Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Malta marathon 2017

From a running point of view I’ve had a pretty cruddy 6 months, back in August I wrenched my back and like most good distance runners decided that ignoring it; trying to run off my injury and not seeking medical help was the best plan. I limped (literally) through the Nice marathon in November and crashed out of Marcothon, not helped by a 2 week dose of the lurgy.
In January I finally conceded that I could not go on. The harder I ran the slower I got and the more awkward and painful not only my running but everyday life was becoming too. So I bit the bullet and visited a physio, within 10 minutes of poking and prodding I had a diagnosis of a misaligned pelvis! This was causing me to run lopsided, which in turn was stretching my right glute (a source of almost constant pain) and over stretch the muscles on the left of my spine. After a mere 50 minutes of testing and manipulation and a stringent instruction not to run for 48 hours, I was on the road to recovery.

To cut to the chase, I had a further physio session just to be sure, stepped out for a 22 mile long run 3 weeks ago, and ran the freest and fastest run I’ve had since last summer. Jump to last weekend and I’m on the start line for the 2017 Malta Marathon feeling pretty good about my running. Not quite in the PB shape I was in when I ran here 2 years ago (3:16:16) but confident enough to give it my best shot.

Sitting like a hobo before the start
The marathon and half marathon both start in Mdina, only about 10 miles from the finish, with loops around the disused airfield at Ta’Qali and various bays near Valletta to make up the distances. The marathon starts at 7:30am and the buses which took us to the start drop you off with over an hour to wait in a rather chilly and windy carpark, by the time a nearby hotel deigned to open its doors for business and rooked me 3 euros for a coffee, I was somewhat chilled.
There are around 900 runners for the full marathon and about 3000 for the half so the start for the marathon was not congested as you pass through the first mile of narrow streets in Mdina, unlike the half marathon where runners slowed to a walk. Once you clear the streets of Mdina it’s a solid 2 miles of down hill running before you start a series of gyrations all broadly round Ta'Qali. 

Even having ran it, I'd struggle to work out which way I was going? 

What had started as a chilly morning was warming up and while 22C isn't exactly a heat wave it makes for a tough shift!
The field of 900 spread out fairly quickly and I guessed there were about 120 people ahead of me and after the first 10K I was doing more passing than being passed. But on joining up with the half marathoners at the 25Km mark, it felt like joining the rush hour. The 1:35 HM pacer passed me and I had that depressing feeling of going backwards as a steady stream of half marathoners passed me pretty much up to the 35km mark.
Up until about mile 14 I was keeping my pace well below 7:30 minute miles, I'd have needed for a PB, but the heat and the uphill slopes took a toll with miles 15 through 20 closer to 8 minute miles.
A PB was off the cards,  but a sub 3:20 was still a possibility, or rather would have been had miles 20 through 24 not all been well North of 8 minute miles. Oh well never mind, the last two miles are pan flat so I took a "suck it up" pill and squeezed a 7:57 25th mile and 7:34 26th mile, I wasn't passed by anyone on this section and crossed the line in 3:20:27. Happy with that, not a PB, not a Good for Age but still my 2nd fastest ever marathon.
Soaking up the sun after the event

Clubmate Gerry, who had been planning to run but was injured, was there to look after me at the end. The finish area would be my only criticism of this race, it was a ruddy melee, very congested and quite a few runners collapsed flat on the deck; a very congested exit area, not what you want after 26.2 miles.

Gillian was running the half marathon and I made it out the finish area just in time to see her finish and sneak in under her target 2 hours, pretty good going given her injury and lurgy compromised training.

A quick pit-stop at Gerry's apartment and then back to our hotel for a proper clean up and by 2pm we were sitting in the sun at a beachfront cafe enjoying some pink fizz.


The medal is a quality heavyweight piece of race bling, the race fee at 33 Euros including bus to the start is very reasonable. You get a simple cotton t-shirt included too which looks and feels OK. We flew Ryanair from Liverpool and got a 4 star hotel, both at a very reasonable price as it's still off season.

The profile is overall downhill, if not quite as downhill as I remembered it from 2015. It's not too busy and weather wise it's hot without being stupidly so. Its definitely a race with PB potential.
Happy runners, about to head to the bar

Monday, 29 August 2016

Lakeland 50 2016

I first ran the Lakeland 50 in 2014......the heatwave year! .....blazing sunshine and 30C going up Fusedale I actually phoned home and swore "I'm never doing this f*****ng race again!", finished in 12:10:40...never again!.
Of course by the time I'd driven home it was "that is such a great race, I'm sure I can do better".
2015 Twelve months on, fitter, more hill miles in my legs and with a bit of route knowledge I knocked 1 hour 23 minutes of that time, "my work with the Lakeland 50 is done!".
But the running pixies in my head kept telling me that since I'd had to don my head torch for the final descent last year I'd been painfully slow, so maybe, just maybe I could just shave a bit off my 10:43:23 and finish in daylight?
So I guess it was pretty inevitable that I'd be on the start line at Dalemain this year.

Goldilocks running weather was how I'd describe race day. Not too hot, not too cold, ideal for a tough 50 miler. I didn't feel terribly enthused on the start line though, I'd not slept well on Friday, combination of toilet trips; noisy neighbours; excitement and being woken early by some twat runners who felt it necessary to be up and at em' at 6am banging car doors and running car engines, truly that should be a capital offence.

But I've paid my money, my head may not be in the right place, but the quickest way to get it over and done with is to run back to Coniston, OK so I know its not, but you get my drift.

Muggins and Caroline at the start
Fellow Harriers, Caroline was running the 50 too and Andy had opted for the big boy race, the full 100.

In common with many other bloggers I really dislike the first couple of miles, I hate running on grass and this all meant I was in a pretty foul mood by the time I headed into Pooley Bridge!

