PUMA PB Challenge – The Great PB Robbery

New post at The Running BugPUMA PB Challenge – The Great PB Robbery

I can’t help but feeling like I was robbed of a PB at the Great Scottish Run on Sunday. Not as a result of any great misfortune or anything even remotely dramatic on the day, but as a result of the injury that has plagued me these past 5 weeks. The first signs of problems came 8 weeks ago while on holiday in the Cairngorms. The calf muscles on both legs tightened to the point where running was extremely painful and, even after a deep tissue massage resulted in a return to some degree of normalcy, there was clearly an ongoing niggle with my right leg.

This niggle increasingly became an issue and, over the past 5 weeks, impacted considerably on my ability to train according to the schedule provided by Hayley from The Running Bug. In particular, I was finding it difficult to string together anything bordering on consistent mileage and most runs ended up as fartlek sessions. Perhaps more annoying was that my pace was starting to show the benefits of earlier interval and progressive run sessions. The potential for a PB was evident when the legs let me push on, but was unfortunately tapered by the pain that then restricted me to a slow jog or even brought me to a standstill on occasion.

Thankfully, the cause of the problem was identified early on, on my trip to see Keith Allen-Shirtcliffe at Witty, Pask & Buckingham Chartered Physiotherapists, part of the support package provided to me by The Running Bug and PUMA. I’ve covered the problem, essentially a relative glute weakness, before in a previous blog post (PUMA PB Challenge 3 Weeks And Counting) so I won’t go into that again here. Suffice to say that, despite identifying the glute issue and working to remedy it, the increased effort of trying to work on a fundamentally flawed running form, combined with attempts to improve my overall pace through a variety of different training sessions, appeared to aggravate the issue.

The Running Bug helped provide local physio help, in the form of Iona at SPEAR Physiotherapy in Aberdeen Sports Village. Without any prior knowledge of Keith’s findings, Iona quickly identified the same relative glute weakness and attributed the problems with my right leg to this. As mentioned in the aforementioned blog post, the problem wasn’t just restricted to non ‘firing’ glutes. On top of this, there was also a muscular imbalance with, for some reason, the left glute being particularly weak. I’m slowly learning just how interconnected the body is and this left glute imbalance appears to be responsible for the issues with the right leg.

As the date of the Great Scottish Run approached, I was becoming increasingly despondent. Training just wasn’t happening in the way that it should. Iona did, however, offer some hope. Taping my right calf with kinesiology tape made the pain bearable and, following that appointment, I had my best run in weeks. The problem is a long term issue, one that I am continuing to work on and will, no doubt, be working on for some time to come. However, with the Great Scottish Run looming, the tape offered the potential for me to at least give the PB Challenge my best shot.

With the race almost upon us, my main concern other than pain management was being able to maintain the pace required to see me through to the finish line, hopefully with a PB. In the past, I’ve only ever run at one speed so it has rarely been an issue. However, with the introduction of speed work into my training, I often found it difficult to get the pace of my long slow runs right. Quite often I would go out too fast and suffer the consequences, easing off before repeating the same cycle! I just couldn’t help myself. With the lack of LSR sessions over the past 5 weeks as a result of the leg problems, this was of particular concern to me.

At this point, my friend Allan Bruce offered to run the Great Scottish Run with me. This was Allan’s second half marathon after a long hiatus – his first 1/2 was the Great North Run back in 2007, which he also ran with me. Back then we ran 1:59:27, a time that I should add is far more in fitting with my other 1/2 marathons than my freak 1:51:05 PB!

Allan’s gesture was particularly kind on a number of fronts. Firstly, it involved a trip for him and his family up from Newcastle. Secondly, while it was most likely going to involve a new PB for Allan as well, it was not going to be a PB that was indicative of his current running level. In offering to try and help pace me to a sub 1:51:05 time, Allan was sacrificing a PB somewhere in the 1:30:00s which he had run in training just the previous week! I should also mention that I had previously tried to recruit Allan into running ultramarathons, a temptation that I know he would have loved but one that he resisted with some ‘piffling’ excuse of ‘time constraints’ and ‘family’. Little did I realise at the time just how much of an impact a single child, let alone 2, has on anyone’s life. I’ve already eaten a large slice of humble pie on that front. Allan, once again, thank you for coming up and running with me on the day. There’s no doubt that you kept me going at the pace that I did. I owe you big style.

The Great Scottish Run was quite an event, considerably different to the relatively low key ultramarathons that have been the focus of my attention these past few years. It certainly was great. Crowds lined the streets, offering vocal support to all the runners, people in cars honked their horns, and the route included many of the sights of central Glasgow. The legendary Haile Gebrselassie, now in his 40s, won the event with a new Scottish All-Comers’ half marathon record of 1:01:09.

Taped up and having taken painkillers to try and mask the expected pain, I met up with Allan and we patiently waited amongst the mass of runners for the start of the race. I was fortunate on the day. The leg didn’t overly trouble me and I was able to push on. The lack of long slow runs started to show around the 9 mile mark and a drop in pace around miles 11 and 12 put paid to my hopes of a PB. However, I fared much better than I expected to considering the lack of routine training in the run up to the event.

We finally crossed the line in a time of 1:52:50, not too far adrift of the PB time of 1:51:05. I somehow managed to run 13.87 miles according to my Suunto Ambit. There’s a lesson to be learnt. I really should work on picking the best racing line. Admittedly however, it’s not always that easy to pick your line when surrounded by quite so many runners!

