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.


I have run quite a few marathons in my relatively short running career. It is  my favourite distance because it is almost the perfect challenge, long enough to really stress your body but still short enough that you can try to run fast.

If there is one thing that running more than 25 marathons has taught me it is respect. Respect for the distance, respect for the training, respect for the event, respect for the volunteers, the race directors, and every other runner who takes it seriously.

I love the marathon, especially the big city marathons, for all the reasons Helen Munro describes in her excellent blog post here

I don’t care how long it takes you, so long as you take it seriously, do it right, and try hard.

At the risk of sounding like a Grumpy Old Man, the thing that gets my goat, yanks my chain or whatever is your expression of choice,  is people who disrespect the race.

That disrespect manifests itself in various ways. Here is my top 5

1. I am too busy, clever, fit, good, famous to train. Frankly bollocks. If you don’t want to do the race don’t do it, but don’t skimp on training, turn up on race day then tell us how hard it is when the race takes you 90 minutes longer than it should.

2. I don’t need a training programme. Yes you do. You might get away with it once but you wont perform to your best and ultimately you will get hurt. Thats why people write programmes and thats why the very best runners in the world follow programmes.

3. I Can’t Run Without Headphones.  I have news for you,  your legs work independently of your ears.  And while we are at it, it says in the rules “no headphones” so it is non-negotiable whether you like it or not. And if its not too much trouble you might actually want to listen to those marshalls and supporters who got out of their beds early to stand in the cold and cheer you on.

4. I am going to get as near to the front as I can at the start. Yes, thank you very much it is great fun to set off at the start of a race only to come grinding to a halt after 100m when you run up the back of someone running half your pace who should be in another corral. This also applies to the  “I am running/walking for charity so I am going to link arms with my friends and spread out across the course so no-one can get past” crew as well.

5. My race is so popular I am going to charge you a small fortune to enter and if you want to come from overseas I am going to charge you even more! Overseas runners make a big contribution to the local economy and already pay more for flights, accommodation, merchandise so dont screw them for higher entry fees. It is discriminatory. NYRR you know who you are.

So why am I thinking about Respect? Initial prompt is a friend Margaret who is aiming to do her first marathon in Barcelona later in the year. She wrote the most wondeful thing on Facebook earlier in the week. She said “If Hal Higdon says it, I run it”.

A oouple of other reasons for thinking about Respect. First is that I have managed to give myself a busy first half of the year. The main focus of the year is the West Highland Way Race and as a first-timer the race demands my absolute respect. However, I am also lined up to do the Boston marathon and given that you have to qualify for the race it is only appropriate that I do all of the necessary work so that I run the race at my very best, to do any less would be disrespectful both to the event and the other Boston hopefuls who didnt get a place.  Devising a training programme which respects both events has proved to be an interesting challenge. I am trying to balance some back to back long weekend runs, with at least one of my weekend runs done at marathon training pace and my midweek runs focussing on speed and strength.

The second reason for the respect theme is Lance. I am not going to go into the whole sorry saga, I shall leave that to those who follow cycling. In distance running we have our own share of stories whether Wanjiru or Goumri and many others. The thing which got me thinking though, is where do we cross the line between enhancing performance through technology and disrespecting the event by cheating. Many years ago when I rowed to a reasonable level I remember distinctly taking an extra high dose of painkillers before the start of a race. It didnt occur to me that I might have been cheating. I had a foul cold, was running a fever and all I wanted to do was remove the symptoms to allow me to compete at my normal level. Is it cheating? As a schoolboy I used to put extra sugar on my cornflakes and then eat a mars bar for my breakfast before playing rugby because I believed it gave me a competitive advantage. Was it cheating? I certainly didnt think so at the time. Last year running the Highland Fling race, I took some Ibuprofen after 26 miles because I had really sore feet. The pain went away and I ran a strong second half to the race.  Should I have struggled on with my sore feet and not taken the painkillers? In my bid to enhance my performance should I forgoe compression clothing, electrolyte drinks and carbohydrate gels.  Does listening to motivational music on an ipod give an unfair advantage? What about using GPS to judge pace? Where is the line?

I certainly don’t want to cheat, but I do want to do the best I can. I am never going to be in contention to win anything so does it matter? To try my best is respectful. To get an unfair advantage is disrespectful.  Is cheating the act or the intention? Is it the spirit of the law or the letter of the law which counts? In using technology, gadgets and supplements to perform as well as I can am I showing respect or disrespect? Hard stuff.

WHW Run Rowardennan to Inversnaid

rowardennabSunday brough my first run on the West Highland Way of the year.  A straightforward run out and back from Rowardennan to Inversnaid.  Weather conditions started off perfectly but then turned to dreich smirry rain by the time I reached the hotel at Inversnaid.

I had it in my head this was a fairly straightforward section of the route but had completely forgotten just how much climbing is involved as you run up the side of the Loch.  The hill starts just after the Youth Hostel and seems to keep going forever.  The first few miles follow the forestry road so conditions are good underfoot. Eventually all the climbing is rewarded with the longest downhill!

As this was a training run, I tried to run continuously up all of the hills. I definitely wont be doing this on race day. I was pretty pleased to be able to haul myself up all of the hills withouth having to take a walk break. I had noticed my climbing getting better lately and this continued on these hills, so I guess all the squats and lunges are working.

IMG_0052I ran into Inversnaid, pottered around taking pictures of the waterfalls which were quite spectacular, then ran back a Km to pick up Helen and run with her into Inversnaid.

We ran together through the loch shore for a bit on the return leg then I slogged ahead up the hills while Helen took the sensible strategy of walking the uphills.

I made it back to Rowardennan in about 2 hours 35 for the round trip which was an average of about 11 mins/mile including time for faffing around taking pictures.

Elevation Profile
Elevation Profile

The funny wee blip in  the middle is due to me getting confused between the pause and start/stop buttons on my Garmin. The other thing which is weird is that I am using a Garmin 910XT which comes with a barometric altimeter. I had read that some people were having issues with it reporting strange readings. If you look at my graph, apparently I was nearly 100ft below sea level at one point! So much for technology.

The reward was a wee paddle in Loch Lomond to cool my legs.

cooling down
cooling down