The Road is Always Long

My journey through the world of ultra marathons.

Monthly Archives: April 2015

Virgin London Marathon 2015 – Pre Race

It is now 5 sleeps to VLM and I feel quite nonplussed about it. I should be more eager to do well, salvage something from this first 6 months, but I don’t. And I can’t decide if this is an advantage or not. I am looking forward to the weekend. Any big city marathon has this atmosphere, it’s a aura of anticipation, you can feel peoples apprehensions, fears and excitement. New York especially. You can hear and see this in people’s language their movement and their manner. People have said it’s a buzz and that is exactly what it is like. It overrides the constant hum of the city, that perpetual drone of traffic, activity and industry. The ‘buzz’ drowns all that out, especially if you are a competitor. The ‘buzz’ seeps into you, engulfing and encompassing. The build up to the event helps this. Reminders are everywhere you go, television adverts for live coverage, social media, training plans, nutrition plans, tapering, even road closures and special travel arrangements. You can’t get away from it, it stokes the buzz fire, it fuels the buzz fire. I am hoping that this will engulf me when I get to the Big Smoke on Saturday.

So where am I with fitness? I think I am in better condition that I have been in a long time. Recovery from training sessions has reduced, surprising at my age. I know the reasons for this and I will go into it in another blog post. I know I am not in PB shape, so I have no expectations of running close to 2:30 (this time), but I think I should be able to run quicker than I did at Edinburgh last year (2:38:25). BUT, I can still feel fatigue in the legs from the G2E Ultra. It was just over two weeks ago, so what should I expect? Ian, a veteran of ultras, told me at Parkrun on Saturday, that he always feels the second week after an ultra is the worst in terms of fatigue. I have to believe him as I have no idea. The stress you put the body through must have a longer term impact on hormone levels, the adrenal gland and therefore the recovery. This might have been evident at the Parkrun. I had decided to run conservatively, push myself to half marathon effort, in terms of heart rate and it turned out to be 5:38 pace. This is good, but I couldn’t have sustained that for a half marathon and I am not sure how much faster I could have pushed, even though I was 16 beats per minute off my lab tested heart rate max. I am just too tired. Previously, where I have worn a HRM at Parkrun, the average HR for the 5K has been around 175, a full 10 beats per minute higher than Saturday’s effort. For me, 10 beats equates to around 25-30 seconds per mile. So, on that basis, I have to be pleased to think that I might be able to pull off a Parkrun, when fully rested, at around 5:08-5:13 per mile. This would seem reasonable considering the paces I have been hitting in my interval sessions prior to the G2E. A wee test may be in order once the marathon is out of the way and I have returned to a ‘normal’ level of fatigue, a level that cannot be adjusted further due to work commitments and 2 little people in the home!!!

From a race tactics perspective, there are a couple of trains of thought. I could go out at a fast pace, based on what I think I could be capable of if fully recovered, hold on for as long as possible and try to avoid a death march up The Mall. My self conscious being want’s to avoid the embarrassment of running past the Queen with saliva dripping from me, dragging my sorry back side past her house as hoards of runners pass me. On the flip side, this might not happen and I set off hard and maintain the pace or slow only slightly. The alternative is to start easier than I would want and pick up the pace as I go. This seems the sensible option, but what if I start too slow and end up with a lot to do in the last 10k? Fortunately, there are a group of lads I know running around the same expected pace as me, so I should go with them, hang on for as long as I can and hope that the fatigue, that I know is coming, doesn’t appear too soon.

Potobello Parkrun – The Inaugural

Friggate park is about 2.5 miles from my house, probably a little shorter as the crow flies.  With London Marathon next Sunday I was apprehensive of going up and having a full on blast at this organised time trial, but I thought I would go anyway.  After all, it is on my doorstep (in comparison to Cramond which is 10 miles away).

