Category: Uncategorized

Glen Ogle 33 – 2019

Glen Ogle 33 – 2019

Image by Sylvia McGoldrick

Third time at this race. Could I make it 3 wins?? Fitness was in the ‘ticking over’ phase so I wasn’t expecting fireworks from my pace and there were a couple of youngsters in the starting lineup that I suspect were going to be there or there abouts.

Ok, excuses out of the way onto the race report! Steven and I headed up to Killin the night before the race and basically bagged a full house in a very sweet Air B&B deal. The details of which will remain with me in case we head up again in future years. Had a half decent sleep, well, it was at least 4 hours which is a bonus for me before a race (is that another excuse I hear?).

The weather was cool and calm but not cold and so I opted for a t-shirt rather than long sleeves. Packing light was the idea and so I opted to use the drop bag at half way where I had my Active Root Green Tea in a softflask along with some emergency gels. The plan was to drink a small amount every 15 minutes after half an hour. In my small bum bag was another Active Root, phone and foil blanket, both mandatory, and a couple of gels in case I needed them. My plan was to race with just Active Root if possible.

After a briefing we were off and I found myself at the front, although I could hear feet close behind me and once we got the the first big climb out of Killin I was caught by the chasers. I’d opted to stick on the Nike Next%, the route is mostly hard packed trail or tarmac, with only a few miles of forestry roads, but I think it was a mistake. As Stuart Paterson and I took turns to lead on that first climb, I took a left hand turn and landed hard on my left hip and knee. Knee burst and hip in pain I wondered if I was going to complete the race and we were so early into it. It did alter my agressiveness on the climb and as I caught up with Stuart again I decided that I should run behind him and use his pace. He was quick on the climbs though and I had to work hard to maintain contact both with him and the ground as I slipped and slided all over the hill. As we reached the top and started the decent onto the Glen Ogle Viaduct, I’d gained a few meters on Stuart and decided to attempt to open up the gap a little more on the decent to Strathyre. It didn’t really have the desired effect as a few glances behind as we approached Balquhidder would see Stuart less than a minute behind me. I think the gap did open up a bit more as we ran through the rollercoaster up and downs through Balquhidder and into Strathyre Caravan Park where I’d pick up my second soft flask of Active Root.

After crossing the main road, there is another steep climb, it was here I took my second tumble, my feet slipping from under me on a wet muddy section before meeting the forest road. Ouch, landed on my hands this time and although it doesn’t affect your running it hurt more than the first fall. I picked myself up, cursing I had picked those shoes, but hoping I wasn’t losing too much time to Stuart. I continued with the sipping active root every 15 minutes and energy levels remained fairly constant. I went through the marathon distance in about 2:53 ish and with all the major climbing done I was starting to feel it as I climbed the long slow drag back up the Glen Ogle Valley. Man, that is a long road to run up! It never seems to end and I could feel my effort rising, trying to maintain pace but inevitably it had started to slide and I thought I might even get caught here. There are some very long straights on the viaduct and a few glances behind before a corner would show nobody there.

I reached the top of the viaduct and cross the main road once again, delighted that there was about 5k to run and it was mostly downhill, however, my quads had taken so much of a battering that steep descent into Killin was brutal! I definitely lost time here as I tip toed and tentatively ran down some fantastic trail. I was glad to see the steep descent even out in the last 2k and then it was a gentle decline as I reached the village boundary.

There were about 1 million tourists all out with cameras at the Falls of Dochart that morning as I ran past, sodden with sweat, tired, bedraggled and filthy. Some were not impressed. I entered the park behind the village hall where the finish was and in their cruelty the race directors make you run a full circumference around before crossing the line.

I finished in 3:39 to take the win, a few minutes slower than when I ran it 4 years ago, but I am 4 years older and I don’t remember my quads ever being that sore in a race! Something to work on.

Stuart was only a couple of minutes behind me in the end, nothing over that distance, and ran a great race. Some Pyllon Ultra team mates had great runs too, Mark and Des and it was great to see Sandra back running ultras after a bit of a break with injuries.

Organisation was, as usual, superb, Bill (I’m not sure if Mike was there this year) and Ada and the rest of the marshalls and race team were brilliant. The Glen Ogle 33 is one of Scotland’s gems in the ultra scene, long may it continue.

Image by Sylvia McGoldrick

This Year!

