Monday, 24 April 2017

A newie and an oldie

My training is still going very well and I have had my last two long runs before the Fling, the John Muir Way Ultra 50km and revisiting an old classic which has sadly passed into the lore of ultra-running, The Two Bridges.

This was the second running of the John Muir Way Ultra and a new one for me on April 1st,  organised  by Fox Trail Winter Running Series and Foxlake Adventures, Dunbar, (I’ve never been before and it looks a great day out if you're looking for something different with the kids.) With around about an hour drive away from home, Pauline and I set off fairly early but not at too stupid a time, we registered, pinned our numbers on and then got on the bus to be taken to the start at Port Seton Esplanade for the run back. The race information was pretty comprehensive covering everything we needed to know but I just gave a cursory glance to the detailed route instructions, once I knew it was going to be well marked I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, and what a lovely route it was too with a wee bit of everything.

It was a bit chilly waiting around before the start but fine once we got going, I even warmed up enough to take off my gloves, arm-warmers and peaked Buff, and my long sleeves were pushed up past my elbows, it turned into a lovely warm day. There were regular, well stocked drink stations but I was quite self sufficient carrying a 500ml bottle of water, a couple of gels and a custard in a squeezy pouch, but I did enjoy a wee cup of coke at the last two and topped up my water bottle at the last one as well.

photo from Dave Lochhead

The route although varied was flat for the first half and I had clicked into my no walking groove and decided to apply my marathon rule of no walking if possible, Pauline and I use a term for a hill that is runnable - rolling slog -  if one of us says it the other one usually thinks. Bugger, no walking break then, or is that just me? I was with Rhona and Amanda for some of the time and yo-yoed a bit with them when it started to undulate, running the hills isn’t the best economy for an ultra but I was working on strengthening my legs regardless of the time it took or energy spent, (My plan is to run a bit more of Rannoch Moor this WHW, it’s all rolling slog and runnable on fresh legs but with 60 odd miles in them it’s a different story.) I was with Amanda when I looked up at what I think was around twenty five-ish miles in. (I don’t look at my watch much during a run.)  “Oh bugger, I think I might revise my no walking rule!” Amanda’s reply, “I think you have to run it!” A fairly long steep grassy incline that went on until the ground met the sky. I can’t not run it now! Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Yay! I made it! Thanks Amanda, I think I would’ve walk if you weren’t there to encourage me to run it.

After upping the effort for the hill, I kept a let’s-get-this-done pace and worked a strong controlled effort, finally looking at my Garmin for a rough gauge of how much further to go, although never to be believed until you see the finish gantry.  Through woods opening into a tricky deep wee ditch...folk were watching... I didn’t fall back in, yay, and a scamper round the grass to the finish. A great run on a cracking route with lovely weather, a perfect wee ultra to use for training and one I’d recommend for anyone looking for a first race over marathon.  

A week later Pauline and I set off from the Glen gates (Pittencrieff Park for the non locals) in Dunfermline, the start of the Two Bridges Road Race which was first run in 1968 until 2005, I did it five times from 1999 until 2004, Pauline did it thirteen times from 1993 to 2005 and finished First Lady in 1996. (Some race history here)

A blast from the past 
Our route couldn’t be the old classic one, with the traffic of today it’s just too dangerous but by using cycle path and the John Muir Way we wouldn’t end up roadkill. We were able to stick to the classic route until after Torryburn where we joined cycle route 76, we followed it to the Kincardine Bridge and picked it up again after crossing the bridge.

We stayed with the cycle route until Grangemouth where we went back onto the old race route, it’s not the most scenic but good to recall race memories and to pause at the RAF Memorial which wasn’t there in the “olden days” The commemorative wall was unveiled in 2008 and the Spitfire was placed in 2013  

It was now very warm and sunny, my sleeves were pushed up and I even wished I wasn’t wearing full length tights. We weren’t sure how far the run would be compared to the race but taking the cycle route round Grangemouth would make it longer and with it just being the two of us there was no problem taking the direct route running a very short section without a pavement, there was a wide grass verge which was fine.

Just before Bo’ness we joined the John Muir Way and stayed with that all the way to the Forth Road Bridge,  we timed it perfectly for a wee breather to watch the steam train from the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway.

