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)

10 Reasons to Run in Scotland

“With its rolling landscapes, rugged mountains, and endless scenic trails and paths, there is no better country for runners than Scotland.  As well as being an ideal destination for leisurely runs, Scotland also offers a wide variety of organised 10ks, marathons, relays and races.”

There are many reasons to run in Scotland, and www.scotland.org lists 10 of them in their recent article.

Number 5, For amazing challenges, reads as follows:

“Some runners like to take their sport to its limits, and Scotland’s more extreme races will not disappoint. The West Highland Way Race sees participants taking on a challenge to run 96 miles from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, to the Highland town of Fort William. The route is off-road but on waymarked trails and heads through the fabulous ever-changing landscapes of central Scotland and the Highlands. Expect off-road tracks and plenty of hills. Taking place in 2013 on June 22, WHW Race runners will be racing to beat the record breaking times of 15hrs 39 mins for the men and 17hrs 16mins for the women’s. Yes, you read that correctly. That is well under 18 hours for a 96-mile run!

Other Scottish running challenges include:

  • 100km The Anglo Celtic Plate in March
  • 55-mile Cateran Trail Ultra Marathon in May
  • Cape Wrath Half Marathon 2013 in May
  • Rat Race City to Summit in June
  • 43-mile Devil o’ the Highlands foot race in August
  • Glenmore 24hr Trail Race in September.”

The complete list:

  1. For fantastic views
  2. For the love of tartan
  3. For friendly cities
  4. For whisky
  5. For amazing challenges
  6. For gorgeous castles
  7. For the highest mountain
  8. For great mates
  9. For landmark attractions
  10. For the sheer madness of it

Read the complete article: 10 Reasons To Run In Scotland

What Running & Blogging Means To You

You may have heard about Write This Run, an event scheduled for 12th May 2013 and billed as “a chance for UK running bloggers to get together, learn from each other and hear from guest experts on all things running and blogging”. An email arrived from Write This Run today with a challenge to “write a blog post about what running and blogging means to you”, a challenge that I decided to accept.

From a purely running perspective, I think of running like a great friend, one who will, from time to time, lead you astray, who will, on occasion, punish you, and yet, regardless of any neglect or the time of day or night, will always be there for you. It never asks anything in return, and it doesn’t always treat you kindly, but you know that any punishment dished out is for your own benefit, a well intentioned reminder that you should visit this particular friend often. It doesn’t particularly mind if you are running just to keep fit, to explore, to experience nature, to create memories, to switch on, to switch off, to challenge yourself and test your limits, just so long as you are running.

As a web developer, I had dabbled with the idea of creating my own website for quite some time and had sat on the www.pixelscotland.com domain name for a number of years, never quite finding the time to develop the site, nor the direction to take the site in. However, my immersion into the world of running, and especially ultramarathons, soon provided the necessary direction.

In April 2011 I wrote my first blog post, a retrospective of my one and only DNF, at the 53 mile Highland Fling back in April 2010, and charting my efforts at the same race in April 2011, when I completed the race and successfully banished my demons from the year before. This was quickly followed up with race reports of the 2011 Devil O’ The Highlands and Speyside Way Ultramarathons.

What started out as occasional posts, usually race reports, soon developed into a site with approximately 20 posts per month as I blogged most days, covering everything from races, links, gear, routes and product reviews.

Towards the end of 2011, The Running Bug put out a request for bloggers and I duly ‘auditioned’ with the submission of a proposed first blog post. The post, ‘Setting the scene‘, appeared on The Running Bug website on 20th September 2011 and outlined my transition from overweight smoker to ultramarathon runner. Some 16 months and 46 posts later, I am still writing my Aim high, anything is possible blog.

Initially, blogging was something that I did purely for myself. It was a way for me to record the events that I competed in and the feelings that accompanied those events – The pain, the suffering, the satisfaction, the achievement – with the idea that I could one day point any children that I have in the direction of the blog, and hopefully inspire them to make sport a part of their lives.