As gutted as I am not to have smashed my PB, I really can’t help but be happy with how things went on the day. It’s by far the best that I have run in years and I did it while injured and on the back of weeks of injury. Despite the setbacks, I managed to increase my pace significantly and take at least 8 minutes off of the time that I would have run the 1/2 marathon in back at the start of the PB Challenge.

I was 3432 out of 8902 runners, 2867th male and 566th in my age group (40-44).

Mile Splits:

  1. 7:47
  2. 6:47 !!!
  3. 8:20
  4. 8:23
  5. 8:18
  6. 8:02
  7. 8:37
  8. 8:18
  9. 8:36
  10. 8:38
  11. 8:52 :o(
  12. 8:50 :o(
  13. 8:25
  14. 7:37

Technically, this is the end of my PUMA PB Challenge. However, it’s also the beginning of the next stage of my running. Over the past few months I have been fortunate enough to benefit from training, physio & nutritional support as well as general support from everyone at The Running Bug, PUMA and, via the forums & Bug Miles, the support of my fellow Bugs. It has been brilliant.

Back towards the beginning of the year, the running fitness accrued over 3 years of running ultramarathons was all but gone, my weight had ballooned, and my running mojo had deserted me. It would have taken me at least 2 hours to run a half marathon.

Today, despite missing the PB, my running mojo is well and truly back. My weight has decreased considerably, thanks in part to eating more, and I now have an array of healthy snack options to supplement my diet throughout the day. I am working on improving the muscular imbalances and flawed running form identified by the physios, which should strengthen the body and hopefully help to avert future injury. I have a far greater appreciation of the different training sessions and the role that these play when coming together to form a comprehensive program for improvement.

This weekend I almost turned the clock back to 2008 when I ran the Moray 1/2 Marathon in 1:51:05 and, looking back over the past few months with everything that has happened, there’s no way that I can really consider my PB Challenge to be a failure. I am determined to resolve the issues that prevented me from smashing that 1:51:05 PB and, along the way, to set new PBs at 5k, 10k and 1/2 marathon distances. I have actually enjoyed running faster, pushing my limits not so much in terms of distance but in terms of pace. What’s more, I have definitely found a challenge that is more in fitting with my current family needs than ultramarathons.

I reckon there’s definitely scope for improvement, to smash the 1:51:00 PB and, indeed, to aim higher. After a couple of days off to recover from the Great Scottish Run, I will once again be diving back into my 1/2 marathon training plan, stepping back 5 weeks so that I can pick up where things started to really go wrong for me. Hopefully this time around, with the knowledge that taping helps alleviate the pain, and with my efforts to resolve the muscular and form issues, the ‘missing’ 5 weeks will go a lot better. This will hopefully then set me up for another crack at my PB, at the Fraserburgh 1/2 marathon in November.

Finally, I just want to say thanks to the following people:

  • The Running Bug & PUMA, for selecting me for the PB Challenge and for providing so much support.
  • Hayley Munn from The Running Bug, for the excellent training plans, advice and support.
  • Neil Tillot & James Knock from The Running Bug, for the support along the way.
  • Sarah Duffield from Mac Nutrition (www.Mac-Nutrition.com), for showing me that I needed to eat more to lose weight and to fuel my training properly.
  • Keith Allen-Shirtcliffe at Witty, Pask & Buckingham Chartered Physiotherapists (http://www.wpbphysio.co.uk/) and Iona at SPEAR Physiotherapy (http://www.spearphysiotherapy.co.uk/) at Aberdeen Sports Village (http://www.aberdeensportsvillage.com/), for identifying muscular & form issues and trying to help me address them.
  • All my fellow Running Bugs, and especially to those of you who joined me on the 1/2 Marathon PUMA PB Challenge, for their words of support along the way.
  • Thanks to Sandra, John, Gemma, Diane and, of course, my wife Leanne and son Harris, for coming to the Great Scottish Run to support me.

Happy Running :o)

PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador

So that’s me into the second week of my PUMA PB Challenge now. Today was a scheduled rest day with the option of some light cross training. However, after last nights evil intervals session, I opted to make the most of the recovery day.

In all the time that I have been running, I have only ever taken part in 8 1/2 marathons, with times ranging from my 1:51:05 PB back at the 2008 Moray 1/2 marathon, through to 2:02:24 at the Fraserburgh 2009 1/2 marathon.

Date Event Time
30/09/07 Great North Run 1:59:27
07/09/08 Moray Half-Marathon 1:51:05
19/10/08 Aviemore Highland Half Marathon 1:54:34
16/11/08 Fraserburgh Half Marathon 1:54:46
08/03/09 Inverness Half Marathon 2:00:00
18/10/09 Aviemore Half Marathon 2:00:44
15/11/09 Fraserburgh Half Marathon 2:02:24
04/07/10 Stonehaven Half Marathon 1:57:45

A quick glance at the above should demonstrate that my 1:51:05 actually appears to have been a ‘bit’ of an exception and, certainly at this moment in time, just coming back to running after the birth of my son, any attempt at a 1/2 marathon would likely see me add a time to the above list somewhere close to my slowest times. I have a long way to go before I am anywhere near to being able to better my 1:51:05 time. However, I like a challenge and this surely fits the bill.

