There are many reasons we run. It might be to keep fit, it might be to get the happy hormones going, and in addition I often use running to go somewhere new and for the buzz of competition.
The Anglo-Celtic Plate/ Home Nations 100km Championships 2015 was the chance to pull on a Scotland vest, work as part of a team, and test yourself against the clock, and the other Home Nations athletes. In 2014, the race had taken part in Kent, England where Scotland came 2nd in the team competition, and I ran 7-22, for 2nd in the Scottish Champs and 5th in the UK individually. Last year I felt as if I still had a quicker time in me, having had a hamstring issue, and it being a hot day.
But 2015 has been good to me, with Jennie and I having been joined by baby Nina, an expedition to Namibia, illness, and a hectic work schedule meaning – in short that I was absolutely miles short of the training I needed to do to be truly competitive this year.
This being the case, and having not raced in 2015 I had no idea how quickly to set off, in the picturesque village of Redwick, Wales. I set off with the group on 7 hour pace, some of the guys that I had run with last year, but with my lack of training and windy conditions after 12 km I backed right off, recognising this would be a 1 way ticket to destruction. So I ran the 100km pretty much solo, being wonderfully supported at each aid station by Scottish Athletics Val MacAuley, Craig Stewart, Lorna McMillan, and Noanie Heffron.
Heading towards the finish, I knew that Scotland team mate Ross Houston had won the event in 6-43, the fastest time in the world this year- truly remarkable given he ran solo and with the windy conditions. Despite being almost an hour behind Ross, I was pleased to get the job done in 7-41, enough for 2nd in the Scottish Championships (having overtaken Grant Jeans at around halfway), and 6th in the Home Nations Champs. Although my time was down on last year, due to various factors it was the absolute best I could do on the day, feeling I was having to dig deeper than a JCB for the last 20-30km. Grant MacDonald, a good friend who remarkably had fully recovered from a brain haemorrhage last year (not at the race) took 3rd in the Scottish Champs, and brought us home for 2nd in the team competition. England brought 5 very strong athletes, and there was no catching them.
The even better news for Scotland was in the ladies competition where Rosie Bell (2nd Overall in less than 9 hours), Charlotte Black, and Keziah Higgins clinched the title.
A huge thanks first of all to Jennie and Nina for allowing me to do some training, despite the fact I am at work and abroad quite a bit. I’m looking forward to taking my girls on holiday next week. Also to my coach Donnie Campbell, Scottish Athletics endurance manager Adrian Stott for their sage advice and motivation, and to our fantastic support crew led by Val in Wales. A massive thanks also to Merrell UK, and my other sponsors for their unwavering support, and excellent equipment.
I am not sure where I will race next, but it will not be for at least 5 weeks. I feel like the tin man this morning. Challenge wise, we have also found an absolutely outrageous possibility for early 2016, where access by vehicles is very difficult, but local packs of huskies are able to provide a support infrastructure. More to follow.
Between writing the title for this blog and getting started with the article itself I have already had to take a break due to my hamstrings seizing up with cramp. I have had more cramps today than during any other event that I have ever done. Hopping up and down in the middle of a restaurant can earn you some curious looks.
Fortune has favoured me in relation to running. I have met some wonderful people, and visited some incredible places. Whilst Gravesend in Kent may not quite be equal in scenic wonder to Outer Mongolia, the Sahara Desert, the North Pole or indeed parts of Scotland, being selected to run for Scotland in the Ultra Home Nations Championships/ Anglo Celtic Plate was always going to be worth running 100km round a park several times for.
The Home Nations Championships/ ACP was being held for the 20th consecutive year, and alternates venues between Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. Scotland were actually the defending champions in the men’s event, with Donnie Campbell, Marco Consani, Paul Giblin, Ian Symington and David Gardiner having come up with the goods last year.
This is the first year I have done conventional road events, interspersing a first at Loch Katrine and a second at the Lochaber marathon with a couple good runs in trail races. A couple of the guys I go running with raced last year, and suggested I should volunteer for selection. It would be fair to say that Scottish Athletics would have viewed me as a wild card, due to a lack of similar type of races before. I have done long races before but have actually run more long races in the Sahara Desert than in the UK, so the Scottish Athletics selectors were taking a gamble of sorts.
