The Cake Shop Finish

Saturday’s run saw me running from our base in Rothiemurchus, out towards Glen Einich before taking a right turn towards Loch an Eilein, where I knew that the family were all going to be walking.

Harris was yet to fall asleep, preferring instead to play hide and seek with his Granda in the trees, and, as such, I opted to make another loop around Loch an Eilein before then heading towards the Inshriach Nursery Potting Shed Tearoom, where we agreed to meet up for coffee and cake.

The loch was perfectly still, with excellent reflections in the mirror like water, a photographic opportunity too good to miss!

I didn’t have too long to wait before being joined by a newly wakened Harris and the rest of the family, all keen to sample the renowned cakes on offer. As always, the cake didn’t disappoint and we were all able to enjoy our refreshments whilst watching numerous birds feeding on the provided fat balls and nuts.

No squirrels this time, a rare occurrence, but the arrival of a wood pecker made up for this.

What better way to finish a run than at one of the country’s finest cake shops, with surely one of the best & most entertaining views on offer from any cake shop. Plus I had the added bonus of knowing that my cake had been well earned, having covered approx. 9 miles between the trails and road.

An Unintentional Holiday

Back on Friday 31st October, Leanne, Harris & myself set out, bound for Glasgow for a (slightly) long weekend. What followed will surely haunt me as one of the most stressful weeks of my life. Don’t get me wrong. There were some amazing aspects of that week. However, I still can’t believe just what has happened this week past and that, today, 10th November, we are still awaiting news.

So, what’s this all about?

Friday saw us arrive with Sandra & John, Leanne’s aunt & uncle, having had a pleasurable journey down from Ellon, with a stopover at Stirling Castle. Given that Harris is no fan of car journeys, especially long ones, we were off to a good start.

I had hoped to get at least some running in but, by late Thursday evening, I was starting to develop a sore throat and to feel like I was about to get hit (yet again) with a dose of flu. Any thoughts of running soon faded. Fortunately, by the beginning of the week, this had passed without actually coming to anything.

We had a great weekend, visiting, amongst others, Glasgow Transport Museum, Glasgow Green & Rouken Glen Country Park, which has to be the best park I have ever encountered.

Come Sunday we were all set for the long trip home when it all started – coming off of a busy bridge, onto an equally busy few lanes of traffic, our 4 year old Seat Alhambra inexplicably died.

Fearing for our safety in the face of traffic coming off the bridge and hurtling round the corner, most likely not expecting to come upon a stationary vehicle, we waited for the very first opportunity and abandoned our vehicle.

Fortunately, the Police were on the scene within minutes and came to our assistance. With the assistance of Leanne’s uncle John, who had been in a car in front, and aided by the Police, the dead Alhambra was moved to the side of the road.

At this point, I set off for Sandra and John’s house, carrying Harris who had, by now, fallen asleep in my arms. As you might expect, he’s not getting any lighter. By the time I got back to Sandra and John’s, my arms felt like they were about to fall off. The only consolation is that the walk home was relatively scenic, along the banks of the Clyde River, along part of the Clyde Stride Ultramarathon route.

By the time I arrived home, the AA had towed the car to Sandra and John’s house and were working on it. At this point, our main concern was that Harris had been asleep for approx. 1 hour and, as such, we had already lost some of our optimum travel time.

That seems almost laughable considering where things went next.

After a couple of hours the AA guy conceded defeat and, at this point, we were resigned to an extended stay.

The Seat Alhambra was towed to a Seat dealer which turned out to be Arnold Clark. As a non driver (hopefully rectify this soon), I can’t say that I have had much/any experience of them as a company but, at this point when telling the story, pretty much everyone I have told it to groans in a knowing fashion. And that’s before they even get to hear the ‘good bit’!

It started off on the Monday with a charge for diagnostics, approx. £90. This led to replacement of a part, which led to another set of diagnostics, which led to replacement of another part, and so on.

I won’t pretend to know anything about cars but the gist of it appears to be something along the lines of ‘catastrophic failure of the fuel system’ – in a 4 year old car!

