Sunday, 24 June 2018

Stiff little fingers

For those of you old enough, stiff little fingers was a punk group in the 80's.  I was more a soul man myself so they wouldn't be my idea of a fun time but I'll get back to that shortly.
This was my last big week of training and as usual I was juggling my work/life balance around it.  All the stats on my Garmin are good and my coach and I were saying how I hadn't had such a good consistent run, without injury, of training so I was really happy running into this weekend.
However I did have a night out with my best friend on Wednesday.  2 pints and a pizza was on the agenda, that was the agenda that went out the window!  Thursday was a tough day as I postponed my morning run and binned my core session.  I headed out for my run in the evening but the hills rep at the end were abandoned as my heart rate was through the roof.  Friday wasn't much better although the morning session went ahead - I was in bed for 9.30pm!
Saturday was a 3hr 10min run and up till the last minute I had no takers - then my coach stepped up and said she'd join me for the last 2 hours.  It was a fantastic run and I was trying out my new trail shoes that would work on tarmac and they passed the test.  I also checked out my new shorts and again they passed.  The total kms was 32 but with 6km to go we came across the first runners we'd seen that day.  I stepped off the trail to left them past and my foot caught an old fence post which had been cut down to 4 inches.  Then everything went into slow motion. My left knee hit he ground first.  My left hand reached out and I saw all 4 fingers bend backwards.  My face was going to be next but I managed to get my right arm down and the elbow took the hit - face saved.  Genevieve and the runners crowded round.  Come on guys I said, if you were real runners you'd have stopped my Garmin!
My hand was throbbing and I had a couple of bloody knees and a bloody elbow.  6km to go - let's do it.  The adrenaline kicked in and it was a fast finish.  Back home and got cleaned up.  Taped up the two fingers which were fatter than before and put a bandage on to support my hand which was also swelling.  Then off to lunch and a few beers with the family which was a long standing arrangement. It didn't help the now stiff little fingers!
Today was a 2 hours, 21km run with Stuart.  The temperature had risen significantly and it was a hot sweaty run on tired legs.  But it was done and now the road to the Great Glen Ultra on 7th July looks a lot easier - I've even got my race number 78!  Can't wait.
However I think the stiff little fingers may need an x-ray based on the bruising.  It just goes to show that you're only one step/trip away from a DNS or a DNF and in ultra races where you are going for say 20 hours I'll need to be extra careful.  But I've now got two days off exercise and my body is looking forward to it although it may be spent in A&E!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Testing, testing

In 3 weeks time I will be travelling down the A9 with the cruise control on as I expect I'll have popped a few paracetamol and drinking Red Bull to get me through the journey home.  I'll have completed (hopefully!) the Great Glen Ultra, my "A race" for 2018 and possibly only race as I spend the rest of the year catching up with life after training.  As I sit here recovering from a weekends hard training I wonder what it will be like - 71 miles is a long way and plenty of time to go to some dark places.  Although it won't seem like it at the time, it will be over all to quickly.  A journey that started 9 months ago will have come to an end but then it will be the start of another adventure, to be decided.
It's the height of the race season and a lot of my friends are involved in races from 10km to to ironman to extreme ironman - yes that's right, tougher than an ironman and she will be running with me on the Great Glen Ultra!  I keep some bad company where what I do is considered normal.  Their adventures have all involved a lot of dedication and hours of training and once finished they will be focusing on a new target I'm sure.
This week meant a lot of juggling as I try to train, work and live.  At one stage it involved a 6.15am taxi to the office so I could squeeze in a run before an 8am tele meeting and not have to worry about going out for a night with my team.  Fortunately I wasn't training the next day!  In a weeks time I have a 4am run so that I can make a flight at 6.45am.
On Saturday I was taken on a mystery tour by Michael Martin and my coach Genevieve.  I'd never gone this route before and I don't think I could find my way back round without getting lost, but it was great.  An unexpected bonus was that although the majority of the run was off road there was a few miles on tarmac.  I was wearing my trail shoes but my calves didn't enjoy the tarmac with those shoes - they are too aggressive for tarmac.  Better to find out now as there are some roads on the Great Glen Ultra and this could make the difference between finishing and getting injured.  Testing your equipment is essential because when you are out on the run it's too late.  I know that you can run the GGU in road shoes but having kicked a few stone on trail runs, I don't want to take that risk - that could finish your race.  The 29km was a good way of setting up for Sunday's run.
Back to back runs are important when training for an ultra.  You need to learn to run on tired legs.  It may have been Father's Day but there was no breakfast in bed for me.  I headed out with my regular running pal Stuart and the target was 1 hour 50 mins.  At the beginning of the run we got attacked by a chihuahua - it may be small but those teeth got close to my ankle before I squirted it with my water bottle.  This is a regular occurance and much as I love dogs it's on it's last warning.  My legs were tired and my heart rate increased from yesterday's fatigue however it settled down and we had a good run.  Again following the run I rested and stuffed my face with food.  My body is craving food as I try to replace the calories burned.
Other than writing my blog, watching the footie and shopping online for new trail shoes I'll be sitting with my feet up resting like a proper athlete!  I've got another two days running before I get a rest despite this being the "taper period" before the race.  Next week will be the last big weekend of running.  Tick tock, where did the time go?

