Sunday, 22 July 2012

Clyde Stride Ultra relay 2012

Saturday brought only my second relay race in my few years of running. I had managed to pull off a long awaited parkrun personal best the Saturday before with a time of 21 minutes and 10 seconds, bringing me even closer to that sub 21 minute dream and leaving me feeling positive about the Clyde Stride!

I had been looking forward to the race all week, reflecting back on my memories of my only other relay race, the Three Lochs Way. I had great fun at this event, moving from checkpoint to checkpoint watching all my team mates coming in and completing their legs of the race before getting to run myself. But, as luck would have it, the day before race day and the cold had developed throughout the day while at work. I was expecting to wake up on Saturday morning and feel terrible. Things were not too bad and I managed to wake up before my alarm and get a good pre-race breakfast in. Its a strange feeling being up for a race before 7am and not actually running to around 2pm in the afternoon...the wonders of relay! I headed off to our usual weekend running meeting point, the infamous carpark 4 at Strathclyde park.

My team mates Pat, John, Neil all seemed just as excited as me on the morning of the race. We headed off to the registration area in Partick, Glasgow leaving Neil behind as he set up the Strathclyde parkrun signs. Neil was running the 3rd leg of the relay which starts just outside the park so he was able to give a hand at parkrun and even squeezed in the 5K run as a 'warm-up' (running it in 21.51, although much slower than is usual 18 minutes!). Pat, John and I reached Partick just in time to collect our numbers and head over to the pre-race briefing.

It was a great atmosphere at the start, my first experience of an Ultra Marathon. It was hard to understand that most of the runners were running the full 40 miles, and probably not much slower than it would take the 4 of us! After a few quick safety points and last minute directions we were led up to the start line and ready to say good luck to our first team runner Pat!
The horn was sounded and everyone was on their way in the heat of the sunny Saturday morning. It was a quick dash back to the car and with John's dodgy navigation skills we made our way to the first checkpoint in Cambuslang.

John was running this next leg, known to be the most difficult to navigate with a few patchy areas that runners could easily end up going the wrong way. John reassured me that he had an 'idea' of where he was going!

We arrived in plenty of time, enough time in fact to have a wonder around the local supermarket and purchase some compulsory Jelly Babies, no race is complete without them! Heading over to the first checkpoint John had a quick warm-up, thinking that he was running down the first 200m of his leg it became apparent that his navigation skills are questionable when he doesn't have Moira by his side. He had missed the first turn and was heading the wrong way...luckily it was just a warm-up! We waited in anticipation as the first few runners started coming through. This first leg was mainly urban and around 10 miles. Pat had gave himself around 1 hour 20 minutes to complete the leg and John and I both thought he was underestimating himself and would be in much quicker. With the heat of the day Pat wasn't far off his estimate and John was soon on his way to Strathclyde park!

Pat and I made our way back to the car and along to the next checkpoint. It wasn't long before Neil made an appearance and was ready to run. It was great to see a few regular parkrunners who had came up to support the team at the transition. John wasn't long in meeting us at Strathclyde park and managed to pass 37 runners along the way (not that he was counting!). This was great news for us as the next leg our secret weapon was running!

Neil was off like a rocket and it finally kicked in that I was next to run! The morning really had went in so quick, starting at 9am we were now around lunch time and the temperature had dropped with a slight breeze coming in. The convoy headed back to the water sports centre to get a quick bite to eat and off we went to Maudslie bridge in the clyde valley.

Neil made light work of his 10 mile trail leg and even managed to get us into 3rd place in the relay race! I didn't have much time to congratulate him as it was time for me to run.

I made my way along the hilly 12 mile route concious that I had the pressure of trying to hold on to 3rd place. Neil had a bit of steam left to let out as he ran behind me for the first 4 miles of my leg. This was going to be a hard run, the flat sections seemed to be short, the gradient increasing and hills becoming more and more frequent. There was the added challenge of the long grass, gates to contend with and my favourite...mud and puddles.