Over the space of the next few days Leanne chased the garage who were far from forthcoming with their communication. The worst instance of this came when Leanne chased them to finally discover that they were ‘awaiting authorisation’ for some work.

Surely contacting us to ask for said authorisation would be the logical move?

So, to cut a long story short(ish), the Seat is still in Glasgow. After 9 days there we, however, are not!

By Friday, I was really starting to lose the plot thanks to the stress of constantly having to chase the garage for an update, the rising costs (garage bill nearing £1000 and incidental costs mounting all the time), and the lost holidays (7 working days between myself and Leanne), and, as a result, I took to Twitter to vent.

Stranded with (sick) toddler in Glasgow since Sunday. Grievances with going 2 be one heck of a blog post

I omitted to mention, by this point, Harris was suffering from diarrhoea. Great, just what anybody needed. As dictated by Sod’s law, this would be the one time where we actually did pack a weekends worth of close for a weekend away!

Within minutes of tweeting this I received a response from the Arnold Clark Help Team who, after getting some details, contacted Leanne to arrange some assistance.

They covered the costs of a hire car for the Saturday to get us, the buggy, our bags and IKEA purchases up the road to Ellon. Thanks to those responsible for arranging this. This action has gone a long way to considerably calming the tone of this blog post!

But, we are still without our car and, from the latest news, it’s looking bleak on that front. The garage, who have apparently never experienced this issue before, have sent some data to Seat. I’m hopeful of a quick fix/resolution but something tells me not to hold my breath!

Even when we do get the go ahead to come and collect the car – assuming we do – that in itself will prove problematic, with a toddler in the mix and childcare arrangements that pretty much necessitate that either myself or Leanne is around for Harris and don’t happen to be working (did I already mention our lost holiday days?).

Stress aside, we did actually have a great week. With the car and cost side of things hanging over us, it never really qualified as a ‘holiday’. However, we did at least try and make the most of it and, hopefully, weren’t too much of an imposition on our hosts, who ironically made it to Ellon before us as a result of long-standing arrangements!

Harris started the weekend not quite sure what to make of Cookie and Kismet, Sandra and John’s dogs. By the end of the week, he was stroking and feeding them like they were his own.

He also got to see a lot of the Greener side of Glasgow, from frequent trips to Glasgow Green, including a nightly walk there in the dark (it’s just across the road from where Sandra & John live), to bits of the Clyde Walkway and any number of parks, highlights of which have to be Rouken Glen Country Park and Kelvingrove Park.

Harris also experienced the underground for the first time. Actually, the very first time he was asleep. How he managed to sleep through the screeching is anyone’s guess! When he did actually experience it for the first time, he totally loved it. Who would have guessed!

Looking at the photographs from the past week, a few of which feature above, it shows that we really did experience a lot of what Glasgow has to offer. Not only that, we were (largely) blessed with good weather.

My Glasgow, back when I spent a year here in 1990/91 was all about clubbing and shopping. What a difference in comparison to this time around, with its (child-friendly) focus on parks, museums and long walks admiring the sights, sounds and architecture.

As this past week has shown, Glasgow’s an excellent place, with plenty to do and all within easy commuting distance.

Now, about that car!

Return Of The Mac’s Mojo

It’s been 21 days since my last post, hardly the scenario I expected when I put all that hard work into the www.pixelscotland.com revamp.

However, it’s not without good reason. For one, Harris has, as always, been keeping us busy, and also entertained. He has also taken to rising around 5am, something which tests even my penchant for early rises!  I’ve had to curtail the late nights just to keep up with him, with an obvious impact on the time available to me when I actually add to and develop this web site.

Secondly, I’ve been a man on a mission, finally getting around to all those jobs that I have put off for years. This weekend, for example, I managed to fit in a complete clear out of the garage, alongside playing dad and head chef at Mac HQ. I’ve finally cleared space to let me get my weights out and once again resume weight training.

As far as exercising is concerned, I have once again found my mojo, and it’s not just the running mojo! It all started with a swim in the newly opened Aberdeen Aquatics Centre, linked to the equally impressive Aberdeen Sports Village. What started out as a single swim is now a 4 times a week regular visit, slotted in to the day in place of taking lunch at my desk.

