Thank You

Just a quick additional post to say thanks to everyone who has read any or all of my 14 posts over the past 3 months approx. When the opportunity to write for The Running Bug came up, I jumped at the chance and then, after that initial post, I have to admit to worrying about what I had got myself in to! Could I write consistently informative, entertaining or even just semi good posts? Hopefully you will have enjoyed reading them and have your own opinion on whether I have managed to achieve any of these aims. My wife, who I can rely on to be (sometimes brutally!) honest, describes some posts as good and some as ‘not so good’ (a.k.a. bad???) so I hope you will stick with me into 2012 on what promises to be an amazing journey. Hopefully I will get the hang of things as the year progresses and entertain you with my efforts to join ‘The Family’ who have completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race.

Let me know if there is anything you want me to cover specifically. There are a few people who I would consider to be experts in the field of running and, I have to say, I am about as far removed from them as I can be! I am no expert and, if there is a hard way to do something, then that’s generally the way I will do it. On the plus side, I am constantly learning, and if there’s anything that I can share that will help others along the way then that’s all good.

To finally get to the point of this additional post: I was shocked to be shortlisted for ‘Runner Bug Member of the Year’ & ‘Blogger of the Year’ in the Running Bug Awards 2011, especially given the competition. Best of luck to my fellow Running Bug members & bloggers – I certainly don’t expect to win but I am honoured to have even made the shortlist. I just want to say a huge thanks to all those who nominated me. I was on the bus home from work when I received the Awards email and, logging in to vote, just about fell off my seat when I saw my name there in the options!

Just to let you know, this post had an initial working title of ‘Thank You Running Buggers’ which, at the time (my 6 a.m. Christmas Eve run), seemed appropriate but now, back in the warmth and putting slightly more thought in to it, seems slightly less appropriate lol!

So, it’s Christmas Eve and I am writing this with red hot legs from having run out in the cold. I woke at 5 a.m. and could so easily have got back to sleep. I decided, however, to hit the trail and test out my new Hope Vision 1 Adventure head lamp with its 240 lumens of power (an early Christmas present). Anyone looking out their window this morning onto the old Formartine & Buchan railway line that I run up would be forgiven for thinking that the trains were back on! That’s a reference to the high degree of illumination of course, and not the huffing & puffing of me ‘steaming’ along! I felt a lot more confident in my surroundings thanks to the greater spread of light and the sheer intensity of the centre point and I am looking forward to getting back out there for more late night/early morning runs. Those of you who read my blog regularly will no doubt appreciate how delighted I was not to bump into my old friend ‘Mr Owl’ this morning :o)

I think it is time for a nice relaxing soak in the bath until my better half wakes, at which point we can start on the Christmas festivities. I will of course be sneaking out in the wee small hours again tomorrow morning so that I can fulfil my Marcothon commitments, taking me up to day 25 of the Marcothon and 55 days of consecutive running.

I have one last post for 2011 which I hope to put online before New Years Eve. I hope you will join me for this.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone :o)

The Running Bug Awards 2011

After only 3 months blogging for The Running Bug, I am delighted to have reached the shortlist of 4 in the following categories:

  • Runner Bug Member of the Year
  • Blogger of the Year
  • Image of the Year (Taken at the top of the Devil’s Staircase, Glencoe on a training run)

Thanks to everyone who nominated me, it is much appreciated :o)

Voting is open to Running Bug members at:

  • (Voting now closed)

I don’t expect to win anything as the competition in all categories is stiff but I am delighted to have reached the shortlist and especially after only 3 months blogging at The Running Bug. I look forward to continuing to write for The Running Bug in 2012 as I look to attain my goal of completing 7 ultras including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race.

An Accidental Tourist

New post at The Running Bug, ‘An Accidental Tourist‘.

I am just back from a 5 day break in Edinburgh. I managed to keep up my Marcothon commitments thanks to 6 a.m. runs, taking me up to 50 consecutive days of running and up to Marcothon day 20.