46434242_10104037912794169_4468221401932759040_o
Photo by the Queen of Scottish Ultra, RunDMC 🙂

And Rest…….

I’m taking a rest from running (ok I started this blog a few weeks ago, I am now well and truly back on it😊).  I was trying to remember the last time I have done that.  Oh yeah, It’s never.  The only time in the last 15 years I have not run is when I’ve been injured or recovering from a big race, which I admit, the former has been lots of times.  I’ve had lots of down time due to injury, but this is the first scheduled rest.  I’m relieved and lost at the same time.

After Croatia, I was invited to race in China, all expenses paid.  It was a fantastic experience but the 50k did not go well.  I’d picked up some kind of bug that had me feeling awful on the start line.  Indeed, I was unwell for a fortnight afterwards. The pace I started at, and what I thought would be 50k pace, required way too much effort and I had to slow down after about 5 miles to a pace that was manageable.  I completed the race.  It was an enjoyable experience that I got to share with good friends David and Jo and coach and friend Paul G.   Dan, Sam, Paul F, Ollie and Walter made up the rest of the GB representatives and I hope to go back again to race fit and well.  There was no pressure on anyone to run well and it showed in people’s demeanour.  Racing for fun.  The whole experience deserves a blog of its own.

The Pyllon Endeavour was next up.  This project was thought up by my coach and dude Paul Giblin, owner and lead coach at Pyllon Coaching.  The idea was to run from Milngavie to Fort William on the infamous West Highland Way route, turn around, and run back to Milngavie.  At the outset this was 192 miles and the proposal was to run it as a relay in 24 hours.  Out and Back in a day. So, that was what the runners had to do, but the main principle of the endeavour was to get people talking about mental health.

It was decided to raise money for SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health), but more importantly it was about creating the safe space, the openness for people to talk, to share their thoughts and to reach out for help.  And it did, through the build up to the challenge we, the runners, read , heard or experienced people open up about their own challenges, periods of depression, hardships.  People I suspect you wouldn’t expect to open up, men in particular.  It was lovely, it broke down barriers, the blockades that men have were gone, ripped down by the community that was being shaped.  Having said that, the community was already there, at the end of the day it is just a bunch of people, but they were presented as people who others could trust with other’s innermost thoughts.  Some of the runners involved had shared their own experiences of mental health issues and many brave people shared their own challenges in public forums.  The endeavour had done what it set out to do, get people talking and asking for help.   The fact that it raised nearly £11,000 for SAMH was almost a by product of the success of the movement and momentum that the challenge had created.

(There might still be time to doante: Click Here)

It was wonderful to be a part of it.  It is a weekend/24 hours that I will never forget.  Without trying the team, James, Graham, John, Chris, Eoin, Marco, Paul and myself had generated excitement amongst ourselves and the wider running community and indeed the wider public.  I’ve had a great year, a really great year, from the running perspective. It started with an unexpected win in Gloucester Marathon in a time that I thought was beyond me at that moment, then an epic battle with Ant Clark to win the 100k British Championships in Wales. Next up, Comrades in South Africa, then the unexpected call up to the British 100km Team for the World Championships in Croatia.  Sandwiched between those two was a wee Run the Blades 50k effort, then the invite out to the 50k in China. I look back at those events and while they all didn’t go to plan for various reasons, it has been an outstanding year in my running ‘career’.  I’ll be honest here though, being part of the Pyllon Endeavour challenge team topped all those races.  Why? Because we were doing something selfless.   Yes, there was the matter of running up and down the West Highland Way, mostly in the pitch black and having that awesome type 2 fun that thrills and excites me while desperately suffering (that is why we do it after all) and that was the enjoyment aspect of the actual physical part. But we had generated talk, action and hopefully resolution for people who might need help.  I don’t have the skills to describe how that makes me feel.  Being surrounded by so many decent human beings restored my confidence in people’s motivations.  On a day to day basis I am surrounded by people where alternative motives and hidden agendas are the norm and so it was refreshing to be part of a group of magnanimous, generous and altruistic individuals who had a common unselfish goal.  An amazing, astounding, incredible experience that I’ll take to the grave. Thank you lads.

I can’t write about the experience and not mention the support crews, in particular my own support, Derek.  Another brilliant dude, willing to give up his time to drive me around in his pride and joy camper.  It was pristine when I saw it first, painstakingly cleaned and gleaned for the event, but looked like a scene from Platoon by the end!  I can’t thank Derek (and all the other support teams) enough, we simply could not have done this without them.  It really was a team effort.

