Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Variety is the spice of life

It's nice to try to do things with a focus on others rather than yourself, so that's what the past couple of weekends have been mainly about. A friend was celebrating his 60th birthday by cycling (with another friend) from Dunnet Head (Scotland's most northerly point) to the Mull of Galloway (Scotland's most southerly point) over a week...ending on the actual birthday itself.
The last day cyclists!
It was interesting to see the pictures they posted every day, and I went out (with their wives) to meet them in Newton Stewart on the Friday night, so that I could join them for the last day of the ride. It was a nice sociable day as another friend also came out for the ride, and the "wife support car" met us along the way with sandwiches and traybakes (yummmm!!!). I was worried that I would be holding them back, but after a week of each other's stories, I'm sure that the original pair enjoyed having other people interested in their tales. We mainly cycled on the back roads which were rather quiet...and beautiful to ride along. I'm sure they got tired of me exclaiming over the views, but when you see the sun (OK, so we cycled through some showers too!) glinting off the sea with some beautiful beaches, you wonder why people feel the need to go overseas for holidays when Dumfries and Galloway has so much to offer. It was nice to have a change from running -  I felt that I better able to look round as I was slightly higher up,  less tired, and didn''t have to worry about tripping up if I glanced at my surroundings!
Lunch at both ends of D&G!
The sting in the tail was that the final few kms were rather "undulating" with a climb right up from sealevel up to the lighthouse on the promotory...but it was worth it....especially when you consider the tot of whisky we raised to the 60th birthday, and the lovely soup and cake in the cafe afterwards!
I did manage a long run the next day....though it seeemd weird to be having lunch in Gretna, when I'd been right at the opposite side of D&G less than 24 hours beforehand.
The next weekend saw the inaugural Glencoe Skyrace, which one of my friends was due to compete in. Unfortunately, he was rather unwell the day before the race, and though he tried to rest as I drove up there, he did not recover enough to be able to take part, which was rather disappointing for him to say the least. Still, at least it meant that he didn't have to brave the midgiefest that I endured as a volunteer/marshal.
I helped with registration until after 11pm on the Friday night, then slept for a few hours in the back of the car before starting to register the final competitors at 5:30am. Being "on the other side" again, and cacthing up with lots of friends, did give me race envy, but I knew that I had to keep my sensible head on. We weren't officially allowed to stop the traffic, but could wave high viz warning signs to alert drivers (and hope they slowed down), so it was rather scary to be manning a road crossing within the first mile and have runners pouring down the race route towards you, and a big truck bearing down the main road at you at the same time. Luckily a police car appeared at the last minute to assist us, and all the drivers kindly stopped to let the runners cross safely.
Not bad as morning views go.....
I then went further down the valley to where the race route crossed the road again between two ridgelines. It was great to be able to encourage the runners as they came through there, give them food and drink, top up water bottles, ring cowbells etc, and it was interesting to see the different expressions of pain, tiredness or pure enjoyment on their faces as they came through. Then it was time to say good bye to the Highlands and head back home ;-(
There was a local trail race the next day, and so I decided to use it to try to get my legs turning over a bit faster. I got a clue as to the conditions for the race when I cycled out to the start/registration, as it was rather warm and humid, despite the overnight thunderstorms.
I always find it interesting how people start races - although I know I start slower than most, it never fails to surprise me how fast some others sprint off so that within metres, I'm behind those that I never usually see in a race. At least we started with 50m of road so I could worm my way around a couple of runners before a sharp 90 degree bend though a gate into an uneven rutted grassy field.
The race profile
I knew my friend Ruth (from Shettleston Harriers) was a good short distance runner with good cross-country and hill running skills, but she just seemed to fly away from me into the distance. By the time we exited the field and crossed the river (her by the steps on the bridge, me via the steep muddy slope alongside) she was almost 50m ahead of me, along with Kevin (one of my clubmates). We then had a brief section of gradual climb on a minor road, before turning off onto overgrown forest roads/tracks that climbed more steadily up and up. They were wide enough for passing and I gradually reeled in the two in front of me, to pass them just after the 3K marker, but then we started to descend. This part of the course was shady and rather wet underfoot, with uneven rocks, stones and roots as well as mud - I was very aware of not giving myself a silly injury, and so was quite happy to ignore Kevin who soon passed me again on the long downhill stretch.
Both Kevin and I were briefly confused by seeing a runner ahead of us in a club vest, but it was Frank, the race organiser, who'd turned back early to check that everything was running smoothly and the marshals were happy. We seemed to be running back the way we'd come into the forest, and so I actually checked my watch as I couldn't believe we were on the homeward leg already. I needn't have worried as we were shortly directed back off onto some more forest trails (yup, to climb again). The final part of the course had us out into the sunshine, along trails and through fields, before climbing back up to the road via a farm. Kevin was running well and so I didn't pull alongside him until we only had a mile to go. Then it was a case of lengthening our stride along the tarmac until we ducked under the main road again, via the original rutted grassy field.
Souvenirs of the weekend
You could really feel the uneven boggy surface taking it out of your tired legs, especially as it was now a drag uphill - as opposed to the carefree gallop down it at the start. Luckily it was just a short rough stretch until you popped back out into the road to finish in front of the pub (who can complain with a finish line by a pub for further refreshments?). It was nice to chat to everyone over food and drink before changing shorts and shoes again to cycle home - all in all a very varied but enjoyable weekend!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Last year I was contacted by Gerhard Flatz to ask if I would consider trialling and testing some "uvu" running kit. I had seen a couple of pictures of friends wearing uvu gear but confess to not knowing much about the brand.
Having looked into it further, I liked what I had read.
"UVU stands for "You Vs You". This refers to the fact that ultra-running is first and foremost a personal battle of a person's mind vs body. People that undertake extreme endurance challenges such as ultra-running tend to have different perspectives and different needs than the average man or woman"

