accomplished ultra-runners. The seven times winner of Western States, three times winner of Spartathlon, twice winner of Badwater Ultra and many more races was contemplating the fruit and veg when suddenly a voice next to him boomed


El Venado was startled briefly as he looked up to see the tattood, skinheaded, Cumbernauld academic Brian Mc grinning back at him.

"do I know you??" stammered Mr Jurek, with a hint of panic in his voice

"NAW, I'm just a random Scottish punter!!" declared the gallus Glesga cutieboy

In a second he was gone. The taper momentarily forgotten as he made a sprint for cover not even hanging around to work out what a "punter" might be let alone a psycho Scottish one.

The Tartan Ultra Army was in town.

Brian, Drew (qualifies as Scottish through the Grandparents rule) and myself arrived on the Saturday, had ran the last UTMB section from Vallorcine over La Flagere and back to Chamonix on the Sunday and were now trying to busy ourselves until the weekend. I had also walked the first section to Les Houches with Brian one afternoon and spent the day at the Auguille du Midi cable car station with Drew, George R, Davie and Sharon. At 3800 metres we thought that if we spent the day there it should help with acclimatisation, it was also a beautiful day for lazing in the sun with amazing views of the mountains around. I had had a few extra runs during the week too since I was doing one of the 'shorter' races (106km 6700 metres ascent) so I felt I could do a bit more than the other guys who were trying to preserve themselves for the brutality of the UTMB (softies ;0)

View from the Auguille du Midi

As we walked the guys down to the start line the atmosphere was electric, crowds of people lined the streets so much so that we had to push our way back to the flat in time to get to our vantage point on the balcony above the main street. We had front row seats as the 2300 ish runners passed below us to start their 102 mile journey around the foot of Mont Blanc.

At the start

I finished off sorting out my kit, drank a bottle of Yop! (yum) and set my alarm for 3.30am to give me time to eat and digest some breakfast for the 5am start of the TDS race then lay in bed trying in vain to sleep as the group of drummers outside did their best Cozy Powell impressions till after midnight. I handed in my bag to be taken to the finish at about 4.15am and met up with John M then we wandered to the start line, with a fine drizzle and the temperature about 12 degrees it was just like home. We hung around, then at about 4.45am the road was closed and 600+ runners crammed into the start area, the race 'theme music' was blasted out to wake us up and we were off. About 60 of us shot off at a pace much too fast and it was all a bit surreal as we left the rest of the pack behind and sprinted through the now deserted streets. This was going to be the low-key race of the weekend I thought.

I didn't bother chasing the lead pack as I was reluctant to go faster than I felt comfortable, this was a new race after all so the chances are most of these people would blow-up at some point and I didn't want to get sucked into anything daft. I ran with a group of 3 or 4 which made it easier to see with the combined torch light and it wasn't long before we reached Col de Voza and left the familiar UTMB route to descend into the valley and to the first main aid point at Saint Nicolas de Veroce. I was 44th with 2 and a half hours gone, it felt really fast at this point and even though it was quite cool I was soaked through with sweat. The pace would change now though, with the long 1350m climb up Mont Joly ahead.

It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to reach the summit, I'd had to stop and rake around in my bag for some raisins to stave off a bonk near the top, and my climbing hadn't been good... no change from recent races then. A wrong line by a group of us sent us below and past the summit so a quick double back and a short climb to the checkpoint then I was back running again along the ridge. The mist was swirling around but you could see the drop-offs going away into nothing. I tried not to look down too much and just concentrated on my footing. A good descent down to Col du Joly saw me start to overtake people, too much guddling about with poles meant that lots of them were going really slow on the descents, I just held mine and battered downhill. I tried to force a couple of biscuits down at the checkpoint but didn't really manage so instead downed some coke in my fancy big cup (you have to carry your own cup to save waste, so I thought it would be good to take a BIG one, BIG cup= BIG drink).

Next we passed the familiar Col du Bonhomme from the main UTMB race but instead of going off left along the edge of the valley we went straight ahead and down through some rough stuff and along the valley floor. Again I was taking places descending. The scenery was beautiful here as we ran along next to a small river, the feeling of remoteness was noticible too, which isn't something you normally experience in these races. The next aid point, Cormet de Roselend (51k) was more of the same, cheese, bread, dates, dry stodgy cake, ham, biscuits which I think they got from the pet shop... you name it- I couldn't stomach it. So, another BIG cup of coke and I was off again. All I was able to eat so far was a few Shot Bloks and some sweets, I'd have paid good money for some mashed tatties.

The next section was again pretty technical, with some really rough, rocky ground and then a very steep climb through a jumble of rocks to the col, the poles were a real pain here getting in the way all the time as I was trying to use my hands. Some good steady running followed then it was down past a big castle and the steep, never-ending descent to Bourg Saint Maurice. After about 45 minutes of quad hammering descending and my toes jamming into the front of my shoes on every step we made our way into the town. It was much hotter down in the valley and I was lashing with sweat and seriously thirsty. The crowds were out in the main street clapping and cheering and since I was running with the first lady the cheering was extra loud which took my mind off how bad I was feeling for a few minutes. As soon as I got into the aid tent, though, I realised I had to eat here or else. The menu was the same as before but there was some noodle soup which I tried but I just couldn't stomach it. I was wretching as I tried to force some down, so again it was a BIG cup of coke and off on my way. I felt terrible, running on empty was a timebomb waiting to go off and I knew I only had a few more miles before I crashed and burned. As I left the busy town contemplating the 1400 metre climb ahead and hit the quieter trails I started walking, I knew I'd had it, a low wall next to some houses in the shade looked so comfy so I sat down and wondered what next. My options were 1- get a taxi to Courmayeur; 2- beg a lift from a local back to the aid station; 3- lie and sleep behind the wall and hope this was all just a nightmarebut before I got a chance to decide a runner came past, Italian I think, and encouraged me to follow him. I started behind him and kept pace for a few miles but ran out of gas as the trail steepened and started walking again, it was then I decided I would finish this, as long as I could stay upright I'd walk to the finish. One of the things which kept me going was the beautiful scenery as I was climbing higher more and more of the mountains were coming into view, it was just stunning.