And so, we get to the end of the year and my only wish for next year is more of the same please 😊

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year when it comes.

Croatian Aftermath

team_photo

It’s taken a few weeks to come to terms with what happened in Croatia.  After the race I reached a level of disappointment that I have never experienced.  I don’t think I have ever put as much effort into a single event my entire life. To make errors at this level, for me, was inexcusable.  It was about a week later when I understood that I had made mistakes.  The realisation brought a certain amount of relief but also further anguish.

At the time, when things started to unfold for me, massive thoughts of self-worth flooded my head.  Negative judgement came way too easy:

“You’re just not good enough to be here”

“You have blown this by setting off way above your ability”

“You’ve had your chance and you have destroyed it”

I couldn’t shake these feelings, but it was important to put them aside.  I was there as part of a team and some of those team members had a race to remember.  Of course, the omni present Mrs T saw just how raw I was, she saw how close I was to falling, deeply, into a pit. The self-pity party was in full swing and I was the host!

I’ve always been inquisitive, curious and eager to find out how things work.  As a coder and data analyst I’m often working out why things don’t work. Testing, reconciling. Or I’m looking for patterns and trends in information.  Arranging large amounts of data into something that is understandable. These are tasks I do daily.  I had to work out what went wrong.

If we rewind a little I could go into great detail about the whole event.  I’m not going to do that in this blog, but I might in the future.  Despite the problems I faced during the race, everything was wonderful.  The organisation, the location, the people, my team mates, even the undulating course.  It really was a weekend I will never forget.

team_photo2

me_pre_race

The course was an undulating 2.5k first loop then 13 7.5k loops. Support stalls for each country were just before the start/finish line and at the loop half way point.  The race was going well and to plan for the first 60km. I was aiming for a time around 6:50-6:55 and I was running slightly quicker than that, but comfortable with the pace and effort. I was taking on gels and hydration as per my pre-defined plan. I was running with a group that dwindled over the duration, but we kept each other going in those early laps.

RT_LT_Support
Mrs T helping out in the support area. Thanks to Jo Zakrzewski for the photo.

At around 65k I felt a deadening in the legs.  Something I’d never felt before, it was like a car going instantly from high octane petrol to diesel. My initial thought was, ok, that’s the tiredness coming on, I can handle that, but within 10k, I was stopped by the side of the road in agony as I couldn’t purge my legs of cramps.  It was everywhere, quads, hamstrings, calves and inside thigh.  Those last ones are very painful as you must allow them to subside themselves, no stretch helps.  Stopping became more frequent in those last 30kms, cramp would cripple me then subside and I did all I could to keep going to the end. I’d lost 25 minutes in those last 4 laps and finished 30th in 7:18, my slowest 100km. I was devasted. I was in the shape of my life and I hadn’t been able to prove it.

The rest of the team had differing results, Ant Clark ran a stunning race to finish in the top 10 and made the top 10 in the UK all-time list, truly phenomenal performance.  Sam Amend making the top 15 despite not having her best race, Carla and Sue had similar races to me for different reasons.  If you come into 100km racing with a slight injury it will show itself at some point in the race and Lee, unfortunately experienced that and had to drop out as well as his luggage (including all his race nutrition) not making it to Croatia with him!! It all stacked up against him.  The support team of Adrian, Jo, John and Mrs T were superb during the race.  Jo gets a special mention for her efforts as she traded with people from other countries to acquire race nutrition for Lee.  The whole weekend was wonderful despite my failure in the race.

But what happened?

I took some time to analyse the available data.  It raised 4 questions:

  1. Did I set off too fast for my ability?
  2. Have I raced too much this year?
  3. Was Comrades too close to this race?
  4. Did I get my food and hydration strategy right?

Did I set off too fast?

That doesn’t appear to be the case, effort was less or similar to effort at the ACP in March. The increased pace from ACP pace would correlate with an increase in fitness level which I knew had happened.  I checked my heart rate regularly to make sure I was staying well under threshold and that the heat and humidity were not affecting my effort.  They didn’t appear to be.  My pace was quicker than the ACP, but my heart rate was on a par, actually a little lower at the same distances up to when things went wrong.  I was lighter (4kgs lighter), paces were better, I felt awesome before going out to Croatia.  So, I don’t think I overcooked it even though the pace was quicker than initially planned.  I was on for 6:50-6:55 pace before falling off a cliff!

