Monday, 31 December 2012

Marcothon 2012

After a gruesome near death experience in the Kilpatrick Hills (11 miles in 2,5 hours crawling through a blizzard) with Marco himself I managed 5 miles today to complete my Marcothon challenge.

The stats:
The challenge is to complete a minimum of 25 minutes or 5k in every day of December.

- Much less snow that the last years and only a few days on ice.
- A few nasty weather days and the worst one yesterday where I suffered from a good degree of hypothermia (and so did Marco since I slowed him down)
- 8.2 miles per day is actually a very good average for December. Not spectacular but I have to be pleased with that.

- A huge number of participants. More than ever. I met runners in the Gourock telling me they were doing "The Marcothon".
The word has spread. And there were loads of Marcothoners even worldwide. I can imagine that Debbie had to struggle with keeping up with all the comments/messages on Facebook.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Marcothon day 1 to 17

Quite a sluggish start for me in this year's Marcothon. Marcothon means running every day in December for a minimum of 5k or 25 minutes.

Not much for an ultra runner you may think but I stared with very low mileage. Relatively speaking. I am not gathering any momentum since the Essen Marathon.
The December started with a couple of days with very uncomfortable weather. A bit of a cold with low energy. A couple of days with very cold weather running through deep snow.
But when we returned from our holiday in Germany (on the 9th) running got a bit easier. Some days with ice on the pavements but otherwise reasonable conditions. And over the last 8 days I produced some longer runs. The highlight in December so far was a run on Saturday in the Kilpatrick hills over 16 miles with Marco, Matt, Lucy and Kevin.

If I maintain a mileage of 8.6 per day for the rest of the month I would be very pleased with that. For a December this is enough me thinks. Considering the rather good conditions this is not that much but my body does not allow more at the moment. The pace is rather slow too. I have not managed a single mile at Marathon pace all month.

Next big race in my calendar is the

SELF TRANSCENDENCE 100K/50K 2013 Sunday March 31st (Easter Weekend)  

 So I need to keep in mind to get some base mileage done and keep some momentum.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Essen Marathon (GER)

Event Website


Garmin Data

After the frustrating DNF in Berlin (I pulled out after 7k) I decided to give it a go at another Marathon. Maybe with a bit of luck I could still have a decent Marathon in my legs. And there was plently of choices of events who allowed late entry: Cologne was fast and near my German home town, Amsterdam which was equally fast and quite nice (I had done both before) and there was Newcastle (which Marco and Debs had entered) but I decided finally to try the Essen Marathon in its 50th edition (which makes it Germany's oldest Marathon). "Rund um den Baldeney See" ("Around Lake (Loch?) Baldeney"). 
I knew most of the route which was flat and pretty around that nice lake which I had lapped in training (and it also was a popular Inline Skating ground for Silke). 
One good reason to run in Essen that we could visit and stay with my In Laws who live nearby and also Silke's Brother, Sister and various Nephews and Nieces could come and watch. And after the race we could travel down to my own hometown to visit my father and my sister.  

Together with 1500 starters at 10am we were off. There were no start blocks and it was no problem to sneak to the front of the field. I had checked previous results and found starting within the top 20 was appropriate. Four runners were introduced before the start who all wanted to have a go at the sub 2:20 and I overheard that one runner said he wanted to run a sub 2:40 and I thought it would be an idea to follow him although I had absolultely no real hope for such a fast time. I did not want to DNF again and wanted to take it rather sensibly and enjoy the race. The field stretched quickly and I settled into a reasonable pace but it turned out that I could not follow that sub 2:40 guy.

I was not slow though. There were markers for every Kilometre and I soon noticed that I could not trust the Garmin splits. Since they came always too early. There were large digital watches every 5k though so I knew roughly how I was doing. As long as I could still do some math in my head that is.

5k  18:45
I remember that first 5k. It was an important marker. I was a bit slower than I was in Berlin and it felt I had already worked hard. Also I was facing a good headwind now so I expected the next five k to be slower.  But the injury from Berlin did not show at all. That was good news.

10k 38:15. 
Too slow for a sub 2:40 but that did not bother me much. I really had no particular expectations for today. I was still on for a decent time. Silke was here and handed me a bottle with water and an energy gel.

15k 57:38 
This was an interesting point of the race. A group of 3 runners just had passed me. I did not feel particulary strong. In fact it was a bit frustrating that I was passed. Was it going downhill from here? Was I already slowing? Run your own race I thought. Don't chase. Find your own pace. 
I hear some cheering behind me. Applause. I am just about to be passed by the leading woman. She was accompanied by a good bunch of runners and a couple of officials on bikes. And as it turned out she was head to head with another woman.
So what do I do now? Run my own race and get "chicked" or even "double chicked"? Or run away? Speed up? And potentially make a complete arse out of my race and a fool out of myself?   
Yep. That's what I decided to do. I decide to speed up. To take that risk and work harder. I pass two of the three runners who had passed me earlier. Silke is there to hand me my second bottle. I drink half of it. 200ml perhaps.
Half Marathon: 1:20:42 
A marshall tells me that I was in 11th place.  I am pleased with that half marathon split but have no real hope
that I can hold that pace for another 13 miles. But I try. I keep the runner ahead in sight. 

The legs are getting sorer. But energy levels are good. I can't remember the exact splits from now on and there is some wind and some small ups and downs but I do not let my pace drop. I work hard for it. I pass a runner who is slowing dramatically but there is another runner closing from behind. With just about 10k to go I am in 10th place. I feel more and more that this is a race I am in. It's not "my own race" though since I cannot affort it. 

I push as hard as I can. And with just about 5k to go I can see another runner ahead. He does not come closer though but he is passing another runner who is slowing and I soon pass that runner. I noticed that I managed to shake off the guy behind me. I am in 9th place now and I am closing on the runner in 8th and when I finally pass him I can spot another runner ahead. I produce fast splits I fly past the next runner. 

Unfortunately I see that the path ahead is very busy with large groups of walkers and I am shouting (as kindly as possible) towards them so they open a gap for us runners. Not everyone cares about us faster runners and it gets a bit messy when I have to run through the mud around those groups. But I eventually am directed to the last k which is taped off just for us runners. There is a 180 degree turn into the finishing straight.

I keep the pace high until the finish and am delighted with a new PB and a very respectable 7th place out of 1352 finishers.
Result: 2:41:17 (6:09 pace). And my first negative split! (1:20:42 / 1:20:35). 
My "in law" support team (Luisa, Karin, Erich, Karolin, Tim, Heike, Angelina, John, Simon)

I even won something: A big cup for winning the V45 age group (although I was also ahead of the V40 and V35 winners). And a few vouchers and a book. All that was collected by my father in law (Erich) since we could not stay that long and were soon on our way to Euskirchen to visit my dad.

The woman's race was won by Silke Optekamp in 2:45:05 only seconds ahead of Christel Viebahn.
The men's race was won by Daniel Schmidt in 2:23 (with three more runners staying under 2:25).

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Devil O' the Highlands 2012.

42 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William following the West Highland Way.

Short version:

Long Version:
Should I run or should I not? Was it really so crazy to run the Devil's only 2 weeks after the Anglo Celtic Plate 100k? Could I even win this race? Who was the competition? Should I just run slow and try to enjoy the experience?