It’s a fairly flat route so there wasn’t much in the way of walking breaks or a change of stride and with the cumulative effect of last week as well, we were both starting to feel the miles but it’s good to practice running on tired legs.  
Those bridges are teeny weeny and far away!
We approached Blackness, my water was getting low, I was just carrying a 500 ml bottle and with it being quite roasting I didn’t think it would last all the way to Rosyth, I suggested having a shandy in the pub, Pauline liked the idea but the thought of getting going again after a stop would be hard, “luckily” there’s a drinking fountain in the public toilets, I could just top up my water bottle, oh joy, I’ll just have to enjoy a beer when I got home then! The path from Blackness is through the large established woods of Hopetoun House Estate, the race used this path under the name of the Two Bridges Challenge in 2004 and 2005 when major motorway construction at Kincardine Bridge prevented the original route to be used.  
Getting closer! 
It’s a lovely run through Hopetoun with some gentle climbs, neither of us called “rolling slog”, whoopee, we could walk and stretch the legs, the Bridges were getting closer and we slogging it out. Finally we were on the Forth Road Bridge and if you’ve never run over it you probably don’t know how much of a hill it is! But we were in the last hour, another twinny rule - you can always push the last hour, it’s also a flaming long climb up Ferrytoll Road and it gets ramped up again going up Castle Road to the Civil Service Club but this was the sprint finish, okay, we weren’t racing but reminiscing, we didn’t walk. We stopped with a wee cheer at the Civil Service Club both looking for an itchy wool blanket and a can of beer, sadly nobody was there to do the honours, happy memories!

Another blast from the past - First Lady 1996
Our run was just under 36 miles, pretty close to the old race distance, we went back the following weekend and did the cycle path route above Grangemouth, it has a few undulations, it’s far prettier with a quite a few points of interest. James Watt’s man cave for one!

Next time we do the run we’ll use the cycle path as it adds just over a mile and would make it a lovely 37 mile run from the Glen gates to the Civil Service Club using a safer route. Our Two Bridges run is just a reflection of an iconic race but it’s still a great route and one we’ll do again.  

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Races are like buses

You don’t do any races for ages and then three come along all at once!

The first one on the 5th March was the ladies only Smokies 10 in Arbroath, a wee cracker, a challenging 10 mile route with food at the finish and a wee bottle of wine in the goody bag, what’s not to love. My training has been going well and at this time of year club training has tempo runs, perfect for me looking to do a bit of effort in a short race. This is the only race I give it massive welly from the start if I’m fit.  The weather was pretty good, dry, not much wind and not too cold. I went out hard as soon as we were off, feeling strong on the hills on the way out, thanking my wee hill rep sesh I’ve been doing in Culross, used gravity to my advantage on the down hill and kept pushing, I felt the mile markers were coming in fairly quickly, feeling strong all the way maintaining the effort and loved the wee change at the finish, stampeding over the playing field instead of up and round the entrance to the Leisure Centre.
Forgot to smile for Gordon Donnachie
Once I’d caught my breath and picking up my goody bag, I realised this was my third fastest Smokies, I was even third in my age category, this was my 24th Smokies, I have missed a couple over the years so considering I’ve been doing this race for over quarter of a century! I am really pleased with my run.

The next weekend,11th March, was the D33, first ultra of the year and to be done at a far more civilised pace,  for me it would be “just” a training run, I don’t mean any disrespect to the race it was just that the time I would finish in was irrelevant, but still a run of quality, pinning a number on keeps me focused on moving forward at a consistent pace, I wouldn’t be stopping to read the tourist information signs or wandering off route to look at something interesting, also the first race in the SUMS so the bonus of an ultra family reunion, hug fest! Not to mention the unique handmade medal and bottle of beer at the finish.
Think I'm gonna need a bigger shelf
Well worth getting up at a stupid time, picking up Pauline and driving up to Aberdeen for.  At registration there was no surprise seeing Julie, she’s volunteered and marshalled at every ultra I’d done for years...hang on...she has a race number in her hand...I was massively excited for her, it was an honour to help pin her number on.  (No spoilers, but if you need a wee bit of inspiration, here’s her race report)  The weather was positively balmy for Aberdeen (I still have flashbacks from the Aberdeen half marathon 1992 wearing a bin bag the whole way in August and finishing with the first stages of hypothermia) A light drizzle started around the same time as the race but it never got cold although the rain did get a wee bit heavier at times I still never bothered with my jacket. It’s a lovely out and back route with a fair bit on old railway line. Once meeting the leaders  on their way back I feel the miles just tick by concentrating on taking photos,  it’s great to smile and shout encouragement, sorry I had to dodge a few high fives,

