Long Run & Clachnaben Walk

After yesterday’s wind we woke to a calm day today. Unfortunately this also meant ground frost and disappointment for the golfer of the house (no winter eclectic competition due to winter greens). Thus, he fancied a hill day instead. The runner of the house had other ideas though, in the shape of the first 16 miler of the marathon plan.

Off I set, a fraction later than planned – the only thing I’m ever on time for is work – and the planned four miles before meeting the Social Sunday gang turned into three and a bit instead. I made it up to the gate and all the way back down to the car park unfortunately. Picking them up part way would have made things a little easier on the legs!

Alan had amassed a fair crowd, twenty runners he said. I was glad of not having to stop and just kept on back up the side of the golf course at Hazlehead. Chat was good, pace was comfortable, and before I knew it we were at the road crossing for Countesswells. I must apologise to my fellow social Sunday runners as this was where I became antisocial. We generally regroup at this point, but my logical head was thinking along the lines of, ‘if sixteen miles is the furthest you go on this plan and you want to stand on the start line believing you can run twenty six miles, you’d better just keep your body going!’ So I muttered something about being antisocial and headed on solo.

Twice around the lovely Kingshill, I felt comfortable in the pace and ran steady, finishing back at Hazlehead under the sixteen miles which meant bimbling up and down the reps lane briefly.

Timed well, the hard core of the Sunday gang (Graham, Alan and George) then arrived, having completed their miles, and the most important part of the run, coffee, was had in the warmth of Cafe Cognito alongside some other reprobates who had knocked out their miles and headed down a little earlier.

The legs felt good, thankfully, as the golfer of the house messaged suggesting an afternoon walk. Headed out to Clachnaben for a lovely walk in the afternoon sunshine.

The view towards Clachnaben

Prepared for snowy conditions we were pleasantly surprised to find the hill clear. A fairly gentle climb, the wind picked up towards the top necessitating both down jacket and shell. We encountered only one small section of hard packed snow / ice, and being rather precious about my legs at the moment the Kahtoola spikes went on for me; Bruce managed fine without his.

Soup at the top was tasty, turned around and headed back the way we’d come. Legs felt good; it was only when we stopped off at Asda to pick up pizza I felt the efforts of the day. Hopefully short lived, another week of the plan completed.

Ice, snow … the joys of winter training

This week the weather has been somewhat irritating. Being Winter ‘bad’ weather is to be expected; sadly it does not assist in the enjoyment of winter training. Making it through our long run last weekend, only having a short section of icy ground that was avoided by running along the verge, I felt positive about the week ahead.

However, by the time Monday came, the thaw and subsequent freeze saw pavements becoming a little more treacherous. I opted to run around the local playing fields in the early morning, a joy as the snow was crisp, and I had the pleasure of seeing two foxes and a deer. The day was rounded off with a sports massage and positive comments from my therapist about the healthy state of my legs!

Tuesday saw me head indoors to endure the treadmill. Another early morning run, surprisingly I got into my stride and enjoyed the session of reps by the end. Just as well! The icy thaw and freeze continued meaning Thursday’s tempo was also safer on the treadmill. I don’t think I’ll ever love it, but am growing fond enough of the ‘dreadmill’ to accept that if needs must I can in fact bang out the miles without dying of boredom.

Friday saw a significant thaw, albeit still cold, allowing me to run my easy miles around the park after work. I must have looked a real site. Having forgotten my gloves, I wore my leather driving gloves to keep my hands toasty. I’ve managed to lose one hand, thankfully opposites, from two pairs, so had one black and one brown. They did the job!

This morning I woke up with the intention of getting a long run done, hopefully permitting me to walk tomorrow. I was amazed to see the snow dinging down outside my window, a fair bit having fallen overnight. Snow is far more pleasurable for running; I’d even go so far as to say it’s fun! Yaktrax on, I opted for the beach promenade, running the Aberdeen parkrun route and chatting with friends along the way – thanks Bryan, Graham, Colin & Alan for helping me to pass the time!

Opting to continue running in order to get all my miles done before the end of parkrun, I continued to Footdee, then running a little further, back and forth along the lower prom to ensure I didn’t run into the onslaught of parkrunners at 9:30 am. Shockingly bad at maths on the run, I then ended up significantly behind them, even the Tail Walker having passed the stones by the time I reached them!

Running to start Aberdeen parkrun - late!

