What A Difference A Week Makes – My Fated Return To Ultras!

What a difference a week makes. This time last week I had one thing on my mind, my return to running ultramarathons at the D33 following a near 2 year hiatus from the world of long distance running.

Whilst it most definitely wasn’t the easiest of days, mostly thanks to the debilitating cramps that struck me at mile 18 and stayed with me for the remainder of the race, retrospectively, it was far easier than the week that was to follow.

My legs were particularly sore in the aftermath of this event, no doubt as a result of the spasms that shot through them mid race. However. little did I appreciate on the Sunday that DOMS was to be the least of my worries in the aftermath of the race.

I left work at the usual time on Monday afternoon, feeling less than 100%. Arriving home, something caught my eye as I changed out of my work clothes – spots. Lots & lots of spots.

What followed was a swift deterioration of my condition, accompanied by the arrival of a multitude of spots, appearing in every conceivable place of my body, and more than a few places that I just hadn’t expected to see them!

At the age of 42, I was experiencing chickenpox for the very first time. I knew my time was coming. Ever since my son Harris arrived, back in February 2013, I realised that there was a good chance that he would get it and that he would then, as he does so well with all of his ailments, pass it on to me.

True to form, Harris appears to have developed a mild form of chickenpox, leaving me to experience the considerably more severe form. It’s all that I can do not to try and rip the skin off my body and I have to admit to finding the various creams and lotions largely ineffective at reducing the irritation.

Looking on the bright side, it could be worse. At least this happened in the week immediately after the D33, in a time when I was expecting to be taking things easy/easier anyway.

It could have waited until days before my next event, the Hoka Highland Fling.

What with illness, cellulitis and now chickenpox, I have surely had my run of bad luck as far as training for and running in ultras is concerned.

When I decided to make 2015 my comeback year, I didn’t expect that everything would run smoothly. I didn’t, however, expect this!

I’m still highly contagious at this point, with spots still developing wherever they can find a space and, as such, instead of heading off for a lovely weekend in Glasgow, I am confined to the house and trying my best not to scar myself by giving in to the numerous urges to scratch!

I’m determined, however, that I will still be heading to the Cairngorms for my birthday weekend at the end of the month, and, further, that there will be running!

I can only live in hope.

Hopefully, surely, things can only get better from this point on!

2014 Review

Given that it’s now the start of February 2015, it’s technically getting a bit late for a ‘2014 Review’. Things keep getting in the way, not unlike the way they keep getting in the way of training, but I set out to write a review of 2014 and I am determined to complete it. After all, if I can’t even complete a review, what hope have I got of completing 2015’s planned event schedule.

My ‘2014 Review’ will be quite unlike many of the reviews that I have been reading online.

For one, my ‘2014 Review’ is actually going to go back as far as 2013, so we can get the whole picture, as my running spiralled into oblivion.

Further, my review is different because I didn’t run in any organised events, let alone any ultramarathons, and I ran fewer miles than I have since at least 2010 and, most likely, since 2007.

There were no big events, no (official) PBs, and no logging of mileage. I couldn’t even give an approximation of how many miles I ran.

Sounds a bit chaotic really but the truth of the matter is that I was ‘otherwise engaged’, ‘on sabbatical’, ‘out of office’ as far as running was concerned.

It’s a situation that, given the prominent role that running has played in my life these past few years, I would never have envisaged, and yet, 2014 was the first year since 2004 that I didn’t compete in an organised event.

Since late February 2013, it has all been about parenthood, attempting to master the role of ‘daddy’, a challenge that I have relished despite constantly feeling like I am making it up as I go along!

My last ultramarathon was the 2013 D33, just weeks after the birth of my son Harris. ‘Training’ had been severely impacted by preparations around the house for the impending birth, with practically the whole house decorated, including a kitchen that was finally finished just a couple of weeks before Harris’s arrival. I hope never again to repeat the chaos of those few months.

By the time the D33 came, in mid-March and just a couple of weeks after our new arrival, I had mustered ‘long run’ training, and I really do use that description in the loosest sense, of just 11 miles, 1/3 of the total distance that I expected to cover.

I did grind out a finish, along with a PW time, but admittedly not actually that much over my first ever D33 time!

It wasn’t pretty.

Understatement.

It hurt.

A lot.

Huge understatement!