In the relatively short time that I have been blogging I have received some great feedback, both verbally and in the form of comments. I always appreciate when people take the time to comment on my musings and, especially, when someone tells me that they find my posts inspirational or informative.

My journey has taken me from one extreme to the other, from actually despising running to running ultramarathons and, whilst I may now be in a much better place, I still have a long way to go. If what I write can be even remotely considered inspirational or convinve someone in a similar position as myself to at least give it a go, then I have already accomplished more than I set out to achieve.

There is another positive aspect to blogging. Thanks to The Running Bug and my own www.pixelscotland.com website I am now fortunate enough to receive product to review, my idea of heaven as a self confessed gear junkie!

I would definitely recommend starting your own running blog. You just never know where it might lead.

Evaluate And Plan

It’s all too easy to forget the achievements of the past year, especially as we edge towards the final days of 2012. Races have come and gone and we are left with experiences, memories, times (hopefully new PBs), and finishers trophies. Those early months of 2012 already seem so long ago. For me, the race season started back in March at the D33 ultramarathon with a further 6 events in fairly quick succession, finally ending in August, which itself now feels like a distant memory!

As the New Year approaches, consider the following:

  • What were your goals in 2012?
  • Did you achieve them?
  • If not, have you identified where things went wrong?
  • What have you learned this past year?
  • Did races and training go to plan?
  • Did nutrition strategies work for you?
  • Did trainers and kit work for you?

The list is by no means complete. There’s one question that is almost guaranteed a response in the affirmative.

  • Is there room for improvement?

Most people, myself included, will be able to easily identify where improvements can be made. Don’t, however, get hung up on the negatives. It’s all too easy to focus on these at the expense of giving ourselves a well deserved pat on the back. Maybe that new PB eluded you but what can you take from that day?

Anyone who has run an ultra will appreciate that there’s no such thing as a typical day. You can run the exact same route and yet experience a completely different run from one day to another. One day you might find yourself in ‘The Zone’, the next might be the biggest slog of your life. The difference may be down to some obvious factor such as an increased temperature, or it might have no discernible cause.

What matters is how you deal with it. You may not finish the day with a new PB, but what you can take from that day? What did you learn from it? Did you finish in the face of adversity?

My experience at the West Highland Way Race this year is a perfect example. Anyone who reads my posts will no doubt be all too familiar with the tales of stomach issues and projectile vomit. Reflecting on that race, I took away a number of positives. For one, I have a new definition of ‘low’, which has set the bar for how bad I can feel and yet still finish.

I put that lesson to good use at my very next race, the Clyde Stride. My body hadn’t recovered fully by the time of the race and, by the 13 mile mark, I was really suffering. However, I didn’t quit. The pain and suffering just didn’t compare to that of the West Highland Way Race and, at ‘only’ 40 miles, I was sure I could grind out a finish. I did. It wasn’t pretty but I did it and, as a result of my determination to finish, I took away a few great memories – Running and enjoying some banter with Thomas Robb up until approx. 18 miles; Slogging it out with Neil MacRitchie, who was similarly suffering from the West Highland Way Race, from mile 20 through to the finish; Having a red squirrel shoot through a field to the left of me, jumping through a fence and landing at my feet before scurrying away; and, of course, finally crossing that finish line (only to be reminded that the Devil O’ The Highlands was only 2 weeks later, not 3!). Had I not finished, I would not have most of those memories.

So, be sure to evaluate your year, celebrate your successes, and consider how best to improve on these to attain your 2013 goals.

Happy Running :o)

1 Minute 2012 Analysis

A great idea from Ian Minty over on Facebook, a 1 minute analysis of your running year. Mine reads as follows:

  • D33, March, 33m, 05:35:59,
    Enjoyable start to the year (PB 23 mins)
  • Highland Fling, April, 53m, 12:36:12,
    Torture in the heat (PB 27 mins)
  • Cateran, May, 55m, 12:27:00,
    Picked up an Achilles injury after just 6 miles (PB 38 mins)
  • WHW Race, June, 95m, 31:01:51,
    Apocalyptic weather, stomach issues, projectile vomit (New PB)
  • Clyde Stride, July, 40m, 08:54:08,
    Still suffering from the WHW Race (only non PB)
  • Devil O’ The Highlands, August, 43m, 09.50.55,
    Unexpected return of running mojo (PB 12 mins)
  • Speyside Way Race, August, 36.5m, 07:16:33,
    A very wet end to the season (PB 7 mins)

August seems like such a long time ago, and the running mojo has come and gone numerous times in the months leading up to Christmas. Time to get training back on track with a view to achieving some new PBs come 2013, especially in my second West Highland Way Race.

