Wednesday 27 July 2011

Forget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens....

...these are a few of my favourite (ultra-running) things...

Hydration packs: If you're anything like me, you'll probably have a collection of backpacks and bottle belts. All with pros and cons, but your "perfect solution" hasn't been invented yet. The Nathan Trail Mix Bottle Belt is as close as I've got to my perfect solution. I've worn in on various training runs and races - including two 95-milers - and not have a bit of bother with it.

My latest "perfect solution" purchase is The North Face Women's Enduro Boa. Once you get over the initial shock of paying for it - retails at a healthy £85 - you will realise it's not your run-of-the-mill pack. I find it hard to find rucksacks to fit me (resulting in some serious abrasion) because I have narrow shoulders and zero boobage, but this fits like a glove and redistributes the weight just right. Plus the anti-slosh control (which essentially means there's internal wiring, controlled by a knob, which tightens the bladder) so no more annoying sound. The downside is the exterior storage pocket is made of mesh, so useless if it rains.

Waterproofs/windproofs: I've never been a fan of running jackets, but the man from Montane convinced me otherwise. As the title sponsor of the Montane Highland Fling, they sent me a box of goodies for being second lady. I know the Montane Featherlite range is highly rated among the hill running fraternity and now I know why. As the name suggest, it weighs next to nothing and takes up next to no space. Previously it was the rustle-factor that put me off waterproofs, but this is the same as a long sleeve - with added benefits

For the feet: I've dabbled with a few trail shoe brands over the years - including Brooks, Saucony and Asics - but I'm now a firm Inov-8 convert. Now I run in Roclite 275 GTX. They are lightweight (my old Asics Trabucos were like bricks) and provide good underfoot cushioning. The negatives are (in my opinion: the fabric tends to "burst" well before the end of the shoes shelf life; they ain't cheap; and I don't really see the need for Goretex (which adds to the expense) in trail running shoes. If it's wet, your feet will get wet anyway; And unlike bigger brands, don't change their products/colours often. Do you have any idea how troublesome it is to get gear to go with green shoes? Think pink and blue, Mr Inov-8 please.

I ordered Injinji socks from the US and few years ago, but thankfully you can now get them in the UK. I wear them on long runs and races and think they help a great deal. There's a little pocket for each toe, which eliminates skin on skin contact between your toes to prevent blisters from developing.

My latest little diamond of a find, was Flexitol Blistop. It was specifically designed to protect the feet from blisters and sprays on a like transparent second skin. After reading a review in Running Fitness, I used this for the first time on the West Highland Way Race. Anyone who was there (or has read my race report) will know how wet the conditions were. Sometimes it was like wading through rivers. My feet really only blister when they're wet. And in same spots over and over again. Well, I sprayed this very liberally (best to do it outside, as it's potent) and only got one small blister. I didn't get any on the Clyde Stride. When I say liberally, I mean the packaging says it provides 42 applications, but only TWO for me. It's worth it not to have problems with your feet during a race.

I may have fallen out of love with them a little bit earlier in the year, but I still rate lock laces for comfort and ease of changing shoes. Just don't wear them on a hilly run in the rain, as they allow wet feet too much movement. The result is very bashed toes. I'll stick with them in my road shoes in future.

I DO believe the hype about compression gear. I like Skins, 2XU and New Balance have a nice new range. I just wish someone would come out with something a little more girlie. Raidlight have got the right idea - their ladies range comes in nice girlie colours with lovely flower motifs. I know that sounds really lame, but it's quite boring when everything looks the same. Only problem is that even their smallest size tights are quite baggy. I like lots of support.

Love or loathe them, arm sleeves are the best things ever invented. Well, in my world they are. They're perfect for Spring and Autumn, when it's too cold not to start with sleeves and too warm to keep them on. Plus, you're not in and out of your rucksack on a long run, when the weather turns. I really like these sleeves by 1000 Mile as they've got the thumb holes. There's something quite strangely comforting about thumb holes, isn't there?