I knew there was no chance of me making it to the 2014 D33 and was gutted to lose my place as one of the ever presents in this, the 5th year of the event.

So, we’ve established, 2014 wasn’t about the running.

It wasn’t, however, a complete write-off where fitness was concerned.

But we are not quite at the positive part, not just yet.

Following injury and my resulting failure to attain a 1/2 marathon PB at the Great Scottish Run in October 2013, a very visible failure thanks to my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador with PUMA and The Running Bug, I found my running mojo plummeted.

I was then unfortunate enough to catch something called Hand, Foot & Mouth from my son. Fortunately, he appeared to have a fairly mild reaction to this viral infection, something which, according to the NHS mostly affects young children.

I, on the other hand, did not. One of the symptoms is described as follows:

“A non-itchy red rash, made up of spots or small fluid-filled sacs (vesicles), which usually develops on the hands and feet, but may also occur on the knees, elbows, groin and buttocks; sometimes the rash can develop into painful blisters”

I ended up unable to walk thanks to painful blisters that covered the soles of my feet, amongst other areas, almost in their entirety. My feet were in a better condition at the end of 95 miles of apocalyptic weather on the West Highland Way than they were after just one single day of hand, foot and mouth.

It was a good few weeks before I could even walk, let alone run without pain, and the skin of my feet took months to properly heal.

My weight started to creep up, nullifying all the gains that I had made thanks to the nutrition element of the PUMA PB Challenge.

2014 started with illness. I was in the Cairngorms for the start of the year but was under the weather thanks to a bad chest infection. I made the most of my time there but I was most definitely held back by the severity of the infection.

Finally, around the middle of 2014, things took a positive turn on the health front. By this point, my weight was up around the 16 stone mark.

Following the opening of the new Aquatics Centre at Aberdeen Sports Village, I popped across for a swim, just to see what it was like. This made a change to my usual approach of working through lunch, eating a packed lunch at my desk.

My single visit turned into a daily pilgrimage to the pool. When I tired of swimming every day, I alternated between the gym and the pool, and this is pretty much how it has been since.

I started 2015 some 3 stone lighter than my 16 stone peak, still heavy by a lot of people’s standards but, certainly as far as I am concerned, the lightest that I have been since… well, since I can actually really remember. I was possibly lighter at some point back in my early 20s, but that’s a good while ago now and the memory isn’t ‘that’ good!

I’m not finished yet. Despite a plateau over the past few weeks, I am determined to lose more weight, hopefully in time for 2015’s planned events.

Losing weight does bring new ‘problems’. For one, I need to replace a large portion of my wardrobe as and when finances permit. That’s not such a big deal.

I also discovered that I am no longer impervious to the cold, resulting in the purchase this past weekend of a Rab Summit Jacket, a toasty warm down garment that should hopefully keep me much warmer.

The main issue is with regard to the impact on my running.

On the plus side, I’ve found myself able to run considerably faster than previously, notching up a massive PB at the 5k distance and taking over a minute off of my 10k PB, a time which itself was a fluke, much faster than my usual times, set way back in 2008!

On the negative side, my pacing has gone out of the window. I’m no longer ‘Mr. Single Speed’. I can now mix it up. Unfortunately, however, I usually do mix it up, each and every long run, and I have yet to find the optimal pace for completing runs over the 6 mile distance. That’s obviously something that needs to be resolved, ideally before the D33 in March.

I had, admittedly somewhat naively, hoped that muscle memory, coupled with the not insignificant weight loss, would see me easily smash all of the ultra PBs that I have set in the past.

The reality, as I found on one particularly bad 18 mile run the other week, was that I will need to a) find my optimal long run pace and b) train just as hard, if not harder, than I have in the past, to try and get anywhere near to the levels of ultra endurance that I had previously accrued over 3 solid years of ultra training and racing.

To add insult to injury, I actually struggled from the 3 mile mark on that 18 mile run. Still, I persisted, something that I obviously haven’t forgotten from my time running ultras and, further, an 18 mile run, albeit a bad one, is still 7 miles longer than any run I managed while training for the 2013 D33! As such, I can’t really complain.

So, that’s where things stand now. I am attempting to get enough running in, albeit mixed up with swimming, cycling and cross training. Gone are the days when I run simply to log miles and add to yearly mileage totals. I haven’t in fact, logged any of my mileage. I just have a rough idea of how things are building up.

