Be Humble

Be Humble

That way you won’t be distressed when that old guy comes floating off the hill on another path and hands you your ass on a plate.

Even though that old guy is probably younger than you

Even though you are 3 hours into a long run and he probably isn’t long out the door

Even though you have just done a killer hill session and your legs are trashed

Even though you are deliberately keeping your heart rate low.

Even though you a running your own pace and have no reason to be competitive

Even though you let him go because you know you couldn’t keep up without looking like a twat
Even though you just know that any other day you could take him

Quit while you are ahead

The second half of last year saw me injured with an achilles injury which took nearly 6 months to get better.  Since January my achilles has been behaving, though it still niggles,  but I have also been struck down with plantar fasciatis, a sore ankle caused by bruised cartilege, a long running sinus infection, and a really busy work schedule.

Foremost in my mind has been my appointment in Hopkinton on Monday April 21st and the need to get there in one piece.

Boston ’13 eyeing up the finish line

Now normally when I train, I am  of the blood,  sweat and snotters school of training.  No finesse but lots of effort.

This year, with so many ailments I have had to adopt a painfully cautious approach to training.  I have tried to follow the 10% rule, upping my mileage slowly. I have been disciplined in my long runs, turning back early in some of the long group runs on the West Highland Way when it would have been easier just to slog them out with my chums who were all running longer. Turning back when you are competitive is really hard. I even dropped out of the D33 race at 25 miles because my foot just wasn’t right. My first ever DNF  and those who know me will appreciate how painful that is.

I have done next to no speed work. My usual set of Yasso 800’s has slipped off my plan. Even tempo runs have been done at about 80%.  I started training without a base and whereas last year I was running 200-250 miles per month this year I have been in the region of 175-190.  This time last year I raced a pretty speedy half marathon and got a new PB. This year I haven’t raced at all.  Not even a parkrun.

Boston ’14 training miles


Boston ’13 training miles


I am  undertrained. I have no speed.  I feel like I am about 4-6 weeks away from full fitness, so having been cautious all year, I am going to have to keep the caution going and run the race with my head and not with my heart which is what usually gets me into trouble anyway.

My mantra throughout this whole training programme has been to quit while I’m ahead.

So where does that leave me?

First off it means that barring accidents I am uninjured and ready to go run Boston. Success!

My goal for race day? To run safely and sensibly for 20 miles and get over heartbreak hill with 6 miles to go and be feeling strong.  If I can do that then I should be in with a chance of beating last year’s time. The trick will be to resist the temptation to push on and to remember where I am now, not where I used to be and tailor my ambitions accordingly.

Despite being tedious at times, I have plodded through the last 16 weeks doing what had to be done, to be safe rather than sorry. It has been frustrating and it hasn’t been enjoyable, but it has been successful and I will be on the start line with a semblance of fitnes

It is now taper time, and I will be getting wrapped in cotton wool because at the moment I am just about ahead, so definitely time to quit until race day.



Every Day is a School Day

Black Mount
Hopefully the road to Glencoe will be easier for runners in June

I have just spent a couple of days at the Highland Fling training weekend in Tyndrum. Although I am not running either the Fling or the WHW this year it was good to spend time with like minded souls, enjoy some wine and some hard training.

I spent some time running with Amanda Hamilton who is building up to her first West Highland Way Race this year and we had a chat about what worked for me as well as what went wrong as I ran my first WHW race last year.  I am sure that Amanda will have a strong race as she has her head screwed on the right way and is putting in the hard miles.

So what would I do differently next time?

1. I would practice running during the night.  When I left Milngavie I had no problem running in the dark, but I did have a big problem with my body clock not wanting to start running at 1 am and I really struggled to maintain what would normally have been an easy pace at the start of the race.

2. I would do more long slow runs. I struggle for patience in long runs and tend to rush them to get them over and done with as soon as possible, so while I had the distance in my legs, I didn’t necessarily have the time in my head.

3. Getting carried away and charging over to Glencoe like a demented warthog may have felt great at the time, but I probably suffered for it later.  Resist the temptation to rush.

4. Spend less time at checkpoints. Despite having a strict plan for my checkpoint times, time seemed to slip away, especially later in the day.

5. Don’t worry about the weigh-in. I was getting a bit light when I left Auchtertyre, even though I felt absolutely fine and it worried both me and my crew in case I would have a problem in Kinlochleven. This resulted in me spending time at our van trying to feed up before I went in to the Leisure Centre. Daft when you look back on it sitting outside in the cold and dark when I could have been inside in the warm.  Kinlochleven checkpoint is a great place. If you are well, no-one will pull you from the race. Get inside and feel the tough love being dished out.

