Ohhhh, we’re halfway there…

And, yes, there is a bit of living on a prayer going on – but 40 for 40 continues!

Life, work, stuff has gotten in the way a bit over recent months in terms of me being able to update this blog but I’ve been keeping the challenge I set myself back on January 1 – to complete 40 events during the calendar year in which I turn 40 – ticking away.

And, last weekend, I reached something of a milestone. I’ve gotten there a little bit later than I had hoped to but I am, nonetheless, now officially halfway. The Paisley 10k was the 20th in a series of events and challenges which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, even if there is a slight nagging unease of my having bitten off a little more than I can chew.

Yet, still we carry on. It would appear I haven’t written on here since I completed event number 10, which was the Great Edinburgh run back in April. A great deal has happened since so I thought I’ve provide a bit of a summary.

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May was a big month for a lot of reasons but it began, for me, with another milestone. I hit the big four uh-oh. It just so happened that my birthday coincided with the annual 10k which is organised by my club, Helensburgh AAC, so I thought it would be rude not to.

I was only a couple of months away from a marathon at the time so I had felt strong and wanted to use it as a tune-up exercise. My family and friends also used it as an excuse to spring various surprises on me and I’ve rarely enjoyed an event more in my life. Oh and my clubmates Chris, Stuart and I won a team prize. It was not the worst way to usher in my fifth decade!

Next up was another local 10k, in Dumbarton, before probably the biggest goal on my events calendar – the Stirling Marathon. It’s my home town, it was the first staging of the event and it turned out to be number 13 in my schedule. There was nothing unlucky about it for me, though, as it turned out to be the best I’ve ever run over 26.2 miles. The first half of it in particular was special and the way the crowds turned out, as well as the collective embrace the event received, really did make it a day to remember. They even put on my favourite weather for marathon running – cold and wet!

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I’ll admit it has taken a bit of time to recover fitness – and my running mojo – since. But I’ve been making a conscious choice not to apply pressure and enjoy all these activities for the sake of them. It’s a work in process but that’s part of the fun.

I loved number 14, which was a trail 10k at the beginning of June staged by Salomon on and around Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. I ran it with my wife Fran and we found that running up and down rocky hillsides in the pouring rain turned out to be a fantastic way to spend a Saturday night.

An attempt to kick start my legs back into gear came during event 15, the Vale of Leven 10k, which starts and finishes barely half a mile from my house. The brain was willing but, although my legs were still in the huff, it was another good run under the belt and a few more decent steps on the road to recovery.

If my lower limbs had been a little miffed then they were downright furious at what I inflicted on them at the start of July, with my first attempt at a proper hill race. The hill in question was Ben Ledi and the event involved ascending 750m on a circular route. It was painful, disorientating, fascinating and glorious all at the same time. My abiding memory, however, was of the closing 400 hundred metres or so, the point at which I came off the hillside and on to a welcoming, downhill stretch of forestry track.

Sensing the finish line my brain went ‘push’ and my legs felt like they went in four different directions. The sensation of hitting level ground after doing your best to get down a steep slope as quickly as possible will take some getting used to!

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Event 17 was my first foray of the year into triathlon – at the St Mary’s Loch Triathlon in the Scottish Borders. The weather was awful (having to pedal hard downhill is never a sign of favourable wind conditions) but my friend Chris and I were both pleasantly surprised with how we fared. Truthfully, we’d both forgotten how much we enjoyed multi-sport.

I returned to running for event 18, an 8km canalside race which forms part of the Tour of Clydeside series. I was supposed to blast my way along it but it was definitely more a case of my feeling burst.

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Event 19 didn’t last long – 800m to be exact – but it was a pleasure from start to finish. I was lucky enough that my job meant I spent an amazing 10 days in London covering the IAAF World Championships. It also meant I got to take part in the media race, during which the organisers treated us mere mortal journalists as if we were prime athletic specimens – the veneer only slipping when we actually started to run. It was amazing to get an athletes’ eye view of that track and that stadium.

And that brings us to the weekend just gone in Paisley and the 10k which took the tally to 20. It’s a great event, which had record numbers running in it this year. I knew after mile 2, and the exertions of a hectic work summer, that I wouldn’t be threatening any personal records but I still pushed myself and, with just over four months left to squeeze the next 20 events in, I will continue to keep pushing myself. There are plans afoot and I think it’s time to get back in the water…

PS – Apologies if you now have Bon Jovi stuck in your head…

PPS Please remember this is all in the name of a good cause:

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated and if you have any event recommendations, please get in touch!

PPPS Thank you!

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40 for 40 event 10: A Great run in Edinburgh

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The view from the course at Canongate, right in the heart of old Edinburgh

Ok, no-one likes a show-off. However, on this occasion I didn’t in the least bit mind bearing witness to some shameless bragging up close.