Some of you may already be familiar with my ultra exploits outlined in my ‘Aim high, anything is possible!’ blog on The Running Bug. For those that don’t, here’s a quick overview:

  • Pre 2005: unathletic child; heavy smoker from teens through to 30s; overweight; despised running (with a passion!)
  • 2005: 1st 10k; occasional bouts of running, nothing that could be construed as ‘training’
  • 2009: 1st marathon; First heard about UTMB and ultramarathons whilst on holiday in Chamonix
  • 2010: 1st ultra, the 33 mile D33; Followed by my 1 DNF (Did Not Finish) at the 53 mile Highland Fling; Completed Speyside Way Ultra in August
  • 2011: Completed 6 ultramarathons, from 33 miles to 55 miles in length
  • 2012: Completed the same 6 ultramarathons plus the 95 mile West Highland Way Race
  • 2013: Birth of my son Harris; Completed D33 ultramarathon despite total lack of training

Despite all the miles covered in training and events, I remain overweight, something which no doubt hinders improvement in my running pace. With training not exactly going to plan after the birth of Harris, and, often, not happening at all, the weight issue has worsened.

The final straw came on the weekend of 22nd-23rd June, when the 95 mile West Highland Way Race took place, an event that I should have been running but, in light of my training (or lack of it), pulled out of in advance. Determined to return to fitness, I sought a goal that was attainable without spending too much time away from family.

I decided to try and beat my 1/2 marathon PB, admittedly without actually checking to see what it was and giving due consideration to how this compared to my current running level – doh!

Coincidentally, the PUMA PB Challenge caught my eye and I applied. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would actually be selected to participate. I first heard that I had been selected back on 5th July but was sworn to secrecy until the event actually launched. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity and welcome the assistance that PUMA and The Running Bug are providing to help me try and beat my PB. I am sure that there were others that could have been chosen, quite possibly people who would have been a safer bet to beat their PBs, so thanks to PUMA and The Running Bug for taking a chance on me. I will do my best to top that 1:51:05.

So far, I have had the benefit of a running schedule tailored to my specific needs by Hayley Munn. It’s great to get some assistance and direction in this area. I have to admit to being a bit of a single speed runner in all my years of running to date and it is only recently, over the past couple of months, that I have appreciated the need for a varied training programme to buck me out of this rut.

I have had some assistance with the implementation of my training from ‘Coach Carly’, a fellow new parent who I first met at an ante natal class and, thanks to our sons, have become friends with. Carly, an accomplished track athlete, put me through some speed sessions in the weeks before I became a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador and is kindly assisting with the implementation of Hayley’s training plan. I doubt that I would have pushed quite so hard at last nights intervals session, for example, had Carly not been there to ensure that I did not slacken off the pace when the going got tough.

On the nutrition front, I will soon have a consultation and plan in place thanks to Mac Nutrition (http://www.mac-nutrition.com/) The ‘UK’s Leading Consultancy For Nutrition Advice’. In the past, my dietary efforts have not produced the desired results and, if anything, I have found myself lacking in terms of fuelling my training and events. I am already looking forward to seeing what they have in store for me and, with a bit of luck, this will result in weight loss, which in turn will impact on my running pace.

Finally, I am off to Northampton, via London, on Sunday night, for a physio appointment and to meet the other PUMA PB Challenge Ambassadors (5k, 10k, Marathon).

So, that’s an introduction to me, and where I am at in terms of my PUMA PB Challenge. My challenge race is the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on 6th October, a mere 74 days away but hopefully long enough for the physio, nutrition and training assistance to take effect.

As of 24th July, there are 135 fellow Bugs taking up the PUMA PB Challenge for the 1/2 marathon distance which is brilliant. Thanks for all the comments and support on my logged training sessions over on Bugmiles and, also, over on the forums.

Happy Running :o)

2013 Goals

2012 was quite a year. Seven ultramarathons completed, including my first West Highland Way Race. Five new PBs, one brand new ‘PB’ set at the West Highland Way Race, and one ‘non PB’ at the Clyde Stride as I struggled with my form in the aftermath of my first shot at the 95 mile distance. How do you top that? Not with another 7 ultras, that’s for sure. 7 ultras in such close proximity left my body feeling pretty trashed. Maybe something I would consider at some point in the future, but certainly not in 2013.

There’s talk of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series being extended to include more ultras. I think it’s a great idea. More races will mean greater choice and, potentially, longer periods between races, perfect for improved recovery from race to race. Further, there would be more opportunity to vary the races you compete in from one year to the next. And let’s face it, at the end of the day, why should any Scottish ultra be omitted from the series? There are races I would loved to have participated in but chose not to because they didn’t contribute to my overall SUMS point score. Let’s hope that all the Race Directors agree to the proposals.

I still recall that feeling at the end of the Clyde Stride when I realised that there was only 2 weeks ‘rest and recovery’ before the Devil O’ The Highlands race. It was Colin Knox who said, ‘See you in two weeks‘ and, at first I thought he was mistaken. A quick check of the calendar soon revealed that the Devil O’ The Highlands was indeed only 2 weeks away. Bugger!

The Clyde Stride was an example of ‘grinding out a finish’, the triumph of stubbornness over common sense, where I got to the end largely by telling myself ‘If I can finish the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I can finish the 40 mile Clyde Stride’. From approx. 13 miles in to the race, my body was screaming at me to stop! After this far from pretty finish the thought of grinding out a difficult 43 miles so soon after filled me with dread. Thankfully however, things came together nicely for another new PB at the Devil.

So, for 2013, a reduction in races, with 4 ultras the most likely scenario, 5 at an absolute push. Whether I even get to the start line of those races will largely depend on another of life’s challenges, but a most welcome one at that! We are expecting our first child in February and this in itself will have a huge impact on life (and training!). It may sound hard to believe but I am prepared for that and am happy to accept that things may not go to plan. Actually, who am I kidding – ‘may not’! There’s little doubt that there will be an impact and that, until we experience it, we haven’t got a clue as to how far reaching it will be!

