Saturday, 9 August 2014

Perth Kilt Run 2014

Sophie: Chip Time: 0:42:07  Chip Position: 623
Daddy: Chip Time: 0:42:08  Chip Position: 625

This post is a bit more different than usual, as today I have a special guest blogger. Her name is Sophie and she is just five years old. Sophie has entered several races in the past and has now earned the respectable total of four medals. I have recently been in correspondence with Santa and I'm led to believe that she may even receive her own pink medal rack as one of her Christmas presents. When I asked her if she would like to take part in the Perth Kilt Run, she was really excited, I think this was more due to getting to wear a pink kilt and the promise of an ice cream afterwards, rather than the running itself. However, true to her word, when the day arrived we got dressed, dropped off my two year old son, Jack, with his grandparents and set off to the North Inch. My partner Clare was coincidentally face painting at the same event, so we helped her set up her stall. Much to Sophie's delight it was in-between a magician and a juggling workshop.

Sophie psyching herself up for the run.
After a quick trip back to the car to fetch some water, we attached the timing chips to our trainers, our numbered bibs to our tshirts and then headed back to the North Inch to join the awaiting crowds. Last year I had run this fun run dressed as a Golden Eagle, along with four other 'animals', to help promote Scotland's Big5. Sophie was too young to join me as the minimum age limit is five years old. So instead, she adorned her pink cowgirl hat and pom-poms and came along to cheer me on. I was pleased that this year was the first year she could actually take part.

The Golden Eagle with his chick.

"Fly Eagle, Fly!"

Sophie was excited to see Hairy McKilty and all the other mascots and also really enjoyed listening to the bongo drum band. She had asked to borrow my mp3 player to help with her running, I don't normally allow her do this in case it were to damage her fragile little ears, but on this occasion, as an incentive I agreed and locked it on a low volume. The furthest she had ever previously run without stopping was just over one mile, so the step up to a 5k was a bit of a challenge. This didn't bother either of us as we both knew that if she got tired daddy would pick her up and carry her for as long as necessary.

"Faster Dad, Faster!"

After not too long, we were off. I felt really proud and emotional running alongside my little girl. For the first mile she managed a solid run, but then she spoke the sentence I always knew would come but was dreading: "Daddy, are we nearly finished?". "Eh, em, yes Sophie, nearly. Well kind of.", I replied. I'm not sure she believed me! Anyway, after another half mile of run/walking, I asked if she would like me to carry her, at which she gleefully nodded. Carrying a five year old on your shoulders whilst running can be quite challenging. I'd previously run the Kelty Coal Race, which involved carrying almost eight stone of coal on your back over the course of a kilometer. Whilst Sophie only weighed 3½ stone and was a lot softer than coal, I still found this tough going. If I was asked which is easier, running with a sack of coal or Sophie on my back, my response would be, Sophie, but sacks of coal are a lot less bossy.

A very proud dad crossing the finish line with his daughter.

As we approached the last 300m, after some mild encouragement, Sophie asked that I put her down as she wanted to run the last section and cross the finish line herself. I eagerly obliged and together we ran down the home straight and crossed the finish line with cheers from the spectators. After collecting our medals and goodie bags we headed off to meet Clare to tell her all about our adventure.
From there, I then headed straight over to Giffordtown in Fife to run the 6k road race that afternoon, the penultimate race of the 2014 Tour of Fife.

Another reason I love running, is that I think it sets a great example to my children. Playing video games and watching films have their place, but I want to bring my children up to know that this should always be balanced with regular exercise. They should never be afraid to expand their boundaries either physically or mentally. Running requires both. Something I think Sophie is already beginning to understand.