I cannot say my legs were fully recovered from the 100k. I am no Mike Wardian. My quads were still sore and in fact I could not stride out as much as I wanted because my hip flexor was still very tight after the AGP. To add more excuses:  I could have done with a little bit more hill work to prepare for the Devil's. But honestly I was under the impression that I was still in good shape. Or - again - in good shape. And I had certainly recharged my carbohydrate storage over the last 13 days.  In fact I had done my second taper in 4 weeks and a taper must be followed by a run (or race). Otherwise would be crazy ;-)

So what can I say about the Devil O’ the Highlands route, the 42 mile long “second half” of the West Highland Way? Carrying a map for that race was certainly weird. It was a requirement and I respected it. But I feel I can run that route in my sleep.  I had done that route so many times now. 1) As the actual 42 mile race, or 2) as part of the WHW race. 3) I have walked it and 4) did it many times in training.  And I was really looking forward to running it again. And even slow. As a reward for missing the WHW Race this year. I just had so much good memories about that race. And the weather was great too. Maybe a bit too warm for super fast times but the course suits me. More than the Highland Fling (the first half (53 miles) of the West Highland Way).  

I wanted to give it a try to go fast from the start. I could always back off and take it easy if I blew up or had other problems. That 100k two weeks ago would give me a good excuse to mess this race up. Although I would probably hear a few "told you so" from “the girl who fell into the canal". So I better not screw this up then... ;-).  And that very girl (you may have figured it was Debbie Martin Consani) introduced me to Casey Morgan just a few seconds before the start: "THIS is your competition" she said. And I swear there was a bit of a cheeky smile in her face when she said that... And when she said it she had almost a "told you so" expression in her face.

She had a point though.  Next to that guy I looked pretty unfit. He displayed a less than 8% bodyfat engine in a Salomon outfit. And he played for Shettleston. And he did not just look fast… as I soon found out.
So off we went. Uphill first into a sunny morning towards the magnificent Bein Dorain along the West Highland Way towards Bridge of Orchy.  There was hardly any cloud in the sky and my legs responded well enough and I really enjoyed that first section. The field stretched and similar to last year I tried to take the lead. Thus allowing me to chose my own line. I have to confess though I would take any excuse to run fast from the start. But despite a seriously frisky pace I just about managed to squeeze myself to the front. But could not really open a gap. In fact my "Plan A" to lead the race from start to finish ended in Bridge of Orchy. Despite running a PB (45 minutes) to that first BoO checkpoint Casey took the lead. That young guy had his own race plan. Debs told me so ;-)

I ran straight through the checkpoint just grabbing a gel from Yvonne from our club Greenock Glenpark Harriers who had kindly agreed to support me over the Devil's course (backed up by my sister in law and my two nephews). After the climb out of Bridge of Orchy I thought I could regain the lead on the downhill section but the bad news for me were that I could not match Casey's downhill pace. Not even close. So instead of me taking the lead it was Casey who opened a gap of half a minute or so. I did run steady over the Rannoch More and the gap was closing again. Slightly. But on the downhill into Glencoe I fell back again. The official splits were 2:02 for Casey and 2:03 for me but I think I was through more 2:05 as my Garmin data showed later after the race. We both were still way under record pace at the time. However I was not much faster than last year. So pacing wise it was all still ok.

My plan was to have something solid to eat here. The reason for that was that I had developed stomach issues in the 100k two weeks ago which were probably due to the ‘gel only’ liquid diet. And the caffeine gel I had taken after 60k almost blew me up. So Yvonne handed me my brioche cake but there was no way I could get any of that cake down. My mouth was too dry. Although drinking more than usual (I think about 500ml/hour) it was not taking enough fluid. So I continued with gels. Not ideal. But I had no time to rehydrate. Would I be able to stomach the caffeine gels I had planned for the last section?  Should I even try without them?

Climbing the staircase was hard work. Caused by the increasing heat and lack of hill training. I was walking a lot of it. And in places I was not even power walking. It was just walking. The climb would take 17 minutes. Can’t say this was a disaster but it was 2 minutes more than last year. And if I remember correctly my climbing wasn’t my strength last year either. Overall I would say I did well on the shorter climbs and slightly undulating or flatter bits. And I owe that to the training for the 100k. 

Back to the race. Once at the top of the Staircase I had gathered on the leader. But I had no illusion about getting into Kinlochleven first. There was some steep descending over the Staircase and Casey just killed that section and was out of sight too soon. The long and rather steep forest track down into KLL was the usual pain. Not so much because of sore quads but I just could not gather any speed on the descent.
When I got down to the checkpoint I was desperate to know how far I was behind. Two minutes (according to Yvonne) did not sound too bad though. I denied the soup though which I had prepared for that last Checkpoint. I just did not like the idea of having it. I stuck with gels but they seemed to work ok for now.
The chase continued. Maybe I could close the gap on the climb? The Lairig More is never easy to run. The track is very rocky and undulating. But it was always my favourite section and I was looking forward to it. And I wanted to enjoy it. I had to get rid of negative thoughts. I just love the race and I just loved the great weather, even if it was getting almost too hot now. I was actually feeling strong. What more should I ask for? So it was all good. 

The climb was hard work again and I was feeling the heat more and more.  So I stopped at many of the small streams to cool myself and that did help a lot to deal with the heat. Once I reached the top of the climb I spotted Casey less than minute ahead but he soon opened the gap again on the following downhill. The path was actually quite busy with walkers so there was a bit of a struggle to keep the ideal line through all those cobble stones since the walkers also preferred the better parts of the trail.
Eventually I decided to ease off the pace a little to enjoy the run a bit more. All that racing and worrying and competing was tiring and stressful. I fell into a more relaxed stride and soon enjoyed the experience again. Although I was not slowing that much as it turned out.

The enjoyment mode changed into race mode again once I spotted Casey and I noticed he was slowing. First I thought he was eating and taking it a bit slower but the gap actually closed very quickly. I took another gel, drank something, cooled myself at one of the streams and then decided to go for it. I passed Casey whilst zig zagging through a bunch of walkers. He gave me a "Well done Thomas" and I replied "thanks but that race is not over yet". Maybe he took it easy for a while but the problem for me was if I could not open a huge gap on him before reaching the top of the Glen Nevis forest he would catch me on the downhill. As I learned later his stomach had blown up and it took him some time to recover.  

But I was in my element. As so many times before (including the last two West Highland Way Races) I run strong over the Lairig More and run strong all the way to the finish line. I did hurt I have to admit. In particular the downhills. And I certainly did feel the 100k race over that last section. But my energy levels stayed high up to the very end. 

So it happens that I won. And it was a particular privilege not just to win but also to win my favourite race.  I was delighted that I almost matched my time from last year. I won the race in 5:36:17.  Averaging 8 minutes per mile. 

Casey finished in 5hrs 55 mins 47 and second place and Robert Soutar crossed the line together with Craig Cunningham in 6:21.  

Debbie Martin Consani shows that she cannot just win super long and flat canal races (like the 145 miles GUCR) but also the short, fast, furious, technical and scenic Devil’s. If we can call 42 miles short that is ;-) She finished first female in 6hrs 54mins 06secs almost half an hour ahead of 2nd Hazel Dean (7hrs 23mins 45secs) and Michelle Heatherington (7hrs 23 mins 54 secs). 