The overall impact has been huge and I would once again consider myself to be back ‘in training’, albeit still at a lesser rate than pre Harris days, and, of course, all done to fit in with his schedule. I’ve been mixing up swimming, walking, running, the spin bike, treadmill and cross trainer quite happily, with no actual plan, just taking what I feel like at the time, or what best fits the time available.

What’s more, in mixing it up quite so much, I haven’t found myself feeling like a ‘slave to the miles’, as I have done in the past when training specifically for ultras.

Even at this early stage of training, I am already formulating a full on ultra challenge that will see me tackle some of my favourite terrain, outwith an organised event and, with a bit of luck, in the company of a good friend. Hopefully more to follow on that front if things go according to plan.

I’ve also been busy on the review side of things, with a review of the Salomon Sky Tee for The Running Bug, and with reviews to follow of the Vivobarefoot Evo Pure, Vivobarefoot Trail Freak, Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and, finally, the long awaited The North Face FL Race Vest that I first spied on the backs of the likes of Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau a couple of years back.

In keeping with the minimal, zero drop, footwear approach, I have also been enjoying feeling slightly smarter than usual in a pair of Vivobarefoot Freud’s. Thanks to Vivobarefoot, I can now maintain my preference for minimalist footwear without having to wear out my trainers.

Finally, I’m feeling decidedly upbeat, despite being a Monday and back in the office, as I have only 4 more working days before we head back to The Cairngorms once again.

I can’t wait to get back on the trails and, this time around, we will be located in Rothiemurchus, close to Loch an Eilein, offering the best possible access to the numerous Cairngorm trails.

Expect loads more photographs, routes and reviews to follow, including a full review of the Croozer, a review of The North Face FL Race Vest, and, again if everything goes to plan, a review of a piece of kit that was recommended to enable me to cut back on the amount of water that I have to carry – a Sawyer Mini Filter.

“At just 65grams, and fitting in the palm of your hand, this is simply the best there is for Weight, Size and Performance. Drink directly as a straw, attach to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches, use inline, or attach to standard threaded bottles. The MINI uses the same exclusive 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane filter used in our other filters. Although not quite as quick as the SP129 version, you will still be bowled over by the flowrate of this amazing little filter. The MINI comes with a 100,000 gallon (378,540 Litre) guarantee which is still the best rating there is ANYWHERE, and will last for anybody’s lifetime.

Simply fill up the pouch at a lake, stream or river, screw the filter directly onto the pouch and: 

  1. Squeeze the bag & filter water into your water bottle or container of choice
  2. Drink directly from the filter which has a built in cap for on/off functions
  3. Attach the filter onto most threaded water bottles including 2 litre bottles.”

[more information…]

Birthday Bargains

So it’s almost 28th March, my birthday. This year I will have the pleasure of looking after my son Harris as it falls on a Friday, also known as ‘daddy day’. It’s been a month since I dropped down to a 4 day week so that I could spend more time with Harris and split childcare with my wife and her mum. The past 3 weeks have, for one reason or another, seen me working just 3 days a week – great for spending more time with H, not so good for keeping up with things at work!

It has to be said that looking after a 1 year old is considerably harder work than being at actual work! It’s just sooooo full time, with never a second off. Hats off to all the mums and dads out there who do this day in, day out. 100% knackering but also 100% rewarding!

With a bit of luck, the sun will shine, and we can do what we have been doing most daddy days, heading off for nice long walks and/or heading off in the Croozer.

The most noticeable impact of the arrival of Harris for me has been:

Training

Or should that be lack of training. When your little on is up at the back of 5am and heads off to bed at 7pm that doesn’t leave much scope for training. Come 7.30pm, after a quick tidy up, all I want to do is get horizontal and chill!

Finance

Or should that be lack of finance lol! Pre Harris, I was generally able to find the money required to maintain my admittedly self centred fascination with kit, one of the main attractions of running if truth be told!

Since the arrival of Harris, this has been put on the back-burner somewhat!

Thankfully, my priorities changed without any concern. I’m definitely in a happy place, enjoying parenthood and not overly concerning myself with the impact on training or the reduced volume of shiny new kit.

