A bemused group of Japanese tourists found themselves mingling with a few hundred runners on top of an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning on Calton Hill. As they took obligatory pictures of Arthur’s Seat I thought I would try out my pigeon Japanese and say hello. They asked me what we were doing. I pointed out a couple of hills ending in Arthur’s Seat and told them we we’re going to run up and down seven of them in a fixed order but with no predetermined route. Omae Baka ka? (are you crazy) they asked. A hard question to answer, in any language.

Let’s be honest, the race is completely bananas. No fixed route, just find your way to the top of seven hills in order. Urban running, hill running, climbing and the new sport of hill surfing. This was my second attempt, after injury deprived me of a starting place last year. The event has two start waves – the Challenge for less serious runners starting half an hour before the Race itself. As the Challenge runners were called to order I took up position on the footpath. A brief announcement from the race organiser, Alan Lawson, informed us that the “secret” turnstile at Pollock was now basically im-passable unless you fancied climbing a 7 foot wall covered with barbed wire. Then, a countdown from 5 and we were off.

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Calton Hill to the Castle is straightforward. I shaved, oh, 5 seconds by taking a shortcut through the North Bridge arcade and arrived at the first checkpoint without fuss. This is where the first big decision must be taken. There are three basic routes from the Castle to Corsporphine Hill – through Princes Street Gardens and on via Ravelston, down Johnston Terrace and on via Ravelston, or down Johnston Terrace and on via Haymarket. The majority were heading Johnston Terrace/ Ravelston, which was my route choice for my first attempt. This time I went via Haymarket. I think the Haymarket route is marginally better as it allows for more even paced running. With a wave and a smile, at the base of Corstorphine I joined folks who had made a different choice.

Corstorphine Hill goes on forever, but I run it regularly and knew what I was doing here. There are three route choices off the top – go back to the meadow, cut through the woods or go immediately right. All on my own-e-o I headed immediately right. This is ignored by almost everyone as it is slightly longer, but the gradient allows you to push on and I definitely made up places.

From Corstorphine to Craiglockhart the challenge is to get the right risk-reward balance when crossing three busy roads. I got lucky, if you count lucky as running across while holding your hand up as if to say thanks in advance for not mowing me down. I chatted through some route observations with another runner as we entered Craiglockhart sports centre and approached “the wall”.

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Tradition has it that superheroes go straight up the steep slope and others follow a path around it. Almost everyone was being a superhero today. Those on straight out road shoes were paying a slight penalty as tree produce made the ground a bit slippy. My Brooks Cascadias were just about grippy enough, but if I had gone with anything more aggressive I would have paid for it on the long road sections. You pays your money and takes your choice. I walked the final section up to the top of Craiglockhart, stamped my bib with hill #3 and headed down the other side.

Craiglockhart to Braids featured more street running with a detour down the bank of Braid Burn and up the other side. Reaching summit #4 my legs were beginning so say “hey, what’s going on here?” but I ploughed on. A long line of runners stretched ahead of me across a fairway of Braids gold course and I joined them as we entered a narrow path going down through gorse bushes towards Braid Hills Drive. I thought I was moving quickly down and was happy when someone going slower up ahead stopped to let a couple of us through, but I almost wet my pants when a runner wearing a HBT vest came cruising past on nothing but air. This gazelle, who turned out to be the eventual winner of the race, Tom Martyn, was going impossibly fast and passing folks on a path that was only wide enough for one. The laws of physics need to be re-checked.

Approaching Lang Linn Path. Gotta get those hands cleaned. Photo: Gary Hall

Approaching Lang Linn Path. Gotta get those hands cleaned. Photo: Gary Hall

Across the road and moving down the Lang Lin path there were again three choices – left and over the bridge, straight on across the river and up a steep bank, or right and off into I-don’t-know-where land. I went left. I would love to be able to confirm whether this was the best choice or not but I lost contact with the runners immediately around me. I joined the traffic at the bottom of the huge steps leading up to Blackford Hill and encouraged my legs on. Nobody was running here. Just moving was enough. What seemed like a long time later I was grabbing a cup of water, stamping my bib and heading off down Observatory Road.

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Blackford to Arthur’s seat featured more street running with a brief detour through the allotments. At the Pollock Halls water station another decision was required. Through the halls and risk the high wall or play it safe and run the road past the Commonwealth pool? I had a cunning plan which involved neither. Through the halls but not as far as the wall, just cut back on to the road. Congratulating myself on my genius I entered Holyrood Park and contemplated the biggest one of all, Arthur’s Seat.