With a bit of luck I will complete the D33 and the Highland Fling, the two events that I have signed up for at the time of writing. I’m also keen to do the Great Glen Ultra, a 72 mile run from Fort William to Inverness that I have never run before. It would, in fact, be my first BaM (Bill & Mike) event. Having cycled the route, from Inverness to Fort William, a good few years back, it’s a race that excites me, and especially with the prospect of running some of it on the new higher level path, with the improved views over Loch Ness.

Ideally, I would also like to round off the year with a return to The Speyside Way. Hopefully training, finance, and logistics, will allow that. As an ‘Elgin loon’, it’s almost like returning home, even though running, let alone running endurance events, was about the furthest thing from my mind in those first 18 years of my life when I lived in Elgin and Lhanbryde (located 4 miles out of Elgin, not in Wales, for those that don’t know the area).

There are elements of that Speyside Way Race route that are amongst my favourite trails outside of the Cairngorms and I can’t wait to run them again.

So, in summary, 2013/2014 didn’t have the best of starts health wise and running was always a secondary, if even that, part of my life in this time. However, 2014 was the year when I finally, after years of trying, turned a corner where my weight was concerned, something that will hopefully have an impact on my 2015 ultra schedule and for many, many years to come.

And Then There Were 11

This New Year I was fortunate enough to be in the Cairngorms, surrounded by family and enjoying a week there in the aftermath of Harris’s first Christmas. The weather wasn’t too bad for the time of year and I was able to enjoy long early morning walks on The Speyside Way with Harris, albeit in the dark for a lot of the time! The days were spent, as every day should be, walking lots, making the most of the opportunities afforded by our location, and drinking hot chocolate, eating cake and dining well. Perfect!

Unfortunately, I was feeling considerably below par, taking everything at a reduced pace, and tiring far quicker than normal.

An emergency appointment at the local surgery on New Year’s Eve resulted in a diagnosis of a chest infection and appropriate medication was dispensed.

When The D33 entries opened on 1st January, I immediately applied, determined to keep up my record as one of the 12 ‘ever presents’, those with 100% attendance at the event. It also gave me something to aim for, a return to ultras, with approximately 3 months in which to get my mileage back up to something sensible for participating in this kind of event.

There would be no turning up at the start line with ‘long run’ training of only 11 miles this year, unlike 2012 when home improvements, baby preparations, and the arrival of Harris put paid to serious ultra mileage.

Positive thoughts to start the year.

What followed was weeks of illness, including some 3 weeks signed off work, as I went from chest infection to flu to viral infection to, well, basically whatever appeared to be on the go, much of it ‘kindly’ passed on by my son, encountering many of these ailments for the first time himself! Oh, and did I mention an infected big toe? Something that was also diagnosed that New Year’s Eve in Aviemore!

As so commonly happens, the month of March snuck up on me at alarming speed, all without anything remotely resembling serious training taking place.

The decision to withdraw from The D33 was a painful one but, under the circumstances, it was the right thing to do. I could perhaps, as I did in 2013, have ground out a finish, but at what cost to my body and overall health? Also, there was the nagging doubt in my mind that, when I did finish in 2013, it was admittedly with reduced training, but was also with 3 years of solid running in the legs. In 2013/14, injury, illness, work and family commitments decimated my running. Would I have been able to pull it off? We will just never know!

The D33 will also be a special race for me. Like so many others, it was my first ultramarathon. Further, I like to be there for RD George Reid, and Karen Donaghue, as a thank you for their efforts and encouragement over the years. It’s admittedly not the most scenic of the ultras that I run and it’s certainly far from hilly, but what else would you expect from a race held on an old railway line!

I may have lost my 100% attendance record, but I will be back!

Update: 7th April 2014

This article was originally titled, ‘And Then There Were 10‘ but, as I found out just after posting it, there are still 11 ever presents who have now completed all 5 D33 events. The 11 are listed below in order of total time taken to complete the 5 races:

  • Mike Raffan
  • Graham Nash
  • Norry Mcneill
  • Michael Dick
  • Ian Minty
  • Victoria Shanks
  • Colin Knox
  • Jo Thom
  • Neil Macritchie
  • Iain Shanks
  • Ray McCurdy

I had to laugh when, shortly after posting this, the following appeared on The D33 Facebook page:

“This ikea bag has secret stuff in it to go somewhere secret to get secret stuff done to it for the 11 ever presents who have ran all 5 D33’s. Hope to have them to you all in a few weeks.”