Goal number one for 2013 is to be the best dad & husband that I possibly can be. Only then will running and the notion of ‘training’ and ‘my time’ even come in to the equation.

Goal number two is something that I will strive for regardless of everything – a considerable reduction in my weight. How this is going to come about is not entirely set in stone. Let’s face it, it’s not as if I haven’t been trying for as many years! What I do know is that I need to see some results, and will take whatever approach or approaches necessary to impact on my weight.

Goal number three finally sees me get around to running. I want PBs in each of the races that I do. Realistically, my main focus, assuming I am lucky enough to get in to the West Highland Way Race, is a large PB over the 95 mile distance. With a bit of luck, I wont encounter as many issues as I did at WHW Race 2012. Assuming I can avoid the stomach issues and the projectile vomit, that alone could take between two and three hours off of my 2012 time. Weight loss and good quality training will hopefully add to that reduction.

Goal number four is to develop the minimalist aspect of my running, and to hopefully carry this over into my choice of shoes come race time.

All things considered, that’s four goals that are going to take up the majority of my time in 2013. It’s not going to be easy, but then, nothing worthwhile ever is.

What are your goals? All the very best with them in 2013.

Speyside Way Race 2012

There were 95 finishers at the 2012 Speyside Way Race, with times ranging from Donnie Campbell’s amazing 4:31:15 through to the group of 5 (Geraldine Curry, Marion Summers, Andrew Fyffe, Christine Fyffe and Catherine Wardlaw) who finished in 8:30:39.

The race was won by Donnie Campbell, followed by Gareth Mayze and Terry Forrest in times of 4.44.20 and 4.46.19 respectively. Charlotte Black, Emma Baker and Judith Dobson led the ladies with times of 5.34.36, 5.38.00 and 5.47.43, and in overall positions 15, 16 and 22.

I finished in a time of 7:16:33, in 68th position, an improvement on my 7:23:45 and 81st position at the previous years race.

I had mixed emotions as I toed the start line at the 2012 Speyside Way Race. I was glad to be at my 7th and final ultramarathon of 2012, with the potential for a much needed break awaiting me at the end of the race. With the relative close proximity of many of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series of races, the signs had been there that my body was in need of a rest. In fact, it had pretty much been telling me this since the 95 mile West Highland Race and yet, ignoring this, I had managed to squeeze in the Clyde Stride, the Devil O’ The Highlands and, now, the Speyside Way Race.

On the other hand, I was sad to be at the finish of what has been, for me, a very successful year. 6 new PBs and a West Highland Way Race completion on the first attempt. What’s more, having got to know many more of my fellow ultramarathoners these past few months, I will miss the camaraderie and the shared sense of purpose. It seems such a short time ago that I was looking forward to the first race of the year, the D33, and yet, here we are, coming to the conclusion of the 2012 Scottish Ultra Marathon Series. There is 1 more race in the series to go, the River Ayr Way race (RAW), but I will be sitting this one out.

Unlike the Devil O’ The Highlands, when I didn’t sleep a wink the night before, I enjoyed a long and uninterupted sleep before waking just before 5 am for the Speyside Way Race. What a difference it makes to feel well rested, even at that ungodly time of day!

In previous years Leanne has driven me to Buckie to register and then down to the start at Ballindaloch. However, this year, I opted to make use of the transport laid on by the race organisers. I ended up sitting next to Angus, who I first met at the Cateran. On that day, Angus stuck with me over the final miles of the race as I nursed an achilles injury up and over Glenshee when he could easily have sped off for a faster time.

The journey passed quickly, as we reminisced about surviving the West Highland Way Race and various other races. If nothing else, the crazy weather conditions experienced at some of the races this year have at least served to add to the tales of woe and of triumph in the face of adversity.

Back at the Speyside Way Race, it may have been chucking it down outside, but, by West Highland Way Race standards, this was little more than ‘light rain’! It’s amazing how the experience of a single race can redefine your perception of the weather!

I started at the back of the field, as I like to do. The first 12-13 miles were extremely muddy and very wet. Large parts of the route resembled a stream more than a path, and it was often difficult to judge exactly what lay beneath the water and how deep it was (I was surprised on more than one occasion!).

Moving on to a road section after the first checkpoint at Craigellachie, conditions improved underfoot and I soon found myself back on forest trails climbing Ben Aigan. I met up with Neil who I met properly for the first time at this years Clyde Stride. We covered approximately 20 miles together at the Clyde Stride, from the mid way point to the finish, both suffering from the exertions of the West Highland Way Race from a month previously. The Speyside Way Race was a final ‘training run’ for Neil before heading out to Chamonix for the UTMB this coming weekend. I hope that all goes well for Neil in this, surely THE toughest and most iconic of races, a race that I aspire to – one day!

At the second checkpoint, just beyond the evil hairpin bend that throws you downhill and trashes the legs, I was just about to get going when Alan and Tommy arrived. I waited the couple of minutes required for the guys to get the contents of their drop bags down them and we all headed off together. It was good to see Alan back on form and enjoying his running after a short absence and he soon shot off and left both myself and Tommy. Alan went on to finish in a time of 6.51.28.

Running through Fochabers I was surprised when one of the spectators called out my name. It turned out to be someone who had been in the year below me back at Elgin High School some 20+ years ago. I don’t know who was more surprised but, if you had known me 20+ years ago, an ultramarathon would certainly be the last place you would expect to find me!

