The Eiger Ultra 51k

eiger profile pic

So here we are at Ultra Marathon number 6 – how on earth did that happen? Of all the Ultras on my calendar, it goes without saying that this was the one I was eagerly anticipating. You see I’d done my homework. After the amazing experience of Sierre-Zinal last year (see previous post), I was anxious to go back to Switzerland  and do another race. Could any race top that? It would be a tall order but the Eiger Ultra 51k looked as if ticked all the boxes. The 51k was the middle option of 3 race distances offered – the others being 16k and the more challenging 101k. One look at the promotional video in December and I was signed up within days.

Promo video 

I managed to twist Elaine’s arm (okay, it didn’t take much effort!) and we entered ourselves as part of the mixed team race. Looking at winning times from previous years I fancied our chances of a podium place. We were also going to make a proper holiday of it too (holiday being a euphemism for a week of mountain running). Unfortunately, Elaine’s stress fracture hadn’t fully mended and she had to drop down to the 16k race😦 We still managed to record some sizeable climbs over the week though🙂

Preparation for this race had been nothing specific. 3 Ultras, a marathon and a few long hilly runs meant I should on paper have the stamina to see this one out. I hoped all my hill races last year would stand me in good stead too. I mean, just how do you prepare for 32 miles and over 11,000 feet of climbing??? – that’s more ascent than I do in an average fortnight!. I tried not to panic about what lay ahead.

The race starts and ends in Grindelwald, the largest ski resort in the Jungrau region. The town boasts 3 noticeable attractions nearby- the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch peaks which dominate the skyline and cannot fail to get those racing juices flowing.  The day before the race we both registered and my gear got the all clear at the kit check. Then it was on to the race briefing via a wee photo shoot.

elaine posing elaine posing2

Me posing at reg me posing at reg2

The race start time had been brought forward an hour to 5:45 am due to some heavy rain forecast in the later afternoon. The plan was to try and get the majority of the 51k racers home before we got wet. The slower 101k runners were just going to need their waterproofs. So, alarm clock set for 3:45 am, it was straight to bed after the race briefing.

 

I arrived back in Grindelwald about an hour before the race started. Elaine kindly dropped me off in the car before sensibly going back to her bed. The good news was that due to the recent heatwave, the temperature was very pleasant at 4:45am. I just couldn’t imagine loitering around in a vest & shorts at this time of morning in Scotland would be much fun. The sun started to rise and it was time to head to the start.

b4 start

 

 

Having no idea where to place myself, the logical place seemed to be in the front row!!!

start line

The klaxon sounded at precisely 5:45 (that’s Swiss efficiency for you) and I boldly settled into a top 10 position within the first mile on the road section. After about 2 miles the first real climb of the day came sharply into view. You’ll notice the abundance of walking poles from the pics that follow. I was in a minority who didn’t have a pair..and boy was I found wanting on those climbs. I’ll know for next time.

 

poles near start

 

After an endless climb up to and beyond the 1st checkpoint, the views really started to open out.

after cp1

And the trails were becoming slightly more runnable.

road climb2 road climb

 

 

It was hard to know where to look as this was what was behind you.

jungfrauopening climb2opening climb

The next checkpoint (10 miles) was shared with the 101k runners. They had set out some hours before us. It was great to see them in such good spirits. This shot has that checkpoint just coming into view.

to checkpoint

 

I must stop taking photos at some point, I’m meant to be racing! MOOOVE over please cow!

mooo
me posing

 

 

Morestunning scenery and some photo opportunities

lushlush2

 

The views while running along the side of the mountain are quite awe inspiring. It really doesn’t take much effort to put one foot in front of the other.

mountainside1mountainside5mountainside4mountainside3mountainside2

 

After 11 miles of climbing and soaking up the views there was a very welcome 2 mile descent to checkpoint 3 at ‘Oberlager Bussalp’. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a Swiss Alpine brewery but just a table with a collection of sweet, salty and savoury snacks. I took some extra time to stop here and refuel, knowing what was around the corner.

My pre-race research, as usual, had involved finding Strava traces from previous participants. The steep 2 mile climb up to Faulhorn (highest point on the course & the half-way point) is what instanly grabs the attention. 2 miles and 2000 feet, after 13.5 miles of climbing already, is always going to be tough.

By this stage I was really struggling and questioning whether I’d get to the top let alone complete the 2nd half of the course. Runner after runner passed me with the familiar power walk stance aided by poles. Eventually, after about an hour of blood sweat and tears, I’d reached the top.

faulhorn climb2 faulhorn climb1faulhorn approach

 

Mountain rescue formed the only audience just before the summit. Fortunately, I’d timed it just right to witness the chopper taking off. Or maybe they were offering me a lift to the finish?

chopper1chopper2

 

Of course, I had to get a couple of photos at the summit (trying my best to still look fresh!)

me at faulhorn1 me at faulhorn2

As a means of a half-time interlude, here’s a collection of official race photos:

eigeroff1 eigeroff2 first5m1 first5m2

 

Having made the climb up to the highest point in just over 4 hours I was aware that like any long hilly event, the race was just about to begin. Unfortunately, this didn’t bode well for me. Having been to the Physio twice in the run up to the race, my ankles were not in the best shape for the long technical descent. I resolved to take my time and soak up the views. This was after soaking up some pepsi, cake, crisps and anything else I could get my hands on at the summit checkpoint.

descent view descent view2 descent view4 descent view3

 

 

One of the highlights of coming down is the approach to the checkpoint at Schynige Platte. It’s just ‘wow’.