Last time round I went up the Gutted Haddie muttering “don’t look down” a lot. That was my plan this time, but everyone else was heading up the steps towards Nether Hill and I followed the crowd. This was where it really started to hurt. I lost track of the number of steps. I made a bad choice here and held on to the path all the way around Nether Hill, when I should have cut off and up left earlier. One for next time. After stamping my bib with #6, I launched myself off the other side. I am not brave enough to go the kamikaze route and took the Long Row, which still provided a challenge to my embryonic hill surfing skills.

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Through the car park, across the roundabout and on to Calton Road I wanted the end to be in sight but it was refusing to put in an appearance. This section was torturous – I had nothing left in my legs but the road kept going up. Finally, after a sharp left turn, the finish line materialised and I jog-shuffled my way across it. Three whole minutes quicker than last time.What I gained in fine tuning the earlier sections I lost going up Arthur’s Seat. Does anyone ever hit the perfect route?

Official Result

Time: 2:40:43
Position: 69 / 290 (Challenge)

Great Edinburgh Run, 17 Apr 2016 – Race Report

Posted: 19th April 2016 by mockjogger in Race reports
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The marketing folks at Great Run have been working overtime. This year the Great Edinburgh Run was re-branded “The World’s Favourite Race”, with T shirts to prove it. It is indeed a great city course, but somebody forgot to organise the weather. Again. So there I was, amongst about 4,000 fellow runners, jumping up and down trying to absorb as much of the paltry 1 degrees C the sun deigned to bestow on us. I should know how this works by now.

Fortunately the usual efficient Great Run machine was in operation, and for once I joined in with the enthusiastic warm up. With a couple of minutes delay for stragglers (folks who wisely stayed in their parkas until the last second) we we’re off. I started in the orange wave, the first of three groups. Talent in the orange group ranged from a few international runners to, er, me. I started at the back.

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The race route really is great, with about 200m elevation gain over the 10 miles to keep things interesting. The first three miles contain a flat loop out and back in to Holyrood Park, followed by a gentlish incline up Cannongate, and if that failed to get you, a sharper incline up The Mound. At this point I would like to mention that I only arrived back in the country the previous day, after a week long trip to Boston. I expected jetlag, but felt OK.

Miles 1:3 8:03, 8:34, 8:41

As we wound our way past the National Museum and the University of Edinburgh to briefly join The Meadows, crowd support was sporadic but enthusiastic. The marshals were great, the sun broke cover and the birds began to sing. It was actually quite good fun. Down through the Grassmarket, the organisers had done a good job of clearing away the debris of Saturday night parties and some folks from Capital Radio were doing their best to persuade us Saturday night had never really ended. Just when I was getting used to some decline running we were presented with Pleasance and, all of a sudden I thought “ah, here’s the jetlag”.

Miles 3:6 8:12, 8:05 8:38

imageimageimageimageThe next section was a lesson in self-psychology. The course entered Holyrood Park again, taking a long slow downhill along the Innocent Railway path. That’s fine, but it then flips 180 degrees and winds its way back up to the top. I could see faster runners returning uphill and knew that every downhill step I took was going to have to be repaid.  That sort of spoiled the joy a bit. I ran this race two years ago, but the run back up seemed harder this time. I was pinning my excuses on jetlag. Finally, over the peak and a clear mile, mostly downhill to the finish. I gave it all I had, but the afterburners were failing to engage. More people passed me than I passed. I hate it when that happens.

Miles 7:10 7:52, 8:19, 8:55, 7:33

I finished around a minute slower than last time out. Looking back, I was up at the five mile point but slipped away over the last three. It must have been the jetlag;)

Official Result

Time: 1:23:59

Position: 966 / 3276

Age/Gender: 80 / TBD

 
Bonus Content!

Great Edinburgh Run Family Mile, 17 Apr 2016 – Race Report

The running was not over for the day. Kiyoe, Ryo, Kiran and I had entered the family mile event, which started a couple of hours after I finished the “first” race. The temperature had improved to around 2 whole degrees for this one, and a brief hint of rain was dispelled by the glares of a hundred angry parents.

Most of the kids were clearly there to win and competed for a line up position at the very front. My boys were right up their with a friend. When the hooter sounded it was like a stampede. For the first 100m or so the kids were going full belt, with adults trying their best to keep up. Then reality kicked in as some of the kids realised they had to keep going for longer. Ryo soon started to show the effects of his one hour swimming training in the morning and fell behind. Kiran had an absent look on his face but was not for slowing. Kiyoe was AWOL. I ran with Kiran. Kids over 7 years had grey T shirts, with the younger kids, including Kiran, sporting pink T shirts. We noticed there were only a couple of pink T shirts ahead and this spurred even greater efforts. We crossed the line with hands joined and raised, followed about 30 seconds later by Ryo and Kiyoe. The boys got their medals and went away happy.