Bye, bye!
Postscript: Many details for this blog entry came directly from Sophie's memory of the event, she also typed it up, whilst I was made to meticulously point at every key. The joys of fatherhood, I wouldn't change it for the world.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Scottish Coal Race, Kelty 2014

Gun Time: 7 mins 48 secs

After running both the Calderglen 5k and 10k in East Kilbride the previous evening, my legs felt a little tired when I woke up and remembered I was running the Scottish Coal Race in the Fife village of Kelty in only a few hours time. I had arranged to pickup my friend Dom at his flat in Perth that morning. He was going to come along to provide moral support and down a few pints in Kelty whilst watching me suffer. Naturally, I would have done the same for him.

After parking the car I headed up the stairs to Dom's flat. We played a game of pool on his table, before he racked up 50kg of weights on his bench. He seemed to take amusement in letting me know what I was letting myself in for. He certainly succeeded in giving me the fear! 50kg is quite heavy! The equivalent of two cement bags or 2½ times the weight of my five year old daughter. In itself it's lift-able, but to run a whole kilometer over a hilly course with a rough heavyweight sack containing 50 kilos of black diamonds digging into your back is a different story! 25 minutes down the M90 later we arrived in Kelty.

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Dom Egan

After parking the car down a side street we headed onto Kelty's old main drag. With the Kelty gala due to follow after the Coal Race the village was in full swing. According to the official website, Kelty reputedly had 14 pits in its locality at one time and the race originates from old nineteenth century stories of the Kelty colliers running home from the pits with sacks of "rakers" or clugs" on their back. I was about to experience just how hardy those pitmen were. The race runs the full kilometer from the Smiddy to the School. The women competitors carrying a 25 kilo burden in their race. The men, the full 50 kilos. There are also races for both local school children and charity mascots.

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Dom Egan

After speaking to some experienced coal racers before the start, I picked up a few tips. The main one being to jump up and down on your sack of coal beforehand. This breaks up the lumps and stops them digging into your back and shoulders as you run. Although, you are allowed initial assistance with lifting the sack onto your back, once the race has begun, you are on your own. If you drop it and can't pick it up again by yourself, it's over. I witnessed a number of people who dropped it and had to carry it in their arms because it was too heavy to hoist onto their backs by themselves. Thankfully, although it was one hell of a struggle, I made it from beginning to end without letting go.  
Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Gordon Donnachie

Running up some of the hills with that sack on my back was torture. Afterwards when Dom and I went for much needed refreshments in a few of Kelty's watering holes such as "The #1 Goth" and "The Crown Inn", I was approached by  some very hard looking locals, who were surprisingly supportive and said that it was something they had always wanted to do. In my opinion the villagers couldn't be more friendly and welcoming to folk who had chosen to come to their gala and support their race.

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Dom Egan
If you are interested in experiencing the 2014 Scottish Coal Race from a first hand video perspective you can watch some footage here: Scottish Coal Race 2014

Original photo pre-editing courtesy of Gordon Donnachie

The Kelty Coal Race is impeccably organised by local resident Michael Boyle. I am also led to believe he initiated it after visiting a similar event in Yorkshire with his wife.  It is obvious that it is a labour of love for him and he has created a great boon to both the local economy and status of the village.

I've completed the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, several marathons and some nasty hill races but in many ways this is tougher. At least for that 1km it is. This race is very real and is a lot more raw than most. It's just you and that 50 kilo sack of coal, digging into your back, making your legs feel like they're strapped to anvils with every step, but it certainly makes you feel alive. I recommend it! Anyway, good luck if you take up the challenge. Tomorrow, I'll be running the Peterhead Half Marathon for my sins and probably still picking coal dust out of my ears!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Dunblane Hydro 7.5 Mile Road Race 2014

Chip Time: 01:00:58

Having originally planned to run the all new Sunderland City Half Marathon on this day, I changed my mind last month when I noticed this little race only 36 Miles from my doorstep.

I was born in the City of Sunderland so was initially very keen to sign up for the half there, but with family life, work commitments and all the other races I had lined up for this year, I felt that I really couldn't justify that length of trip. (I definetly intend to add it to my 2015 list though.)