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The lost boys

I know I know.  There is a bit of recurring theme here but I'll explain it all in due course.
I can't believe how quickly the weeks are flying in as I head to my "A race" in 26 days time.  There's a lot of planning still to do so that when I turn up I know exactly what is going to happen - I don't want to waste any energy worrying about things that can be taken care of in advance.
It's been a good week's training, missing only one swim session - I'd taken my goggles/nose clip to Marrakesh but they somehow got lost in the suitcase on the way back.  4 days later I found them so I'll be back swimming this week.
I had a special treat on Friday which was to listen to my friend Roddy Riddle address 160 podiatrists in Glasgow about how he "controls/rules his T1 diabetes".  I ran with Roddy in the MdS and apart from being a top athlete he is such an inspiration for anyone with T1.  I even got a mention in his presentation.  The picture is of me lying on my back in the tent with my feet in the air, both almost completely covered in bandages as I have 7 blisters at the end of day 2.  He refers to me as the hypochondriac!  He's given this talk all over the world - thanks Roddy, don't let the truth get in the way of a good story!  Don't tell him but he is amazing.  While I am focusing on the Great Glen run cut off of 22 hours and would be delighted to get closer to 20 hours, he ran it a few years ago in 13 hours and came 3rd!  T1 doesn't stand a chance in his body.
Saturday was 1.5 hours at Chatelherault which I hadn't visited in some time.  Sadly the council have "sanitised" the paths will fine stones and even tarmaced the big stairs which takes away the trail element.  I may have to find a new training ground.
Today I was meant to be in the hills for 5 hours.  A friend suggested The Shiehallion, an iconic Munro which according to the guide was a 4-6 hour climb.  Having got lost the other week I studied the maps and downloaded an OS map of the area.  Sadly it didn't show the approach road but I had google maps, or at least I had it until there was no signal.  So Stuart and I ended up in the wrong glen, again!  Eventually we found our way which when we were coming home seemed so simple to navigate except like a couple of numpties we got it wrong - we were eventually helped by someone with an atlas!
I was really looking forward to this climb and had read about the false summits and also the bolder field near the summit.  We set off running up the track till it got too steep and we then reverted to power walking.  The summit is covered in cloud but I was hoping it would burn off.  I was surprised how busy the hill was and how early we reached the boulder field.  My dodgy foot didn't appreciate the hopping from one rock to another and it took us over 20 minutes to get through it as there is no path at that stage.  Despite the low cloud, my summit curse, we knew we'd reached the top because these must have been 20 people up there having their lunch - not my idea of climbing in Scotland.  We had some food and water and quickly headed back down.  Every step in the boulder field was a possible ankle break for me.
Once out of it we let the brakes off and speedy Stuart left me for dust.  At one stage I looked up to see how to navigate my way past some walkers and tripped.  They have no idea how close I was to wiping them out but fortunately I regained my footing and continued down the mountainside.  When we got to the bottom I checked my watch - a total of 2 hours!  I wasn't in the frame of mind to repeat it so took the positives out of the run i.e. Practising on similar terrain and building my quads before heading off for fish and chips and a 99.
On the way home I bought a Schiehallion beer and came to the conclusion, the beer is better than the mountain!
This week will be a busy running week and I will start to get together my plans for the event.  Based on me getting lost in the last 2 runs I think studying the course will be vital as part of it is in the dark and I need to organise my drop bags with the food that will keep me fuelled during the race.
Tick tock - it will be over before I know it but in the meantime, plenty of preparation to be done.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Double shift