I started to wonder why I was missing all this scenery just to run in some race looking at my feet all the time so I sat down at the side of the trail, put my feet up on a rock and had a nibble on a sweaty dog biscuit I'd stashed in my pocket. Runners were steadily passing me now, some asking if I was ok, one or two even stopping to sit for a breath or two and take in the scenery too. This was the pattern for almost 4 hours, walk, sit, enjoy the scenery, chew on a sweaty Bonio biscuit, then eventually I reached the top. The Col Petit St-Bernard was the Italian border, the wind was blowing and it was cold. A large bonfire was roaring and spitting sparks, this wasn't a place to hang around long. I took out my scrap of paper with the race profile on and had a look, a 600 metre descent was next, then a 300m climb then a 700 m roll down the hill and a wee climb to finish, 25k in total. I'll try a jog down the descent, see what happens. I seemed to click into it here and started passing people, I knew that the race website was tracking me going through checkpoints and that people at home would be seeing my collapse so far (48th place now), so I thought maybe I could put on a bit of a resurrection here. By the time I reached La Thuile at 90k I'd taken 14 places, my target was to pull back 20 by the finish, surely that would be around where I was before my 'collapse'?

I was flying on the descent through the woods, the lights down below getting closer and closer, 17 people I'd passed now as I crossed a bridge into a car park. I could hear the music, people clapping... wait another 3 runners ahead, I sprinted hard past them to the finish... hang-on another marker... a winding street... up into the woods... I looked at my scrap of paper, oops still 4km to go, now I felt awful. My stomach heaved as I puked on the trail, run 100m, puke or dry wretch, run 100m this was the pattern for the next few km. I could see the torches behind, they will be working hard to catch me, the nutter sprinting at 102km. I was so glad to see the markings on the road in Courmayeur 500m to go, still managing not to lose any places I crossed the line in 24th place in 17 hours 16 mins then wobbled, shook, puked and was escorted to the medical area.

By the time I got back to Chamonix it was 4am, I managed about 4 hours restless sleep then was up and getting ready to watch out for the UTMB'ers coming into the finish. First in was Drew looking far too fresh for having ran for 39 odd hours, then Brian and Tommy together then George, Davie and Michael. It was really amazing to watch the finishers coming in, very emotional, if you don't want to run this one then I'd thoroughly recommend going as a spectator for what is a really positive, life-affirming experience. Big jugs of beer later on only enhanced our life-affirming positivity.

George at the finish
We never saw Scott Jurek again after that, I heard he finished 20 something ish, a bit down the field for him, with the UTMB giving him a bit of a going-over just like it did to the random Scottish punters.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie - Update

I made it!

The UTMB organisation delivered yet again with this superb new race. It was like Stuc a' Chroin, The Ben, Glen Rosa, Jura and Borrowdale all rolled into one with some trail added in for good measure. The route was really quite technical with loads of rock hopping, scrambling and even some scree running. I finished 24th from 632 starters in 17 hours 16 mins.

I'll post a full report soon. Some good pics of the route HERE

Brian, me, George and Drew showing off our gilets... ooh la la!!

Friday, 28 August 2009

July and Everything After

The 4th of July, appropriately enough, was the Dollar Hill Race. Two weeks after the West Highland Way Race might have been a bit soon to be attempting to re-enter the world of spit and snotters hill racing at its much faster pace than ultras but it's just along the road and what else am I to do with a sunny Saturday afternoon? It was on the climb up Kingseat Hill when i realised that cutting the grass might have been the more sensible option and on the descent down the other side, as my uncomfortable Walshes were forming a nice blister on the bottom of each foot, that I came to the conclusion it was too soon to be racing full-tilt again and my quads were really going to take their revenge. I reached the finish only a few seconds slower than last years PB but for the next few days I paid for it by putting myself back about a week in recovery terms and no amount of McVities Chocolate Digestive consumption was going to make up for it. I tried though.

A week later, having not managed much running due to my trashed quads, I was off to Chamonix. The plan was to run the UTMB route over three days with Lucy and Andy R who would join us after his race at Seirre Chevalier. Day 1 was the big day, Chamonix to Courmayour, about 50 miles with 10 000+ feet of ascent. We had to crack on at a good pace to make sure that we got there before dark and most importantly in time for food. By the time we got to Saint Gervais, about 15m into it, it was clear it was going to be a tough day for me. Lucy was bounding along bursting with energy whilst all I wanted to do was lie down somewhere and sleep. I filled up my Camelbak with water and Coke and hoped this would perk me up a bit then we headed off and promptly got lost. I was really losing the will to live at this point, wondering if I could get a bus to Courmayour or something, but there was really no option but to plod on. We ran with a French guy for a bit who got us back onto the route to Les Contamines where again I had to stop and down more Coke, strawberry milk and cake as locals and tourists stared at the two of us. The route started to get steeper and less runnable now and the more it did the more energy I seemed to get, the cake was kicking in. It was amazing to be running this part of the route in daylight since it was dark when I raced it, the scenery was incredible and it felt great to be running in such an amazing place. The long descent into Courmayour was made bearable by the thought of good pizza as we had now crossed over the border into Italy and it was a pleasant surprise to discover the place we had booked into was a lovely luxurious hotel. I don't know if they were as happy to see us though, standing in the reception area all dusty and sweaty from 14 hours of running, but it's not an understatement to say I was glad to be there!
Day 2 the plan was to run on to Champex, a shorter distance of about 25 miles but some huge climbs. It was a real treat though. I was starting to really enjoy the running now, flying down the descent from Grande Col Ferret was fantastic! We flew down the trail, with snow capped peaks and glaciers all around what better a place to be.
Day 3 began in style at the best bakery on the UTMB route. It's owned by Leon of Petite Trot a' Leon race fame and his family, and boy do they know how to put on a breakfast. After stuffing ourselves with food and coffee we were off into the final section back to Chamonix. Another day of some of Europes best trails followed with Andy and I racing each other on the descents and some lung busting climbs with the odd wrong turn thrown in for good measure. We stopped for lunch at Vallorcine, as it was getting really hot, filled up with water then it was off over La Flagere and back to Chamonix and the end of 3 fantastic days running.

Just over a week later and I was passing by Aviemore, Scotland's version of Chamonix only cheaper and with a good chippy, on the way to the Dufftown Highland Games to do the Ben Rhinnes Hill Race. This has become a bit of a habit now as I've done the race for quite a few years now, so it was good to be lining up on the games field again with the sun shining down on us for the start. It's a very runnable route for a long race so it's fast going, but this time I felt in much better shape and took 9 minutes off my PB. All that Alpine air must have done wonders!

Next up on the training plan was a run from the Linn O' Dee up the Lairig Gru to Aviemore and back. I set off a bit late in the day, about midday, and felt pretty trashed by the time I got to Aviemore so decided to get some chocolate milk, coke and crisps and let them do their magic before starting back. I sat in the warm sunshine and before I knew it I'd drunk a half litre of choco milk, half litre of Coke and some water. As i waddled off back down the road my stomach was protesting vigorously so I thought I'd better sit down on a grassy verge and let things digest, and in the warm sun I somehow fell asleep for an hour. I woke up, looked at my watch, jumped up and started running. It was a couple of miles down the track when I realised I was going the wrong way so after doubling back eventually got back in the direction of the Gru. I was thoroughly knackered when I got back to the car, the detour had meant my the distance was exactly 45 miles and it was pretty rough running in sections too but what a day to do all that in a oner! (And get a kip in too!)