6. The haggis and beer at the ski centre probably wasn’t a great idea either even though I enjoyed them at the time.  I think I would probably try to eat more real food earlier in the race and stick to softer food in the second half.

As for the things I got right there are probably a few

1. Do the training miles but don’t do them too early and try not to  get mileage envy of the nutters who are knocking out 40 mile runs at christmas.

2. Know the route inside out

3. Have a training plan and trust it. Don’t chop and change just because you hear someone else threw in an extra long run and don’t get sucked into going on every social training run just to be part of the gang.

4. Get a support crew you trust absolutely. Your needs become very childlike in the race and your crew needs to know when you need and cuddle and when you need a spank.

My final tip is that there are many ways to skin a cat and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You need to experiment early in the year with gear, mileage and nutrition so that when it gets to the business end you are settled on the logistics and all you need to worry about is running.

And finally no matter what you get right or wrong, at times it will get horrible and dark, but if you keep going, no matter how slowly, it won’t get any worse and might even get better, but either way, you will make it to Fort William.

Chasing Ghosts

There is a runner I’ve been chasing

he is out most days I run.

Always in the distance

but temptingly not out of sight.

Effortless, fleet footed, floating,

ageless, he covers the ground.

He is there in the rain, the wind and the snow.

Appearing through morning mist,

lean and lithe, gliding on trail and road.

Hills, he attacks, lightly climbing,

striding, ticking off the miles.

Where he’s been and where he goes

are secrets of the road.

Some days I think he sees me,

maybe, just maybe, a wave?

I stretch every sinew to catch him,

but each time he vanishes just out of reach.

In the heat of burning lungs and muscles on fire,

it crosses my mind –  man or ghost?

One perfect morning,

when the air was cool and still

and I flowed with quiet breathing

on a long straight road I caught him

and we ran ten strides together,

stride for stride.

Then he looked me in the eye

and with a nod flew off.

With that look I understood

He is a runner I can never be

I will never ever catch him,

that runner I’m chasing is me.

I’m not dead yet

A favourite moment from Spamalot and I still have the t shirt proclaiming the fact that I am not dead yet

My last post was a bit of a whine about how tired I was feeling. Eventually I gave in and missed a few workouts and feel better for it. Work has been a bit crazy as well which always squeezes the available space in your head for running.

I ended up with two drop back weeks instead of one which annoys me because of the missed mileage but wont do me any harm in the long run.

Included in my two week drop back were a couple of stints doing pay back duties. I spent a long day marshalling at the Loch Katrine marathon in horrible wintry conditions, but it was worth it to be able to cheer on the hardy runners.

I then did a stint supporting Helen as she ran the D33 in Aberdeen. This is a great race run by RD George in his own inimitable style and Helen had a super run in appalling conditions. I had a good day out driving between checkpoints and popping up in various places along the route. Good fun and the favour wil be returned in spades when Helen takes on the role of support crew and She Who Must Be Obeyed when I run the West Highland Way later in June.

We also attended the West Highland Way inspiration evening which was held in Cathcart Church in Glasgow last week. Lots of good advice was passed on. Useful tips for support crews, some interesting and scary medical advice and some training tips from folks who have been there, done that and got the famed Goblet. It was amazing to learn that Rosie Bell who has won the  race, only runs twice a week. It was also good to hear from Dr Chris Ellis the race doctor. Apart from describing some of the nasties that can happen to you while ultra running – everything from compartment syndrome, liver failure and death – he seemed really sensible. I was reassured by his common sense approach to things like fluid intake and weight loss. I had been a bit worried about the weigh ins. Quite apart from the scales groaning when I stand on them, I am a heavy sweater and can easily lose 7 or 8 pounds on a hard run, so was worried about keeping my weight within tolerable ranges during the race. The last thing I wanted was to get pulled from the race because I had lost too much. Obviously the weigh-ins are necessary to look out for health issues, but I was reassured by his approach that if you are well, you won’t get pulled regardless of your weight. I hope I don’t need his services when I stumble into Kinlochleven in the middle of the night, but if I do, I think I will be in good hands.

As if the stress of thinking about the West Highland Way race isn’t enough it is now less than four weeks until the Boston Marathon and the nerves are starting to jangle as I consume every piece of information I can find.