Thankfully, my position as a product reviewer for The Running Bug, Barefoot Running Magazine and, of course, www.pixelscotland.com, means that I do still receive some kit free of charge to test out.

When it comes to obtaining other kit, there are two great opportunities, Christmas and birthday, and, for me, the latter opportunity presents itself this week.

The majority of people give me money which always works for me :o)

This year especially, I was keen to get as much bang for my buck as possible and, whilst one of the new The North Face or Inov-8 race vests was most definitely appealing, I opted for utility maximisation, opting to get kit that could be used as much as possible in everday life as well as out on the trail.

Armed with a budget, a PC and a keen eye for online bargains, I reckon I did pretty well. The Montane Fireball Smock was THE bargain buy, but was unfortunately as a result of the demise of a store. Some well timed sales at Pete Bland Sports and Wiggle provided the rest of my bargain buys.

If there’s anything left over, I will most likely opt for some of the newly released Montane Prism Gloves, RRP 35.00, which sound like just the ticket to see me through to Summer and beyond.

 

Product RRP Purchased
OMM Rotor Smock £130.00 £63.00
Montane Fireball Smock £120.00 £36.00
Salomon Exo Wings Twinskin Short SS14 £70.00 £30.00
Salomon Fast Wing Vest AW13 £70.00 £35.00
Total: £390.00 £164.00

Website Refresh

A lot has happened since www.pixelscotland.com was first registered as a domain way back in 2005. The choice of domain name reflected my love of Scotland and an involvement in web design. However, as a web site, www.pixelscotland.com was little more than a playground where I dabbled with the latest web technologies. Until, that is, I found a real purpose for the site, centred around ultramarathon running, and started to grow the site accordingly.

Initially, I started blogging about my running and writing race reports but, in time, this was expanded to include all things running related, from product reviews, to race information, to routes and galleries.

And then, in February 2013, my son Harris was born, impacting considerably on all aspects of our lives. Without a doubt, it’s the best thing ever to have happened to me and I love parenthood. However, long gone are the days when I can ‘nip out’ for a 4-5 hour training run. Some days it’s all I can do to even exercise at all, such are the constraints on my time and, from a high of 7 ultramarathons in 2012, I was reduced to just 1 in 2013, a figure I hope to match, time permitting, in 2014!

Running still plays a huge part in my life and, hopefully, this will rub off on Harris. Realistically however, my running goals for 2014 will be to work on my barefoot running, my overall running form, and to try and turn the clock back and attain PBs at 10k, 1/2 marathon and possibly even marathon distance – definitely more family friendly distances with regard to the required training.

What I have found this past year is that I am now returning to activities that I loved prior to becoming all consumed in ultramarathon training, namely walking and cycling. Both are considerably more family friendly as it’s much easier to involve the family in these activities, whether it be baby wearing out walking and/or towing a Croozer trailer while out cycling.

With the change in lifestyle, I feel that it is appropriate for www.pixelscotland.com to also undergo a bit of a refresh and, as such, the new look web site will be expanded to include not only running, but walking and cycling as well. I hope to continue the review section of the web site and, indeed, am open to reviewing walking and/or cycling products as well as running ones. In time I also hope to expand considerably on the gallery and routes sections of the website.

I decided to start afresh rather than just port the old website across in its entirety. I’ve painfully gone through each and every post, updating where required, and attempting to bring a more visual element to the site.

I hope you like the new design and direction of www.pixelscotland.com. As with every web site, it’s continually a work in progress.

I decided to start with a bang, so the leading item on the new look www.pixelscotland.com is my interview with ultra legend and The North Face athlete Jez Bragg, and also a gallery of images taken of Jez on his recent Te Araroa trail expedition. All images are © Damiano Levati.

Enjoy! :o)

Speed Training

I’m back running, but with a different focus, and all as a result of the strangest set of circumstances! Parenthood has opened up a whole new world to us and part of this is the increased social aspects that come from meeting other parents. Amongst our new friends are a couple called Carly and Lewis who have a son, Ethan, who is just weeks older than Harris.

