Category: Ultra Marathon Races

Anglo Celtic Plate 2019

#FinishLineFail – thanks to John Connolly for capturing that one!!

Pre Race

This would be my third ACP. The run in to the 2019 edition of the Anglo Celtic Plate was not as smooth as I’d wanted. Outside pressures from various sources were playing heavily on my mind and the required focus needed for the race was absent for many weeks prior. Dad was diagnosed, operated on and recovering from that worst of diseases that now affects 1 in every 2. I was having my own medical problems with some worrying blood results that are still not resolved and work pressure was through the roof with very long and unsociable hours spent on the computer. It was all affecting my sleep, my mood, my family but I tried my hardest to retain the training. Sometimes it felt that the training had been the only thing that was going well.

Me built like the gable end of a crisp

I was in great physical shape. Paul had got me to a new level in the training peaks app we use to monitor progress, I was race weight and physically at my peak. I had it in my mind that I would start the race but I had no idea if, or cared about, finishing.  Given what was happening in my life I would have been forgiven for buckling under the strain. Then to add insult onto injury I seemed to tweak behind my knee on the Saturday morning and developed a migraine from hell itself! I was not in a good way as we drove to Perth, my mood had completely nosed dived and I was in no way feeling sociable. I’m not able to hide my mood easily, WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get from me, and I couldn’t bring my negativity and sour chops to the rest of the Scotland team. Dinner on the Saturday evening was tough, I was still not bothered about the race, making conversation was more of a struggle than normal and I just wanted to be back home and in my own bed.  Lisa told me after the race that she thought I wouldn’t have finished given my state of mind and that is how I felt about it to.  I would start though. Running is an escape, cliche or not, it’s a fact, and running has probably saved me from the melting pot these last few weeks, that and the support of my wonderful wife, so I knew I would be on the start line the following morning.

After the dinner was finished I slopped off to my room to prepare my food for the race and I was tucked up in bed for 9pm. I was so tired that even the full blown wedding band in the room below couldn’t keep me from my slumber.

Race Nutrition and Hydration Plan

  1. Active Root – mix of peppermint and green tea flavours mixed and poured into small sports bottles.
  2. GU Chews – mixed packets bought from Xmiles cut on half
  3. Coca Cola for those final few laps if required
  4. Paracetamol for 50k
  5. Salt Stick – salt tablets.

I took half a pack of chews before the start of the race and then every half hour throughout the race. I also drank around 200ml of Active Root every half hour throughout the race. Every hour I took 2 salt tablets and I took the paracetamol at 50k. I had one Coca cola in the last hour for a massive hit of sugar when needed. It was a simple but very effective plan.

Race Kit

Scottish Athletics supplied Joma Sports kit and so there was no question to what i was wearing, however, the next 5 items were my choice and I think worked perfectly.

  1. Squirrels Nut Butter, generously applied.
  2. Injinji race socks
  3. Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit
  4. Arm Warmers that I wore for the first time and throughout the race
  5. Nike beanie and brooks lightweight race gloves
James is shocked at Kyle sucumbing to the pressures of the Nike Vaporfly 4% 🙂

Race Route

The race takes place in Scotland every 3 years, with England and Wales taking a turn each to host. This year we were joined by teams from Ireland and Northern Ireland. The course is a flat tarmac loop of North Inch Park in Perth. The exact distance of each lap is 2.381km and is almost identical to a full lap of the Meadows in Edinburgh. We would run clockwise for 42 laps.

Race Day

I woke at 5am after a pretty good sleep considering the wedding party going on outside my bedroom window. Breakfast was a banana and an avocado washed down with coffee, then jumped into the shower. I was still not sure about the race.

It was windy, and wet first thing as Debs and Sharon gave myself Sophie and Jo a lift to the start. My thumping sore head that I’d taken paracetamol and ibuprofen all the previous day for was finally subsiding and the knee niggle from the previous day (seriously you could not make this up) was there still, but not bothering me.

Team Scotland support tent getting set up.
The dream team!

