It has been a while since I have written something here, mainly because I didn’t really have too much to say. This year has been a bit of a write off on the running front, which is OK I guess as we can’t keep going further, higher, faster forever and sometimes life gets in the way.
Not running much means that Helen and I have spent a lot of time this year helping out at races either marshaling, sweeping or just generally doing what needs done to make a race happen.
I am lucky enough to have some interesting races lined up for next year: London Marathon, Miwok 100, and West Highland Way take care of the first half of the year. Hopefully another trip to Chamonix for UTMB week in August as well. This has helped restore my motivation, and touching wood, I have had a consistent few weeks slowly building a base for next year’s big efforts.
A couple of hours on the trail yesterday gave me the headspace to reflect on what I have learned this year from all the watching I have done. So what lessons have I learned about what makes successful ultra runners?
- Unless you are at the very sharp end success is not defined by where you finish, that is often down to age and genetics, it is how you finish that defines success.
- You can’t bluff it. If you haven’t done the training, it will come back and bite you on the bum.
- Happy runners are successful runners. Those who smile and chat and enjoy the experience do much better than those who huff and puff and toil.
- Successful runners plan carefully, but are flexible and roll with whatever the day throws at them. They don’t over think kit and nutrition.
- Stress kills performance. Doesn’t matter whether it is work stress, personal stress or race stress, but too much of it and you can’t train or race successfully. See point 3.
- Successful runners are lean. No getting away from it, excess weight kills performance. That doesn’t mean you have to be skinny to run, and plenty runners carry too much weight (me included), but being at your optimum weight undoubtedly helps.
- Successful runners race judiciously. Too many people suffer from FOMO and do too many races or races which are a step beyond their current capabilities. See point 5. and point 2.
- Successful runners are consistent. They train consistently and build up carefully and steadily to their races. Too many people end up in a cycle of boom and bust, playing catch up from injuries, doing too much, then getting hurt or burning out. See points 2, 3, 4 and 5.
My prescription for myself for 2016 therefore is:
Train patiently, manage work/life balance better, lose weight and the hardest of all – smile more and enjoy it!
On a sunny day I took myself for a run on the section of the West Highland Way heading south from Tyndrum.
This is the reverse of the way the route is normally travelled.
On the way I tried out my new camera with some mixed results. The following clips are unedited, apart from the Auchtertyre demon sheep.
The first mile was sunny with spectacular views. This is the last mile of the Highland Fling race. The only things disturbing the peace are my heavy footsteps
The next section is a pleasant run past the farm at Auchtertyre, on by the ruins of the church at St Fillans and down to the A82 road crossing. This video contains some high speed sheep
Across the road and into the forest is the undulating section to Bogle Glen known as the Rollercoaster. 18 minutes of heavy breathing as I tried to run all the way over some pretty steep hills. Confession – didn’t make it had to walk a few steps on the very last up! The scenery is nice and hopefully the soundtrack is reminiscent of the extended version of Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby 😉
On a sunny day I took myself for a run on the section of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Beinglas Farm.
This is the reverse of the way the route is normally travelled.
On the way I tried out my new camera
The infamous Cow Poo Alley was quite dry for a change
Down to the road crossing
Under the road and through the Cattle Creep
Running along Glen Falloch
This clip shows the approach to Derrydarroch Cottage from the North
I have been feeling poorly these last few days. Might have been man flu. Might have been jet lag, but running was either rubbish or didnt happen at all.
I had a reasonably good November/December where I ran every day for 32 days and started to build mileage sensibly, and even though a Christmas day flight with Champagne and Caviar scuppered this year’s Marcothon effort, I still managed to run a pretty solid time for the Boxing Day 10 miler in Hamilton, Ontario.
After that I swapped running for holidaying and only managed one run in the following week.
2015 arrived with a big fat zero in the training log and a big fat jump on the scales. I tried a run one day and managed all of 2 horrible miles on aching legs, and with that abject failure my running career was over. At least according to Private Fraser bouncing around in my head yelling “We’re Doomed! Doomed I tell ye!”
Fast forward a couple of days and feeling a wee bit brighter I jumped on the treadmill after work for the scheduled Yasso 800 session fully expecting another fail. The first few minutes of the very slow warm up were yucky and I nearly chucked it. Legs weren’t working properly at all, but slowly minute after minute they warmed up until there was no more room for excuses, time to hit the first interval. It was so hard! By the time I reached the end of the interval I thought my legs were going to fall off. The second interval was nearly as bad. Somehow, as if by magic, the third interval wasn’t too bad at all and the fourth was actually relatively easy. And so it continued.
Maybe I will still be able to run this year after all.
1. You don’t lose fitness overnight so don’t panic about missing a few days
2. Don’t stop just because it doesn’t feel good. Ease into it slowly and if you keep going fitness will prevail.
3. Intervals 3 and 4 are always easier than 1 and 2. Remember this fact.
4. If you know all of the above don’t be a drama queen just because things aren’t quite going to plan
There is a vibrant and burgeoning ultra running community in Scotland at the moment. Races like the Highland Fling have become ridiculously popular and are introducing lots of new runners to the sport. Some of these are enthused by all of the good things which go with ultra trail running, some are intrigued by the severity of the challenge and some are drawn by the facebook driven fear of missing out.
Race records are being broken. The front is getting faster, the back is getting slower and the middle is getting fatter.