The gadgets: Although I love them, I don't have much luck with ipods. Actually, I think this I'm on my 6th or 7th. I doubt it will be my last, but so far it's the best. It's tiny, clips onto my waistband and has a multi-touch display and an inbuilt radio. I do like listening to the radio, especially in the morning.

My luck with Garmins, is not too dissimilar to that of the ipod. I've had a few Garmin Forerunner 205, but upgraded to the 310xt last year. It's fairly similar to the 205, but with a longer battery life - approx 18 hours, not the 20 hours it promotes. The best thing about this 310xt is it's ability to get a signal. Great for me, as a lot of my runs start in built up areas. Previously I could spend 10 minutes loitering on street corners outside my office. I was once propositioned on a dark winter's morning. How do think I paid for the upgrade? Just kidding :-)

Food on the go: I know this is very much a personal choice and what works for you might differ from run to run. I find it quite difficult to eat during races, but this is what works for me on runs. Wine gums are my sweet of choice just now. I used to opt for jelly babies, but went off them after a while. I'm also partial to a Midget Gems and Skittles. All of which are hard to eat on road runs and races, but great for a munch whilst stomping up a hill.
I also like gold old Scottish tablet. I tried it for a first time couple of years ago and thought it had magical powers. After I introduced the GM to wonder drug, she had to go one step further a discover Mrs Tilly Vanilla Fudge and Tablet. I kid you not, after 22 years of friendship, this is by far my favourite thing about the GM :-) Now we start most training runs with:..."just you, me and Mrs T".

When it comes to fluids, unfortunately I'm not a "could-murder-a-glass-of-water" kind of gal. Truth to be told, I rarely drink water. Ever. On runs I prefer sport drinks such as Lucozade or Powerade (whatever happens to be on offer when I do the shopping) and dilluting Ribena.

For a quick fix I like flat coke - sometimes with gas for a good burp :-) and for an even quicker fix, a Red Bull Shot. Looking back at this list, I feel suitable ashamed. What a load of rubbish. The funniest thing is going to do the shopping pre-race day and getting some really strange looks at the the supermarket checkout. Especially when you throw in a couple of Slimfast Shakes for emergencies.

My legs have threatened to cramp in a few races this year. All hot races. Zero Sport Hydration Salts are an anti cramp formula of electrolyte tabs and magnesium. They're tasteless, so you can pop thme in water or your sports drink.

From the medical cabinet...I have been regularly using (not just when needs must!) the same sports therapist for the last couple of years. He advocates pre-race deep tissue massages and applying Deep Heat prior to long runs and races. These days people smell me before they see me. And if, heaven forbid, you're in the same car as me, as you'll be breathing out of your eyes! For pain relief I like Nurofen Express. Gaviscon double action for indigestion, Sudocream to prevent skin abrasion and Resolve Extra for stomach issues (and hangovers!).

My nearest and dearest know I'm quite fanatical about suncream. I think it's stupid and childish knowingly let yourself get burnt. Especially when you know how much your skin can take. After spending 18 years in desert climates, my skin has had enough abuse for one lifetime. These days, I've been know to put protection on my skin when's raining...just in case. Let's be honest, in Scotland the weather is pretty changeable. Anyway, Banana Boat Sport is fabulous. It's non-sticky and sinks in within seconds, so there's no mess. It's also waterproof and lasts all day.

Last but not least, my other favourite ultra-running things are Mark Johnston's evil speed sessions and Nathalie Jones' nutritional plans. And, of course, the Ambassador of Deep Heat's (AKA Jan Mieszkowski) deep tissue massage.

Anyway, I've been meaning to write this blog report/list for ages, so here it is. If anyone has done something or would like to do something similar, please let me know as I would like post a link.

Friday 22 July 2011

Fried on the Clyde

For me, there are four great things about the Clyde Stride 40: 1) It starts about two miles from my house 2) It starts at 9am, so I can get up at my usual 3) There's a drop-bag system - so no hassle with back-up - every 10 miles 4) And there are no uncomplicated, unnecessary race rules.