Mile 1 8:18 (coincidentally the same as my average pace for the ten miler)

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Tokyo Marathon, 28 Feb 2016 – Race Report

Posted: 29th February 2016 by mockjogger in Race reports
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Race day. I woke at 6.00 with a sense of relief. After a week of jetlag-induced insomnia, rare for me, I had slept well. I had a finely-tuned schedule to get to the race and it started with breakfast in the room – granola and dry fruit mix carried all the way from Edinburgh, as the hotel breakfast service did not start until 7. This supplemented my carb intake of the previous two days – soba, sushi, ramen and tendon (meat and rice). I felt loaded but not bloated.

My hotel was in the Tokyo Bay Area, quite close to the race registration/finish at Tokyo Big Sight, but a journey of about 45 minutes to the race start at Shinjuku. I had registered for the race on the Thursday evening and the whole process was very smooth. The registration area featured a big wall display containing the name of every entrant, and I quickly located mine. The expo was larger than I had seen in Paris, with a huge Asics presence offering a wide variety of Tokyo Marathon 2016 custom designed gear. I acquired some gloves and cool buttons that attach bib numbers to tee-shirts without requiring safety pins.

In retrospect it would have been better to base closer to the start than the finish; it is possible to stay within 5 minutes walk of the race start and avoid the early rise. However, the Tokyo rail system runs like clockwork and it was a straightforward enough to get there.

imageimageThe race-start organisation was immaculate. Plastic bottles were prohibited, so I hung around to down a carb drink I had brought along. Baggage check was easy and although the toilet queues were vast, I was there early enough not to panic, and got to my gate, E, in good time for the race start at 9.10.

The weather forecast was for temperatures of 7 degrees C at check in, 10 at start, rising to about 13 by finish. I was surprised to see most folks in tights and double-layer thermal shirts, with a fair sprinkling of hats and gloves. I went with a long sleeve shirt and shorts which worked out fine. I had no spare clothes to keep me warm at the start, so made do with a dry cleaning plastic bag. In amongst the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, my Garmin did it’s best to wind me up with a world record sync time, but it found itself just in time.

The first part of the course has a few twists and turns, and with 37,000 people starting, it was hard to navigate. The first 4 miles or so is a gradual downhill though, so even with a lot of runner-dodging, I was able to hit a target pace of 8:55. This was my plan: run at 8:55 and leave something in the bank for the last part of the race and still hit the big 4:00:00.

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A lot of this race is run in two lanes, giving slower runners a clear view of faster runners gong in the opposite direction. Think of a giant “+” sign, starting at the left, turning right and going down, up, down and left again, with the vertical part run in two lanes. I arrived at the first junction just in time to see the leaders fly by in the opposite direction. This construction can work as a motivator or a de-motivator; I liked it in the first part of the race, less so towards the end when it seemed like we were never going to make the turn at the top of the “+”.

There were frequent water stops but they needed to be worked. Each stop started with a long Pocari Sweat (sports drink) station followed by water, and the signs for the water start were not particularly clear. As we reached half way I was happy with the way things were panning out. I was holding a good pace without pushing and felt comfortable. It was sunny, the temperature was rising, and I felt sorry for the majority of folks running in tights.

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I am sick of gels, and for fuel this time I tried something new – Clif Blocks. These chews taste good and I find I can down them with or without water. I had one at 5 miles, then one every two miles. As we approached the 20 mile point I could feel no signs of Paris-like bonking. Adequate fuelling and sensible carb loading can help avoid The Wall.

As my Garmin buzzed to tell me 20 miles were up, I dug out my iPod. I had not planned any particular tracklist and hit random play. Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding (Outside) followed by The Prodigy (Firestarter) did the trick for me. My mile times had been consistent and I knew I was on schedule for a sub-4. As I passed each mile marker I thought – that’s one mile less to mess this up.

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The last part of the race features a few ups and downs, as the course takes in some bridges en route back to the end point at Tokyo Big Sight. The ups were beginning to get tough. The distance markers were in km and my Garmin was lapping miles, and with some mental arithmetic I realised I was not as close to the finish as I thought. With all the runner dodging, not being able to hit tangents with runner volume, and GPS tall-building shenanigans (or maybe the course is simply long), I did not have the buffer to sub-4 I thought I had. This made me angry. My overwhelming thought was

Organisers of the Tokyo Marathon, if you fucking morph your race into an ultramarathon and cause me to miss a sub 4, I will be displeased.