The culprit? Edinburgh. The gorgeous old city was in full-on boasting mode.

Scotland’s capital is a beautiful place in most weathers but when the sun is shining and the monkey puzzle of winding streets which make up much of the intriguing city centre -particularly the oldest part of town – are handed over to runners for the day, it’s really, really difficult to beat.

I don’t normally need an excuse to head there but my reason for being in Edinburgh was (surprise, surprise) to run. More specifically, I was there to take part in the Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh Run, a 10-mile event which presents the chance to push on through avenues and alleyways which are normally crowded with ancestor-seeking, tartan devouring tourists. Coincidentally, it would also be number 10 in my 40 for 40 challenge.

It felt right to be running that day. A few hundred miles south, at the same time thousands were hitting the streets to tackle the London Marathon so there was a solidarity about being on a start line. Also, with Stirling Marathon training to be done, this was the perfect way for me to clock up some miles and get another good fitness test under my belt.

We were to take in many of Edinburgh’s ‘greatest hits’, starting in the shadow Arthur’s Seat before winding our way past the Scottish Parliament building and then up Canongate at the foot of the Royal Mile before threading through various parts of town, not to mention the gloriously blossom-filled Meadows, before eventually ending up back where we started.

If there is one downside, it’s the uphills. Edinburgh is not flat. This is certainly not a PB course but the blow of the biting ascents was cushioned by the odd glance around and an awareness of the fabulous playground which had been made available for the day.

I’d done a few miles before the race got going to recce the closing stages of the race, to warm up and, with the marathon on my mind, also to simulate running on tired legs. The ‘running on tired legs’ part of the experiment certainly worked and I can safely there was a distinct absence of spring in my step when the course brought us back under Arthur’s Seat’s gaze.

There is a pay-off for participants, however, in that the final mile is all downhill and there was a great deal of satisfaction to offset my grumbling muscles when I crossed the finish line.

Not for the first time, I’d had an excellent day out in Edinburgh and, in the process, hit double figures for a challenge which is really starting to grow on me.

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated and if you have any event recommendations, please get in touch!

40 for 40 event 9: A run with my son

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I’ve well and truly dragged my family into this now! Not that they need much dragging mind you, my wife and two boys are the most supportive and enthusiastic bunch you could wish for.

Callum and Sam, our 10-year-old and 8-year-old, rarely need persuading to do something active and have run fairly regularly since we first discovered that taking them out for a mile or so on Christmas Day a couple of years ago really helped everyone to calm down from the festive frenzy.

Since then, my wife Fran – also a runner a rather good coach – has made sure they have been getting their trainers on and exploring plenty of the local neighbourhood on foot.

A focus for the boys’ running is often the Balloch Run n’ Park, which I mentioned in my first 40 for 40 blog and is essentially a parkrun in all but name which takes place just along the road from our house. With 2km and 5km options in glorious surroundings on the banks of Loch Lomond, and taking place every Saturday morning, it has been the perfect spot for the boys to begin to sample what running really has to offer.

Until recently, both Callum and Sam always opted for the 2km option. However, they are starting to progress and, with me in the midst of this challenge and putting in the training miles ahead of the Stirling Marathon, Callum was clearly beginning to think about going further.

And so it was that he and I lined up for the 5km to see how he would get on. It would either firmly cement running as a good idea to him, or put him off for life.

I’m rather chuffed to say he loved it. With a few gentle coaching points (turns out I have running wisdom I can impart!) on the run and a healthy dollop of encouragement, Callum had the energy and the urge to accelerate over the final stretch and achieve something that was entirely new to him.

It was lovely to see that happen – and to see him experience the runner’s high. To be out on a lovely morning with my family (Fran and Sam ran the 2km) and reinforcing to our kids that being outside and exercising is a really good idea…well, there are few better ways I can think of to start the weekend.

Incidentally, we were back a week later and Callum ran the 5km route precisely a minute faster. We may have awoken a monster…

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated and if you have any event recommendations, please get in touch!

40 for 40 event 8 – Tom Scott 10-Miler: the art of finding a ‘race face’

I do wonder from time to time what I actually look like when I’m running. I know what I’d like to think I look like – the effortlessly languid, flowing gait of Mo Farah springs to mind for example – but then there are occasions when I’m presented with the cold, hard evidence that reality is somewhat different.

I’ve never been a poker player, mainly because I don’t think I’d be very good at it due to the fact that my face is usually too quick to betray exactly what I’m thinking. You’ll hear of sportspeople regularly citing the need to get their ‘game face’ on  – that impenetrable veneer which suggests they are in complete control as the pressure mounts, even when it might just be that panic has decided to set in.