Louise and Stuart were staying at the hotel about a mile from my house as Stuart is running the Great Edinburgh Run on Sunday 19th and they had also decided to go along to the parkrun so it was good to see some familiar faces including them, Ian and Lorraine, Kieran, David and a few others.  It was a lovely morning in Figgate Park, sunny, a light easterly breeze and cool.  Ideal running conditions.  I left the house in plenty of time, no breakfast, only coffee, and headed up through Brunstane to Portobello Park along to Figgate.  It was busy when I got there, and very busy by the time the race started.  On the way up, I was watching my heart rate as the HRV value this morning was not favourable for a hard effort even though I took yesterday as a rest day, so it was no surprise to see a heart rate of 140+ for 7:30 pace, normally that would be 6:30 pace.  I knew I wasn’t firing on all cylinders and as it was, with London next week, I was happy to not push too hard anyway.

At the start there was the usual H – B – T shouts from those in the shity brown vests (yawn, will they ever get as bored as we are of that – D.U.L.L, they are like sheep, baaaaaa). Anyway, David Limmer from the local club shot off like a bullet, along with a few others, I was quite happy to let them go and settled into a pace, watching my heart rate all the way.  I was hoping to settle on a marathon paced heart rate but was a few beats higher than that.  The parkrun is 3 laps, more yawns, and I managed to pass a few on the first half mile and ended up in third spot directly behind a young lad.  He was pushing hard and I was quite happy just sitting in behind him.  David, on a mission, was already 200m up ahead by the time we got to the first bridge crossing.  My HR was creeping over threshold and I decided to reign it in a little and get the HR back down to a normal level.  The lad in front seemed to slow in the second lap and I was just running at a sustained effort and passed him.  He had other ideas though and within the next 30 metres had passed me again.  A quick look at my watch showed that I had breached threshold effort again, so held back the pace and on the third lap Richard passed me looking very strong for having run the G2E with me a couple of weekends before.  Great running by these guys and I was happy just sustaining my effort to the end and letting them go for it.  Crossed the line as 4th finisher, first auld guy, and was actually quite happy with my effort levels and pace considering the elevated heart rate on the way up.  It was also elevated on the jog back home, but that may have been due to the harder effort.  So I crossed the line in 17:46 (I think my slowest park run for some time) with an average heart rate of 165 (about 91% of max and roughly half marathon effort) so I am actually quite encouraged by that.  My legs still feel tired from the G2E and there was certainly not much else there today in terms of speed, but that is fine, on previous parkruns, my average HR has been at 175 or more, showing there is about 20-30 seconds per mile in there on when I am feeling a little fresher.  David Limmer of Protobello Running Club had a great run to cross the line in 1st spot with a time of 16:24.  given the undulations and the number of sharp turns on the course (3 times as well), I think this is a very good run from him and I am sure on a flat course he will be approaching that magical 16 minute barrier.

The parkrun itself got off to a great start, very well organised and I saw no mishaps or issues.  If there were any they were well hidden so a big doth of the cap to the organisers as they seem to have a wee gem of a parkrun not too far from me.  The only slight issue is the 3rd lap.  The guys and girls at the front will always have to navigate through those at the back of the pack, but hey, it’s a parkrun, let’s not take it too seriously!!

Good jog home with Stoosh and Lou, good luck to Stoosh at tomorrows run, I am sure he will blast it.

Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra – The Aftermath

The thing about ultra marathons, is that you can’t go out and do another one a week or two later.  Well, you could, but unless you are Mike Wardian, you are unlikely to run well.  They are different to 10k or even half marathons, where one bad race could be rectified by a good race the following week or two, restoring lost confidence and pride!!  I am not going to be able to do that for some months, it is one of the things that comes with this sport.

Since the race all I have done is eat and drink!!  I have been shoveling it away like I am saving up for a famine!  I gain weight very easily so I will need to be very careful over the next couple of weeks to keep the weight down for London marathon.  Once we leave Reay tomorrow (Wed 8th April) I will get back on track with food and I will be off booze again.  I flew up to Wick on Sunday afternoon.  It was a really good flight with Flybe.  Check in on-line, hand luggage only.  Took the train and tram to the airport and went straight through security and onto my plane.  Pretty easy really.  Mrs Boab and the tiny Boabs had headed north the previous Friday and as I was racing I got the later flight.