It was a good feeling pulling on the Scotland kit (and knowing it would smell considerably worse in 8 hours). There was a bit of pressure, as due to injuries to Richie Cunningham, and Grant MacDonald, the official Scottish men’s team was down to 3, with Wales and England having 5 each. With 3 results “counting” for team honours, we all needed to get round.
Paul Giblin and Ian Symington are exactly the sort of guys you would want running for Scotland. They both ran very well last year (7-34, and 7-44) whilst Paul had destroyed the record for the West Highland Way race last year. For anyone that has done the West Highland Way, I think 15 hours 5 minutes is a pretty solid time! On the start line there was speculation that Steven Way was going to have a go at the 100km British road record. Steve has an amazing story going from by his own admission an overweight smoker, to being one of the fastest on the planet, having won the 50km World Series. As part of his training for this event he ran 2-16 in the London Marathon- not bad for a non-marathoner.
For me the race went as well as could be expected. I had undercooked the training, due to laziness and difficulty fitting training around a fairly busy period at work. I really enjoyed running the first 50 odd km with Paul Giblin before realising that a further 40 odd km was a long way to be running on empty. Once you are on the start line I think about 50% of the race is mental, while the rest is in the head. Paul had trained well and looked fresh whilst I could feel my legs getting heavy. What makes a difference in these circumstances is finding a way to think positively, and block out the discomfort of legs that would prefer to be sitting watching the television. With these international races, Scottish Athletics send a support crew, to help keep you fuelled, and motivated. In our corner we had the brilliant Adrian Stott and Val MacAuley, who have kept more runners on their pegs than anyone else in the business and indeed they were absolutely top class. Looking around, it was absolute carnage. As well as the international match, about 50 other runners were taking part in the race which doubled as the 100km British Championships. 7 hours in many looked as if they had been 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, and that probably included myself.
But certainly not Steve Way, who had destroyed the British 100km road record, and ran the fastest time in the world this year, and for some time, winning by an almost ludicrous 44 minutes in 6 hours 19 minutes and 30 seconds. Paul Giblin took 25 minutes off his time last year to finish 3rd overall in the British Champs, and put himself 5th on the Scottish all time 100km list in 7 hours 10 minutes, whilst was a couple minutes ahead of 2 of the English lads to finish 5th overall, 2nd in the Scottish Championships, and 10th on the all time list with 7 hours and 22minutes. Ian Symington was the only man spotted smiling the whole way round, smashing his PB in 7-28,30 and securing 2nd overall for Scotland in the men’s competition. On the female side, the Scottish side had been decimated with injuries, but Rosie Bell, put in a brilliant 8-57 to get under the 9 hour landmark.
My reflections are that it is a real honour for any Scot to represent their country, and it is a great privilege to earn that. Long road races bring entirely different challenges to some of the adventures I have been on before, and in fact the satisfaction of having to tough out the relentless nature of a flattish tarmac course brings massive mental fatigue but being part of a team helps you get the job done. Today I have woken up feeling like a man of 80 years old, and I will probably give running a miss for today. The next challenge is entirely different, and perhaps in a way more familiar for me- running up some volcanos and around the jungle in South America in June which I am looking forward to enormously. I will be heading out with Donnie Campbell, who helped me massively with sorting out a training schedule for the Anglo Celtic Plate, having blitzed it himself last year.
Here are a few links related to the race:
And a few folk worth following on twitter:
Lochaber is home to Scotland’s loftiest peaks, with Ben Nevis towering over the town of Fort William, and 3 of Scotland’s highest 10 mountains in the immediate vicinity. I’d never run the marathon there, but my wife Jennie had, and if she recommends it highly it must be a great race.
Other than for mountains, Fort William is famed as the wettest place in Britain. Jennie and I had parked the campervan in Glencoe, 20 miles south and although the day before was overcast and a decent day to be out and about, race day was a wet one. A furious blue and yellow smudge covered the area around Fort William, when I had a look at the weather satellite picture.
The weekend was a brilliant chance to catch up with friends, plenty of Jennie and my friends were up for the race, some taking on the marathon distance for the first time. We huddled on the start line with around 400 competitors looking to tackle the beautiful out and back course.
