Saturday 28 May 2011

Good thinking, citylinking

As the month of May is nearly behind us, this is a quick summary...

I was fairly pleased at how quickly I recovered from the Fling. I even managed a PB at the Women's 10K the weekend after and finished 119th out of over 10,000 finishers. Which probably says more about the runners (eh, walkers) than my athletic ability. I agree that is wasn't the best recovery strategy, but the race is really special to me. It's the reason I started running in the first place. My ninth in a row, so I would have crawled round on my hands and knees if required. Thankfully there was still a little bit of zip in the ol' pins. And that's my annual 10K over with for another year. Way too much like hard work for me.

The piece de resistence of West Highland Way training was centred around a two-day run, covering the 72 miles (of the 95 route) to Kingshouse. Milngavie to Beinglas on the Wednesday (41 miles) and Beinglas to Kingshouse (31) on Thursday. Sometimes the logistics of a point-to-point routes are more taxing than the actually running itself. This year I booked good ol' Citylink bus back each day, which worked out brilliantly. The downside is being restricted to specific timing as the Citylink service is a pretty irregular service - from Kingshouse there was a bus at 2.30pm and 7.30pm - and standing about chittering waiting on a non-punctual bus service.

Originally I planned the week off work, but a major project launch put a swift kick to that. I try to be as disciplined as possible when it comes to training (when the body's willing) so I just had to work round it. Which meant five days off became two, I had to carry two phones, stop for regular email/phone breaks and work in the evening. But hey ho, it meant I could get out on a trails for two days, so it was worth it.

The Gibbering Midget had also taken two days off. I train so much on my own these days, that it really makes you appreciate some buddy support. The miles always tick by. Plus, we pretty much done all our long together, so we're in sync. There's the unspoken way we know when to pick up the pace, knock it back, walk the hills and start again. And regardless of how many times we tell each other we're going to take it easy, it's always eyeballs and elbows out for the last mile.

Both days just flew in and were really enjoyable. The weather could have been kinder, but it could have been a whole lot worse. In true Scottish style, we were hit with all conditions. Head down driving rain and wow-wee-check-out-the-view blue skies. Unfortunately our feet were sodding wet for most of it. I think my feet practically came off with my socks. Oh well, my summer sandals have been redundant for a few years now.

The plus-side was my legs felt fairly good at the end of it all. Much better than they were after the two days last year. I was kinda wishing we could have done the final sections on the Friday. But when I was watching the hail stones pelt off the streets from the comfort of my office, I got over that quite quickly.

The glorious weather continued into the club's annual training weekend at the Trossach's Tryst in Callander. This year Coach Lesley joined us, so there was more training and less partying involved. As I'd done my longs on Wednesday and Thursday and Sonic was running on Friday and Saturday (see what I mean about having to be disciplined), I intended on doing a few leisurely jogs, but mostly spending some QT with my boy. Last year the weather was glorious - actually too hot - and we went on nice walks, ate ice-cream, went to the park and splashed about in the Loch. This year we had bouncing rain, so we were pretty much housebound and stuck watching reruns of Toy Story. My three mile run on Saturday evening turned into seven miles, in a vain attempt to ward off the cabin fever.

On Sunday morning I ran the 12 miles from Callander to Aberfoyle on the number seven cycle track. About five miles of it is all up hill, but it's worth the puff as it's a glorious route. Lots of wow-wee moments. The terrain is just perfect to consistent running and working hard. And as I'd started early I had the place to myself. The other guys started later and went in the opposite direction. I think I took the easier option :-) At least I had a warm-up

Anyway, now I'm off to meet the GM to run from Kingshouse to Fort William. Last piece of the puzzle.

Friday 6 May 2011

The from-the-horses-mouth version.

Last week, I felt rough. Really rough. I was almost tempted to throw a sickie for the first time in my 11 career in newspapers. Apparently this is a good thing when you're tapering, but I'm not sure why. Thankfully on Friday I had a day to rest and chill out in front of the TV to watch the Royal Wedding. This banner - spotted in the crowd - was quite apt. I think it's safe to say that when two names: Kate Jenkins or Lucy Colquhoun appear on a starting list, it's a given who is going to win. Even fresh from a ridiculously swift time at the London Marathon a couple of weeks ago, Kate was still on top form.

I was pretty nervous before the race. I'm not sure why as, like many others think, the race is more of a means to an end. A tuner for the West Highland Way race in June.

The day was forecast to be unseasonably hot and unfortunately it didn't disappoint. Thankfully the gals and the ol' boys are allocated the 6am kick-off spot. The early rise was a small sacrifice for starting in cooler conditions.

As per my previous post, I was following splits devised by Sonic. My aim was to focus on the pace for the first section (12 miles to Drymen) and then just wing it from there - in the hope that I wouldn't burst too early.