Last year we finished 2nd. Not this year though :-)

Silke finished the Devil's comfortably. Supported by her brother and sister in law and 2 nephews who had been over to Scotland for a visit. And she completed the mighty "Triple Crown". That is 1) the Highland Fling, 2) the West Highland Way race and 3) the Devil O' the Highlands. She too had some reason to celebrate. 

Thanks Yvonne for her brilliant and flawless support!  
And thanks to Garry and Gemma and all the helpers and volunteers for another great Devil O' the Highlands! See you all next year! 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Anglo Celtic Plate 2012, Scottish and UK 100k Champs

If you want the short version here is the write up from Scottish Athletics

The long version:
I passed the first Marathon Marker in 2:58 and was at half way in 3:32. Another 50k to go. So what was I doing? What was I thinking?
- Did I honestly think I could run a 7:04 100k? No! I never did!
- Did I run to become Scottish Champion? No.
- Did I run to win? No.
- Did I run to beat anyone in particular? No.

It is not in my power to manipulate what any other runner could achieve in a race like this. Winning or beating someone else was a secondary target. Nevertheless I wanted to run the 100k as fast as possible. And there is only one way of doing that: I had to run "my own race". There is no better race strategy than that. If you want I had a "plan A". I had hoped to run a sub 7:20. 

And when I reached the half way point I still found this was well achievable.

Today it was the heat on that day which made for good excuses to go off a bit quicker in the earlier hours of the day. And then later slow down. That was inevitable. Almost deliberate. I think on a hot day like this there was no other race strategy. Why holding back over the cooler part of the day and then 'speed up' in boiling heat?

So a positive split it was for today. No shame about that. A 100k is a strange beast anyway. There is nothing like it. In particular if you are wearing a Scottish Vest and it is the UK Championships. Because you have to go fast. And it is going to hurt. There is no room for error and no rest. Until you have finished the race. 62 miles. Your competitor may have a Marathon PB which is two minutes faster or slower. In a 100k he may finish an hour ahead of you. Or behind.

When I saw my first split on my Garmin for the first Kilometre I knew I had the legs for a fast race today. My training had worked out for me. Adrian Stott was getting a bit worried about my fast splits but I never pushed for a second in the first 30 miles. The second half would be tough and slower. If you ask me now, after the race, if I had gone off too fast my answer is no. I would do very little adjustments. Maybe a tiny bit less effort... Maybe not...

I was not the only one slowing down in the second half today. After 60k I caught up with Allen Smalls. He obviously had some problems with maintaining the pace. That gave me some comfort and ensurance that it was not a silly racestrategy which was making it difficult for me. Allen was a very consistent competitor. Someone actually capable of running 7 hours over 100k. If he blew up, there was no shame if I did.

It was hot!                           Thanks Ian J Berry for the photo!

But it was not so much the pacing today which spoiled our race plans. It was the heat. And we all were suffering. The lovely contryside roads we were running offered little shade. A few trees occasionally but that was it. Thetemparature was climbing and climbing. The tarmac was heating up. And there was one stretch of just about half a mile long with no shade and the wind in our back just before the sharp bend back to the village which was like an oven. And it was getting worse and worse every lap. After the race Silke told me that she offered me a hat many times and I always said no. But I cannot remember any of that.
Because when I was running through that oven I always thought, why am I not wearing one? My brain was boiling. And my quads. Boy, they were boiling. And my stomach was boiling. I had no solid food the entire race. That did not help.

I had a joker though. Caffeine. I am a coffee drinker. And I drink loads of it. Triple esspressos. That kind of stuff. And I use caffeine in later stages of races and it always gives me a boost. And I had my first coffeine gel at 60k. And I was looking forward to it. It was going to give me wings! 

So here I was running next to Allen Smalls. I think it was one lap and we ran close together and even next to each other. More or less silently. I wanted to say something to him. A joke perhaps. I think I tried to say "not the day for a negative split" but it was more like a cough what came out of my throat.

And I was waiting for the magic of the caffeine gel to ease off the pain and brighten things up but that gel did notwork. My stomach turned against me. My head decided to go into low point mode. And my bowels exploded. Thankfully I was just at the aid station and the public toiletwas available. So I made use of that. I had another caffeine gel an hour later or so but my stomach was not liking it so I said (or shouted) to Silke "no more caffeine". 

It is not your legs who can win a 100k. It is your guts and stomach! If they stop working or go on strike your legs will stop working too. 
I had no idea how Marco, Matt or Gareth were doing. I actually thought that at some point in the race I would be passed by Matt. And I was surprised that Marco had not passed me already. I have been training with Marco for years now and lately with Matt and to be honest I had to TAPER to survive those training runs with those guys!

My advantage today was I had done a 100k before and kind of knew what to expect. In order to find out how my team mates were doing I either had to lap them. Or they would pass me eventually...

I never looked back though. Not a single time in the entire race. And when I heard runners coming from behind it was not Matt or Marco or Gareth. They were Marcus Scotney and Craig Holgate. Looking strong. Going this fast they would catch Allen I thought. Or even Keith Whyte who was still in the lead by quite a margin. To be honest it was a little depressing to be passed in the second half of that race. I felt defeated. Was my race strategy completely wrong? Had I made a fool out of myself by going off too fast? 

And I was slowing. And slowing even more. Despite increasing my efforts. My quads were in a poor state.
My feet burning and aching. I had decided to run the 100k in my Addizero Mana 6. They served me well in the Edinburgh Marathon but they seem to lose their bounce and cushioning with every lap. And with every lap it felt more and more I was running barefoot.

And I have to admit I had always claimed I would cope well in 'hot' conditions. But here I was baking and roasting myself from the inside and outside.And how many times did I look up to the sky and wished for some rain. But there were no clouds. I even felt sorry for the Marshalls who had not found any shadow and sitting there in the heat for hours...

The pacing chart shows it all:
1) The zig zag pattern shows how the wind influenced the speed. The way out of the village a mile long with a slight push by the wind. 10 seconds per mile faster than the way back towards village inte the brisk headwind. The wind was slowing us runners but also cooling. I guess most of the runners found the headwind rather pleasant.
2) The stomach and bowel explosion after mile 60 when I took my caffeine gel. Leading to a toilet stop
3) and the steep decline in speed. I was in a deep and dark place for a while. Breaking down. Until I yelled "soup". And I drank that warm salty fatty substance hoping it would keep me alive. And it did. Was it the fat or the salt? I will never know.
4) Feeling a bit stronger and actually getting a bit quicker over the last 20k. 

So back to the race...
I did pass Matt, Marco and Gareth eventually. Gareth was struggling badly and Matt was just pulling away from him. Matt was suffering too but he did not show it. He smiles and commands "go and get that Scottish Championship title!"

A while later I saw Marco. I don't know what lap. He was leaning against one of those stone walls and stretching his calf muscles. I caught up with him we but didn't talk much. I said something about the heat, he about cramping and no way to keep 8 minute mile pace going... I stumble forward and eventually pass him. There was nothing I could do about it. The good news were that Marco would survive this event in an excellent 7:51. A PB is a PB but I guess his next 100k will be much faster. The same applies for Matt who finished in 7th overall in 7:55. 