Having had a heavy week in training and with fairly inclement conditions, I mentally set the watch for 2-42, and took off with Roger van Gompel, and David from Glasgow University. Running the course we all mentioned that it was a much easier day to run, than to be a marshall, organiser, or spectator. It is a brilliantly organised race, and it does help hugely seeing a smile or being clapped in the right direction. I stuck with roger, the leader until 15 miles, where I needed a pee. From that point I never saw him until the finish. The course itself is reasonably (but definitely not completely) flat, and there are some cracking views on the way round. The last few kilometres were over Neptunes staircase, with views of a snow clad Ben Nevis mostly obscured by the rain. A beaming smile, and a hot drink were what greeted every finisher, a huge thanks to the organisers from Lochaber AC.
I ran 2-42 which was good enough for 2nd place overall. Before this year, I have raced mostly abroad, and with our friends in town it was excellent having Jennie around for the race. She is the one that allows me time away to race and train, keeps me full of pasta and is a huge part of getting me to the finish at each race. The next race, is competing for Scotland in the Anglo Celtic Plate/ Home Nations Championships in 3 weeks. It is certainly not a format I am used to- I tend to race in mountains, or foreign and sandy/snowy environments, so doing a lapped 100km race will be a news experience, but I will look forward to joining my team mates Paul Giblin, Richie Cunningham and Iain Symington.
Plans for this summer are coming together running wise – I can not wait, whilst work wise there is lots of exciting stuff going on. Since last time I have enjoyed doing talks and sharing stories in Perth, Dundee, Glasgow and this week speaking at the IOC Injury Prevention course in Monaco. Great place for a training run and lots of brilliant speakers to hear from and meet.
Is there anything runner’s would rather do than run a stunning course in glorious weather? For all of us lucky enough to enjoy the Loch Katrine Running Festival this was exactly what was served up.
Runners could choose between a scenic and undulating 10km, a half marathon, or the full marathon on a day that the sun shone, and the towering peaks of the trossachs glistened like a collection of wedding cakes all around the loch. All events are run on the road, which climbs and descends around the loch, offering magnificent vistas and some chunky hills.
I love turning up at races and seeing some familiar faces. Running back in Scotland, there were loads of friends running, as well as stalwart marshalls and race organisers like Julie Clarke, and Audrey McIntosh. Audrey has been to the ends of the earth with her running, raising huge amounts for Alzheimers Scotland, details for her incredible runs out in Antarctica last year can be found here http://antarcticodyssey.co.uk/ .
I’d camped at the Lochside and woke up to a frost which could only mean pleasant cool conditions. I got chatting to Gerry Craig, who had finished second last year, who raved about the course but mentioned “that a few would know all about the hills by the finish”. I ran the first 15km at a comfortable pace, having had a large week in training. At the half way point I remember feeling pretty fresh and thinking about a negative split. That is how it proved, with the second half being a mix of hellos to other competitors (it is an out and back course) and looking around at the scenery. Needing the toilet is a great incentive to speed up for the last few kilometres, and the second half of the race was 4 minutes quicker than the first, hitting the tape in 2-49. I was pleased with the run, which took 8 minutes off the course record and was good enough for first place.
This is definitely a race I can recommend for someone looking for a course of outstanding beauty- although is definitely not a PB course. It also raises plenty cash for an outstanding charity. On the subject of generosity, a huge thanks to Muir of Ord Jog Scotland group for their generosity in supporting SAMH, a charity I am passionate about. I have been fortunate to share stories and talks in Muir of Ord, Inverness, Glasgow and a few other places in the last few weeks and have a few upcoming in the next few weeks. I really enjoy hearing the stories of others, and getting ideas for the next race or adventure.
I am not sure where I will race next, but may do Lochaber marathon or possibly the Glasgow to Edinburgh double marathon in a couple weeks. I have been selected to run for Scotland in the Home Nations Championships (Anglo Celtic Plate) at the start of May so will be putting the hours in on the road, as well as the hills.
Thanks as always to coach Donnie Campbell, and to Merrell UK as ever for their support.