Running back to the start, I exchanged pleasantries with Nik as I turned and began my ‘official run’, advising that I’d probably just be on a freedom run due to by bad timekeeping! A little injection of pace saw me pleasantly surprised on two fronts – one that I was able to do it, and two, the tail walker was in sight! I managed to catch up by the Beach Ballroom and was then able to relax a little on the lower prom.

14 miles banked, another parkrun logged, what’s not to like?

Successfully caught the Tail Walker at Aberdeen parkrun

Marathon Training is Underway with the Hanson Method

Marathon training is now underway for London. After much deliberation, browsing of plans and reading reviews and blogs, I have opted to shake things up a little. I was a bit disappointed in my last marathon attempt, Fort William, finding myself a few minutes slower than the year before despite having completed a longer marathon training period. This may have been due to a lack of base training prior to commencing the plan, but regardless, I felt the need to do something different this time around. I’ve therefore opted to go with the Hanson Marathon Method instead:

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The key difference between this plan and anything I’ve done before is that the long run tops out at 16 miles. There is lots of explanation in the book as to why this is, backed up by solid research, but the simple way of describing it is that the consistent volume of running throughout the week leads to cumulative fatigue and the body therefore gets used to running on tired legs, particularly on the long run. Thus, the 16 miles should be more like the last 16 miles of the marathon rather than the first.

Having read a few posts in the LHR Running Community group on Facebook it appears that many runners do well off these plans. There are some that add a few miles onto their long runs in order to still their mind, not quite trusting that the plan will work its magic. Personally, I love a plan and will therefore commit to it and do as it says, barring illness or injury, otherwise I won’t know if it’s worked for me. My thinking is that if I’m going to fail dismally and end up walking for miles, where better to do it than London! I’ll be guaranteed to have people to chat to; the only downside, as described by a running buddy who had a howler of a race here, is that you also have to endure 10 miles of people encouraging you with shouts of, “you can do it!” while knowing that in actual fact you can’t! At least not today. NB: the experience of aforementioned friend was not in any way related to Hanson!

The first three weeks of training have gone well. I’ve been running 6 days a week with Pilates on my rest day. I have to say I’m quite enjoying knowing that I go for a run without having to think about weather etc; consistency is key and this is what I have to do. I’ve been slowly building up the mileage, starting with 41 miles in the first week, so far managing to hit my target paces. Another key feature of the plan is that you run the easy runs at a very comfortable pace, with three ‘SOS’ (Something of Substance) runs a week that include the long run. This means having to rein yourself in on shorter runs, but I’m led to believe that as time goes on you truly are grateful for the opportunity to run slowly.

I was extremely glad of the company of my Sunday running buddies from Metro today. The weather this morning was foul, at least when looking out the window, with rain and high winds. Thankfully, the rain of last night had cleared the ice from our regular forest trails, so we managed to seek sanctuary in the woods, enjoying shelter from the winds to quite some degree, and only once really getting the benefit of the stormy weather as the sleet pelted straight into our faces at the top of Kings Hill. Considering the time we were out for this was pretty good going!

Delighted to have banked the miles, today’s character building long run ended with coffee and chat; always a delight to warm up in the cosy cafe. Thanks run chums – I really do appreciate you!

Lumphanan Detox 10k: the baseline

With a total of 66.72 miles run in December (35.83 of which were during the last 8 days of the month) I was less than convinced about the prospect of running at all well at Lumphanan. However, with marathon training looming large on the horizon I felt I needed to get a baseline in order to start training realistically. This in mind, I set off on my wee jolly with friends, Ruth and Rosey.

I’ve done Lumphanan Detox a couple of times previously, on one occasion even running a PB, so am familiar with the course. There’s a tough start with a long hill but this then leads to some fast descent. While not being sure what I’d be capable of I did share with Ruth that I’d be pretty hacked off if I took over 50 minutes to finish. Please don’t think me elitist; while I appreciate that for many this would be a good time right now though that’s not what I’m shooting for and I want to give London (my one and only marathon this year due to the cancellation of Fort William) my best shot.

Arriving with loads of time, always good in my book as I like to faff, chat, warm up a little and go to the loo a few times, the registration hall was lovely and toasty. Conditions outside were pretty much perfect: 2C, clear skies, sunshine and no wind! Despite this it did feel pretty fresh and I debated both internally, and with anyone that would listen, about how many layers should be lost. Finally I decided to brave the chill and go for the vest and gloves (minus the base layer), agreeing with Ruth that wearing less clothes may make us run faster. Meanwhile due to other priorities today, Rosey sensibly opted for keeping warm and running easy, still banging out an impressive time and winning a prize in her age category!

