GreatNorthRun2014 start
The Great North Run is not a beautiful race. There are many other races which have better scenery, more attractive vistas and more variety. The Great North Run is all about the occasion, the atmosphere, the scale and the support, and on that score, nobody does it better.

I entered this race way back at the start of 2014 when I was lucky enough to get selected in an early entry ballot run by the Daily Mirror. I had watched the previous year’s race on TV  and marvelled at the spectacle. I was keen to experience it all first hand.

Race day approached. I left the logistics planning late, and two weeks out decided that I would travel to Newcastle on the day, (also known as the the early start – 2 hour 20 minute drive – metro – race – metro – 2 hour 20 minute drive option). One week out, on Monday lunchtime I went for a normal 7 mile run around Water of Leith and Union Canal and strained my left calf muscle. I seem to get strains in Marchish and Septemberish. Usually just before new runners time. Perhaps I am trying to squeeze too many miles out of my old runners. Anyway, I rested up until Thursday, then went for a light jog. The pain was still there. Now I had a dilemma.

numberCompression socksI did as little as possible on Friday and Saturday except try on new compression socks (which was kind of an exercise class on its own). On Saturday evening I could still feel the strain but decided that I was going to do the event anyway, even if it meant walking. Experience breeds sense however, and I planned to abort rather than risk further injury. I even checked the abort points.

As usual, I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm at 5.45 on Sunday morning. I grabbed some cereal, espresso and berocca, and headed south. Before long I was driving into bright sunshine. Perfect, I thought. I like running in the sun.

After a toilet stop at Otterburn, nicely timed to avoid the inevitable queues at race start, I parked up at Callerton Parkway metro station and joined the queue for metro tickets. The queue was moving slowly as folks tried to decrypt the code to buy an all-day all-areas pass, but before long I was deboarding at Haymarket and joining the hordes making the 15 minute walk to the race start.

start forwardstart backwardIt is worth mentioning here that the race organisation is quite unparalleled in my experience. Getting 57,000 people to the right place, in the right mood, handling their luggage, letting them relieve themselves etc is no insignificant feat. The metro was running extra trains and was not overloaded. The bag drop buses were clearly marked and easy to navigate, there were plenty of toilets.

But it did not stop there. In the pens the warm up was excellent. This was not just a case of getting folks stretched and ready for race start. The MCs really built the sense of occasion in the lead up to the start, amplified by the fact that one of us would be the millionth finisher of the Great North Run. For some reason they decided to give Mo Farrah a head start on the field, but shortly after the great man was on his way I was moving past the start point, High5ing Tony the Fridge and I was on my way.

approaching tyne bridgetyne bridge 1The-Great-North-Run red arrowsI planned to start really slowly, and nearly managed to achieve that, but adrenaline, the running crowd and a downhill start had me moving faster than I wanted. A mile in, I felt the calf and put the brakes on a bit. At two miles I crossed the iconic Tyne Bridge exactly at the same time as the Red Arrows flew past a few thousand feet overhead, accompanied by great cheers from runners and supporters alike,

Mile 1: 8:38
Mile 2: 10.14
Mile 3: 9.03

I found I could run at about 9 minute mile pace by relaxing when placing my left foot. On occasion when I got lulled into a false sense of security and moved faster, a sharper pain told me to back off. I was entertaining no thoughts of a fast run anyway, and wanted to finish if possible, so I settled in and enjoyed the atmosphere.

Mile 4: 9.10
Mile 5: 8.59
Mile 6: 8.29

It was hot. The sun definitely had his hat on and was delivering something in the region of 17-18 degrees. Some folks were struggling and on a few occasions, the running crowd had to part to let an ambulance through. In one way I felt like a bit of a fraud for taking the race easy, but another part of me was secretly happy that I did not have any internal pressure to push it. I was cruising along nicely, albeit with something of an uneven gait. The course was always crowded, particularly when the road narrowed from mile 7 to mile 9.

Mile 7: 8:34
Mile 8: 8:36
Mile 9: 8:58

There was plenty of entertainment along the way, including just about every kind of percussion band imaginable. The North East must be the steel band capital of UK. The crowds were vocal and generous and it seemed like the spectators had cornered the market in jelly babies. There was even a free beer bench at one point. The volume of runners did not seem to thin out at all. Another part of me was secretly happy that I did not have a PB on the agenda. Although the route was fairly flat with a few undulations, anyone shooting for a PB had to be ready to dodge and weave their way through the congestion.

Mile 10: 9:00
Mile 11: 9:07
Mile 12: 8:52

Suddenly, with just over a mile to go, the sea was in sight. This also coincided with a downhill section which goaded most runners around me into one last push. Except me. I was finding the uphills easier going on the calf, and slowed down on the downhill. A sharp left brought us into the final mile to the finish line.

Mile 13: 8:48
Run in (pace): 8:19.

finish garminI was happy to cross the line in one piece and be gently herded into the finish zones. The Garmin confirmed I was under two hours. I guess nursing a strain around 13 miles, and coming in a little faster than my first ever race last year, is a sign of some progress. I collected my finisher’s bag containing a cotton T shirt and medal. I forgot that Great Run T shirts are big and went for large when medium would have been a better choice, but I can’t complain. The finish zone organisation was impeccable. I picked up my bag from the same bus I had dropped it off at, and continued walking for about half an hour to the metro station in South Shields. There were no queues at this time, and about 40 minutes later I was back in the car heading home.

I am glad I ran the race, even though I couldn’t give it my best shot. I cruised one for the first time and was able to take in more of the atmosphere. Next year? Who knows. Like buses, you wait for ages and then three arrive at the same time. The Highland Perthshire Half/Full marathon is tough competition and there is the new Scottish (aka East Lothian) Half Marathon…

Official Result:

Time: 2:06:45 (for some reason the website is showing gun time and calling it chip time)
Position: 15,883 / TBA
Gender: 12,215 / TBA

You don’t run with an injury. You don’t try out a new piece of kit or clothing in a race. You can’t “wing it” in a half marathon, the running gods will turn on you. I know these things. Everyone knows these things. Probably I will be doing all of them on Sunday.