Schynige Plattelake

It’s all too easy to look just a few yards ahead of you when descending for fear of falling over. It’s amazing what you notice when you take the occasional look up though, like this Saltire in someone’s garden in the middle of nowhere! I could think of worse places to live…

Saltire

The trail followed on through a forest section which had a short and very unwelcome climb but did boast some nice views down the valley. The drops were steeeeep though:

steep drop

 

The final checkpoint is in the small village of Burglaunen, 4 miles away from the finish. I was particularly looking forward to this checkpoint as the race menu had pasta being served here (remember – an Ultramarathon is a big picnic with a few runs thrown in). In fact, there was pasta, fresh fruit, coke, water, juice, crisps, salted nuts, gels, bread, cake etc- I definitely made sure I got my money’s worth here.

Burglaunen is also one of the last rail stations before Grindelwald. If the train arrives just as you’re about to cross the railway track, you have to wait a few minutes until it passes. Unfortunately I was out of luck – no train in sight.

The last four miles were along the road/trail which ran parallel to the river. Having never really bothered about positions or time up until this point I decided to put the camera away and tried to put the foot down. I was now cruising home in 10 min/mileing! I did however manage to pass a few people and I still had a smile on my face so I guess I was doing something right.

last mile

 

The last section of the race had us coming through the main street of the town and it was really nice to receive the applause and encouragement of so many people. I crossed the line in 7:40:36. I was tired, ecstatic and in need of more cake. The race organiser thrust his microphone towards me and got me to say a few words to describe the race. Oh dear. I suddenly lost the ability to form coherent sentences and babbled on about being in a state of nirvana throughout the race! Seriously, where did that come from Steve…? Anyway, after the photos were done, I caught up with Elaine, who had also done very well in her race, and enjoyed post-race coffee and cake.

Would I do this race again?

Hell yes. It’s unbelievably beautiful, very well organised and surprisingly quite doable. After completing it, it comes  as no surprise to me why it was voted the world’s no.1 trail race in Runners World. Although I think they were referring to the 101k race, the 51k option should be considered no less inferior. If you’re reading this and thinking about a European Ultra next summer then this won’t fail to disappoint. 10/10 in my book.

eiger off finish postfinishpic

garmin

results – 85th bloke overall

…and a Brucie bonus – top of the Strava Scottish Hill Runners charts this week🙂 If Carlsberg did Saturday’s…

shr leaderboard

Lochnagar Loop

Wednesday 10th June

I’d originally planned on doing the excellent Red Moss Kips race tonight but given the splendid weather, I opted for something a little longer. The 5 Munros at Lochnagar sadly remain untouched by me, despite their relative close proximity to home. A loop of all 5 from the Glen Doll car park would represent a very long evening with lots of climbing. Ideal prep for the Eiger Ultra. And so a seed was sown.

One of my favourite training runs is from the Glen Doll car park up to and around Loch Muick and back, forming a loop of about 15 miles. Searching back through the Garmin records I noticed I hadn’t run this route since September – once the snow falls in the Angus Glens it’s not uncommon for it to stay around until late spring making this route unrunnable. Last trace.

Interestingly, and I’ve probably mentioned this before, I got this run from a great little book called ‘Scottish Trail Running’ by Susie Allison. There’s 70 different runs mapped out across the country, it’s an excellent addition to the bookshelf. And no, I’m not on commission.

I reckoned this run would be about 18 (ish) miles given I was starting in a different place…

Map

The garmin was thrust into action at 4:40pm and off I went in the direction of Broad Cairn. The first couple of miles are very pleasant, reasonably flat, allowing for a false sense of security to set in. The long climb up the stony track begins on mile 3 and goes up and up and up. Hard going in the heat but really great to be out in the hills when it’s not freezing cold. Eventually the top came into sight.

001

Unfortunately it was guarded with some of these big bad boys.

003

Finally reached the summit in 1 hour 22 mins and only 6 miles done so far!

004

Well worth it for these views though – wow!

005 006 007

At the top I debated what to do next. Already it was about 6pm. If I turned back that would give me a good 12 miles. If I carried on it would surely be around 24/25 miles to complete all the 5 summits. I settled for something in between. Cut out 2 munros and settle for bagging 3. Five on a school night is perhaps a bit much anyway.

And so it was off to the next one – Cairn Bannoch was only about a mile away and its summit offered a view to the peaks ahead.

