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.


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.

Speyside Way Race Entry Open

Entry to the Speyside Way Race is now open on Entry Central. The race will be held on Saturday 24th August 2013 with entrants running the 36.5 miles from Ballindalloch to Buckie. Race entry costs £23.00 for Scottish Athletics members or £25.00 for unaffiliated. The race can be entered via Entry Central or via cheque (details on the website).

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.

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.

The Speyside Way

Another addition to the new routes section of the website – The Speyside Way, including the Speyside Way Race. This has been a regular race for me since 2010 when I ran the newly resurrected 36.5 mile Speyside Way Race for the first time. It was my 3rd ultramarathon and, after the disappointment of a D.N.F. at the Montane Highland Fling that year, it was the perfect way to end my first year running ultras.

One of my favourite race moments came approximately 30 miles into the race when I came across a fence covered in personalised A4 sized messages. There was a message for every runner, arranged secretly between the race organisers and friends and family of the runners. It was a great touch and gave me the boost I needed to help me along the way to the finish line in Buckie.

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!

The Inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run

New post at The Running Bug, ‘The Inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run

Thanks for all the views on my ‘Tips For Running In The Heat‘ post last week. Hopefully there was something of interest in there and you got another run in the sun before our summer came to a premature end (did it ever really start this year?).

Ironically, after my experiences at this weekends Speyside Way Race, this weeks post should be titled ‘Tips For Running In Torrential Rain, Mud & Waterlogged Paths’ but, as catchy as that sounds (not!), I am instead going to make use of this opportunity to plug an event that will hopefully become a regular feature on the running calendar north of the border – the inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run.

You may already have heard of the event but, in case not, I figured that with enough notice you might just be able to participate. So, here goes!

Inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run

The innaugural Scottish Barefoot Run will take place in Edinburgh on Saturday 15th September at 12.00. The event, incorporating not just barefooters but all minimalist runners, aims “to gather a bunch of like minded runners together and help promote the natural running movement”, and is based on the NYC barefoot run with no fees and no competition, making it very relaxed.

Starting at 12 with a run of approx 6.5 miles, the event will include a BYO BBQ (weather permitting) in the Links and the chance to try new products in the barefoot world, including Teko Natural Running Socks, before a conference element in the afternoon.

The Run

The route for the run is from Bruntsfield Links down to Holyrood Park entering by the Commonwealth Pool, up on to Salisbury Crag and along the top, providing excellent views of the Castle, then down to the Palace and on to the Royal Mile at The Scottish Parliament. The route then heads up to the Castle and drops into the Grassmarket. From there, it is up some old town steps to Lauriston Place past the spectacular Heriots School, into Middle Meadow Walkway and back to Bruntsfield Links.

Runners can do as many laps of the course as they want. Faster and more experienced runners will be encouraged to do a second lap with the aim of helping slower runners to achieve the goal when they catch them up.

The Conference

The afternoon will include a presentation from Matt Walden of Primal Lifestyle, the UK distributor of Vibram Five Fingers. Heather Hall, one of the leading barefoot coaches in the country, will also be there to offer seasoned and newbie barefooters tips and advice from her wealth of practical experience. Inov8 will be on hand to advise on their range of shoes and will be bringing along some try on shoes from the new range of 3mm and zero drop to let you have a go on the day. Vivobarefoot will hopefully be in attendance.

More Information

The event has been put together by Colin from local Edinburgh shop www.footworks-uk.com, a specialist running store with a large range of barefoot and minimalist gear and a commitment to the natural barefoot running cause.

It is hoped that this may become a regular event so please do attend and support the event if you can. Final details including times etc. will be revealed closer to the event, and will be dependant upon total numbers attending, so get your acceptance in early so that all the arrangements can be made in advance.

Hope to see some Running Bug members there and, if you do attend, be sure to introduce yourselves and say hello.

Find out more via:

Running Bug Barefoot Resources

Back Soon

I am off to Menorca shortly for a much needed holiday, to relax and also to run some of the Camí de Cavalls trails so I will be back in a few weeks with some words on a successful season of ultras, how my tips for running in the heat fared for me in the hot temperatures (I hope!) of Menorca, and with a review of the inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Running

Drymax – Dry To The Max!