Recently, training has been shit. Since hitting PB glory at the Dundee Half Marathon back in July, I have managed to run the 13 mile distance only once. I have an excuse list as long as my arm, but it doesn’t change the fact. Family returning from Japan, holiday in Spain, work going stratospheric, an epidemic of business dinners were already up on the wall as excuses for not being on my best form, but the final straw came on Monday.

My body double demonstrates the problem

My body double demonstrates the problem

A couple of miles in to a flat 7 miler along the Water of Leith and the Union Canal I felt a tightness in my left calf. Being the wise runner I now am, I stopped and stretched rather than trying to run it off. It worked for a while, but the tightness came back stronger a couple of miles later. I stopped, stretched and walked for a while. The tightness eased and I moved up a light jog to complete the run. Afterwards the muscle stiffened up and it was painful to walk. But a couple of days later, after a lot of of rolling and deep heat, it seemed to have cleared up.

On Thursday, with the added motivation of trying out the new Mizuno Wave Inspires (fourth of their line) that I planned to use at the Great North Run, I decided to try a light jog around The Meadows. The calf was OK for the first mile or so, but the tightness and pain returned. I cruised home and gloomily googled the withdrawal terms for the race.

more-mile-california-long-compression-socks-black-253-p[ekm]247x250[ekm]At the same time, some friendly advice on twitter from @Bullardjohn pointed me at compression socks. I have never used them before, but I know they can be useful for calf muscle pain. After reading the reviews I ordered some on fast delivery. Could they help me through this?

I am not going to do any more running before the race as I don’t want to risk exacerbating the strain, so I will not have a chance to try these socks out beforehand. As things stand, I am going to leave it to Sunday morning to decide what to do. The Great North Run, with all the buildup, history and sheer scale is not to be missed, but I’ve run at this stage with an injury before and swore I would never do it again. Heart vs Head, Round #2.

Running Cala’n Blanes Menorca, Aug 2014

Posted: 19th August 2014 by mockjogger in Running Away
Tags: , , ,

From about two days before departure date it became clear that this was going to be a different kind of holiday.

Work had kinda gone nuts. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it meant that I knew I would be spending some time on the holiday in symbiosis with WiFi. With that, and the fact that the family had just returned from a four month sojourn to Tokyo with reacquaintance top of the priority list, I reluctantly decided not to pack my runners for the first time in a while. I just didn’t think I would have the time.

With packing just about complete in time for the taxi pickup, there was a tantalising space left in one suitcase. I shuffled some stuff and with a mild feeling of guilt, jammed the Mizunos in there. If I didn’t use them, fine, it was just dead space.

Towards pirates beachTwo days later I was starting at the ceiling at 7am with a lousy red-wine hangover. I had not spelt very well with holiday vibes and an expanding work task list running round my head like they were in some attention-seeking competition. The family was still asleep. I got up as quietly as I could, found the Mizunos, some swim-shorts and the Garmin, downed some water sneaked out the door, stretched, and slowly headed out to find a route.

Pirates BeachIt was warm, but not stifling. I made my way down the main street of the resort, where the only signs of life were a couple of other runners pacing out at about the same slow speed as me. They were wearing t-shirts. I wondered if running bare-chested was acceptable and decided that it surely had to be. I had no running T-shirts with me anyway. A mile later I hit the Pirate’s Cove. A relaxed beach during the day, with a ramshackle beach bar making the best mojitos I have ever had the luck to sip on. Right now it was eerily quiet. An elderly dude was placing out some sun loungers. Nice job, I thought.

Pirates barLooping through an up-market residential area I found myself running past a second cove, which led back to the main street. Some more signs of life now as one or two of the restauranteurs put out their tables to catch the breakfast crowd. As I ran past the barbecue restaurant we had started off the evening before at, a waiter waved to me with an expression on his face that could only be read as “what the hell are you doing ?!”.

Nearing “home” I took a detour down a track to a third sandy cove. Completely empty and very tranquil at this time of the morning. I was tempted to check how cool the water was, but I wanted to make the run at least 4 miles, so carried on. The route back up the beach was quite a steep trail in the cool shade. I was happy with that. Somehow these days I think I get more bang for my buck when there is some uphill stuff to do. A sprint finish (well, really just a slight acceleration to what would be normal long run pace pack home) and I arrived back at the start. 4 miles in 36 minutes. 9.15 pace. Slow but sweet.

up from beachWhen I got back home the family was still asleep. I poured out some orange juice, grabbed the Macbook and connected to the real world until they woke.

To my surprise, this became a regular routine. Seven times for 27 miles over the two weeks. I am really happy I slipped the Mizunos in at the last minute.

Recent events have caused me to augment my default selection of training routes.

It started when I signed up for the Seven Hills of Edinburgh race. After the Rock’n’Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon was cancelled, I had been looking for another race to fill the void. Initially I dismissed the Seven Hills race as an option because it seemed full of, er, hills, and that really wasn’t my thing. I had been training for the Paris and Edinburgh marathons, and although most of my training routes typically included a loop of Holyrood Park, which climbs about 155m (510ft), I didn’t really go out looking for hills. However, when couple of twitter peeps I follow signed up for it, I took another look at the Seven Hills race description. Going beyond the hills headline, it looked kind of fun. I signed up.

Craiglockhart Hill

Craiglockhart Hill

The race has no fixed course; runners complete seven hills in a fixed order using whatever routes they want to navigate between them. Extensive research (googling race reports) informed me that there were various route options, some more adventurous than others. I decided I better take a closer look. My first objective was Corstorphine Hill, and my first attempt to run it took me relatively close to the summit, before I lost my way and nearly ended up vaulting into a bird pen at the top of Edinburgh Zoo. It seemed my orienteering skills required as much honing as my running skills. I tried harder the next time. I even printed out a map. I got closer, but wrongly figured that a great big radio tower must be the summit and missed the real thing again.