Trotting over the new bridge, I heard a shout of abuse, fellow Harriers Gillian; Gerry and his wife Lorraine driving through in my car! I've no idea what they shouted, almost certainly something uncomplimentary but it gee'd me up and I trotted through Pooley Bridge milking the crowd for applause.
I half ran, half walked up the hill out of Pooley Bridge and then ran steadily down into Howton checkpoint, surprise surprise the Harriers were there taking photos too. I think I made some crack about finding the race "hateful"...still in my dark place.
I knew I had to keep checkpoint stops to an absolute minimum, so refill the bottles grab a flapjack and straight back out heading for the joys of Fusedale!

Howton CP 1:35

Halfway up Fusedale there was a hugely enthusiastic lady with morale boosting slogans written on balloons, one in particular said "Don't be shit". Sort yourself out Ainslie, get your race head on and get this done!
First year I ran the 50 I didn't use poles, being a Scottish purist I subscribed to the "poles equals cheat" sticks principle, last year I realised the error of my ways, but ended up running with poles in my hands for pretty much the rest of the race after Fusedale, culminating in a comic moment as I tried to walk into the school at Coniston with my (fully extended) poles strapped to my pack and failing to make it through the door.
On reaching the top of Fusedale this year, I had a blinding flash moment, I'm running with fully extended poles in one hand and I feel really unbalanced as I run. Wait a minute I never run with poles in my hand normally why am I doing it now? I take a minute to stop; collapse the poles and secure them to my pack and I'm off across towards Low Kop with a proper spring in my step. 
The running demons have disappeared, step aside......Elvis is back in the building!

On the descent down to Haweswater I see a familiar figure up ahead, running mate Andy Beattie, 73 miles into the 100 and looking like he's having a pretty hard time. I'd expected to pass him at some point but not so early in the game. Andy is probably the fittest person I know, the fact that he's looking grim is testament to the difficulty of the Lakeland 100.

I'm not the best of descenders having variously been described as descending "like a proper fanny" or "like a big girls blouse" but this time I try to relax on the descent and really enjoy it this time with no dramas. 
On the path alongside Haweswater I truly feel at home, this type of narrower stony trail is exactly what I train on. I'm definitely getting into the race now.
The last couple of miles into the Mardale Head checkpoint always seem slightly never ending, I pause a couple of times, once to sort out scrunched up insoles in my Speedcross 3s and secondly to dip my buff in a stream and give my head a thorough and lovely drenching in cold water, good friend Andy Johns passes me at this point. Andy and I are roughly the same pace in Ultra's although he's always beaten me with stronger finishes, so I reckon this is a good marker for me today.

Mardale Head CP  3:38

Once again it's a quick in and out of the Spartan's checkpoint, bottles refilled; cup of soup and an attempt to eat a sandwich, ended up dipping it in my soup to make it palatable for my dry mouth.

Poles out again and it's the thigh burning climb up Gatescarth Pass. I make a point of name checking every 100 miler I pass, I simply cannot conceive of the mental strength required for this race, especially on the brutal second half climbs.

Two thirds of the way up I decide I'll have a celebratory scream, with due warning given to runners close by I have a good old animal yell, don't know why but it makes me feel good. I'm slightly ahead of Andy at the top but stop once more to fold away my poles and we start the descent together.

My memory of this section from past years is of a somewhat nightmare surface, but with Andy and his chum Dan for company we flew down this section, and on the flat road to Sadgill I pulled ahead of Dan and Andy. I wasn't racing but I find if I get into a comfortable pace I'm better sticking with it and sacrificing a bit of company.

I'm not 100% sure of the route here, but Andy catches up and performs his human GPS role and keeps us right into Kentmere checkpoint.

Kentmere CP  5:07

I wasted time here last year by sitting down feeling sorry for myself, not this year. I grab a quick bowl of pasta and force it down, handful of Jelly babies and I'm out the door sharpish.
Between here and Ambleside it's pretty much the Dan; Keith and Andy show. The weather was good that chat was excellent and our paces similar.
Troutbeck with Dan and Andy  pic: Ann Brown
I even muster up a recitation of Tam O'Shanter as we approach Ambleside, I'm feeling strong at this point so I pull ahead of Andy and Dan.

Through Ambleside Gillian and Lorraine pop up on the other side of the road, I decide I'll lose my sunglasses having hardly used them all day, so promptly launch them over the stream of traffic..good catch Gillian.

I'm a sucker for crowds so I speed up through the town milking the applause and into the checkpoint.

Ambleside CP  6:42

What a relief the CP is on the pavement outside the church...no steps! I refill one bottle and I'm straight through, I'm really focused on finishing in the daylight now. I ran this last section in training and I reckon 3 hours 15 minutes is realistic on tired legs. I'm as sure as I can be that a PB is in the bag and a sub 10 may just be a possibility.

My focus now is on not blowing the hard work so far, run wherever I can run, even the hills where possible, any walk is faster than a run is my race mantra!

Langdale CP 7:46

No sitting down, no faffing, dib in; water; small bowl beef stew and I'm stationary for less than a minute. I'm also on my own for the leg to the unmanned dibber, properly on my own. Possibly for the first time all day I literally cannot see another runner either ahead or behind me.
Poles out for the short but stiff climb up Side Pike pass and then quickly packed away at the top and a thank-you to the solitary supporter at the road crossing. My legs still feel good and I'm able to maintain a decent running pace down to Blea Tarn then across the stony section until the bracken becomes too thick, I'm not risking a tumble when I can't see my feet.
The road book says to stay high to keep your feet dry, and I do so until I can see the gate, this last section seems wet no matter which line you take but I reckon I'm close enough to the finish now that wet feet won't matter too much.
Quick dib and I'm trotting down the steep tarmac hill, heading for the NT cottage, past this, still running until I see a herd of Highland Cows complete with calves, they make look docile but even a friendly nudge from those horns could spoil your day. I walk carefully and VERY quietly and am glad to pass them without incident. One of my friends later had a less fortuitous encounter with them, which ended her L50.