We first met at an ante natal class in the run up to the birth of our respective sons and, when Leanne was in labour with Harris, a chance encounter at Aberdeen Bus Station, meant that I was able to catch up with Lewis, not long after Ethan had been born. The journey home to Ellon provided some insight in to just what was to follow.

It’s great to be able to spend time with people who know what you are going through and, I have to admit that in the past I just did not appreciate how much of an impact childhood can have on life. Allan, if you are reading this, please accept my apologies. I can see now why you didn’t jump at the chance to join me in training for ultras!

So where, you might ask, does speed training come into all of this?

Well, both Carly & Lewis are both keen runners. Carly was first lady at the recent Union Street Mile, in a time a shade over 5 minutes and has a long history of running success with Aberdeen Athletics Club. Even more impressive when you consider that this victory came just a few short months after giving birth to Ethan.

Carly kindly agreed to add some structure to my training and, for the past few weeks, has been putting me through my paces at speed training sessions. It’s the kind of thing that, in the past, I have totally avoided in favour of my long slow run – or medium slow run – or short slow run – you get the picture – SLOW!

This possibly best explains why, despite increasing my total mileage considerably over the past few years, my results only ever improved by a matter of minutes from year to year.

With the increased time constraints of parenthood, ultra training was the first thing to fall by the wayside and, this year, my total mileage is far from impressive.

However, with the addition of some structure to my training, I can hopefully look to improve on my overall speed and performance, despite having considerably less time in which to run.

It may not be as ‘fun’ as long slow runs as it is considerably more arduous but, hopefully, the end results will be far more impressive and I can once again turn my hand to gaining some PBs. Only this time, these will be in 10k and/or 1/2 marathon events.

I still want to run a sub 4 hour marathon (PB 4:14:02) and, in time, hope to return to running ultras where any increase in pace should result in considerably less time spent on the feet.

West Highland Way Race Countdown

may not be competing in this year’s West Highland Way Race anymore, having withdrawn from the race following the birth of my son, but, reading back over my blog posts from last year, it’s clear that this was one of the most exciting times of my running life.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I was filled with mixed emotions, feelings of anticipation, excitement, fear, dread, self doubt and, mostly, a sense that I was about to embark on something totally new and challenging, stepping (or should that be running!) into the unknown.

Make the most of these last few weeks. For many, they rank among the most difficult. Most of you will be starting to taper and it is often in this period that you will find yourself focussed on aches, pains and niggles that go unnoticed in the course of normal training.

Savour the last few weeks of the build up and, of course, the amazing weekend of the race. It can best be compared to Christmas – a long build up to the event and then, BAM!, it’s over for yet another year before you even realise. Of course, for most of us mere mortals, The West Highland Way Race will last the best part of 2 days so, in that respect, there’s more to enjoy! With a lot of effort and a bit of luck, you will hopefully all receive your Crystal Goblet, welcoming you to The West Highland Way Race family.

I will be following the race over the weekend, no doubt wishing I was there at times. However, I am in no doubt that I did make the correct decision to withdraw from this years race, so that I could focus on the family and savour the time with our new addition.

Runners, be sure to appreciate your support crew. Anyone who is prepared to give up an entire weekend to follow and support you on your exploits is truly special.

It might also be worth discussing the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) beforehand. Given how my weekend went, had I not discussed DNF with my crew in the weeks leading up to the race, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line in Fort William. Thankfully, we had ruled out any mention of a DNF for all but the most extreme circumstances and, with this discussion out of the way, there was no mention of quitting on race weekend.

My support crew were exceptional and, without a doubt, were the only reason that I did finally make it to Fort William. I will never forget the part that they played in my success.

Good luck to you all and, especially, to Ian Minty, who is running his first West Highland Way Race having acted as my support runner last year, accompanying me from Auchentyre Farm to the end in Fort William.

Here’s my account of the 2012 West Highland Way Race:

I would definitely recommend that you commit your race experience to a blog or journal of some sorts. It’s a great reminder of the experience and something you can look back on for years to come. Of all the blog posts that I have written, these are the ones that I return to most, reminding me just what I am capable of achieving with some training, some support, and a lot of determination and stubbornness!