Team photos and at 7am we were off. In the first lap, Kyle, Charlie and myself had opened a small gap on the rest of the field. Running at 4 mins/km felt easy. I still had in the back of my mind that I might not finish this race, so I thought just go for it, let’s see what I can do. Kyle and I then opened up a small gap on Charlie. A small gap!

For me these races pass quickly, I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I focus on the immediate, never looking ahead, or behind, just now. This isn’t a conscious thing, it is just how it works for me. And those early laps just disappeared as Kyle and I go through marathon distance in 2:48-2:50. It was here that Kyle opened a gap on me and I was happy to let him go. Kyle is a quality runner, 2:25 for the marathon, Scottish Ultra Trail Champion and podium places across the world in some big ultra marathons. I was never going to underestimate how good this runner was and was happy to see him go off. I wasn’t following as the average pace had dropped to 3:58 per km!!! And he was still gunning it.

50k came in 3:19:56 – 3:59/km (6:25/mile) – this was quick, too quick but my attitude had changed and my original intentions for the race came back to the fore.  Kyle stayed ahead of me but never out of sight for the next 20k. This was a tough section and I wonder if I expelled excess energy as I battled the wind on the river side of the route.

Love this photo by Steve Adam. If you look closely you can see my Garmin at 65k and the average pace is 3:59/km!

The race crew, support and management were superb. I tried to shout and cheer each lap and the reaction from everyone sent a shot of adrenaline through by body that lasted for half a lap and I craved it every time I crossed the start/finish line.

I caught Kyle on lap 31 (73k) and he stuck with me on most of that lap, but by the time lap 32 had been completed I was ahead by a minute. Charlie had been staying close behind us both the entire race.

Another excellent photo taken by Steve Adam

My focus was just keep getting the next lap out, never looking forward to what was coming, always just right now, just this lap. 80k came and I was still averaging 4mins/km and I knew then that a huge personal best was on the cards. Then it happened, those early fast kms came back and bit hard. 85k into the race and I could feel that slow down coming, nutrition had been perfect, hydration had been perfect but my pace had been too aggressive and I was going to suffer for it. I was prepared for it though. If there is anything that I’ve learned about ultra marathons, it’s that as long as you can put one foot in front of the other, you will complete the race. I’d gone from lapping in 9 minute 30 seconds to 10 minutes and eventually recorded a few laps in the 11 minutes. With 6 laps to go Charlie passed me and I stopped for a toilet break, the one I’d put off since the start of the race!! I wasn’t going to go at his pace and I ran the rest of the race in preservation mode. I wasn’t going to lose another spot and the realisation that I was going to be the Scottish champion, again, and lift the Donald Ritchie Cup filled me with intense delight.

The Don Ritchie Cup was a new trophy put forward by Scottish Athletics and the genius idea of Adrian Stott of Run and Become. It was to be awarded to the first Scottish man and woman (there are 2 cups) across the line in the Anglo Celtic Plate competition.

Don Ritchie Cup

I suffered in the closing laps but I crossed the line in 6:51:49, taking over 8 minutes off my previous best from Wales last year. I held onto 2nd place and lifted the silver medal in the British Championships along with winning the Scottish Senior and Masters Championships, but over all of that, I was picking up the Don Ritchie Cup. What an absolute honour.

100k later
Receiving the Don RItchie Cup from the late Don’s wife and daughter.
My haul for the day 🙂

I am not able to make the start line without the help and support of a load of fantastic people.

  • My family, in particular my Wife, Lisa, my absolute rock when things get squiffy!
  • My coach Paul Giblin for getting me into awesome shape and being there with a level head when things got a bit funky
  • The team selectors, Adrian and Mark for allowing me to do this
  • Team management, Debs, Val and Sharon, you are the best
  • My crew, Ken Walker, you also are the best!
  • Rich from Built to Last personal training for all your help
  • Tom Hanley for those “therapy sessions”
  • Doc Andrew Murray of FASIC for squeezing me in to sort out my grumbling Mortens neuroma
  • Ross from Space Clinics Dalry Road (not thanking you for the graston though ;-))
  • The guys at Active Root for your support
  • Squirrels Nut Butter UK for your support
  • Xmiles for your support


The blog isn’t complete without passing on congratulations to Sophie Mullins on her superb British 100km Championships win and the Scottish Women taking the Anglo Celtic Plate home to Scotland. Awesome work by all.