Once I'm through High Tilberthwaite farm I'm running again and feeling strong (the slight slope on the road reduced me to a walk in 2015, not this year).

Tilberthwaite CP 9:12

Another lightning checkpoint, don't even refill bottles, I'm a man on a mission now!

Poles out for the climb up the Stairway to Heaven and I maintain what I think is a good pace, but somehow manage to get overtaken by 5 people before I cross the beck. I have a momentary low as they disappear ahead, but this is very much my personal race against the clock, forget about them Keith, concentrate on getting finished in daylight.
On the descent down towards the miners cottages, I'm pushing it, but I've realised that sub 10 hours is just not going to happen. I'm not strong on technical descents and I rationalise that I'm better with a PB than killing myself so close to the finish.
When I hit the landrover track I feel like I'm running 7 minute miles.....I'm not of course it's a 9:46 mile until I hit the tarmac. 
Then it's time to turn on the burners 7:23 minute mile past the cheering crowds at the pub, sod the footbridge, the traffic can stop as I take the straight line over the bridge. Left turn and its down the hill and through the finish arch

Coniston Finish 10:06:27 57th overall

I'm ecstatic, but I'm also done in I reward myself with a wee lie down on the grass, to the slight consternation of a marshall, who evidently thought I'd died!

My objective was to finish in the daylight, I've not only achieved that but I've knocked 36 minutes off last years time and over two hours quicker than my first attempt. And yes the last descent IS much easier in the daylight.

I may have thought I'd slowed on this last section but according to Strava my time of 52:36 was the fastest I've ever done it! Faster even than my training runs.

Into the hall to get my medal and t-shirt and I use my collapsible cup for the first time to satisfy my usual post Ultra craving for milk, sheer bliss.

Gillian is on hand to make sure I change quickly out of my soaked top, but I still have a monster dose of the shivers by the time I head for the showers. The shower was bliss even if I did need some assistance in removing my socks and a blocked plug hole meant I was paddling in 2 inches of someone else's effluent.
Now I have a new objective, I'm going to the pub for a pint before closing time!

I'm happy to report I achieved this second objective too and was able to see Caroline run through  Coniston and finish in a well deserved 11:14:17. We were both able to enjoy the luxury of Gerry and Lorraine's camper van (no midges!!) for some post race relaxation and whilst I headed for sleep Gerry stayed up to see Andy finish the 100 in 33:23:57 a quite simply fantastic time. I'll be candid and say when I passed him I thought he looked like he might not finish, so well done Andy.


I was asked if I was disappointed to miss the sub 10 hours? genuinely no, as it wasn't my objective and I'm honestly not sure where I could find another 7 minutes, I'm happy with the PB.

Is it easier to finish in the daylight?, yes.

Would I run the L100? not sure.

Would I recommend the Lakeland races to other runners? 100% absolutely.



Friday, 27 May 2016

Cateran Ultra 2016

For my second attempt at this race I was determined to improve on last years’ time of 10:53:21, whilst I didn’t have a bad day last year, I didn’t have a particularly good run either, so some unfinished business to take care of.

It puzzles me why this race doesn’t sell out each year? It’s in a stunning location; challenging route; incredible scenery and great organisation. Rather than fretting about not getting into the Fling or the Lakeland 50, get yourself an entry for the Cateran next year.

I arrived at race HQ at the Gulabin lodge outdoor centre on Friday evening, having fuelled up with the world’s largest fish supper in Blairgowrie en route, courtesy of Lois. Suitably engorged I had plenty of time to catch up with friends, register and get my kit laid out for the morning. I also made sure I got a bottom bunk, not fancying the climb up to the bizarrely high mezzanine beds with 55 miles in my legs!
Fortunately my room mates were all of a sensible turn of mind and we were all bedded down for an early night by 10pm.

We were greeted on Saturday with an unbroken blue sky, a chilly north wind and the prospect of a dry and warm day. There are 6 checkpoints, but with the first one at Dalnagiar only being 6 miles in, I’d opted for 5 drop bags only. After a quick briefing from RD Karen we walked across the road to the start point and with minimal fuss we were off on our 55 mile quest at 7am prompt.
In past races I’ve tended to err on the cautious side as far as pace goes, especially in the early stages, but I decided this time to be a bit more optimistic and not hold back. Within the first half mile or so I found myself in a “pace group” including Andy Johns (6th place finish last year); Jo Murphy and Martin Butcher from Carnegie Harriers, with Jo at that stage being the leading lady I thought I might be being a bit too optimistic, but it felt comfortable so I stuck with it.

Comparing my splits with last year I was 5 minutes quicker at Dalnagair and running straight through I gained a few places, dropping to a walk briefly to take on board a gel, I’m often guilty of not fuelling enough in the early stages of an Ultra, so was trying to be more disciplined this time. On the road section to Glenisla the sun was starting to heat things up and we all stripped of a layer, with Jo and Martin showing off their splendidly bright Carnegie vests.
We pretty much ran as an informal group through to about 25 miles, with the place order swapping throughout chatting, singling songs (badly) and even a couple of impromptu recitals of Burn’s poetry from Martin and myself.

I’ve been asked before how the Cateran compares to the Fling? Frankly I find it difficult to make the comparison. They are broadly the same distance, there is probably a bit more tarmac on the Cateran, but overall I’d say there are more “less runnable” sections on the Cateran. When I say less runnable, there are some field sections you run over, where the cows have created a mini-minefield of hoof sizes pitfalls; one open moorland section that was so full of tussocks where I was barely walking never mind running and some sloping field edge paths that are challenging in the extreme. If you really want to find out what it’s like, sign up for next year.
I’m not a great one for analysing splits; in fact at one point while Martin was telling Jo where their current split times would put them for a finish, I put my fingers in my ears so as not to hear!
Having said that I couldn’t resist comparing my two efforts as below


I’m pretty happy that with my overall fitness better than last year most of my improvement came in the last three sections, in other words I’m not slowing down as much as I did last year. 
Once again I can’t give a blow by blow account of each section but once through Bridge of Cally I was conscious of being passed by Elspeth; Antonia and Jo (who went on to get 1st; 2nd & 3rd lady respectively) but also managed to pass a few blokes. I was beginning to have an inkling I might get an age group place if I didn’t blow up in the last stages.
On the way into Enochdu Jenni saved me from a wrong turn and we stomped out the long and winding climb for the last 6 mile section pretty much together, both keeping each other in sight and unconsciously spurring each other on until over the last climb.