Wales_Chart_2018_detailed
ACP – Wales – March 2018

 

Croatia_Chart_2018_detailed
World Championships – Croatia – 2018

The salient points are:

  1. The early effort, up to about 60k was slightly lower than ACP in March.
  2. The early pace was way higher than at ACP, showing my fitness level.
  3. This was not caused by fitness levels.

 


Have I raced too much this year?

This probably is something not tangible, it can’t be measured.  I’ve had 2 fairly long races since the ACP; a massive one in Comrades and a small 50k, where even though it was a training run, I did push it harder than I should have, both requiring some time for taper and recovery.   Maybe my racing had an effect, that will always be hard to tell unless I go for a year with one or two races and everything else stays the same.  This is the most amount of racing I have done in a year, ever.  Maybe the additional racing has had a knock-on effect.  Something to take into the future.

Jan – Gloucester Marathon – Comrades Qualifier, run hard, not flat out.

Mar – Anglo Celtic Plate – Left nothing out there, took 6 weeks to recover properly from this race.

Jun – Comrades – Picked up injury, still completed the 90km race. 5-6 weeks to recover properly.

July – Run the Blades 50k – Ran hard, not flat out.

Sep – World 100km Championships.

 


Was Comrades too close to this race?

I haven’t been able to do any scientific stats on this, but almost every person who had doubled up in Comrades and the Worlds had a shocker.  There was “Comrades Carnage” everywhere.   Was it too close for a lot of athletes, including me?  Probably.

 


Did I get my food and hydration strategy right?

Hydration, did I get this right? My plan was to start taking on gels at 10k and then each lap alternating gels with Active Root and any other fluids I might want.  Taking on fluid every 2 laps (15km) in this heat was, on hindsight, not the best approach.  I should have been taking in fluid at the very least every lap (7.5k).   I chose a strategy that I now think to have been completely wrong.

I should have taken a gel at the lap half way point and fluid at the end of each lap FROM THE START.  Probably more as the race went on.  I got this completely wrong. I know that now and that was my fault.  It was questioned by my wife and by the support team prior to the race starting but I thought I was correct, I thought it would be enough.  I had 2 toilet stops in the first few laps and didn’t want any more stops, so refused more water/fluids earlier in the race.  A few more pee stops would have been preferable than what happened in the last 4 laps!!!

You can have the best sports performance products in the world but if you don’t utilise them properly, you can’t expect to perform at your best.

IMG_6193

The result of this scrutiny is that maybe I’ve raced a little too much this year, but I have recovered.  Maybe Comrades was too close, and it took a little edge off my World Championship performance.  By far the biggest weighted problem was fluid/salt intake and lack of food in those early laps.  Once you are in a deficit like that, it is impossible to recover.


Outcome

The positive aspect to this is that I can take this knowledge into my next challenge and ensure that there is no repeat.  Should I be lucky enough to gain a selection for Scotland or GB in the future, or any ultra for that matter, there will be no repeat of what happened in Croatia.

 post_Race

I’ve been very lucky to have been invited out to a race in China in a few weeks time.  It is not a target race, I don’t expect any outstanding performance, but it is a lovely way to end my racing season.  A season that I can only describe as the running year of my life.

Wilde About Croatia

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Oscar Wilde had some marvellous quotations, this is one of my favourites.   I sometimes  wonder if people question my commitment to this sport.  Are the sacrifices that my family and I have had to make being judged and that often leads me to thinking and judging myself for what a selfish sport ultrarunning can be.  I’ve been very lucky that people are, at least, writing about me, if not talking!  The articles have a few inaccuracies in them, but I am honoured to be back page news in the local (East Lothian Courier) and old local (Lanark Gazette) newspapers.

gazette

 

East Lothian Courier

 

Wilde also said, “Moderation is a fatal thing.  Nothing succeeds like excess”.  I’ve done a lot of things to excess in my life, many, if not most have been harmful and perhaps some would say running to excess is also harmful.  It is the process of training and racing and all that goes with it that makes me truly happy, from a sporting perspective, and for that I provide no apology.

The penultimate Oscar Wilde quote for this blog will be, “Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing”.