And to all my team mates, we ran hard, we ran with pride and courage and gave it our best. Nobody can ask for more than that.

Until next time folks!

The Road to Durban – Part 1

The Road to Durban – Part 1

Today is the 13th January 2018 and in 22 weeks I will stick my wee size 8.5s on the start line of, arguably, the world’s biggest and, to some, best ultra marathon.  ‘The Comrades’ this year starts in Pietermaritzburg and proceeds up and down and up and down and down and down again to Durban, some circa 90kms away.  When I think about it, I get a knot in my stomach, like I did just before I got married, or when my kids were born.  Excitement is not a strong enough word,  my anticipation of this race makes me wobble at the knees, which reminds me that I will need to do a lot of work in that area in the next 5 months if my quads are to handle the last, generally, down 40km of the race.  Yes, it’s a “down” year which means there is a net downhill to the race course.  It’s alternated each year with the “up” race which runs in the opposite direction.  You avid ultra runners already know this stuff, right?

I mentioned strength work there, I have joined my new client’s gym and attempted to get back into some gym work last Tuesday.  Just some simple sumo squats with 35kg and pistol squats on the TRX machine.  I was in the gym anyway doing my daily mobility work and thought no time like the present.  Muscles will be stiff for a day or two at the most and I would crack on next week with it.  I was still struggling to get up and down stairs this morning, 4, FOUR, days later.  I am so old.

So, anyway, this is part one of the journey to Durban.  I am on a train somewhere between Penrith and Lancaster as I type this.  I wasn’t going to bother to blog about this, but I am unable to watch my Netflix downloads in the quiet coach without my earphones.  I do have my earphones, but no jack plug adaptor for these new bloody iPhone ear pieces.  Apple, as standard, give you a female jack socket so that you can plug your fancy Dr Dre ear pieces into the iPhone, but don’t give you male adaptor for the Lightening connector so that you can use your Apple phones with other equipment.  You need to buy that of course!  This along with trying to keep my mind off the really obese guy behind me having to use my headrest every time he gets and up and down (which is about every 10 minutes at the moment).  I was almost having a wee nap when my head was pulled back gently and catapulted forward at supersonic speeds as obese guy needed to drain the main vain……again!  There is a lot to be said for first class, but this wasn’t special enough to warrant the additional 200 quid.

“Where are you going?”  Oh, yeah:  I am heading to Gloucester.  Tomorrow is the rescheduled Gloucester half marathon, marathon and 50km.  Comrades has a qualification window regardless of who you are or what you’ve done in the past (I am sure this doesn’t apply to the Elite field).  Each runner is required to run at least a marathon between August 2017 and May 2018 for the 2018 race.  Seeding is based on the time you run on the given distance you choose for qualification.  There are a number of distances that can be used, marathon, 50k, 100k, 100 miles etc.  I have picked the marathon, and picked one early enough in the year so that it is out of the way and I can get back to training on Monday.  I would have gone for one late last year, but I actually don’t think I would have been in shape to run under 3 hours for the marathon.  Let me just say that at 45 year old, lost fitness (due to long term injury) takes an awful long time to come back.  A hell of a lot longer than I remember in my 30’s.  I’ve managed to train regularly since June last year and have been getting help with my training (#teampyllon) since August and I think I am now, just, in the right shape to run a sub 3 marathon. It shouldn’t pose too much of an issue.  It won’t be easy peasy, but it should be comfortable.  I wouldn’t normally toe the line in this current shape for a marathon but I think Paul has me in the right condition to get that qualification time.  There will be no heroics, this is just a train journey down, 2:59, then train back home.  That sub 3 will give me entry into the top tier on the Comrades start line – that is the only goal for tomorrow.