I ran with Tommy until the final water point at Spey Bay. I slowed considerably over the last few miles, especially, over the long grassy stretch that takes you up towards the coast. You can see for miles on this long, straight part of the route and, for some reason, I have always disliked this stretch. However, this year, I did not seem to mind the long slog towards the coast as much as usual.

Despite slowing in those final miles, I crossed the line in a time of 7:16:33, recording a new PB by approximately 7 minutes.

As always, everything about the Speyside Way Race was excellent, from the friendly, welcoming Race Directors to the smiling, happy marshals (despite the far from perfect weather) and the finishers goodie bag and medal. It’s a great way to finish the year and I look forward to returning to this race time and time again.

So, 7 ultras done and dusted. 6 PBs and 1 non PB (Clyde Stride, by 12 minutes). Only a few days left at work and then it will be holiday time.

Upon my return, it will be time for me to turn my attention to things that I hope will help me to improve further for next year – mainly weight loss and speed work – though there may well be some additional factors to impact on my running next year – More on that to follow!

Stubborn Goes A Long Way!

New post at ‘The Running Bug‘, ‘Stubborn Goes A Long Way‘.

It’s been a while since my last post here on The Running Bug, coming up for a month now – a veritable drought!

That’s not to say that nothing has been going on. Quite the opposite in fact!

Since my last post, I have run 2 different ultramarathons, The 40 mile Clyde Stride, and the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands, and I am now just one race finish away from completing my goal of 7 ultras in 2012. Technically one more than in 2011 but, given that the ‘one’ was a 95 mile race, I feel like it counts for a whole lot more!

On 21st July, exactly 4 weeks on from The West Highland Way Race, I took part in the Clyde Stride. Starting in Partick, the route takes runners along the Clyde (funnily enough!) out towards the finish in historic New Lanark. It’s an excellent race, well organised and a great option for anyone looking to step up to ultra distance, which is reflected in the large number of first time ultra runners in amongst all the ‘usual faces’.

I thought that a month would be sufficient time to recover from the 95 miles of The West Highland Way Race, even though there were many runners who suggested otherwise. The lack of West Highland Way Race runners in the starting list for The Clyde Stride should also have served as an indication that this was a commonly held view. Turns out I should have listened more carefully!

I don’t know if it was the lack of running in the interim (I could count the number of runs on one hand!) or that the body was still fatigued. Whatever it was, it made for an uncomfortable race, with a feeling of running on empty accompanying me over the last 22 miles, and that’s a long way to go on an empty tank!

I contemplated a DNF – briefly – but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull out. If I could make it through the apocalyptic weather and the projectile vomiting of The West Highland Way Race, I could surely make it to the end of The Clyde Stride. What’s more, I had left my wife back home as she was attending a wedding and I should have been accompanying her. I had also disrupted the weekend of Sandra and John (part of my West Highland Way support crew). I had impacted on enough people’s lives this weekend. Stubbornness kicked in and I told myself to “quit whining and finish!”

And I did, but with my first non PB of the year, missing my previous years time by some 12 minutes. I was gutted, albeit temporarily, before appreciating that I had ground out a finish, something that had not been assured just 20 miles earlier.

At the end of the race I saw fellow ultra runner Colin Knox. “See you in 2 weeks at The Devil” he said.

2 weeks? 2 weeks??? 2 weeks!

I thought that I had 3 weeks to recover before The Devil. Turns out I should have checked on the dates just a little bit more carefully.

Bugger! I had just experienced one of my toughest races and was going to have to do it all over again in just 2 weeks. 43 miles, with a LOT of ascent!

So, a different approach to recovery this time. I did run, although still not as much as I normally would. I cross trained and, mostly, spent time on the spin bike.

The night before The Devil, I did not sleep. I can only assume it was nerves. Whatever it was, it wasn’t exactly conducive to a good race performance. And then, at 4am, it was time to rise and prepare for the 6am start.

Even at 6am it was apparent that the forecast of rain, possibly even hail, was some way short of the mark (or at least was some way off!). It was already hot and the dreader midges were out in force. Their breakfast – some 130 runners waiting for the start of the race. ‘Fortunately’, it later got so hot that even the midges sought shelter, providing some relief for the runners, marshals, support and spectators.

This race, over the top 43 miles of The West Highland Way, is a glorious, scenic run at the best of times. With the sun shining, it showed our surroundings at their very best.

From that initial climb out of Tyndrum, on to Bridge of Orchy and the 1000ft climb up on to Mam Carraigh, through the stunning Rannoch Moor, down through Glencoe with the imposing Buachaille Etive Mòr in the background, up over The Devil’s Staircase, at 1798ft the highest point of the route, down into and back up out of Kinlochleven onto the Lairig Mor and finally down towards the finish at Fort William, it truly is an epic race.

Despite the heat, I did not experience any real lows. I had put any notion of a PB out of my head, based on my experience at The Clyde Stride. However, realising in the latter stages of the race that there was the potential for a PB, I pushed particularly hard in the last 7 miles, hoping to reverse my fortunes from the previous race.

And I did – by 12 minutes! (What’s with the 12 minutes!)

In finishing, I completed not only The Devil O’ The Highlands and race number 6 for 2012. I also completed ‘The Triple Crown’, a finish at The Highland Fling, The West Highland Way Race, and The Devil O’ The Highlands, in a single year. I hadn’t given much thought to this until some Facebook posts over the past couple of days.

I have Iain Wallace to thank for considering The Triple Crown as follows:

None too shabby!

I have John Kynaston to thank for the following statistics: In completing the Triple Crown, I am one of 13 to have completed the Triple Crown in 2012. Since 2007, when runners first completed all 3 races, some 60 people have completed the Triple Crown.