I didn’t want smeary paw prints on my camera, I didn’t quite catch everyone’s photo but I did try. (photos) Pauline and I stayed together for the whole way although there was no plan to do so it’s lovely when it happens, and probably helps keep a steady pace when we start to tire. We only had a couple of walks, on the steep wee hill of the short diversion at a major roadworks on the way back and on the gentle long slog of a slope but I was having a gel, (a poor excuse, I know) There are no serious hills so your legs do get stuck in a rhythm that can ache also with this being my longest run since Glen Ogle 33 last year probably has something to do with it too!  We didn’t bother with drop bags but at the final checkpoint I paused briefly, Sean offered me a wee Prosecco, I did have a bit of a swither but just stuck with a few mouthfuls of coke, I think I needed the sugar more. Heading back to Duthie Park with around six miles to go, we were going back through the old stations, I had a wee mantra going round my head with the rhythm of a train, diddly-dum, diddly-dum, diddly-dum but with the words beer-at-the-finish, beer-at-the-finish, beer-at-the-finish, I eventually looked at my watch just to see where I was compared to last year’s time and could see I might finish a wee bit quicker than last year, a good incentive to not to let go the good steady pace we were maintaining.  Through the zig-zag path and into the park, a small child locked onto Pauline like a missile, I was impressed by her nimbleness in avoiding a collision (what is the protocol if you trample a kid in the sprint to the finish?)  Pleased to finish around three minutes faster than last year, confirming my training is going well and the bonus of another third in age category finish,
Pauline I will share the trophy but with Dod’s generosity we don’t have to share the wine, he gave us a bottle each. Pauline enjoyed a post race can of recovery, rehydration fluid, I had to make do with a chocolate Yazoo, hmm, not quite the same but I was driving, just had to console myself with the thought. “I’ll enjoy some when I get home.”  
photo from Tina McLeod 
Following weekend, 19th March, was Loch Katrine Marathon, a running festival raising funds and awareness for Alzheimers Scotland incorporating a 10km and half marathon as well. With this being a wee bit closer to home I picked up Sue at not such a stupid time in the morning and we were there in plenty time to have a pot of tea in the cafe, I spotted Chen... another photo shoot out with my amigo photographer on the hoof before the start!

This is also an out and back route with another opportunity to make runners smile, it makes me giggle to see the transformation in expressions when you point a camera at them! (photos) Although this is a marathon it has the feel of an ultra about it, maybe the abundance of weel kent faces and a fair few of them were running last week too! Again, the time on my watch would not be important, another quality training run with pals and if you are just time orientated this marathon may not be for you,  the scenery is stunning 

photo from Chen-Running in Scotland

and even with the randomness of Garmin and Strava the climbing is loads!  (Over the three times I’ve done this I’ve got variations between 1662 ft and 3,006 ft) But I have a rule for marathons, no walking allowed, I could shuffle on as though my laces are tied together but no walking, it didn’t matter the extra time or extra energy possibly used up, a training exercise in mental strength as well as the physical, no hill was going to beat me. The weather forecast wasn’t good but fortunately it turned out a lot drier than expected, just a wee occasional drizzle and a bit of a stiff breeze on the way out and  but once on the other side of the loch it was behind us, the gloves came off and sleeves pushed up, I was running and blethering with Andy for a fair bit and again loved the shout outs passing everyone, the most friendly marathon I’ve ever done, not a single person passes without a smile, wave or nod.

After burling round Norma, the human bollard at the halfway point,
I was still feeling pretty good, on the way back the wind was a bit stronger in my face,but looking forward to it being on my back once back on the north side of the water.  I don’t pay attention to my watch, just my body, I felt I was keeping the work rate even, pleased that after the D33 the previous week I wasn’t too weary, I made it up the monster hill at around twenty miles without walking and it was just the last four miles I had to work hard to maintain the pace, breathing deep and controlled I pushed on, glad the wind was now behind me, the sun peeped out from time to time but in my last half mile there was a short squally shower, at least was on my back! I finished into the arms of Julie and the biggest most awesome hug I’ve had. Audrey gave me my medal and I picked up my goody bag, ooooow, a buff scarf, can never have too many, my favourite race memento...after beer! A quick change into cosy clothes and back to the finish in time to see Sue finish,

boy was that wind fiercely freezing and whistling from the loch, well done the marshalls spending hours in it, pleased to see Sue finish strongly… it also meant we could go inside. After a wee catch up with pals and more tea, we headed home.

With many thanks to Arbroath Footers, Dod Reid, Karen Donoghue and Audrey McIntosh for staging great races with their merry band of helpers, I can’t do it without you.