It wasn't long before I had caught up with a couple of the ultra runners who were tackling the whole distance. I did the polite thing and held back for a short distance before they gave me the all clear to pass safely, giving them a quick pat on the back and a well done. This wasn't the case for the whole leg, I was passed by 2 relay runners within the first 4 miles. I had surrendered to 5th place as they gradually disappeared ahead of me. The main aim now was to finish in a respectable time.

I had great support along the route as my team mates Pat, John, Neil and Moira had stopped at key points along the way, updating me on our position and how strong I was looking (I didn't feel it, I was exhausted). It must have been around the 7-8 mile mark of my leg when I was told 'your 3rd relay'. Part of this race is about running, the other part is about navigation. There are quite a few twists and turns along the way and you can easily take a wrong turn, adding miles onto your run. I could think of at least 3 points where I nearly went the wrong way, guessing this is where the two runners had ended up going and giving us the advantage of moving back up to 3rd.

I made my way into New Lanark just at the right time, a wedding making its way into the hotel so I was running to bagpipes. My average pace definitely sped up at this point. A quick loop of the falls of clyde path and I was heading for the finish!

I crossed the finish line and it was confirmed that we had held on the 3rd place in the relay race, I was delighted! It wasn't long before the rest of my team made an appearance, I must have ran faster than expected!

This race has to be up there with my favourites. The route, the set-up, the setting and the pleasure of sharing the experience with our team makes this one of those must do races of the year. There is something about a relay race that makes it just that little bit more enjoyable than your regular solo run. Knowing that your team mates are relaying on you gives you that edge to really push yourself and when its all over you are sharing that runners high with your team.

Taking 3rd place was brilliant but the real prize was in the sharing the experience with friends. I can't wait to next year!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Troon 10K

Sorry I have took over 2 weeks to post this, the joys of night shift. Wednesday 9th brought the Troon Tortoise 10K, my favourite race of 2011! I arrived at the registration area at around 6.45pm, evening runs are always interesting! I had not long finished a roast chicken dinner so running fast was not in the plan. My wife Rachael came along to give me some support, as did the rest of my family although, they travelled separate and I didn't actually get to see them as they left early at the end but I am told they were there, cheering. I met a few fellow parkrunners Ally, Jon and Jim. We headed down to the promenade to line up for the start of the race just before 7.30pm. The organisers had zones for people to gather in in relation to their predicted time. My last 10K race was in January and I ran in around 46 - 47 mimuntes so I was aiming for around that time. This was my first race since the marathon last month so it felt good to be in an event, this 10K actually attracting 1100 runners. That's almost double the Lochaber marathon numbers! The predicted time zones appeared to be very tight, I was sandwiched between the 50 minutes and the 45 minute posts but as we were directed to walk forward I found myself in the 40 minute zone, no chance! The horn was sounded and we were on our way, the weather was perfect again with the sun shining and a light sea breeze. I ran the first KM in about 4 minutes 10 seconds, way faster than I had planned...but I felt good. I maintained the pace, with the idea that I could slow down as I felt tired as I wasn't too bothered about time. I made my way around the relatively flat course hovering between 4.10 and 4.30 for each KM. I had reached the half way point in exactly 22 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised with this, my 5KM PB is 21.31 so I was running quick. I kept going, I knew that if I could maintain this then I was on target for a big PB. At around the 6KM point I found myself running behind a female Bellahouston Harrier, I noticed that she was keeping a good pace for the first half of the race so I thought that if I tagged along I would overcome any mental fatigue. It wasn't until about the 8KM mark that she noticed although by this time I think it had turned to me pacing for her. She told me that I was 'pulling her through', I laughed and told her that I wasn't pulling anyone and she was pushing me. The friendly banter was enough to get me through the next couple of KM maintaining my pace. I asked her if she had a target time and she told me she was aiming for anything under 44 minutes. This was a good sign that I was in line for a massive PB! I had got to the final KM and I told myself not to look at my garmin and just go for it. The last 800m felt so long, it was a long stretch along the promenade with runners darting passed me. I could see the finish line and just gave it everything and went for it. I heard Rachael shouting and looked over to see her on the side lines. I felt as though I was running as fast as I could, my legs felt heavy and my breathing just as heavy. I pushed to the line and crossed in a new PB of 44.01. I couldn't believe it, I hadn't ran in 2 weeks and this was my longest run since the marathon over a month ago! I smashed my last PB by well over 2 minutes. I have learned a lot from this race, it has gave me the determination to really stick in at my training as who knows what results I could be getting with the right effort! I have the Loch Ness Marathon in September, I am going to be running mainly middle miles through the summer (between 12 - 16 miles) with lots of 5K recovery runs. I expect my 10K time to come down even further through the summer, so watch this space!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Lochaber marathon