Over the last laps Adrian and the team passed on information to me but I don't think I could make much sense out of it. I understood I was not far from Allen and Craig. A few minutes perhaps. Over the last 20k I felt a bit stronger again and tried everything in my power to keep the pace up and close the gap. I digged deep. Plagued by tunnel vision and "never, ever again's" but I guess Allen and Craig digged just as deep to defend their position. I finish in 4th and I am toast. Litterally. Not far behind Allen and Craig actually. Keith Whyte killed that race as much as Emily Gelder killed the ladies' race. Izzy Knox won the Scottish 100k title.

1st Keith Whyte 7.16
2nd Allan Smalls 7.25.02
3rd Craig Holgate 7.26.03
4th Thomas Loehndorf 7.28.32
5th Marcus Scotney 7.40
6th Marco Consani 7.51.28
7th Matt Williamson 7.55.54

Quality results for a 100k race in that heat.

Gareth struggled with hamstring issues but finished the race despite the problems. 

A big thank you to Adrian Stott and his team for supporting us runners. And a big compliment to Welsh Athletics who organised the event in the lovely small village of Redwick. And thanks to the friendly Marshalls and volunteers. In particular the ones who had no shade to hide from the relentless roasting sunlight.
Of course a big thanks to Silke for her flawless support and Debs for booking and driving and cheering and taking pictures and everything.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Anglo Celtic Plate 2012. UK 100k champs (preview)

As in 2011 I have been selected again to run for Scotland in the ACP.

On Sunday the 22nd of July 2012 at 7:30 the Anglo Celtic Plate & British Championships will be held on a 2 mile loop on the Newport Flats at Redwick, South East Wales 

It is the greatest honor and pleasure to be in the same team as Marco Consani, Matt Williamson and Gareth Mayze. All great talents, super nice guys, super fast and super motivated. Sadly defending champ Craig Stewart is not competing this year due to injuries but he is on his way to recovery (fingers crossed).

We all have to resolve the puzzle called "how to bloody run a good 100k race???". But speaking for the Scotland Team we have good chances to do well.

a) We know how to run a Marathon (sort of)
b) We know how to run UltraMarathons (sort of)
c) The 100k is right there in between. Is it not? (well, sort of)

Pacing (or the negative split moo point)
I (still) believe the term "negative split" is confusing and based on myths. Like one "has to" run a negative split in order to have a good race.

Firstly in order to calculate splits (positive or negative) we need to know our finishing time. In advance!
So how on earth do I know my finishing time then?

Imagine the following scenario.
I make up my mind (before the race) and say I can (or want to) run the 100k in 7:30.
As it turns out do finish the first half in 3:45 (which is a perfectly timed even split for a 7:30)
and then however slow down and manage a 3:55 for the second half.

In the post race post mortem I would probably say that "I started too fast". However this statement is incorrect and misleading. And as I said it is not about a strategy and running negative or positive splits what makes a good race.

Again it is all about predicting the correct finishing time! Any decision about starting faster or slower is a personal preference. And post race discussions about "should I have started slower to achieve a better result" and negative splits are better than positive splits are an absolute moo point.

So what is my finishing time then?
I know, I am getting myself into trouble by posting this. Of course I do not know my finishing time. I think I could predict an 12 hour finish to be save. With a 7:42 PB. I think that is achievable.

But seriously, what should I aim for? Hitting the target for the first 50k is easy. Hitting the target for the 100k is difficult. And it should be. The UK Championships are not a training run.

Maybe better to post my finishing time after the race then... ;-)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Edinburgh Marathon 2012

There was a bit of Panic involved to get to the start of the 2012 Edinburgh Marathon. Firstly our bus got lost and arrived late. Then I got lost and went to Regent Road (believing I was at London Road). For some reason I had lost all the other Glenpark club mates as well who I thought were heading towards London Road. When I asked for the London Road drop bag vans some official sent me in the wrong direction again. Thankfully I bumped into West Highland Way Race veteran Keith Hughes who gave me the correct directions. When I finally reached the (huge) start area I had probably ran 2.5 miles already and it was only 8 minutes to the official start of the race. I certainly was warmed up!

So I was pretty late. I think officially we had to assemble in our start blocks 20 minutes before the start of the race. No later.

But Boy, the best bit was still to come! I should not even tell you all this because you are going to hate me. I apologize in advance!

I did not have to climb over those fences and elbow and squeeze myself into a decent starting position. Or even get to the back of my start group because I was late.

I just went to the very front of that long, long, long queue of runners and straight to the Start. I was even greeted by the race marshals and officials. And I walked right into that zone directly under the big Start arch. Between the Kenians and other celebrities like Hayley Haining and Ross Houston.
All that because my race number had "Elite" written on it! :-) I could even visit the toilet only a minute before the start - since we had our own exclusive Porta Loos. There was plenty of space to jog up and down.

And of course there was Marco Consani. He too had one of those magic elite numbers. We both had been given that privilege as a courtesy of Scottish Athletics and the Edinburgh Marathon since we were in the Scottish 100k squad.

So here we were just a couple of minutes before the start and enjoying this unique elite feeling. Microphones and cameras all around. Not that anyone really cared about us though.Since probably no one knew who we were. At least I could show off a foreign accent ;-)
Photo by Debs MC

Anyway... Marco's 'plan' was to run 7 minute/mile pace. Yeah right! If you know Marco you would know this was not going to happen.

"Maybe a few 6:50s" he had admitted the week before the race. But nothing faster than that! Just under 3 hours was his official target. (pmsl!)

Just a minute before the start he suggests "Maybe it's not appropriate to run that slow.... since we have that Elite number".

"You are totally and utterly correct Marco" I reply. "That's why 'I' will be going AS FAST AS I CAN!".

But I also say "Please stick to your 7 minute mile plan, since otherwise Mark J (Marco's coach) will kill you!". I also remind him that he had just done that Clydebank 10k only 3 days ago. I always found that was a questionable plan, but I respected his decision anyway. And it probably gave me a much better chance to beat him ;-).

I had not run a Marathon since 2009 in Berlin where I ran a 2:46 PB. And I was really looking forward to finally runnning another Marathon. I was confident to go quite a bit faster than 2:46 today, in deed I was so confident that I even posted my planned splits on Facebook with an A target of 2:41:30. Even Marco thought I was crazy.

And now we were just about to start our adventure. Countdown and a Bang and off we went.

It was going to be a hot day. But it was not that hot yet. We actually started in quite pleasant running conditions. And my legs were moving nicely. There was little navigation required, no zig zagging between slower runners. Another benefit of the elite start since there was hardly anyone else around. I expected the main field to catch up and to be overtaken by dozens if not hundreds of runners but that did not actually happen. Only a few runners went past and as it would turn out later most of those runners I caught later again. The first miles are mainly downhill so I expected a few quick laps. I was using my Garmin with Kilometer splits (an old habit) and I was delighted with a 3:36 which translates to a 5:50 for the mile .

That kind of  sub 6 minute mile pace continued for the  next miles and was I surprised to see Marco pulling up next to me? The very same guy who's plan was to run 7's?

"This is fast" he comments on our pace. "Sub 6 minute mile pace, eeek".

"I know" I reply. "What are you doing here? Should you not be lapping 7's?".

"Yeah, he said, I will slow down soon". And he speeds up!.

I catch up with him again and again he drops me again. It is quite enjoyable running and the miles fly. Marco is still ahead when we reach the 10k timing mat.I did not think that mat was in the correct place but it recorded a 38:05 split for the 10k.