The sting in the tail of this race is undoubtedly the last section from Enochdu back to Spittal of Glenshee, a steady climb out through Calamanach wood at times too steep to run (with 50 miles in your legs!), a runnable mile to the foot of An Lairig and then a pretty brutal uphill, giving a total climb from the Enochdu CP to the highest point of around 1300 feet and then a downhill mile and a half, with 1000 feet of descent to the finish. As I was slogging up the hill, I knew I was well ahead of last year so the PB was in the bag, but sub 10 hours was border-line, it would depend on two things

  1. How far was it from the summit to the finish?
  2. How runnable was the descent?
In short It was too far and not easily runnable!

As I “summited” I had 9 hours 47 minutes and 53.2 miles showing on my watch and could see the finish, I reckoned the route is a trifle shy of the full 55 miles, but even then I reckoned it was too far to cover in less than 13 minutes. The top section of the corrie is actually quite technical; or rather it feels technical to run after 53 miles and nearly 10 hours. I suspect with fresh legs I could do better, but hey ho!

Once clear of the rockier part of the path I pulled on my brave pants and tried to descend like a hill runner, nope sorry I just can’t switch my brain off like that, so sub 10 wasn’t going to happen,  I crossed the line in 10:03:09 a PB by 50 minutes, more than happy with that.

On finishing Andy John’s reckoned I was 1st MV 50, and when this was confirmed at the prize giving I was doubly happy, 1st Super Veteran. And 13th overall.

Great race; great location; great scenery; great accommodation; even better showers; fantastic food and great company, what’s not to like about this race?


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Oops I did it again - Complacency Strikes - Jedburgh 3 Peaks Utra

I’m about to have a bit of a self-pitying man-whinge here so be warned!

I’d better make it absolutely clear that the race itself is fabulous, the route in its full autumn glory is both challenging and quite breath-taking, not that I noticed at the time! The weather was actually quite good, the organisation faultless, the medal and the t-shirt are great. All in all it’s a must do race.

Back to the whinge
By any rational measure I’ve had a good year. I got my marathon PB down to 3:16 which earned me a VLM good for age place for 2016. I’ve PB’d at 10K; 5 mile and just recently banked 2 successive half marathon PB’s in two weeks. I’ve been injury and sickness free. I’ve ran 8 races of Marathon or Ultra distance so far. I achieved my goal of a sub 10 hour Fling and I knocked over an hour of my Lakeland 50 time in July.
Most recently I ran the 35 mile Tiree Ultra and got my highest ever Ultra finishing place 13th overall, 10th male, 5:36:48 for 35 miles.
On this basis everything should have been teed up nicely for a triumphal tilt at the Jedburgh Ultra, a fitting swansong to a golden 2015 for Ainslie?


I didn’t have a “lightbulb” moment where I suddenly thought “Oh crap it’s all going to go tits up”, I did however have a persistent ear-worm nagging away “you’ve not done any long runs”; “there’s a lot of junk miles in the training log”; “a week in Tenerife running up and down volcano’s in 30C plus heat…..what could possibly go wrong?”.
But what the heck, I’m an experienced Ultra runner; I can run hills and trails and its only 38 miles!
Whoa there cowboy, it’s never “only 38 miles”. That’s near as damn a marathon followed by a half marathon, that’s a ruddy long way in any book.
Yes I’ve got the miles in the legs; yes I’ve got the experience; yes I’ve got the base fitness but in the 7 weeks since Tiree my Ultra training and focus has been pants, in short I’ve been complacent. In fact I’ve committed one of the cardinal sins I have banged on about on Facebook, not treating the distance or the race with the respect it deserves.
And to heap insult onto injury, in the week before the race I knew in my heart of hearts that I was guilty as charged, this was going to hurt…a lot!


It was the first time I’d not stayed over the day before a race so a 4am alarm call and a 2 hour drive all helped to fuel the fires of self-pity.
The weather forecasts for Saturday were about as grim as my pre-race mood, with pretty much universal rain in prospect. I wasn’t feeling my usual excitement, just a quiet confidence sapping dread. The Jedburgh rugby club was packed, the nervous tension in the air was palpable and following Angela’s no nonsense “don’t drop litter and don’t be a dick” race briefing we trooped over the road for a warm up to YMCA where I danced around like a tit in the front row.
I’ve been nursing a niggle on my right hip / IT for a couple of weeks it’s not a proper injury, it’s not sore as such, but on some runs it feels like I’m running wearing a wooden leg, I’m almost limping for the first mile or so until I warm up so I spent the first 3 miles or so convincing myself not to bale. I’d overdressed at the start and lost a bit of time while I faffed around, losing my long sleeved top and switching to a waterproof jacket as the rain came on. In my mind it rained all the way to Maxton, but I suspect it didn’t in reality. There were some muddy bits, but in truth not many. It’s not really the mud fest it’s painted as, but yes, there are some muddy slippy bits. It’s not as completely mud free as the WHW, but it’s still very runnable.
The checkpoint at Maxton was super-efficient and friendly and apart from the numerous wet and greasy wooden steps on the riverside section after this threatening to send me for a river swim the run to the Eildon hills passed uneventfully if slowly.
I wasn’t looking forward to the hills or more precisely I wasn’t looking forward to the steep descents on the first two hills, my already stiff right hip protesting at every jarring downhill step. When Craig Malcomson passed me and described me as “descending like a big girl” I’m afraid I had to agree with him. By the time we hit the rather shallower descent from the 3rd hill I felt like I was running wearing somebody else’s legs, everyone else seemed to be pulling ahead and away from me and having fun, while I remained firmly wedged in my wallow of self-pity.
I was lucky enough to find myself in the company of Caroline Graham and David Nightingale, whose cheerful company ultimately kept me going until just after the famous shoogly bridge, and they both pulled ahead, whilst being hugely grateful for their cheerful chat and banter all I could selfishly think of was……bugger I’m back running on my own and I’m not in my happy place.