2.1

From here I made a dash straight towards the lower ground in-between the two peaks. I was concentrating so hard on getting the line right I was centimetres from stepping on this little fella

chick4

Mum wasn’t best pleased and came scurrying to the rescue

chick3

The wee one wasn’t very quick though, clearly needs to do some speed sessions, maybe join the Roadrunners…?

The local herd of deer certainly don’t need to work on their speed, this was as close as I could get.

deer1

I was now heading in the direction of the highest peak – Lochnagar (Cac Carn Beag) and had skirted around 2 munros (Carn an t-Saigart Mor & Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach) without summiting. The ground was now very rough as I’d long since lost the path. I knew there was one up ahead somewhere…

not a path to 3

I had remembered reading something in Steven Fallon’s blog about pieces of plane wreckage near Carn an t-Saigart Mor. This is from a plane crash back in 1956. A Canberra Bomber had departed from Cambridgeshire to Kinloss but unfortunately never made it. Here’s the accident report.

plane

The plane wreckage was a good omen. It was very near the path I was looking for.

path to 3

The next couple of km’s made the hard slog so far pretty worthwhile. The views were opening up and the temperature was becoming just a bit more pleasant with a nice cool breeze. This is what’s it’s all about.

views on 3 approach 2 views on 3 approach

With such a breathtaking approach, the summit itself was somewhat less tantalising.

Lochnagar summit

Never mind, I’m here, time for a few photos before I go.

lochnagar view2 lochnagar view3selfieview from lochnagarwhere's wally

So far I’d only covered about 11 miles. I was feeling pretty good despite being on my feet now for over 2 and a half hours. If I had the time, I’d have loved to have taken in Meikle Pap which offers some spectacular views but maybe another day. For now it was time to enjoy the long descent towards Loch Muick.

lochnagar descent1 lochnahar descent2

ankle twist

Perhaps I was too busy enjoying the sight up ahead? Maybe I was going too fast. Was I getting tired? For whatever reason I soon found myself rolling around in agony. I’d gone over my ankle. This time it REALLY hurt.

Time check – about 8pm!

Distance to car – about 8/9 miles of rocky terrain!

Argh! Had it been a horrible night I may have had to call in mountain rescue!

I limped down another mile to the loch which was looking quite still in the fading rays of the sun.

sun going down loch muick

Once the loch was reached I went into my backpack for food and water and realised there wasn’t any left. Woops! The final climb out of the loch was hard but good training I guess. The long descent on the path I started on hours before seemed particularly perilous on a gubbed ankle but I eventually got back to the car just after 10pm. 22 miles covered in just under 5 hours of running/walking/limping. A really fantastic route despite a painful last few miles. If you like your long runs with plenty hills and rocky terrain then this is a route for you. If not, stay well clear of it.

Garmin trace

Weekend in the Lakes

This weekend away to the Lake District for the first weekend in June had been in the diary for some time. Rarely did I look forward to a weekend of training so much – I had constructed a fairly awesome itinerary if I do say so myself. The centrepiece was the Coniston Trail Half Marathon and the supporting acts were an organised run with Ricky Lightfoot (GB champion trail/fell runner) and a solo jaunt up Helvellyn.

I arrived at Thorneyfield Guest House, Ambleside, on Friday evening and met up with Kenny Malone and his wife Julie. For £35 per night for B&B, it representing great value.

Thorneyfield Guest House

Kenny was in for the Marathon Race and Julie had entered the Half Marathon Challenge. We went to the pub for a spot of carb loading (any excuse to try out the local ale!) while we waited for Elaine and Jeremy to arrive. Jeremy was also in the Half Marathon Race with me.

Saturday was an early start for a drive up to the George Fisher outdoor shop in Keswick. The shop is well stocked with all the latest kit from most of the leading brands, just as well I hadn’t brought my credit card! I was here along with another 39 runners for the ‘Run with Ricky’ event. Ricky is one of the fastest fell runners in the country with a string of impressive victories to his name. He was using this run as a leg loosener for the following day’s Scaffel Pike Trail Marathon and the Ultra Skymarathon Madeira the following week – he would go on to win both!

George Fisher

The run itself was really scenic, particularly when we were on higher ground looking back towards Keswick.

Garmin trace

Then it was back to the shop to collect our goodie bag along with bacon butties.

Those of you with a good memory will recall how windy the first Saturday of June was. Despite my best efforts, I gave up half way into my attempt to run up Helvellyn in the afternoon😦

I couldn’t even be bothered taking a photo – that’s how miserable it was.

Garmin trace

I’ve only ever had to abort a munro once before – I had almost summited one on Skye 2 years ago but a fast approaching thunderstorm forced me to make a hasty retreat. That still annoys me. I pondered this over a nice evening meal, some live jazz and a Raspberry Mojito cocktail.

So….6:50am on Sunday, and here I am at the top of Helvellyn on a rather cold morning🙂

Hel 4 Hel 3 Hel 2 Hel 1

A nice warm up for a Trail Half Marathon.