From the race photos I have seen of myself, it would appear that I have no such game face. If I’m hurting, if effort is really being expended, I simply don’t appear to have the capacity to pretend all is well with the world. The truth really is written all over my contorting features.

I was reminded of this recently when I was identified in a picture from the Tom Scott 10-mile race, number 8 in my 40 for 40 challenge.

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I’ll let you think of a suitably appropriate caption!

I loved the event. It may have felt for large chunks of my run like someone had fitted bolts to my hamstrings and was steadily tightening them, that my quads might explode at any moment, or that I might get to see what my lungs look like…but I loved it.

I was already starting with the event on good terms. Firstly, I’d never run a 10-mile race before so, barring serious mishap, a personal best was guaranteed. Secondly, I arrived at the race venue, Strathclyde Park on the outskirts of Glasgow, to find an excellent stage for running and ideal conditions in which to do so.

I arrived about an hour before the race was due to start and already the place was thrumming with sporting activity. Not only were the final touches being put to the race course, but there were runners everywhere indulging in catch-ups or warm-ups with friends and clubmates, while a number of rowers glided through the waters of the loch around which we would run.

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Final preparations are made at the Strathclyde Park finish line

There was barely a breath of wind, it was cool, the sun was starting to come out, the race route was largely flat and fast and I felt in reasonably good nick as I jogged a couple of miles to get the blood pumping.

This was the 55th year of the Tom Scott memorial race – an event I’d always been keen on but never taken part in. It draws a big running crowd and, being host to the Scottish and West District 10-mile championships, the sharp end of the race is properly pointy. It’s a good sign when you have an Olympian – in this case Derek Hawkins – toeing the start line.

I was a little nervous as we prepared to get going. I knew this was going to hurt. I was keen to see how close I could get to breaking the hour mark for this new race distance – well, new to me anyway.

The first mile or two felt good. I didn’t have a flow, and nothing was coming naturally, but I felt pretty fit. I had been warned that mile 3 would bring a small hill which might bite and so it proved – I spent much of mile 4 trying to get back on pace and, though I succeeded, I knew teeth-gritting time was on its way.

The course was clearly marked, the marshals helpful and the ebb and flow of the race field enjoyable as we wound our way around the loch and began to turn back towards where we’d come from. It made it easy to concentrate on the act of trying to put one foot in front of the other – and simply just trying to breathe.

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Going through mile 7, I was precisely on pace for a finishing time of 60 minutes. But then came a slightly undulating eighth mile, the camber of which would normally be easily negotiable but which felt almost Himalayan at this point in a hard race. At that point I knew I couldn’t scramble my way back.

However, even with those hamstrings tightening and my face crumpling, I kept trying to push and the finish line was soon hoving into view. Coming across it, I stopped my watch and bent double. A time of 60:34 and the buzz of a great race in the company of great runners seemed like a decent reward – well, that and the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers they were giving out.

A couple of days later and my attention was drawn to that race photo. My initial reaction was to recoil a little at the gurning figure which met my eye. Then I looked again and saw proof that I had indeed extended myself and that there was a good reason for the lingering dull ache in my legs.

Come to think of it, I might just forget about trying to perfect a good ‘race face’. For the moment, mine seems to fit.

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated and if you have any event recommendations, please get in touch!

 

Thanks to Kevin Ramage Photography for the  race image

 

40 for 40 event 7: a spot of turbulence at the Alloa half marathon

I shouldn’t have said a word and kept my trap shut. When I uttered ‘looks like the weather’s going to be kind to us’ all I did was not only make myself sound like a wee old man but also scupper any chances of the weather actually being kind. And me being an experienced runner, too…

The forecast for the Alloa half marathon had, indeed, been horrendous. At one point in the run-up to the race 40mph headwinds and driving rain were on the cards. However, instead, as the participants began to gather for the start of this well-established event, they did so in conditions which almost fitted the description of Spring-like.

I love this event and I wrote about the special place it has in my heart after taking part last year (you can read that post here) so it seemed right for it to feature in the 40 events I want to cover in 2017. With Stirling Marathon training now firmly underway, too, Alloa would give me a good gauge of my fitness at what is still a reasonably early stage in my training schedule.

A chunky warm-up left me feeling good, as did a quick catch-up and pre-race chat with some familiar faces. I bumped into Ross, someone I’d met for the first time on the Alloa start line the year previously when we were both preparing for the Boston Marathon. The last time I’d seen him properly had been at the post-race party in Fenway Park so it was great to dwell on that experience again and see how he was doing.

I also shared a common goal with Andy, someone I often train with, and someone who also has Stirling in his sights. A quick glance around, a few nods of good luck and it was time to go…so off we went.

I wanted to build into the race and was determined not to get caught up in the kamikaze nature of the first mile, which is flat and provides the perfect platform for many to explode into action and obliterate their chances of feeling strong 12 miles later by busting a gut too early.