After the success and surprise of the Inverness half marathon last month, running a comfortable 1hr 46min I told myself that I was just going to head up to Lochaber the following month and see what happens....

So, I have had little to no training at all for the last 10 weeks after a diagnosis of 'runners knee'. A common injury which was caused by the ITB muscle becoming very tight and pulling my knee cap out of position. This caused severe pain when running and forced me to slow down and eventually stop running for many weeks. I did keep up my weekly jog leader duties with my jogscotland group, consisting of around 2 hours of running every Tuesday night, but no real hard or long running.

We headed up to Fort William on Saturday morning to meet my parents who had arrived the day before. The weather was very changeable on the road up; hot, cold, sunny and it was even snowing on the drive through Glencoe.

Once we checked in at the Ben Nevis Hotel I was surprised when my 2 year old niece knocked on the hotel room door, more family making a surprise trip up to support me on this, my first marathon!

I was feeling confident the night before, I knew in myself that I would finish and I had come to terms with myself that time was not going to be a factor in this race. The aim was to finish and enjoy the experience. We had a lovely dinner the night before in the hotel followed by an early night!

Race day! I managed to get a great night sleep and felt ready for the race. We had our breakfast at the hotel. My dad force fed me rolls and toast until I was about ready to pop. I don't think I actually ate that much but for me, its hard to eat before a race and at this point I began to feel a little nervous about the event.

After heading back up to the hotel room there wasn't much time for lazing about, time had crept up on me and it was a bit of a rush to get my running gear on before the 11am start. I checked and double checked that I had everything before leaving for the start line.

We had a pre-race briefing in the Nevis Centre, being pleasantly informed that 'there will be first aiders and ambulance services out on the course....they just haven't arrived yet'. Not that I was expecting to be using the services, I just would have felt a little reassured to know they were going to be there...eventually.

We were piped out to the start line and after a few quick waves to all my family who came to support I was on my way.

My mother-in-law gave me a good tip to try and talk to a few runners around you near the start as when you start to struggle in the big miles they will be there to give you support. I started talking to a lady I was running next to. She told me that this was her first marathon in over 10 years and, with very little training was just hoping to finish. I mentioned to her that this was my first marathon and had also managed to avoid training due to injury. I could swear that was all we said to each other and before I knew it I ran passed the first mile marker. I remembered saying into myself 'slow down!' but I looked at my garmin and we ran it in just under 10 minutes...slow enough.

After a few quick turns left and right we were onto the main road and my only target in mind now was the half way point. The route is a straight 13.1 miles out along the main road, turn, and head 13.1 back. The weather was ideal for running. Clear blue skies, nice cool temperature with only a slight head wind on the way out. My dad told me from his marathon experience that the first 16 miles will fly by. I found myself running alone for most of the route and I think this made the miles last a little longer. I drew strength from the stunning surroundings, looking out along the waters and the towering hills around us. The sun was bright enough to make it feel like a perfect summers day but we had the shade of the trees to protect us. If this wasn't such a scenic marathon I don't think I would have kept the mental strength to run all that distance alone.