I’m really chuffed with how well training is going, feeling strong and running well, Loch Katrine was around nine minutes slower than the last time I did it but that time I hadn’t run an ultra the week before! I have a few more races I’m looking forward to in build up to this year’s West Highland Way Race, the John Muir Way Ultra, a new one for me this coming weekend then the Fling at the end of the month and another new one to me in May, the Selkirk Ultra. I don’t take for granted it will all go according to the plan but hopefully I’ll have many happy miles before June. All roads lead to Milngavie.  

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dunoon "Wee Eck" Ultra

It was ages ago when Pauline and I entered this, stuck it in my calendar never gave it another thought, then just went from big race to recovery sliding seamlessly into taper then race, recovery, taper, race recovery, taper, just gently ticking over in between West Highland Way, Fort William Marathon, Glenmore 24, then a wee special mention at Loch Ness Marathon, there were five of us that have completed all fifteen marathons,

we were give a commemorative t-shirt and a hamper full of Baxter’s stuff, I won’t have to buy soup, jam or chutney for ages! Then all of a sudden it was a week before the Dunoon Ultra, better read the bumf then! Yikes, we should’ve booked the bus to the start at least a couple of weeks ago, but a fast reply from Colin to my email allayed my concerns.

We’ve only been to Dunoon once before, many years ago for Graham Clark’s funeral, a fellow Carnegie Harrier, he died suddenly at a race, a great coach and Scottish International runner, we still do some of his sessions, the 700 metre loop in the Industrial Estate and my favourite, the winter hill sesh in the Public Park, I still miss him popping up on the route. On that day I didn’t pay attention to how we got there so Google and the AA route finder was my friend, coming from Dunfermline it would be a quite a trek with the choice of a long drive round or a car ferry or a passenger ferry, we opted for the passenger ferry as it was right at hub of the race.

Pauline picked me up at 5.00am and the drive to Gourock was quicker than we expected, we were on the first ferry at 6.45am, so had plenty time to register,
With George and Ross - photo from Ken Clark Photography

take advantage of the free coffee and pastry at Coast Coffee, the cafe at the pier before getting ready to be bussed to the start, just a 15 minute journey to the Benmore Botanical Gardens, even more free coffee, tea and pastries were available for the runners.

Photo from Ken Clark Photography
We were sitting with Mike and Kathy, he’d done the loop from the Gardens in training and thought the race would probably be longer than 33 miles, glad to be forewarned but I wasn’t too concerned, trail race mileage is usually a bit of an estimate. Silke was describing the route too, she’d used it in training for one of the UTMB races and we would be doing a Munro’s worth of climbing.  Ok, time to revise my predicted finishing time, I thought I’d be roughly around the same as Glen Ogle 33 but now I was glad a head torch was a part of compulsory kit, I might need it!

The Dunoon Ultra isn’t just a race organised by runners for runners, the local community were behind it too, tragically five weeks ago a local lad, Olly, lost his life in an accident, he was twelve years old and an avid sports fan, Liverpool football club was his favourite, it was an honour and fitting for all involved in the race to wear a red ribbon in support of his family.  

The start was in the shelter of magnificent Giant Redwoods, Pauline walked round one counting her arms width around it. It would need seven Paulines holding hands to encircle the massive trunk!

Photo from Ken Clark Photography

10.00 am, we were off with a race start like no other I’ve done before, there was no countdown, Pipers played the intro for a stand of wee cannons, we were warned they’d be loud but I still leapt at least a foot in the air when they went off.
photo from Ken Clark Photography

A gentle trot over a narrow bridge, along a little lane and into Pucks Glen, a magical, dark,enclosed wood with rocky, twisty paths, waterfalls, wee bridges, and shady mossy nooks and crannies you’d expect to find fairies and elves hiding.

The path opened onto a wide forest track and we started to climb, with some quite steep zig zags I kept it at nice easy walk/run there was some easier gradient but still always up, Audrey and I were running together, Andy was with us for a bit too, we paused a few moments at the radio masts for a few photos looking down over Loch Eck, stunning!

I do understand the concept of a race. but the time on my watch has no relevance when I have views like this!  After such a long climb there was a long descent, Audrey and I parted company when I nipped into the bushes for a pee.