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.

New Beginnings

New post at The Running Bug, ‘New Beginnings‘.

In the run up to the 2012 West Highland Way Race I was pretty stressed, from the daunting prospect of completing the 96 miles of the West Highland Way in one go and under the 35 hour cut-off, to the prospect of sleep deprivation, chaffing, blisters and, well, basically all manner of things.

Having previously completed both the Highland Fling (first 53 miles) and Devil O’ The Highlands (last 43 miles) races, I was all too aware of what lay ahead. The mixture of stress, nerves and excitement in the weeks leading up to the race made it almost impossible for me to give much thought to much else.

Like everyone else connected with the race, I experienced a focus, a ‘tunnel vision’ if you like, with the single focus of covering the miles, arriving in Fort William, picking up the much sought after goblet, and becoming ‘one of the family’.

And then, just a few days before the race, Leanne announced that she was pregnant.

Having been together for over 8 years, and having been married since July 2010, we had not long decided that it was finally time to start a family. Neither of us expected it to happen quite so soon and, in the run up to the West Highland Way Race, it was most unexpected news, but also most welcome news.

My only concern was the thought of putting Leanne through the stress of a West Highland Way Race weekend, especially so early in the pregnancy. Little did I realise that it was going to turn into one of the THE most stressful weekends of my life.

Actually, thinking back, I don’t think it was actually that stressful for me as such. I ran. I also dealt with ‘stomach issues’ for a lot of the route, and projectile vomit at mile 50. But, mostly, I ran. And that’s all there really was to it for me, getting from point A, in Milngavie, to point B, in Fort William.

It was probably a great deal more stressful for those around me, including Leanne, Minty, John and Sandra, the support crew who saw me at my worst, hitting absolute rock bottom, and yet never once suggested that I quit.

As is normal for the early stages of a pregnancy, we told no one and it was quite some time before we were able to share the news with the support crew. I have to admit that, during the race, I wanted to tell my crew and especially Minty, a running acquaintance who became a close friend and who guided me to the end of the race despite all the obstacles that we faced.

So, from probably THE defining moment of 2012 to one of THE defining moments of my life. The mini Mac, or Bubba, as he/she has been named, will arrive at some point towards the end of February all things going to plan.

We can’t wait to welcome Bubba into our lives and, already, there is a new sense of direction. I expect that Bubba is going to change our lives in so many ways and that certain aspects of the lives that we enjoyed up until now will be challenged. While my early morning training runs fitted nicely into Mrs Mac’s calendar, leaving her to enjoy a long lie, I am not so sure that Bubba will appreciate the need for training.

However, at this point, my plans are to continue running and, hopefully, to still complete a number of ultramarathons in 2013, including the West Highland Way Race again, assuming I can get a starting place.

In this largely sedentary age, I want to set an example for Bubba. I want Bubba to experience the running community and, in particular, the ultra community. I want Bubba to see the camaraderie, the perseverance, grit and determination that is part and parcel of ultras, to show he/she that the best things in life, the best achievements and successes don’t necessarily come easily, and that life’s true ‘celebrities’ are the ones that overcome all manner of adversity to get to the start of a race and, hopefully, also to the end.

The thought of one day crossing the finish line with my son or daughter fills me with joy and would, I am sure, only serve to add to the feeling of accomplishment. The thought that, regardless of time or position, I would hopefully be setting a good example and perhaps even inspiring them, not necessarily to run ultras, but to see sport as a worthwhile pastime that brings joy to life along with the many other benefits.