Garmin trace

This left just enough time to get back for breakfast before zooming down to Coniston. Kenny had already started the marathon at 9am and Julie started at 10am. Jeremy and I had until 11am, which was just as well as the toilet queue used up most of our available time. Elaine was out marshalling and supporting on the course, thus earning herself another free race entry to one of these fantastic events.

The route itself was very undulating but showcased some beautiful parts of the Lake District. I hung back at the start, determined not to race hard. I managed to gain a few places early on once the climbs started. I had entertained the possibility of climbing Skiddaw on the way home afterwards, but the relentless hills on this course were proving quite enough.

Coniston

 

(This was taken about 9m in – shortly before a long descent)

Having looked at the course profile I knew there was a potentially fast section coming back into Coniston. I managed to pick up quite a bit of speed here and passed quite a few challengers and the odd racer. I’d just reached the bottom of the hill where I passed the lead female runner. I managed to stay ahead of her (just) until crossing the finish line in 11th place in 1:30:35. If I had known it was Joasia Zakrzewski (GB Ultra runner who recently picked up a Gold Medal at Comrades) I might have buckled under the pressure. I guess sometimes it’s best not knowing who you’re up against. Here’s the link to her blog with all her recent race reports:

http://joasiazakrzewski.blogspot.co.uk/

Post race feeding options were excellent with a variety of stalls catering for almost every need. I opted for a burger before the 4 hour drive back home. My only gripe of the day was that food isn’t included in the race package – and it wasn’t cheap.

For anyone thinking of combining a holiday down south with some trail running, look no further than the Lakeland Trail events. I’ll certainly be back at some point in the future.

Coniston Half Marathon Race

Results

Cateran Trail 55m Ultra

Like most of my great ideas, this one was conceived after a rib-eye steak and a bottle of Argentinian Malbec. “It’ll be a real physical and mental challenge which will show me what I’m made of” was the unique selling point I repeatedly told myself. Perhaps a vein attempt to justify the madness of even contemplating a 55 miler exactly a week after a 35 miler…

Not that doing back to back Ultras is uncommon. Just ask Elaine. It’s just that I’m not exactly built for that and my relatively low training mileage (compared to the really fast guys) doesn’t bode well. In such circumstances, I always find it best to just ignore conventional advice like resting and get on with it. In hindsight, perhaps doing the John McInally club race in-between Ultras might not have been the best preparation.

Anyway, to the race itself. I’d travelled up on Friday night as I’d booked a bed in the bunkhouse. The first person I bumped into was Fiona Gibson. This was really reassuring as we could both rely our hopes and fears to each other. After registering and collecting the mandatory race ‘poo bags’, I tucked into the buffet dinner which was delicious. I was sharing a room with 3 other runners – Nicholas Wolverson (with a 2:43 Marathon PB he was a real dark horse), George Glen and David Hetherington. Unfortunately, one of them snored. Very loudly😦

After about 3 hours sleep, a nice bacon and egg roll and about 3 coffees I was ready to begin at 7am.

the start

I had absolutely no intentions of racing today and was just out to complete the distance. That said, I had looked at results from last year and thought 10 hours 30 mins would provide a good workout. I also had the female course record splits in my head as that would get me home in around 9 hour 30 mins, providing my legs were up for it…

Andy Johns wasted no time in declaring his intentions at the start and began a 55 mile sprint for home!

Andy leads out

After the off, a front pack of about 12 runners quickly huddled together. Included here were Andy, James Crozier and Richie Cunningham. I was hanging back in the 2nd group. This group included the legendary John Duncan (aka Johnny Fling), Joanna Wilson and a few others. The first section to CP1 was really nice and pretty straightforward. A quick look at the watch told me I was there in 54 mins which was 7 mins inside Antonia Johnson’s CR!!! Way too fast. 

For the next 25 miles I repeatedly told myself to slow down, without much success. I’d remarkably reached Blairgowrie in 5 hours 11mins – 4 mins quicker than I thought possible. A quite astonishing feat given the amount of time I’d wasted at the last 2 checkpoints trying to get food organised! On entering town, John Mill was there to get photos. I’d never been so pleased to see him waving his camera. A quick ‘hello’ provided my first conversation in about an hour.

into Blair 1 into Blair 2

At the Checkpoint I was met by Elaine who clearly wasn’t having much joy at blending in with the locals.

Blair CP

The Blairgowrie to Bridge of Cally section is a real joy. Some great trail running to be had here with lots of energy zapping wee climbs to test your determination. By this stage I was getting used to being passed by others but this didn’t bother me as I knew exactly what the final section has in store.

Shortly after Brdge of Cally I found myself in a group of about 7-8 runners. We exchanged places and offered each other encouragement. I started to lose sight of them all a few miles before Kirkmichael. It was here that I passed Morgan Windram-Geddes. She was out for the 110 mile Ultra and still going really well. Now that’s a run to tell the grandchildren about!