How typical to have missed out – Wonder what’s inside the bag!

The Deeside Way

The Deeside Way, also known as The Royal Deeside Line, currently runs from Aberdeen to Banchory with additional sections from Aboyne to Ballater and in the Blackhall Forest, on the outskirts of Banchory. Ultimately, the aim is to join these sections with a final uninterrupted route of approximately 45 miles from Aberdeen to Ballater. The Deeside Way starts at the Polmuir Road entrance to Duthie Park, just behind the David Welch Winter Gardens. The route runs through Aberdeen, Peterculter, Drumoak, Banchory, Kincardine O’Neil, Aboyne, Dinnet and Ballater and passes close to Crathes Castle and Drum Castle.

The track is now part of the National Cycle Network, as National Route 195.

History

The Deeside Railway Line opened in September 1853, running between Aberdeen and Banchory. This was extended in December 1859 to include Aboyne, and, in 1866, to Ballater.

“The line was planned originally to end at Braemar but Queen Victoria was afraid her privacy would be disturbed by hordes of tourists at Balmoral so she bought land along the route between Ballater and Braemar to prevent this.”(http://www.cyclegrampian.co.uk/trail/deeside.html)

Like so many other railways, the 1963 Beeching Report sealed the fate of the line and it closed to passengers and freight in 1966.

The D33 Ultramarathon

The D33 Ultramarathon was first run in 2010, from Duthie Park in Aberdeen to the outskirts of Banchory and back. This out and back race of 33 miles in duration is an increasingly popular event and is often the first ultramarathon that people run, myself included. At just 5 miles over the 26.2 miles of a marathon it is a great ultra for first timers and seasoned ultramarathoners alike.

The humorous race instructions from the D33 website:

“The concept is simple, turn up at the Duthie park car park in Aberdeen and register and run the first section of the Deeside way to Banchory, check in with marshall, turn round and run back. Total distance out and back is 33 miles. No entry conditions apply, if you think you can then enter and do it. If you get half way and find you can’t, phone registration with your race number, tell them you are a loser and take the bus home. Support, there is none required but if you want your mum to meet you half way with a jam sandwich then thats ok with us. Checkpoint at 1/4 way, half way and 3/4 way, roughly 8ish miles, 16 and a half miles and 25ish miles. Get to half way turn around point, then run back. You get water at the checkpoints, if drop bag needed at the checkpoints clearly mark your bag with your number or carry yourself or get from your Mum. Cut offs – This is a race for runners it’s not for walkers so lets be sensible, I want to be in the pub at a reasonable hour so run as fast as you can.”

Deeside Way Route Maps

Resources

Moray 10k

This coming Sunday, the 1st September, will be my first race of the year since the D33 ultramarathon back in March. I did have a number of events planned for the interim, including a second stab at the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling, the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands and, well, pretty much all of my ‘usual’ ultramarathons (Scottish Ultra Marathon Series). But then, in February, my son Harris was born, and it soon became all too obvious that there wasn’t going to be enough time in the day to train to the extent that I was used to AND be a great dad. That’s when I decided to retire from running ultramarathons, albeit temporarily.

In the run up to a race I am used to getting drop bags ready, spending ages pondering over kit choices, which waistpack/rucksack/race vest to wear etc. etc. etc. This time round, however, I will be lucky to have warmed up by the time I get to the starting line. Why? Because I am running a 10k, 6.2 miles.

I’ve run 15 10ks to date, starting back in May 2007 at the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. I can’t recall if it was that very race but I do remember that I reached the 1/2 way point at one Baker Hughes 10k, in May of that year (as it always is), and thought to myself that this was now my longest run of the year! Given the thousands of miles that I have logged since, and especially the miles logged since March 2010 when my focus turned to ultramarathons, it seems funny not to have run anything longer than 3 miles by May of any year!

My PB for the 10k distance is 49:36, set way back in 2007, again at the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. If memory serves me correctly, that was the year that the race start was delayed because of cars parked on the route and also the year where it started hailing/snowing just before the start of the race – no doubt the reason for my extra turn of speed that year!