But then, perhaps, I am thinking too far ahead already!

Beyond 26.2 On Dirt

I came across the following on the excellent Trail Runner Mag website, ‘Beyond 26.2 On Dirt’, “Five tips to not only survive but happily finish your first ultra“.

  1. Break the race into small sections
  2. Expect the unexpected
  3. Listen to your body
  4. Keep pouring fuel in the tank
  5. Find a reason to finish

5 excellent tips in an article well worth a read, especially for anyone considering their first ultra, something that may well be on the minds of those considering signing up for any of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series races for the first time.

At the time of writing, entry is open for the Hoka Highland Fling (500 limit + relay teams), and the Devil O’ The Highlands (150 limit), with both races approximately 50% full already.

I particularly liked the following, from ‘Find a reason to finish’:

“Before the inaugural Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, race director Fred Abramowitz told a room full of race entrants, ‘You are not all going to finish. Some of you are going to have good reasons for DNFing and others not so good reasons. One hundred miles is a long way and the only way you’re going to finish is if you find a reason to finish. I don’t care if it’s as simple as telling yourself that you don’t want to show up to work on Monday and explain to your co-workers that you dropped out of a race. Find a reason and believe it.'”

Trail Runner Mag is a great read and overseas subscriptions are available, well worth considering for all the latest race reports, routes and gear. The only ‘downside’ is wanting to ‘pop over’ to run the amazing trails!

Mens Running Devil O’ The Highlands Race Report

Mens Running have included a brief race report from me for the recent Devil O’ The Highlands ultra on their website.

Name: Jonathan J Mackintosh
Age: 40
Occupation: Web Applications Developer
Event: Devil O’ The Highlands Ultramarathon
Distance: 43 miles

What was your race time?
9 hours 50 minutes

How long have you been running?
Ultras for 3 years, marathons 1 year before that, 1/2 and 10ks occasionally but only started running seriously 4 years ago.

What made you decide to sign up for this race?
By completing this race I completed the ‘Triple Crown’, finishing the 53 mile Highland Fling, the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, and the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands, all in one year.

What were your expectations for the race?
I always want a PB but at my last race, 2 weeks previously, I had a terrible race and realised that I had not yet recovered from the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. As such, I hoped for a PB but would have been happy just to finish.

What were your high and low points during the race, if any?
The low points were the evil midges and the unexpected heat (approx 22 degrees) which made the climbs in particular difficult. The high points were many: meeting friends both old and new en route; meeting my wife and her brother, my support crew, at each of the checkpoints, which always picks me up; enjoying the spectacular scenery, seen at its best in the glorious weather; running a strong last 7 miles to pull a PB (12 minutes) out of the bag despite thinking that the opportunity had passed; finishing – after the time spent running in that heat I was glad to chill!

If so where and when did they occur and why?
Low points: On the 2 monster climbs, up the Devil’s Staircase and the climb out of Kinlochleven. High points: Everywhere!

What was the best part of the course for you?
The whole course – might sound like a cliché but it is a glorious, challenging course, with a mix of terrain, a high point of 1798ft, the scenic Rannoch Moor, and views of Buachaille Etive Mor and Ben Nevis (to name but a few highlights!).

What was the most challenging part of the course for you?
The two main climbs, up the Devil’s Staircase and the climb out of Kinlochleven up to the Lairig Mor. The descent down into Kinlochleven and some of the latter stages of the route were also difficult as a result of the rocky terrain underfoot.

How would you describe the crowd support?
Brilliant. Because of the remote nature of a lot of the course, there are long spells with no support at all but, as with all of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series races, the spectators, marshals and support do their best to cheer on not just their own runners but every runner at the start, finish and every checkpoint.

What’s your overall verdict of the race?
A course that cannot be beaten in terms of scenery, excellent marshals and organisation, and a friendly family atmosphere running amongst a lot of known faces from other Scottish Ultra Marathon Series events and a good number of new faces. Organisation: Excellent Scenery: Unbeatable Atmosphere: Excellent

Would you do it again next year?
Definitely