I'd planned on running the Dunblane Hydro Road Race last year, but unfortuantely the race didn't go ahead in 2013, so was pleased to be able to sign up this time around. My very kind and supportive fiance Clare (a running widow before we're even married) and our two children, came along for the ride to offer their support. The race didn't start until 1pm, with registration open until 12:30pm, so we set off at 11:30am for a leisurely drive down the A9.

There was no race parking availble at the hotel so after dropping off Clare, the children and all the other child related paraphenalia (prams, changing bags, harnesses etc.), I parked the car in a residential area in Dunblane and walked back up to the hotel to register. This was when I noticed the really nasty hill that would be the last leg of the race!

My legs were still recovering from the Kinross 10k, Pencaitland 10k and Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race which I had completed over four days the previous week. I'd also been out for a longish walk with my 1 year old son Jack the day before (which involved carrying him for most of it!) However, even though every joint and muscle in my legs seemed to be complaining, I didn't let the horrible thought of running up the hill take root and phase me.

Accompanying Jack on his Saturday morning constitutional.

I met back up with Clare and the children outside the Dunblane Hydro and registered. As usual Sophie my eldest was complaining she was hungry. (My children are always hungry! They take after their parents in that respect.) So I said my farewells before Clare took them off to forage for plates of chips inside the hotel, to prevent their hunger turning to hanger!

The sky was overcast when all the runners gathered outside the hotel for the race briefing. I briefly removed my earphones to hear the organiser declare that it was extremely unadvisable to wear earphones on some sections of the course, I quickly put them back in at this point as I find it very difficult to run without music. La la la.. I didn't hear you!

We were piped down to the start line on Perth Rd. near the entrance to the hotel grounds. The police and marshalls had held up the traffic so that we could all line up on the road. Although the race had a chipped finish, it was a gun start (air horn actually). So after a minute or two.. and a loud honk.. we were off!

The race heads along the Perth Rd. out of Dunblane, across the roundabout and on to a country road (the B8033) through to the hamlet of Kinbuck. I know this road well. When I was a student in Glasgow, I often hitch-hiked it and sometimes even walked it, when I was visiting my parents some weekends. (Dunblane being the closest train station to where my parents lived at the time.)

From Kinbuck the route crosses an old stone bridge and takes a sharp left at the other side, then meanders along more country road before reaching a hill at mile four. I always find breaking the half way point of any distance a psychological boost, so at this point I mustered up the mental strength to power up the hill and collect a bottle of water off a cub scout at the waterstation at the top. I poured most of this over my head to cool myself down, so between that and the drizzle my clothes were soaked through.

It usually takes me about 5 miles to warm up in a race, find my stride and for my breathing to get into a good rythym. So by this point I was feeling quite strong. After another couple of miles of country road, the route re-entered Dunblane passing the Tesco store and headed across the roundabout and back towards the Dunblane Hydro. All of the marshalls and spectators along the route were exceptionally friendly and supportive, shouting words of encouragement as we ran by. I especially remember them cheering me on in the last mile and this spurred me on a lot.

Doubletree by Hilton, Dunblane-Hydro

The final hill was a bit of a struggle as I had expected, but the thought of my family waiting at the top kept me going and I powered up it, completing the race in 01:00:58. (I initially thought I had managed a sub one hour time, so was slightly disappointed to miss this by 58 seconds.)

After collecting my medal, bottle of water, funsize Mars bar and banana, I found my family, who had been awaiting my finish. Unfortunately Clare just missed a photo opportunity due to Jack falling and scratching his face on his pram at exactly the same moment I crossed the finish line. 

Exhausted, I collapsed into a chair whilst the children helped me demolish the banana and Mars bar and Sophie proudly displayed the medal around her neck.

All in all, this was an excellent local race. Very well organised, with exceptional marshalls, great support and a nice route. I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to increase their distance from 10k without yet comitting to the half marathon distance.