No way. I dredged some extra energy from down deep and pressed harder, up the ups and down the downs. I could see the Big Sight in the distance but it did not seem to be getting closer very quickly. My Garmin buzzed for 26 miles. Finally we hit a left turn and I thought we were home, but I was shocked to see another long straight, marginally uphill, before the running peloton turned right. I swore and gave it all I had left. I refused to look at the Garmin. I had given up taking photographs a few miles ago. After the right turn, with some relief I saw a sign “195m to go” and kicked for it, leaving nothing on the course. On the line I dared to look at the watch and saw 3 something, but was too shattered to celebrate. The Garmin recorded 26.67 miles total, and I ran the last 0.67 at 8:44/mile pace.

Tokyo marathon result

I could hardly get my legs to move for a stretch, nevermind the long slow walk during which I was given my medal, a Tokyo Marathon 2016 towel, sports drink, water, banana, orange and something called “calorie mate”. I made it to the change area, but spent quads made it hard to sit down on the floor to change. More slow walking led me to the Konica/Minolta booth where I was presented with a finishers certificate.

Other marathoners have told me how emotional they have sometimes felt completing the distance. I had never experienced that. Crossing the line in Paris, all I felt was relief. After Edinburgh, I was numb. This time I was simply shattered. But when the Konica/Minolta folks presented me with a finisher’s certificate with 3:xx:xx in black and white, I sobbed. Being of Irish/British decent I naturally put a quick lid on it in case anyone confused me with an Italian, but it was the most emotional moment of my running “career” so far.

Overall, a big thumbs up for this race. Organisation was immaculate, the scenery great and good vocal crowd support. The medal and associated swag were very nice. The finish location is a bit out of the centre and was less populated than some course points, but I was so happy to finish I did not care much.

Afterwards, just two stops on the Yurikamome monorail brought me to Ooedo Onsen (hot spring). I had expected this to be completely full with about 30,000 runners but I was able to get in. I spent four hours lying in various Spring baths, lounging around and eating yakisoba. As far as post-marathons go, this one takes the bisuketto.

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Time: 3:58:20

Position: 7,417 / 37,000 (20%)

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo Marathon Countdown – 5 Days

Posted: 23rd February 2016 by mockjogger in Race Preparation
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You are really lucky

That’s a phrase I have heard a few times since arriving in Japan. Distance running is popular here and everybody seems to know somebody who entered, but did not get a place in the Tokyo Marathon. Folks are regarding my prowess in scoring an entry as nothing short of mystical. I would consider setting up a ballot consultancy if my record in London wasn’t so abysmal.

In this week before the big one, I am travelling around a lot on trains, as my actual justification to be here involves work. This means little opportunity for running, even if I wanted to. I am tapering with a capital T. I expect to get one short jog in on Wednesday, but other than that I plan to sit down as much as possible.

The weather prediction for Sunday, which has veered from sleet to rain to cloud, seems to have settled down at around 12 degrees C and cloudy. A little chilly for the locals, maybe, but coming out of winter training in Scotland it suits me just fine. Food-wise, I am having lots of rice, miso soup, pickles, ramen, sushi and meat. I am not going overboard though, it’s like a natural slow carb loadout.

My head is in a good place for marathon no.3. Training has gone well and I am looking forward to getting on with it. I am spending my train time reading Adharanand Finn’s “The Way of the Runner”, a journey into distance running in Japan, and listening to Linkin Park. It’s the motivational equivalent of a Harvey Wallbanger.

Bring it on, Tokyo.

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You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet of late. I’ve found it hard to find the time to write, what with all the actual running.

A few months ago I entered the ballot for the Tokyo Marathon. I didn’t have any serious intentions for the race, but after several failed attempts at London I figured I needed the ballot practice. With a chance of success somewhere south of 10%, I forgot about my entry and literally fell off my perch a couple of weeks later when an email arrived telling me I was in. Three thoughts sprang to my mind in quick succession.

  • I can’t not do this; the karma gods will not go easy on me in future ballots if I reject this one.
  • I actually have a work reason to be in Japan around about that time.
  • How am I going to break this to my Japanese/half Japanese family, who are going to have to stay in Edinburgh?

 

imageI confirmed my participation before the deadline expired without any real plan and waited for the planets to align. They did. I am booked to travel to Tokyo the week before the race.