I decided it was close enough, however, to move on to objective two – Craiglockhart Hill. For my first attempt, I took the long way round from the tennis centre, and found a gap in the wall which I figured must be the one mentioned in the seven hills race notes. Turned out it was a different gap. Half an hour later I found myself at what I though must the peak, but (and sadly this is not actually a joke) I had the wrong fucking mountain, and was on Craiglockhart West rather than Craiglockhart East. Back to the map for second attempt. Right summit this time.

This is before you *get* to Craiglockhart Hill

This is before you *get* to Craiglockhart Hill

I moved on to Braids Hill and Blackford Hill. Clearly the earlier experiences were counting for something as I hit the jackpot on run one. This is not so bad after all, I thought.

The date of for the race was approaching. Despite my newfound orienteering confidence I began to feel a bit apprehensive about the fact that I had never run a hill race before and was soon to attempt seven at once. I felt the need to ease myself into it. This feeling coincided with a brief sojourn in Tokyo where I had zero hills in sight. Fortunately the day after I returned I found a hill race not too far away, and not too long – the Traprain Law Hill Race. I scooted over and signed up on the day. It turned out to be a hard slog but great fun.

I finished well down the field, but I was not last. I learned that technique and experience are important both going uphill and going downhill, and I didn’t have any. I tended to lose time on both ascent and descent and gain some on the flat.

With Traprain in the bag I approached the Seven Hills Race positively. Though the race was really tough at times I completed it and enjoyed it. Afterwards I noticed that my flat times had improved. I attribute that to the hills in training and races improving my leg strength, cardio fitness or both. As a bonus, the hills introduced an element of variety and fun.

Increasing the average amount of "going up" per "going flat"

Increasing the average amount of “going up” per “going flat”

Now I try and incorporate a hill on almost every run. It has become a challenge to run up them without pausing to walk, and while I am not quite there yet, I am getting close. Corstorphine Hill and Craiglockhart Hill are now regular alternatives to my usual circuit of Holyrood Park.

It has definitely improved my fitness and speed. My last two races, the Stonehaven Half Marathon and the Dundee Half Marathon have both delivered PBs.

Really, I have earned some fell shoes.


Ah, Dundee. City of Discovery. This would be the first time I had run the same race a second time, after clocking a PB (at the time) last year. Arriving at Camperdown Park the feeling of deja vu was strong as I walked, with all the experience of one who knows, past the queues waiting for the portaloos and into the main building itself where the smart toiletiers were assembling

In fact, the only noticeable difference this time was that the organiser / announcer, Nicholas Kydd had acquired a PA, making the race gathering instructions a lot easier to pick up. Not that that changed anything. After asking the pre-assembled runners to leave the start area so that we could line up in expected finish time order, with those expecting to finish under 1:45 at the front, everyone promptly moved back to where they were originally standing. Remembering the narrow trail section near the start, and in an effort to avoid walking roadblocks, I took up position about 10 rows from the front. I was not the only one, as I found myself beside Ronnie, who had the same idea.

BBC and AccuWeather had reached a score draw; their usual inconsistent pre-race weather reports were equally wrong. It was overcast and humid. I decided against wearing a bandana, which proved to be a bad move as before long the sweat was building and my eyes were contending with salt drips.

The race meandered through Camperdown as a kind of 3-minute prequel to the main event of running up through the trees. Ideally, this part of the race should be longer to allow the field more time to sort itself out before starting the narrow uphill forest trail. Up through the trees I encountered no blocks this time and found a good matching pace with those around me. As we reached the top and emerged onto the road I glanced at the Garmin and saw that I was well ahead of last year. It crossed my mind that I had gone out too quick, but I felt good and knew I could relax with a long downhill ahead. I settled into it.

Dundee 2014 startDundee 2014 start trailDundee 2014 trail bridgeDundee 2014 bridge 2

Mile 1: 8:31
Mile 2: 8:28
Mile 3: 7:33

After the downhill section we wound back into trail and footpaths again. As we approached half way I was aware that I was running faster than usual, but felt good. At the Loch Leven Half Marathon a couple of months ago I think I took it too easy during this part of the race, saving something for later. This time I decided to listen to my body, and if it meant a struggle at the end, so be it. I kept pushing and the miles flew by.

Dundee 2014 lakeDundee 2014 under bridgeDundee 2014 water stopDundee 2014 tunnelMile 4: 7:41
Mile 5: 8:09
Mile 6: 8:07

Emerging from the trail to road again, we approached a shopping centre. The sun made a brief appearance to remind me how silly it was not to wear a sweat band as we moved through a water stop and on to the Arbroath Road. Here the course parallels the main road with a slight incline which goes on and on. Nearing the end of this section some folks were taking a walk break. Not surprising given the heat. I was glad I had taken an electolyte water mix before the race started and had grabbed some water at each station.

Dundee 2014 policeDundee 2014 Arbroath RoadMile 7: 8:14
Mile 8: 8:15
Mile 9: 8:26
Mile 10: 8:33

Finally, we said goodbye to the Arbroath Road and enjoyed some downhill payback. I vividly recalled this part of the race last year; the long incline had taken it out of me and I was struggling. Running the same course with a one-year gap makes for a good progress assessment and the one thing that struck me was that my recovery time after reaching a “summit” is considerably improved. I was able to make the most of the downhill and still felt strong as we passed through some housing streets, complete with two gratefully-received spray hoses, crossed a narrow bridge and negotiated a sharp right hand turn onto the seaside path. The final mile of this race is brutal, because from the 12 mile marker you can see the finish zone off in the distance. Pushing on, it just never seems to get closer! It is mentally draining rather than physically draining. I saw one runner struggling with heat. Other runners had stopped to help and I kept going to try and find the medics. They were just ahead dealing with another case and were alerted to the first guy by the lady in front of me. Not long after, the finish line finally arrived. As I crossed the line I could see 1:47:x on the display board and knew I had a sizeable PB in the bag.

