Thursday, 27 March 2014

Loch Katrine Marathon

I was pleasantly surprised when the alarm went off at 5.30am that it wasn’t totally dark, I haven’t seen this time in the morning for ages. After a big bowl of porridge and a big mug of coffee, I was ready to go.  Sue picked up Morna and then me, and we arrived in time for a pot of tea before the start, very civilised for pre-race preparation. It was lovely to have a wee catch up with folk I haven’t seen in ages, especially Ellen; we compared notes on returning to running.  Yep, we both agreed that the fatigue from chemo and radiotherapy is a bit of a pace killer, but we are on our way back.   

It was a stunning day although a bit of an icy cold wind, the snow topped hills were sparkling in the brilliant sunshine. I was looking forward to running somewhere new to me. My race plan was to have a quality training run, I still felt heavy legged from the Great Glen runs nearly a fortnight ago. My goals were to be quicker than my Loch Ness Marathon in September, and, if possible, to run it all. My quads still need building up and hill work is the way to do it and from what I’d heard about the course, this was place to do it!  I was also carrying my camera, I didn’t plan on stopping to frame photos but the scenery was too gorgeous not to try and capture it even if it was just a point and click on the hoof.

After a photo and a short race briefing from Audrey we were off.

I love an out and back course, it’s great to see and say Hi to everyone face to face, I tried to photograph everyone (all my photos here) but since I was shooting from the hip, I ended up with quite a few fuzzy ones, some tarmac and close up nostril selfie!  I got a better selfie with Sue near the turn.

On the way out I wasn’t confident of being able to run all the hills, especially when I saw the one at around six miles, it would be climbed again at twenty miles!  

I maintained a steady plod and didn’t stop at all except to hug a few marshals and to pee (I’m blaming that pot of tea) also a quick pause for a photo shoot-out with Lorna near the turn. 

I got this cracker pointing my camera over my shoulder earlier

But more importantly was the way I felt.  I was comfortable the whole way, maybe because I remember how empty and exhausted I was at Loch Ness, I felt as if I eased myself round, not fighting the cold wind or the terrain, on the hills I told myself I could go as slow as I liked as long as I didn’t walk, and shuffled my way up.  I had a wee cheer to myself seeing this sign on the hill at twenty miles. 
Mission accomplished, no walking! 

I finished with a big daft grin which I think was on my face all the whole way round. I was also thirty-three minutes quicker than Loch Ness, a great confidence boost in my recovery and another step towards my goal in June.
photo from Running Gannet

Loch Katrine is a small no frills running festival organised by Audrey for the first time last year as a one off fund raiser incorporating a 10k, a half marathon and marathon and after its success she was persuaded to put it on again this year.  I'm so glad she did, I've just found my new favourite marathon. Now don't tell anyone about it, it's our secret, 'cause when the entries open next year, there's going to be a stampede! 
You can follow Audrey's Adventures and find details of Loch Katrine Running Festival here

Friday, 14 March 2014

A Recce in the Snecky

Pauline is doing the Great Glen Ultra in July this year and wants to cover most of it before hand. I’m happy to go along with that and it’s lovely to go and run somewhere new.  So plans were made and perfect weather booked.

We drove up to Inverness Sunday afternoon. We did budget hostel instead of our usual B&B we stay in for the Loch Ness Marathon since it’s just training, only slight problem, they have no car park but for the princely sum of £3 for twenty-four hours we left the car in the car park above the Market Brae Steps which wasn’t too far away.  We then wandered down to the Bus Station to buy our tickets for the following morning, and it was lovely to have a wee blether with Robert Kinnaird who had ran the Half Marathon in the morning before he headed home on the train.  Then back to the hostel for some pasta, we pushed the boat out and had a couple of pints in the pub before heading to bed.

Breakfast on Monday morning was porridge at a civilised hour then we headed for the 8.45am Fort William bus with a wee detour to the car park to pay for the parking.  The bus driver took the ticket from Pauline and said “The Youth Hostel, are you sure? There’s nothing there.” Then he looked at us dressed in tights with back packs and stated the obvious, “Ah, you’re runners!”  Glad he didn’t just think we had a lycra fetish!  I asked him to give us a shout when we got there, I didn’t want to miss the stop, the run was going to be around twenty seven/twenty eight miles and that was long enough!

Once we got off the bus, there was no obvious sign to the Great Glen Way but it wasn’t hard to find, with the loch at our backs, we walked towards a house over the road with a track leading up, and tad-ah, a blue marker post! Yaay! Now just a wee run back to Inverness! 