So, 6 down, one to go – the 37.5 mile Speyside Way Race, 2 weeks from now.

Before (finally!) finishing, it’s worth considering the following:

  • I am still struggling to get the weight down, ideally by another 2 stone
  • I am still far from being fast, although have now started to incorporate speed work into training, or at least, the training that takes place when I am not in recovery or taper mode!
  • I still have a lot to improve on overall

However, hopefully my experience this year demonstrates that ‘Aim high, anything is possible’ is a good strategy. You don’t have to be the fastest or the fittest. What I will say however, is that stubborn goes a long way!

Happy running

The Devil O’ The Highlands 2012

Tyndrum enjoys a steady stream of people throughout the year, partly as a result of its location on The West Highland Way. However, twice a year it is invaded by hundreds of ultramarathon runners, in April, at the end of the 53 mile Highland Fling, and in August, at the beginning of the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands Ultramarathon.

This weekend past it was the turn of The Devil O’ The Highlands runners.

The race itself always sells out well in advance and a waiting list then is operated on a one out, one in basis as people invariably, unfortunately find themselves injured or otherwise committed.

This year 138 runners were at the line for the 6am start. Of these, 124 completed in times ranging from 5.36.17 to 11.43.50.

The winners were as follows:

Males:

  • Thomas Loehndorf: 5.36.17
  • Casey Morgan: 5.55.47
  • Craig Cunningham: 6.21.27
  • 1st Male Vet: Robert Soutar: 6.21.28
  • 1st Male Super Vet: Graham Harcus: 7.09.47

Females:

  • Debbie Martin Consani:6.54.06
  • Hazel Dean: 7.23.45
  • Michelle Heatherington: 7.23.54
  • 1st Female Vet: Mellanie Sinclair: 7.57.34
  • 1st Female Super Vet: Louise Burt: 7.25.59

The Route

The Green Welly Stop, one of the landmarks in Tyndrum, opens its doors and cafe to runners for the 4.30am – 5.30 race registration. At 6am runners set off from Brodies store, with an immediate climb out of Tyndrum, heading for the first check point at the Bridge of Orchy, approximately 7 miles away. No such thing as a gentle start to this race!

Leaving Bridge of Orchy, the route climbs approx. 1000ft up on to Mam Carraigh which, according to the race info, “heralds the beginning of rougher country underfoot that continues more or less unabated until the end of the race”.

The speedy descent offers tremendous views of Loch Tulla before crossing the scenic and desolate Rannoch Moor. Fortunately the glorious weather on race day showed Rannoch Moor at its best. Take it from me when I say that it is no less pretty yet considerably more daunting when crossed in whiteout conditions!

The welcome sight of the Peter Fleming Cairn up on the hill to the left of the trail signals the end of Rannoch Moor and the close proximity of checkpoint 2, at the White Cottage, Glencoe.

From here the route then heads towards Kingshouse, with the imposing Buachaille Etive Mor in the background. Climbing alongside Beinn a Chrulaiste, the route takes runners to Altnafeadh, at the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase. Once at the top of the 849ft Devil’s Staircase there are amazing views of Buachaille Etive Mor to be had behind you. At 1798ft this is the highest point of the route.

The descent down into Kinlochleven is both brutal and never ending. What should be a glorious bit of downhill is obstructed somewhat by the ‘difficult’ (understatement!) conditions underfoot. Kinlochleven hosts checkpoint 3 and, on leaving Kinlochleven, the route includes another steep climb, up to the Lairig Mor (the high pass).

The final stretch of the route takes runners over the Lairig Mor and finally down towards the finish at Fort William, some 43 miles later.

The Race

Scotland’s ‘summer’ so far this year has largely consisted of the occasional sunny day sandwiched between torrential rain and, unfortunately for many of the runners, the day of the race turned out to be a gloriously sunny day. Whilst it made for a great day for spectators and support crew alike, many of the runners suffered in the heat which, according to a temperature sign in Fort William, was in the low 20s. While the temperature showcased the splendour of the route, it also made for a tough day and made staying fully hydrated that little bit more difficult.

From a personal perspective, I was pretty nervous about the race and this was the likely cause for the total lack of sleep on the night before the race. Having completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in apocalyptic weather conditions towards the end of June I next ran at the 40 mile Clyde Stride, expecting to have fully recovered by this point, 1 month later. However, the reality was quite different and I toiled to grind out a finish, with the body running ‘on empty’.

With only two weeks between The Clyde Stride and The Devil I was not overly hopeful of a good result! Fortunately things fared better for me than expected on the day, despite the heat in which I always suffer. I took 12 minutes off of my previous time, finishing in 9.50.55 in 90th position.

Perhaps more importantly than the time or position, I felt like I had a good overall run, with only the occasional dip and none of the absolute lows experienced in the previous two races. I had suffered particularly badly in the long climb out of Kinlochleven and had all but seen any chance of a PB slip away. However, managing to put in a good final 7 miles, I pulled this back.

I was even lucky enough to win a spot prize, a set of High 5 gels and energy source powders.

Next up is The Speyside Way Race in 3 weeks, my 7th and final ultramarathon for 2012.

I was supported by my wife Leanne and her brother Ross on race day.

The following is taken from last year’s Devil O’ The Highlands race report. The compulsory kit, elevation profile and route have not changed.