On the plus side, I am chuffed to have made it this far and I am sure that I will manage the remaining 11 days that will take me up to 61 days of consecutive running. At this point I have to admit that the runs are definitely getting more difficult. However, I am a man on a mission and, I have to say, it is a good feeling and also a world apart from where I was this time last year when I let anything and everything get in the way of my running.

My early morning runs in Edinburgh saw me take in everything from Calton Hill, to the Scottish Parliament, the Royal Mile, The Castle, Princess Street and assorted surrounding streets. Given that I ran so early, I perhaps didn’t get the best views of the aforementioned attractions.

However, I was back and ready for breakfast before the rest of the family got up and, as such, my running commitments did not impact on the holiday as far as they were concerned (unless, of course, you count my nodding off midway through whatever we were watching on TV).

I can, at this point, safely say that I am training on battered legs – tight, tense and with a few niggles creeping in. As daft as this might sound, I hope that it will help me to better prepare for my planned ultras. With no days off, there is little or no opportunity for recovery and, as such, I am effectively recreating that feeling towards the later stages of an ultra when the legs would do anything not to keep going.

I do plan to take the 1st January off before resuming a slightly more normal training regime. Looking ahead, I don’t want to take too much time off as this impact negatively on next year’s mileage total!

With 7 ultras in total planned for 2012, including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I know that I need to get things just right this year!

I am back at work now but only for 3.5 days and I am already planning some longer runs to take advantage of the Christmas break. I think I will have to take a leaf out of RunDeeMC’s book and try an ice-bath or two to try and aid recovery, especially once I start pushing the mileage again.

I have also taken delivery of a Hope Vision 1 head torch, an early Christmas present, and am looking forward to getting out into the forest for a run tonight to test it. With 240 lumens on max power I sincerely hope the improved field of vision will result in a smoother run and greater avoidance of obstacles!

My time in Edinburgh reminded me of my participation in the Edinburgh Marathon and, also, of what can only be classed as a cautionary tale about becoming an ‘accidental tourist’.

I was no stranger to Edinburgh, having frequently spent summers there visiting relatives as a child. I had ‘done’ the Castle, the Gardens, the Royal Mile and so forth on so many occasions previously.

However, given the gloriously sunny weather, I became an ‘accidental tourist’. I was accompanied down to Edinburgh by my girlfriend (now wife) and her brother and together we spent approximately 10 hours wandering around Edinburgh, visiting the various attractions on offer.

At the time, I didn’t think twice about spending so long trudging around Edinburgh in the beating sun. The fact that this was the day before my first marathon did not set off any alarm bells.

It was not until a race post mortem back at work that it dawned on me that this was perhaps far from the best preparation for running my first marathon. However, this was but the first of my pre race faux pas that weekend!

Arthur’s Seat, at 823 feet (Thanks Wikipedia!) offers an excellent panoramic view of Edinburgh. Having explored the royal mile and Scottish Parliament, we set off up Arthur’s Seat, taking the longest of the various options to reach the peak. With its close proximity to the centre of Edinburgh and popularity with both locals and tourists alike, Arthur’s Seat has been ‘polished’ by the footsteps of all those who have climbed it and, particularly around the peak area, the rocks exhibit an unusual sheen. I correctly anticipated that this would prove slippery underfoot and, mindful of the impending marathon, placed every foot with precision. Having taken in the view, we then set off down the slopes above Dunsapie Loch. At this point, with my guard now down, I slipped on loose gravel and over extended my leg in my efforts to avoid falling completely.

I did not think too much of this at the time and we continued on our travels, walking back in to Edinburgh to spend some time in the gardens.

It was not until the next day once the marathon got moving and I started the motion of running that I realised the damage that I had done. My first marathon and I had only gone and added to the hurdles that I needed to overcome for a successful finish!