In all walks of life, it used to be that you had to serve your time. It didn’t matter whether you were the office junior who made the tea or the apprentice sparkie. You watched, listened and learned how to behave. You might not agree with them, or have the experience to understand why the were there, but you picked up the rules. Eventually when you had served your time you got the chance to change the rules. Even in the early days of the internet, in the pre Facebook world, when Forums and Newsgroups were the order of the day, the first rule in Emily Postnet’s book of Nettiquette was be a lurker. Watch, listen and learn how the community operates, who the players are, who speaks sense and who doesn’t, and then when you are confident that you won’t be making an arse of yourself, contribute and say your piece.
It is great to see so many people enthused about running long distances on the trails. Lots will do it once, some will do it several times, a few will do it lots.
With so many new people coming into the sport, where do you look for support or advice when everyone else is also a newcomer. What happens to the traditions, culture and ethos of the sport?
In amidst all of the excitement and the population explosion, it is sometimes easy to forget that the ultra community has been going a long time. It is a community based on respect, humility, hard work, a spirit of adventure and a real affinity for wild places.
As a relative newcomer myself, to the new ultra runners, I offer this advice:
If you want to be a good ultra runner, watch the old guys.
Run with your eyes, ears and your mind open. When you run past that old guy, do it without conceit because chances are that Old Guy (or Girl) has probably covered more miles than you can count and has had adventures of which you can only imagine. That same old guy is probably also the person who puts in countless hours in the background to make sure the race can take place and that you the energetic runner can be safe. That old guy might well be giving up his own race to help someone through. The old guy will have spent hours nursing beginners through training runs, teaching them how to survive and enjoy. The old guy will gently poke and prod online or with a well chosen private word help keep the masses moving forward within the ethos of the community.
Go to the pub and listen to the stories. You will hear tales of the old guys. You will know who they are because they will be referred to by just their first name. They might be called Stan, or Donald, or George, or Murdo, or Ray or one of many others, but when you hear someone being referred to by one name then listen for you will learn.
The old guys are not boastful, there are too many tales to tell in one sitting and they have had too many misadventures to be arrogant. They don’t post every run on Facebook. Other people tell their tales. If you ask, they will share generously. If you approach quietly they will show you the ropes, if you respect the sport they will teach you the secrets and they will be there for you at 4am in the middle of nowhere when you are crying for your mummy.
As a relative newcomer to the ultra community I am still serving my apprenticeship. I am definitely not one the Old Guys yet, though maybe one day I will be. I do count myself very fortunate to have learned some of the lore from a few of these old guys. They in turn tell tales of even older guys and of deeds and misdeeds in the past which laid the foundations for the sport as it is now, and without whom there would be no ultras to run.
These Old Guys are setting a really good example of how to train, compete, enjoy and nurture the sport.
The best thing the new runner could do is watch and follow that example.
One of the most satisfying sights for me is the new runner, who sits with a pint, wide-eyed and open-mouthed soaking up the stories and then over months and years grows into the community and finds they too can work their way up through the challenges.
Change is good. New blood is good. But here’s to the Old Guys who have seen it, done it and worn the damn t-shirt out.
I found this post in my Drafts box. I never quite got round to finishing it and then it wasnt quite the right time to post it, so here it is unfinished
Friday was a solemn day.
Runners made their way to Boylston Street.
With a few days until race day it was the runners from 2013 who came first, proudly displaying 2013 on the blue and yellow jackets. There was little noise as they sought out first the finish line and then both of the small memorials which marked the sites of the bombs. Fading strands of blue and yellow tied to a tree. A 2013 finishers medal tied to a piece of wire. Little bunches of flowers. The following day they were joined by a pair of running shoes. These were not formal grand gestures but very personal tokens placed by individuals.
The finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street is flanked by temporary grandstands. To make your way to the race Expo you need to walk through a passage behind them which is almost like walking through a church. The silence under the stands amplified the raw emotion on the street. Waves of emotion were causing me to swallow hard and was relieved to see I was not alone as I glanced to see tears streaming down Helen’s face.
Quietly we walked to the Forum restaurant where Helen had stood for 6 hours until just before the bomb exploded there last year.
We were back.
We had made a promise to come back to Boston to play a part in standing up for the small sweaty corner of humanity that is the running community, and now we were standing on Boylston Street.
We had lunch in the Forum and chatted to a couple seated next to us who were not runners. They had been in the Forum last year when the bomb exploded and blew the windows in. They had come back from Kansas City to be in the same place and intended to watch the race from the Forum.
Throughout Friday the runners returned and as they returned there were many tears on Boylston Street but there was a real sense or determination to return and put things right. It was important not just to the runners but to the city. People welcomed the runners back with a sense of relief almost as if they were worried they might not come. Not just the city as an institution but the ordinary people: the airport security guard who looked you up and down, saw the 2013 and nodded and winked. The taxi driver who was eager to tell us that we can’t let them win.
Outside the church by the finish line, volunteers were handing out Boston scarves. Hand-knitted in their thousands throughout the USA I received one made by Susan from the tiny town of Mt Desert in Maine.
Race day arrived, the yellow school buses headed for Hopkinton. As we arrived through the back streets of this most American town with its wooden houses and white picket fences, two old ladies, sat on a white painted porch, held up a banner saying “Welcome Back”. A little girl wrapped in her dressing gown, stood at the end of her driveway and waved a Stars and Stripes at the returning runners. It was only 7am.
Finally, high on emotion, a race was run. Crowds cheered as never before in a heady mix of support and defiance. Cheers, tears, kisses and fist pumps punctuated 26.2 miles of the very best in the human spirit. Boston was Strong, the runners came back. Those with unfinished business turned Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston and finished the race.
A few days later, and 4000 miles to the west, I was boarding the ferry to Alcatraz, proudly sporting my Boston Finsher’s shirt, when I was approached by an older lady who shook my hand and in a broad Boston drawl said “Thank You”