We had Debbie to support us at around 10 miles and guess what! Marco was still ahead of me. I had predicted a 1:01 for the 10 miles and I think I was spot on when Debbie handed me my water with electrolyte (Nuun tablet)/SIS Gel mix. Was she surprised to see her husband ahead of me?

I considered to slow down a little bit since it got hotter and decided to sustain a 6:10 - 6:15 pace. There were a few ups and downs and twists in the course. And there was a headwind which slowed us down a bit as well. However it also gave us a bit of a wind chill so I was quite happy with a slightly slower pace. My left hip started to tighten up as well and it was still a long way to go so I took it a bit easier. My energy levels were strong though. And I was more and more confident to sustain that effort to the finish. I had done two 50+ mile races this year and I was more than convinced that those long runs had given me more than enough endurance.

I passed the half Marathon mark in 1:21:09 (officially). The first half always feels easy. And what usually happens once you are in the second half it will eventually get harder and sorer and some sort of fatigue would show. So I kept listening to my body but so far there was nothing like fatigue. Certainly not so far. But my left hip got tighter.

Silke was supporting me and Marco at 15 and 21 miles near Longniddry. I had ensured Silke Marco would be at least 10 minutes behind me (yeah right) so I decided I had to pass Marco now. Speeding up a bit was actually not a problem but my hip got sorer and sorer. Lifting my left leg had become painful. It takes some effort but I finally manage to pull up next to Marco. "I am done now, he said. I'll slow down soon..." (yeah right). I complain about my left hip.

Silke gave me my mineral water mix with an added Nuun tablet (Electrolyte) and an added Torq gel. Also Marco got his electrolyte drink from Silke. There was hardly anyone around. When I passed Gosford House I could see the leading pack since they had passed the turning point and were on their way back. I pass a couple of runners. Reach the turning point and soon have to turn into the Gosford House estate for a loop probably a mile long. There is some off road type trail to negotiate which was not quite as easy to run on. And I was using race flats with no grip (for the first time in a Marathon).

I had dropped Marco somehow. And I was not sure if he had dropped back now substantially and had slowed down. I did not see him for the rest of the race . In fact the next time I would see him I would be at the finish.

The pacing chart looks rather unusual. The slight downhill from the start explains the sub 6 minute/mile pace. The rest of the race shows a rather uneven pattern. But most importantly I was not slowing towards the end.

Once I left the estate and dropped back on the road heading towards Musselburgh the other side of the road became more and more busy with runners who were running the other direction towards the turning point. I passed a few runners who had slowed down.

I saw Silke again and she gave me my electrolyte drink as planned. It was getting hot now and since I was running with the wind I also did not feel the wind chill anymore. My energy levels were stable but my hip got worse. I had to slow down a bit more and even tried to change my gait in order to ease the pain. Fortunately at around 22 miles (35k) the pain got less. I got a lot of cheers from the runners on the other side on the road who were facing the other direction and quite a few Glenpark clubmates spotted me and gave me a cheer and a high 5. Neal and Caroline are cheering me on, I almost miss Debs who is cheering me. I get back into a good rhythm and my pace drops down to 6:10 for the last miles.
Photo by Debs MC

I pass Hayley Haining who is slowing slightly. I pass another female elite runner. It is not far to the finish. I feel great. No question I would break my PB. But by how much? There is no one around when I turn left into that impressive finishing zone with hundreds of people cheering me to the finish line. 2:42:53 a new PB by more than 3 minutes. I am directed into the Elite finishing zone where there is plenty of space to sit down or lie down in the grass and watch the finish. Marco arrives only a minute and a half behind me. So he had not slowed down much. A 4 minute PB for him as well. We are both delighted. Handshakes from the Scottish Athletics chairman and hugs from Sandra. Life is good!

Race Number: 48
Category: Over 40 Male
Full Time: 02:42:53
10k split: 00:38:05
Half marathon: 01:21:09
30k split: 01:55:31
Overall finish position: 20
Category finish position: 4

Monday, 21 May 2012

Edinburgh Marathon 2012 coming up...

... and I am in it!

On short notice I have been given an entry for the Edinburgh Marathon on the 27th of May.

This Marathon is not supposed to be a major event in my calendar this year. The background is rather to have a 'speed*' or 'tempo* -session' for the 100k Anglo Celtic Plate in July in Wales which will be the major event in my calendar.

*As they say "You are an Ultra Runner when you consider a Marathon as Speedwork". When I started running ultras I always thought there was
a smiley:           :-)
or winkey:        ;)
after that statement. But now since I am a (more or less experienced) ultra runner a Marathon is indeed a tempo or speed effort for me. Since I do not have the "speed" a "normal" Marathon runner would have. For someone with a main interest in Marathon running a 10k or Half Marathon would be a tempo session.

Anyway, I have not been running a Marathon for a while. My last one was Berlin 2009! I missed the following Marathons in Berlin in 2010 and 2011 due to illness or injury. So I am really looking forward to a little bit of "Speedwork" on the roads of Edinburgh :-)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Hoka Highland Fling 2012 (53 miles)

The Highland Fling (now Hoka Highland Fling) was my first Ultra 5 years ago and I have done it every year since. And I just love that race. It seems to get bigger and better every year. John Duncan had quite a job at hand to manage 700 runners and all the shebang which came with it. On race day it came all together perfectly and the Fling (this year sponsored by HOKA) shone again as bright as ever before. Maybe even a bit brighter. The weather was certainly helping. The conditions were perfect. As so many times before. 

For me (and probably for many others) the Fling is more than just a race. It is almost like a Family reunion. One of the good ones. Here you meet all those runners and companions again and many of them have become good friends and even very good friends. Almost family. If you have heard about the legendary companionship and camaraderie between Ultra Runners I have to tell you it’s all true.   

This time Silke was running again. Her second Fling. For her an important test for the “big one” the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. Katrina Kynaston was running her first ultra. Herself now as much a celebrity as her husband John who was running the race together with her. Jude Boulton was having a try at his first ultra.  It took my 2 years to persuade him. But it did not work out since he started the race with injury and had to pull out at Rowardennan .

My Club the Greenock Glenpark Harriers had entered 3(!) relay teams. I was delighted that they would get to know trail running and finally even got a glimpse at what ultra running is about. And I think them taking part was a huge success. Not just the men’s team  finishing in second place but also the girls just loved it. I have never seen the girls smiling so much after a race! I hope they will be all back!

For me it was not always clear if I could or should run or race the Fling. I had raced the 55 miles from Glasgow-Edinburgh only four weeks ago and there was not much time between those races to a) recover, b) build up mileage again c) get some hills into my legs and d) taper again. 

But I just had to run. After being selected to run for Scotland in the Anglo Celtic Plate 100k I had to withdraw from the WHW Race (the entire 95 mile West Highland Way) and could not run the Devil’s either (the second 42 mile “half” of the West Highland Way). So for my own peace of mind I needed to ran at least the Highland Fling which was the first “half” (53 miles)  of the WHW. 