So when the gun went off (or maybe someone shouted ready-steady-go, I don't remember) I tried to zone out and keep a steady/slow average pace. Last year, in all ultras, I got too worked up about who was around me. I continuously reminded myself that I can only control my outcome, not the outcome of others (I'll save my bedtime reading for another post). It wasn't quite a mantra, just something I kept at the forefront of my mind.

En route to Drymen - on a fresh, dewy morning - I chatted to quite a few runners: JK, Jane (who had also run the 100K last month), Elaine, Helen, Ian, Malcolm and John Kennedy - who in the photo below has just commented on my big butt :-)

I think I might have been 11th gal (or thereabouts) at Drymen, but still bursting with energy. OK, I was a minute ahead of schedule, but that wasn't a big drama. Ssshh don't tell Sonic, but I had to faff about in the last mile to slow down my average pace :-)

I headed out of Drymen with Jane, Helen and John Kennedy and eventually caught up with the Gibbering Midget, who looked like she'd lost heart. It's a long way too go if you don't have the drive and have been dealing with illness for the previous month. The group split up and I stomped up Conic Hill and took it easy on the descent. Later in the day, I head the GM had taken a tumble and that was the final straw. Sonic and Cairn (who I hadn't even seen that morning) were waiting at the bottom. I picked up a few supplies and moved on swiftly.

The section from Balmaha to Rowardennan was really tough for me last year, courtesy of the overzealous. This year, I really enjoyed it and picked off a few runners in the process, who I guess were cursing their overzealous start.

I meet Sonic and Cairn about a mile from Rowardennan. Sonic had informed me that JK was about 20 seconds in front of me. But later JK informed me that Sonic had told him I was 5/10 minutes behind. I think somewhere in the middle lies the truth :-)Anyway when I arrived in Rowardennan, JK was perched up on a rock enjoying a snack. In his blog, JK mentioned that I barked at him for sitting about having a picnic, but I kid you not, he was lounging about like Huckleberry Finn.

I picked-up, topped-up and moved on up. You get the drift here. I'd rather walk, than stop at checkpoints. Within minutes JK and Claire has caught up and it was nice to run and chat with them for about five miles. Claire - who is a hardcore Ironman - was running her first ultra, just weeks from finishing London in 3:03. With a 10K PB of 35, she's certainly no fairy. Like JK, she was also from Liverpool. Also an Everton fan. And also teetotal. I know, the world's only teetotal Scousers. Who would have thought :-)

Although it's notoriously tough and fairly technical, the lochside is my favourite section. I like all the skipping and hopping. It wasn't a conscious effort to push on but I left Claire and JK about a mile before Inversnaid. To be honest, I thought they weren't far behind and would catch up. I passed another girl before arriving in Inversnaid.

You got it, I was in an out in a flash and overtook another two guys within the first mile. More hopping and climbing and I reached the top of the loch unscathed. There were a lot of walkers and I got lots of cheers and claps, which really perked me up. On the hill up towards Dario's post, the air was so still and the heat was quite overpowering. I said a wee hello to our absent friend and then - as if by magic - a lovely cool breeze enveloped me.

Heading towards the fence before Beinglas is when the first vet male runner (on the 7am start time) passed me. Given the rate he was going at and where he passed me, he might have been better in the elite male start at 8am.

At this point, my quads were starting to spasm. I've never really suffered from cramp before, until my calves did the same thing in the 100K. I wasn't really sweating, but I knew my face was in danger of exploding. I go a rare shade of purple when I overheat.

I took the steep descent into Beinglas Farm fairly easy as cramping quads is not something I ever want to experience.

Sonic wasn't on support duty for the day (the drop bag system is too slick not to use) but I'd asked him to be in Beinglas, as I'd packed for all eventualities. As I was running towards the checkpoint, I could hear rapidly approaching footsteps behind and knew instinctively that they belonged to Sonic. He picked up my bag and tried to undo the knot - slowly! After I spat the dummy, a Marshall came over and grabbed it off him to control public domestic. Later I did apologise to Sonic for my outburst, although I've since remembered he nearly took my out throwing his bumbag at me at the D33. Mmmm. I suppose the key to support is to take things with a pinch of salt.

I wasn't really sure of position until it was confirmed as I left Beinglas that I was second place.

I still felt good, but I was (surprise, surprise!) struggling to eat. I was, however, drinking a shed load of Lucozade and Coke. But as the section started to get hotter, all wanted was water. And the mix of gas and sugar was having an unladylike effect on my stomach. I'll spare you the graphics, as you know I don't do toilet chat, but there was quite a few emergency stops.

The lead runner, Andrew James, passed me on the steep hill just before Carmyle Cottage. I was doubled-over and watching in awe as he literally bounded up the hill. He was certainly a man on a mission. And his mission, in the form of record-holder Jez Bragg, followed in close suit. The men's race was always going to be exciting, but I would have expected to see "Our Jez" in pole position by then.