Anyway, time for reflection.  There have been a few days now to think over what actually happened in the race, and also a couple of comments I’ve received have got me thinking a little deeper than I initially thought.  My initial thoughts were, injury struck at 36 miles, it had been building for 20 miles and came to a head with severe pain at 36 miles, slowing me to a walk.  But was it an injury?  This has been the question I have asked myself since Ian Beattie commented to me that he knows other ultra runners ‘who took time to get it right’.  This actually had not crossed my mind.  The pace was right, it was what I had been doing in training.  In training I had the extra advantage of heart rate numbers, which I don’t use in races.  So I was positive that the pace was well within me.  This was confounded by how good my legs were feeling (minus the hip pain of course).  My feet felt fresh, quads, hammies and calfs all behaving themselves.  There was the chest pain, but breathing was good, I wasn’t pushing cardio wise, well you don’t in an ultra do you, unless there is a head to head for the finish line :).  However, another runner has pointed out to me that fatigue can come in many guises, including severe pain that could be thought of as injury.  The hip flexor pain isn’t unknown to me, I’ve had it a few times in the past, usually after a long run.  It would never be really painful, more a grumble, certainly nowhere near enough pain to make me stop running and not a concern that I would need to get help for.  There was also another runner who has mentioned that illness can bring on pain, even though you may feel fine, the illness, be it flu, cold, or whatever, could manifest itself as pain.  The runner who told me that also had hip flexor issues.

So this has got me questioning what really happened and I not so sure now.  I’ve had two very easy jogs since Saturday and a very sedate pace and while I can feel the hip pain, it isn’t enough to make me want to stop.  So has it been fatigue?

I’ve got as series of tests to carry out, that will uproot any issues in the hip/glute/groin area.  Once there is no pain there, I will get on with the tests and then take it from there.

Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra Marathon – 4th April 2015

I wanted to write this blog entry while this race was still raw. I think raw is a good word as it feels like a fresh wound that is smarting.

Firstly, I am absolutely gutted about what happened at this race.   The basics are I was in the lead and, from what I hear, by a very good margin and also on course record pace, but at 38 miles into the 55 mile race, I had to pull out.

Secondly, I want to make it clear that I have the utmost respect for those mentioned in the following paragraphs and sentences. I have not achieved what they have, but what you will read, is one of the reasons I am so gutted.

I never tell anyone what my expectations are in a race. It may work for some, but I find that it doesn’t work for me. Sure, I speak to Mrs T, but only she knew what I was aiming for in this race today. Steven, my faithful support probably also had a good idea, but I didn’t come right out there and say it. I am the type of person who feels that if you put yourself out there too much, you create a bigger crevice to fall into. After the event, well, if it works out then superb, if not, nobody knew you had failed. Maybe this has been driven by the last 6 years of disappointment. I have really struggled in the last 6 years. I will blog about this another time, because there have been some drastic changes that have made a difference. Since the turn of the year things have really taken a u-turn. One of the benefits of the changes I have made in my life has been consistent quality training. I have watched week on week improvements in pace, endurance, strength and mobility. I feel like I was returning to the runner that I used to be 6 years ago, I was really enjoying training again and things were, and still are, looking promising. Now, I am going to say what my aims were and I will give the reasons for it, but I don’t want it to come across as disrespectful, which might be hard in written word and my lack of ability to express myself properly that way, so sorry if it does.

I’ve ran 2 ultra marathons, the Glen Ogle 33, which I won in a new course record. The Glen Ogle is a small very friendly ultra that I have great memories of, but it was my first and I wanted my entrance into this world to be low key. That fitted the bill perfectly. Next up was the not so low key Devil ‘O the Highlands in 2014. I can honestly say I had 3 weeks of training for this race having missed about 2 months due to a hamstring tear. I came second to a very fast Casey Morgan, who went on to break the Jezz Bragg course record. The Glasgow to Edinburgh marathon was to be my third ultra, and it suited me. It is flat and fast, just the way I like it. I really wanted to make my mark in the ultra world with this race.  There I have said it. The way training has been going I knew I could break, or come very close to, the course record. I’ll re-iterate: I mean no disrespect to Marco Consani, the current course record holder. Marco is a fine runner with GB international and Scotland national vests to his name, but I honestly thought that I could worry this record. My long training runs of 4-5 hours have been quicker than the course record pace and I was confident, with the right taper and approach that I could run really well. Then there was Grant Jeans, again, another GB representative. Grant is quick, 4:25 for the Barry 40 recently shows form over this medium length distance and I knew I would need to be on my game to beat him. This race was my chance to move into those levels, I know I have the training behind me to do it. I have been getting some excellent coaching. My coach may not think that I was up there, by I knew. Maybe he was being cautious as I am still new to this sport. I was determined to show him too.