When Marco offered to support me in the Fling I just could not resist. He had just beaten me in the Glasgow to Edinburgh. If he supported me he could not beat me again. Genius!  ;-)
But seriously he also was selected for the Scottish 100k  team (together with me and Gareth Mayze) and had decided not to run the Fling to focus 100% on the Anglo Celtic plates. Wise.
When Debs told me she wanted to join the support crew I spontaneously said to Silke “Wow, I have quite an elite support crew”. Meaning: Debbie (Scottish record holder, Commonwealth Medallist, Montane sponsored) and Marco (just kicked my butt in the G2E) -Consani.
Elite or not. It was a mistake saying that out loud.  Silke gave me the look. And then said “Elite… (long pause)… Support???”. “ELITE?”. “SO WHAT AM I???”
We must not forget that Silke had supported me over four West Highland Way Races. Endured two agonizing DNF’s and countless diva moments. I call her SUPER ELITE!

Anyway, I had squeezed three long(ish) runs (15, 18 and 20 miles) in between the the G2E and the Fling. Was completely knackered after the 20 miler (on the WHW) and then just put my cards on rest and recovery for the two weeks before the race. No speed, because the legs were in too bad shape for that. But the legs started to feel better and better. I had quite a good 10 mile run with Marco in the Kilpatrick hills a week before the race and started to draft a race plan.

I wanted to run a PB (currently at 8:09) and had my eyes on a sub 8 hour finish.  That was cheeky. Frankly I had no good reason to believe I could run this fast since my training was very much improvised and the 70 miles I had forced into my legs three weeks before the race felt like overtraining.
I the week before the race I kept running/rehearsing the race (mentally) and pictured that all I had to do is get to Beinglas in 6 hours and still have fresh legs (yeah I wish). And then running the last section in 1:55 and BANG! PB!
That kind of thing. A bit of Stuart Mills’ Total Preparation approach. Was I totally mental? 

There was a bit of confusion about the Scottish champs and the rules and that was all clashing with the staggered start of the Highland Fling but eventually the decision was made that it would not matter when someone starts in what group and I was very happy to start with the Vets.
I just did not want to start with the main field (Seniors) and to get into a “race” too early with all the stress involved. I did have very high expectations though: To enjoy the race and still run a PB. And if possible get under 8 hours. And no collapse or other messy situation like at the end of last year’s race

Ok, let’s move to the start. In the last couple of hours before the race I was getting more and more nervous and was glad when we were off. Since I knew the route quite well I took the lead to ensure the field took the right turn (actually a left turn) once we are in the park. But I was not in the lead for too long and was joined my Andy Johns soon and Mark Caldwell and a runner in a Carnegie vest. No clouds in the sky (or were there any?) a great day for running. A slight headwind though (which was getting even stronger later in the race) and a lot of water and mud on the path. But that’s about all I could moan about. Overall the conditions were perfect.

I chatted to Andy about the race and what lies ahead. I have to admit I did not feel that great. I had my doubts about my race plan and if I could meet the expectations. My own ones. Although the splits were not that fast I had problems to follow Andy and Mark and they pulled away. The race had just started and I had my first low point. Great. Would it be all downhill from here?

I decided to accelerate (against all wisdom) to catch up with that leading group. The reason for this was that we were approaching my first support stop where Marco and Debs were waiting for me and I did not want to give a bad impression. Sort of. I was struggling. But did not want to show it.
In 4th position behind Mark Caldwell, Andy Johns and Peter Humphreys. 

Andy was also well supported and met his support crew in various places (even on top of Conic Hill if I remember correctly!). And his guys always cheered me on. Thanks folks!

It was just before Drymen when I met Marco and Debs for the second time. The support was working perfectly. Marco run ahead and asked what I wanted and Debs offered me a choice of two drinks (no, not alcoholic ones!). One was an energy drink and one was water with added electrolytes. There is a wee story behind the electrolyte water mix. Water with added nuun tablets. But the gist is that I tried this for the first time in this race and it worked so well that I doubt that I will ever go back to energy drinks again in any race.  Energy drinks never fail to spoil my stomach eventually. Pure water with electrolytes worked brilliantly. 

Where was I? Yes, Drymen. Not long after passing the checkpoint a passed Mark and was leading the race. Well, leading the Vet’s race to be precise. I started to pass the first runners from the 6 am start and I could see runner and small groups ahead. All good news since I was a bit worried to get lost here since the storm had changed the landscape so much since I last was here (even John Kynaston got lost here on a training run!).

It was great to cheer on the runners from the 6 am start and I got a lot of encouragement back.
In fact it is a great tradition that the “faster” runners cheer on the “slower” runners and vice versa. There is this mutual respect. The logic behind this is simple. The “faster” or “more competitive” runners actually believe that the “slower” runners are tougher. Sturdier. More enduring. Since they run for longer. On top of that many of the “slower” runners carry more gear. A bigger rucksack. On the other hand the “slower” or “less competitive” runners respect the faster runners. Because they think they are running harder (but in fact they are not). And cheer them on. Almost like race horses. Well, not quite. Anyway. The respect is mutual. Most of the time. 

I finally see Silke. She is just behind a larger group of runners. The sun is (still) out the scenery is great and she is  moving well. I am glad she is ok and she is pleased to see me in the lead. A few good luck wishes and I am off again moving forward. There is a spring in my step now I noticed. 

Up Conic Hill was not as easy as last year though. I just did not have the leg speed I guess. But I had an absolute blast on the downhill. Not that I risked much. But it was probably my fastest descent ever. I had a lot of worries about the steep downhill and I was wondering if my Nike Pegasus (road shoe) were up to the task but there was never a problem. 

Now here came the only glitch in the support strategy. When I met Marco just after entering the forest and he asked me about what I wanted.  And I (kindly) reminded him that I did not want those “forest fruit” gels he was offering. I wanted the Strawberry gels I had provided (and I had also pointed that out in my race plan). I think this sounds like a diva moment but the forest fruit had caffeine. And I did not want caffeine. Not yet.

Marco’s response was equally friendly and he told me that I had in fact not provided any Strawberry gels. There was no such thing. My inventory list claimed I had torq strawberry gels. But my actual inventory box did not have any. There was Orange and there was Forest Fruit. And Forest fruit was just as close to Strawberry as he could think off. Good point I have to say. Shxx I say and apologise. Of course. I WROTE strawberry but I MEANT orange. Anyway… Marco swiftly gets into action and tells me he would get the orange ones for me. And sprints ahead towards the Balmaha car park.

I pass John and Katrina and we cheer each other on. John asks me if I started at 7 or 8. 7 I say (did he have so much confidence in me that I could run the 30k to Balmaha in 1:30?). It was in fact just about 2:32 when I reach the car park. Greeted by the Magnificent Murdo McEwan who sadly had to withdraw from the race but was marshalling (as many times before). But where was Marco? I look around and there are thousands of cars and millions of supporters around… should I wait for Marco to find me, or look and ask around…
But I am in a moving forward mode now. I decide to continue to run (race) towards the exit of the car park. Marco would find me I think. Maybe later at any of the beaches ahead. I know for someone in charge of support  this would be a bit of a shock if the runner just disappears. I think I pulled the diva card here and just left it to Marco to figure it out. Sorry Marco...

So I was out of the car park and not far later just over the steep climb over the view point and I heard a runner behind me. Approaching fast. Rocks and sparks flying. Andy Johns catching up? I increased my pace slightly. I did not want to give up my “lead”. But no chance. That was a fast runner. A relay runner? Nope… It was in deed Marco who had sprinted after me  to bring me my strawberry gel. Sorry orange gel. He must have ran sub 6 minute mile pace to catch me. I was glad to have my gel to be honest. A bit embarrassed though. But I gave Marco the opportunity to have a bit of a speed session. So it was all good. And that was my only diva moment of the race. I think.