As I lined up in Tyndrum 7 days later at the start of The Devil O' the Highlands Race I was a bit worried that the Gru might still be lingering in my legs but this is one of my favourite ultras so I was raring to go. The pace was fast to start so I dropped back and just got into my own groove. I ran along with Peter H a fellow Carnegie until just before Kingshouse, it was Pete's first ultra and he was going well. Then George C passed me and I knew it was game on. I chased hard past Kingshouse and planned to pass him then disappear into the distance up the Devils staircase but George was much too strong for me this time and he made the climb look easy as he passed me and I disappeared into the distance... behind him.
I still managed a good time, 6:07, but was about 12 mins slower than last year.

So, here I sit, back in Chamonix waiting for tomorrows TDS race. It's part of the UTMB only a shorter race at 106km and 6700m of climbing. I've been here since Saturday doing a bit of running and trying to get up high to acclimatise. Yesterday I spent all day up the Auguille Du Midi which is 3800m. I was joined by a few other WHW'rs George R, Drew S, Davie and Sharon, Hugh Kerr also. It's amazing how light-headed you get up there, especially when Sharon asked me if I was looking for a good time! Of course she meant in the race! Well I'd love to run well in this one but I'm wondering if I've maybe pushed it a bit far recently. Soon find out.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Saying Goodbye

The West Highland Way family turned out in force yesterday to say farewell to Dario, coming from far and wide to pay their respects. It was a very emotional day, so many race tops, buffs, and T-shirts.

Every now and then I would forget for a minute and expect to see him with flourescent top and big smile, clipboard in hand, running around.

During the service his sister, Diana, asked us to pick a memory of Dario and treasure it and remember him that way. Well, mine would be from the night run we did just a couple of weeks before this years race. I ran on ahead of the group over Conic Hill and down to the car-park in Balmaha where Dario was waiting to meet us after his run. It was after 3am and my torch beam caught sight of his flourescent jacket and as soon as he recognised me he started chatting away, he laughed and said "I don't know why I'm doing this, I'm not even running the race!" then he beamed and said "yes, but it's great fun, isn't it?" And it was.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Thanks Dario

The West Highland Way Race has taken over my life for the past five years so I was really sad to learn last week of the passing of Dario Melaragni who has been responsible for organising the previous ten races. He also organised this years Cateran Trail Ultra, one of the loveliest, friendliest wee races I've had the pleasure of taking part in. He even hand-drew each runners race number! That says so much about the man and his attention to detail and just how much he loved the sport of ultra-running in Scotland. They don't make them like that anymore, he'll be missed by many.

The hand-drawn race number from the Cateran Trail

Dario presenting me with my prize at this years WHW race
(pic by Alan Young)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The West Highland Way Race 2009

Sitting down in Lochaber Leisure Centre with a poly bag between my feet throwing up and shivering uncontrollably as people mill around hardly batting an eyelid. I might not have looked it but I was happy. Elated in fact. Not only because I'd been thinking about the finish line and having a good puke for hours now, but also because I'd got there faster than I'd ever thought I could on my own two feet.

Team Carnegie (well most of us!) at the start

Before the race I had felt confident of knocking a good bit off my previous best of 18 hours 27 mins, I had even written out some splits for the dream time I thought I could do one day with a wind behind me and all the luck in the world on my side. Whisper it... 17 hours. But quicker than that was beyond me. Or so I thought.
I was really nervous at Milngavie as I queued for registration, seeing some familiar faces and trying to avoid getting into conversation with anyone because I felt so uptight. As I waited race director Dario came over and told me to introduce myself to the TV people because they might want a few words with me, oh no, I thought. After collecting my race number I went outside, was put in front of a camera, waffled for a few minutes about I don't know what (bound to end up on the cutting room floor...please!) and then I was changed into my kit and off to the start.
My plan was to run near the front but to be careful and not get pulled into the early miles too fast. I was running with Adrian D and Paul H and we were to stick together for about 35 miles being joined by George C and swapping places all the way, pushing each other on.

pic courtesy of Alan Young

At Balmaha (20 miles) I was feeling good but a little concerned that I was going too fast. I decided to stick with these three guys though because the pace felt comfortable. I chatted with Adrian on the way up Loch Lomondside and said to him a couple of times that I was going way too fast for my split times but I felt ok so would stick with it. Through Rowardennen at 27 miles and I still felt fresh, grabbing some mashed potatos and ketchup, a full drink bottle and some sweets and off again. The midges were terrible here, they seemed to cling to the hair on my legs and the itching was driving me nuts. The good thing was it made me run hard to try to create a breeze, I'm seriously considering shaving them for next year though! As I was running I was thinking about how bad I felt at this point last year, how I had been so close to DNFing, should I be more cautious and cool the pace or roll the dice and risk blowing it? I had to go for it, if I wasn't going to push myself to the very limit in this race then when was I? I would keep pushing myself to the very edge and if I ended up in a mess then I'd deal with that when it happened. George and myself were pretty evenly matched and Paul and Adrian are experienced runners so if the pace was ok for them then it was ok for me I thought.

I passed through Inversnaid hardly stopping to grab my drop bag, I asked how far ahead the leaders were and was told about 10 minutes. It was my clubmate Scott B and the Dutchman Jan Albert who were up-front, neither of them had completed the WHW before, so I felt ok about running comfortably behind and just trying to keep in touch.
As we went through Carmyle Cottage I noticed Adrian had dropped off the back and as I left only George was chasing behind. We swapped places a few times going over the hills above Crianlarich then as we crossed the main road I ran hard to try to open a gap but George wasn't for letting go and was only a minute or so behind at Auchtertyre.

This was my crew change here. Lucy and Ken were taking over from the night-shift of Mark and Neil who had done a great job of moving me through the checkpoints with maximum efficiency. This was a crucial point in the race for me, all the good work of the last 50 miles could be lost with one bad section, which is what has happened to me in previous races, it was really important for me to be taking on food as well and I was relying on Lucy and Ken to manage this for me. I had my first real stop of the race here, maybe about 3 minutes, to shovel in some mashed tatties and ketchup and get a refilled drinks bottle then it was on my way again. My stomach was being good to me today as well, which was really significant. I had been eating well, with a little potatoe about every hour or so and sweets and energy bars too. I had to make sure I didn't let that slip though.