After the car trip home, it was nice to relax with a few beers, play with the children and contemplate the other five races I had booked for that week. Those being:

06th May - 60th Anniversary Sub4 Mile Markinch 1 Mile Road Race
07th May - Self-Transcendence 5K, Silverknowes
10th May - Loch Leven Half Marathon
11th May - Monikie 5k & Monikie 10k

I think I might have lost my mind, but along with that my fear too, so it's not all bad.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Marathon de Paris 2014

Paris Marathon 2014 Medal
Chip Time: 04:24:13  Position: 24194  Proposal Result: She said "Yes".

The keen eyed reader may notice that the usual medal photo in this race report contains not one, but two pieces of bling! If you carry on reading I'll explain why.

I'm aware that I haven't been very good at keeping my running blog up to date, there is however a reason for that. I have been out running LOTS! As of writing this I have completed 74 races so far in 2014. Combine that with a family, a full-time job and all the other demands and pressures that go with being an irresponsible adult in the 21st century and it really doesn't leave me much time for blogging. However this post is quite a significant one, so although it's taken several months to get around to it, I always knew that I would write it up eventually.

The reason I started blogging about races was not to give a technically accurate report of each course, detail my splits, talk about nutrition or discuss the physiology of running. There are plenty of other blogs that do those things much better than I ever could. (I don't even own a watch never mind a Garmin!) One of the main reasons I write about the races I run, is to document this stage in my life to my young children. So that one day they can look back and say this is what my dad did and this is how he felt and what he thought whilst doing it. So if the future Sophie and Jack are reading this, I'll start by saying I love you both very much and please continue reading to discover an important chapter in your family history as you would probably be too young to remember it. Especially little Jack.

After receiving a rejection letter from the 2014 Virgin London Marathon ballot, I decided to cheer myself and my family up by booking a short five day city break in Paris, which, ahem.. coincidentally happened to include the 6th April. What was significant about this date you may ask? It was the date of the 38th Marathon de Paris. Exactly one week before the London marathon. Running however, wasn't the only plan I had in mind. Clare and I have been a couple for two whole decades and although we've often talked about it we still haven't tied the knot. So what better place to propose than the most romantic city in the world.

We hadn't been to Paris in about nine years and that was way before we had children, so we didn't really know what to expect. It was both Sophie and Jack's first flight and much to our relief they took to it very well. Meanwhile, I had my own concerns on how I would get the ring and it's box through customs without arousing any suspicion from Clare. Thankfully everything went to plan; the children were angelic on the plane, the ring went through the x-ray scanner undetected by Clare and we caught an adjoining train and metro to the hotel without a hitch! (Excuse the pun.)

We'd booked a four night stay in a Novotel in Bercy, in the East of Paris. This was very convenient for us as a family, as it was situated in a pleasant suburban area but had a metro station only 200m from the hotel.

The next day we attended the Marathon Expo, where as a compulsory part of the registration process I handed over a signed medical certificate from my doctor to say that in his opinion I was healthy enough to run a marathon. Thankfully he seemed to have more faith in my current ability than I did. Afterwards, I collected my running number and goodie bag and we all had a wander around the Expo looking at all the fascinating but very expensive innovations available to the modern runner.

Eiffel Tower
It took three hundred men two years to build this iron beast, all I had to do was
run a marathon in the morning.

The rest of the day was spent visiting some Parisian landmarks, followed by a stroll along the Seine and a picnic in the Champ de Mars. It was there, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, that I proposed to Clare and she accepted. Clare, Sophie and I were all over-joyed, Jack was just happy that he was getting to play with his ball in a park. That evening we all went out for a nice meal, at which I ate everything you shouldn't eat before running a marathon the next day and nothing you should. C'est la vie!

We'd agreed that Clare and the children should stay away from the marathon on race day. With 46,000 runners and many more spectators lining the streets, it would be a much safer (and less boring) option for the children. Besides the event of them actually glimpsing me running was very slim, especially as the finishers' area is securely cordoned off with large steel fences.