Compulsory Kit:

This list of safety equipment is to be carried by each competitor and a duplicate copy is also advised to be carried by the backup team:

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Space Blanket
  4. Full body waterproof clothing
  5. Water
  6. Food

Devil O’ The Highlands Elevation Profile

Devil O’ The Highlands Route

Recovery Time & The Devil O’ The Highlands

The legs are already back to normal after an excellent spin bike session last night. This seems to have eradicated the last of the tightness that I had been feeling since finishing the 40 mile Clyde Stride Ultramarathon. Considering that the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands is now just 10 days away, it’s probably just as well!

It will be somewhat strange to return to Tyndrum and the start of the Devil O’ The Highlands given that my last time in Tyndrum was en route, by foot, to Fort William and the finish of the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. I was only just starting to get myself back in the game by Tyndrum following my projectile vomit session at Auchentyre Farm. While I am hopeful that the Devil will be considerably less traumatic, I do have some concerns about the terrain, and, especially that of the later stages of the race. It is all too fresh in the mind, etched there by the memory of the pain I endured as I ground out a finish at The West Highland Way Race.

Whilst, after the disappointment of my first non PB of 2012, I am revising my expectations for the Devil, it would be great to finish with another PB. However, I am all too aware after this past weekend that the body has taken a considerable battering over these past few months and it is finally starting to rebel. As much as it pains me to say it, I will have to consider cutting back the runs in 2013 and, almost certainly, will need to consider the space between runs. This is especially true of The West Highland Way Race, should I sign up for 2013.

One positive is that a finish at the Devil O’ The Highlands will see me complete the ‘Triple Crown’ of Fling, WHW Race & Devil, something I would never have even dreamed possible only a few short years ago.

I can then turn my attention to The Speyside Way Race, the climax of my own ultramarathon series in 2012. It’s hard to credit that it seemed such a short time ago I was sitting here considering The D33, the 1st race of the series. As they say, how time flies when you are having fun!

Once the ultras are done and dusted it will be time for me to turn my attentions to weight loss and to speed work, with the aim of improving on this years PBs. Soon enough, it will be time to get the entry in for The West Highland Way Race 2013 and I reckon I owe it to myself to lose approx. 2 stone before even considering an application!

All the very best to everyone running The Devil. See you on the start line.

2012s First (& Hopefully Last) Non PB

The 40 mile Clyde Stride Ultramarathon turned into a test of my resolve this weekend. After approximately 6 miles of acute shin splint pain, 4 miles of happy running soon gave way to a feeling that I can only describe as ‘running on empty’!

Had it not been for the encouragement of Tommy, with whom I ran the first 18 miles, I may well have dropped!

The feelings of woe were further compounded when, whilst making a quick check in phone call with Sandra & John (WHW Race support crew who I stayed with this weekend and who met me at points along the way), I found that my peanut butter and jam sandwiches were still in the fridge and not in the carefully (mostly!) prepared drop bags.

It wouldn’t have been so bad but we had actually joked about the potential to forget them the night before – doh!

Thankfully Sandra & John managed to get the sandwiches to me at the 18 mile mark as I met them at the Strathclyde Park checkpoint.

I said to Tommy to run ahead at this point as I planned a short stop at the checkpoint to try and recharge the batteries. However, despite feeling better for seeing Sandra & John, I was fairly dejected as I ran through Strathclyde Park.

Not long after leaving Strathclyde Park I met up with Neil, whom I recognised from a number of races as both a runner and as one of the SUMS race doctors.

We both appeared to still be feeling the effects of the 95 mile West Highland Way Race only weeks before.

We stuck together for the remainder of the race and it was good to have some company to bolster the spirits. Although I had seen Neil on a number of occasions I didn’t realise just how many ultras he had run and it was great to hear about the various races.

As we neared Lanark a red squirrel ran through a field on my left hand side, dived through the fence and landed right at my feet before shooting off in front of me and then clambering up a tree. That has to be the weirdest (non hallucinatory) race experience ever!

I would say that I had come close to quitting early in the race. The reality is that I wouldn’t let myself quit. I was mentally prepared to grind out the finish. The West Highland Way Race redefined my definitions of ‘low’, ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ and at no point was I anywhere near these points despite how bad I felt.

It was great to get to the finish, and at least this year I had previous knowledge of the loop that takes you back out of New Lanark before finally depositing you back at the finish line (pure evil!).

I missed last years time by some 12 minutes, my first non PB of the year. However, given the circumstances I am not overly disappointed with that.

The race route also had some surprises in store. I distinctly remember some wild and muddy areas last year but, this year, most likely as a result of the recent rains, the route contained more than a few muddy challenges and some plant life that was close to (and occasionally over) head height.

At times it felt more like being in a jungle but this merely added to the challenge of the route. Not what you expect of a race that starts in Partick! If you have yet to run the Clyde Stride, put your preconceptions aside and get yourself signed up for next year.

It is a great route with some stunning sections and what has to be one of the most stunning finishes to an ultra, in New Lanark, steeped in history. The race organisation, courtesy of Race Director Lee and her marshals, is excellent.

Today, sitting writing this on the train back home, I don’t actually feel all that sore. It looks like the body is starting to get accustomed to the occasional batterings it receives. However, the feeling of running on empty is a worry.

I obviously didn’t give myself enough time to recover after the West Highland Way Race and, from what a number of fellow WHW Race runners have said, they also found the race tough.

I have just 13 days now to recuperate before the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands ultra, my penultimate race of the year.

Why Speed?

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Why Speed?‘.

Why speed? Not a post about road safety but, in fact, about the ‘need for speed’ when it comes to running. Speed training is something that I have failed to embrace and, indeed, shied away from. Until now.