The 22C heat would have tested me sufficiently but the addition of a knee injury made for a painful first marathon experience and, by mile 20, I was reduced to a slow run/walk strategy.

I finally crossed the line in a time of 04:49:23.

Looking back, I should have had the sense to rest up rather than walk around the city. Had I not done this then I might also have avoided my unfortunate accident on the way down from Arthur’s Seat which, of all things, likely impacted most on my race day performance. However, given the beauty of Edinburgh and the gorgeous sunny weather it seemed like the right thing to do.

Wherever I go, I always like to explore it with a run. However, these days, any running I do is tempered by whatever events lie in store as I don’t want to repeat the mistake of becoming an ‘accidental tourist’ again!

Preparing For An Ultramarathon (Part 2)

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Preparing For An Ultramarathon (Part 2)‘.

This follows on from my previous post, Preparing For An Ultramarathon (Part 1)

Just by way of a disclaimer, all of the following is based entirely on my own personal experience, that of a ‘plodder’ whose main aim is to finish. What works for me may not work for anyone or everyone else but my 4 main elements are sufficiently broad that they should be applicable to all in some way.

My 4 elements are as follows:

  • Training
  • Nutrition
  • Kit
  • PMA (Positive Mental Attitude)

The Kit

Having the right kit makes all the difference. Some races, like the Devil O’ The Highlands, have a minimum kit requirement which can make it a lot easier to determine what is required. However, most races generally leave it up to you what you do or do not take with you.

I suppose the safest assumption, especially for a plodder like myself, is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. If all goes to plan, most of the kit will never leave the confines of your bag. However, you have the safety net of having it there, just in case. In the event that things do take a turn for the worse, having the kit to hopefully help you get through it should certainly impact positively on your frame of mind.

Setting the above aside, you also have the problem of finding out what works for you.

I have to admit to having gone through a variety of rucksacks and bumbags before finally settling on my essential kit. I sold my unwanted kit on eBay and put the money to use in paying for new kit. Just because it didn’t work for me, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will not work for others.

Whilst not a complete kit list, I have found the following items in particular have worked particularly well for me:

North Face Triumph Waterproof Jacket

The North Face Triumph waterproof jacket is extremely lightweight and packs into a tiny amount of space. I generally pack it into an Exped Dry Bag so that I can compress all the air out of it. Also, when the elements require that you get the jacket out, the dry bag generally comes in handy for anything that should not be exposed to the rain or snow e.g. iPhone! Of all the waterproof jackets I have tried in the past, the North Face Triumph stands head and shoulders above the rest. For one, I don’t sweat as much as I have in other jackets. Some waterproof jackets have resulted in me sweating as much as to negate any benefit from wearing the jacket in the first place!

The Triumph came into its own at the 55 mile 2011 Cateran Trail Ultra as the weather deteriorated in the final stages of the event. With the final ascent of Glenshee still to do, the weather took a really bad turn for the worse and changed the path into more of a stream. With approx. 5 miles of ascent to get through before the final 1.5 mile descent to the finish the Triumph kept me dry and took the chill off.

Tip

All races should be treated with respect and full consideration given to kit. However, when the race involves any degree of remoteness and/or involves any hills or mountains, quality kit becomes an essential and, in a worst case scenario, may even save your life.

North Face Enduro 13 Rucksack

I purchased the North Face Enduro 13 rucksack the week before the 2011 Highland Fling, after a realisation that I was sweating too much with any other rucksack. The Fling was the first time I properly tested the pack, totally going against the advice not to try anything new on a race, but, by the end of the 53 miles, I was totally sold on the pack. With its significantly streamlined form, I not only carried less but also had less overall pack to worry about and, as a result, sweated far less. Further, the somewhat unique fastening system meant that the pack sat well on my body. The only ‘downside’ to this particular pack is the tendency of the velcro fastening to catch on technical t-shirts. However, having had this happen to me a couple of times, I now know to watch out for this.