This blog is about running, in particular my experiences through ultra-running.  Be that on the trails, roads or mountains.  Each training run, mobility or strength session and every race brings an experience.  Each experience doesn’t have to be some enlightened moment, a wondrous event or even a good experience for it to be meaningful or provide knowledge or learning.  I have absolutely sunk myself into training this year, more than I have ever done in the past.  That includes nutrition, mind-set, mobility, strength work, supplementation and sleep.  These have not been carried out in moderation, almost every single day I have committed 100% of the time I allocate to training, to training.  This has slipped over into family and business time on occasion, and I have no idea the last time I had a night out, but I’ve had a lifetime of nights out.  I have learned a lot, more so in these last 12 months that I have in the last 12 years.

This time next week I’ll be in Croatia getting ready for the race of my life.  I’ve had many podium places locally and nationally, but the world 100km championships is a world class athletics event and I have no delusions or pre-conceived ideas of my abilities.  I am there as a GB team member and I will run my heart out for the team, for my family and for myself.  If I get to the 100km mark and know that I have given everything I possibly can, then it will be a successful event.

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result” – Oscar Wilde

See you on the other side!

 

Countdown to Croatia

81704cdf-e609-4406-aeec-27f494641e01

It’s no secret (I’ve blawed about it often enough) that I’ll be donning the red white and blue vest (and short, t-shirt, track suit, waterproofs, long shorts, polo shirt…..) of Great Britain in a little over 6 weeks time.  When I was a young teenager I took up athletics as I was alright at it and I was garbage at football.  Well actually, I made the senior team at high school as a 4th year (the only 4th year to do so despite there being at least another 11 lads far better than me) but that was more based on my running speed than silky skills with the ball.  Steve Cram had only been on the track scene for a couple of years, but was already taking down Coe and Ovett and that was it, he was my new idol. Quiet, fast and head to toe in Nike! What was not to idolise!!! And it was the 800m/1500m that I would try my luck at.  I was quick, but not the quickest over 100m or 200m, but when it got to 400m and above I was starting to hold my own.  I had some success over 800m (sub 2 minutes), 1500m (close to 4 minutes) and picked up a number of national, schools and county medals over the 2 or so years that I was training.  Like every kid I had dreams of GB representation, going to big events, and living the life of an athlete.  As a 17 year old boy a day is a lifetime and one day I was the athlete, the next I was getting involved in all manner of activities and behaviours that are not good for the body or soul.  That would last 15 years and my teenage dreams of pulling on a GB track suit faded like my substance lazed memories!!

Fast forward nearly 30 years, yes reader (I know there is at least one, thanks Mum), three zero years, and I don’t have the creativity in vocabulary to describe to you how monumental it feels to have been selected for the Great Britain team for the up coming World 100km Championships in Croatia.  Andy Milroy (author of the late Don Ritchie’s biography – The Stubborn Scotsman) calls the 100km ‘the blue ribband’ of the road ultras.   I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but I like it 😊.  This isn’t an event for “has beens” either, I am joined by England Commonwealth games marathon and Comrades podium runner Steve Way, Lee Grantham, former UK 100km champion (I stole that crown this year 😊 ) both of whom have sub 2:20 marathon PB’s.  And Anthony Clark, my friend and closest rival over some recent Anglo Celtic Plate 100kms.  In world standings we are half decent team.  The selection committee must satisfy themselves that any team put forward should be in with a chance of a world championship medal.  At the very least the selection committee believe in us.

I tried looking at the thesaurus for a word that amplifies the word excited, but I couldn’t pick one (answers on a postcard please). Since I got the call, I’ve been living the monastic life….again….which is harder than the training itself.  Training is fantastic, I love it, I love completing a hard session and quietly, to myself, saying, ‘you nailed that’.  Finishing a, not so easy, 50k race under coach @pyllon guidelines as to how to run it (i.e. DO NOT RACE THIS) and thinking, again quietly to myself, ‘you could have ran that much harder’.  That was the Run the Blades 50k event last Saturday (21st July).  What an event, superbly organised and a tough wee off road route around the Whiteless Wind Farm just outside Eaglesham.  Go do this race, it is brilliant.

Photo by Sandra Hunter
Photo by Sandra Hunter

Living like a monk is the hard bit that I really have to concentrate on it.  It is easy to pick up that chocolate bar, packet of crisps, (put your vice in here), they are ubiquitous, every shop, workplace, friend’s homes.  Booze is another vice, I love a beer, but this year I have really gotten into zero alcohol beers.  I seem to know more about these beers than I do the ones I would drink normally!! The great thing about the zero beers is that I can only ever drink one or two and then I go off the taste.  They don’t contain those chemicals that switch off my ‘only one or two’ switch.  The best one, in my opinion, is Warsteiner.