The weather was perfect, no wind and wall to wall sunshine, I even took my gloves off just after we got going. It was fairly steep from the start, so we walked and jogged our way up watching a helicopter that was buzzing back and forward trailing a big bucket, not realising as we climbed, we were going to come face to face with it. We had to wait a few minutes as it was parked on the path to refuel.  We were quite happy to have a wee breather even though we’d just started, that first climb was a steep two miles long!

The path under-foot varied from wide forest track to soft woodland path, and a fair bit of tarmac and pavement, Pauline was wearing trail shoes, I had on road shoes, we were both happy with our choice of footwear.  We carried a map with us but never felt the need to bring it out, the blue marker posts were well placed and sufficient.  There was a long road section where we didn’t see a marker for ages, although there was nowhere else to go it was reassuring to finally see a blue post.

After Drumnadrochit we’d been stomping up a steep, twisty path in the woods, every bend I’d look up and it got steeper, we’d go round another bend and it got even steeper, Pauline said “What are you laughing at?” Oops, I didn’t realise I laughed out loud, this hill is ridiculously steep and I’m daft enough to find it funny.  I think I covered it when I answered “This hill… come race day, I’ll be one of BaM’s lovely assistants and I won’t have to come up here again!”  Pauline wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “This is like climbing out of Kinlochleven but twice as long!” 

Emerald Forest

Profile for the last 30 miles of the GGW

There’s a long section on road through open moorland where you can see the path for miles which was fine in the sunshine, but come race day, if your head isn’t in a happy place it could be soul destroying, especially if the weather is foul.  
Looking back

Don’t know what these padlocks were meant to keep locked in (or out) but the gate was wide open!
 Eventually we were back on meandering forest tracks and paths

Finally we could see Inverness which was probably about four miles away, we plodded on, looking at the Garmin, our run was going to be closer to twenty nine miles, the race finishes in the stadium at Bught Park but we decided we would stop at the bouncy bridge which is just past the park, but the GGW path takes you over the river before that so we just followed the markers, I then suggested we finish at the Castle which would round up our run to thirty miles, I knew Pauline wouldn’t want to log twenty-nine and a half miles We needed to burl round a bucket right beside the Castle and back down to the traffic lights before the Garmin beeped, a tad OCD but always good to push on further than you plan. I was tired, my feet were a bit achy but nothing hurt, I was moving easily albeit slowly.  I was really pleased with how I felt, going from my last long run of sixteen miles to almost double is quite a big jump in mileage but I didn’t think the sensible rule of increasing training by ten percent applies to old warhorses!

After a lovely hot shower followed by pasta and beer at the hostel, we thought a brisk walk would do us good.  We took some of our gear back to the car so we weren’t too laden in the morning and bought some more beer, well, we had earned it.

Tuesday morning saw us heading towards Fort Augustus, we weren’t finished with the GGW yet, a wee out and back run with a max of ten miles was the plan, we parked at the wee forestry commission car park at Allt na Criche about a mile outside Fort Augustus.  We managed a gentle pace along the Caledonian Canal and turned back after five miles out, if either of us was struggling we would’ve turned earlier but I’m happy to say all I felt was tired.

Next was the decision of which way to go home, I suggested the A82 and a call into the Woolly Mill at Fort William for a cup of tea and a scone first, then we changed our minds to a bowl of soup but when we got there we changed our minds again, a baked tattie with haggis, when it arrived it was served with salad which I punted onto Pauline’s plate, as much as I’d love to eat salad it’s just not worth the time or effort but I did manage to eat all my tattie and haggis even though Pauline had to twiddle her thumbs for a bit and it was cold when I finished.  

We ended up having to go down the A9, as the A82 was closed, I later found out it was due to a lorry spilling its load of hydrogen peroxide, hopefully it was just a clean up and no one was hurt. I was a bit disappointed not to go through Glencoe it would’ve been stunning with snow on the hills in the sunshine but the view at the Commando Memorial didn’t disappoint.