It was one of the most conservative starts I can remember making to this race but I was happy with the pace and the feeling of having to hold myself back going through mile 2 confirmed all was reasonably well. Andy, running strong, began to pull away but I was knew I was in the zone of pushing but not over-reaching so I stayed where I was.

There was no wind in the next few miles and, in fact, my main concern at that point was a feeling of being too warm (ridiculous I know for a March morning in Scotland). Much of the course was downhill at this point, too, and it was then that the false sense of security kicked in.

The Alloa half covers a stretch of the Hillfoots Road which, on a good day, can be a brilliant place to run fast and log fast miles. Or another, however, it can be the venue for a
quad-rupturing, hamstring-shortening grind into the teeth of whatever conditions are on the menu that day.

As we approached the left turn which would take us on to the road, I could begin to feel the touch of a light breeze. As we rounded the corner, I had to allow myself at least a little, dark, laugh. I could see the weather coming.

As the windspeed increased and the rain began to pelt, so the pace dropped and what had been the right pace for a PB soon evaporated into the dense sky. This, however, was to prove my favourite part of the race. Finding myself in a small group, and without barely uttering a word (not that you could hear much anyway in the din of weather) we took it in turns to bear the brunt of the conditions and stop each other from burning out.

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To the person who finishes 82nd the spoils…

We caught another small group in front of us, including Andy, and I found that the ebb and flow of filing to the front made the miles fall away.

Scotland being Scotland, of course, just as we turned off the Hillfoots Road and theoretically out of the wind, the sun came out. But the incline of the road went up. We were on Menstrie Brae – the hill which arrives least when you want it to.

Yet, I felt good. I hadn’t been stupid in trying to battle the wind alone and still could feel something in the tank. So, as we hit the top the rise and travelled past the 11-mile marker, I was happy to feel my stride naturally lengthening, even if I was starting to tighten up a bit more than I’d have liked.

Andy clearly felt good, too, and the consistency in his training was evident as he began to pull away again. I didn’t have the same extra gear he had but I was pleased to see him running so well. When you see someone working hard in training it’s heartening to see the whole process working.

I pushed as hard as I could into the last mile and it was brilliant to hear the dulcet tones of Race MC Murdoch McGregor welcoming me across the line.

All in all, I really couldn’t grumble. It hadn’t been as quick as I thought I might run but I had definitely gained from managing myself properly during the race. When it comes to running Stirling at the end of May, listening to my body and the inner voice of reason will be key.

There was another reason to be cheerful when I saw my sister, Morag, as she finished in Alloa. She has signed up for Stirling as well – which will be her first marathon – and is being very honest about the fact that she might not be enjoying running quite as much as I do! Yet she has still been putting in the miles and looked strong as she finished Alloa – the training is clearly working.

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Me and my big sis

As usual, the Alloa half had been a rewarding experience. Just don’t mention the weather…

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated.

40 for 40 events 5 and 6 – a tale of two parkruns

It’s becoming clear that fitting 40 events into this calendar year is going to require some creativity. What with a busy work and family life, just about every opportunity is going to have to be seized.

I’d had always planned to include a parkrun or two in the schedule somewhere and, in the interests of variety and running somewhere new, I saw a chance to squeeze in some good miles on two consecutive weekends during which I was also away with work – and at two very different locations.

I’m extremely lucky in that my day job often allows me to see the world’s finest athletes doing their stuff up close so, when I knew I was going to be covering the Muller Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix in February, followed seven days later by the Lindsays Scottish National Cross Country Championships, I did a quick look to check my race options for both Birmingham and Falkirk.

During my trip to the Midlands, the Canon Hill Parkrun fitted the bill nicely. It would let me have the hard-running start to the day I was looking for before heading indoors to see the likes of Laura Muir and Mo Farah in ultimately record-breaking form.

Roughly three miles from my hotel room, it would also would also present the chance to do a bit of exploring in a city which I don’t know at all well. As it turned out, I was to do a little more exploring than I’d intended.

Saturday morning dawned and, with a hint of smugness, I got up early, got my gear ready and settled down to have a quick breakfast and take a final peek at the race info. I had been under the impression that ALL parkruns start at 9.30am on a Saturday (I’ve only ever done one or two previously). This, I can tell you now ladies and gents, is not the case.

Any smugness and relaxed demeanour on my part evaporated when I came to the realisation that, rather than a gentle amble to the start line, I was now going to be slotting in a tempo run.

I normally pride myself on my pre-race organisation so I was muttering away to myself as I headed in what I thought was the right direction. I had checked the map and jotted down street names but, when I came to a less than picturesque industrial estate, I began to fear a wrong turn or six had been taken in my haste.