Y-U-M.  I think this one is the closest to the real thing.

Over eating in particular is a problem for me, particularly at the weekends.  There is probably a connection there with no work, relaxation, no real routine, but I can eat most people under the table!  A few years ago I started using an app Chronometer.  Mostly as I wanted to attempt to track the nutrients and vitamins I was getting from the food I was eating rather than anything else.  It was great at the time as I could see that I needed to supplement with iron and calcium as I was not getting enough from food.  Of course these things are never 100% accurate, I’m not going to get all evangelical about the app, but this time as well as looking after my nutrient status I’ve started taking note of my consumption levels and then writing down how I feel each day. I note physical things like fullness, general energy levels, sleep quality, training quality, levels of pain, levels of sluggishness when training, concentration levels and hunger levels.  An added benefit is weight loss.  I’ve dropped to just over 60kgs without trying and, more importantly, without compromise.  I also note mental aspects, among them mood.  The list goes on.  It’s allowing me to understand how I function as a human more clearly.   Will I continue to do it after the World Champs, I am not sure, it can be time consuming, but it’s all about marginal gains now.  I am not suddenly going to run 6:30 for 100k, but if monitoring my body like this gives me a 1% gain over my ACP time, then I’ll run 6:55 and this could be the difference between a medal or not.  It’s a small price to pay.

Six weeks tomorrow I will toe the line with the best 100k runners in the world.  I might never get the chance to do this again, I plan to be in the best shape of my life.

World 100km Championships Home Page

The Road to Durban – The Epilogue

IMG_5403

Where do I start? At the end is an ideal place to kick this off.  I cried. For the first time in finishing a race, a few real tears rolled down my cheeks when Mrs T finally found me. I was overwhelmed by emotions that, at the time, I didn’t understand. Thinking about it now, they were from both sadness and joy.  This race got to work on me from the beginning and discarded me like a piece of used gum.

Despite Emirates business class travel, I slept for a total of a minute on the way over, in fact in the 3 nights before the race, I had a total of one night’s sleep.  That is no excuse, more of a note to self to travel out earlier to a race this far from home!  The 1:30am rise out of bed to catch a bus to the start didn’t phase me, I hadn’t been asleep, but I selected the only bus that had been transported from 1950’s Bangalore.  Maybe sleep is important after all.  We were the second bus to set off, but about the 30th to arrive in Pietermaritzburg.  It was cold at 3am, the 3 quid shit catchers (grey joggers) and 4 quid t-shirt form Primark were partially doing their job.  There were still people in single use black bin bags around the start area, I hope these will become a thing of the past on the race start lines.  My own discarded clothes would at least be used again by those who need clothes in SA.

Time went quickly before the start.  I chatted to a few other guys and I was given some good advice by an English guy who could clearly spot my Comrades virginity.  Before I knew it ‘that’ tune from Chariots of Fire was being blasted out the PA system, then Shosholoza, the cockerel calls, then the gun (click here for a wee video of the start).  It was 5:30am. This was it. 7 months of meticulous preparation by my coach Paul Giblin (@pyllon) and I was in fantastic shape.  Having put down a 7 hour 100km earlier in the year, I was confident that I could run quick at Comrades.  The last 6 miles of the 100km were my slowest and I knew what I was capable of over a race that was 10k shorter.  I set off around 4 minutes a km.  This was a few seconds per km too quick, but I remembered thinking the same at the Anglo Celtic Plate and so take a quick look at heart rate and it was in a similar place, so I knew pace was good at this stage of the race.  I monitor heart rate for the first wee while just to make sure I am not overcooking it.  That became difficult on the big climbs, but I tried to wait until the ground levelled out to look again, but it never did, and I just went with feel.

Don’t be fooled by the term ‘Up Run’ or ‘Down Run’ when Comrades is being described. Net down or net up is probably a better description and either way this is a brutal course.  For example, the down run has half a dozen long slow climbs with some short sharp downhills, then there is the final 20k downhill after running 70k.  There are still some sharp and longer uphill sections in that last half marathon. It’s not a pancake flat route, quite the opposite, for a road race.