Back To Basics

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of 2012 for me was completing the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. What’s more, I like to think that I did it in ‘style’, finally arriving in Fort William 31 hours after setting off from Milngavie (31:01:51, 102nd out of 119 finishers. 171 started). Apocalyptic weather, 20 miles of explosive diarrhoea, projectile vomiting at the 50 mile mark and a reduced calorie intake that you would expect from anyone whose body is doing its best to flush itself clean in the aforementioned ways, all stood in the way along the route which included 14,760ft of ascent. Thanks to an excellent crew and support runner (Ian Minty), I crossed the finish line in time to pick up the coveted crystal goblet and join the West Highland Way Race ‘family’.

As mad as it might sound, I had decided that I would put myself through it again by the end of the prizegiving ceremony, an amazing experience where every finisher receives their goblet in person, rightly celebrating the accomplishments of each individual.

Another highlight of 2012 was finding out that Leanne and myself were to become parents for the first time, though admittedly the timing of the news, just a matter of days before the madness of the West Highland Way Race weekend, could perhaps have been better. I was concerned at putting Leanne through something as stressful as crewing for me and the effect that this could have on someone in the early stages of pregnancy. And that was before that weekend actually ‘happened’. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to brief my crew – Expect to see me at my worst, never broach the subject of a DNF etc etc. Little did I realise at the time that I would actually hit absolute rock bottom on my journey.

That weekend was a huge learning experience. I was delighted to complete the race but, aside from that, the highs and, especially, the lows of that weekend set new standards where my running was concerned. Lets take the weather for example. If I recall correctly, the first 50 miles of the race were completed in torrential rain, aptly described as ‘apocalyptic’. Since that weekend, weather just hasn’t been the same. I no longer have the excuse not to just get out there and get on with it.

Similarly, the race established new definitions of ‘low’. One month later, at the Clyde Stride, I was not yet fully recovered and my body was rebelling against yet another ultra after a mere 13 miles. 27 miles of punishment followed as I ground out a finish. The way I saw it, I was nowhere near as low as I had been back at the West Highland Way Race. Sure I hurt, but other than that, everything was ‘rosy’ in comparison to that weekend.

Armed with this new outlook, I was looking forward to the 2013 West Highland Way Race and, somewhat naively it transpires, I was determined not only to finish the race, but to improve on my 2012 efforts (surely circumstances couldn’t be THAT bad again???) and, further, to do all this with a newborn baby.

Harris Robert Mackintosh was born on 28th February 2013.

My running took a hit even before he arrived. In the run up to his birth, home improvements and house wide decorating threw our lives into disarray. As the due date grew closer, I even found myself avoiding long runs, just in case he arrived early and I found myself receiving news of his impending arrival in the middle of nowhere. And then, after what can only be described as an ‘ultra birth’, he finally arrived.

Some 11 weeks on from that day we are still coming to terms with the impact on our lives. We both expected changes, but nothing prepares you for just how 24/7 it can all be.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change a thing. I am absolutely loving parenthood and found that I quickly accepted the change in priorities that accompanied the birth of our son (not that there was actually a choice lol!).

I knew from early on that running was going to have to take a back seat. However, I tried to kid myself that I was still going to achieve my running ambitions for 2013. On 16th March I lined up for my 1st ultra of 2013, the 33 mile D33. I knew it was going to be tough, going in to the race with a far reduced mileage than in previous years, and having run a maximum of 11 miles as my ‘long run’ in the build up to the event. Nowehere near long enough to realistically prepare me for the event. By 18 miles, my legs were in agony and, grinding out a finish with a personal worst time (though admittedly far better than I expected under the circumstances) I pondered my participation in ultras throughout 2013.

Next up was the Hoka Highland Fling on 27th April. A continued lack of training followed by a 2 week illness in the final weeks leading up to the event led to my first ever DNS (Did Not Start). Common sense prevailed, much to the relief of Mrs Mac.

And yet, at this point, I still had aspirations to run the 2013 West Highland Way Race. Or at least I did, until last weekend.