A quick check with a slightly startled passer-by confirmed this to be the case. However, extra mileage is good, right? Furnished with the right directions and with an increase in pace, I soon reached Canon Hill Park. I could hear announcements being made over loudspeakers about the 9am start and, as I entered the park I quickly checked with the first steward I came to if I was too late.

‘No, you’re fine. You’ve still got time. The start’s just round that corner,’ was the cheery reply. I rounded the corner and was struck by a familiar sound. It was the sound of runners. Lots of runners. In fact, it was the sound of the entire parkrun setting off.

Being the honest sort I am, I ran up to the start line, to the back of the pack and got going. I wasn’t in the best of moods with myself when I set off but I quickly gave myself a metaphorical slap around the face, told myself to get on with it and enjoy the run…and that’s just what I did.

I pushed hard, I was running with hundreds of others, the park was great, as was the atmosphere. As with every parkrun I’ve been to so far, those taking part and organising could not have been friendlier, more encouraging or more helpful.

So Canon Hill Parkrun might not have been quite the accomplished 5km performance I was looking for but, as I gently meandered back to the hotel and the prospect of seeing some top class sport, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a spring in my step. I vowed I’d do better next time.

 

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Callendar House on the brooding day of the Parkrun and Scottish National Cross Country

Next time came precisely seven days later, in Falkirk. Given I was covering the aforementioned cross country unfortunately ruled me out of running ‘the Nationals’. However, the Falkirk Parkrun – which just so happens to take place every week in Callander Park (which also provides the venue for the cross country) came to my aid.

This time I was properly organised, managed a proper warm-up and even a stride or two. Again, there was an impressively considerable group of runners gathered to take on a course which proved to be mostly on trails and involved a chunky hill or two.

Given the pouring rain which had turned the cross country course into a bog and some of the parkrun route into a fast-flowing stream, my decision to have packed racing flats for the job at hand didn’t seem to have been my smartest move.

The light footwear were the least of my concerns when we got going, however. My legs were heavy and unresponsive but I’m trying to be a bit more patient with myself and my running this year so I allowed myself a little time and began to feel a little stronger.

As we reached some of the early uphills, a curious thing occurred to me. It became clear I didn’t have a lot of company. Now, maths is not my strong point but I knew I’d started near the front and I could only see three or four people ahead of me. My mind began drifting towards a top-five finish.

There’s nothing like an incentive to improve your running and it began to dawn on me that a couple of the other runners were starting to tire just as I was starting to feel like I was getting a rhythm. I duly passed a couple of others and had convinced myself I was in third spot.

We reached roughly 3km and hit the slopes of ‘heartbreak hill’, an incline we had been forewarned about that, while not quite matching the scale of its famous Boston counterpart, does more than enough – particularly with a steady flow of water coming down it – to tighten the muscles and squeeze the lungs.

To my surprise, though, I wasn’t caught on the hill and had in fact gained on the runner in front. The closing stretch is quick and downhill, so I extended my stride and passed him. There was another runner still in front, but I was running out of room to try and catch him so I set my focus not being passed.

I held my position and a strong finish left me more than happy with my morning’s work. I even took to Strava to post my second-placed glory (I don’t find myself in podium places very often).

Then it was off to watch Callum Hawkins and co make this running lark look effortless, even when they were basically wading through cross country treacle. Once the final runner had slithered through the mud and the reports had been written, I quickly checked the Parkrun results to confirm my time and to see my second place for certain.

I wasn’t second at all. Another runner, who I’d conveniently managed to forget after seeing at the start, had won by such a margin that I’d only seen him at the start but never again. Told you maths wasn’t my strong point! Still, I’ll make do with third – and a couple of Parkrun experiences to remember.

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 for 40 event 4: Using my head (torch)

I’d never been to a race where the participants register in a banqueting hall before. Then again, until this week I’d never taken part in a race in which head torches are mandatory because participants are throwing themselves head first on to the trails in pitch darkness.

But doing that sounded like fun – and certainly something a bit different – so I was very keen to add this latest event to my list when it came to tackling 40 events this year. I was just sorry I hadn’t spotted the other two races (this was the third and final instalment) in the Trossachs Night Trail Race Series.

Organised by the legendary local hill runner Angela Mudge, I’d heard really good things about this series. I wasn’t to be disappointed. In fact, I was impressed the minute I walked into the Forth Inn in the village of Aberfoyle, which is to be found in the heart of the Trossachs in central Scotland, and into that incredible hall to pay the exorbitant entry fee of five whole pounds and pick up my race number.

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Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought that rushing headlong into the inky night was a good way to spend the evening. A very healthy crowd had amassed in the car park upon the edge of which the race began.

After a few brief safety announcements and the warning of some boggy conditions awaiting us on the second half of the route, Angela set everyone off on what was to be a 5.9-mile mini adventure.