We leave Pietermaritzburg and join the northbound carriageway of a 4 lane motorway.  It is still pitch black and the only lights are those of the vehicles going in the opposite direction.  The motorway is completely closed for the race as are all the roads of the race. The only noise I can hear are the impact of running shoes on the asphalt.

I won’t describe each section of the race, other than to say that I hadn’t quite understood the amount of climbing involved in that first half of the race, or the pain in the quads I would incur on the last 20k downhill. Anyone contemplating a Comrades finish would be well advised to work on these in their training.

I had no idea of my position in the race at any point, there are simply too many people.  Steve Way was unaware his own position and the man ended up on the podium!!  It was unimportant, I was here to run a time, to soak up the experience and put those months of hard training to the test.

After a particular climb, I turn a righthand corner with a few other guys around me and I can here a familiar voice shouting on me.  Confused, I look across to my left and there was Mrs T in the middle of the road with my first instalment of Active Root and Honey Stinger gels.

IMG_8096IMG_5578

Phew, if she hadn’t seen me, I would have missed this checkpoint!  Consports were an SA based company who were offering a couple of packages for the runners and supporters. For runners, there were 3 checkpoints where you could pick up you own sustenance.  For the support there was a champagne breakfast and a lunchtime Braai (BBQ)!!!  They were very good and I would suggest to anyone coming to Comrades to give them some consideration if you don’t want to rely on the provided energy drinks and food.

IMG_5798

Around 40km into the race, I felt a little twinge in my right foot. It was like I had stood on a sharp stone on the ball of my foot.  I ignored it, thinking that is what must have happened and it would subside, but these roads are clear of debris.  Around marathon distance I picked up some more Active Root and Honey Stingers at the second Consports checkpoint.  At 50k I was still running strong, I remember looking at my watch here and seeing 3:24.  I was running well and on target and we had almost completed all the major climbs of the race.  That “stood on a stone pain” hadn’t subsided and ignoring it became increasingly more difficult.  A couple of kms later I felt and heard a pop in my foot and I was running with a limp.  I stopped for a pit stop and had ideas of taking my shoe off to see if there was something stuck in the shoe.   I knew there was nothing in my shoe, my thoughts turned to utter disappointment and feelings of anguish flooded me.

Feelings of jumping into a bailer bus lasted a millisecond.  This wasn’t a bad patch that I would overcome eventually, this was an injury, this was an injury that was going to end any time goals that I had, this was an injury that wasn’t going to stop me finishing. No way Jose!  I could still move forward, thoughts flitted between people I know who’ve gone through similar tough times in races recently and my own previous form when picking up an injury in a race (I’ve bailed).  I was not going to stop.  Too much time, money, training, effort and emotion had been invested in this race.  This is the game of chance we all play.  I had unfortunately drawn the go to jail card, but I wasn’t out of the race.

At 64km there was another Consports checkpoint and I was walking as I approached.  The look on MR T’s face said it all.  She was conveying exactly how I felt inside.  She asked if I wanted to pull out and got an immediate and flat NO in return.  I took more Active Root but I didn’t want any more gels.  My body was now not burning through the calories and the thought of any more semi solid food made me gag.

IMG_8115

The last 26-28k were torturous with frequent walking breaks from the hobble that I could manage.  I worked out that if I could run on my heels and avoid too much toe off the pain was bearable, but a return to any half decent pace was out of the question.

I’ll say at this point I’ve never experienced anything like the crowds.  For almost the full 90kms there were people lining the route.  From whole families out in their pyjamas at 5:30am in Pietermaritzburg to whole schools, dressed in full uniform creating a tunnel of noise, to groups of friends sparking up their Braai and drinking beer.  It was friendly, fun and fantastic.  At the end of the race I didn’t feel that this race was anything ‘special’, I suspect my thoughts were being ambushed by emotions.  On reflection, and now that the rawness of that emotion has passed, I can honestly say this is a special race.

The old finish is a stone through away from our hotel, the new finish being about 2-3kms along a main road in the city of Durban.  I run past my hotel and wish I was in there, I wished that there had be no change to the finish and I had no more kms to run (I might have broken 7 hours too LOL).  But I had another 2kms to run and I must finish.