Kirk1 Kirk2

Coming into Kirkmichael I really wanted to slow down and stop but, dammit, Elaine and a few others had formed a Photography group and were snapping away. Oh well, best carry on…

The final checkpoint at Enochdhu is 48 miles into proceedings. I’d reached here in 6 hours 37 mins. There was only 6 miles left – 4 up and 2 down. Unfortunately, I knew exactly how hard the ‘4 up’ were – it would be a jolly hard hill race in it’s own right! Anyway, to prepare my legs for the beasting to follow I opted for rice pudding. Last cp Roger Greenaway, whom I’d met at various points today, ran with me some of this last part. He recalled when they also had a relay race over the distance and remembered fondly this last section for it’s sheer brutality. Towards the very last hill I managed to pull away from him and was slowly catching John Duncan ahead. Another John, John Mill, was stood at the top of the very last hill taking photos. After 53 miles I’m definitely not looking at my best but tried to put on a brave face. At least the end now was in sight.

2m to go 2 2m to go1 2m to go3 2m to go4 2m to go5

(just a steep 2 mile technical descent to go…)

I lost a place coming down as I took a wrong turn off the trail. This allowed Roger to catch up and overtake. I have a feeling he would have done so anyway. Still, I crossed the line in 10 hours 20 minutes and 43 seconds and in 19th place overall. I was exhausted but delighted.

the end

The post race stretching would have to wait.

knackered2knackered1

A massive thank you to Elaine, John and all the other people who supported me throughout the race – certainly wouldn’t have finished without you all. Although a hard race, it’s superbly organised and strangely, really enjoyable. I plan to return within the next few years and try to properly race it, if I’m fit enough to do so.

So, what’s next? Well, 100 miles could be tempting. North Downs Way, WHW, Orney 100 ???

However, the UTMB still sits at the top of my bucket list. At 105 miles long, over 30,000 feet of climbing and taking in 3 different countries it represents the ultimate challenge for many trail runners. I have a feeling that might just require a few more years of hard training…

Garmin

Results

Photos – thanks to John Mill, Elaine Omand, Amanda Hamilton and official race photographers.

Obituary 

It is with sadness that I announce the passing of my Saucony Peregrine 4 trail shoes. They died peacefully at the end of the Cateran Trail 55m Ultra after a long day out in the Perthshire hills. Over the past year they proved to be my ‘go to’ shoe for trail races of any distance and terrain. They will be sadly missed but never forgotten.

Kintyre Way Ultra

Here I was lining up for my 4th Ultra Marathon! How on earth did that happen? Surely this sort of madness is reserved for the uber-fit or clinically insane…? I wouldn’t say I was either but when the opportunity arose to explore some of the West coast of Scotland on a hilly course which offers views to Jura and Arran then, oh well, why not?

drr duo at start

(the  DRR dream team – all smiles before the start)

This particular one starts in Tayinloan and finishes 35 miles later in Campbeltown. That’s the sprint option. The longer one starts further back in Tarbert and covers 67 miles. There’s also relay races over both distances so something for everyone is on offer. Having ran most of the course over 2 days in January, I was confident I knew how to approach pacing. Slowly was the answer. Always easier said than done though. I was here to race, even if I knew I had a 55 miler the following week. Pre-race prep had been good. I’d travelled down with Elaine and stayed at a B&B close to the start. It really made a difference knowing I’d have the support of Elaine, Rosie and Jordan’s mum at the checkpoints. It also provided a quick and easy get out strategy if needed.

The first mile of the course is the most enjoyable. It’s flat and incorporates trail, a bit on the beach another bit of trail. I knew to position myself near the front to prevent wasting time in bottle necks and gate openings.  Within seconds of the gun going off, the lead runner, William Robertson, had taken a wrong turn in the housing estate. Little did he know this was to be a recurring theme for him. Interesting to see who was out front in the early stages, or rather who was here to race too…

before climb1

Leading out: William Roberton, Daniel Burns, Sophie Mullins (hidden) and me

Interestingly Willie and Danny had been saying over breakfast how they were just here to enjoy the run (that old chestnut) but were wasting no time in these early exchanges. Willie was bang in form after a sub 3 hour Manchester and great performances in the Glasgow to Edinburgh double marathon and the Highland Fling. Sophie would undoubtedly finish well up the leaderboard too as she’s a quality runner who confessed to running a bad London in 2:58!!!

After the first mile you cross the road and are faced with a long climb of about 4 miles. This would soon sort us out!

before climb2

(Me ahead of race winner Stan Topalian)

Stan wasted no time in taking the lead up the climb. He was powering away from all of us. I stupidly tried to give chase as no-one else was. In hindsight, a really bad idea. Half way up the hill and struggling for breath, Willie and Danny passed, chatting away to each other as if out for a gentle Saturday jog. I was already in a spot of bother having pushed a bit too soon. A few miles down the road I whizzed passed both of them on the long road descent and briefly thought I might get to the 1st checkpoint in second place. Unfortunately, they had other ideas and passed me when it evened out on the road. Spirits were boosted when Elaine shouted some encouraging words as she whizzed past on the bike.