The properly sharp end of the field shot off ahead on what was a very straightforward opening section, the first 1.5km or so being run on a tarmac cycle path. It provided the chance to get loose, find a rhythm and, importantly, let your eyes adjust to being surrounded by the glow of head torches.

It all felt reasonably normal until we came to a sharp right turn, said goodbye to the tarmac and properly hit the trail. As the field of runners ventured into the trees and began to string out a little, where to point your gaze became crucial. The first section of trail was riddled with tree routes which meant that your focus had to be on every footstep rather than looking too far ahead.

It was hard work as we swooped round bends, through puddles, over bridges, crested rises – in the midst of the forest no two footsteps were the same and you absolutely needed to have full concentration. However, it also occurred to me that I was having a big bunch of fun in the process.

The first two events of this series had been particularly hilly and, by comparison, this was a pretty flat route. However, I did begin to wonder just what I’d let myself in for as we came through the 3km marker and I became aware that the beams of light I could see ahead of me were heading rather steeply upward.

We had reached Faerie Hill and a reasonably short, but hamstring-tighteningly sharp, climb. I tried to keep good form and get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible but there was no hiding the gasping for breath and my heart pounding in my head as we got back on to more level ground.

That ascent showed me again where I need to put more practice in and I tried to gather my thoughts – and possibly some semblance of consciousness – as what proved to be a chunky stretch of downhill began.

The main difference about racing in the dark is that you have no real concept of what’s coming, about how much longer a hill will rise up – or roll down – for. It really is more or less a case of run and hope…and it doesn’t half make life interesting.

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Post-race soup in the banqueting hall

It was on that downhill stretch where my Helensburgh clubmate Karl, who had driven us over to the race, came bounding past me with another runner. That group of three of us would remain just yards apart for much of the rest of the race and being part of a trio which was ebbing and flowing, stretching and contracting, really helped.

It was not getting any easier underfoot. That bog which Angela had promised us duly arrived around 5km and we all began to do our fair share of slipping, sliding and squelching. But the ever-changing terrain simply added to the atmosphere of the race and I realised that I felt reasonably strong.

Heading into the last 1.5km, with the silhouette of the hills and the appearance of a few stars on what was a surprisingly forgiving night in terms of the Scottish weather, and Karl and I began to move away from our fellow group member.

 

I was on Karl’s shoulder with around 500m to go but, as soon as he became aware of me, he put the foot down. I did too and finishing off such an excellent event with a good old-fashioned sprint finish, which Karl edged by a second, seemed fitting.

Fantastically appropriate as well, was the post-race soup being served up in the banqueting hall, where the post-race chat flowed with Karl and our other clubmate Michael.

The prizegiving revealed Karl was second in his age category, and ninth overall. That meant I had grabbed 10th spot and a bit of a confidence boost. If the rest of the events I take part in this year are as enjoyable at this – then 2017 is going to be a lot of fun!

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 for 40 event 3: Running with the Devil

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West Lomond looms over those finishing leg 2 and the runners getting ready to take on leg 3

The Devil’s Burdens. Just the name sounds ominous, doesn’t it?

This is an event which comes with a reputation for providing a properly stern test to those runners who choose to take part. It certainly lives up to that reputation.

It’s hugely popular too, though, and what I wasn’t expecting was to be quite so captivated and impressed by this tremendous hill running event which takes place in the east of Scotland.

I’ll give you a little background. ‘The Burdens’ is an off-road relay race in which teams have to complete four stages over a route that travels a combined distance of 34.5km, starting and finishing in the beautiful village of Falkland in Fife. There’s the small matter of  the Lomond Hills in the way, too, and between them each team will climb a total height of 1510m. Stages 1 and 4 are completed by solo runners while 2 and 3 need to be run in pairs.

This is an event cemented into the Scottish hill running calendar. It’s one that I’d heard my clubmates at Helensburgh AAC speak of regularly and, most importantly, fondly. I’d never had the chance to join in the fun before now but, having set myself this challenge of completing 40 events in 2017 and hoping to sample some new experiences in the process, I was keen to get my name down for the team.

I was so glad I did. From the moment I arrived at registration in the village hall I knew I was going to the like the Burdens. For a start the place was bursting at the seams with enthusiastic runners (147 teams of six people  and supporters makes for a decent crowd). Friendliness, informality and a sense of general wellbeing seemed to be emanating from just about everyone in view. This felt like a different kind of pre-race hubub than I’d perhaps experienced before.

In running terms, all human life was there. From those who were  using it as a chance to blow off some New Year cobwebs, to catch up with friends and enjoy more of a social challenge right up to some serious club athletes with their coaches in tow. Notably – and this is perhaps one of the greatest beauties of the sport – a few of the very best hill and mountain runners on the face of the planet had also turned up.