Back in the days when I realised that it was time to turn my life around and I first hit the gym, there were many machines that I despised. The treadmill was top of that list. I started working my way through these machines, one by one picking them off and slowly moving from hate, to acceptance and, in some cases to an actual liking for the machine. Eventually, I moved on to the treadmill, at first hating it, but, by the end, it became the ‘machine of choice’ where gym visits were concerned.

Fast forward a few years and I am still a fan of the treadmill. I even own a treadmill! (if truth be told, my second treadmill after I wore out the first one!)

I have since discovered the joy of running outdoors and, indeed, take this to extremes running in my favoured event – off-road ultramarathons. This is my 3rd year running ultramarathons, with 1 previous year running marathons.

In all this time, right from back in the days on the gym treadmill through to now running ultramarathons, I have bumbled along at pretty much the same speed. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than happy to do so and I have enjoyed my running (and even the challenges posed by some of my events of late!).

In all this time, I have run events with the sole intention of completion. Improving on a previous PB was/is always a bonus but, by and large, my ‘game plan’ has been to get to the finish and nothing more.

I could, I am sure, continue to bumble along quite happily.

However, since the turn of the year I have embraced a strange compulsion to pick up the speed.

It has taken me out of my comfort zone and, at the end of speed and/or hill sessions, I have often found myself dripping with sweat, legs quivering and with a desperate urge to throw up. But not once have I asked myself ‘WHY?’

I now have a new game plan,with the same goal of event completion, but with a slight addition tacked on to improve on my speed. Since the beginning of the year I have knocked 8 minutes off of my ‘comfortable’ 5 mile time and there’s definitely more to follow – I reckon another 5 minutes improvement (at least) is possible.

I have noticed improvements in my training and racing, most notably my D33 time from March this year where I knocked 23 minutes off of my previous PB. Further, there have been times, out on long slow runs on the trail, when I have felt like I am going far too slow. The Garmin, however, tells a different story. I have actually been running at a good pace, often faster than I would previously have run. Why did it feel slow? Because the body was starting to feel accustomed to the ‘new’, ‘improved’ faster pace from the speed sessions.

For many years I was like one of those single speed bikes. I had no fast, medium and slow pace. I just ran. Now that I am finally beginning to embrace speed work, I hope to see benefits not only in terms of improved times, but also in terms of weight loss and general overall health improvements.

Looking back, I realise now that I was content to run within my comfort zone, only occasionally pushing the boundaries in a bid to up the ante. This approach has served me well and, barring 1 DNF, I have managed to complete everything I set out to finish. However, I now appreciate that I have more to give. It may feel like some kind of sadistic torture at the time but the exhilaration finishing a speed and/or hill session is more than worth it and, what’s more, it will hopefully continue to bring added benefits.

If you are reading this and can identify with the above, I suggest that you give it a go and really push yourself to your limits. If you are anything like me, you will likely find that those limits keep expanding to accommodate your new found speed.

Ultra Colleagues

As yet another ultra approaches, the Hoka Highland Fling on the 28th April, it dawned on me that at least 3, if not 4, people from my fairly small IT department at the University of Aberdeen will all toe the line for the event.

I am useless at maths so will not even attempt to work out the % of people in the UK who run ultramarathons. I do know, however, without having to resort to any maths that, even despite the rise of ultramarathon running these past few years, it is still unusual to have so many ultra colleagues in a single place of work – or is it? Running ultras is infectious – I definitely recommend it!

“If you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry, you’ll get over it”
(Ultra quote, unknown source)

Not In The Mood?

There are times when, regardless of your commitment, you just can’t face a run. This happened to me just the other weekend. I had planned a long slow run as part of my training but just couldn’t face it. This doesn’t happen to me often (fortunately) but I would like to suggest a possible remedy.

If it happens, deal with it. Your body may well be telling you something. If the plan was for a long slow run, how about aiming for a short, fast run instead? This way may at least ease the guilt somewhat.

Go out hard (after an initial warm up). If you are on a treadmill, run at a good pace but ramp up the incline a few notches to make things tough for yourself. Do some speed work. Do both!

Continue for a length of time that is proportional to your overall run i.e. 1 to 2 miles out of a 5 mile run before then changing pace and incline to represent your ‘normal’ run. After the intense start to your run, the rest of the run will feel much easier and you will likely get through the session, no doubt coming out the other end of the run glad that you did it.

Happy running.

February & March Summary

2 months summary rolled into 1 post. Time has flown past. It seems like only yesterday that I had completed the final race of 2011, the Speyside Way Ultramarathon. The D33 and the 2012 Scottish Ultra Marathon Series all seemed so far away. Until, that was, this Saturday past when it all started again. From now until the end of September it will be an ultra a month every 3 to 4 weeks, until I have completed all 7 of the races that I plan to do this year. This includes the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, the thought of which excites me and fills me with fear in equal quantities!

So, in terms of a summary, to cut a long story short, I ran – a lot, or at least a lot in comparison to last year, which in turn saw a significant increase on the year before. It would appear to be a continual upwards trend where my running is concerned. Having said that, I am now taking more time off to recover and especially after the longer runs. Only time will tell what kind of final mileage lies in store this year.

I ran part of The Moray Coast Trail, from Ellon to Fraserburgh along The Formartine & Buchan Way, in and around the Cairngorms and in and around Ellon while Leanne was away in Houston. All of the aforementioned runs helped prepare me for The D33 on Saturday 17th March and no doubt contributed to my PB of approximately 23 minutes.

As for the rest of the month – a frantic week of work will be followed by a week in the Cairngorms to celebrate turning 40. Where better to mark this occasion than in one of my favourite parts of Scotland.

Happy running!