Dundee 2014 last mile 1
Dundee 2014 last mile 2Mile 11: 8:37
Mile 12: 7:34
Mile 13: 8:17
Run in: 8:02 (pace)

Haddington 2013    versus    Dundee 2014

Haddington 2013 versus Dundee 2014

Water and a goody bag were thrust in my hands. The medal was in the bag. Not as nice as last year’s specimen and almost exactly the same as the 2013 Haddington Half Marathon, but I guess if you run enough races you are going to get some duplicates.

So, to the comparison with last year. Nearly 6 minutes better, and every single mile split better than last year. A year’s worth of training, two marathons and an increasing focus on running hills in training has delivered a just reward!

Official Result:

Time: 1:47:34
Position: 147 / 620 (24%)
Category: 18 / 56

Start up to about 12.5 miles when my battery ran out. Almost got there! Time lapse at 3 second intervals.

I drove from Edinburgh to Stonehaven in the morning, parked in the leisure centre car park and strolled across a field to the rugby pavilion where the race would start and end. Putting two fingers up to the midweek BBC weather forecast, the start area was bathed in bright sunshine with just enough of a breeze to keep the temperature down to about 20 degrees. Registration was straightforward, and I sipped on a carbohydrate / electrolyte drink like a personalised cocktail served in a holiday bar as I waited for the action to start.

The first hint of what was to come was delivered by the lady taking the warm-up. “Those of you who have done this race before will know why I have chosen this song”, she said, before throwing on “Yazz – The Only Way Is Up”. Hmmm. I kept to my customary position on the fringes, stretching a little, watching the folks doing the warm up and wondering why they were choosing to burn off all that energy.

Stonehaven startWith about 10 minutes to go before the advertised start time of 11.15, the announcer called runners to move to the entrance of the playing fields where the race would begin. I found myself in a narrow path as the final instructions were ominously interrupted by an ambulance making its way through the pack. The pack re-assembled in its wake, counted down from 5 and were off.

UphillAfter a short straight, the narrow path morphed into a 180 degree right-hand hairpin bend going up as we entered the streets of Stonehaven. “Going up” was the theme of the next few miles. In fact, this definitely was a race of two halves, the first half mostly up, and the second half mostly down. The first two miles took us though the town, past an industrial area before crossing the A90 and heading out into countryside.

Mile 1: 8.36
Mile 2: 8.16
Mile 3: 8.56

The race continued going up. And it was hot! The breeze seemed to have gone away and the sun was having it all. When I got back to my car later, the thermometer was measuring 24 degrees and it felt like that out on the road. I was thankful I had decided to wear a bandana, as the incline and the heat were conspiring to create record sweat.

Stonehaven - police slowStonehaven around the topAlthough I had brought my headphones up in the car, I had made a spontaneous decision not to use them in the race. I am not sure why, as I always run with them. I actually found this quite rewarding as the running craic was good.“Is this the last hill?” was voiced in desperation, more than once. Then, when finding a bit of level or decline, as flat runners put their feet down, “At least the pain is self-inflicted now”. After 4 miles the course levelled out and offered up some downhill action, and I was able to appreciate the gorgeous countryside. The appreciation was short lived as the weather seemed to have brought out the fly population, and runners were clearly game targets. Everyone seemed to have a cloud of flies around them and those wearing hats were giving a free ride.

Mile 4: 9.22
Mile 5: 8.05
Mile 6: 7.51

Support along the course, although sparse, was enthusiastic. This was exemplified by the group of Fetch folks around mile 6 offering great vocals, jelly babies and, best of all, water mist. This was just the boost we needed before taking on the final climb up to a right turn onto Slug Road and the start of the return journey. With the exception of a couple of shortish inclines thrown in for fun, the second half of the race is mostly downhill, and payback for all those tough miles at the start. I found myself trailing a pack of runners by about 50 metres, and pushed to try and catch them. Clearly everyone was enjoying the slope though, as the gap stayed fairly constant for the next two miles.

Mile 7: 8.54
Mile 8: 8.28
Mile 9: 7.49

Stonehaven the road homeStonehaven 11 milesThe roads were open for this race, meaning cars were passing on both sides for the duration of Slug Road. This was just one long roadside run. It also meant for a gap in the water stations just when I wanted some water to accompany my second and last gel. I have been toying with the idea of not bothering with gels at all on a half marathon, but stuck with 2 x High5 non-isotonic gels for this race. I can stomach these without water, but prefer a couple of gulps. The nature of the road meant that there were no water stops between around 7 and around 11.5 miles.

Mile 10: 8.10
Mile 11: 8.25

As we crossed the A90 again I could see the sea ahead and knew we were nearing home. I was feeling very comfortable and knew, despite the hilly start, that a good time was on. As we entered the town again I pushed hard and caught a couple of runners who had been ahead of my for the whole duration of Slug Road. Before I knew it we were heading down a steep hill with a sharp left hairpin bend to navigate, the same one we had encountered at the start but in reverse, and the final run-in was there. Two runners passed me as we ran down the narrow path, before a share left brought us into the playing field and a 100m sprint to the line. I gave it all I could, but didn’t manage to catch them. However, recording a 6.20 pace at the end of a half marathon is a nice consolation!

Mile 12: 7.51
Mile 13: 7.56
Final bit (pace): 6.20

A new PB of 1:48:53! I am very happy with that, particularly given the hills and the heat.