As we’d gone through CP3 at Maxton I’d been so focussed on eating my rice pudding that I completely forgot to refill my now empty water bottles. I was only about 100 yards out on the road when I realised this. As I was still running with Caroline, I bizarrely rationalised that I could get by without water but couldn’t stand running alone. Not surprisingly I was wrong on the former.
The lack of water added to my misery fest, I was both cross at being dehydrated and even more cross at my basic and self-inflicted error.
When I’m struggling in an Ultra I’ve two fall back mantra’s one is to count from one to eight in my head and the other is “any run is faster than a walk”. I’m afraid I had to adopt the latter just to keep running, and I use the word running in the loosest sense of the word.
When you cross back over the A68 one of the marshals had thoughtfully got water available, what a hero.
I was able to refill one bottle, cram in a handful of Jelly babies and within yards I was feeling much sprightlier. My befuddled brain was able to work out that if I pushed harder I could possibly squeeze under 7 hours, especially if the route was actually slightly short of the full 38 miles.
The last mile of the race is a gentle slope back through the pavements of Jedburgh, feeling happy that it was nearly over and not feeling as rubbish as I’d felt all day I was able to pass David (but not Caroline) and cross the line in 6:57:47.

I’ve blogged in the past about how I hate runners who post statements like “only managed a 31 minute 10K, might as well give up running” I’m acutely aware that many folk would kill to get a time I’m moaning about, in my defence I did say right back at the start this was a self-pitying whinge.

I'm also conscious that this blogpost is also miles late AND it's ages since I posted both things I intend to pay more attention to this year



Friday, 4 September 2015

Helsinki City Marathon 2014 - Review

I've been thinking for some time that I need to come up with a better way of reviewing races, something that is a little bit less subjective than "What a great race!". 
So here's my crack at coming up with a slightly more objective scoring system, whilst also providing a bit of detail and "colour" about the event.
No doubt I'll still churn out my rambling tome's too, but hopefully you might find this helpful or at least of interest.

I've set it up to give a score between 100 and 20, and it's weighted so if for example a race doesn't give out a T-shirt, then that doesn't count adversely and it still gets a score out of 100, clever stuff Eh.

I'll do some work on the formatting as I now realise you may need a magnifying glass to read the detail, but I thought I'd better post a score for my last race, before I run this weekend's Tiree Ultra.

The Helsinki City Marathon earned a score of 80 on the Ainslie-ometer. 


Monday, 27 July 2015

Lakeland 50 2015

I've been a bit quiet lately from a blog perspective, I ran a couple of local races but nothing that stood out enough to make me hit the keyboard, all that changed at the weekend though with my second attempt at the Montane Lakeland 50.
I ran last year, finishing in 12:10:40, just happy to finish the event and still be upright, this year I was hoping for a half decent PB.
The initial plan was for me, Andy B and Caroline to do a bit of pot hunting and race as a three person mixed team. This blatant piece of carpet bagging fell apart when race entries opened and the 1000 available places sold out in 18 minutes. It had taken me over 20 minutes to fill in all the entry details for 3 people so when I hit enter; it was “race full”. Our cunning plan was foiled!
I managed to get a solo place on the waiting list, which was quickly confirmed and Caroline bagged one of the very limited number of charity places, Andy was tied up at work all day and by the time he hit the website, the race was full with no waiting list.
So be warned if this little epic tempts you for next year, you WILL need to be sitting on your keyboard when race entries go live at 9am on September 1st.

The L50 is run concurrently with its big brother the L100 (which is actually 105 miles), with race HQ and the finish for both events at the John Ruskin school in Coniston. The L100 starts there at 6pm on the Friday evening with the L50 starting at the Dalemain estate, near Penrith at 11:30 on the Saturday morning.
Camping for 2 nights is included in your race fee and there is on-site catering to supplement the local pubs and restaurants.
We arrived on site around 4pm which gave ample time to pitch our tent, settle in and wander up to the Black Bull Inn in time to see the 100 mile runners set off and grab a bite to eat with Andy Johns; Howard Seal and Susan Gallagher.
Caroline - last minute race prep

We then headed down to formally register. This was a very thorough but efficient process of kit checking, where you were required to show every item of compulsory kit, with quite a few people falling foul of this and being sent off to purchase whatever didn't make the grade. Having passed through this process you were handed your number, weighed and fitted with your timing “dibber” collected your race map; route book and Montane branded buff.
We'd decided beforehand that a quiet evening was in order so after packing my trusty but soon to be retired Salomon X-wings race vest it was time for an early night. Sadly I’d failed to share my plan with my fellow campers and a steady symphony of slamming portaloo doors, quiet chat’s which were not so quiet and car doors and boots opening and closing kept me wide awake. I also managed to hear the Coniston church clock chiming 1am; 2am 5am and 6am by which time the field was waking up and further sleep was impossible.
If you're thinking of doing it next year and a pre-race solid sleep is a prerequisite………you have been warned!
Sunset over Coniston

With around 700 people all looking for breakfast, I'd opted to avoid the queue and plumped for my usual pot of porridge and a rice pudding, a quick shower, race kit on and then headed to the 8:30am race briefing.
Joint RD’s Terry and Marc gave a concise race brief, including the reminder that we were NOT “just running the 50” and that what we were about to undertake was a pretty big thing!
From there it was straight onto the fleet of coaches to take us to the race start at Dalemain estate, where we arrived with a good hour to spare before race start at 11:30am.
Although I was completely confident that I'd finish and pretty confident I'd beat last years’ time of 12:10:40 my lack of sleep the night before was playing on my mind. I opted to find a patch of grass to lie on and just shut my eyes and relax for 45 minutes, whilst Caroline headed off to find a bacon roll.
Andy Johns - looking relaxed pre start
I continue to be amazed at the number of runners who stand around before the off, (wearing full race kit) when they should, in my view be taking the weight off their feet. I was equally amazed at the size of the packs some runners were proposing to carry; they looked big enough for a weekend camp!