I also don’t want to take anything away from Rob Soutar. Rob ran a fantastic race today to take the win in a great time, and I am really pleased for Rob.

Steven picked me up from Livingston North train station and we make our way to Ruchil Park in Partick, Glasgow, where the race starts. We are way too early and wander around chatting to other runners and finding the first turn onto the canal. Before we know, it is just before 9am and we are asked to get behind the line for the race briefing. After a short talk we are off. Immediately Grant Jeans tears down the hill and onto the canal. By 5 miles he is well over a minute in front and I settle into a nice relaxed pace in second position. I go through 10 miles in about 66-67 minutes and feeling pretty comfortable. I can always see Grant up ahead when the canal straightens out. It was great to See Gillian Scott of (http://www.scottsportphotography.co.uk/) Scott Sport Photography taking snaps and then bumped in Kirky runner Stevie just after that, he ran with me for half a mile or so until he had to turn off. Good luck tomorrow Stevie, hope the niggle holds out. I go through the first checkpoint in about 1:25-1:26 and take on a new bottle of UCAN and a couple of gels. The pace is still the same, my legs feel excellent, my chest is a little tight, but I have been ill this week. I am not pushing the pace hard so I try to forget about it. It’s the remnants of a slight chest infection. I see Nikki up ahead and get a good shout from her, thank you!! Grant is getting closer to me though. I maintain my pace but he appears to be slowing slightly and by about 15 -16 miles I am only a few steps behind him. I decide to stay there, I mean, we are travelling at sub 6:40 pace and all I need to do is beat him. I have no desire to overtake and put in a burst at this point. However, there are a few road crossing to navigate and we both get to one where we have to stop to wait for traffic to pass. I see the clear road first and start running again, only this time Grant hesitates a little and I am in the lead. What do I do? I try to maintain the pace we were running at and look at my watch to see that is what I am doing, but I am starting to feel a little niggle deep in the hip. At this point it is just a small reminder that something isn’t quite right. I hope it stays that way and continue to press on.

On the approach to Falkirk it is great to see Sandra and Ian (of West Highland Way Race fame) and I am feeling really good, they give me a little lift. By the time I reach the Falkirk Wheel, I’ve opened up a gap of a couple of minutes. Although I felt very fresh at the bottom of the Falkirk Wheel (after I miss the turn off for the wheel, doh!!!), it was not the case when I reach the top of the climb to the Union Canal, only to be greeted once again by Gillian (http://www.scottsportphotography.co.uk/) where she took this snap of me.

SSP_G2E_2015_0036_700_low

Apparently, just before I moaned about the climb!! The hip was getting a little more painful by this point but still bearable and I go through marathon distance in 2:53 and reach the half way point in about 3:01, feeling pretty good, but still that niggle persists. Good to see Tizer and Dexter Dog at Polmont and then STOOSH a little further on, cheers for the shouts chaps. I am getting a little worried by the hip now as I can feel a slight pull on the hip flexor area too. Was this being caused by me running in a way to protect the deep hip pain? Should I try to revert back? By the time I get to Linlithgow (and see my old project manager Joyce, which was great) I am in pain. I am still running well and the pace hasn’t dropped that much (just over 6:40 pace), but I am now experiencing pain on every single step. What do you do? I keep going to see if I can get any respite from it by altering foot strike, glute/hammy firing, even slowing down, but nothing is working. I reach Philipstoun in a lot of pain and my run now has a limp in it!