Running, in general, had been going quite well following a couple of injuries last year. Even so, after clocking a PB at the Men’s 10k Edinburgh in November I knew I would have to crank things up a bit to get back to marathon-ready state. I took a look back at the training plan I put in place for Paris and Edinburgh in 2014, and decided I did not want to be a slave to the calendar this time. Instead I planned a loose series of increasing-distance long runs for the weekend and left in-week running to whatever I felt like. One thing I did want to incorporate was more than one decently long run. I want 3 x 20 milers this time. Two are now in the bank and the last one is up this weekend.

Overall, the mileage has built up nicely, and I am running about 40-45 miles per week with taper in sight. It’s not all been plain sailing though. It may be obvious, but February marathons mean winter training and I live in Scotland. My building blocks for Tokyo are a testament to the elements …

  • My long runs have generally been east to west. Storms Abigail through Henry have generally been at the same time, but blowing west to east.
  • I’ve had business travel, arriving somewhere late and leaving early. In January I clocked 50k on random hotel treadmills. I invented treadmill reps, for goodness sake.
  • When it has been light enough on foreign soil, I’ve kitted-up and got out there. I’ve been running in 4 inches of snow (and still snowing) at 6am around Horn Pond, Woburn, USA

 

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One downside of all this bravado running is that I have no real idea of what pace I should run at on long runs. Strong headwinds, snow and ice all distort the flow. And while long runs in December, with just a few jelly babies for comfort, were going nicely, I’ve been bonking way too early on long runs in 2016. I hate gels and have been experimenting with other fuelling options. Clif Bloks* are my current favourite and plan of record for Tokyo. I think of them as professional jelly babies.

imageSo what are my targets for Tokyo? Three years ago I set myself a goal to run a marathon in under 4 hours. It’s about time I delivered on that.

* mock jogger has no connection with Clif Bar and no one from Clif Bar has contacted him to offer to fuel his training. It’s a dammed shame, really.

Mens 10k Edinburgh, 1 Nov 2015 – Race Report

Posted: 5th November 2015 by mockjogger in Race reports
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Why “mens” 10k? I asked myself when signing up for this one. Why would a race organiser cut off half their potential sign-up population? Who knows, but there were a few undercover ladies applying moustaches near the bag drop area, clearly determined to bend the rules. They had my vote.

The race started on Lawnmarket, just down the hill from Edinburgh Castle and about 15 minutes away from home. I left it late to leave; my joy at being able to use my own personal toilet facilities boosted by bright sunshine and a record autumnal temperature. November, sans tights, in Edinburgh. Who would have put money on that? This was going to be fun.

The race was orginised by the same crew that produce the Edinburgh Marathon and Scottish Half Marathon, but unlike those races, which get out of the city as fast as possible, this one lingers like a festival tourist. On paper the route was gorgeous, taking in many classical landmarks before finishing alongside the West Stand of Murrayfield Stadium. I was chomping at the bit to get started.

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Around 1,000 men (mostly) lined up in four colour-coded start zones. For some reason I had expected a bigger turnout. I was in the red zone, which was the second zone to go. Pre-race chat centred on which was harder, a half marathon (less pacey but longer) or a 10k (gut busting). Good question and worth a post on its own. The start lacked the enthusiastic warm-up hype of some races, which suited me fine. I took up position about 20m behind the 50m pacer as my red zone buddies began to move. Passing through the start gates I picked up the downhill zone of the Royal Mile, then turned left onto The Mound, taking in more downhill as we reached Princes Street Gardens.

In half marathons I have a habit of running the second half quicker, but this time I wanted to try something different. My plan was to run the first half fast, then hang on. The Garmin buzzed to tell me the first mile was 7:23, speedy for me even allowing for the net drop. At the 2k marker I passed the 50m pacer. Optimism infused me. I figured that I passed the start gate about 20 seconds after the pacer, and that if he caught me again I just had to cling on to score a big 5-0.

Miles 1-2 7:23, 7:37

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Exiting Princes Street Gardens, I passed Waverley Station, then ran down Cannongate and into Holyrood Park via Abbeyhill. I run in the park all the time and it was fun to entertain all these runners on my turf. Well, it was probably their turf too. We didn’t stay in the park long though, as the climb up to Grassmarket via Cowgate beckoned. There were one or two enthusiastic supporters who looked like they were refugees from a heavy Saturday night, juxtaposed with one or two charity supporters on the other side of the road obviously placed to balance the karma. I tried to keep the pace going up the hill and was happy to see the only water stop in Grassmarket. Then I remembered that there was one more short climb to go before we got to Lothian Road and knuckled down again.