Unlike the 55 mile Glasgow to Edinburgh G2E which started easy and got harder and harder and harder and finally was pure torture (see my previous post about that race if you are interested) the subjective experience of running Fling was somewhat different. In fact it was a completely different experience. Once I had passed Conic Hill I enjoyed my running and felt very little discomfort for the entire rest of the race. Was it my pacing? Was it the undulating terrain? Was it nutrition? Was it the feedback I got from all the other runners? The support?

I certainly tried to pace myself sensibly. I stayed below a certain effort level. I never pushed really hard. But I was not running slow. I was running as fast as possible. 

I reached Rowardennan in 3:42. 11 minutes slower than last year. But I felt much better. That was the plan. To preserve and not waste energy. The lochside was not too bad either. I had to work hard and I was glad once the root jumping and knee to the chest lifting was over. I am just not that flexible. It was not bad though. And I have to admit I enjoyed the journey. 

Although I had missed my dream target to get to Beinglas in 6 hours I got there eventually. 6:07 was 4 minutes slower than last year. But I felt great. Last year I was pretty much a wreck when I came here. So my pacing strategy was working. In fact I believe I was on a runners high since I started the descent from the top of Conic Hill into Balmaha. And that runners high was not over yet. 

So what was in it? And what should I do now? If you remember my pre-race total! mental preparation only went as far as Beinglas. I had to get here quickly but more importantly with a reasonably fresh pair of legs. And I had achieved that target. Could I achieve sub 8? 

Once I left the checkpoint and started the climb into Glen Falloch I decided not to increase my efforts. With hindsight I would say that I could have tried a bit harder. But I decided to take care of myself. Have a few jelly babies. A tablet. Get that stone out of my shoe which was bothering me for the last 3 hours. Have another gel. I had managed that last section in 1:56 before. That was in 2009. But that was also the result of a moderate pacing strategy. Was I as fresh as I was 3 years ago? I know what you are going to say: Of course not. I am 3 years older. ;-)

I have some walking breaks on the steeper bits. I probably could have pushed a but harder but I still wanted to stay in a zone of sustainable effort. I just cannot shake that fear off to screw it all up again. Was I a bit too careful now? No. It was all part of the plan. After last year’s fall and collapse just 3 minutes ahead of the finish I had promised Marco and Debs no repetition of that incident. Not another “episode”.
But again, that careful pacing kept me on that runners high. I felt in control. There was no fatigue. I was not counting the miles to the finish. This was not a mind game like the G2E. I was enjoying the race. Head, legs, stomach and heart all had an equal part in that play. Boogle Glen was no exception. Short steep climbs and short steep descents one after another but I loved  it. 

When I reach the A82 and meet Marco and Debs again 
I ask for my Glenpark Club vest. It gets all flat now and I am loving it. Not that I am that fast but I had a 7:30 split on one of the longer flat sections. I am still not counting down the miles. In fact I am almost a bit sorry it’s over. I hear the bagpiper. George and Karen are on the bridge and almost welcome me as the race winner. 
I think I was slightly “over” celebrating. I was first “bloke” crossing the line but I knew I had no chance for the overall win. But it was more the fact that I ran a PB and felt great which made me celebrating.  
And when I finish as “first bloke” I am even interviewed with a big camera in my face. My Garmin showed 8:02. A 7 minute PB. Someone told me I have to swipe my chip. 

Darn. I had lost a few seconds here. That would cause a bit of an upset later because I would not be the only guy finishing in 8:02.  

Once the runners from the 8am start arrived one after the other Iost my "1st overall place" and was pushed back into 2nd , then 3rd , then 4th and Richie Cunningham and Paul Giblin  who started an hour later would both also finish in 8:02 (same as me). My chip (and official) result would be 8:02:33. My Garmin showed 8:02:19. But as it turns out Richie’s time was 8:02:07 and Paul Giblin’s time was 8:02:02. So my 7th place was correct.

And there was absolutely no question about the winner. Scott Bradley’s return to the Fling was a triumph in a super fast 7:23 beating the Hoka sponsored Ludovic Pommeret by 10 minutes. Terry Conway delivered a 7:40 and my 100k team mate David Gardiner came in 4th with a very fast 7:49 (he certainly was pleased after dropping out last year).

I tried a bit of an interview with Ludovic after the race but he is not in the best mood. The race was “totally flat” he complained and then he turned his back on me. Frankly I did understand what he was trying to say since I have been in the alps myself. Conic Hill is not Mount Blanc. Gotcha. Point taken. Diva. I have been there. ;-). But seriously I was thrilled that those World class Hoka runners actually showed up and gave it their best shot. And after reading Ludovic’s post racereport about his Highland Fling experience I think he is quite a fair guy. 

Emma Roca won the ladies race in 8:23 (still 13 minutes shy of Lucy’s record which was on the slightly longer course). Sharon Law’s 8:38 is remarkable. ‘Only’ 3rd lady this year because of the super quality field. But boy, this is fast. 13th place overall in a huge field with plenty of top UK runners plus international competition.

Katrina Kynaston's result 12:25 (she is F50 believe it or not) is equally remarkable.  Considering she just started running a couple of years ago. She may have started ultra running reluctantly but if  after reading her race report I believe she is truly "one of us" now :-)

Silke just missed the 13 hours. But she finished strong and with a big smile on her face.
Incidentally in a substantial PB. But the fact that she ran into Tyndrum with plenty of energy left in her legs and no substantial pain or stress or fatigue this race was a significant milestone for her next target. The West Highland Way race. And she did more than just well. She paced herself. Supported herself. Carried a rucksack which was 4 times has heavy as my bumbag. Enough said. 

Thanks RD John Duncan for this year’s Highland Fling!
Thanks to the Marshalls an volunteers!
Thanks Hoka for providing world class runners and sponsorship!

And a special thanks to Marco
Debs  (here in action)
btw, I have to disagree with John Kennedy…

and finally Cairn

I owe you big time!

Monday, 2 April 2012

56m Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra: Race Report

So here I was again at the start of the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra.  

Formerly known as Glasgow to Edinburgh Double Marathon. The race was probably renamed because the distance is in fact more than just a “Double Marathon”. And although advertised as 56 miles the exact distance has still to be confirmed.  There is a long (and dark) tunnel not far behind the Wheel which confuses the GPS devices a lot so I am not 100% certain about the accuracy of my own Garmin but I think the distance which was displayed at the end of my race of 55.2 miles is more or less accurate.  

The weather was great that day. In particular not as cold as I had feared and even sunny for much of the race. The path was dry for almost the entire length. The only flaw of the conditions was the wind. It was not particular strong but it blew in our faces for almost the entire race and sometimes over exposed terrain even gusty. Anyway, the conditions were the same for all of us. So we all had to deal with it.

Start is 9am sharp and Grant Jeans went off like the Road Runner going 6 minute mile pace. He is a remarkable talent but there have been very few runners on this planet who have ever been able to sustain such a pace over such a distance. Don Richie managed a 6:10 over 100k once when he ran a 6:10:20 in London/Crystal Palace 1978.  Grant passed the 10k in about 37 minutes as far as I heard from Silke who was supporting me today. Unfortunately for him he dropped out at CP3.