Between mile 10 and 11 the front runners began to pass me. I thought it would have been sooner than this and was looking forward to seeing some of the elite club runners. A lot of runners are put off with 'out and back' courses and can find it disheartening to see how far behind you are but for me, I love running. I love watching people run and you often miss watching the elite or fast club runners when you are taking part in the event. So the 'out and back' gives me an opportunity to watch others running, and running well.

I had reached the turning point, a small collection of marshals standing in the middle of the road shouting 'just run around us and head back'....easier said than done! I had ran the first half of the marathon in a comfortable 2 hours and 2 minutes. Faster than I had planned but I was happy with the thought of 'I just need to run that distance again'. I knew from that point that my knee would probably begin to play up as this was my longest run since the Inverness half marathon 4 weeks earlier. But, so far so good!

I had passed fellow parkrunner Ian Devoy in the early miles. Again, with the hope that as I began to struggle in the big miles he would scoop me up with some words of encouragement. It was around mile 15 or 16 that I began to hear Ian's voice in the distance behind me. I knew that I had been running around 9.10 per mile and had now slowed to a more comfortable 9.45. Ian was running with a fellow Strathaven Strider and knew they would have maintained a slower but steadier pace for the first half. As Ian got closer I realised he had a small crowd with him. I spoke to Ian for a while, he reported feeling good and he looked and sounded like he was coping well with the experience. I reminded him that not too long ago when I first met him at Strathclyde parkrun he told me that 'running a marathon is just stupid'. Yet here he was, running strong and keeping a good pace.

I couldn't maintain the pace with Ian and it wasn't long before a good gap had found its way between us, I did notice that some of the other folks that were running alongside Ian had also slowed down. For the next couple of miles we all passed each other back and forth as we struggled with our pace.

People often talk about hitting 'the wall'. It has been described to me in various forms. Some people have told me its like all the energy in your body just falling away from you, others talk about your legs just turning to jelly or being as heavy as lead. Well at mile 19 I was preparing myself for 'the wall'. It never came.

I told myself before the race that the aim was to finish it, the only outcome that would disappoint me was not finishing. Time was not a factor in this race. At mile 19 my legs started to cramp up. This was the first time that I began to think that I might not finish. My mind was in the right place for this run, I had a positive mental attitude and was determined to finish. But, when your legs begin to cramp up at the same time its difficult to just keep running. Two fellow runners had stopped just ahead of me, they too appeared to be trying to stretch off some bad leg cramps. I held on to a tree to try and stretch my left quad and as I did this my hamstring when straight into cramp and I felt a large knot at the back of my leg. I slowly tried to straighten my leg and as I done so my thigh went back into cramp. I began to panic as I couldn't put my foot on the ground and had to keep my leg up and slightly bend in order to stop the pain. I hobbled a little and gave a few deep breathes before walking off the pain.

From here on in I had a struggling walk jog to the finish. The next 7 miles would be the slowest miles I have ever ran, the most painful and yet I enjoyed these 7 miles the most. I had used all the water stops on the route, running passed and grabbing a bottle of water at each of them. The last few water stops were time to replace all those lost fluids and I just kept hope that these cramps would pass.

It was a slow battle with cramp coming and going yet mentally I felt strong. Mile 20 I told myself 'I've just ran 20 miles' at mile 21 I repeated the process and again at 22. I used mile 22 to send a quick text to my wife Rachael to let her know that I was safe and was going to finish. I had a long jog and a short walk between miles 19 to 22 but on mile 23, 24 and 25 I managed to jog the whole way. I knew that I was going to finish and no amount of cramping was going to cause me to stop now.