As I passed through Tyndrum I grabbed a few more bits of food and hit the track for Bridge of Orchy. The last few years I've ran this section hard so I wanted to do the same again and I knew on the long stretches you can see a mile or two in front so I might catch a glimpse of the front two if I'm lucky, that would give me a real boost. The mileage was starting to bite, I was running hard and George was right on my tail so I knew I had to keep this going if I didn't want to slip back a place. As I ran toward Bridge of Orchy train station I was met by Ken and Lucy with a tray containing virtually one of every type of food I had but, you guessed it, they didn't have what I wanted. I was feeling quite sick at this point but because I had ran the last hour or so hard my energy reserves were low and I had to eat something. Lucy ran off to the car to make up a Complan drink and Ken tried to persuade me with all sorts of things but the thought of solid food just made me feel sick. I gulped down some complan at the car and took a few biscuits but ended up throwing them away, I was managing to eat Shot Bloks and Fruit Pastilles though so that would have to do.

Over the hill and down to the Inveroran Hotel and George was still right behind me so I decided to hammer the mile or so tarmac stretch and try to move out of sight of him. A quick fill up of my bag at Forest Lodge and then I ran up the track towards Rannoch Moor. This section was what I had decided beforehand would be the crux of my race. I fell apart in a big way here the last two years and was determined to stay strong this time. It was getting warm too and the sweat was pouring off me and soaking my top, I reached for my bottle as I should be drinking small amounts constantly to stop getting dehydrated. Damn! I'd forgotten to pick it up! Ok, I thought, the only way to solve this is to get to Blackrock Cottage as fast as I can and get a drink there.

I ran the climb steadily then as it levelled out I really let go, still no sign of anyone in front as the track stretched out into the distance, surely I must be getting closer running at this pace. I pushed on until I rounded the bend above Glencoe and I could see a figure moving fast in the distance, surely that was Scott in front. This gave me a massive boost when I needed it most, the hairs on my neck stood on end as I realised I was in this race now. I reached the car and had to take 3 or 4 minutes to get some food into me as Lucy told me I was catching the two in front and her and Ken sorted my bag whilst giving me words of encouragement. The role of the crew is so important at this stage in a race because I find I'm so "stripped down" physically and emotionally that any positive or negative things can have a huge effect on me. Their enthusiam was really driving me on at this point.

As I left the car and ran through the Kingshouse checkpoint my body was feeling bad, I was having to concentrate to maintain a proper stride but my mind felt so strong. I was sure I was going to catch the leaders now. As I left the short stretch of tarmac after Kingshouse, climbed the short section then arrived at the road again, Lucy and Ken met me and made sure I ate some more, gave me more positive words and off I went up the Devils Staircase. I kept a good steady pace here, powerhiking the steep climb and as I looked up I could see Scott with only a small gap between us and above him I could see Jan Albert. Game on! Scott seemed to be moving very slowly and Jan Albert not much faster, I was instantly energised. I wasn't going to do anything crazy here though, there wasn't any point in blowing myself to bits to catch up so I'd just keep it moving nice and steady. As I got to the top I could see Scott about 50 yards below so I let rip on the descent and caught him up. He was really struggling, saying he was out of it and talking very negatively. I told him he was fine it was all just peaks and troughs and told him to hang on and we'd run into Kinlochleven together. He responded and we ran strongly over the rocks and down the never ending, knee buckling descent into KLL.

Scott and I on the Lairig Mor (pic courtesy of Tim Downie)
I was really feeling it now, but the adrenaline was pumping as Ken and Lucy told me Jan Albert was only a few minutes ahead. There were also camera crews buzzing about asking questions and seeming to be fascinated by my mashed tatties and ketchup which I was ramming into my mouth and trying very hard to swallow before joining Scott for the last big climb of the race onto the Lairig Mor. I've ran this section loads of times in training so I was starting to see the end in sight now. We powered up the climb, I was battling with my stomach but I was also determined to keep the pace going with Scott for this last section. As the track flattened out as much as it does over the Lairig Mor Scott and I got into a good fast rythmn and as Jan Albert came into view it spurred us on even more. Walkers were giving us encouragement and telling us he was about 7 minutes in front as we pushed each other on but as we got about a mile from Lundavra I started to crash, badly. I told Scott to go for it and I battled with my body and my mind but I couldn't make myself go any faster.

I stumbled into Lundavra and Lucy and Ken were shouting that it was all to play for, they were only 5 minutes or so in front. I was destroyed though, I told them I was struggling and was in mid-moan when someone else pitched in and said something, I can't remember what, but it hit home and I took off my bum-bag emptied it on the ground, grabbed a bottle and ran up the hill absolutely fired-up again!

I looked at my watch as I left Lundavra, 15 hours 15 mins it said. The slowest I'd ever done this section was 1 hour 50 mins and the fastest was 1 hour 15. Sub 17 was definitely on and sub 16:30 a possibility and if I can catch up with the other two....

My quads were screaming on the downhills, the pain was getting really bad. I could still run hard on the uphills and the flats though so I just kept pushing on along the ever undulating track until I reached the new bulldozed track section then I knew all I had to do was grit my teeth and let gravity pull me down to Fort William. I remembered it took me about 30 minutes from here last year and looked at my watch, 15:55, sub 16:30 was more than on!
I passed Alan Y taking photos and he told me Jan Albert had been passed by Scott but he was only a few minutes in front, my mind had wondered elsewhere though. When I first became aware of the WHW race and started to think one day I might be able to do it, I remembered how I had looked at the race record at the time of 16:26 and thought what an amazing record that was. Could I run inside that old record?

I ran through the Braveheart car park and passed George's wife and son and gave them my bumbag, then hit the road as hard as I could run. I stared straight ahead trying to put every ounce of energy I posessed into moving myself forward, the tarmac was agony on my legs but only a matter of minutes now, the speed limit signs, the roundabout then the clapping and cheering as I reached the Leisure Centre and the sounds of the piper meaning it was all over. It was all just a blur, Lucy and Ken were there to congratulate me and hold me up, I said no to the quaich of whisky this year, I wasn't going to need that to be sick this time.

My finish time was 16:24 exactly and 3rd place.

A special thanks to my support crew of Mark and Neil on the nightshift and Lucy and Ken who took over, you made it all possible and without your help, encouragement and inspiration I couldn't have done it. Also to Dario and all the volunteers who make this race possible, all the other runners out there and the walkers who encouraged us along the way, a big thankyou to all of you.

...and next year?? I've got a new time in my head but I daren't even whisper that one....

Sunday, 21 June 2009

West Highland Way Race - Update

Just a quick post to say yesterdays West Highland Way Race went like a dream. I ran a time I'd never in my wildest dreams believed I could do, 16 hours 24 minutes, beating last years PB by 2hours and 3 minutes! It gives me the 4th fastest time ever!