I think to myself I can’t quit, I don’t feel tired, my legs feel good, I need to finish this race, I have so much running left in me, I am winning this race, FFS!!! But each right foot strike reminds me that my body is screaming for me to stop. Pain is a signal right? It’s a signal to stop doing what you are doing and at that point, in the middle of nowhere, I stopped my watch. 38 miles in 4:17:20, the last 2 miles essentially a walk/jog. I felt like crying. I stand there for about 5 minutes, I don’t know what to do. I call Mrs T and leave a message, who knows how I sounded on that message. Then I text Steven, tell him my race is over. All the things I had promised myself at the beginning and before this race I can see slowly being rubbed off the slate. This is how important to me this race was. This was my ‘A’ target for the first half of this year. I don’t have many decent years left in me, I have wasted 6 years with injury after injury, over trained state after over trained state. Here, now, I am in very good shape, I can feel it, I know it. I feel like crying again. I don’t have the words to express my disappointment.

I put on my waterproof as I start to cool really quickly and I drink what is left in my water bottle and head on for the next check point. I stopped running at 13:17. Grant passes me at 13:37 and Rob passes me at 13:42, that is how big a lead I had gained. I can’t stop thinking about it, if only there was a way to start running again, I could catch them. How could I start running again? These are the silly thoughts that went through my head, then a slight stretch to jump a puddle and I am reminded of the pain, I’m reminded why I am walking.

Then comes the consolidation. I have just ran 38 miles at 6:4x pace, given the circumstances, that is a good effort, that is a good training run. Could I have maintained that to the end? I suspect I would have been there or there about. Sitting here now, I feel like I have been out for a long Sunday run. If my hip was pain free, I would be running tomorrow. I didn’t leave myself out on that course. Maybe by the end that would have been the case, who knows now.

Did I make the right choice? Yes, I have no doubts about that now. Mrs T gave a full dose of reality after the race and I live on to race another day. I’ll go and get some physio on the hip, look at more strength training and hopefully get to the route of the issue. As for the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra, I’ll just need to come back next year.

Congratulations to everyone who finished the race today.

Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra Marathon – Pre Race

I thought I would put down in words my run up to this race.  It is my target race for the first half of 2015.  There is the small matter of the Virgin London Marathon on 26th April, but this is the ‘A’ race.  The Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra Marathon (or the G2E) is a 55 mile ultra marathon run from Glasgow to Edinburgh on the Forth and Clyde and Union canals.  It’s as flat as a pancake and follows the contours of the land from the west of Scotland to the East.

It’s needless to say that my training hasn’t had much hill work in it.  I’ve been working with a coach now since just after Christmas 2014, and while I was doing some hill work and off road hill running early in the plan, the specificity has kicked in over the last 12 weeks and I’ve been running on the flat.  Training has gone very well, there has been a mix of speed, tempo and long running.  Many of the long runs have been mixed up pace wise and I’ve found these particularly beneficial.  There have also been a couple of back to back long runs over consecutive weekends along with a 4 hour 15 minute long run.  I feel ready and prepared for the race.  I have been surprised by how my body has responded to the amount of quality in the training plan.  In recent years, this amount of quality work (at least 3 sessions a week) would have left me over trained and under recovered, leading to illness and injury.  It is different this time, but I am not getting carried away, it is only 3 months of work, and there is a long way to go to build back up to where I know I should be.  That is for the future.

So I am ready for this race, physically.

I’m also ready for this race, mentally.  It will be the furthest I have run and after about 40 miles, I will be into unknown territory, but isn’t that the beauty of these events?  I relish the challenge and I look forward to seeing what my body can do and more importantly, how my mind copes with the physical pain.

Kit list is all checked off, the following will be main components of the kit

Clothes will closely follow what I wore at the Devil O’ the Highlands race last year, but will take extra in case there is a change int he weather.

It will be an early start on Saturday.  The race starts at 9am, so I will be up at 5:30 making breakfast (eggs and bacon) and then on the first train out of Musselburgh.  Steven will pick me up at 7:10 in Livingston and we will head to Glasgow, stopping off for a coffee on route.

BRING IT ON!!!!!