Stonehaven Elevation

In summary, a testing course for sure, with a total elevation of 227m, but the pain of the first 4 miles up-hill is paid back over a long period in the final part of the race meaning the course is not as slow as you would think. The organisation and marshalling were second to none, and the on-course craic was friendly and fun. I am bringing a fly zapper next time.

Official result:

Time   1:48:53
Position 126 / 332 (38%)
Category   19 / 41

Stonehaven Half Marathon up to about Mile 12, when my battery ran out. 3s time lapsed.

This race is bonkers. 14 miles along city roads, through shopping arcades and up forgotten closes. Scrambling 600m up hills and bouncing down the other side, always wondering if you are going in the right direction. Avoiding cars, buses, pedestrians and, for the first time, trams. Across the fairway of a public golf course, up and over a 3m stone wall and a steep climb or two thrown in. No road closures, no fixed route, no stewarding and very few rules. Just find the hill, stamp your bib, then find the next hill. I loved it.

Seven Hills in 3.5 mins. Well, 6 hills really as my battery ran out at the top of Blackford. 3s time lapsed.

I had done some homework before the race, covering most of the hills in various training runs. I found trails I didn’t know existed, a couple of miles away from where I live, and got lost many times. I was reasonably confident I could get around, but not confident that I could do it in an efficient way. My race plan was to pick the person who most looked like they knew where they were going and follow them. Plan B, if they got away, was to use the GPS in my phone. As it happened there were always enough runners around and groups formed, dissipated and reformed through the race.

With Rachel at the start - "that's the big one, over there" (Photo: Alex Oliver)

With Rachel at the start – “that’s the big one, over there” (Photo: Alex Oliver)

The event started on Calton Hill, and comprised of two races. The “Race” with about 200 serious contenders, each capable of running a half marathon in sub 1:40 according to the guidance; and the “Challenge” with about 200 slightly-less serious runners, like me. The Challenge kicked off at 9.45, with the Race starting half an hour later. Before the off it was my pleasure to bump into Rachel and Ronnie for the first time. They seemed about as confident in the route as I was.

Punctually, runners were called to gather at the start point, in the the middle of a grassy field at the top of Calton Hill. I was trying to convince my body that this was not the time to start hay-fevering-up, and after a thankfully-short briefing we were on our way.

Straight down a flight of steps leading right on to Waterloo Place. Fortunately someone had convinced the traffic to stop, as 200 runners ran straight across the road in blatant disregard. At the left turn along the bridges I saw another runner flirt with the traffic before abandoning the aggressive route and following the crowd. I cut through the arcade on North Bridge and up Fleshmarket Close saving a whole 5 seconds on the posse, then made my way up to the Castle Esplanade. Tourists who had arrived early for the season looked both startled and bemused as runners-with-intent made their way in and around them.

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Waterloo Place

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

West EndAt the castle gates we were directed down onto Johnston Terrace as the path to Princes Street Gardens was out of bounds. I was lucky with traffic at the top of Lothian Road and the West End, with no stopping required, and made my way up Queensferry street and left along Belford Road, past the Gallery of Modern Art to Ravelston Dykes.  The long run along the ‘Dykes spread the group out somewhat. I was careful not to get carried away this early, and was passed by several folks. Just past the entrance to Mary Erskine school we made a left turn up the path towards Corstorphine Hill, bisecting Murrayfield Golf Course. Someone had left out a sign “7 Hills Runners do not cross the golf course”. I obeyed.

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: RaceThe path up to Corstorphine Hill seemed to go on for ages. Just when it was reaching stop-for-a-break point, we burst out into a meadow and into bright sunshine, to be presented by water, juice, oranges and jelly babies. If I had happened to be carrying a portable barbecue and a six-pack, that would have been the the race done for me. Alas no. A further 100m or so through the trees brought us to the trig point and onwards. There seemed to be two routes of choice here – back towards the water stop or head right. I went right, which I think is the best route. With only one brief stop, when everyone simultaneously wondered if we were going the right way, we burst out of the trees, past the top of the zoo and back onto the road.

Corstorphine Water Stop

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: RaceRunning down Kaimes Road I found myself changing my stride pattern. I think I have been putting the brakes on a bit going downhill, and tried to lean back more and give myself to the slope. It seemed smoother. I probably won another 5 seconds.

I was lucky with the traffic again crossing Corstorphine Road as we entered what is probably the least interesting part of the race, along nondescript streets to Colinton Road and Craiglockhart. Runners were equally spaced at about 40m intervals here and I went into the zone. I was jerked out of the zone as we approached a crossing and I spied one of Edinburgh’s 3-week old trams off to the left, heading towards the same crossing. Luckily there was plenty of time to get across.

Then across Colinton Road and into Craiglockhart Tennis Centre. Here there is a choice of two routes – the first goes straight up the mud-and-tree slope; the second follows a footpath that winds its way round the slope. The weather was warm and dry and in these conditions the slope is not that difficult, so it was straight up for me. I think I benefitted a little from the marginally better grip my Cascadia’s provided versus pure road shoes, and I made up a couple of places on the slope. After reaching the top, we made our way through a gap in the wall, into a meadow and the incline up to the trig point at Craiglockhart Hill. I walked this bit, as did many others. A friendly marshall shouted out that this was the most difficult one! I knew he was lying. He knew that I knew he was lying. He smiled.

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: RaceAt the top I stopped to have some water and a gel, then watched in awe as the lead runners in the Race made their way up. They were not walking, and they did not stop long. Inspired, I headed off for the next one. A downhill run through trail paths led to the streets of Morningside, famous for Masie the cat and Ms Jean Brodie, neither of whom were out today. I had run this part on a training recce and remembered the Fly Walk cut into Braidburn. This is certainly the most direct route, but you do lose altitude that you have to make up again. Some other runners chose to continue along Greenbank Crescent, preserving their altitude but taking a longer route.