Their challenge was to create specific running products that function in temperatures ranging from -40° to +40° Celsius as wearing the right product means a lot more than staying dry or cool or warm. The technology is designed to blend in with you, mile after mile, as if it is specifically tailored to fit your individual running style, eg pockets are exactly where you want them to be when you're tired and hungry and you want to reach for something without distraction. "The only limitation to the apparel is your will to continue"

All weather in a day!
Although I wasn't going to be in conditions anywhere near -40 or +40, I was keen to try the clothing out. The garments were made to measure, so it took a while to receive them after agreeing and sending my measurements through. I was given various garments to try - inner and outer layers for both top and bottom.....and I have to say that I was impressed.

I have tried them in races, in training, in run-commuting and generally just hanging around (the old adage that people ask me why I'm dressed up when I'm not wearing running gear does seem to be rather true!!). The fit of the bottoms was rather "neat", though they have become very comfortable with more wear, and I did find the white vest rather transparent in its thinness but Gerhard was very appreciative of such feedback.

Useful to have pockets on a "long" run
In some races, you must wear representative kit, but in others the choice is left up to the runner. I wore the uvu shorts for a spring marathon, and they were ideal - fitted internally, slightly looser externally, with the hip-pockets being exactly the right size and location for easily carrying and grabbing gels without having to break my stride. The capris have been used similarly on longer runs as I'm not a fan of carrying a pack if I don't need to, but some things needs to be taken with you. Certain tops did a good job of keeping you warm, while others made sure you did not overheat. I'm also rather a fan of thumbholes, and all the longsleeve tops have these to use, if so desired.
Loving the thumb-holes!
I know that it's not far for me to run to work on the odd occasion that I've left my car there overnight, but the jacket (both that with and without sleeves) was perfect for this, as I had a pocket for my phone, my housekeys, my work ID and the ipod pocket and cable stay were a lifesaver (I would previously catch my headphone cables on my arm when swinging it through, so disconnecting my vital music distraction on a boring trot in along the cyclepath).

I didn't think that I would get much use from the heavyduty waterproof trousers (as I had no polar plans), but I forgot about the random Scottish weather, so they actually came into their own when a session became rather snow-logged (and the clips to hook them onto your shoelaces prevented them riding up and hence snow getting in....something so simple, yet so beneficial). I've used them when helping out at races such as mountain marathons, but have actually run more with the lightweight waterproof (and it's useful stowaway attached mittens).

You can tell that the gear is designed by runners due to the little features that make so much difference (the pocket positioning, the shoe hooks, the thumbloops, the cable holes) and is was great to be able to be part of the trialling, trsting and feedback process. The even better news is that the range is now ready to be launched to the wider market of the general public so you can all have a chance to try them out for yourselves......

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Keeping It Real....

Getting back into training is all very well, but it's easy to hide behind it, and sometimes you just need to get out there and race to see eaxctly what stage you're at. I hadn't run a road race since Comrades and so, no matter how reluctant I felt, I knew I needed to get out there and test myself.

