Sunday, 27 October 2013

Culloden Run 17.46K 2013

Chip Time: 01:33:15  Position: 109/275

As a runner and medal collector I'm a big fan of both novelty and themed races, they provide so much promise with the hope of an unusual, bespoke medal, whilst at the same time they also take the monotony out of a long distance run. The novelty of running in fancy dress, attempting to beat Beethoven's 5th Symphony, competing against a steam train, challenging riders on horseback over 26K or carrying a sack of coal on your back whilst running all strangely appeal to me. So when I heard about the Culloden 17.46K, it didn't take too much persuasion for me to sign myself up.

Billed as "...a testing challenge over a 10.83 mile route which passes through stunning scenery and by historic landmarks; Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, River Nairn and the awesome River Nairn Viaduct.", both physically and scenically this race did not disappoint and I certainly fought a personal battle around a very tough course.

Whilst struggling to find my running shorts on the morning of the race, I chanced upon the lightweight kilt I had bought for the Perth Kilt Run back in August. Believing this was some kind of providence, I decided to get another use out of it. (I had mistakenly thought there would be many kilted runners taking part. I was wrong. On arrival I counted around half a dozen.) After an early start and yet another trip up the A9, we arrived at Culloden Visitors Centre at around 10am. The race didn't start until 10:45am, so coffee, cream and jam scones and free Wi-Fi filled the gap for the next 45 minutes. I also managed to fit in the obligatory sword fight with my daughter in the gift shop.  Whilst awaiting the start of the race I was asked for a photo opportunity by an American tourist which she wanted to use on her Twitter feed. I dread to think what hashtags she used. 

In the cafĂ© I did notice that a particular side from the Scottish Independence debate had attempted to hijack the event with their own agenda. Putting aside my own views on this issue, I would be opposed to either side promoting their political beliefs during a race. For me running should always remain apolitical. The bond runners feel toward one another transcends politics, sex, race and religion. For those hours we are out running together, life is on hold and we're all out fighting the same battle, heading in the same direction and working toward the same goal. To me this has always been part of the attraction of running races and should not be spoiled no matter how passionate folk are about their cause.

As my only running endeavour since the Aviemore half marathon two weeks previous was (whilst dressed in a stiflingly hot eagle outfit) the Beat Beethoven 5K the week before, I wasn't feeling greatly confident at the start of this race. (I've ran four races over the course of the year dressed as a Golden Eagle in support of Scottish Natural Heritage's Big 5 celebrations. As such I like to think I did my bit in promoting the eagle and am pleased to say that it won taking almost 40% of the vote.)

Anyway, better get started on to the race report. Although this course was only 10.8 miles, I would say it was as tough as any of the eight half marathons I have ran so far this year. The 17.46K race follows the same route as the majority of the 10K which is also scheduled for the same day. Runners depart from the visitors centre and gently descend South for 3kms along the B9006. The route then takes a sharp left just before Westhill followed by a hard, drawn out 2km climb to the long awaited first water station at Nairnside village. This hill was tough and even this early on in the race I passed quite a number of runners who had stopped to walk before reaching the top.

From here there is a short descent followed by another 3km of undulating road past the Culloden Battlefield with a fantastic view of the Highland Railway viaduct. At the crossroads at the 8.5kms point the 10k and 17.46k routes part company, the 10K runners head straight on, whilst the 17.46k participants turn right and take a steep descent until they cross the river Nairn. At the 10.5km point there is a sharp left hand turn followed by 1.5kms of  soul destroying, steep hill climbs, taking you under the Highland railway line before you turn left at the Culdoich Junction.

After the preceding hills, the next 1.5kms came as quite a relief. At the 13.5K point the route took a sharp left, with a steep descent followed by an ever welcome water station. (As opposed to bottles, water was handed out in disposable cups. When this is the case, rather than stopping, I usually take a couple of sips and then throw the rest in my face to cool down.) From here we travelled under the imposing railway viaduct and then uphill for another 1km, re-joining the remainder of the 10K route to end back at the visitor centre. I was very thankful to see Clare and my children cheering me on at the finish line. After collecting my medal, collapsing on the grass and allowing my children to raid my goodie bag, I hobbled off to the "chip van" to pick up my race time receipt which showed a time of 1:33:15. My position was 109, coincidentally same as my race number!

All-in-all, a fantastic race with stunning scenery, but not one for the faint-hearted. The medal could also have been slightly more imaginative, but if you look very closely you can make out a sword on it so I'll settle for that.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Aviemore Half Marathon 2013

Chip Time: 01:52:10  Position: 391/841

So I'm awoken by my alarm at 6:00am on Sunday morning. Eh.. What?! For a moment I have no idea why! It's not Monday morning yet surely?! I'm not working today am I?! Then the horrible truth sets in. I have to get up and drive 80 miles up the A9 to run the Aviemore Half Marathon. Registration for the race finishes at 8:30am which means that I have to leave the house at 6:30am. It's cold and still extremely  dark outside. I remember over doing it at a BBQ the previous evening and I have the first signs of a cold coming on. Once collated, I find all of  this new information extremely disturbing.