Last week was a light weeks training, apart from this weekend.  The reason was that I was attending a wedding in Marrakesh,with my wife, of a good friend.  Sometimes life takes over, which isn't a bad thing, and with my coach we had known about this for some time so planned accordingly.  While it was scheduled as an easy week, Monday was spent travelling all day as we had a couple of flights. That was tiring but the following day I was up at 6.30am and out for a 1 hour run before it got too hot.  It was hot enough but my focus was on trying not to go over on my ankle ofn the rubble that was meant to be the footpath or wiped out by the moped riders who had "livestock" on their back/saddle and were texting on their phone at the same time!
Tuesday was the wedding which was amazing.  Plenty of fizz and we called it a night at 12.30 having danced the night away - should have been wearing my Garmin and I could have claimed it was training.  Wednesday continued the celebrations and Thursday we left the hotel at 7am and got home at 12.30am on Friday - knackered.  I had a 40 minute recovery run on Friday in Z1 & Z2 which felt like a gentle massage but this was the "calm before the storm".
I had to run 38km on Saturday and had nobody interested in joining me.  But I got a last minute offer from a real ultra nutter, Craig Hamilton and Donald MacLean.  They had a 38km planned for me but what I didn't realise was that after 11km we headed off-road to a very tough 16km route with some very big climbs.  I don't like, although know it's good for me, this track due to the big climbs but we walked some of the hills which is what you do in ultras.  The terrain was perfect as it will be similar to the Great Glen Ultra.  On the way back the heavens opened so I got to test my running gear in monsoon conditions - important to know there isn't any chaffing when running in wet shorts.  In total it was 39km and I spent the rest of the day eating like a horse and resting.  I'd lost over 4 lbs in weight and burned 2,700 calories.  But this was a double shift and the real test was Sunday - running on tired legs.
Having almost run a marathon, when I woke up on Sunday I felt reasonably good but I had a wee niggle behind my right knee coming off the calf.  I took precautions with extra mineral hydration before I went out and compression socks to help support my calf.  My trusty running mate Stuart joined me and the start of the 29km run involves a hill - calf felt tight and legs were tired.  In fact the first 41 minutes are uphill so it's a tough start.  After that I settled into a good rhythm walking the occasional hill and hydrating and eating at the same time - good practise.
It didn't help that I took the wrong road which added another 3km onto our route but we just had to get on with it.  We finished strong with the last 3km getting faster.
As soon as we stopped I could feel the stiffness setting in so hydration and protein drink were consumed followed by a bath and food.  The rest of the day will be rest and recovery but I'm pleased with my stats over the weekend.  Tomorrow is a rest day before it all starts again.  It's amazing what your body can do when you train it, and your mind, properly.  Double shifts do have benefits.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

7 Ps - lost in Glen Tilt

How can you get lost in a glen someone said.  Well more of that later but believe me you can.
After the previous weeks hard running at the weekend I was given two days off and that recovery was exactly what I needed.  My quads were tired and a massage from the wonderful Sam Williams got them sorted.  But that wee rest meant I ran the next 5 days in a row with the big back to back runs at the weekend.
That brings me to getting lost in a glen! A pal had sent me a potentially 5 hour hill walk which looked good for the Saturday.  Unfortunately I didn't spend time studying the map until we were almost there.  Stuart & I ended up a dirt track at a farm with no clue where we were in relation to the map which we couldn't view properly as we had no signal.  I had an idea this might happen and taken a picture of the map but that was useless.  Fortunately we bumped into a guy who was heading off to the "orienteering championships".  He looked at my picture and led us to a parking spot and pointed us in the right direction - or so we thought!  Hope he got on ok in his event, if he ever reached it!
The scenery was beautiful and we aimed for the biggest hill around.  We'd been told there was a track right to the top which I'm sure is true but not if you're in the wrong bloody glen!  I'm sure I could hear the banjo's playing as we approached a house in the middle of nowhere and asked directions.  There was no way we could make it over to the right glen in the time we had so we decided to make the best of it and do an out and back instead.  The terrain was perfect practise for my ultra so I decided just to enjoy it.  The heat was extremely warm and water supplies were getting low but we had this wonderful flowing river beside us.  We took a break at half way and refilled our bottles from the river.  On the way back we had 8 km to go and I decided we should cool down so we stood up to our thighs in the river - sheer bliss.  The only thing missing was a cold beer.  After that chill out my feet felt brand new and the rest of the run was easy - 28km done.
The following day I had a 2 hour pacy run which I new I'd be doing on my own.  I wasn't looking forward to it but plugged the earphones in and headed out.  As often happens, the sessions you aren't looking forward to are usually the best and I smashed the pace over 22.5km in 1hr 57.
According to my amazing coach Genevieve it's all going to plan.  I'm getting fitter and stronger - the stats confirm it.  We went over the plan for the next 6 weeks so that I have a good idea of what lies ahead and can plan my diary around it.  Next weekend is going to be the peak of my distance running with 38km on Saturday followed by 26km on Sunday.  It's also at a reasonable pace so it won't be a "walk in the park".  This week is an easier week as I rest and get ready for the weekend with a reduced training schedule.
Getting lost in some ways was liberating as it seemed like an adventure but it won't happen again as I remember my 7 Ps (piss poor preparation precipitates piss poor performance).  Hopefully on Sunday night I'll have the energy to write my blog!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Mental running