Across Braidburn more runners from the Race came past. The flood tide was about to begin. Along Riselaw Road and Braid Road the gradient was at that point of inflection where it is as about as speedy to walk quickly as to run slowly. I kept running. A left turn took us into a path towards Braid Hill. As we approached the hill, the track was just about wide enough for two, and some more runners from the Race came through. The atmosphere was great at this point and my fellow Challenge runners were politely making space and giving encouragement to the faster runners coming through.

After clocking in at Braid Hill, I headed out quickly towards the golf course. I decided to impress everybody with my new downhill technique, quickly picked up mega-speed before finding myself moving faster than I could get my legs to synch to, just before bottoming out. I probably need to work a little more on that. Then I ran straight across a fairway of the Braids public golf course. This is perfectly legitimate, and there were no golfers in evidence anyway. After crossing the course, the next bit was tricky. A single-file path through gorse bushes was clogged with Challenge Runners, to the obvious frustration of Race Runners arriving behind. One lady up ahead seemed a bit apprehensive of a downhill bit, risking more frustration for the growing queue behind, but fortunately we found a clearing, which allowed the traffic to sort itself out.

Across the golf course

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

I emerged at Braid Hills Road right apposite Lang Linn Path, and made my way down. A Race Runner came past and headed left before getting to the burn. I had got completely lost here before and decided that he looked like he knew what he was doing and therefore met my criteria for stalking. I followed the path left, which emerged at a bridge followed by another hands-and-feet scramble up a slope. Fortunately it was dry. I really wonder how these scramble-slopes would stand up to wet weather – likely a mudslide. Maybe I will find out next year.

After getting to the top, a short field-crossing merged us with runners arriving from the right. I recognised a couple of guys who I think had gone up ahead of me, so this left-path bridge/slope may indeed be a good route choice.

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: Race

Created with OSnap! for iOS - Project: RaceAs we reached the base of the path up to Blackford Hill the race suddenly began to feel hard. The path is built on railway sleepers and the steps are just too big for comfort. It was impossible (for me) to run up, and each step took a huge effort. Everyone was walking up here, even the professionals. As we approached the top a non-race lady was struggling to reach it with her bike and one of my fellow runners carried it over the line for her. Fair play to you, dude. I was gasping.

I was very glad to reach the top, clip my bib and down some water with my second (and last) gel. As my heart rate settled back down towards pseudo-normal I admired the view, until I spotted Arthur’s Seat off in the distance. This race was not done yet.

I headed down the slope and onto Observatory Road, where a resident had very kindly set up a shower spray. A short cut through the allotments brought us back out onto West Savile Terrace. Back on the road. Terra Firma. My comfort zone. I made the most of it.

Not me, but I was exactly in that position a few minutes later (Photo: David Allwood)

Not me, but I was exactly in that position a few minutes later (Photo: David Allwood)

Up Mayfield Road and along Duncan Street I arrived at a water station at Pollock Halls and a moment of indecision. Go straight on, round the Commonwealth Pool and into the park, or cut through Pollock Halls with its padlocked turnstile and big walls? Adventure won, and I headed through the Halls. Legend has it that you can squeeze through the padlocked turnstyle with a horizontal limbo. I took one look at it and knew I would be trying something else. I settled on using an iron railing a surrogate latter to climb up to the top of the wall. As I reached the top a lady Racer came straight through and practically dive-limboed through the turnstyle. If I had a piece of card with 10.0 on it, I would have used it then. I was brought back to earth from my vigil on the top of the wall by some other runners wanting to use the same route. I glanced down. Like Beecher’s Brook in the Grand National the drop on the other side seemed much bigger than the climb up. I remembered I was wearing my iPhone on my chest. Without dwelling on this too much, I launched myself forward in a drop-twist motion and landed on my feet. Cool.

Looking up at this point I could see snakes of runners climbing their way up Arthur’s Seat. This was the big one. There appeared to be two choices. The brave were heading left with what seemed to be a vertical climb in the middle of their ascent. The pragmatic were heading right up the staircase with a slightly-less vertical climb in prospect. Ever the pragmatist, I headed right. While there was nothing scary about this section, it was tough on the legs. I was using different muscles than normal and they were complaining. There was no prospect of running here. As the weather was a very pleasant 17 degrees, the top of Arthur’s Seat had an abundance of tourists expressing a mixture of shock and sympathy for the arriving runners. I was thirsty when I got to the top. I anticipated a water stop which, in retrospect, was kinda optimistic. No water. Just clip the final box and launch off the other side.

On the ascent of Arthur's Seat (Photo: Alan Oliver)

On the ascent of Arthur’s Seat (Photo: Alan Oliver)

When I say launch off it did seem like that. Brave folks were heading down really steep sections and some were using their assess as toboggans. I gingerly made my way down. Some runners came past here really quickly. Downhill running is obviously an acquired skill. I know the area well and took a well trodden path off to the right. This probably cost me some time and added a couple of hundred meters, but it did keep me moving on my legs.

Past the entrance to the Scottish Parliament I was lucky again with the traffic and entered Calton Road knowing the end was in sight. It was in sight, but there was still work do do as the gradient again hit that infection point between walking and running. I did a bit of both. After a final left hander I used all available energy in an uphill surge to the finish point and, as all the runners were getting, a great cheer from the assembled masses.

The awards ceremony took place 30 minutes later. I had to laugh when the award for the first Dutch runner was presented – a flat piece of rock to represent “the hills of Holland”! I was happy to say hello to Peter Buchanan, who won the M50 prize, and who’s 2013 Race Report was an invaluable reference. And then, the most important prize of all, the miniature whiskeys for runners who have completed “The Double” – the Edinburgh Marathon and the Seven Hills Race. I’ll have one of those!

Overall my route choice was OK. I clocked 14.49 miles on the Garmin, and could have shaved some of that with a more aggressive descent of Arthur’s Seat. As for shoes, in dry weather road shoes are the way to go. My Brook’s Cascadia’s helped on the scrambles but the fact is, you spend a lot of time on the tarmac. In wet weather I would definitely take the extra grip though.