The last mile was the only point on the whole course that is even worth mentioning a hill. It was a small incline that in any other run you would probably not even remember. It was located on a footpath and at the top were the houses I remember running through at the start. The organisers saw the funny side of this and had took the time to spray paint on the path 'great place for a hill' however at the top they had painted some words of encouragement. I would love to say that I powered up that hill but I can't. My thighs were burning and my calf felt as though they were ready to rip at any moment. I struggled up the hill and made my way through the streets of houses. It was a strange feeling to have people just getting on with things, washing the car, in the garden and here was me, fighting a physical battle with myself. Maybe this is 'the wall', although I am not convinced. I think with the right training this pain would have been avoided. But strangely, it was all adding to my experience. I ran passed an elderly gentleman who was pottering about in his garden. He gave me the biggest of smiles and asked, 'was it a full marathon?' I replied with pride 'yep, a full marathon'. This gave me a little moral boost and I pushed on. In the distance I could see my sisters partner. He was waving and started to walk towards me. This was the first time in the whole race I felt physically exhausted. I think mentally I began to think I was finished. He started to run along side me pushing me on around the corner were I saw my dad. The cramps in my legs began to return and I had to stop and walk despite being a few hundred yards from the finish. I think I must have started to run too fast when I saw my dad and it caused my legs to go again. He ran up along side me and started to tell me 'you've done it, you are there'. I pushed on and picked up the pace.

The last 100m were emotional, tears came to my eyes and I felt totally exhausted. I was on the home straight and I had a large support shouting and cheering for me. All my family had come all this way and stood in the freezing cold to watch me cross the line. I gave it my all and started to run as fast as I could crossing the line in 4 hours 37 minutes.

I often hear people say 'never again' when they talk about marathons. I myself said it as soon as I crossed the line, hugging all my family. Its a strange experience. The pain and torture to run on agony and empty seems to just add to the experience of it all. Its only been 24 hours since I completed my first marathon and yet I find myself looking online at marathons in the autumn.

I learned from this that the saying is true that you can achieve anything you put your mind too. If I wasn't so confident mentally that I was going to finish this then I know I would have pulled out. I also learned that running isn't about PB's and how fast or how long you can run. Its about enjoying yourself, taking in the whole experience and everything around you. Its about listening to your body and knowing when you can push yourself just that little bit further when you think you haven't got it in you and when to hang back and take it easy. My time of 4.37 isn't any record breaker and, if I had trained properly I probably would have managed those bigger miles a little better. But I wouldn't change anything about this marathon, I loved every minute of it and its been a totally unforgettable experience.

Special thanks to all the organisers of the event!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Buchlyvie 10K and beyond

Saturday found me in the small town of Buchlyvie, which is just outside Stirling, apparently.  Thank goodness for satnav because my running calendar would be pretty bare otherwise.

I had been to parkrun in the morning to carry out marshalling duties so walking to one of the further away marshal points and back was my only real warm up as the weather was terrible once we reached Buchlyvie.  I was accompanied by Strathclyde parkrun event director and fellow Sunday squadder Ally Robb who used the heating system in the registration hall has her warm up.  This would be her first race since the New York marathon.

I asked myself a number of times on the way to Buchlyvie, 'why am I doing this' as the rain and wind hit the car on the long journey but as soon as we reached the starting line I remembered why.  As the 225 runners all huddled together at the starting line and celebrity chef Nick Nairn sounded horn, I remembered why.  The camaraderie of the run, exploring the back and beyond of tiny little towns that you have never heard of, recognising those runners that you often find yourself running along side in more than one race and the will and determination of moving up the field rather than slipping down it.

I was originally not going to run at race pace with this run but before I knew it I had completed the first KM in  4.34 and felt comfortable.  The run started off on the faithful tarmac roads, firm underfoot and minimum risk of going over on an ankle, but that quickly changed.  With a sharp turn off the main road after a slight incline the route followed a disused railway line.  This had conveniently been covered in a clay substance which when wet, turned into thick, deep mud.

The weather was completely against us on the day, strong side winds which was forcing the horizontal rain right into my face and making it difficult to look ahead.  This along with trying to avoid the deep mud puddles made the next 8 KM more than difficult.  The trail underfoot was heavy and hard to run on.  If the mud and puddles were not as bad it made it even more difficult as there seemed to be more rocks and boulders to contend with, I went over on my ankle twice as did most of the runners around me throughout the race.