The weeks seem to be flying in and this week I had 2 days off during the week - luxury.   This was much appreciated by my body and helped as I visited the physio and had my calf taped up.  That was after an hour of eye watering massage on my calf.  I've got other appointments booked to make sure my calf behaves to help stabilise my foot which was sore after this weekends efforts.
Yesterday I headed up to the Arrochar Alps with Stuart and we tackle 3 mountains including the Cobbler.  At the top of the mountain there is a stack - in the stack is a hole called the "eye of the needle".  You have to climb through this onto a ledge and work your way around the stack and climb up on top.  There is a sheer drop of I'd guess at least 1,000 ft but I didn't have the bottle to do it.  Maybe one day. We then headed off to conquer another couple of summits.  From the top of the last summit to the carpark at the bottom was a 55 minute downhill run.  Tricky conditions and every footstep was a potential ankle break so I had to be careful, especially with an unstable foot.  No running poles to help steady me as the race doesn't allow them and I have to practise without them.
As we headed down the trail at pace some of the walkers passed comments such as "respect" and "well done" but the best was "you boys are mental" - said in a positive way of course.
So we are mental runners but that really isn't news when I consider what we put ourselves through.  It was 4 hours of hard work and as I was only meant to do 3 and it should have been on the Sunday but I switched sessions due to the weather forecast.
Having completed such a hard session I knew my schedule was to run fast for an hour but hoped my coach would change that to a recovery run.  To my surprise this morning, she'd switched it to 2 hour run!  This was a test of my resolve.  I had to immediately reset my goal for the session.
As I was running alone I plugged in some music to keep me company.  I knew my quads would be complaining and hoped I'd make it round without too much discomfort.  I ran 22km on feel, rather than pace or heart rate, and felt strong.  My Garmin told me that I'd completed my fastest half marathon this year in I hr 54 min, despite having shredded quads!  Result.
The back to back long runs are essential to building the strength, both physical and mental, and it just shows that if I "dial in the mileage" to my head my body will deliver.  A big 7 weeks of training to go but this weekend was definitely some mental running!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Bring on the blue bells

This is my favourite time of the year, when the blue bells come out.  Yesterday was my first run at Chatelherault with them in full bloom and what a sight it was.  It was extra special because for the last two years I have been injured at this stage and didn't get to see them.  Being able to enjoy some sun on my back while running through the forest admiring the blue bells and listening to the birds definitely makes me faster.  It's not all about blood, sweat and tears you know!
On Thursday I also had the pleasure in running in Sutton Coldfield.  I arrived at midnight at my hotel but was up and running at 6am before my meeting and then straight back to the airport so I made sure I savoured every minute of it.  Even at that time in the morning it was shorts and a tee shirt and by the end of the run I was soaked with sweat.  Beautiful countryside and a nice hilly route to make me work hard but it really set me up for the day.
This weekend has involved two back to back runs at Chatelherault and yesterday my pal Johnny joined me for the 2nd and 3rd lap.  What a difference having company makes and we held a good pace all the way round without my heart rate going too high - shows the training is paying off.  Today I was out for two laps and Jack kept me company for the first - probably my fastest lap which meant I had to dig deep in the second.  But the blue bells worked their wonder and kept me distracted.
Unfortunately my foot hasn't enjoyed the runs but I'm seeing the physio on Tuesday so hopefully she will sort it out.  There is no way of telling how it will behave in a 71 mile run but I'm already booked in 2 days before the race to have my foot, ankle and calf taped as this seems to ease some of the pressure.
Summer is definitely here so get out there and enjoy the magnificent colours and fragrances.  I'm so glad to have a mid-summer race where the big training miles can be done in the summer.  And finally my pal Stuart Auld successfully completed his first Ultra marathon.  I met him after my run today and he was "buzzing" following his success.  He's now raising his sights which is what happens when you keep "bad company"!  Aim high is what I say.