Believe it or not, I am actually nervous about running it. I’ve never been a fast runner and, with a 10k, it’s never that long before the event is over. It’s also my first 10k since June 2009!

It would be nice to finish with a good time, especially considering all the training I have been doing and that, at my next event, the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on 6th October, I am aiming to set a new PB as part of my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador. However, I currently have a niggle with my right leg and, thus, will just have to see how the day goes.

On the plus side, even with race registration, transportation to the start line etc. etc., I should be away from the family for little more than a couple of hours rather than the 12-30 hours required for completion of some of my ultras in the past! In that area at least, it will be mission accomplished as far as my running and having realistic running goals is concerned.

All the best if you are running any of the Moray Marathon series of events this weekend. I will be the one kitted out head to toe in PUMA gear :o)

Men’s Running Trail Zone

Men’s Running recently produced “Trail Zone, The Complete Guide To Trail Running”, which includes a contribution from myself. The contribution was actually something that first appeared back in the May 2012 edition of Men’s Running, but, for Trail Zone, it was updated to reflect my successful completion of 7 ultras, including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, in 2012.

“I have no great aversion to road running, but I would always choose a trail run over a road run regardless of the time of day, the season and/or the weather conditions.

The trail offers me greater freedom and lets me reconnect with nature. It offers me a greater variety of terrain which is both more challenging, more rewarding and yet kinder to my body. It offers me a chance to reach places that are not often visited other than by those who are willing to put in a similar effort.

It offers me the chance to explore and to see the best that our country has to offer. It tests me and pits me against the elements, in a way that the road could not. It offers me an escape from the mundane, the 9 to 5. It offers me freedom!

Since discovering the trail I have gone on to take it to extremes in the form of ultramarathon running.

In 2012 I am aiming to complete seven off-road ultramarathons, from the 33-mile D33 run to the 95-mile West Highland Way Race, with runs of 37, 40, 43, 53 and 55 miles in between.

In completing these races I will log many, many hours on the trail, some of which will leave me wondering why I even bother to put myself through this, but ultimately, they will all be rewarding.

That’s why the trail wins.”

Trail Zone, The Complete Guide To Trail Running is available from newsagents and directly from the link below:

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)

When Ultras Go Bad – D33 2013

It should come as no surprise to anyone who read my previous post, ‘D33 Or Bust‘, that Saturday 16th March, the day of the D33 ultramarathon, proved to be a tough day for me. Due to a number of factors explained in that previous post, training just hadn’t gone to plan and, as I approached the day of the D33, the first Scottish Ultra Marathon Series race of the year, I was filled with all kinds of concern regarding how the day was going to pan out. I even considered giving the race a miss but both Race Director George Reid and fellow runner Ian Minty offered some sound advice, telling me to turn up and do the best that I could. Looking back, I am glad that I listened to their advice. Not only did I finish the race, I wasn’t last and, as I found out at George’s pre-race briefing, I was one of only 14 ‘ever presents’, who have run each of the 4 D33 ultramarathons held.

This time last year I had run in excess of 400 miles with a number of long slow runs including back to back sessions, basically the ideal preparation for the 33 mile event. This year I had completed just over 1/4 of that, with no run longer than 11 miles, basically the worst possible preparation for pretty much any event other than, say, a half marathon!

I knew this was going to hurt, and it did!

The legs coped well up to the 11 mile mark, the distance I had become ‘comfortable’ with in training. However, by the time I reached the half way mark at 16.5 miles, just on the outskirts of Banchory, I could feel tightening throughout my legs and, by the 18 mile mark, I was running in pain. ‘Only’ 15 miles to go. I must have been visibly pained by the time I reached the 27 mile mark as a kind walker, out for a stroll on the Deeside Way, took pity on me and offered me some paracetamol which I gladly accepted. This eased the pain somewhat and left me to deal with the cramping that occurred whenever I changed pace (think 1st and 2nd gear only by this point!). I had forgotten just how long that last section felt but was glad to meet in with a number of other runners who were similarly toiling. I was not alone out there at least!

The first time I ran this race, back in 2010, I completed it in a time of 06:03:01. Each year I have chipped away at that time, completing in 05:58:56 and, in 2012, my event PB time of 05:36:10. This year I finally crossed the line in a time of 06:18:33, 214th out of 252 finishers. I’m not sure how many DNFs there were on the day but over 300 had actually signed up to the event.