I posted a few days back about the arrival of some Drymax socks from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com. Despite the advice never to use an item for the first time in an actual race scenario, I put the Drymax Trail Running Socks – 1/4 Crew High socks to the test, at the 36.5 mile Speyside Way Race.

For long distance runs I always lather my toes in Sudocreme. However, thanks to some information obtained initially from the blog of fellow SUMS runner Silke which was confirmed by Keith from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com, I knew that you should use no lubricant at all.

“Vaseline or other lubricants or powders actually create a barrier between the sock and the skin. In this case they inhibit the Drymax fibres from working to their full potential. This is why Drymax recommend not to use them.”

To be honest, I was sceptical! However, I broke with my usual race ritual and opted for the 1/4 crew sock, a high density protective padded sock, with no lubricant on the feet at all. Just in case of any problems, I put a small tub of Sudocreme in the second of my checkpoint drop bags.

Talk about putting the socks to the test! The Speyside Way Race Race Directors advised runners to use trail shoes via Facebook as large parts of the route were very muddy. Torrential rain overnight merely added to this. As a result, the first 12-13 miles of the route alternated between a mud fest and a river, making for a tricky, testing start to the race. There was no way anyone’s feet were staying dry today!

As I found my feet totally submerged for the first time, I have to admit that I feared the worst and that my break from the convention of not testing new gear in a race situation was going to cost me dear.

There was, however, something different about the feeling in my feet. The feet were being soaked continually but there were no signs of aggravation or hotspots.

36.5 miles later I was relieved to cross the finish line in this, my 7th and final ultra of the year.

Removing the socks, I was delighted to see that they passed the litmus test, with flying colours. Not a single blister! My feet also looked a lot drier than usual and especially so given the conditions.

So, no faffing around with lubricant, 36.5 miles run, many of which in soaking wet, muddy conditions, and not a single blister. I will most definitely be adding to my ‘collection’ of 3 pairs of Drymax socks. A definite success and I can see now why they are held in such high regard Stateside.

Final Race Of The Season – The Speyside Way Race

This Saturday I will be joining approx 110 other runners in the penultimate race of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series, The Speyside Way Race. This will be my last race in 2012. With so many great ultras still to come this year, it seems almost premature to be discussing my final race and I know that, for many of my ultra friends, there are still at least a couple of months of training and racing to complete.

However, assuming I make it to the finish line on Saturday, I will have completed 7 of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series of ultramarathons and, at least according to my body, I am in need of a break. Fortunately, this will come soon enough as I depart for Menorca on 3rd September. My idea of a ‘break’ does involve some trail running, on the Camí de Cavalls trail around Menorca. However, I do plan on ‘mixing it up’ with plenty of walking, swimming (hopefully avoiding jellyfish – this time!) and actual relaxing as well! Once I return, I am going to focus on shorter runs, speedwork and minimalist running for a while.

This will be my 3rd time at the Speyside Way Race and am hopeful of improving on my previous times, 7:46:00 in 2010 & 7:23:45 in 2011, but will, as always, just take it as it comes. At this point in time, the forecast is varying between light and heavy rain.

The route follows the Speyside Way, from Ballindalloch to Buckie, including Ben Aigen.

The Route

  • Ballindalloch to Craigellachie:
    12 miles: Mostly old railway line, Suspension bridges
  • Craigellachie to Fochabers:
    13 miles: Some road sections, Woodland paths, Forestry tracks
  • Fochabers to Spey Bay:
    6 miles: Riverside & forestry tracks, Grassy paths
  • Spey Bay to Buckie:
    5.5 miles: Shore line path, Some pavement, Old railway line, Woodland paths
  • The route continues into Buckie town centre for approximately 0.5 miles

Best of luck to everyone running The Speyside Way this weekend and also to those who will be missing Speyside this weekend as they are tapering for the Glenmore 24 or UTMB races, both of which are on my bucket list.

Happy running.