I had reached the turning point which was a sharp turn around a traffic cone and the long road back along the same path, if you can call it that, that we had just run along.  The wind had now turned also and it was a complete head wind for the next 4KM, thankfully the rain had calmed down.  I had found myself maintaining my pace through the whole race, completing the 6 KM in 4.37 and 7KM in 4.34.  This was my fist race since the Strathaven 10K which I paced pretty poorly so I felt strong and confident that I had managed to maintain a steady, consistent pace throughout the race.

Finally coming off the trail path and back onto good solid tarmac I found I was pushing myself up the field, in fact this is the first race that I never actually had anyone pass me and managed to crawl up the field quite well.  There was a small incline on the way back and I took this as an opportunity to make my break from the 3 - 4 runners that I had been running along for the last few KM or so.  This worked well and before I knew it I was turning passed the school and onto the home stretch.  I hadn't even glanced at the official timer as I passed it and I had even forgot to stop my Garmin so was unsure of my time.

I stood at the sidelines and cheered all the runners coming in with a special well done to Ally as she crossed the line.

The official time was 46 min 27 sec and came 68th out of a field of 225 runners.  That makes a new PB for the 10K distance, shaving 30 seconds off my time, not bad in the conditions.

Monday, 9 January 2012

just a little update

So I haven't quite given up on running!  The Marcothon challenge for me failed miserably, giving up on day 7 and pointing the finger of blame at 'hurricane bawbag'.  I did however take something invaluable from the whole 7 days of experiences, learning to run while on night shift.  It was also my first real experience of running in some serious snow.  I will give it a go again this December, I'm also hoping to try it before then in one of the more weather welcoming summer months.  December was a major set-back for my marathon training, running very little but I am determined to get back on track with things.

Cross-training has stepped up in my training plan, I've set up a small home gym with some weights, cross-trainer and kettlebells.  I'm trying to cross train at least 3 times a week on top of my running, so far so good and it seems to be helping out with my regular injury prone spots.  Really enjoying the kettlebells, only just started working with them but it is a great workout and you can squeeze a lot in, in just 20 minutes.

I had a enjoyable run at Strathclyde parkrun this Saturday, no pacing and no pressures of trying to set PB's.  I had an easy 6KM warm-up before the event with a flat lap of the loch.  The weather was wet and windy but it didn't bother me, it is good to just be back out running.  The main event kicked off and I quickly got into a comfortable pace.  It was strange not running in a pacer vest, I didn't have half a dozen people around me the whole way round.  It did feel like a bit of a race and it wasn't until the last 2KM that I realised that I had actually been running at a reasonable pace.  I recognised a few of the regulars running in front of me and could judge that I was in the 22 minute bracket.  I pushed a bit on the last 1KM and fended of the 3 or 4 runners that I was conscious of coming up on me at the 400M point.  I managed a top 20 finish, coming in 18th with a time of 22.08, no record breakers but it was a morale boost for me knowing that I hadn't lost all the speed in my legs.

photo by Fraser Connal

Sunday was a run with Moira, Ally, Neil and Tony or the 'Sunday Squad', missing of course John, who unfortunately had to work.  It was a hard intervals session with a 5KM warm-up followed by another 5KM but with 3x1KM efforts.  The pain didn't stop there, we had 6x200M sprints with recovery, this included me making my usual mistake if giving too much effort in the first 200M and really struggling with the other 5!  Then to finish it all off an easy lap of Strathclyde park, about 11 miles in total covered on Sunday and bringing me up to nearly 30 miles for the week.

Today I made a long overdue trip to the sports therapist for a much needed sports massage, my usual tight hamstrings and quads made the session a little 'uncomfortable'.

So things seem to be getting back on track, no more room for hiccups and 100% effort needed to see this plan of a completed marathon being achieved..... 

Next race is the Buchlyvie 10K