The weather throughout the day was cold and wet, quite unlike the usual D33 warmer weather that accompanies the event. To be honest, that probably worked in my favour. There have been times in the past where I have toiled in the heat and, this year, that might just have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. As it was, I was layered up with my Helly Hansen Dry Revolution LS and my Montane Minimus waterproof, which kept me at just the right temperature throughout the day.

I did have one particularly ‘doh’ moment. Around the 20 mile mark the rain once again started to pour down with some force and I decided to put up the hood on my Montane Minimus. Without thinking, I unrolled the hood and threw it over my head, at which point, some 20 miles worth of accumulated rain water went straight down my back, soaking and chilling me in an instant. That’s certainly something that I hope never to repeat – beware of hoods! :o)

So it was tough, but I got there in the end – Now on to the positives.

As with every D33, it’s great to finally get the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series underway, even if I was ‘slightly’ unprepared this year. To be honest, the training hasn’t exactly had the opportunity to kick up a notch or two since that day so I think, this year, the challenge is definitely going to focus on completion of events rather than on racking up PBs.

It was also great to see so many familiar faces, and lots of new ones. This year the pre race chat for most people that I met up with was about my newly born son Harris. It was nice to have so many people asking after him. He did make an appearance at the end of the race with Leanne but, given the conditions and my slightly later than usual finish, we didn’t get the chance to introduce him to many of you. I am sure everyone will get a chance to meet him soon enough :o)

It was great to finish. That usually goes without saying but, this year, finishing was particularly important to me and I can quite honestly say that I am content with my time. I expected to take longer if truth be told. I was met by Race Director George Reid on the finish line and had to laugh as he pointed out “see what you can achieve without training”. Thanks George :o) As always, the D33 medal, produced by www.craftrocks.co.uk, was unique and completed a goodie bag that included, among other things, custom labelled Brewdog Beer.

Huge thanks to RD George, his assistant Karen and all of the marshals who gave up their time and stood about on a terribly cold and wet day.

While things didn’t exactly go to plan, I did complete the 33 miles of the route and, in doing so, logged a long slow run session towards my Highland Fling training. There’s not long now until the next of my SUMS events, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling on 27th April, and I am already looking forward to getting back on to the West Highland Way for the first time in ages.

I also made the most of the opportunity to test some new kit.

I wore the excellent new Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set 2013 Backpack for the first time and was delighted with the fit, performance and functionality of the vest pack. Is this the pack I have been searching for all this time? Review to follow shortly.

Given the varied terrain, including everything from concrete and forest trail to gloopy mud, combined with the lack of miles in my legs, I opted to wear The North Face Ultra Guide trainers on the day. I have mostly been wearing minimalist footwear of late but the additional cushioning of the Ultra Guide made for a comfortable race and helped me onwards to the finish on the day. As above, review to follow shortly.

So, lots of positives on an otherwise tough day but now it’s confession time.

I had many lows and highs on the 16th, fairly typical when running an ultramarathon. However, on this occasion, the lows far outweighed the highs. Certainly part of this was down to the lack of race fitness. However, the large part was guilt at leaving my new-born son for so long. By the time I reached the finish line, I had made up my mind to retire from running ultras, at least for the foreseeable future. And then I read a comment on my blog over at The Running Bug“when he’s old enough you will be Harris’s hero when he sees you cross the finish line”. The comment made quite an impact. I would love to think that at some point the wee fella looked up to me, seeing me complete an ultramarathon, albeit far down the field and despite the huge effort required to get to that finish line.

A conversation with a relative in the days following the race concluded that “it’s who I am” and “it’s just what I do“. Right enough, without running a large part of my life would be missing. However, we did also discuss moderation. What’s to stop me dropping down to more manageable distances, at least for the foreseeable future? It’s certainly not something that I will discount. It has been ages since I did a 10k or a 1/2 marathon.

However, when I found myself booking a VW Campervan the other night for my support crew for this year’s 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I knew that my mind was made up, at least for now. So, the news of my ultra retiral is indeed premature!

That was ultramarathon number 16 completed – see you all at my next one, the Hoka Highland Fling.