Jasmin Paris, who spent much of 2016 breaking new ground and rewriting some rather famous hill running record books (you can read my interview with her for Running Monthly here), and Team Salomon member Tom Owens – my first interviewee on this very blog (you can read that article here), were out in force and simply doing their bit for their clubs. It might not surprise you to learn that Tom’s Shettleston Harriers team took the top prize…

When it came to my team, I had been assigned leg 1 and was getting our mission under way. It turned out mine was one of the easier jobs of the day, yet still it was a real challenge. The level of tiredness I can feel in my legs on a recovery run the day after a race is usually a good gauge of how much effort I’ve really put in. By that measure, come Sunday morning, I knew I hadn’t left much in the tank in Fife.

I am spending more and more of my running time off road an up hills but still my experience and technique is limited when it comes to hitting the trails and trying to cover the ground quickly. I’m improving but there’s still plenty of work to be done so the more practice I can get, the better.

It’s fair to say there was a fair degree of trepidation on my part when I edged my way towards the start line among a group of people who looked like they had already been there, seen it and done it many times over. Off we set and the varied terrain, inclines and surfaces soon made their presence felt in my creaking calf muscles. ‘It’s doing me good, it’s doing me good, it’s doing me good,’ I kept telling myself.

There was no time for the mind to drift or concentration to drop,  with no two footsteps the same, yet my legs just wouldn’t wake up. The cold air meant I was wide awake and alert but there was little response when I tried to get my limbs to respond.

It wasn’t until after the checkpoint at around halfway through my 7.5km leg that I started to feel a rhythm, aided somewhat by a downhill stretch. I was soon given a demonstration of what good running ACTUALLY looks like, though. Entering the latter stages of my section, the aforementioned Tom Owens and his team-mate bounded past me in the other direction, setting off on leg 2 and already devouring the ground that stretched out in front of them.

I was reasonably positioned in the field when I ploughed my way down the last stretch to hand over to my team-mates Maddie and Campbell. It didn’t take long for the ‘after-run glow’ to kick in – it felt good to be out there – but there was no time to hang around. The Burdens is almost as much logistical challenge as it is physical, with runners needing transported to and from the various handover points, so I quickly jumped into the car with our leg 3 runners Iain and Karl to get them in position.

It was walking up to the foot of West Lomond – the location for the next handover – that I got a proper impression of the REALLY  hard part of the race, though. A low mist had covered everything for much of the day but, every so often the sun poked through – as did the top of one of the peaks the runners were having to scale.

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The reward for the runners who punched their way through the cloud (photo stolen from my team-mate Maddie)

I immediately felt enormous respect for the those tackling the seriously chunky parts of the run. Curiously, I also felt a surprising pang of jealousy at not being able to have a go this time round. I was struck again, too, by the sheer volume of people who were outside, enjoying the landscape and challenging themselves for little more than some free soup at the end. (The soup is incredible, I might add).

Maddie and Campbell did a great job on leg 2, Iain and Karl smashed leg 3 and our final team member, Helen, flew her way around leg 4. That soup – as well as the catch-up chat and note comparing with the second Helensburgh team of Laura, the two Gordons, Becky and Amanda which followed – brought a fitting end to a tremendous day.

It was a real eye-opener to me. Don’t be surprised if 40 for 40 happens to take in a few more hill races this year!

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you

40 for 40 event 2: Ups and downs in Edinburgh

I’d almost forgotten. It had been a little while since my last sizeable road race and the feeling you get – not to mention everything that goes with toeing the start line among thousands of others – really had almost slipped my mind.

However, when I stepped out of my hotel on to the Royal Mile and immediately saw expectant runners starting to emerge from what seemed like almost every crevice of Edinburgh’s old streets, heading down the famous hill, a very familiar and welcome sense of anticipation began to make its presence felt.byfb90481

The direction in which we were all headed was towards Holyrood Park and the Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh Winter Run. The event was to prove an ideal starter to a feast of running in and around Arthur’s Seat, which culminated in some of the finest athletes on the planet well and truly strutting their cross country stuff in international competition.

I was really looking forward to the next event I had selected for my 40 for 40 list. I haven’t taken part in many 5km events and have always found the distance a tricky one to judge and to get right when it comes to pacing.

I had been lucky enough to be trackside as Laura Muir gave a masterclass on how to do just that at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena just a few days previously when she broke the British indoor record for 5000m. Now I’m not pretending for a second to claim that my pace or performance was ever going to be on comparable with hers, but it still whetted my appetite to find out where my own fitness lay.

Judging this race was, indeed, going to be difficult. The route along Queen’s Drive, which loops around Arthur’s Seat, seemed simple enough. However it involved a chunk of climbing, a stretch which flattened out and then a chunk of downhill running to the finish.