It was an amazing race to be involved in with 95 miles of real racing, competing for places and pushing each other to the very limits. I finished in 3rd place and now need to go and lie down in a darkened room and let it all sink in..... (report to follow)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Sunday Adventure Club Summer Special!!

Yes, it's that time again! It's about 12 degrees outside and there's a few glimpses of sunshine between the showers... it must be summer! So, here's the action packed Summer Special, full of tales of running adventures and even including a free gift! Just put on a pair of running shoes and get out the door and you'll find your very own adventures... completely free!

It's been an action packed May, with a race every weekend. Starting with Stuc a chroin as detailed in the last post then it was up to Blairgowrie to run the Cateran Trail 23 miler. I hadn't intended to do it since the plan was to cut out the racing and save myself for the West Highland Way Race but after speaking to Pete the night before I decided to run it at training pace. That was never going to happen was it?! I did for the first 14 miles but I got sucked in and raced to the finish in 2nd place, about 3 mins quicker than my previous best as well, so I was quite pleased.

The next week it was back to suck wind at the Cateran Trail but this time to run the 55 mile ultra. I was a bit wary of this one because the terrain is really tough and there's also about 8000 feet of climbing which climaxes in a 1500 foot climb at mile 53! I started off quite conservatively and it wasn't long before the rain was lashing down making underfoot conditions rather heavy to say the least. I was running with George C for most of the race and with 7 miles to go we were neck and neck. I made the mistake of not stopping to get food out of my bag when I needed to and paid for it with the worst "crash" I've had in a race for many a year. I was absolutely destroyed for about 3 miles and by the time I got it together again George was long gone and I was checking over my shoulder regularly for the runner behind, but no-one appeared and I finished again in 2nd 13 minutes behind George. Incidentally I had given up caffeine 10 days before the race and I'm sure this affected me, I just felt like something was missing (not food of course, lol) so that was enough to send me back to my 3 pints of Starbucks a day!

My race number and lovely hand-carved trophy from the Cateran Ultra

Next up Victor and I went up to run the Cape Wrath Marathon, the most Northern marathon on the mainland UK which goes across to the uninhabited Cape Wrath peninsula and involves 2500 feet of climbing and also a boat crossing at 22 miles! It was a very enjoyable race which I ran pretty well, managing to narrowly escape hypothermia on the boat crossing and finished quite strongly in 3:08 and 3rd place. A very beautiful and spectacular setting for a race. The next day Victor and I headed down to the Cairngorms for a cracking run over to Loch A'an and up Beinn Mheadhoin, it was nice and sunny but still quite cold. We met the usual sour-faced walkers who seem to frequent the Cairngorms, I just can't work it out, there's nowhere else in Scotland where you get such looks of disgust as you pass people. Most of them obviously disapprove of us heading out into the hills in shorts and trainers and choose to show their disapproval by scowling at us as we say hello, they just don't get it do they?! I remember one day running over the Lairig Ghru with Victor and we passed a couple coming the opposite way. Victor passed them and as I approached the guy was staring at me very strangely. As I said hello he said "your mate hasn't got any manners has he?" I told him he'd need to speak to him about that and before I knew what was happening him and Victor were verging on a full-on fist-fight! I quickly ushered Victor on but the bloke kept shouting and screaming, winding himself up into a real rage, so to give him something to rage about I took the nuclear option and dropped my shorts bending over to give him the full moon greeting at which point he almost exploded and we trotted off in the other direction chortling heartily. Pity I hadn't thought about the fact that we were doing an out and back route! There was no sign of him on the way back and I think the sight of my arse would have deterred him from making anymore trouble anyway.

Running down to Loch A'an

The racing has been knocked on the head now but I've had a few decent training runs. Last Friday night I met up with some of the guys from the WHW forum and we ran a 20 mile night run from Milngavie to Drymen to prepare for the 1am start of the WHW race. It's a kind of acclimatisation process, I'm hoping my body is going to get used to running in the middle of the night but it's debatable whether it does any good or not. After the run we arrived back in Milngavie at 3.30am and I managed to drive as far as Harthill services where I had to stop for a short sleep, next thing I knew I woke up and it was 7am! Not a very pleasant nights sleep!

On the Sunday, Lucy and I went up to Glen Tilt for a run in the glorious sunshine as most of the country basked in a heatwave. It was an amazingly scenic route following the river through the glen to the suspension bridge where we cooled our feet in the water and lazed in the sun for a while before running the 11 miles or so back to the car, then down to the river again to cool off the fried quads. Lucy took great amusement from the fact that I keep an emergency pot of jam in the glovebox of the car (the second person to comment on this in a few weeks!) I reckon it makes good sense to have some jam to hand in case of an emergency food bonk, all you need is some oatcakes or a couple of rolls and you're back on the road in no time!

Last night I ventured out for another night run, this time with the twins, Fiona and Pauline. What a change in the weather! It was about 7 degrees and we were drenched on a regular basis with the heavy showers, it was more like winter this time but I felt much better this week so maybe I am "acclimatising".

So, less than two weeks to go before the biggest, toughest ultra in Scotland. I'm absolutely busting to get going. I feel in good shape and races up to now have went pretty well so all that remains is to keep a lid on things, lie low and get stuck in there. I might post a few words before then in way of a preview, so till then behave yourselves or I'll be over to give you a big Ballingry moonshine!!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

A Boot in the Trossachs

Last weekend it was up to the Trossachs for the Stuc a' Chroin hill race definitely my favourite hill race. It has special memories for me since it was my very first hill race back in 1998. I was convinced, by a few hillwalking mates who had dipped their toes into the mysterious world of going-up-hills-even-faster-in-a-competitive-manner, that it would be a good idea to just turn-up in my road shoes with a bum-bag borrowed from my Dad which he got so he wouldn't look like a tourist whilst on holiday in the USA. It was a lovely sunny day, as it always is for the Stuc, I remember the summit never coming, then when it did, wondering how I was going to get back down. I remember losing any power left in my legs just before the last chin-scraping climb and fighting off cramp all the way up it, then getting to the top of the two mile track to the finish and being in such pain all the way down. When I got home I felt too ill to eat and went straight to bed. I've been hooked ever since.

So for the 11th year, (I missed one due to a dislocated shoulder) with a car full of eager Hillbillies, I was battling back up through Callandar, fighting my way through the cars filled with excited bank holiday-ers on the hunt for the Trossachs' best bargain tartan blanket and matching fridge magnet. This years journey was without incident, unlike last year when I was spectacularly pulled over in the main street packed with thimble hunters after stopping about 5 miles south of Callander and taking a slash in a bush. Sherlock Holmes read me the riot act whilst blocking all traffic heading north and probably caused fridge magnet sales to hit an all-time low for a good ten minutes, it's reassuring to know they're on the ball though.