Coming into Checkpoint 1 at Carradale, one thing was certain. I had pushed too hard too soon. This was backed by the fact that I was 4 minutes inside Peter Buchanan’s course record pace of 2014!!! Peter finished in 5:19 and I knew I wouldn’t be close to that today. I could only hope the 3 ahead of me would blow up soon. It was nice seeing Elaine, Rosie and Jordan’s mum and Elaine even helped get my food organised, perhaps growing more frustrated at my faffing around. Or was that a deliberate ploy at getting an extended break…?

The section between Carradale and Ifferdale (CP2) is an off-road runners dream. After heading out to the beach for a run over the boulders

beach section

there’s a long hard climb before a short sharp technical descent. Just ideal after 20 miles! It’s a really tough 6 mile section which we didn’t manage to do during our earlier recce. Shortly after the beach, Willie and Danny soon appeared out of nowhere behind me? and confessed they’d taken a wrong turn! Upon reaching the top of the hill they both veered away off to the right (another wrong turn). By this time I had stopped and had the course map out checking for the right way. I had no intention of doing any more miles today. A few other runners had caught up and we all ran as part of a bigger group with yours truly bring up the rear. By Ifferdale, all of those runners were well ahead of me.

Coming into CP2 at Ifferdale I noticed the lead female runner who was being closely pursued by Sophie. They were only seconds behind me. Rosie was on hand this time to help me get my food out my bag while I refilled my bladder. I knew I had no time to waste here so off I left after another couple of gels and bars.

The last section of the course is much like the first 2 sections – hard. I seemed to be doing pretty well on the long climb out of Ifferdale but Sophie glided past after 26 miles, encouraging me to go with her. My legs were having none of it as cramp was settling in fast. Was it not enough fluid, too many gels or not enough training? Probably all of the above. At least I was getting a nice tan. After the beautiful Lussa Loch section

loch rannoch

I remembered it was only about 10k to the finish. It was around here that I looked ahead and saw Sophie powering ahead of the Ladies leader and looking really strong. I willed her on from afar, knowing she was on course to smash the ladies course record. I was starting to enjoy this section more now, perhaps enjoying a second wind. It really is a scenic course from start to finish and there’s a long descent to the finishing line to look forward to.

I crossed the line in 5:42 in 7th place. I’m if honest I’d set a notional target of 5:30 so initially was a bit disappointed to miss out on this. However, I knew I’d messed up by poor pacing at the beginning and my nutrition plan (or lack of it) was a bit of a disaster. All in all, a good learning experience. Post race catering was first class, lots of goodies at the finishing line followed by a buffet at Prize-giving later on. Naturally, I did both and followed it with a nice meal in the hotel. Definitely a race to do if you’re looking for a ‘short’ Ultra with a bit of bite.

Results linked below with Stan Topalian taking 29 minutes off Peter Buchanan’s record and Sophie setting a new Ladies CR by 42 mins!

Interesting to note that despite being in 3rd place coming into Campbletown, Danny took a wrong turn and finished 6th. I guess that’s why you should always study the map before races.

 

map

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/770614609

Results

Photos – shamelessly stolen from Jordan Young and Ken Clark Photography (sshhhh!)

Boston Marathon ‘Festival’

boston-marathon-logo

Of all the Marathon Majors, Boston is the one with the history. For a start, it’s the longest running marathon in the world which is still in existence, this year it celebrated its 119th edition. Most runners are drawn to Boston for one reason and one reason only. It’s regarded as an elite event as the qualifying times make it hard to even get a look in. Most ordinary runners like myself have to set a 4-5 year plan in order to get to the start line. This year I scraped in off the back off 2 ‘almost’ sub 3 hour marathons in Rotterdam and Amsterdam in 2014. My goal to Boston was clear from the outset. Sub 3 would do very nicely.

start line photo

The race was on Monday but I arrived on the Wednesday determined to make the most of my time. First stop was a spot of carb-loading at the ‘Cheers Bar’. Unfortunately, I forgot to wear my DRR Hoodie – so nobody knew my name.

On Thursday night I attended the world premiere of a film called ‘Run Free – The true story of Caballo Blanco’. Anyone who’s read ‘Born to Run’ will be familiar with this name. I was a bit sceptical ahead of the evening as I didn’t know what to expect. The ticket was free and I was expecting a hard sale of something at some point. Nothing could be further from the truth. On arrival we were greeted with a free bar and some tasty Mexican themed nibbles.

run free

We also got a free buff and Saucony t-shirt with ‘Korima’ printed on the front.

Korima is an important part of Raramuri lifestyle and definitely something we celebrate and contribute to. Without asking for thanks or expecting acknowledgement, we share what we can with our friends in the Barrancas, as a demonstration of our respect to the Running People’s culture.

RESULT!