Training is in quite a good place, but there is always that nagging feeling that you haven’t done enough.  This past weekend was the Alloa Half marathon. Our friend James came up from England to run the race and he sailed round looking very comfortable. I managed to stay within 15 seconds of him as I ran a new PB of 1:26:55 which was great because my previous PB had been one of those way out times which I thought I would really struggle to get close to again. As good as my PB was, it was still only the second best performance of the weekend in this house. The Best performance award goes to Helenwho ran the Alloa Half marathon the day after her mega efforts in the D33 race.

Having had a good race I am feeling quite strong and looking forward to my last long runs before I go into the taper for Boston and the Highland Fling. So, still a bit tired but as they say in Spamalot, I’m not dead yet!

Running out of Steam

As the lovely Lili von Shtupp, the “Teutonic Titwillow” sang, I’m Tired.

I cheated today.  Fortunately the only thing I cheated on was my training plan. I was due to run 12 miles tonight and just couldn’t face it. I am too tired, both mentally and physically, so I swapped workouts around and went to the gym at lunchtime and did a short speed session instead. It wasn’t a huge session, it was hard work, it wasn’t pretty, but at least it was something worthwhile, and will hopefully give me a wee bit longer recovery before attempting the longer run tomorrow night instead.

My lunchtime run took me to 501 miles for the year so far which I am pleased with.  Last weekend was a big one, I did a really good 21 mile Fast Finish Long Run on Saturday followed by 26 miles on the West Highland Way on Sunday.  So no big surprise really that I am tired. I’v ebeen here before many times and know that I am in those last few difficult weeks before tapering starts.

There are now less than 6 weeks left until the Boston marathon.  The real trick now is to keep the training going while staying healthy. My training plan for the next few weeks looks a bit like this:

B-6 50 miles Long run 17 miles at race pace

B-5 37 miles. Alloa Half marathon aiming for PB pace

B-4 68 miles. Back to back weekend 14 miles race pace and 30 miles easy

B-3 50 miles. Last longrun 22 miles FFLR and start taper

B-2 30 miles. Tapering.

B-1 15 miles. Tapering

B+0 40 miles Race and Recover

B+1 62 miles including 53 mile Highland Fling race.

I am looking forward to my 17 mile race pace run this weekend. It will be a real test of what sort of pace I can realistically shoot for at Boston. Things have been going well so here’s hoping I get a nice surprise!

Talking of nice surprises, my new racing shoes arrived today. Brooks Racer St5. This will be my shoe for race day, so I shall run maybe 30 miles in them over the next few weeks and treat them very nicely to keep them happy for marathon day.

Brooks Racer ST5
Brooks Racer ST5

From Hero to Zero

One measly run, that’s all I missed, yet in my head I have gone from feeling good about my running to the state of panic which ensues when you discover that you can’t do it any more.

Last few weeks things have been going well. Mileage has increased nicely, but carefully. Workouts have been going well. Took a drop back week last week, cutting 40% of my mileage for the week. Then since the weekend I have struggled to get back into it. I did a short easy run on Monday, then 11 miles Tuesday, both a bit of a struggle. By Wednesday morning I had sore stiff muscles and when I headed out Wednesday evening, I got about 100 yards down the road, gave up and came home. Neither my legs nor my head wanted to play.

Now chances are I am just a wee bit run down, I have been carrying a slight cold, it has been a busy work week so far and I had spent all day yesterday sitting through a training event breathing recycled air and not drinking nearly enough. I can work out that my sore legs might simply be having run a few runs in new shoes. I can even rationalise that if I am going to get a cold it is better to get it now than in 5 weeks time when I am getting ready for Boston marathon and the Highland Fling.

I am experienced enough to know that this is just part of the cycle of training and some rest will sort it, but it still invokes the feeling of panic that you are only as good as your last run.

I shall try to get back on the horse tonight, and hopefully all will be well. If not, then it will be from zero to negative and then it will be time for some serious intervention.

That OMG moment

Six easy miles on the plan.

snowing. work busy. feel crap with a cold.

treadmill lunchtime saves me going out a night.

Mile 1: Can’t be arsed with warming up slowly. Half mile grumbling then into a rhythmn.

Mile 2:  8 minute mile pace, fast enough to get workout done but still call it easy. Cos thats what it says on the plan.

Mile 3: 8 is boring, 7:30 is goal marathon pace so lets try that, still counts as easy, right?

Mile 4: legs shouldn’t be feeling this good after the miles I’ve done recently, but just bounce along and keep it easy.  Watch the pop videos on the wall.