We quickly registered, picked up our souvenir mugs and got ourselves to the start line. It was a huge field this year because the race was included in the British Championship, there was runners from all over the UK here and I saw a few familiar faces like IainR who had ran the Fling last week too. Once we got going I took the pace nice and easy until the track levelled out then I tried to push on a bit to get a decent spot before the field narrowed into single file for some of the climbs. The 1500 foot climb up Ben Each was as hard as always with everyone nose to tail climbing up through the rough heather then when it eventually levels out a bit the legs are so thrashed it's hard to get some running rythmn going again. I felt fine on the climbs but I really lacked strength on the descents and my brain seemed to be lagging a bit behind my legs today which wasn't good with such tricky terrain to negotiate. I made sure I took on water each time I passed the marshalls because it was quite warm and I was sweating buckets. Up to the summit then a big effort to hold it together on the descent to Glen Ample before the chin-scraping, quad busting climb back up again. As I hit the track I could see I was catching fellow Carnegie clubmate Pete so I pushed on and passed him and made the finish-line with about 100 yards on Pete, but missing a pb by a mere 16 seconds.

We were both trashed at the end with Pete writhing around on the ground with cramp, so the only cure was 10 minutes sitting in the freezing river. The Hillbillies came down too but thought the river was for washing in and just looked at me strangely as I sat submerged talking of the therapeutic benefits I would be reaping in the morning....

Friday, 1 May 2009

Highland Fling Race Report by 2nd placed Scott Bradley

I've managed to persuade Highland Fling runner-up and Carnegie club-mate Scott Bradley to let me put his race report on the blog, it's inspirational stuff, here it is :-

Here's my longest log entry ever...

Saturday 25th April PB - Montane Highland Fling Race 2009

For me the excitement started well before the race – probably about Wednesday in fact, when it finally sunk in that in a few days I’d be attempting to run a relatively stupid distance along the West Highland Way. Friday night was fun, final preparations with my dad, deciding what to put in each “drop-bag” labelled Balmaha, Rowerdennan, Inversnaid and Beinn Glas. I was trying to imagine how crap I was going to feel at each of these places, what fuel I could cope with (or more optimistically, crave!). I soon realised I had absolutely no idea so gave myself a fairly wide selection in each (from obvious choices such as energy gels to wacky alternatives like honey-roasted peanuts and crisps). On the day it was my stomach that would choose and a fussy bugger it was too.

Getting up at 3:50am on Saturday was the worst part of the whole adventure, but a couple of hours later, arriving at the Milngavie Station carpark on this still and misty Saturday morning, the pre-coffee grogginess was overcome with excitement (and coffee). What a pleasant morning to start out on a long journey – no nasty wind, cold nor rain. Not bad for West-coast Scotland in April. Caught some of that pre-race energy from all the other runners, a buzz of nerves and anticipation. Watched the girls & the vets set off at 6am, time seemed to accelerate from that point on – I was queuing for a portaloo when the whilste was blown for the pre-race muster. In the end I had to run from the portaloo to the car, grab the way-too-shiny-for-this Camelbak, negotiate the trackie-bottoms past the shoes then get to the start.

And so off we go jogging through the mall then out into the park, and within that first mile a pack started to form ahead and I decided I wanted to be part of it. Dropped back briefly for a chat with Duncan McGougan then very slowly caught them back up, relishing the chance to run in a group at a pace where it’s possible to enjoy the scenery! Already I was hooked – this is what I had hoped Ultras would feel like, or at least the first part of them, cruising along and enjoying the journey and company of other runners as I watched the misty scenery of Strathblane glide seemingly effortlessly by. Clearly it was mindless-optimisim to expect it to feel that way to the end, but I figured the wheels would come off when they came off, tough shit I wasn't going to ruin the moment by worrying about it now. Id run through Strathblane once before with Gail & Co on a gorgeous frosty morning last January - everything coated in hawfrost. Today it looked very different, but equally gorgeous. One image sticks in my head now - a mirror-like Loch with mist hovering over it, pine forest poking out of the mist, weak sunshine hitting the hillside behind.

Had the MP3 with me, never used it. Had the garmin on, never looked at it (until the finish), had no idea of the pace or time at any point and good job too it might have psyched me out (I was sub-7min/miling in places en-route to Drymen). I was wearing an old pair of Nike Zoom Elite road shoes instead of the trail shoe's I'd invested in and worn only once before. Never really felt right in them, and didn't like the stupid studs on the bottom, I found I kept catching roots and rocks with them probably due to my adopted marathon-runner's shuffle.

Started chatting to Kenny Valentine along the old railway line in Strathblane, miles seemed to be flying by. The lead group was about 100m ahead, I didn't realise Jez was amongst them until Kenny pointed him out, actually I had no idea that was the leading pack at all as I had assumed Jez had flown off ahead after some chap that had set off at 10k pace. Oh well, again didn't let that psyche me out the pace still felt easy. After a couple more miles the marathon-running mentality took over again though and I started to very carefully close the gap on that lead group and drag Kenny alongwith. We hit the tarmac (yee ha!) the gap was now closing way too quickly but what the hell, top of the second rise and I had rejoined the pack and got a wee buzz from it. My next thought was "My God we're in that field near Drymen already!". I didn't know how long we'd been running for but it didn't feel long at all (and yet somehow I've still managed to write half a book about it).

Unfortunately my inexerpience let me down at Drymen, I didn't realise they had a water supply for runners there and went right through. So I found myself running alone about 10 yards behind Jez who also hadn't stopped, perhaps he has a camel impant, or more likely a super efficient back-up team or drop-bag and had acquired a replacement wastpack pre-filled with water. Not to worry, my legs still felt like I was just starting out on my morning jog to work, and I observed how keen the rest of the pack was to get back in front of me so I let them and had a sneaky powergel, leaving the others to open those annoying gates for me up into the forest. I noted I was feeling strong on the hills, but held back. Jez darted off for a piss and I saw a couple of the others respond by stretching it out a bit, again I left them to it. As soon as I hit the downhill before Conic Hill, gravity took over and I was almost-accidentally back with the leaders. When Conic Hill finally appeared ahead it was lit beautifully in weak morning sunshine, at which point I realised I was really looking forward to climbing it! What a pervert! My God what was happening today? Perhaps just one of those rare lucky days when everything just feels right and in tune? Anyway, whilst I spent the next half-mile fighting with a packet of jellybabies (and losing), the green top of Allan Smalls began to move quickly ahead up onto the moorland. I stuck to my slower pace (now trying to extract jelly babies having made an inadequate small hole in the plastic) and as the other two came past as if to chase Allan I was wondering where the hell Jez was.