I was in the “chasing” pack with Marco Consani, Gareth Mayze and Joel Jaile Casademont. Chatting and running comfortably and enjoying the day. The pace was close to 7 minute per mile which I found ideal to start with. However I soon noticed that I had to work harder to maintain it than I had hoped before the race. One reason was the headwind which was slowing us down. Another reason was that my legs were not quite as fresh today as I had hoped for.
Gareth soon pulled away from us. For me he was the man to beat today. He won the D33 only 14 days ago (ahead of Grant Jeans) in a very quick 3:32. But the question was if he had recovered from that race and also was he able to pace himself right over a race which was 22 miles longer…

After about 15 miles Marco and Joel started to pull away from me. Both runners looking very comfortable. I just felt not strong enough to follow their pace. I was a bit disappointed but I had to deal with it. I could not see Gareth anymore but kept Marco and Joel in sight. I still averaged about 7:10 per mile at that time. My 10k splits were at around 44 and 45 minutes.

Before the right turn at the Falkirk Wheel I could see from a distance that Marco suddenly took off leaving Joel behind. After that climb next to the Wheel I passed Joel as well and he looked tired. I spoke to him after the race and it turned out he had an impressive collection of Ultras under his belt. Including a 36 hour UTMB, a Transgrancanaria and a Transvulcania finish. He had done the MDS and other brutal races. But he certainly was not the guy for flat races like the G2E. Certainly not today.

Marco was out of sight. Although I had not slowed (yet) he must have gained several minutes on me. I was going steady but it started to become hard. And it was getting harder and harder by the minute. I passed the Marathon distance in a quick 3:09 but that did not count for anything. When I passed the 50k (in 3:44) my average was still slightly below my target 7:15 m/m but from one minute to the next my pace dropped. And there was still almost a Marathon distance to go. The mind and head game had started. 
My legs were already sore and the desire to slow down was getting bigger and bigger. My left knee started to feel the pounding and was hurting.

I was glad that I was not alone with my struggle since I had Silke who managed to meet me every hour or so. And I got cheered on by Neal and Caroline. I was also encouraged by Marco’s support team Rob and Euan and it was good news to hear that Marco was closing on Gareth. And it certainly gave me a bost to see two Ultra Legends Keith Hughes and Murdo McEwan who had come to the canal to cheer us on.
But I was more and more in my own space of suffering and increasing tunnel vision. I was in 3rd. Great. But what about runners behind me? Gavin Harvie was someone who would be capable of running a strong 90k. Was he right behind me? And what about Debbie Martin Consani and Sharon Law? When it comes to pacing those girls make not mistakes. They do have a 50 miler for breakfast. And they would take no prisoners!   

I am ensured that there is a comfortable gap behind me and that the distance to the runners ahead of me is fairly constant. 3 minutes to Marco. 6 Minutes to Gareth. And it is still 25k to go. 

Then it’s 5 minutes between me and Marco and 6 minutes to Gareth. Marco was closing the gap. I am getting slightly excited. Will Marco win this race? 
There was not much I could do. Increasing the pace was just not possible but maybe either Marco or Gareth would blow up? 
I set myself a new target and try to keep the pace under 8m/m. That was quite far away from my original plan to run 7:15s but my legs were so sore and heavy, I just did not have any more to give.
There are short sections with cobble stones and they are murder. And all those little gates where you have to stop and then get yourself going again. I am getting closer and closer to Edinburgh and the path is getting more and more crowded. It is so difficult to dodge all those cyclists and walkers. 

I hear that Marco has dropped back and was struggling. I take no pleasure from that. All I want is to finish. But I do not want to slow down either. Could I pass Marco? Could I run a PB perhaps? A PB would be something. An extra reward. 

With just about 4 miles to go and I can see Marco in the distance. He is walking. And then running again. Running just under 8 minutes per mile does not seem fast. But there is no chance I can go any faster than this. Maybe a 7:40 here and there. I can see Marco again and he is walking and then running again. He does not want to give 2nd place away. Certainly he is suffering as much as I do. It is like running into a brick wall and pain in unlimited quantities. Why do I not just run a bit faster and catch him? Because I can’t.

I have to say that not all ultra races are like this. I have been running with sore legs before but was still enjoying it. But today it’s just brutal. 

To put it into a chart it would probably look like this:

I finish in 3rd and 6:53. A minute and a few seconds behind Marco. And 5 minutes behind Gareth. I am hurting and exhausted. I think I used the f-word a few times after passing the finishing arch. But I am delighted. And happy. A 2 minute PB and 3rd place.

It does take 44 minutes before Gavin arrives to take 4th place. Sharon Law finishes in 5th overall in 7:41 and wins the Ladies Trophy.  Debs Martin Consani finishes 2nd Lady and 8th overall in 7:54. 

The gang ;-)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The G2E - a "Comrades" in Scotland?

My next race will be the 56(ish)m Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra Marathon on 31 March 2012.

Details of the "G2E" race:
The race starts in Ruchill Park, Glasgow and has checkpoints approximately every 10 miles. The course is approximately 56 miles long and after leaving Glasgow is predominantly rural and off road until reaching Edinburgh. The finish is at Edinburgh Quay (a short walk from Haymarket train station).

Actually I think it is more 55 miles than 56 but the distance reminds of the great "Comrades Marathon" in South Africa.

The Wiki summary for the "Comrades" is as follows:
"The Comrades Marathon is an ultramarathon of approximately 90 km (approx. 56 miles) run in the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world's largest and oldest ultramarathon race. The direction of the race alternates each year between the "up" run (87 km) starting from Durban and the "down" run (89 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg."

Another common attribute of both races is that they connect the East Cost with the West Cost...

The major difference of the two races is that that Comrades is in roads (tarmac) and is not flat. It is rather hilly.
The G2E is in deed flat. Not quite as flat as a pancake but the climbs are negligible compared to the Comrades.

The Comrades is HUGE. It is a national event. It is televised from start to finish. There are advertising breaks as they are in the X Factor.  There is loads of prize money and prestige involved. And the winners run 2:30 Marathon Splits! A pace they keep going for the whole distance.

Well our very own Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra has 115 competitors (the Comrades has 18000!).

I have had my last push of long(ish) runs on Friday (quick), Saturday (race pace) and Sunday (casual) where I ran 20 miles each day.
That kind of back to back principle used to work for me in the past and I hope it will work for me again. My longest run was a 32 miler with Marco "Sonic" Consani. 

There is little convincing scientific evidence about how a taper should look like. In particular not for a particular ultra race. But I put my money on a two weeks taper for this race. So with less than two weeks from now to go I am actually tapering as we speak :-)

Past Races
I have done the race twice before.
2009 (on the slightly shorter route) in 7:22 (4th place)
2010 (now a bit longer but having a nicer finish right at the end of the canal in Edinburgh) in 6:55 (4th place again)

I would like to improve on my previous PB. Maybe running an avg of  7:15 m/m
Wish me luck :-)

Competitors (updated)
Female: At the sharp end there are two Scottish internationals (and 24 hour race Commonwealth Medalists) running Debbie Martin Consani and Sharon Law.
Male: A few good runners in the field and certainly a few dark horses but I hope Marco Consani can actually show his talent and finishes accordingly. No pressure ;-)
Just checked the entry list again and found a few new names in the list. Amongst them Scottish and UK International Grant Jeans and D33 winner Gareth Mayze. Those two super fast runners will be the guys to beat.