Toilet queues were large just prior to the start with Ruth and I just making it around to the starting field in time to duck under the tape and join the line up a few seconds before the starting gun. It was at this point I realised my optimism about having a chip and starting after the gun would have been misplaced; we’d have been flattened by the onslaught had this happened!

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Quickly out of the village, the long slog up the hill begins. As always, some people take off a little over enthusiastically; I, meanwhile, prefer a more conservative start, especially with the knowledge of the hill climb ahead. Starting slowly, I managed to pass a few people, eventually the hill plateaued and the downhill began. This was a great boost as my legs had previously began to feel like I was carrying lead weights!

Running downhill gave me confidence; I felt good and was able to pick the pace up. I’ve not been running hard or fast for some time and it was good to know that I’ve not lost all speed.

Continuing on, we came to the farm track past the halfway point. This is another tough section of the course, although admittedly conditions here were excellent this year; very little mud and no puddles of significance. At the end of the track there’s a very short section where continued effort is required, mainly due to the change in terrain and the impact on tired legs, before heading back onto the road to descend towards Lumphanan once again.

The farm track at Lumphanan Detox 10k

This was where I felt the pace take it’s toll and I was grateful for the encouragement of a fellow runner who motivated me to pick up the pace again. He had the edge and left me further down the road, but I did really appreciate his words as they motivated me and got my legs going faster.

Lumphanan Detox 10k

The road to the village felt longer than it was. My legs were feeling relatively good but it was the breathing that was the challenge. By the time I rounded one of the final corners I was done and it was lovely to see clubmate Alison being a ‘race angel’, encouraging someone ahead of me and then shouting encouragement as I passed. The power of a friendly face!

Heading towards the finish area at Lumphanan Detox 10k

Running into the field I regrettably lost several places as I was pipped at the post by 3 others. On the upside, I knew I’d well and truly emptied the tank and had nothing left to give.

Final time: 45:18 chip time

Delighted with that. Well within the goal I’d set for myself and given the lack of focused training most certainly something on which to build.

Finally, great to see so many friends and club mates out today. Some cracking PBs and times today. Here’s to more to come in 2019!

A very Happy New Year to you all! What are your goals for this year?

Exciting Times!

I blogged a wee while back about having been accepted with a Good For Age time for the London Marathon in 2019. It’s been in the back of my mind as that’s the first training target for next year – keep plodding through the winter in order to hopefully make the start line in half decent shape, although the jury will remain out until we see what winter brings this year before an ‘A’goal marathon decision is made due to Fort William being on the summer hit list.

Anyway, today at lunchtime a colleague mentioned that the ballot results were out. I came home to this:

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I’ve entered the ballot on a few occasions previously (until 2013 when I missed the GFA time unknowingly by 12 seconds as I’d had no idea what the time was) but have had a few years free of disappointment while chasing other goals (such as a sub-20 minute 5k; I’ve done it once and fear it may never be repeated).

Accommodation for London is now booked, as are the flights, and all I need to do now is keep the consistent mileage going over the next few months until training begins in earnest.

Next target is Fraserburgh Half Marathon and then the Turkey Trot 10 mile race in Lossiemouth where the weather will hopefully be kind enough to allow me to bag my middle distance time for a Club Standard in my new age category (V45).

So, exciting times! I love a goal – who else needs a focus to get out there? And more to the point, who else is on the start line?

Setting the bar: Aberdeen parkrun

It’s a run, not a race! However, it’s also a time trial if you want it to be. About to embark on a 12 week training plan to try and pick up some speed again I decided I’d run parkrun hard today. I’ll be honest – I’d hoped I would manage to run 21 minutes (or even 20:59); the reality is that I’m not in shape for that at present, finishing in 21:59 instead.

Despite that it was a good morning out (as always)! Meeting the 8:30 crew, on this occasion that was Alan only as I was a few minutes late and he waited for me, we caught up with the others on the lower prom. This is a fine wee recce to get the legs warmed up and assess the conditions on the course. Today it was very mild but there was quite a breeze to run into on the first half. Turning onto the lower prom at the halfway point it was still, sadly lacking a tailwind though.

No excuses today – just lacking the speedwork to run a fast (for me) 5k at present. It did amuse me somewhat how hard it felt to try and sustain the pace, particularly as people stormed past me on the last few hundred metres (Graham, Craig and Alastair to name but a few – look out guys; you’ve now got targets on your backs!)

Malcolm, one of our regular runners celebrated 150 runs today and kindly bought the post-run coffees at Satrosphere Cafe. Much appreciated and very generous indeed!