So after sussing out the course, I spent the days prior to the race checking out the forecast. After the unseasonably hot conditions of the Fling and the monsoon that was the WHW, I thought I deserved a break. The forecast was for no wind and light rain. Perfect.

The weather forecast lies. Fact. After some torrential downpours in the wee small hours, the clouds broke and the sun came out just in time for kick-off.

I arrived at race registration just after 8am. I had the joy of being allocated the number 69 (which was supposed to be 74), much to the amusement of bystanders. Mrs Mac (Race Director) had reallocated numbers to accommodate late entries the night before. I'm sure my number was computer generated, but Mrs Mac's joker-style response evoked my suspicion :-)

Participating in the race were lots of the usual suspects and even more new faces. Like me, there a few runners not-so-fresh from the WHWR. Nothing to moan about though, as the uber-awesome Lucy rolled up only days from her bronze medal at the IAU World Ultra Champs. Mmm I wonder if there are any other sports where the world champion's pre-race preparation involves darting across some waste ground - in the ghetto that is Partick - to pee behind a tree :-) Can't judge though, as I had to do the same thing four times. I'm not sure whether it's pre-race nerves or my pelvic floor not being what it used to be.

Mrs Mac gave out the race instructions and set us off. I'm going to guess there wasn't one person in the field who went off too fast. I reigned it in and settled into my usual plod. Ironically, focusing on not focusing on other runners. Even though my legs were tired, I still had to make a conscious effort to slow down. Not too slow though, as it's a flat road out to CP1 (Cambuslang) and I knew my pace would drop off for the off-road sections.

I was sauntering along through Glasgow Green, when I heard the remakes about "big-bottomed girls getting in the way" and knew the lovely John Kennedy was approaching. I ran (on and off) with John for the next 23 miles.

At the first checkpoint, I picked up a bottle of water and some tablet (which I actually ate). Mrs Mac was shouting "here comes 69", so I skooshed her with some water. Julie was on rubbish collecting duty and I skooshed her too - an innocent bystander - before I threw my bottle with a little more force than I thought I had - must be the new push-up app I'm using :-)

On to the next section, it was starting to heat up. The worse thing about running next to the river on a hot day is the beasties. I think I consumed my annual protein requirement in one morning. And I lost count of the the amount of times I had to pick things out of my eyes and ears.

After about 11 miles I could see the Gibbering Midget and I was closing the gap, which wasn't a good sign. The ITB had been playing up. Although she assured me she was doing ok, if guessed there was more to it. I pushed on before shouting a group of runners who had managed to go off course, even though there was a massive sign and they were actually running away from the river.

I ran in a group consisting of John, Bob, Richard and Bill for the next few miles. I made the innocent mistake of asking muscle-armed Bob if he works out. Cheesy I know, but I just wondered if it was down to being a farmer. Well, this gave John ammunition to mock for longer than my tolerance level would allow. He was nearly in the river :-)

Entering Strathclyde Park, Sonic was waiting with my drop-bag. I moved on quickly and then realised down the road, I'd forgotten what I actually wanted to pick. No worries though, as I wouldn't have eaten it anyway :-)

Heading through Strathclyde Park, I can safely say I was burst. I was hot and wilting. I just stuck my head down (it's easy to hide under a cap) and weakly waved at people cheering. Thanks to the kind cyclist who offered me a piece of his orange :-)

There are quite a few sets of steps on the course and First set of steps to climb were actually steaming. I kid you not. Thankfully there was intermittent cloud and tree cover for the rest of the day.

Crossing the field (why did I ever think this was mostly road?) I saw Bill jerking with cramp. I'm surprised it took him that long. For a skinny guy, he can fairly sweat. I could actually see the salt running out of him. Three relay runners came sauntering passed me. I felt a bit desperate asking them if they were in the relay, but you really couldn't tell who was relay and who was going to the full hog.

A short distance on and the great Richie C was resigned to walking and was throwing in the towel. I doubt it was because he's human like the rest of us - because we know he's not - but he's got bigger fish to fry this year.