If you’ve not read or finished the book I’ll not give too much away, suffice to say it’s well worth a watch. Also in tonight’s audience was Richie Woodworth (President of Saucony) who introduced the film, the film’s director who was Micah’s friend, and Maria Walton, Micah’s partner before he died. Anywho, here’s a wee write up:

http://www.alpenclimb.com/2015/04/run-free-a-celebration-of-life-running-and-giving-in-the-copper-canyons/

Loved all the free food and drink, a brilliant night and a nice aperitif to the weekend festival of running that lay ahead.

Friday saw more sightseeing but the main highlight of the day was being part of an audience with Meb Keflezighi. He’s the American dude who won Boston last year. Of course, last year’s race was particularly poignant being a year after the Boston bombings. The format of the evening was a Q&A session. Meb was also there promoting his new book ‘Meb for Mortals’ in which he outlines some of his training ideologies and methods. All very interesting stuff. Here’s the link to the video:

http://www.runnersworld.com/boston-marathon/a-conversation-with-meb-keflezighi?adbid=10152731908001987&adbpl=fb&adbpr=9815486986&cid=socVID_20150419_44242966&short_code=2twiv

Saturday – BAA 5k & 1 Mile Invitational

boston 5k finish

With no American parkruns to seek out the only sensible thing to do was to enter my first International 5k race. The BAA 5k is a flat and fast course which attracts many of the top American athletes. 8893 runners lined up on a warm and sunny morning to kick off the Boston Marathon weekend of races. I really enjoyed walking to the start line fully relaxed, intent on just enjoying a steady jog as a final prep run for Monday. Naturally, as the race developed I found myself nearly hitting top gear. We’ll call that one a ‘5k progression taper run’ which makes it sound like I knew what I was doing. Some absolutely fantastic performances were abundant throughout the field with Ben True (USA) winning in 13:22 (new American record). Jeremy Kibble (Metro Aberdeen – pictured above with me) did well to clock 17:52 as did his club-mate Fiona Rudkin who waltzed home to a PB of 17:09. Look out for her in this year’s Tour of Fife.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/752928276

After a quick shower it was back to the action and this time as a spectator at the BAA 1 Mile Invitational.

1m 1 1m 2 1m 3

These guys and girls were quick! Good to see Scottish runner Chris O’Hare get on the podium in a pretty loaded field.

By Sunday Elaine had arrived and my official ‘support team’ was complete with her and Jeremy acting as cheerleaders. Despite a stress fracture, she and Jeremy hired bikes and cycled the marathon route (both ways) in the dark on Sunday night. MAD! That was after a day of sight-seeing…

Marathon Monday

I’m not big on making and following itineraries but this day went exactly to plan. Breakfast was at 6am. By 6:15 I’d left for the train to Boston Common to board the bus. The bus left at 6:45 and arrived at the start line in Hopkinton at 7:45. The race started at 10…! So far, so good.

I was in the first of 4 waves so was amongst the first groups to arrive. There were tents set up with coffee, bagels & bananas. Everything was perfect….except the weather! It was cold, wet and windy. Inside the marquees runners wrapped themselves up in several layers and lay out to rest… the place resembled a morgue. In a desperate to keep warm many runners huddled up close together in a formation that King Penguins would be proud of.

Fortunately when the race started it was just warm enough for vest and shorts. The course has a net elevation loss with the first few miles all being downhill. The recurring advice given out was ‘don’t start out too fast’.

0.75 miles in and I was on course for a 6:15 min/mile. Oops. I took the decision to have a toilet stop now to avoid one later. Mile one complete in around 6:45. This was actually pretty much bang on 2:55 pace. I thought I’d aim for this until about 20 miles and reassess my options towards the end of the race.

check him out

This was somewhere in the 1st half as my form isn’t completely gone yet.

A bit later on and it’s looking a bit more difficult..

Mid race

Being a proud Dundee United supporter it’s always good to be surrounded by those who love the tangerine.

orangy

Half way had come and gone in 1:27 which is exactly what I had hoped for. Just the Newton hills standing in my way now between here and the finish line!

Coming through what I think was 30k, things were starting to heat up, well everything except the temperature.

somewhere

Then the rain came on, and it didn’t hold back, it was bucketing down! The road was a tadge wet.

heading a group

Perhaps I should be dressed like him…

this dude is dressed appropriately

‘Heartbreak Hill’ is perhaps the most famous incline in marathon history. At 20 miles into the race, it’s often cited as the ‘hard’ bit of the race. Sadly for us hill runners, there’s not much too it, just half a mile of a gentle incline. Enough to slow down your pace slightly but not too much to get your knickers in a twist about. I was pleasantly disappointed.

The 23 mile marker was where it all fell apart in Amsterdam. This is when I find it really starts to hurt. I gave up then but this time I felt physically and mentally better prepared. 7 minutes per mile for a parkrun distance and it would all be over.

I kept positive and focused on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. Maybe that way I could squeeze in an extra drink before the flight home? 26 miles was reached in 2:56:00 which was met by relief as it meant I could coast in without a sprint finish.