So, the goals have now been updated. I need motivation beyond the love of running to get out:

Pick up speed and aim to get under 21 mins again;
Run some faster times to half marathon distance by the end of the year.

parkrun

And the long term:
Get to the starting line of the London Marathon next year;
Run Fort William Marathon for the third time next July.

Virgin London Marathon Good for Age Confirmation

2018 Fort William Marathon – As good as I remembered and then some!

A week has passed since I completed the 2018 Fort William Marathon, my second attempt at this beautiful race. Having loved it in 2017, I signed up for 2018 pretty much immediately afterwards, my main fear going into the race that it might not be as good as I remembered and I’d be disappointed. Fear not, it was as good and even better!

2017 was a solo expedition as the weather forecast wasn’t great. Bruce therefore decided against joining me as the hill walking he’d hoped for looked unlikely. This year, however, he was again hankering after hills and had decided to come along, hoping to complete the Ring of Steall. Sadly the weather was against him on this – no point in going if there’s no chance of a view – but he did get some walking in elsewhere. He also opted in last minute to volunteer … more on that later.

Making a weekend of it, we headed over to Fort William on Friday afternoon, settling into our B & B before heading out for a meal. An early night was called for as I like to sleep plenty in the run up to the marathon, easing any worries of being restless the night before. Bruce, having checked the forecast for Corrour, had opted for an early start on Saturday. This worked out perfectly for me as I barely registered him getting up to catch the first train out of Fort William, opting for a more leisurely breakfast time myself. I then headed back to bed and enjoyed the luxury of yet more sleep before waking at 11 am and heading for the station to meet him off the train, returning happy having walked the single train munro, Beinn na Lap.

A leisurely afternoon was spent having lunch and browsing the shops in Fort William, later heading to the Grog and Gruel, our favourite pub, for dinner. Having stocked up on carbs over the previous couple of days I opted for the ‘eat what you fancy’ train of thought and enjoyed a burger. Home early, I laid out my tried and tested kit – Brooks Ghost shoes, Metro Aberdeen club vest, Ronhill shorts, Balega Hidden Comfort socks, and my current preferred race fuel, Clif Shot Bloks and Lucozade Sport.

Surprisingly enough, I slept pretty soundly again – if sleep was the only key to success I might have won the race – and felt quite relaxed going for breakfast. Not one to shake things up on race day, I opted for my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge with banana and chia seeds, and toast with peanut butter, washed down with plenty of peppermint tea.

Bruce volunteering, we had to be at the Nevis Range for 8:30 am. In my usual style, I was running late by this point and was grateful to him for geeing me along. Had he not been in the car with the engine running outside I’d probably have continued faffing for at least another 10 minutes or so, only to then panic when I realised how little time I had left to get there! He headed off for the volunteer briefing when we reached the Nevis Range and I faffed as only I can for some considerable time. I bumped into fellow Aberdeen parkrunner, Ally, and his wife Kay, enjoying a chat with them before going to get clarted in suncream. The weather was overcast with a forecast of rain later but I was taking no chances. Being of true Scottish fair skin I have an ability to get sunburn in any weather.

Chip on my shoe, suncream on, and at least one comfort break later, I bumped into Natalia, my clubmate from Metro Aberdeen. Her first marathon, she was fun of enthusiasm. Pleasantries exchanged, she headed off for a warm-up. My warm up routine consisted of some stretches (courtesy of Helen Strachan, physio extraordinaire), and the first few miles of the run. If I’m running 26.2 miles there’s no way I’m running further before I begin!

Pre-marathon at Fort William Marathon

Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were being called to the start. I’d briefly seen Bruce to pass on the car key and say a final goodbye, and was aware that he was going to be somewhere in the first few hundred metres. In his usual style, he made me laugh as he called out, asking me how it was going so far as I passed by having almost missed him.

Fort William Marathon - Leaving the Nevis Range at the start

The first few miles are gradually uphill, starting near the Gondola Station, and I’d cautioned both Natalia and Ally to take it easy here. The temptation with all races is to go off too quickly, and in a marathon you can’t claw this time back at the end if your legs give up or your energy runs out. I happily plodded along giving myself time to get into the swing of running, confident that I’d gain more than I’d lose by letting others pass me at this stage.

Fort William Marathon Elevation Profile

Heading up the fire road, I exchanged a bit of chat with some other runners. There were a few 100 marathon club t-shirts on the go – I have no idea how these people do it, and always enjoy hearing about their favourite marathons and the number they’ve completed in total. Further along I got chatting to a young man from Edinburgh who told me he’s getting married in two weeks – less than a week to go now! Should he read this, all the very best for a long and happy future with your new wife.