Mile 5: bored again. keep practising the pace, don’t push on, and maybe I could do a fast one at the end? Nudge it up to 7’s for the last quarter mile.

Mile 6: Try a fast one. 5:55 pace.see how it feels. not too bad. nudge it up for the last half mile? nudge, nudge, nudge. Does that really say 5:20 on the clock and I haven’t fallen off the back of the machine? OMG!

A 5:40 mile and a sub 2:45 half mile. After an 80 mile week.  Fastest ever. smug.

What the hell just happened?


Better Not Look Down, if you want to keep on Flying

Today I ran the Union Canal. All of it. From Falkirk Wheel to Edinburgh. A total of 32.75 miles. Does that make me a freak? I hope not, but I couldnt help but be struck by the number of old people I passed on the Canal path. They all looked like I remember my parents in their middle age, and the frightening thing is that most of them were probably the same sort of age as me. They were out in sensible shoes, hats and gloves, usually with a nice wee dug and there was me, sweating and spitting while chugging along like an old steamboat. I was horrified by how old they appeared. I don’t grudge anyone a nice quiet life but I couldn’t help but think of Michael Marra’s wonderful song Hermless.
If other people are Hermless, I most certainly don’t want to be. There are way too many new things left to do, to settle for routine and comfort. For me, the song of the day was BB King’s classic Better Not Look Down, if you want to keep on flying, a brilliant song for runners. It came on to my ipod at mile 13 while I was wresting with the fact that I still had another 20 to run. It reminded me that those sorts of numbers are way too big to contemplate, so just focus on the here and now and keep on keeping on.

Oh yes, one final thought. Don’t put salsa music on your ipod. It makes you run funny.

Running Up That Hill

This week was hill week and a good training week it has been.  A brisk fartlek on Monday, Tuesday was a mega session of Hill Reps which left me walking like John Wayne for the rest of the week. My poor adductors are still complaining. Wednesday was a hilly wee run. Thursday was a brutal tempo run.  Saturday was 11 hilly miles and Sunday was 19 miles along the Union Canal with every kind of weather the irascible Scottish climate could think of to throw at us. 50 miles for the week so the mileage is creeping up nicely.

Highlight of the week was a Saturday run into the Ochils in the snow on a clear sunny day. Dumyat is the nearest hill to our house. It is a distinctive peak at the west end of the Ochil Hills above Menstrie. I have a nice 10 mile (ish) circuit which starts in Menstrie, climbs up through Menstrie Glen for a few steep miles, on to Sheriffmuir, then along the road to Dumyat, Up Dumyat, Back down the other side to Menstrie Glen once more and back down to Menstrie. It is good running on rough farm tracks. It is a really good workout with more than 2000 feet of climb and some mixed terrain to keep it interesting.

Despite the fact that snow had started to melt at ground level, by the time we were 300 feet into the hills there was soft powder snow a-plenty. Some of the drifts were very deep and the fresh snow meant we were running on unbroken paths for much of the way. There had been one runner on the hill before us though – you could tell this by the very distinctive tread pattern of a pair of Inov-8 roclites!

There was running, walking, skipping, jumping, sliding, sinking, shuffling all in the one day. In places the snow was easily 3 feet deep and completely virgin. It was a hard run on tired legs but great practice in lifting your feet and a good workout for all the stabiliser muscles which dont get used on the roads.

Dumyat itself was busy with walkers. Some wag had even made a snowman. I suspect more than one parent told their offspring it was a statue of the Wallace Monument.

The Wallace Monument?
The Wallace Monument?

It never ceases to make me chuckle when you run up hills and pass people puffing away in full hill walking gear, complete with heavy boots and sticks and they look at you as if you are stark, staring mad when you run past in wee trail shoes, a long sleeved shirt and 3/4 trousers. It could of course be the case that they are right and people who run in the hills are stark raving mad, especially people who are old enough to know better 🙂

It was one of those days which dont come around very often when the conditions are perfect and you get to experience something very special. I don’t know if this might be considered a bit elitist, but for me it is one of the reasons I run, that you get experiences which can’t be bought, experiences which have to be earned through the sweat on your brow, that you can’t get watching tv or on your computer.  It is the pain and the elation which reminds you that you are alive, getting to places you can only get to on foot.

If you aren’t prepared to put in the work to run up that hill, you will never experience the view from the top.  And from the top you get a perspective which allows you to see the big picture.