After an early start and a cooked breakfast, dressed in my running gear including a Union Jack vest I had been gifted for the occasion, I caught the Metro from Bercy to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I found the pen for my expected finish time and joined the tens of thousands of runners waiting for the 08:45am start. It was interesting to see so many different nationalities listed on all the running bibs.

A few of the runners..
A few more of the runners..

The atmosphere was electric. A huge cry went up when the first wave set off and after I fought past mountains of discarded clothing, it didn't seem long until it was my turn to join them. With only a few seconds to go, a guy beside me tightened his running belt with too much force, which caused about half a dozen gels to explode on myself and several other people in close proximity. My hands, arms and part of my face were covered in a thick lemon flavored goo. What a great way to start a marathon, especially on what was promising to be such a hot day. Before we had time to lynch him or even pass a menacing stare or growl, we were off running down the Champs-Élysées.

As I ran, I used the water from the first water station to wash off as much of the citrus gel as I could before it got too sticky. The start of the race sets off downhill, circles around Paris' largest square, the Place de la Concorde, before turning right onto the Rue de Rivoli. The route then takes you past the Louvre, round the Place de la Bastille and then down the Boulevard Soult to the largest public park in the city, the Bois de Vincennes. After a loop around the park you head back toward the centre of Paris, reaching the halfway mark at the Rue de Charenton. I remember the cheering crowds at this point, lining the tightly packed streets. They provided much needed encouragement to keep me soldiering on in the morning heat. From here, the course then follows the Seine, passing under the oldest remaining bridge across the river, the Pont Neuf, then through a series of tunnels. 

The live music around the course was a fantastic idea. There were apparently a total of ninety different live bands and orchestras playing along the route; everything from jazz and rock through to traditional West Indian music. I seem to remember even passing an oompah band at one point. At mile 17 the course takes you through the longest car tunnel in Paris which had been turned into a full on rave with pumping techno, glitter balls and disco lighting. It was an amazing yet highly surreal experience. Even stranger, I found out sometime later that this was the very same tunnel in which Diana, Princess of Wales had tragically lost her life.

I was running quite strongly until around mile twenty-one when I got caught behind a pack of runners who had stopped for oranges at a water station in Bois de Boulogne park, this broke my stride and caused me to have to slow to a walking pace for a few hundred metres. I struggled to get started again, but with encouragement from the crowd and shouts of "Allez Daniel!" (after some eagle eyed spectators read the name on my bib), I set off on the final 5 miles of the course. I remember the last cobbled section on Avenue Foch being particularly painful on my ankles. For the final mile, I seemed to be running behind some French celebrity who was getting some major applause from the crowd. I never did find out who he was. After crossing the finish line I was handed my medal, which is a very impressive heavy, gold coloured "ribbon". I picked up my finishers t-shirt and limped off to the metro, eager to get back to the hotel to see my family. 

Meanwhile in civilisation..
My family and other animals.

After congratulations from Clare and the kids, a well needed shower, a couple of really strong French beers and a nap I began to feel almost human again, so we all headed out for dinner.

3 Monts Flanders Golden Ale 8.5% Vol Pffffft!!!!

Our final full day was spent chilling out at the Louvre and checking out some interesting antique and curiosity shops off the beaten track.

Chilling outside the Musée du Louvre.

Théodore Géricault - The Raft of the Medusa
Théodore Géricault - The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819)

Getting "Hangry" in the Louvre!

I could have easily spent a full day in this shop.

On the flight home we met a group of ladies from Edinburgh, who were still on a high after completing the marathon. They struck up conversation with Clare about how well behaved Sophie and Jack were on the plane. When Clare explained how many races I was doing this year, one of them remarked that it was not me, but Clare, who deserved a medal for being so understanding. I couldn't agree more.

I can conquer the whole world with one hand behind my back,
 as long as the other one is holding yours.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Lumphanan Detox 10K 2014

Lumphanan Detox 10K Race Bib and Tshirt
Gun Time: 00:53:08  Position: 197/395

Running races isn't only about the medals for me, it's sometimes also about bibs, t-shirts, headbands, snow globes and other assorted resin coated gubbins too, but usually it's just about completing the races themselves, increasing my level of fitness and getting out to places that I have no other excuse to visit.