Dalemain to Howton     Total distance covered 11.2
miles            1 hour 35 minutes           67th place

My rough race plan was to run the first two legs faster than I did last year, on the basis that other than the hike up Fusedale this is the flattest most runnable part of the route. I know there is no such thing as “banking time” on an Ultra but I reckoned I'd be slowing down in the second half anyway irrespective of how I'd ran the first half.
There is a 4 mile loop round the Dalemain estate before you hit the route proper mostly on my least favourite running surface – grass. 
I’d positioned myself at what I estimated was about 100 places from the front and pretty much as soon as we were under the start gantry I found myself running just behind Debbie Martin-Consani, last year’s L100 ladies winner;  a consummate master of steady race pacing and a far faster runner than me. I decided there and then that there was no way I should be running ahead of Debs, not apparently a view shared by dozens of other blokes who stormed this first loop like they were running a 10K and passed her. I decided to stick just behind Debbie as long as I didn't feel like I was pushing myself too hard. I stopped at the river just before Pooley Bridge to dip one of my buffs in the river and drape it Foreign Legion style over my head, whilst nothing like as hot as 2014, it was still promising to be a warm days work.

On the climb out of Pooley Bridge, I ran most of the tarmac section and used my run 50 walk 50 tactic on the rougher trail, I could still see Debbie up ahead (running all the way) as my pace target. Just before the right turn onto the track to Howton I passed a family group being led by a young guy carrying an artificial leg over his shoulder, followed shortly after by a one legged gentleman in an off road wheelchair, definitely my most bizarre sight of the day!
The trail towards Howton CP is mostly downhill, non-technical and very runnable so I pushed hard on this section to keep Debbie in view, albeit she was steadily drawing away from me. As I ran into the Wild West themed CP she was already running out.
The CP staff quickly refilled my water bottles and I grabbed a Chia Charge flapjack downed a cup of coke and I was off, using the short uphill section to wolf down the flapjack, my second objective of the day being to try and actually eat some proper food during the race.

Howton to Mardale Head            Total distance covered 20.6 miles            3 hours 44 minutes 79th Place

Almost immediately after Howton you are faced with the biggest climb of the L50, the dreaded Fusedale where you climb around 1700 feet in around 2.5 miles. Last year I'd have sold a testicle for a pair of walking poles at this point. This year I kept the testicle and used the lightweight Mountain King Trail Blaze poles I’d bought a couple of weeks earlier, knocking 3 minutes of my time for the climb. After the climb there is a sloping descent over Weather Hill towards Low Kop, this area was pretty wet underfoot and my main priority was to avoid soaking my feet this early on in the day, some people passed me ploughing through puddles and bog, I wonder how they fared later with soaked shoes and socks?
There is a sharp drop through waist deep bracken down to the northern shore of Haweswater and a pleasant and runnable stretch towards the next CP at Mardale Head, I ran into the CP doing my feeble attempt at the Morecombe and Wise “bring me sunshine” dance.
I could feel the insoles on my Salomon Speedcross 3’s had slipped and were creasing up, so I decided a spot of shoe maintenance was in order. I opted for some hot soup and a jam sandwich, whilst I carefully sorted my shoes for the next section.

Mardale Head to Kentmere        Total distance covered 27.1 miles            5 hours 18 minutes         77th place

Once you leave the Mardale head CP there is no gentle build up, you are straight onto the steep climb up and over Gatescarth pass, which although at 1100 feet is less than Fusedale, is covered in around 1.2 miles and is comic book steep. Once again I was very glad I was using poles.
Gatescarth Pass Photo from www.cloudyskiesandraining.com
The race organisers use a simple but clever way of differentiating 100 and 50 milers. Everyone wears your race number on your back pack, 100 milers are in yellow with your name printed below the number. I made a point of giving a shout out to each and every 100 mile runner I passed, I can only marvel at the fitness; stamina and determination needed to complete that distance.
I'm not huge fan of the descent towards Sadgill, with the “road” surface on the descent being a horrid mix (to my mind) of loose scree alternating with longitudinal sharp blocks of stone at right angles to your line of descent and larger erratic blocks of stone with significant ankle turning potential.
At 6.5 miles this is one of the shortest legs between checkpoints it’s also the one I'm least familiar with so was happy to arrive at Kentmere without mishap.
Two more cups of Coke, a water bottle refill and a small bowl of pasta and some further shoe maintenance and I was off towards Ambleside.

Kentmere to Ambleside               Total distance covered 34.4 miles            7 hours 2 minutes            74th place

The weather had been incredibly kind to us so far, it was sunny and warm but not the brain boiling heat of 2014. Kentmere sits in a valley surrounded by hills and as I jogged out of the CP I distinctly remember thinking “I wonder which of these big f**k-off hills we'll be climbing up next”. I needn't have worried myself as it was, of course the biggest of the hills in view and the climb over the Garburn Pass!
As I descended into Ambleside I chatted briefly to John Kynaston who was running the L100 and was looking genuinely fresh, he was well on target for a sub 30 hour finish. Through the centre of Ambleside milking the crowds and charging across the two road crossings without breaking stride and it was into the circus themed checkpoint at Ambleside. In fact I was so focussed on pratting about that I almost forgot to dib in my timing chip.
Into my checkpoint routine, soup, sandwich and shoe maintenance until a gentle reminder from Noanie to stop fannying about and get running again.