Tip

Watch out for chaffing, especially on the lower back where packs may move significantly when you run. If you are ‘lucky’ the earliest you might know about chaffing is in the shower after the race… a painful experience yet considerably better than having it ruin your race. Use BodyGlide or Vaseline (BodyGlide is kinder to clothes in the long term) to coat any area that may be prone to chaffing.

Trainers

Trainers can make or break your race. Your shoes need to offer a snug fit but, where possible, offer enough space in the toebox to accommodate any expansion in your feet that might occur throughout your race. The last thing you want is a race ending blister. Another thing to consider is the level of cushioning in your trainers. Minimal cushioning may be fine for half marathon distance or less but you need to ask yourself if you will be able to run longer distances in minimal shoes without injury. I tend to wear New Balance Minimus at least once a week in training but, for longer distances I favour inov8 trainers. Those of you who follow my blog may also have read that I am experimenting with the Hoka One One Mafate trainer which appears to be gaining quite a following amongst ultramarathon runners in the US & Canada. The Hoka, with its 2.5x the volume of EVA in the midsole, offers considerably more impact absorption than an average trainer.

Tip

Whatever you do, you should never run a race of any distance in brand new shoes.

Socks

I tend to favour Hilly Twin Skin socks when out running. I find that they wear out slightly quicker than other socks but the saving to your feet is immeasurable. The inner sock stays with the foot whilst the outer sock accommodates the movement in the trainer, thereby significantly reducing the likelihood of chaffing and blistering.

Tip

As gross as this sounds, adding Vaseline in between your toes really does help prevent blisters. I have done this regularly over longer distances and am very rarely bothered by blistering. The initial squelchy feeling is quite off-putting but, once things ‘settle down’ the benefits far exceed the grossness!

Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)

Those of you who are old enough to recall the adverts might remember the benefits of a Positive Mental Attitude. I know to expect lows whilst running ultras, and especially on ultras that cross very remote areas and/or have low numbers of participants. The potentially lost and alone feeling can be very testing at times, and especially when it is your first time running the route!

There is a saying that I find particularly funny: “If you are feeling good during an ultra, don’t worry, it will pass!”

Ask yourself why you are doing an ultra. Personally, I like the challenge, and I want and expect to be tested. It is only natural when tested to experience low points, especially when the elements are against you and you are not entirely sure you are on the right route! The key is to stay positive and to focus on getting through it – remember that you are there because you want to be!

I will finish off with a quick recap of something I overheard on the morning of the 2011 Highland Fling race. Sitting at breakfast, I overheard a conversation between two lone runners sitting at tables opposite each other. One of the runners had previously completed the Fling whilst the other was there for the first time. The more experienced runner commented that, when you get to mile 30 and you think ‘If I feel this bad now, how am I going to feel at 50 miles’ be sure to remember that you will feel exactly the same, only at this point, there will only be 3 miles to go to the finish!

I kept that in mind as I completed my own Highland Fling that day. Sure enough, in the baking heat of the day, I could (would have liked to!) have felt a lot better at the 30 mile point. However, the comment from the morning was going through my head and it kept me going, on to mile 50, then to the finish at mile 53. Barring injury, one of, if not THE, biggest battles you will face in completing the ultra is the battle in your head. Just remember that there is nothing quite like the feeling of completing your ultra.

Good luck, whatever distance you set out to cover!

The West Highland Way Race 2012

At 1 am on Saturday 23rd June, all things going to plan, I will toe the line to take part in the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. The aim – a sub 35 hour time that will enable me to join ‘the family’ of those who have completed the race previously, and to earn the sought after crystal goblet. The race includes 14,760ft of ascent and potentially 2 night runs, depending on how long I take. The race  is 40 miles longer than my longest run to date, the 55 mile Cateran Trail, and will become my ‘A’ race for 2012. I hope to complete 6 other ultras in 2012 besides the West Highland Way Race, 3 before and 3 after 23rd June. I, along with many of my Scottish Ultra Marathon Series friends, found out that I had made the official starting list of 200 last night. Training starts now!