I made my way home with my number still attached, which scored me a double scoop chocolate ice cream from one of the ice cream vans (“that sounds like a fun race, have this ice cream”), and a random lady calling out “that’s a tough race isn’t it? I did it a couple of years ago!”.

WhiskyFriendly race, friendly city. A definite for the calendar next year. I must remember to book it well in advance, it sold out this year.

Official Result (Challenge):

Time: 2:42:14

Position: 61 / 199

UPDATE: 2016 event race report now available here.


Saturday morning. The morning after arriving back from Tokyo. Tired and stiff, I wanted a run to eradicate the long flight from my legs.

I did not fancy any of my usual routes and I wanted to try something new. A quick search provided the perfect answer – the Traprain Law hill race. Only a few miles from Edinburgh, a 3pm start and entry on the day. I should even be able to make it back before the first World Cup match. After all, how difficult could one hill be? I am down for seven next weekend.

Registration was straightforward. No fuss here. No medal, tee short or random stuff to be scored, but at a bargain £5 entry fee, no-one was complaining. The race forms part of East Linton gala day so the town was out in force with plenty of noise and atmosphere. Looking round the assembling group of runners, two things jumped out. Firstly, there was a high percentage of club runners in the mix. Secondly, there was a high percentage of kick-ass Salomon Speedcross and Inov-8 Mudclaw shoes on show. I was sporting new Brooks Cascadia trail shoes, and the soles seemed somewhat anaemic in comparison.

Start. I'm hiding at the back, as usual. (Photo: James Addie)

Start. I’m hiding at the back, as usual. (Photo: James Addie)

It was to be a day of firsts. I decided to try out a new iPhone chest-mount holder to capture some in-race pics. This does look a bit dorky, I have to say, and I self-consciously made my way to the back of the ~100 runners to try and avoid attention.

The pre-race briefing confirmed that the wet river crossing was in this year. Alright! Occasionally the river is too violent, but it was being kind today. So I could look forward to another first. Then, a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown and we were off.

Within five strides I knew that breaking golden rule #1 (never use anything in a race before “earning it” first) was a bad idea. The iPhone holder holder was way too loose and the whole contraption was bouncing around my chest like (I imagine) it must feel like for ladies who haven’t bra’d up properly. Anyway, the first half mile was spent trying to tighten the straps without stopping, while cursing my stupidity. Finally I managed to get the contraption to stop bouncing up and down, left and right. I glanced behind. I was fourth last. The final three would likely have been ahead of me but my adjustment contortions and general swearing probably caused them to be wary. In truth, though, the adjustment saga process was no excuse, the field was actually moving pretty sharpish.

Traprain over the riverWe hit the riverbank and then I realised why everyone had set off at rocket pace. The towpath was single file, with only a couple of passing opportunities. After a bit of this, I saw some of the advanced runners going up the river bank on the other side, and it was time for the river crossing.

I followed the tail-enders into the Tyne. The width of the crossing was about 10m and the river was soon flowing above my knee. Folks were moving gingerly and I decided this must be a passing opportunity, but when I slipped on a smooth rock and nearly took the whole gang out, I slowed down. Reaching the other side at exactly the same time as another runner it was a case of a very polite Scottish “you go first”, “no, *you* go first” and we were on our first uphill section of the day. Slow going. A hint of things to come.

At the top (Photo: Bob Marshall)

So *this* is why I have so many photos of the ground (Photo: Bob Marshall)

After making our way along some more single-file tracks through fields we arrived at the base of Traprain Law. It was fairly steep and some ropes had been placed along a fence to provide optional support. I joined the line of folks using the ropes. A marshall called out some “encouragement” in the form of “the earlier guys were running up this bit!” I couldn’t see how this was humanly possible. After some climbing the slope lessened somewhat, allowing me to walk freely and eventually break out into a run again towards the trig point. I wasn’t wearing a heart-rate monitor, but if I had, I am sure it would have been hitting record highs. Some Roman treasure was found here some time ago, but there was no time to search for remnants before starting the descent down the other side.

The climb had spread out the group somewhat and I decided to try and make up some ground on the way down. But it was not to be. My lack of experience and technique on this kind of terrain showed through and the gap between me and a guy in a red Carnethy running vest grew larger.

Now for the downhill

Now for the downhill

The track led through some muddy sections which had been churned up by those Mudclaws and Speedcrosses. My Cascadias held up well with no slipping or insecurity, in fact the only grip problem I had all day was on the slippy rocks at the river crossing. As we hit the bottom of the hill I found myself running blind and wondered if I could find my own way back, but after negotiating a turnstile we were back on a road and I could see a train of three or four runners up ahead.

Ahhh, terra firma! I started to make up some ground again as a short road section led to a trail path back towards the river. I passed the Carnethy runner as we reached the single file track back along the river bank. We emerged back into the town and some friendly marshalling guided us back to the Memorial Park and the race finish.

CascadiasIn summary, 6.08 miles of trail and hill running in just over an hour, with a bit of road thrown in there for fun. Good vocal support at various points along the route, usually when I was least expecting it and happiest to find it.

Now I can claim that I really have chalked up an off-road race (Devilla was more of a shuffle than a race) and notched one 195m hill, even if I did haul myself up it rather than run up it. I am left with one thought – how am I going to negotiate seven of them next weekend?

Official Result:

Time – 1:01:15
Position – 64 / 79

Elevation Profile: 195m Up

Elevation Profile: 195m Up

Running Tokyo, Jun 2014

Posted: 12th June 2014 by mockjogger in Running Away, Training Runs
Tags: , , , , , , ,

As the saying goes, when you want to go running in Tokyo, find a river. So on the third day of a two-week sojourn to my favourite away venue, I ventured outside my base to make my way to the Arakawa river. Thirty degrees and 80% humidity met me at the door to escort me on my way. About 5 strides in I was sweating up like a suckling porker, and it got hotter and sweatier from there.