It was obvious to me that improving on my 2012 performance was unlikely, even if the stomach coped better this time around. It was also going to involve 3-4 days away from Leanne and Harris, something that I was totally not looking forward to. Last year, having trained considerably more, I found that my body took at least a month to fully recover from the race. Given the vastly reduced training this year, there was potential that the impact could be far worse. Finally, the passion just wasn’t there, at least not to the level that an event of this nature requires. This was becoming increasingly apparent when I sacrificed agreed training slots to spend more time with my son.

Riddled with doubts I went for a run with John Donnelly, part of my 2012 West Highland Way Race support crew. As we ran we talked through my doubts, my concerns about participating and about not participating. By the end of the run I knew that I should withdraw from the 2013 West Highland Way Race. It was a tough decision but, having committed to not running, I felt a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Essentially 2013 was about 2 main ‘challenges’ – being the best possible parent to Harris, and completing the 2013 West Highland Way Race, improving on my efforts from the previous year. It became increasingly apparent to me that I could continue to pursue both but, in doing so, would do neither of them justice. When it came down to it, the choice was easy. In fact, there simply was no choice, just a realisation that the West Highland Way Race will still be there for me in years to come, but that these moments with my son are too precious to miss.

Having made the decision, I am much happier in myself. My running, still admittedly sporadic at this point, at least has an element of fun in it again. It is no longer about preparing to meet the challenges of the West Highland Way Race. It is about getting out for a run for the fun and enjoyment of it, if and when time permits on the family front (Given that time is such a precious commodity, I have taken to exercising at 5am, when it least impacts on quality time!). I’m looking forward to getting back to basics, to embarking on hill and speed training, trying to improve running that has essentially stagnated these past few years, with only marginal improvement in race times.

I am looking forward to listening to my body rather than to a specific training plan, running as far as feels good rather than the distance required to meet some goal or other. I am even looking forward to cross training and to new fitness challenges, such as Insanity, ‘The ultimate cardio workout and fitness programme’. As I have discovered of late, running fitness does not necessarily transfer all that well!

I do hope to return to ultras in the not too distant future but, rather than signing up for any one race, I will let my running speak for itself. Once the quality and quantity return, I will know that the time is once again right.

All the very best to everyone running the West Highland Way Race. I hope that you all make it to Fort William, and that you do so without too much damage to yourselves.

My thoughts will be with you all on the weekend of 22nd June.

Happy Running :o)

My First DNS

Back in March 2010 I ran my first ultramarathon, the inaugural D33 ultra, from the Duthie Park Aberdeen to Banchory and back again. Since then, I have accumulated 16 finishes and 1 DNF. This week will see my add my first ever DNS (Did Not Start) to the list and, as much as it pains me to do so, I am almost certain that it is the right thing to do.

If you are familiar with my blog at all, you may have read my ‘D33 Or Bust‘ and/or ‘When Ultras Go Bad – D33 2013‘ posts. In the run up to the D33 my training was almost non-existent, with a distinct lack of long slow runs. Since the birth of my son Harris on 28th February 2013, running has not factored into my daily life in any way that could be construed as meaningful training and, since the 18th March, when I dragged myself around the D33, I have run only a handful of times and only ever over short distances.

There have been no long slow runs, other than that day at the D33 which certainly felt very long, and very, very slow. There have been no speed sessions, no hill sessions, nothing other than a few miles here and there, with none of those miles feeling particularly good.

If anything, I feel even less prepared for the Fling than I did for the D33. Given the extra 20 miles distance and the considerably more ‘undulating’ nature of the Fling route, that’s only to be expected. However, there’s more to it than that. I do think that I could get to the finish, albeit with a potential personal worst time. Or at least, I thought I could get to the finish – Right up to the point where I caught a virus that started with flu like symptoms and then proceeded to move down into my chest, leaving me feeling far from 100% some 2 weeks later.

With less than a week to go, I know that it’s too late to try and cram in any meaningful training, when in fact, anyone running the race should at least be considering a decent taper. I know what lies in store, and I know that it’s tough for me at the best of times – and this certainly isn’t ‘the best of times’ where my running fitness is concerned.