Now a few days later, I’m still not suffering any after effects other than tiredness and I’m not sure whether it was running on new trails or the sunshine but I feel as if I’ve had a holiday, plans are for more of the same and hopefully soon. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Smokies 10

I ran Smokies for the first time in 1992 and this was my twenty-first running of the race, over the years I’ve had some strong runs and some with lingering illness or injury, last year I was in excellent running shape and ran a PB of 1.18.27. It was also my last race before the two surgeries, chemo and radiotherapy.  Pauline asked me at training on Thursday if running this weekend would bookend the last twelve months.  Hmm, I gave it some thought as she powered on up the hill and I shuffled on in her wake.  No, not yet, I’m still working hard regaining my health and fitness, and once I feel back to full strength, from the neck down at least, I can move on.  My treatment started just after last year’s race but didn’t finish until the last day of May with no running at all in that time, so it’s June I’m targeting and specifically the 21st,  it will be then I’ll slam that book shut!  From the neck up I’ll never be the same again but I’m learning to adapt, I saw the consultant a couple of weeks ago, he is happy with my progress and reiterated healing is slow and I’ll only notice improvement retrospectively 
My last ten mile training run was at the end of January and in a time of 1.51.05 but training and racing are two different entities, and I’ve been working hard at the speed work at the club but it’s one thing hanging on to a sub nine minute mile for a five minute effort and trying to maintain it for a hilly ten miles. My plan was to push hard and see what happens, no matter what my finishing time, the work rate would be maintained throughout, I had hoped to run around ninety minutes knowing that that would be a tough ask but a quality test of where I am fitness wise.

The conditions were good, bright and sunny, with a little bit of a chilly wind, I was in my usual long sleeved top, long tights, Buffs and gloves although they were fingerless, a few were in shorts and vests.  I put myself in the middle of the pack for the start and we were off, round the first corner is always into the wind, occasionally I tried to shelter behind the runner in front but it never worked out for long, they were either too fast or too slow.  We were soon strung out and heading towards the drink station, I didn’t bother taking a cup, I always carry a wee water bottle since having a permanently dry mouth from the side effects of the chemo and radio, but swallowing gets in the way of breathing when I’m working hard so I just rinse and spit, luckily it’s only been my shoes that I’ve splattered… so far!

The third and fourth mile are a long slog up, I didn’t let the effort go but quite a few went past me, Ann, who I’ve known since we were five years old went by saying “You sound like me, you’re puffing!”  I managed to puff back a monosyllabic “Aye!”  At last, the left turn at the top and a good mile and half downhill, I used gravity to pull me down and I past quite a few here, I’m not competitive with anyone other than myself, it just gave me a gauge of my pace against those around me.  I always run to my body and never my watch, but at half way I sneaked a peek, forty-five minutes, there are no more big hills just some wee undulations, if I could hang on, the ninety minutes is on!

When it levelled out I was close to pushing it over the edge.  Control!  Don’t waste energy thrashing it out! I shouted in my head, and once again I enlisted the help of William Sichel.  I first did a William at Smokies 2011, (2011 race report here) He runs with a short stride, the cadence kept at a fair clip and minimal movement above the knees, I tried to emulate his excellent, efficient style and regain a semblance of composure.

With a mile to go I swithered about checking the time, I couldn’t have gone any harder, I did have a wee look, it will be under ninety if I can hold on.  The last half mile was into the wind. My mantra was I can boak at the finish.  I pushed on,  round the gates and onto the grass for the final few yards. There wasn’t a big race clock but I checked my watch, 1.28.57. (My official time 1.29.15) Inside my goal! I managed not to boak but needed a minute hanging over with my hands on my knees to get control of my breathing.
Once I’d gathered myself I headed straight in, had a quick change, and headed for the food.  I felt a bit guilty not waiting to see everyone else finish but eating is a slow process even when it’s just one wee triangle egg sandwich, a wee sausage roll and a wee chocolate cake, I took the liberty of bringing a big thermal travel mug, and the lady at the tea table didn’t mind filling it for me, I knew a wee polystyrene cup would not be enough fluid to aid my eating, but looking back six, seven months ago I wouldn’t have attempted eating these things in public, so I am making progress albeit slow.

There were fourteen Carnegie ladies running and Gail, Isobel, Mary and Morna picked up prizes in the old dear categories, and these old dearies can still shift, they also got second team too.  A bit disappointing that for the first year, as far as I can remember, not one of us got a spot prize, of which there is quantity as well as quality.

Next stop was the fish shop at the harbour for our Smokies, again another tradition.

Comparing my old Smokies 10 results I didn’t think this year was my slowest, in 2010 I ran 1.32.41, I was a bit injured then but it is still a great boost to see how far I've come. I’ve still a lot of work to do but it is in hand.