Happy Running :o)

D33 Or Bust

Normally I live for the weekends. This weekend, however, CAN come too quickly for me. Not that there’s time to do anything about it. You see, the 2013 Scottish Ultra Marathon Series kicks off with the 33 mile D33 race this coming Saturday. This time last year I had run in excess of 400 miles, including plenty of long runs, and was actually looking forward to the event. On the day, I took a chunk out of my PB, smashing my 2011 time of 5:58:00 by some 22 minutes.

This time around, things are not looking quite so positive.

I haven’t been logging my run details quite so compulsively of late. I do still have the details of each run on various bits of paper scattered throughout the house but they have yet to make their way into SportTracks, my favoured software for keeping on top of mileage and all the associated details.

What I do know is that my total mileage for 2013 comes to no more than 130 miles so far, with no run in excess of 11 miles. Hardly the best preparation for the D33 or, indeed, for any of my other 2013 ultramarathons!

So why the lack of preparation? Why, with the D33 only days away have I not run further than only 1/3 of the total race distance?

Well, back in June 2012, days from participating in the West Highland Way Race, we found out that we were expecting our first child. Let me just save you the bother of doing the math – that gave us a due date of 20th February.

The chaos all started with some ‘nesting’, preparing the nursery for our new addition. Seeing the resulting dust and mess, we accelerated our plans for the house, sprucing up practically every room, and replacing the antiquated 30 year old kitchen. There was just no way we wanted to be doing this kind of thing once Bubbs arrived. The kitchen was finalised 2 weeks before the due date and our attentions then turned to unboxing and putting the house back together, made more stressful by the need for speed and our impending arrival.

With the house complete, I had hoped to get back in to long slow runs in preparation for the D33. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to venture too far from home, just in case! I didn’t want to find myself miles down the track with no way of getting home in a hurry!

As if we didn’t have enough on our plate, I had a cancer scare right before the birth. Not the kind of thing you want at any time, least of all with the birth of your first born looming. Thankfully, tests brought us the news we wanted and I could again turn my full attention to our new arrival.

Back to my master plan. Bubbs would arrive as expected on or around the 20th and I would start a month of paternity leave, giving me ample time not only to be the best dad possible but also to train and ‘catch up’ in time for the D33.

If you have any experience with newborns, please do feel free to rejoin us once you have stopped laughing at the naivety of the above ‘plan’. The reality has been something quite different.

Harris Robert Mackintosh finally joined us on the 28th February after a protracted birth that started some 5 days earlier. I can’t complain about the self inflicted pain resulting from running ultramarathons after witnessing what can only be described as a painful ‘ultra labour’, far exceeding anything that I have ever had to endure!

I will never forget the feeling of finally seeing my son, so tiny and covered in blood, being passed to his mum for the very first time. Words can’t adequately describe it, the emotion and intensity of it all, coupled with a feeling that the air had been sucked out of me as I tried to catch my breath. It certainly puts everything in perspective.

There was a time when I would have felt aggrieved at not getting out for my daily run. Now, I am happy just to make it through the day, to watch my son develop, and for my head to hit the pillow, even if it is only until the next nappy change or feed. While running will still play a part in my life, it certainly won’t have the same prominence as before. Priorities have changed. I knew that this would likely be the case, I just didn’t appreciate how comfortable I would feel with that change.

So, almost 12 days in now, the deluge of visitors (all very welcome I hasten to add) has subsided and we find ourselves redefining ‘normal’ when it comes to our new life. This normal certainly doesn’t include a decent 8 hours sleep, something that I relied upon to get me through the day and keep me training pre Bubbs!

Despite the lack of training, I will likely toe the start line for the D33 this weekend (as mad as that might seem!). I have resigned myself to the fact that this will most likely not be a PB performance and, in fact, if anything, it may well be a personal worst! I actually don’t mind. Given the circumstances, I will be glad just to grind out a finish. What’s more, the race is actually the best training opportunity that I have for the forthcoming 53 mile Highland Fling race, scheduled for April 27th.

A number of people have suggested that a DNF is definitely preferable to a DNS and, as much as I hate DNFs, it makes sense to at least give it a go. Hopefully muscle memory will save the day and see me through to the finish line! Only time will tell.

One thing that will be driving me forward on the day is the thought of getting home to my wife and son.

All the very best to everyone participating in the D33 this weekend.

Happy Running.