Jez was "conserving" it seemed. Which is also what I was doing without really realising - my mantra for today was "run at whatever pace you can still enjoy". It was a very simple mantra, it matched my goal for the day, and it obviously worked really well for me. As soon as I hit a prolonged gradient (an extreme example being Conic Hill) I'd find myself working hard, the enjoyment would drop, I would drop pace accordingly and therefore I was cruising and enjoying myself again. Besides, I'm usually very strong on descents and I knew this.

Right enough as soon as I was over the crest beyond the Saltire Flag I let gravity take me back to the leading pack, forgetting a couple of times I wasn't wearing mudclaws and having a few Nike Zoom moments, but no harm done I got down to Balmaha at the same time as the others, and Lynne was standing there she gave me a real boost simply by saying "You're doing really, really well!". I replied "Yeah until the wheels come off", my expectation was that this would happen somewhere between here and Rowardennan, but I'd had so much fun today already I didn't care, I'd just deal with that when I had to. For now I had to hunt for my bloody drop-bag. Where the hell is it? Ah that's it. Now I had to get water in the shiny camelbak. Help! And some lucozade sport. Let's also try a Kelloggs Nutragrain (and let's not try a Kellogs Nutragrain again - yuk). Eventually got going again but only to find my camelbak pouring water on me. Another minute went by as I fumbled with the screw-cap for a while, and much to my surprise Jez had only just appeared at Balmaha, again with his camel implant he seemed to go straight through and so I tagged onto him and here started my education of how the master does it. I got such a buzz from this, what freaking right did I have to be here on the West Highland Way running with the legend himself? His pacing was excellent as well, I didn't need to rely on my mantra for the hills cos he just walked up them gently. We ran like this all the way over the multitude of sharp rises and falls that exist along this section of Loch Lomond, and I loved every minute of it. I've done a few training runs along here before and found those lumps surprisingly tough going, but today felt easier than any of those for some reason. Jez darted off for a pit-stop and I said "Good idea" and did the same, but when I noticed his pit-stop was a bit less simple than mine I decided not to wait and head on gently. Actually I got to Rowardennan and he hadn't caught me, but as I was doing my usual 2min camelbak faff beside my drop-bag (and being very grateful for those wonderful helpers at the drop stations), Jez did his usual and stormed straight by. He was out of sight by the time I got going again. I reckoned that was the last I'd see of him anyway. Not to worry. I was now running up the prolonged uphill along a wide forest track, passing the occasional 6am starter and exchanging encouraging banter (what a great attitude everyone has!), twice I had to tell myself to ease off.

I was in 4th place at this time, but didn't really think about that, there was way too far to go and my main aim was get to Inversnaid as comfortably as possible. I soon realised a 7am starter was ahead judging by the relative speed. As I gained on him I recognised his top from earlier, Andy Rankin (Thinking back now, the speed with which I caught him suggests I was probably pushing myself too hard along this section). I came alongside and started chatting. At this point we came alongside Mike Thompson who must have recognised my voice as he looked over and shouted. It was a great boost to see a familiar face, he pointed out that Jez was only about 2 minutes ahead (and has since told me that on hearing this I started to pull away from Andy - was there some crazy subconcious ambitious racer lurking beneath my mantra? It was subconcious if so, but I won't deny it). Off on my own again, but still feeling good. I got onto the rocky singletrack and enjoyed its wee ups and downs, Allan Smalls came into view ahead, seemingly going through a bad patch and I came past and said hello but at this point we were moving at very different speeds. Descending down to the bothy, my legs still didn't mind the abuse. Finally saw Inversnaid ahead and as I started climbing up to the bridge beneath the waterfall and I saw Jez for the first time in a while, he had just descended the steps and was into the carpark. Again I have to commend the efficiency of the crew here at the drop-bag station, really appreciated it. When I started to run again I half expected my legs to feel like concrete, but thankfully they were still happy. Great. The "mental section" by Loch Lomond was ahead, and my frame of mind was to look forward to it rather than fear it. Sure enough I enjoyed the gnarliness (don't care if that word doesn't exist, it seems appropriate), just got stuck in, ducking branches, swinging my weight over rocks, plenty to keep my mind busy. Although I can't deny the relief I felt when I hit the turfy flat section near the end of the loch.

First sign of fatigue finally got to me as I hit the ascent up the hill before Ben Glas. It was just a warning sign, and if I'd read it I might have saved myself a wee bit of trouble in the latter miles, but nevermind I ran all the way up that hill (I bet Jez was smarter and walked a couple bits) and enjoyed the rush of reaching the top knowing it was downhill to Ben Glas. As usual I waited until I had an audience (couple of walkers) before going head-over-arse on a rock. Got down to Ben Glas and loved the cheering supporters there - I was asked "How come you look so fresh?" and I don't care if everyone else after me was asked the same, it was another wee boost! Here was my biggest mistake today though - not filling the camelbak fully. I underestimated how far it was to Tyndrum from here (the ascent up Glen Falloch drags the distance out significantly especially when your legs have done 40+ miles). My stomach hadn't been interested in solid food and I had a single gel left. Oops.

I set off from Ben Glas and slowly the enjoyment began to fade. The scene ahead was bleak - yellow tussock grass with a wide landrover track that wanted to go uphill in a succession of sharp rises. My mindset changed. I was no longer here to enjoy myself. I was now in a race. There hadn't been one moment in the whole day that I thought I might be able to keep up with Jez - and I think that's a good thing given the circumstances. However, it occurred to me that here I was, in 2nd place, with only 10 miles to hold-out. Yes, racing mode was engaged and now I was concentrating really hard on keeping moving, without panicing, trying to find the optimal speed now, not the optimal enjoyment. I didn't dare glace behind me, not until I got to the rise before the bridge at Derrydarroch when I chanced a brief look back down Glen Falloch. You can see literally for miles behind, and I didn't see anyone. Relief. Are you sure? Another glance, a few dots noticed, perhaps one of them is... I got a nice clap as I came to the bridge, and another one as I came up the nasty rise to the A82. "Which way?" I shouted, "up here?" I asked as I started going up a dirt track onto the old road. They nodded and beckoned me on excitedly as if I was about to miss a departing train. That's kind of how it felt at this time. Don't blow it son. You've done really well. But don't blow it. Oh the joy.