My father is working overseas for a few weeks, and so my mother came over to Dumfries to visit me for a few days - and we decided to take a nice day trip out, combining me running the Haddington Half Marathon with her catching up with some old friends.

A "happy breakfast" to set us up for the day ;-)

We took a scenic route up there through the Borders, stopping for a cafe-break halfway, but the number of tractors and "Sunday drivers" meant that we only arrived just over half an hour before the race started. Less time to stress about actually racing, but just enough time for me to register and change and then make sure that Mama had met her friends.

The pre-race announcement included the usual warnings about "open roads", hence headphones being banned, and also a jokey remark about the finish ("for those that haven't reccied it, remember to turn into the field and run along the edge of it to the finish when you get back to here").....and then we were off. 
The first 100m of the race was along an uneven road with several speed bumps, so I made sure that I was a few rows back and to the side to avoid coming a cropper with any of the fast starters. We then turned a corner to be suddenly faced with a steep hill, which certainly got the pulse rate up...but meant I could weave my way up through the field. As we headed downhill back into town at around the first mile marker, I noticed a guy cutting into the road in front of me (he had cut the corner) with headphones in both ears. The funny thing was that he had to take them out to hear me when I shouted a warning to him, as I thought it would be a shame to run the whole way and then be DQ'd for not obeying the rules!

Everybody seemed to settle into their run in the first few miles and so positions didn't change evry much, but I did notice that I closed up a bit on the guys in front of me (including my club mate Alan) on every uphill we had to contend with....and there were a few!! After about 4 miles we changed direction completely from running towards the east to a more westerly direction......which was unfortunately into a lovely headwind!

A guy from one of the more local clubs (Portobello) tucked in behind me, but after a while I waved him past. This was partly for selfish reasons, as I hated hearing him grunting in my ear with every breath, and partly because I thought that if he could make up the 10m or so to the group of 4 guys ahead, then they'd be able to pull him along at a quicker pace.

Not the flattest race profile!!!

I was surprised to be so close to this group, as it contained Alan and I am used to spotting him much further down the road ahead of me ...in fact, just a few moments later, I was with them and trying to push them on. I felt that I wasn't running as fast as usual, so I thought they must have really drifted off their usual pace. They didn't seem to want to push on at all so I found myself leading the group, with them tucking in behind....not ideal when you've almost 5 miles to run into a headwind!!!

It was lovely to get a cheer from my mum and her friend at the 7 mile water station as I hadn't expected them to be out on the course at all, though I don't think they expected me to be leading a gaggle of men either.
I was hoping that everyone would take a share of pacemaking/windbreaking duties as I was thinking "don't race me guys, work with me and we can reel in this man ahead" but it was left to me to chase him down (which eventually did happen). When we chatted after the race, the guys did say that it wasn't that they didn't want to, but just that they didn't have the extra speed (which I guess is actually a compliment!) - and on the odd occasion when one of them did come up alongside me and start to move across, the pace did drop so I had to take the lead again.
Alan came past on my inside on a nice downhill stretch at about 9 miles and so I asked him if he'd personally selected this race for our club championship. The downhill stretch soon turned into our last major climb and so he admitted "yes, but never again!". This section finally separated our little group so with 3 miles to go, we were all strung out along the road, with some of the guys just seeming to have more left in their legs than me.
Side by side with Alan in the final stretch
I'm not sure what it was about this section of the race, but I think I found it the least enjoyable, even though it was the flattest. I guess that we'd turn back to head east so no longer had the headwind to cool us down, and the sunny day had certainly brought out the flies in force. It definitely wasn't just that I was smelling more attractive to them all than anyone else, as other people were also swatting away round their heads as they ran!

With about a mile to go, I had closed the gap to Alan to just a few metres and as he wasn't making any impression on the guys ahead of him, I suggested that it might be nice to finish the race together as it was our club championshiop race - and we were the first club male and female. It seemed like a nice way to get through the final stretch of the race, though when I passed Alan he did ask me not to go too fast as he was starting to cramp up.
Into the finish...
I made sure that we were side by side as we headed down that final stretch of road (though it was almost like running into a wall as you turned back into the storng headwind for 100m or so down the rough road with its speedbumps) and turned into the field. If we'd pushed it, I think we would have overtaken the man in front on the grass as he seemed to suddenly fade, but we just had a nice relaxed run in to finish 11th and 12th overall. Not amazing times, but then nobody would have run a quick time on that course on that day (though if teams had been mixed rather than single sex, I think DRC might have been the first team, as clubmate Jacob wasn't too far back).