The part that pains me is the part that suspects I could still finish, the part that knows I am stubborn enough to even consider it, never mind actually get myself to the finish. This time last year I finished the Fling with a new PB despite a reduced lung capacity (approx 70-80%) as a result of a chest infection (I always seem to time them just right!). However, I did also have approx 5-6 times as many miles in the legs thanks to a fairly successful start to the years training, unlike this year. Perhaps not the best thing to do on the back of a chest infection but then, ‘sensible’ generally doesn’t figure in my vocabulary.

So what’s changed this year? Why so ‘sensible’ all of a sudden? Two words – Opportunity Cost. If I could have done the Fling in the same way as I did the D33 then I would likely be there on the starting line. Up early, breakfast, into the race, run it then back home to the family, all nicely within the confines of a day.

The time spent out running would be approximately twice that spent running at the D33 but, still, the time away from the family would be kept to a minimum. However, Harris is still a ‘feeding machine’, and we have yet to travel any real distance with him. As such, taking Leanne and Harris along to Glasgow is out of the question. (That actually should be Leanne taking me to Glasgow as I have still to learn to drive!) That limits my options to a days holiday on the Friday, heading down to Glasgow by train or bus, ariving in plenty time to prepare, running the race on the Saturday and then returning, again via train or bus, to Ellon at some point on the Sunday. At best 2 days away, the best part of 3 at worst.

I’m just not ready for that, not yet. I already miss enough family time now that I am back to work and I just don’t fancy adding to that, at least not for now. And when I do the Fling next, I want to be in a better place training wise. I don’t want to have to drag myself around in the same way that I did at the D33.

It has been pointed out to me by a valued friend that the Fling was the best opportunity that I had to get in a decent 50 miles approx. training run for the West Highland Way Race and that, without that, the chances of me finishing the West Highland Way Race are considerably reduced. I appreciated the honesty of the comment and, in fact, totally agree with it.

However, I have not yet given up on the 2013 West Highland Way Race. I do hope to be there on the start line on 22nd June, praying that there is no repeat of the apocalyptic weather of the previous year; I do still intend on getting that second goblet; and I do hope that a PB is up for grabs (surely, if I can avoid the issues that complicated my 2012 race!!!).

That same friend pointed out that the issue of sacrifices and time constraints are going to be there for years to come, not just in these early stages of childhood, and that I need to ask myself how important ultras are to me. Having given it considerable thought, I can state that they are definitely less important to me than they were this time last year. However, having said that, I am not yet ready to consider totally abandoning ultras. I still want to push myself to the limits, to get some more finishes in and, hopefully, even, to improve!

Hopefully by the time 22nd June comes around, I will be in a position to race and/or to know for sure if I am willing and able to factor in the required training without sacrificing too much from family life.

All the very best to everyone who is running the Fling this weekend. I hope that the weather is kind, that you all have a great day, and that you bag those new PBs.

The Balance Between Family, Work & Blogging

As we near the end of March you might have noticed the distinct lack of activity on the www.pixelscotland.com site this past month. Instead of the usual 20-30 posts, there’s been a grand total of 4 posts all month, 5 if you include this one!

My ‘excuse’ is the arrival of my son Harris, one month old today. My time has been taken up by our new arrival and I wouldn’t change a thing. Parenthood is amazing, but a little more sleep would be most welcome!

I do feel guilty that I haven’t managed to keep up with the blog this month. I have a number of reviews to write up. Thankfully, having made lots of notes along the way, I don’t have to start from scratch. However, polishing these notes into something that constitutes a review takes time, and that’s something that I just haven’t had since the arrival of Harris.

I’m not the only one with a problem balancing family, work and blogging. Check out this article from Barefoot Beginner that deals with exactly that issue.

One month in, we are now starting to find our feet. A bit more sleep would be great but we are starting to get used to the total change in lifestyle that accompanies a newborn, and especially when that newborn is your first child. I am getting used to the reality of partial blogging, spending 10-15 minutes here and there working on articles and reviews that I might previously have devoted a few hours to. Normal service will resume shortly(ish).

Watch this space, reviews to follow!