There was a small downhill for the opening few hundred metres, too, which explains why the field shot off so fast at the start. It did mean an early rhythm was possible, however, which proved to be a very good way of settling the nerves. I had, in fact, been quite surprised by how nervous I had felt before the starting hooter went. Like I said, it had been a while.

As we began to climb and the field began to string out a little, I made sure not to do anything silly, to try and hold on to that rhythm as much as possible. The good (and bad) thing about the route is that you can see it all unfolding way ahead of you – there is plenty of advance warning about what’s coming and just how much hard, uphill work you have to do in the opening half.

So it came as something of a relief then when the incline levelled out and I could lengthen my stride again. There was further reason for the spirits to be lifted around the 3km mark, too.

Rounding the back of Arthur’s Seat – the rocky summit which towers over Edinburgh – a spectacular panorama of the city opened out further with every step. Throw in the fact there was a piper on hand at the side of the road providing an atmospheric skirl, there was no mistaking the Scottishness of the occasion.

It was, literally, all downhill from there. I’ve never properly perfected the art of descending quickly but there was plenty of road to get some good practice in and I felt good as I passed the second piper at the 4km mark.

I felt like there was still plenty in the tank as the finishing straight appeared and there was a spring in the step as I passed the cheering Team Crumley (my sons were taking part in the Junior Run later in the day) and hit the line.

I had worked hard – my finishing time around 45 seconds outside my PB – but I had a lingering feeling that I could have given that little bit more. Later in the day, watching the senior men’s International Cross Country race unfold in Holyrood Park, Callum Hawkins showed just what giving it everything really looks like.

With 38 events still to go, there will be plenty more chances for me to really test myself. For now, it’s a solid start and a very good reminder of just why I love pinning on a race number and seeing what might happen.

  • I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you

40 for 40 – a plan for 2017

I know, I know – long time no blog. It was always going to be hard to follow up last year’s big Boston marathon adventure and a combination of waning motivation, a new job and life just getting in the way caused the radio silence.

That’s not to say I haven’t been active. After Boston, I took part in a triathlon, a 2-mile open water swim and a couple of other bits and bobs but there wasn’t a huge amount of racing to write about. That’s all about to change this year.

I’ve had an idea bouncing about in my head for the past few months. It’s one I may well live to regret but, sod it, I’ve decided to give it a go. This year, whether I like it or not, I have a landmark birthday coming up. Rather than plunge headlong into the typical midlife crisis, however, I wondered if I might be able to use my energy a little more constructively.

So here’s the plan. To complete at least 40 distance events during the year in which I turn 40. These events will vary in shape, size and format. As you’ll read further down, I’ve started out small but there will be some big races too – I’m well and truly entered for the Stirling Scottish Marathon in May for example. Rest assured – there will be a lot of running, some swimming and definitely a chunk of triathlon, throughout the year. The finish line will come at the end of a December event that is always in my running calendar and one I’ve just completed – The Marcothon.

For the first time I can remember, I’m also going to be aiming to raise some money for charity in the process – specifically for Macmillan Cancer Support (the link to my justgiving page is at the very bottom of this blog). If you can donate anything over the course of the year that would be wonderful but the idea of all this is really just to emphasise what a tremendous idea it is to get outside and be active.

I’ll be blogging about each event I take part in  so, with that in mind, I’ve made a start…

Event Number 1 – The Shortbread Run  (Jan 2)

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The Shortbread Runners make their way through Balloch Castle Country Park

There was no better place to start this challenge than a New Year event right on my doorstep. And there were no better people to start the challenge with than the rest of Team Crumley – my wife Fran and sons Callum and Sam.

This lovely local run in Balloch Castle Country Park, to be found at the southern end of Loch Lomond, is organised every  year by Maurice Donohue, the man also behind Balloch Run N’ Park.

The Shortbread Run is a short family run designed to help people get active and blow off the New Year cobwebs. Given that Talisker had played a big part in my ushering 2017 in, this was the perfect way to properly clear the head.  The added bonus was some free shortbread at the finish!

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Team Crumley

 

 

It was brilliant to see many other locals had thought the event to be a great idea too and there was a pretty sizeable group amassed at the start when Maurice yelled ‘go’. Callum, who’s 10, shot off into an early lead while Fran and I hung back to run with seven-year-old Sam over the 3km course.

We expected to catch up with Callum in the second half of the run but the penny is clearly starting to drop and some of my moaning about pacing himself seems to be seeping in. When we closed in on the finishing line there he was, looking very pleased with himself and wondering what had kept us all. Sam, too, seemed to really enjoy it all (he hid it very well if he didn’t).

So, we’re off! One event down. Let’s see what the rest of the year holds.

As promised, you can find my JustGiving page here.

Thank you!