Managed not to decapitate myself using the dwarve's tunnel under the A82, then straight onto the sharp slope where I told myself "Jez will have walked this so you should too." I think I was learning the bloody psychology of ultra running. At this point I noticed my camelbak was empty. I had taken my last gel. I was in trouble now. And it was uphill to the forest. I looked ahead, the cow track seemed to stretch uphill for miles ahead. In the distance I saw a white dot moving towards the forest at the top. That was the last I would see of Jez until the finish-line. But at least I saw him. I got to the kissing-gates into forest myself about 7 minutes later (pure guess), suddenly realising how ridiculous it was to be wearing a helly hansen on this warm sunny day. I didn't need my mantra to tell me to walk up the steep hill after the gate, there was no longer any choice. Yet there was positivity still there, I'd turned "the corner" and was on "the final straight" as far as I was concerned. Downhill all the way to the road and the river I thought. (Liar!). After riding the rollercoaster trail through the forest and emerging at the A85 I could swear I was smiling again. Bad timing (or perhaps good) as I was forced to stand at the roadside watching half of Scotland's holiday traffic follow a caravan towards Tyndrum. Then through the horses field and over the bridge, I was moving smoothly again now the gradient was level. I will never forget that wee boy at Auchentyre Farm standing out there on his own to shout encouragement at the crazy runners coming by, "Excellent running!" he said, and in my fatigued state it was almost emotionally moving. Through the farm, more nice support, then onto tarmac. Tarmac! You have no idea how my Nikes responded to that - I swear I was sub 7min/miling. I was flying. As I crossed the A85 for the last stretch to Tyndrum, having glanced behind enough to know I was still 2nd, my glee was suddenly replaced by paranoia that I was going to throw my achievement away by drowning in the 6 inch deep river or braining myself on a tree.

As if on queue, I had my first cramp on the final sharp rise after crossing the river. "Not now" I said alloud. "Nearly there". I had to focus on shifting my stride pattern slightly and relaxing my legs, I was seriously dehydrated (the brown urine an hour ago said as much) and so the cramp could easily bring me to a standstill. (Addendum: its now Thurs night as I type this and I still carry an injury in the right calf which I suspect may have happened during that cramp). Thankfully my leg responded positively. And so over the bare hillside by the old lead mine and into the trees by the river. Wow. I'd freakin well done it. Past "By the Way" cabins, up to a style. "What's your number?" I was asked. "Three, zero, six" I shouted, remembering the instructions in the briefing doc. Then onwards down the trail to the final 1 inch-deep river I might drown in, looked up, and my God there's the flags ahead (Richie Cunningham's bouncy castle), and that's the finishing straight. There are the people waiting to welcome me back to the real world. I was definately smiling now. There's photos to prove it. And so I finished, and finished in a very unexpected time. I looked at my garmin for the first time since the start. 7:33 it said. It meant nothing to me at the time, it means a lot more to me now of course. But forget that. The most important thing about today was how much enjoyment I got from running those 53miles - and I'm talking about the actual "doing" here, not just basking in the "having done". As I said in my "thank-you" email to Murdo and Ellen, this was a day of fond memories that will stay with me hopefuly forever. (if not partly thanks to this ridiculously long log entry).

Scott Bradley 2009

Thursday, 30 April 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

Tonight I decided to take the Pink Panther for a spin through to Kinross for the 10k. A few squirts of lube juice, pumped up the tyres and we were off. She was loving it, the first time she's been out the garage this year!

The Pink Panther (yeah, yeah I need to tidy the garage...!)

I thought I'd just use the 10k as a tempo session for this week but yep, you guessed it, I couldn't resist racing it! It was pretty painful to start with, going at that pace, and when I glanced at my watch for the first time and there was only 10 minutes gone I had to double check I hadn't pressed stop by mistake. After that I just got my head down and started to feel pretty good about half way, even taking a few places.

I wasn't the only nutter there either, my clubmate and fellow Flinger Sid James also ran and finished just a few steps behind me. We're a hardy bunch us Carnegies!

I finished in 30th place in 38:34 which probably means I've no hope of a pb at Stuc a Chroin on Saturday but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it!

A massive spread of cakes awaited us at the end but unfortunately I had no lights on the Pink Panther so I just rammed my mouth full of cake and left... apologies for my terrible manners.

I must also mention all the comments on the Fling report and say thanks to everybody, it's very much appreciated that you take the time to read my nonsense!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Flings Can Only Get Better...

... And they do! In every respect, and even a pb every year for me, what more could you want?!

As I said in my preview post I wasn't sure if I was going to suffer because of all the big mileage I've been putting in and in the end I don't think I did, but I don't think it's improved me much either... yet, it's all miles in the bank for the West Highland Way race in June, that's the plan.

The Highland Fling has got to be the best value race in the calender. It is superbly organised and is run over a course which tests a whole range of skills, with the flat and fast 13 miles to Drymen, the very technical sections up Loch Lomond and the hilly miles at the end. This means that judging your pace is really important and also a bit tricky. Go out too fast and you'll pay dearly later on, as I found out. I think if I'd dropped my pace a fraction up to Drymen I'd have been much stronger on the Loch-side, something to remember for WHW.

The new system of staggered starts was implemented this year with the Ladies and Super-Vets going out an hour earlier which meant we got to hunt down women and old people to get to the beer and stovies first at the finish. This turned out to be really good with loads of encouragement from everyone I passed and seeing friendly faces gave a real boost at some of the low points.

For me, there was a few of those.

My stomach was bad from the start, and just got worse as the race went on, with numerous pit stops in the woods giving temporary respite, but the worst thing was I just couldn't eat. I think I ate about 6 gels and some sweets on the 53 miles along with my energy drinks which sloshed around in my stomach like a washing machine on full spin cycle, all I could think about for most of the race was crossing the finish line and having a real good spew!

That wasn't to be though.

The Crazy German had other ideas as, with about 5 miles to go he overtook looking fresh as a gänseblümchen. I already had swapped places with Iain R about 20 times in the race and he wasn't for letting go so potentially I could drop another place and who knows, were the cavalry fast approaching from behind? So, I decided it was now or never, let go on the descent to the A82, passed the Crazy German, and hoped I could keep the pace going to the finish. I never saw anyone behind me after that, and believe me I had a few glances over my shoulder, and managed to hang on until the river just before the end where I started to cramp up quite badly but the sight of the bouncy castle spurred me on and by the time I realised it wasn't a bouncy castle I was finished. The energetic finish had, ironically, sorted my stomach out so it wasn't long before I was enjoying the complimentary stovies and beer. A pb of 8:18 and 1st team prize rounded off a great day.

Thanks to Murdo, Ellen all involved in the organisation, to Debbie and Silke for the encouragement and to all the other runners and supporters for making it a great day on the trails, also to the club who generously put me up in the bunkhouse and provided a great feed as well!

Report on Scottish Athletics Website