Negative thoughts begin to creep into my mind.. along with excuses to ease my own conscience.. Why am I even doing this? Do I even like running? How can I possibly run another half marathon? Sometimes I struggle even to walk and my legs feel sore just lying in bed! Can I even stand up? However, all along at the back of my mind, I know there is no backing down. I had signed up and paid to enter this race. No matter how painful it was going to be (and that was just the getting out of bed bit), the disappointment I would feel in myself for dropping out would hurt so much more. So with that thought in my head, my legs creak out of bed, I say goodbye to my partner and creep down the stairs so as to not wake the children.

For breakfast I rush down a bowl of "Branana". This is something I like to think I named. Sometimes I even claim to have invented this super-food. Which I obviously didn't, as in reality it's just a bowl of bran flakes with a banana sliced on top. (It's great fuel for running though!) Then after throwing on my kit, I hobble out the door, de-ice the car and climb in. Radio coverage is poor to non-existent on certain stretches of the A9 so I plug my mp3 player into the USB socket on the dash, turn up the volume and hit the road. Chris Rea's "Road to Hell" begins to come to life.

Out of all the roads I have encountered in Scotland, I think I detest certain stretches of the Perth to Inverness section of the A9 the most. They're so bleak and depressing with perpetual mist and rain. The kind of place only the Hound of the Baskervilles would choose to live. (And even it would require a heavy dose of canine Prozac so as not to throw itself under the first passing articulated lorry.) Average speed cameras may be the last straw for me ever driving the full length of this road again. Even at Scotrail prices the train seems like a more viable option. Roll on dualling!

But I digress. I arrived at the MacDonald Hotel Resort in Aviemore at around 8am and headed off to registration to collect my number. On the way I was greeted by a fellow race addict whom I had met on mile twenty-five of the Loch Ness Marathon two weeks previous. His friendly reception lifted my spirits. After collecting my envelope, attaching my number to my top and the timing chip to my shoe, I stashed my remaining belongings back in the car, then joined the ever growing coach queue. After standing for twenty minutes, in what seemed like freezing conditions, I managed to get the last place on a coach and we were ferried off to the start at Badaguish Outdoor Centre.

Dropped off in the middle of a forest, we had to walk about 500m to the outdoor centre itself. As usual I was unprepared, wearing only a short sleeved technical running top and shorts. Everyone else seemed very well kitted out, some in full tracksuits, others with space blankets. Whilst I was freezing my arse off, I tried my hardest to pity these people, wondering how they would survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse without all of their home comforts. As my body started to shiver and my teeth began to chatter, I found this little consolation.

There was a great reception put on for the runners of both the half marathon and 10k at Badaguish, this included porridge with honey, tea and biscuits, music and the usual warm up  motivator. Despite trying everything on offer, nothing kept the cold at bay. I wandered around shivering for about 45 minutes before the race began. I did bump into a couple of work colleagues. One an ultra-marathon runner who works in the same office as me just outside of Perth. He was undertaking the 10k. The other, an aspiring runner from our Inverness office who was running his first half-marathon. After a chat, I wished them well and made my way to my designated starting position.

The course is a mixture of stony forest track, paths and road. My knees were the first to notice the difference between these surfaces and found it difficult to adapt when they hit tarmac. The first seven miles take you through Glenmore Forest Park and Glenmore village before crossing the road onto another forest track which takes you around the beautiful Loch Morlich (which was used during World War II as a commando training area, for proposed operations in Norway, due to its similarity to the Norwegian landscape). From here you join the main road running past Coylumbridge and Inverdruie. You cross the Spey River by footbridge, then travel under the main Highland Railway line, across Aviemore High Street to the finish line back at the MacDonald Hotel. I was happy to complete this race in 01:52:10. (Although my knees would have preferred if I took much longer). After receiving my finishing medal *Hooray* then wolfing down a banana and some shortbread, I hobbled up the hill back to the car park and set off for home.

I have few complaints with this race. (Apart from being over taken by a charity runner dressed like he was riding a horse!) It was very well organised and marshalled and I definitely plan on running it again. So if you are looking for a half marathon with some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer, I would say that this one is up there with the best of them!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Great Scottish Run 2013

Chip Time: 01:54:28  Position: 3754

The Great Scottish Run has to be one of my favourite half marathons in Scotland. It may not have the shortbread tin views that many of the rural races do, but what it lacks in scenery, it compensates for with atmosphere and character. It's not everyday that swathes of Glasgow city center are cordoned off just to allow you out for a carefree, traffic free run. (The opportunity to run over a temporarily pedestrianised Kingston Bridge is fantastic!) I'd previously completed this race back in 2011 in a time of 01:59:53, however the course route changed this year, so unfortunately I am unable to directly compare this year's time with that one.