Red wine furoThis was my second visit to Tokyo this year. This time, however, the family/work balance was tilted in favour of family. Kiyoe and the Junior Mockjoggers were in the middle of a four month stay, and for my two weeks I would be staying with in-laws. After arriving in Tokyo the whole family took off to an onsen (hot spring) hotel in Hakone, south-west of Tokyo. Usually very traditional, this one had coffee, red wine and sake-infused baths. As far as antidotes to jetlag go, this was up there with the best.

Back to the run. It took a couple of sets of traffic lights and a bit of hunting to find my way to the river embankment. I ran alongside the river southeast for about a mile before encountering a set of “roadworks” which forced my back up and on to the road 200m. I got back on the bank only to be stopped after another mile by a building, functioning as a dead end. I turned back and retraced my steps, passing the point at which I had joined the river and heading on northwest. Not much more joy here however, my path was soon blocked again. Heading back home, I resolved to find another river.

other riverAnd so I did, two days later. I ran the bridge over the Arakawa river this time, heading roughly in the direction of Tokyo’s latest landmark – the Skytree. I had been thinking to stick to main roads, but by chance came across a tributary river, the Kyunoko. Here some thought had clearly been put in to landscaping the riverbanks with some attractive footpaths and adjacent parks. This was more like it. I ran on until I clocked about 3.5 miles, then crossed a bridge and retraced my steps on the other side. 7 miles all in all, and a new regular route initiated.

A couple of days later, bored with rivers, I decided to give *the* iconic Tokyo run a go. Right in the middle of the city, the Imperial Palace, residence of the Emperor, is surrounded by a footpath measuring 5km, with no stops for traffic. I made my way to Tokyo station and headed for the luggage lockers to store a change of clothes. Fortunately the lockers were intuitive enough for a monkey to use. As I exited through the up-market Marunouchi building, the Japan weather gods decided that they had had enough of this humid hot weather and powered-up the rainy season. I set off counter-clockwise in light rain, clutching my iphone to use as a camera. As I passed the British Embassy on my right, the rain powered-up another notch. The views of the park I was circumnavigating, juxtaposed with the skyscrapers on the outside, were great though. The presence of police at every entrance served as a reminder that entry to the park was forbidden. Fair enough, the Emporer’s rules apply.

Imperial palace entranceImperial palace route 2Imperial palace routeImperial palace runners

At the end of the first lap the rain powered up yet again. I was completely drenched now. My Paris Marathon T-shirt was stuck to my torso like a second skin, but that wasn’t the problem. I looked down to find my baggy Slazenger shorts had gone completely translucent. I have had these for a while and I wonder why this never happened before. Anyway, it was difficult to concentrate on running when my mind was bouncing between (1) expecting the police to jump out and arrest me for indecency (2) wondering how the hell my iPhone was going to survive the trauma of all this precipitation; and (3) worrying about whether the emergency 1000 yen note in my pocket was waterproof.

imperial palace garmin 2

I was joined on the second lap by two Japanese guys out for a jog. They had rain jackets on and appeared somewhat bemused by my choice of kit. But that is OK, I am a gaijin, so I can get away with that kind of thing. When I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it did. Strangely it was not that uncomfortable, as it was still quite warm. Post run, I squeaked my way back to the station, changed and trained it back to base.

I had some help with this, honest.

I had some help with this, honest.

That evening we headed to a kaiten-zushi (conveyer-belt sushi) restaurant at the Tokyo Skytree, where we queued for ages to get a seat. After the wait, I proceeded to demonstrate marathon-training-food-intake-and-carb-loading for professionals. I forgot that I do not actually have a marathon in the plan at present. Oops.

So after showing Tokyo how not to dress for rainy run and how not to eat when you don’t have a marathon tomorrow, its time to head back to the (hopefully) sun-drenched streets of home, and some new shorts.

Three Fourteen

Posted: 3rd June 2014 by mockjogger in Lists
Tags: , ,

Last week in Edinburgh I got close to my ultimate goal of running a marathon in under 4 hours. The official time of 4:03:13 leaves me three minutes and 14 seconds to find. Not that I’m obsessed or anything, but when I think about it, there is is a lot I can do in 3.14.

US 4x400 1928 AmsterdamI could run all the 4 x 400m relay legs by myself. The United States relay team produced a world record 3.14 (at the time) to win the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Of course, I would have to work on my speed training and sprint form, but with only one runner there is less chance of dropping the baton, no?

porsche le mans 85I could drive a lap of Le Mans. In 1985, Hans Stuck took 3.14 to secure pole position in a Porsche 926C. The record still stands today. Might be a bit of s stretch in my GTI, but it’s just been in for a service and is purring along quite nicely.

Aussies 2000I could swim the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, all legs by myself (again). The Aussie relay team took 3.14 to break the world record and take the gold at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. I’m allowed to do the breaststroke, right? I mean that’s why it’s called freestyle after all.

lego harry potterI could complete the “Dumbledore’s Army” Level in “Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7”. The world record of 3.14 was set by “Anna” in Minnesota on November 3rd 2013. Coming to think about it, I might put this in my playlist: “Dumbledore’s army is here to stay, Dumbledore’s army are on their way”, if Elvis Costello let’s me.

one-direction-best-song-everAnd finally, I could listen to One Direction – Best Song Ever (Jump Smokers remix), which lasts 3.14. Now this is not something I would normally do. No offence to the boys or anything, but I’m usually searching for a different vibe in my tunes selection, running or not. However, now that I have put it out there I have no choice – this tune is going into every running playlist I use, and there it will remain until I crack the big 4-0. If that doesn’t provide the necessary motivation, I don’t know what else I can do.