Miles 3-4 7:55, 8:22

After a short section on Lothian Road we passed the 7km marker and turned on to West Approach Road. I had passed this marker on my way to the race start and it was a lot busier now. I felt great, and I knew a PB and the potential holy grail of a sub 5-0 were within grasping distance. There was no sign of the 50m pacer, although every time I heard someone approaching from behind I pushed harder just in case. The final km markers ticked up as the route swung into the grounds of Murrayfield. Entering into the stadium straight into bright low sun was a joy, and I tried to capture a runners-eye moment on my iPhone. I still felt strong and sprinted for glory, iPhone in hand. The Garmin reported 48:11, and even though I had been checking the mile times as they came up, I could not believe the time. A PB by 3 minutes and comfortably sub 50:) Shortly after finishing, I received a text message with the official time of 48:09. Even better!

Miles 5-6 7:51, 7:35, 7:30 (run in)

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Swag bag contents comprised an impressive medal and a yellow T shirt. In true Edinburgh Marathon crew fashion, the T shirts run big, and my Large is good enough for a giant panda. Medal modelled by Jr. Mockjogger #2, who has decided he is going to win it next year.

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Official Result
Time: 48:09
Position: 394 / 925
Category: N/A

You wait all year for a half marathon and then two turn up at the same time.

Truth be known, the last thing on my mind after the Great Scottish Run last week was another race. Post GSR I had gone out for a couple of gentle runs and felt, I think the technical term is, knackered. The Wednesday after GSR, the family voted to take a mini holiday weekend, as summer seemed to have happened an age ago, and it was half term. Aviemore is one of our venues of choice and we booked into the Macdonald Aviemore, despite the exorbitant rate – we needed a break. When we booked up, I genuinely had no idea there was a race happening. On the Thursday I was feeling marginally less knackered and, as one does, checked for upcoming races. I nearly fell off my chair when I found out that the Aviemore half was happening this weekend. I googled race reports and they were positive. I checked the logistics and established that a bus pickup *from my hotel* takes runners to the start point and the race ends *back at my hotel*, *and they take evening-before sign ups*. How could I not run it?

On Saturday I checked in to the Macdonald (which, incidentally, is clinging on to its 4* status by wishful thinking and sellotape; even the certificates speak of past glories in 2006-2007) and headed over to race registration. I knew this was going to be extravagant. They tolerate last minute sign-ups but you have to pledge your first born to the Gods of Aviemore. The fee for the half marathon was more than it would cost to feed a family of 4 for a week in the 80s. More than the Paris Marathon or any other race I have entered before. £70. I closed my eyes and told myself “it’s for charity so that’s OK. Actually, that would be a lie, what I really told myself was “you’re worth it”.

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On Sunday morning a fleet of coaches was lined up to take runners from the hotel to a couple of hundred metres away from the start at Badaguish. The half marathon and its sister event, the 10k, were both starting at the same time and there were around 1,750 runners to shift. Coaches were scheduled from 8.15 to 9am for a 10am race start. I caught a coach around 8.40 and arrived in sufficient time to work my way to the front of the toilet queue. Those waiting for the last coach must have had a different toilet strategy.

Runners were asked to line up according to expected finish time. I took up position towards the back of the 1:50 zone and did a little stretching. The weather was a pleasant, by Highlands in October standards, 11 degrees and cloudy. Without much pomp, the posse moved forward a little, then paused and started. I thought we were off and kicked the Garmin into life, but we turned a corner and I saw the *actual* start gate and went through a frantic stop/delete/restart cycle just in time.

The first half of this race undulates along well-made paths through trees. Gradient changes and volume of runners meant that maintaining an even pace was not an option. The dry weather made the path firm with some loose stones. I was wearing my Mizuno road shoes which turned out to be the right choice (especially given that the last half of the race is on road). In wet conditions it would be a toss-up with road-to-trail shoes, but outright trail shoes would be overkill. At three miles we hit a nasty little hill which lasted for about half a mile and caused some re-ordering, with some folks electing to walk. This was followed by a narrow forest path. Overtaking was impossible here, so the pace was the pace, whether you liked it or not.

Miles 1-4: 9:04 8:05 9:05 9:45

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There was handsome payback for the hill though, with a long decline which just begged going for it. I clocked my fastest mile of the year at this point! My pace had been slow during the first four miles and I had put this down to the fact that this was my second racing half in a week, but I started to average things out now. As the race wound round the shores of Loch Morlich it was hard not to just stop and take in the view.

Miles 5-7: 7:24 8:22 8:49

The race was set up with mile markers counting down instead of up. I much prefer this, as it gives me psychological boost each time a marker appears with a lower number. Around half distance we emerged out of the Loch area and on to the ski road leading back to Aviemore. The road was not closed off, which meant some runner-dodging for drivers, but everyone was being polite. I was running without headphones this time but they were not banned. The route involved a gradual downhill all the way to the finish, which was a real joy. This should be compulsory in half a marathons.