Glasgow will always hold a fond place in my heart. Having spent four years drinking studying there in the mid nineties and a few more working, I know the city well and we have been through a lot of great times (and a few hard ones) together. Some of both I can even remember. So the chance to go back again for a weekend (with the added excuse of undertaking a healthy pursuit) was irresistible to me. We booked a family room in the Novotel on Pitt Street just along from the Strathclyde Police HQ (around the corner from an old favourite drinking haunt of mine.. Nice 'n' Sleazy.)

The Novotel is a good hotel. I have very few complaints about it. The staff are friendly and very accommodating, the food is good, the underground car park is handy and the gym, sauna and steam room are also very welcoming. On this visit the running machines were of particular interest to my partner, Clare. She is in training for her first 5K and was keen to use them on both nights we stayed. (Although she claims she's not born to run and that I have just gradually worn her down, I don't believe a word of it! I can see the medal envy in her eyes and I know she just can't wait to get her hands on her first one.) My only complaint with our stay, which certainly couldn't be held against the hotel,  was the incessant car alarm which went off for about four hours through our first night. It kept my children awake and therefore us awake until the early hours. I'm sure I was not the only person that night, who fantasised about smashing that car up before setting it on fire, whilst it's owner looked on in horror.

These days I usually eat healthily before a race, but after heading down to the dining room for breakfast and gawping in awe at the fine selection of items on offer, I opted for three mugs of strong coffee and a full Scottish breakfast. I can hear the "Tut! Tuts!" of so many disapproving runners, but hey, I'm happy and still alive at the time of writing. Besides, I pride myself at doing things the hard way.

The Great Scottish Run starts in George Square, in the heart of the city. The runners are separated into starting areas by the colour on their race numbers (which correspond with their expected finish times.) My estimated time of completion meant that I started in Cochrane St. (approx. 150m from the chip timed start line). As I consider myself an amateur (or even a non-runner), it is always exciting to know that I am running a race in which truly great athletes are competing in. (I can always tell my grand-children that I ran in the same race against Haile Gebrselassie.)

Having the support of my family at the start and end of a race means a lot to me. Unfortunately this is not always possible as pre-registration for events often starts very early in the morning, miles away from home, whilst my young children are sound asleep. So having them with me in Glasgow was a great bonus. Clare hung around with the children as long as she could until the proposed start of the race, but as it was delayed and I had to go and stand in a crowd, she wisely decided to take them off to Hamley's toyshop in the St. Enoch centre (As opposed to playing Where's Wally to find me waiting amongst the other runners.) In the photo below, my son Jack (always the ladies man), seems to have just spotted a group of extremely pretty ladies who were running for Macmillan Cancer Support. :-)

The first mile of this urban race takes you up St. Vincent Street and over the brow of the hill, past King Tut's Wah Wah Hut and the former Britoil building. There I had previously spent two miserable interesting years working for a popular mutual assurance company in their pensions department (before it was purchased by a large Spanish banking group.) From this point the route crosses Charing Cross past Tay House which is part of the Bridge To Nowhere. (Ironically that nickname sums up my feelings for the place when I worked there for Barclays Bank as a night shift data inputter during my student days.) Memories (some repressed, some very funny) came flooding back as I ran past these once foreboding financial institutions.

The second mile of this race sees you cross the Kingston Bridge and the third takes you onto Paisley Road West. The route is designed so that for the two miles you are running down Paisley Road West toward Bellahouston Park, you see faster runners heading up the other side to turn toward Pacific Quay at around mile eight. Somehow I managed to completely miss the first water station. (I blame Lemmy Kilmister, who was blasting out his very own take on Rock n Roll on my mp3 player.) The only reason I know of it's existence is the amount of discarded water bottles I noticed just after I passed it.

After a circuit of Bellahouston Park and the return trip back along Paisley Road West, the route takes you over the Clyde Arc (AKA the Squinty Bridge), up Stobcross Road (passing iconic sites and structures such as the Finnieston Crane, the Clyde Auditorium and then around the Riverside Museum.) After this, miles ten, eleven and twelve double back eastwards, heading down Pointhouse Rd., Lancefield and Anderson Quays, then onto Clyde Street for mile thirteen, through the McLennan Arch to the long awaited finish on Glasgow Green. 

As I was still recovering from the Inverness Marathon the previous weekend, I was satisfied to complete this race in 01:54:28. Although Haile Gebrselassie won't be quaking in his boots, I am happy with my time and of course another medal to add to the collection.