The marathon route is stunning. For me, this beats a road marathon any day. I defy anyone to try running here and not fail to be impressed by the views on offer. Despite the rain on Saturday, it was clear, and with less humidity than we’ve been used to the running conditions were pleasant. Drainage has been improved on the flat fire road section around 6 miles, and the huge muddy puddle that had us skirting around it and up the bank before the (failed) leap of faith last year had gone with a big drainage ditch running alongside instead.

Further on we started to make our way downhill so I decided to stop chatting and push on a little more, enjoying the opportunity to relax and stretch out the legs. The path narrows in places and there were some gentle undulations and single track paths to keep the mind focused a little more.

Finally reaching the road crossing at Spean Bridge it was a pleasant surprise to find the Police holding traffic and giving runners priority. One cheeky cyclist decided he was going instead and I’m sure regretted this move when given a ticking off by the Policeman! Rules are rules! I’m sure next time he’ll do as told without question.

Continuing on, we crossed the bridge and had a short section along the pavement before heading swiftly off road again onto more single track paths. This took us up, up, up and the enthusiastic spectators at the Commando Memorial could be heard long before they were seen! On reaching them and another water station, I passed Natalia before heading downwards towards Gairlochy.

Fort William Marathon - first 13 miles (Strava splits)

Being a bit of a running geek, I like to keep a paper diary in addition to the more modern online record that is Strava. My plan had therefore been to pace in a similar manner to last year as that earned me a PB, and I therefore chose to pick up the pace further at this point. Reaching the canal path I felt strong and began to pick people off targeting one runner after the other. There was a slight breeze along the canal but unfortunately it felt like we were running into it; it was refreshing nonetheless. Encouragement from walkers, canoeists and boats was welcomed.

As I progressed along this section, I became increasingly aware of my tightening calves and pain in my back. By the time I reached Neptune’s staircase I wondered if ditching my waistpack would help and was surveying the terrain for somewhere to dump it, planning to collect it later. Turning onto the minor road, I wondered about leaving it in the long grass but was concerned that it might get picked up as rubbish. There was also the worry that driving back up this road when other runners were potentially still on the course wasn’t the safest move ever so I fastened it back on and held onto it until finally the temptation of the the manicured lawn at Lochaber High School proved too much; over the railings it was flung!

Carrying on, I reached a further road crossing at the A82, and again the Police were holding traffic and giving runners priority. This took me back onto the bike path that heads up to the Nevis Range and I was pleased to be on this final drag. I continued to pass a few more people but felt like I was beginning to struggle, despite the pace holding out fairly well.

Fort William Marathon (Last 13 miles, Strava splits)

Turning off towards the North Face car park I was greeted by the familiar small bridge and I’m sure it was steeper than last year! Heading up towards the car park I was passed by one runner who was looking stronger than me and we exchanged brief pleasantries.

The pull up the fire road from here saw quite a few people walking, and while my legs and back were sore, I was determined to keep slogging it out. Seeing the 24 mile marker I knew that the race was in the bag and I would complete whatever; I started to feel quite emotional at this point. A little further on I spotted an Insch Trail Runner. Always fine to see a local vest, I yelled at him something to effect that, ‘I thought you teuchters were made of tough stuff!’ This gave him a wee bit of motivation to pick it up again, I hope.

Overwhelmed by mile 25, I struggled to hold back the tears. I could vaguely hear the sounds of the PA system as I headed through the last section of single track, up and down in the footy section of the forest, and was delighted to hear the friendly shouts of Kay and Ally as I headed down the finishing straight towards the line. When Bruce stepped forward to put the medal round my neck and give me a hug the tears did come!

2018 Fort William Marathon Finisher's T-shirt and Medal

It was such a lovely moment to have him do this and will stay in my special memories forever. He then returned to his ‘proper job’, cutting the chip off my shoe and chatting, inviting me to sit for as long as I needed.

I was delighted with my run. No PB today but you can’t have one every time. I ran strongly and once again loved the course. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you’re enjoying it!

Each and every one of the marshals and volunteers was great and they were such an encouraging and supportive team throughout the event. The goody bag was great and contained a Ben Nevis whisky miniature (which Bruce later traded for a Fort William buff), alongside some nibbles. I can’t recommend this marathon enough and most definitely plan to return next year.

Congratulations again to Natalia on completing her first marathon, and to Ally for completing his first Fort William Marathon and getting a PB! A great day out for us all.