IMG_8133As I approached the Moses Mabhida stadium I was in excruciating pain, I was now very worried about the damage to my foot.  Thoughts of stress fractures, broken metatarsals filled my head.  The crowds lined the road kept me going. The noise as I approached the entrance was deafening, people were hanging over the railings to high five you, the stadium was nearly full and I had 200m to the end.  I made it!  A few minutes over 7 hours.  Nearly a full hour slower than my original game plan, but I was at the end and I had a silver medal around my neck.   I had kicked the white towel out of the ring at round 7 and I’d boxed on to the end of the 12th round.  Yes, I’d lost on points, but I was still standing.

I was disappointed, upset, saddened by how the race turned out and at the same time proud that I could muster the resolve, tenacity or plain doggedness to finish in abject and dismal circumstances.  What I’ve taken away from this race is far more than I could ever have expected had the race gone to plan.  I’ll be able to take this experience into each and every race in the future and that is what I am thankful for.

IMG_8136

As always, my rock, my support, my best friend and my wife, Mrs T was there experiencing this with me and my two girls were always in my thoughts.  During the race I was tormented with thoughts of having to tell my eldest I’d pulled out of the race.  The trepidation and anxiety of that was a major driver.

There is so so much more to tell, so many thoughts that I could spill out of this head, some great, some not so great.  The post race scenario, feeling lost, medical, argh, but I am going to leave it here.  Maybe another time.

 

I’ve now been asked a thousand times if I will go back and do the ‘Up Run’ next year.  You get one chance to get a back to back medal.  South Africa is a really long way.  There were a lot of sacrifices made by me and  my family and a lot of people not mentioned on here helped out with childcare and logistics.  I would love to go back, I have a ghost to settle in South Africa, but I am not sure I can ask nor expect these sacrifices again.  We’ll see….

The Road to Durban – Part IV (Almost There)

IMG_5403If a crow could fly direct, it would by over 6000 miles to Durban from Edinburgh.  This will be double the distance I have ever travelled for a race.  New York in 2007, when Lance Armstrong beat me by 20 seconds (and his film crew almost killed me), is just a tad over 3000 miles from Auld Reekie.

Sunday, will see me toe the start line with 22,000 ultra marathoners for, what is arguably, the biggest contest in human endurance on the planet.  Volume of runners is mind boggling and I wonder what it will feel like.  Any other mass participation road race? The last road ultra I ran had 22 people in it!!  Luckily I am in the A pen, which is at the head of the race, but in the back of my mind is a podcast I listened to where Patrick Reagan is interviewed.  Patrick is a US elite ultra marathoner, he finished 12th last year at Comrades.  He told the interviewer that he was in 500th position after the first 5K and was worried that he hadn’t set off quick enough.  This really is a race of attrition versus controlled effort.  It is not last man standing.  Control will be key and I need to ‘keep the heid’ in those early kms. Negative split is the only way to run this race.  A wise old owl recently told me this: “Start the race at a pace above your ability will certainly ensure that you finish the race less than your ability”.

The next concern is the amount of down in this ‘Down Run’. Multiple descents of Arthur’s Seat doesn’t come close and I am going to have to control the descents by relaxing into them as much as I can.  Let gravity and my biomechanics do the work and try not to force anything.

Weather could be the next concern, but there is nothing I can control here.  This will be what it is and I should adjust my efforts and pace accordingly.  I have prepared in Scotland as much as I can with regular sauna sessions post run and even some gym treadmill workouts then diving straight into the 90 degree Celsius sauna (that was brutal by the way).

IMG_5377

Recovery from ACP took a little longer than I wanted and it impacted the training ‘the boss man’ @pyllon programmed for me in terms of effort at specific paces, but the effort was there and that was the main goal.  Things started to turn around in these last few weeks and now I feel ready physically.  A few kgs lighter, diet dialled tighter, only missed one session in 10 weeks due to illness and injury free.

IMG_5402

I can’t ask any more of this aging but able body.  I’ve continued to work hard on mobility, flexibility and strength and now realise that this is key for the older athlete.  If you are 40+ and not doing anything to improve mobility and strength, and are not a genetic freak, then you are heading for the injury bench.  I have all the T-shirts and if I had to dwell on regrets, that would be one thing I wish I had started 10 years ago.  Nothing is certain, of course.

Onto Durban tomorrow, via Glasgow and Dubai.  We leave the house at 17:15 tomorrow afternoon and we’ll arrive in Durban around 16:30 local time on Friday!  Phew, it’s going to be a long journey!

See you all on the other side.