Miles 8-10: 8:24 8:14 8:16

photo 8photo 9photo 10photo 11

Around mile 10 or 11 the final water station (of 3) appeared. I was running just behind a lady and decided to impress her with my vast experience of consuming water from a cup while running. I hit the station at pace, grabbed my cup and stumbled slightly as I tried to control a gulp. The water went down the wrong way resulting in projectile water recycling. I tucked in behind again chastely, grumbling about the unfairness of water in cups in races. From there it was a case of “just keep going”. I was half waiting for the fatigue that I felt in the last couple of miles of the Great Scottish Run, but it stayed away, and I ran all the way to the line. Perhaps something to do with the slight downhill gradient.

Miles 11-13: 7:51 8:08 8:20 (Garmin measured 13.0 miles)

In summary, a great, scenic country race with excellent organisation and a very good atmosphere. Road shoes are fine. The net descent makes this a PB-able race, but you would have to be very patient in the single file sections (or just be first at that point;).

photo 12

Official Result

Time: 1:49:42

Position: 279 / 1105

Category: 50 / 110




Preparations for this one were far from ideal. After a great month of running in August, expectations of achieving a good time in my first half marathon for a year were soaring, but that all dissipated when I came to a grinding halt in September. That, and a jet-lag inducing trip to Boston for the week before the race caused me to re-categorise my ambitions from “fast” to “finish”.

I got back from Boston about 45 hours before the race, after a week of absolutely no running, and decided to test out calf muscle with a nervous 3 mile jaunt around The Meadows. That went OK and I passed myself good to go “carefully”.

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

So after an uneventful train ride across Scotland, in pleasant comparison with the shenanigans two years ago, I arrived in Glasgow ready to rock and roll. First priority was to find a toilet, and the Subway fast food stop on St Vincent Place duly obliged, with no queue at all. I found the baggage busses easily near the start zone, changed into my Mizunos, dropped my bag and headed over to the green starting zone. The toilet queues were predictably vast and I thanked my earlier foresight as I took up a position near the back.

Photo @RunnerSecret

Photo @RunnerSecret

Like the sensible runner I aspire to be, I set off slowly and carefully. I did not want to suffer the ignominy of having to stop after a few hundred meters. A nice and steady first mile at just over 9 mins proved to be my slowest of the race. Going over the Kingston Bridge and feeling no pain I felt my confidence growing, but still kept things steady.

Past 4 miles we left the streets of Glasgow, and entered Pollok Park. This was my favourite part of the race. Running along tree-lined paths I could almost have been out in a country race, except for the other 8,000 people, most of whom seemed to be right where I was. I found myself going off piste regularly just to keep the tempo.

Mile 1 – Mile 6: 9:12 8:58 8:33 8:48 8:39 8:40

Mid way through the park I hit the half way mark. With the knowledge that if things went badly I would be walking forwards to the finish rather than back to the start I felt like I had shed a heavy backpack. In what was to become a race of three thirds, the 2nd third began and I stepped on the pedal a bit.

Through Pollock, a brief review of Glasgow architecture later and we were in Bellahouston Park. The mile markers were coming quickly and I was enjoying myself.

Mile 7 – Mile 10: 8:24 8:18 8:22 8:20

Through Bellahouston Park, around the 10 mile marker I began to to pay less attention to the architecture. I could feel myself starting to get tired. I was not too surprised given the lack of training in the lead up and just tried to keep the pace going. The 3rd third of the race was starting. I had not been looking at my Garmin at all, except for the buzzes that woke me each mile, but I started looking at it now and working out how much further I had to go.

Over the impressive Clyde Arc the route turned right into the final couple of miles to the finish at Glasgow Green. I could feel my legs starting to wobble but tried to keep the pace going. The last 400m was a blast. The crowds were loud and enthusiastic and it really spurred me on. I managed a pseudo-sprint, but was very happy to cross the line and drop to a walk. I collected my swag bag, complete with t-shirt, medal and some food and drink samples and headed off to meet the family.

Mile 11 – Mile 13: 8:31 8:49 8:54

Run in (pace) 8:18

imageAll in all I enjoyed this one better then my previous foray West in 2013, even though I was 30 seconds slower. The organisers made some alterations to the course and reversed it, all of which improved the vibe. The organisation had improved too, with bag drop busses replacing the trek to the finish zone and back. I’m likely in for next year.