DRC Champs 2015

It turns out that interesting things had happened slightly further up the field, which is why I mentioned the announcement at the start. The man who had been in second place for most of the race missed the turn into the field and ended up going into a housing estate, and so finished in 3rd place after all. I believe his language wasn't the best when he actually ran into the field, which did seem rather harsh, as we'd been warned about remembering to turn into the field, and there were also orange arrows painted on the ground, and many supporters there. He looked rather grumpy at the prize giving, but that was probably embarrassment about what he'd shouted earlier, and the organisers did acknowledge that he would have finished in second place if it wasn't for this error.

Comparing the male and female trophies

Despite it not being the best race ever, I would say that all in all it was a great day out for myself and my mum....and was made even better by the amount of cakes and cookies we were given post race, so we could all sit on the grass with a cuppa and catch up with friends old and new!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Mixing it up....

After the excitement of the Dragon's Back race, I knew it was important to have some down-time ( though it does seem funny to think of going back to work for a break! ). The 100K in September would be here all too soon, and I knew that I really needed to recover properly before I could start any training again. To be honest, my lower legs had become so swollen in the few days after finishing that I probably didn't have much choice in the matter - it was so odd to lose sight of my ankles....I must have really aged a lot in a few days to develop such cankles (they were worse than those of my patients in my first few days back at work)!
Rather tired on arrival in Durham!
I had thought some gentle swimming would help my legs move and shift the fluid, but unfortunately the "public" pool in Dumfries was never open at a time that the public could use it, so that was out, hence a couple of gentle bike rides fit the bill instead (especially when they had a double purpose of replenishing my fuel stores as I generally cycled to a cafe or ice cream shop).
My father's cousins were over visiting from Poland and so, not being one to sit still for too long, I decided to cycle over to visit them at the weekend. To be fair, I cheated and took the train part of the way, so only actually cycled to and from Hexham to Durham....but it still involved some rather "steep inclines" and so I realised that there was still quite a lot of residual tiredness in my legs!!
I gradually allowed myself some gentle runs, and even did a grassy parkrun when catching up with friends in the Lake District - it wasn't exactly the fastest course, but that was perfect as it meant that I didn't feel the urge to push myself too hard, and I knew that I had no previous runs there to compare my time to.
The next weekend was a full 3 weeks after the Dragon's Back had finished so it was time to see where my body (and mind) were at. I have been invited to take part in the Snowdon Supercup for the past three year but have never been able to accept the invitation before (due to injury or other commitments). The Snowdon Supercup is an international invitational uphill only race from Llanberis to the top of Snowdon. I knew that I wasn't going to be in good form, but I was keen for a run out to see how my body coped....both with the run, and with the recovery afterwards....and so I accepted and took myself (back) down to Wales again.
I think I'm at the summit!!!
There must be something about myself and Snowdon, because although it was sunny at the bottom...by the time I'd ascended the 1000m to the summit, I was surrounded by cloud and being rained upon. No matter that I didn't have to traverse Crib Goch on this occasion......I have still to actually see the summit. Although it wasn't a performance to write home about, I thought that I'd acquitted myself fairly well in the race, having kept a local runner in sight (in 3rd place) right up until we hit the clag, and then I was only passed in the final few hundred metres by another Welsh Lassie. I ran every step, which may not have been the ideal plan, as she powerwalked by me without me hearing her closing in, as I couldn't differentiate her footfall from that of the tourist hikers! By the time I realised, I hadn't enough race left to get her back.
A trip to the summit cafe (to dry off and refuel) still left enough time to jog back down into the sunshine and join friends to cheer on the runners in the main "up and down" race. One of the Scottish ladies had pulled out of the team event due to illness, but at least I was sensible enough not to be talked into taking her place in the race. The good news was that I felt recovered enough to go for a longer run the next day.......
MM controls

Enjoying a well-earned butty after Leg 2 on the BGR

That signalled that it was probably OK to restart training, but I wanted to make sure that I eased back into it and didn't do too much too soon, so I've still been mixing it up a little......going out onto the Lowther hills one day so help collect controls in after an overnight Mountain Marathon, and then gpoing down to the Lake District on another occasion to help support on a Bob Graham Round attempt, but I think I probably need to start focussing solely on the roads for a few weeks now....wish me luck!!!!