I didn’t have a drop bag for the first checkpoint and caught up with Audrey as she was sorting through hers, we were running evenly paced and great to blether the miles away, she was there to help me up after my muppet fall, I was fine, no damage, just the heel of my left hand was bleeding, pfft! The bit that’s just healed from the fall at Glenmore 24, she offered me an antiseptic wipe, but I just wipe the blood off on my kilt, (it’s not just a fashion accessory, it’s main use, a token of modesty when I crouch at the side of the trail for a pee)  

Once on the flatter side of Loch Eck we could hear cheering from the opposite side, and looking across we could see a wedding, what a beautiful place for your special day, I wished them well, pity my running camera has a rubbish zoom!  

I clicked into my cruise pace and kept it going on the gentle tarmac ups, Audrey was having a small dip and told me to go on, I think we covered nearly twenty miles side by side, there was no pressure for us to stay together but it didn’t feel quite right to separate but everyone has to run with their own highs and lows.
I was happy to carry my custard in a Fill n Squeeze pouch, a couple of gels and a Flump but a wee can of coke is better if it isn’t shoogled for fourteen miles first, so I put that into a drop bag for the middle checkpoint, and what a helpful bunch of marshals, my water bottle was filled as I drank my coke, they took my rubbish and asked if there was there anything else I needed. Approaching Benmore Gardens and the last checkpoint I just cruised through without stopping, shouting that I didn’t have a drop bag as I arrived, but again I was offered water, a wee cup of coke, I felt rude refusing, what a fantastic bunch of helpers!

I was in a great wee groove along the flat section so much so I didn’t bother eating or drinking, I didn’t want to break my rhythm, I knew there was another monster hill to come, I’d wait until then, sure enough we started to climb, it was a wide forest track, I finished my Flump and drank some water and climbed some more, the forest track opened up, the trees had been harvested and you could see for miles, and we climbed some more, the path wound on and we climbed some more, walking mostly but sticking in the odd wee shuffle... we climbed some more!  

Looking ahead I could see a bright yellow marker with a big number 5, ok that’ll be five miles to go then, still a fair bit but I’m in the last hour, both Pauline and I have a rule, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out or how many miles you’ve done you can always push the last hour. I swapped my I’m-just-out-for-a cracking-day-on-a-beautiful-route head  for my race head and I could just about taste the beer at the finish, (there’s nothing like the thought of a pint to pull you in, that’s not just me, is it?) Another big yellow mile marker. Brilliant!  We were being counted down each mile to the finish, I trusted they were accurate and pushed on.  Finally the route plateaued and even started to go down, I could see Dunoon,

it didn’t look too far away and I could see a path that looked as if heading straight down to it… Bugger! There’s red and white tape across it barring the way and a yellow arrow pointing towards the path that went up!  The route had been well marked, there was never any doubt of going wrong, even our Ray McCurdy would be challenged to go wayward on this course, so I humphed upwards. But it wasn’t long before it descended fairly steeply, a wide forest stoney path reminiscent of the path down to the Braveheart car park in the final miles of the West Highland Way, I felt strong and battered downwards, maybe because I was comparing this to heading into Fort William, my legs were supple and still had bounce in them in comparison. I was working my arms and breathing deep, keeping the momentum that gravity gave me, onto the Esplanade and the final mile pushing all the way, a tight right turn and into the finish on the pier.  Fantastic!
photo from Ken Clark Photography

(Not going to bore you to death with the splits but those last two miles were my fastest and the last one was the only one under ten minutes, paced to perfection if I do say so myself, my Garmin gave me 34 miles and 3,648ft of ascent but we all know how random that can be)
race profile

I just loved the whole race and it wasn’t hard to finish on a high. I was handed a t-shirt, a goody bag containing wine and a specially made cup-cake, I was also handed an opened bottle of water and  bottle of beer, I didn’t have enough hands! Inside there was hot food, tea, coffee and even more cakes and biscuits. I was blown away by the race memento, a unique plaque made from reclaimed wood from the restoration of the Victorian pier with a Giant Redwood tree at the race start cut into the design.  I feel I have brought home a little piece of the heart of Dunoon.

Pauline was also surprised coming home with a posh plate for First Female Vet 50.
photo from Ken Clark Photography

For an inaugural race there is always a possibility of some wee teething problems but if there were any I was not aware of them, a class event from start to finish, complimentary breakfast at both registration and race start, enthusiastic friendly helpers and marshals throughout, a stunningly beautiful well marked route, great reception at the finish, pity I didn’t feel like dancing but I think the ceilidh band were quite understanding.  Would I change anything? Yes, I think staying in Dunoon for Friday and Saturday will be far better than driving at daft o’clock in the morning and heading straight home afterwards, hope to have a bit more time for beer next year. When do entries open? I’ve got another ever present to maintain.