So Many Experiences!

New post at The Running Bug, ‘So Many Experiences!‘.

Part 2 of Preparing For An Ultramarathon (Part 1) will follow shortly. In the meantime, I just wanted to share some of the following with you. It’s certainly been a busy couple of weeks as far as new experiences go!

So, the main news is that, as of last night, I am officially on the starters list for the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. I didn’t expect to hear until at least the middle of this week so it came as a surprise to get the email last night. After a day in which we had the first snow of the year, the first Christmas meal of the year, and put the Christmas tree up, it has to be said that Christmas did indeed come early! On top of my own good news, it appears that all of the friends that I have made over the past couple of years while running in Scottish Ultra Marathon Series events have also made it on to the official starters list. Great news!

I am also now on my 35th consecutive day of running, something I have never even come close to before, and other than a slight niggle in the right knee, all is well with the body (and mind!). I have probably just jinxed my efforts now but I will hopefully make it to the 31st December having successfully managed to run for 65 consecutive days. In case you are wondering, yes, that does include Christmas day!

Why am I doing this? After my final race of 2010, the Loch Ness Marathon, my running kind of lost direction and, as a result, much of the progress and race fitness that I had built up over the year was all but lost by the time the first ultra came around in March 2011. Determined not to repeat this, I decided to run every day in November as part of my Movember fundraising efforts and to run every day in December as part of the Marcothon.

(Talking of Movember, thanks to the sterling efforts of my work colleagues, our team looks set to make just short of £2000 to add to the amazing worldwide total of over £60 million! The moustache is now long gone and it is still weird not to have any facial hair – funny how used to something you can get in such a short space of time!)

It has certainly worked and I have to say that I am loving the challenge of a daily run. I did worry that I would dread the daily run, especially as I tend to run in the early evening when I return home from work, but this has thankfully not proved to be the case.

A couple of weeks ago I went on my first proper night run with the headtorch. After the confines of the treadmill, necessitated by a bout of ill health, it was great to get outdoors again. At least it was for all of 5 minutes when I went flying as I tripped on a tree root. Two weeks later and the bruising on my right leg, from the knee down to and around the back of the ankle is as yellow and as impressive as ever. It was perhaps a bit ambitious to head out the door, straight into the forest, on a pitch black night for my first outside run in weeks but hey, isn’t hindsight great lol!

Exactly a week later I went for a night run along the old railway line. The blackness of the night was something else and, stopping to turn off the head torch, I appreciated just how easily I could get out of town – not a light to be seen. My intended run was, however, cut short. As I ran along the track, trance music on, with nothing but the light from my headtorch to illuminate the way, I was totally oblivious to what was about to happen. From out of nowhere, I was suddenly aware of the underbelly of an owl flying right at my head. Illuminated by the head torch, the belly of the owl was amazingly white and dazzling. It was all I could do to duck out of the way in time. I ripped the headphones from my ears and stayed low. From the circling and swooping above my head it was obvious that my presence was not desired and, as such, I took ‘flight’ back along the track towards home. Safely back at home, looking at the Garmin, I was hardly surprised to see a considerable negative split on the nights run! It sounds daft looking back but, at the time, it was a scary situation. The owl seemed huge – perhaps just as a result of the total contrast between the feathers of the owl and the darkness that surrounded it. Suffice to say, when I next venture along the line at that time of night, I might just leave the headphones off so that I can hopefully avoid a repeat of the situation.

Last bit of news. Thanks to my Movember running efforts, I surpassed last years running mileage total of 1250 miles. 2,500 miles in 2 years. Who would have thought! Certainly not me and as little as 3 years ago I would have questioned the sanity of anyone running that many miles in a year – funny how things change! With 7 ultras planned for 2012, including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I can only wonder what my mileage will be this time next year!

Back soon with part 2 of Preparing For An Ultramarathon.