Official Result

Time: 1:53:53

Position: 3787 / TBD

Gender-Age: 222 / 443

warning one

August was sensational. Back in training, big style. 142 miles on the clock, my biggest month ever. Times coming down to within sprinting distance of my 2014 highs. I beat Arnold Schwarzenegger to it, I was well and truly back.

Then, on a routine 10k during Friday lunchtime, I felt my left calf getting a bit tight. I slowed down but jogged on. A mile later, I felt the sharp pain of a calf strain. Then I stopped running and walked the lonely mile back to base.

It’s just a calf strain, I said to myself.

With no running over the weekend the discomfort went away and I thought I would try a short jog. This lasted about 10 paces until the pain returned and I aborted. I’ll leave it longer this time, I said to myself, and on Friday managed a very gentle 4 miles.

It was only a calf strain. I congratulated myself. Deciding the world was right again I set off on a lets-see-how-far-I-can-go run the following day. 9.4 miles later I hobbled home.

You dick, I told myself, but not so politely. But don’t worry, it’s only a calf strain.

For some reason I can’t explain, my dick complex remained in gear and I went out again on Monday. Half a mile later, another abort. This time I won’t run for at least one whole week, I promised myself. This lasted until Friday, when I managed to convince myself that, obviously, compression socks would sort things out. Surprise, surprise, another abort.

Which puts me one week away from the Great Scottish Run with a max distance of less than 100m at my disposal and no training for the last 3 weeks.

But I’ll be OK. After all, it’s only a calf strain.

So here I am once more, in the playground of the nervous starts*

This time last year I was lining up for the start of the Great North Run. I would have been very surprised if you had told me then that it would be a year before my next race, but that’s the way my cookie crumbled. The Murieston 6k Trail Race is the polar opposite of the Great North Run; but other than swapping 50,000 people for 50, roads for trail and razzmatazz for cameraderie, it was business as usual.

I was nervous. Not because I hadn’t run a race for a year, but because I made the mistake of checking the results of the 2014 event and deduced that this was a runners race, not a fun run. I checked the times and compared my best ever Parkrun, set last time out, in my heyday of Spring last year. Coming last was going to be a result. I had visions of a posse of runners heading off into the distance as I toddled along behind them like Tyrion Lannister on a pony following the Knights into battle (other dwarves are available).

Summer, which had been absent without leave for most of the year, was making a belated attempt to kiss and make up with Scotland. I went with short sleeves and shorts, and decided on using Brooks Cascadia trail shoes rather than road shoes. As it turned out road shoes would have been fine; the race follows well formed paths with a few steps, and in this weather it was bone dry and grippy.

imageimageimagemurieston

Clearly word had got around that this is a nice little race as numbers were well up on last year – 53 to be exact. Club vests dominated, with significant turnouts from Lothian and our hosts, Corstorphine, interspersed with a few homeless folks like me. After a brief delay to allow some folks to negotiate some well concealed roadworks and find the start at Livingston Cricket Club, we gathered on the road for a short briefing which mostly consisted of clarifying the distance (5.8k rather than 6k), apologising for the lack of mud and confirmation that the boardwalk section was not going to be slippy this year. I took up position at the back, and off we went.

After a short passage along the road we cut right, and entered Murieston Water trail. Despite my attempts to press hard I found myself near the back as the group began to string out. I swapped positions a couple of times with a guy in a West Lothian triathlon tee shirt as we made a slight decent to the path alongside a river. My Garmin beeped excitedly to tell me I was sub 8 for the first mile.

Mile 1 – 7:38

The route continued on alongside the river with a few bridges and steps to negotiate. There was a short boardwalk section with bouncy planks covered in chicken wire. I bounced along. It would have been wiser to run in the grass path alongside, and in the wet I imagine there would be no option. All directions were clearly marked in flour and the marshalling was impeccable with plenty of encouragement. I convinced myself that it was a short run and kept pushing.

Mile 2 – 7:48
Mile 3 – 8:08

My lungs were starting to complain as we made the short uphill at Robin’s way and turned back into the woods. By this time I was running on my own; a group of three runners was slowly pulling away about 100m ahead of me and I couldn’t see anyone close behind. A couple of twists and turns later and the road to the cricket ground popped into view. I heard the unwelcome sounds of a runner catching up with me and used all I had left in the tank, but he caught and passed me in the final straight (bastard;)).

I chatted for a while with Stephen Todd who came in 5th, and waited for the presentations (prosecco for the ladies and craft beer for the guys). No medals this time, but with a £8 entry fee nobody was complaining. All in all a great little race and the perfect way to get back into it.

Official Results Here

Time 28:51
Position 39 / 53 (74%)
Category 9 / 13

* apologies to any Marillion fans