Ambleside to Langdale Total distance covered 40 miles                                8 hours 11 minutes         66th place

The next most runnable section of the race, with a couple of pan flat riverside tracks and the section where I think you can gain or lose the most time. My mantra here was “any run is faster than a walk”, I was becoming more focussed on maximising the daylight time, because any running in the dark would be slower than in the daylight.
Just out of Ambleside I shouted a warning to a group of 4 guys who had shot off in the wrong direction, I got a heartfelt “thank-you” when one of them subsequently passed me. A pretty uneventful section for me, I know I've broken the back of the race, I’m confident that barring disaster I'll get a PB and I'm running stretches that I was walking last year.

Langdale to Tilberthwaite           Total Distance covered 46.5 miles            9 hours 43 minutes         66th place

More coke; a bowl of vegetable soup this time, re-sort my shoes (they are definitely going in the bin when this is over!) and I'm on my way towards the unmanned checkpoint beyond Blea Tarn. After the short sharp climb over Side Pike pass I stop and take brief moment to “toast” the view. I'm feeling pretty good here and manage to run all the way to the dibber and keep up a decent run all the way past the NT house. I'm aware now of the fading light and I make a conscious decision to keep my time at Tilberthwaite to a minimum, as I’m running along the road section to the CP I feel a sharp pain on the sole of my right foot. I reckon I've just popped a blister so I decide in advance I'm not risking taking that shoe off, I'll just tough it out with so little distance left to run.

Tilberthwaite to Coniston           Total distance 50 miles 10 hours 43 minutes 23 seconds                72nd place

A quick cup of coke, I’m OK for water and I sit down to sort my left shoe, as I’m trying to put it back on I get my first proper twinge of cramp all day, it takes a minute or so to get the shoe on without cramping and I'm off up the “stairway to heaven”. It's only 3.5 miles and 750 feet of climb to the finish, but the light is fading fast now as the sky clouds over. 
I keep a good yomp up on the steep climb, but on the potentially runnable bits I’m unable to muster a run, it’s getting too dark and my legs are too tired to risk a fall, so I'm passed by a strong looking group of guys (including two 100 milers) and lose 6 places. I manage to reach the top of the descent and can see the lights of Coniston below before I admit defeat and don my head torch. Bizarrely it’s here that I have my longest stop of the day as I decide to strap my poles to my pack and discover that my head torch has got itself in a Gordian knot of a tangle, I try running few steps with it in my hand, before stopping to sort it properly. I use a Petzl Nao but the combination of a brilliant white beam, light coloured stones underfoot which meant I had no depth perception and a rocky steep and technical path underfoot brings me back to a slow steady walk. It’s only when I hit the more graded road above the Miners Bridge that I can break into a proper run for the last downhill mile.
As I turn onto the main street in Coniston to welcome cheers from the pub goers, I see Andy Beattie taking my photo. Glad as I was to see him I wasn’t slowing for anything now, mustering my first sub 8 minute mile for some time, I pushed onto the finish.

10:43:23                PB by 1 hour 27 minutes

Each and every finisher is greeted by a marshal whose task is to guide you into the hall and to asses if you are mentally and physically OK. By good fortune I was greeted by WHW race veteran Andy Cole. As each and every finisher is walked through the School Hall, they are heralded by a marshall shouting "50 Finisher" and a great cheer, a really nice touch.
Then you pick up your medal, part company with your timing dibber are handed a printout with your splits and your race t-shirt, this year it's a pucka Montane Branded one.

Andy was right there asking me if I needed anything? I've started to crave cold milk after my Ultra run's now and much to my amazement Andy produced 2 cups of Ice cold white stuff, just magic.

The race provides a free meal to each and every finisher so I settled down to a plate of Cottage Pie and washed it down with another 4 cups of milk.

Andy had been following Caroline's who was not having the best of days, so I popped off for a quick shower (lovely hot showers also provided foc.) and a change and then we headed into Coniston to wait for Caroline to finish, which she duly did in a very creditable 12 hours 25 minutes.
By her own admission she'd not got her nutrition right and had ground out a tough race, visiting some pretty dark places en route, she keeps threatening to write her own blog so I'll leave the telling of her tale to herself.

Two Happy Lakeland 50 finishers


I've done a lot of running on the West Highland Way and I'm regularly asked how the Lakeland races compare.
With no disrespect to the WHW, the Lakeland races are far far tougher, bigger climbs; steeper climbs; poorer ground conditions, overall much less runnable.

Overall I couldn't be happier, it's a colossal PB, far beyond my best goal of PB by 1 hour.

Now its time for a brief rest, before my next challenge the Helsinki Marathon in 4 weeks time.

To close I'd like to register a huge thanks to RD's Marc & Terry, to the veritable army of marshals and helpers who gave up their weekend, thanks for an epic Lakeland Adventure.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Edinburgh Marathon 2014

This would be my 4th running of the Edinburgh Marathon, my 5th race in 5 weeks and standing conventional training and recovery wisdom on its head my 5th marathon or Ultra in just under 4 months.
I'd managed to pick up a relatively late charity place, running for Cancer Research UK so my main objective was focussed on fundraising rather than on time, although I still wanted to finish in a time I wouldn't be embarrassed about.
I drove up to Edinburgh the night before and stayed with my brother Ross, we enjoyed a quiet Mexican meal with my choice of Nachos with JalapeƱos having the inevitable and rapid side effects. Although I managed a good nights sleep,and a civilised 8am alarm I still contrived to arrive at a chilly and windy London Road fully an hour before the start.
Despite being one of over 7000 runners it was a curiously lonely experience, as the sole Dumfries Harrier running the full marathon, and a real contrast to the friendly and sociable Ultra marathon scene.
Eschewing the sensible option of finding a coffee shop to stay warm in, I plonked myself on the pavement until I was so chilled I was shaking all over. Waiting 'till the last possible moment To put my bag on the baggage truck and made my way to the Red start pen, via two nerve induced toilet stops.
My appointed start pen was immediately behind the elite start, but knowing I wasn't in the same shape as my recent Malta marathon PB, I positioned myself right at the back of the 1000 or so runners.
I felt that with a following wind, I could average 8 minute miles to give me a finish in around 3 and a half hours, so immediately and rashly set off well below this at 7:30 - 7:45 pace!