I tried to eat some jelly babies, but was boking, so just tried to keep me fluids up.

I spent the next few miles watching Bob's back, disappearing through the tree-sheltered river trail. I was to overtake him at the next checkpoint, but I didn't see him when I did it, so always assumed he finished before me.

At Mauldslie bridge, the GM - who had also thrown in the towel - was waiting with Sonic and Cairn. I knew this was a B-race for her, so knew she wouldn't be too disappointed. She enthusiastically told me I was in second position. With relay runners flying about at the start and out of checkpoints, I never quite knew where I stood. Actually I didn't even believe it until Mrs Mac confirmed it at the end.

I felt pretty strong from then on in. Strangely the second half of the race was better than the first. Probably still slower and I had a fair few low points, but I didn't think anyone was going to pass me.

The route is fairly undulating (code for f-king hilly) after this. In wetter conditions, I'm sure it's pretty muddy and slippy too. With 9/10 miles to go, I passed another runner and my calves started to play up. I knew I was losing a lot of salt, as I could feel and see it on my skin. Thankfully my calves didn't full-out cramp. They just spasmed and tightened. Even so I couldn't risk changing my stride and proceeded to run up all the inclines.

I passed one of the relay runners that had passed me. She was doing a double section and from what she mentioned I think the doubler was more through necessity rather than being planned.

From there on I started to count down the miles. I was over it. It was such a relief to get to Muirkirkbank (2.5 miles to go!), although the journey to the otherside of the town was a whole lot longer than I expected. Back on the trail and up the final nasty hill. I was so glad that I was anal enough to finish off this section the week before, as I knew to look foward to the downhill bit.

On the descent, the lovely Jamie Aarons was out for a jog. She kindly asked if I wanted company for a bit and it was like music to my ears. We ran and chatted (although I think I just puffed!) and she left me to it at the last staircase. I knew the sub:6 hours was on, but I had to work hard. And I did. I gave it everything that was left in me. Granted that wasn't much, but it did the job.

I finished - and then lay sparked out on the grass - in 5:56. 2nd girl and 15th overall.

Well done to everyone who finished. When you look at the profile, it's cheekier than you think.

Guys results:
Paul Raistrick 4:44:44
Grant Jeans 4:53:47 2
Gavin Harvie 5:14:49 3

The relatively unknown (not anymore!) Paul took hot-favourite Grant Jeans to set a new course record.

Bob - do you think he works out?

Ladies results
Lucy Colquhoun 5:18:00 (5th)
Debbie Martin-Consani 5:56:55 (15th)
Judith Dobson 6:16:56 (19th)

Our champion, Lucy. Weighing in at 55lbs :-) I need to lay off the Mrs Tilly fudge

Thanks to everyone who put up with me on the day - especially John Kennedy. Although he "doesn't read blogs", so maybe I should get him back for his frequent jibes about the size of my butt :-) To Sonic and Cairn for patching me up and being my incentive to move my big butt to the next checkpoint. To all the fabulous stewards. Thanks to Davie, Karin and Suse for the pictures. And special thanks to Mrs Mac for putting on a great show. Although it is wrong to confess that I was slightly disappointed to see how well the course was marked? :-)

Monday 11 July 2011

Clyde Stride recce

I signed myself up for the Clyde Stride (40 miles) this weekend. I doubt there's anyone out there who doesn't think this is a silly idea. Well, apart from Race Director, Mrs MacPirate.

To be honest, when I was doing half-arsed job of helping out and an even more half-arsed job of support - let's just say I was there! - at the race last year, I didn't think it was my cup of tea. Too flat. Too much road. And I'm just too lazy to run non-stop for that long.

Now that I covered most of the route, I take it all back. Once to get out of Glasgow (Shock! Horror!) it's actually really nice.