Hands up over line

The rain was at the finish to greet us but I couldn’t care less. I’d done it. 2:58:40. Ecstatic to have my first sub 3 in Boston of all places. Hopefully now I’ll be able to relax a bit more and who knows, maybe even go faster in the London 2016 Marathon. That’s a thought for another day. Obviously I couldn’t of done it without support from family, friends and those thoroughly decent folks at DRR. This result is for all you guys.

WET

Garmin trace

Loch Katrine Half Marathon

The Loch Katrine Running Festival is now in it’s 3rd year. Started in 2013, it is organised by Audrey McIntosh and raises money for Alzheimer Scotland. The race day programme offers a marathon, half marathon and 10k. All races are out-and-back affairs from the Trossachs Pier along a very undulating road (more about that later…). The stunning backdrop is provided by the Loch itself and the nearby hills with Ben Venue taking centre stage. Audrey herself is a quite an inspirational figurehead, having run several ultras like the Great Glen, Highland Fling and a 100k across Antartica to name but a few. Check out the event website which has links to her own fund raising runs across the world.

http://www.audreymcintosh.co.uk/loch-katrine-info/

The marathon started at 9am, the half began at 10am and the the 10k runners were last off at 10:03am. Most of the half marathon and 10k runners were loitering around to watch the marathon start. I took a few photos from about 200 metres into the race.

Marathon start 1 Marathon start 2 Marathon start 3

While snapping away, I was, by chance, next to a chap in a Kilbarchan AC vest (Euan Carrick). Having looked at the starters list and done a bit of espionage through ‘Power of 10’ beforehand, I knew he would probably be the race winner although there wasn’t that much separating us on PB’s. Do I sprint for home from the gun or hang back in this guy’s slipstream?

Whilst pondering this question and other important matters such as “is there going to be enough loo-roll for everyone” I heading for race registration. En route I bumped into Noanie Heffron (another keen ultra runner) who was here today providing post race massages. I may need to find her after the race then!

From what I could see on the start line there were well over 100 runners taking part in the Half and 10k. I was lined up alongside Paul Cargill (Leven Las Vegas) at the front of the group. He’s currently training for his first marathon (Edinburgh) and should do well on the basis of his recent results. We wished each other well before the gun went off.

The pace felt relaxed and I found myself in the lead. Having ran round the course a few months ago I knew the first and last couple of miles were fairly straightforward and the rest was really undulating and just tough!

1st mile in 6:01. Felt good at this point and although the course is pretty deserted, the occasional applause by walkers and supporters offered encouragement and incentive to keep the pace up.

Got to the water station at 4 miles and looked back for the first time. No-one in sight for the 50 meters of road I can see!

The next 2.5 miles to the turning point were hellish to put it politely. Lots of short steep climbs which zap the energy levels. I was starting to struggle. Finally made it uphill to the turning point at halfway in 42:20. After turning back I could see that Euan was about 30-40 seconds behind me with the 3rd place guy about a minute behind him. I looked and felt completely spent. They looked the opposite.

We revisited the water station at 9 miles by which point I could see that Euan had closed the gap between us to about 20 metres and was bearing down fast.

The inevitable happened at the 10 mile marker where we struck up a brief conversation before he took off to claim 1st place. I was going backwards by this point and had just nothing left in the legs. Even walked for a brief point with half a mile to go. 7:03 for the last mile….on the flat!!!

Euan crossed the line in 1:23 and I was 1:25 with the 3rd place guy about 1:28. Full results to follow in the next few days. The girls providing massage were busy so I had to settle for a Tunnock’s bar and chocolate milk recovery instead – life’s tough!

First 3 guys

(L-R 1st, 2nd and 3rd)

Race winner

(race winner – Euan is also doing his 1st marathon at Edinburgh – he’ll do very well I’m sure)

Interestingly, the course record stands at 1:18:20 set by Brian McGarrity (Shettleston) set in 2013. His season’s best that year was 1:12:35. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

From my own point of view I was delighted to get 2nd place which is the best I could have hoped for. The best guy won. Including parkruns, that’s now the 6th time I’ve finished runner up in a race this year! Maybe aim for 1st place in Boston…!

Just a bit disappointed with how badly the last 3 miles went for me. A combination of going off too fast and still not having recovered fully from the Ultra. Can’t have it all though. I can have whisky though. The prizes for the top 3 guys were an inscribed whisky glass and a miniature of Deanston 12 year old Single Malt. I found this was best enjoyed sitting in a hot tub accompanied by a bottle of Trossachs Ale.

Prize

The Loch Katrine Running Festival is certainly one to look out for next year. All 3 events sold out in under 24 hours this year and rumour has it that they may apply for an SA permit next year. Audrey certainly has a successful race recipe here and it’s probably all the better as it doesn’t attract the top club runners. There’s a real sense of friendliness and camaraderie. I for one want to return next year as I’ve some unfinished business with those last few miles.

Garmin stats which measure a total of 1000 ft of ascent!!!

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/726190489

Me and Audrey

(Prizegiving with Audrey McIntosh)