It's well documented the the Edinburgh marathon starts in Edinburgh, but is really a tour of post industrial East Lothian.
The first mile takes you past Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament and the brooding lump of Arthurs Seat but following a loop round Meadowbank it's 2 miles through quiet streets until the right turn onto Portobello prom at 5 miles. Thereafter keep the River Forth on your left for the next 13 miles until you turn round and you can't go wrong. There is of course the constant and slightly demoralising sight of the chimneys of the now decommissioned Cockenzie Power Station far ahead and the cheering thought that 

A - they are a bloody long way away; 
B - you are going to run past them an awful long way before you turn round and 
C - there is a distinct and noticeable blustery tailwind, which is inevitably going to make the final 8 miles both interesting and challenging.

A lot of folk complain that the support on the course is spartan, Okay it's not London marathon busy, but given the less than ideal weather I thought there was a good smattering of vocal and enthusiastic support throughout.
Back to the race.

Having spoken to precisely no-one for the first 8 miles and with only two brief "fanny around for the camera" moments to break the Tarmac pounding monotony, it was really nice to see Christina Schmidt at the 8 mile mark although I'm not sure if she was so enamoured with me lobbing my sweat soaked gloves at her for safekeeping. 
I held my pace below 8 minute miles all the way to the half marathon distance, passing this in 1 hour 41 minutes and briefly entertaining thoughts of a time in the low 3:20s. In fact I managed to maintain solid sub 8 minute miles all the way to the turn around point at 18 miles. Immediately on turning back west, the wind made its unwelcome presence known, and this wasn't a gentle spring puff to cool you, this was a proper noticeable headwind, it was going to be a long 8 miles to the finish!
There is a brief detour round the grounds of Gosford House and Estate and then you're back on the main road, running towards the stream of outbound runners. Initially it's a constant stream of hundreds, thinning out with every mile, until it's tens or runners then odd runners, then solo walkers and shufflers until you pass the last poor soul, being hunted down by the sweeper bus. Almost immediately my pace succumbed to the headwind, and almost as quickly runners around me were dropping to a walk, beaten by the wind, now I was slowly but mostly passing people, not quick not pretty but still passing.
With the wind gusting in our faces and the racing fairies reminding me I'd ran a 55 miler only two weeks ago my mile splits headed into the dark place that is 9 minute miles. I tried my counting 1 to 8 mantra, I tried my "any run is better than a walk" mantra, but to no avail, this was just going to be about grinding out a finish. I gave myself a stern talking to, "I've never walked in a marathon and I'm not going to bloody start now", it's time to wheel out ...........the Ultra shuffle.

(I was actually disappointed that I was taking a minute per mile longer until I heard a podcast with elite runner Steve Way (who finished in 2:29) saying that his entire second half was a minute a mile slower than his first half, if its good enough for Steve Way its good enough for me.)

About two miles from the finish a disgustingly cheery Ranjit from Dumfries Running Club ran past. He won't mind me saying but he's not the tallest bloke around and was happily drafting and chatting with his "draftee", shortly after he accelerated away to finish in a solid 3:28:20.
With one mile to go, I decided to man up and increased my pace again to 8 minute miles. The closer you get to the finish the thicker and noisier the crowds get. When you pass the Radio Forth cheering point there is a long straight towards the race course then a bend before the sharp left turn and the finish at Pinkie Park. Once I'm past the bend it's only a few yards, oh shit, oh shit it's not a few yards .....it's effing miles, I'm passing a lot of people now, the noise is rising, Oh thank the Lord, there's the turn. Sharp left and there's the finish arch about 200 yards away, I decide to forgo my usual milking of the crowd for more noise and I give it the beans. No-one is going to pass me now and I run like the hounds of hell are chasing me, although the evidence of the finish line video suggests otherwise, more of a studied plod than Usain Bolt.
I hear Sandra and Ian shouting on my right, but I'm too focused on the arch, nailed it......3 hours 30 minutes and 40 seconds.
There is no feeling in the world like finishing a marathon, relief, euphoria, satisfaction, joy all rolled into one, if I could bottle it and sell it I'd be the Richard Branson of the running world.

Momentary disappointment that I'm over 3:30, but only momentary. I feel like collapsing but keep walking to the finishers area, volunteers are handing out medals but I'll have none of that I insist it's hung round my neck. I collect my t-shirt and bottle of water and head to a quiet spot for a brief lie down.
Following a quick shower and a change, I'm heading to the shuttle buses for the ride back into Edinburgh proper, having negotiated the 1 mile uphill walk to the bus station with only minor swearing involved. I'm grateful to Ross who picked me up in London Road and gave me a lift back to my car, although I can't say I enjoyed the subsequent drive back to Dumfries.
I'm was slightly disappointed over the criticism of the race organisers on the EMF Facebook page. There were the usual moans about the route (solution...if you don't like the route don't sign up for the race). Moans about the weather...really folk, grow up, but most of the criticism seemed to focus on the fact that the finishers t-shirt was the same irrespective of whether you ran the full, half, 10K or relay events. It didn't bother me, in fact I was pleased that the design was a significant improvement on the plain blue of previous years.

Most importantly my fundraising for Cancer Research UK has now topped £1250, thanks to everyone who took the time to support me.