(The race starts in Glasgow and follows the Clyde walkway to New Lanark)

Call me unadventurous, but if the race is within ample travelling distance from your doorstep, it's worth the effort to move a few training runs. Like I did before the River Ayr Way Race last year, I like to cover the course before the race because:

1) In ultra-distance races - especially off-road - I believe the runner is responsible for their own navigation. There's only so much organisers and stewards can do to keep you on track. If you need someone to hold your hand round every corner, then best stick with the ParkRun. If you get lost, you've only got yourself to blame.

2) I'm not one for surprises. I like to know where I'm going and "see" the course before race. It's good to know where the nasty and nice bits are. I understand this is personal and lots of runners like to experience something new on the day.

3) Logistical errors add to the stress and in some cases can even ruin a race. How many navigational-fuelled tantrums have you seen on a course? Jeez, I've seen a few dummies spat on a 10K road race!

4) I can leave the maps behind and just concentrate on running and enjoying the race.

So, I split the course up in four training run chunks. All have their own little dramas. I've gone wrong in all them. When I retraced my steps and got back on course, I've always wonder how I managed to go off in the first place. Silly errors. You understand my recce requirements now?

The first run was to Cambuslang, which involved a detour around the Commonwealth games athletes village. Getting lost in Parkhead was not ranked high on my list of extreme adventures - but I did. I think I may have taken the longest way, but I got there in the end. Diversion signs are brilliant, until they just stop.

Second was Cambuslang to Bothwell Bridge, when I managed to veer off within about half a mile. I clutched the route description and map and followed it to the tee. When you're by yourself, you never quite know if you're going the right way. Thankfully with the river by my side, I knew you couldn't be that far off. But was it the right river? After circling a woodland area, I found the next section passed the David Livingstone bridge. I was approaching a nice couple out walking their dog and stopped to confirm I was on the right trail. The chap starting giving the "quickest way" direction until I cottoned on to the fact, he was sending me along the expressway. Quickest way indeed, but I took my chances with my instincts. And I was right. Although I did have to ignore the keep-out/danger signs and sneak through the scaffolding holding up a bridge. At Bothwell Bridge I took a wrong turn and followed the cycle route signposted to Strathclyde park. Huge mistake. After a mile or so, I realised the mistake and just about turned to the nearest train station. Lessons learnt.

Next run was Blantyre to Muirkirkbank and then on to Lanark Train Station. This time I had the GM for company. Two non-map readers are better than one. It was a scourching morning we when arrived at Patrick Train Station at 7am. As we approached the station, a group of young lads were exiting. Obviously the spill out from the night before. I would say they were about 13-years-old, but as Glasgow males are generally below average height, they were probably about 25. One turned to the GM and said: "nice shorts, hen" and then rendered her silent with "they'd look better on my floor!". Brilliant!

The run was great, but it was always going to be tall order two weeks after the WHWR. Navigationally (I'm not sure that's a real word), it was pretty uneventful. A few brief pauses to check maps.

Once passed Strathclyde Park, there are lots of Clyde Walkway signs, but they're in the most obvious places, where you couldn't possibly go anywhere else!

(picture pinched from google images)

I'd sold this run to the GM on the basis that it would be about 18miles (ish). 20 max. So when we were still running through woodlands at 19 miles, with no signs of exiting, I could feel the eyes burning in the back of my head. Her knees were playing up and she'd lost the will to live. Or at least she'd lost the will for me to live. Once through Muirkirkbank we asked a chap for directions to the train station. When asked if it was far, he paused and said: "eh, about three....(F**k I'm in trouble)...quarters of a mile". Phew!

I know I'm anal, but last week I went out to do the last few miles to cover the route. It should have been a two miles out and back (four in total) but I took a few dizzy turns and then couldn't find the finish. I could see it, I just couldn't get to it. After passing the same builders three times, I caved and phoned Mrs MacPirate. I'm glad she saw the funny side. And at least it's one less lost runner on Saturday. Although I won't recommend that anyone follows me.

So, it's taper week again. Good luck to everyone running on Saturday. I've just seen a picture on Facebook of Mrs MacPirate out vandalising the countryside, so it should be well marked.