On the way up to Crianlarich I had a great view of the chase. But I also had a great view to see if someone was chasing me. I wasn't really concerned about my finishing time, just maintaining my position. And with the WHWR only seven weeks away, I couldn't afford to be buckled.

Although I played a better race card, it certainly wasn't perfect. When you factor in a 100K race, a toasty day and a dollop of complacency, I took too many breaks (and emergency stops!) in the last section. I suppose in hindsight you can always work harder, can't you? But I'm glad I didn't rip the ass out of it, as I've been back training no problem this week. Actually on Sunday I spent the day gardening and dismantling a kitchen.

Given the dry conditions, I was amazed at the number of runners who finished with bloody knees and elbows. Is there anyone who didn't fall? The worst I saw was Rosie Bell, who practically took her kneecap off very early on in the race. Given that I can barely walk along with street without falling over these days, I was amazed I stayed upright until Crianlarich. I'm now black and blue, but I must have been so wasted that I didn't feel at thing. Maybe it was the shock of falling hands-first, elbow-deep in a large puddle of cow piss!!

One day: Four medals. A finisher medal, silver for both the UKA and Scottish Ultra Champs and bronze for the club. All in a day's work.

Allen Smalls (3rd), Andrew James (1st) Jez Bragg (2nd)

Thanks to Murdo and crew, Sonic and Cairn, the amazing stewards, everyone who put up with me on the day and the pictures (pinched from Davie, Muriel and Jude)

Tuesday 3 May 2011

The Scottish Athletics version


The 6th running of the Montane Highland Fling attracted a record filed of over 400 starters for the annual 53 mile race on the southern half of the West Highland Way trail. The large field necessitates staggered starts and the super vets and ladies were first off at 6am. Kate Jenkins (HBT) led from the start and by the time they reached Balmaha below Conic Hill on Loch Lomond side, had a clear lead.

Men’s course record holder Jez Bragg (North Face), victor here in 2009, was back to attempt to reclaim his title and when the main men’s start set off at 8am he was prominent in a small group that included Andy James and Stuart Mills(Brighton). At Balmaha (the 18 mile point ) Bragg seemed to be pushing things on in an attempt to break the group up.

The long and demanding stretch up the picturesque side of Loch Lomond to the checkpoint at Beinglass Farm(41 miles) left Jenkins with a clear almost 30 minute lead ahead of Scottish 100km international Debbie Consani (Garscube) in the women’s race.

The mid day temperatures were proving challenging and when James and Bragg appeared together after five and a half hours of running, it was James who looked the stronger as he momentarily stopped to grab his Drop bag of supplies and fill a water bottle, before pushing on and opening a 100 metre lead on Bragg, who took a more measured Check point approach, knowing a good hour and a half of running still lay ahead. He took a few moments to ensure he was well refuelled, also asking the checkpoint marshals to pour water over his head to combat the heat.

Jenkins, although slowing considerably on the last stretch up to the picturesque highland village of Tyndrum, still maintained a clear lead over Consani. The former record holder for the full 95 mile West Highland Way just missed the nine hour barrier with 9.04.24, the third fastest ladies time on the Highland Fling trail and with it claimed the UK and Scottish titles. Consani, just over a month after completing the UK 100km champs, showed her consistency by comfortably taking second place (9.39.32) and improving on her 2010 time by ten minutes, ahead of Clydesdale’s Heather Caulderwood (9.42.59).

In the men’s race it was Andy James who proved the stronger arriving at the finish in a new course record of 7.12.08, just over 3 minutes ahead of Bragg (7.15.12) who was also inside his former mark of 7.19.09. Colchester’s Allen Smalls came through strongly for 3rd and first vet. James, winner of the Lakeland 50 last summer, had come to the race hoping to run inside seven and a half hours but not really expecting to win.

Matt Williamson (Bellahouston Road Runners) after a steady start came through strongly in the second half of the race to take the inaugural Scottish ultra trail title in 5th place overall (7.46.11) ahead of the experienced Richie Cunningham (Carnegie)7.58.23.

With the Scottish team title decided on cumulative times of 3 team runners, Hunters Bog Trotters took the men’s medals and Helensburgh, including Ellen McVey one of the key race organisers, were a popular winner of the ladies team prize.

Full results at

1st Andrew James 7.12.08 (course record)
2nd Jez Bragg North Face 7.15.12
3rd Allen Smalls Colchester (V40) 7.43.31
4th Julian Rendall Thames H & H 7.45.33
5th Matt Williamson Bellahouston RR 7.46.11
6th Stuart Mills Brighton (MV40) 7.51.36
7th Ritchie Cunningham Carnegie H (MV40) 7.58.23

1st Kate Jenkins Hunters Bog Trotters 9.04.24
2nd Debbie Martin-Consani Garscube H 9.39.32
3rd Heather Caulderwood Clydesdale 9.42.59
4th Helen Lees Giffnock North (FV40) 9.51.51
5th Michelle Hetherington Helensburgh (FV40) 9.55.19