I stumbled across the Lumphanan Detox 10K on Google a few weeks prior to the event. I'd never heard of Lumphanan and presumed by its name that it would be in Wales, so was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was nestled away in the heart of Aberdeenshire. Although still a bit of a trek for me, I was looking for some races in early January to keep my momentum going, so although I was aware that there was no medal at the end and knew I'd regret it on the day, (when I was sure to wake up with a three day hangover), I signed up. It's Scotland's first 10K event of the year, it would have been rude not to!

Having ran the 30th Blairgowrie Ne'er's Day Fun Run (a 3.7 mile road race) the day previously, this was my second race of 2014. The race started at 11:30am, so I clambered out of bed at 8:00am, had a quick shower, got dressed and made myself a roast beef roll (still using up left-overs from New Year's Day). I'd cut short my continued celebrations by early evening the night before, knowing that I had an early start and a long drive ahead, not to mention a race to run, so felt relatively good. An app on my phone plotted the shortest route to Lumphanan, this being over Glen Shee and then passing through Braemar, Ballater and Aboyne.

Glen Shee aka Gleann Sith "The Glen of the Fairies"

I always enjoy the roller-coaster ride of a drive over Glen Shee and the scenery is pretty spectacular too.

Highest public road in the UK reaching 2200 Ft. above sea level

Apart from a few cars making their way to the Glenshee Ski Centre, the roads were almost deserted at that time in the morning. I imagine even more so due to it being the 2nd of January.

I arrived in Lumphanan about 45 minutes before the start of the race, soon found the race car park (a small patch of muddy farm land behind some derelict buildings) and was ushered into it by one of the helpful marshals. After parking the car I made my way to the village hall to register and collect my race number and t-shirt. I also mistakenly used the Lumphanan public convenience, whilst not quite as bad as the toilet from Trainspotting, it was pretty grim and came complete with damp toilet roll. At least I hope it was just the damp that had gotten to it. 

This race definitely isn't one for a PB. There are a number of reasons for this, one of these being that the first two kilometers are all up hill. A treacherous horrible hill. I consoled myself with the knowledge that it would soon be out of the way and that there was a lot of down hill to follow. It was tough though, especially after all of my Christmas/New Year over-indulgence and I found myself puffing and panting toward the top, but was determined to run it all. I took inspiration from a few firefighters who were also tackling the hill (whilst dressed in full fireman's overall's. helmets and oxygen tanks), and was very relieved when I passed the two kilometer marker at the top.

The third kilometer was mostly downhill and passed quickly. Sadly, around about this point I heard a lot of screaming over the top of my MP3 player. On turning around I noticed that a car had come to a sudden halt about 50 yards back around a corner. A crowd of runners had gathered around and I instantly thought the worst, that someone had been knocked down. Word quickly came down the line that it was a runner's dog that had been hit by the car. I gather the driver had misjudged the corner at speed and careered into it. Although there were plenty of luminous "Caution Runner" warning signs and marshals around so why he was traveling at such a speed beats me. 

Saddened by this, but also realising there was nothing I could do to help with the situation, (as I didn't even have my phone with me) I carried on. For the next three kilometers we continued on road , passing a water station at the 5K mark, before we switched terrain to a very muddy farm track for the next two. It was exceptionally muddy to the extent that in some places I almost lost my shoes to the suction.

Going to need a new pair of trainers.

It was a relief to get back onto road for the final two kilometers. The last kilometer was deceptive, when I reached the Lumphanan village hall, I assumed the finish line must be in sight, only to find I still had to do a lap of the block. On approaching the home straight it was a nice touch to see and hear a piper piping the runners home. I mustered a strong sprint finish on the grass completing the race in 00:53:08  After collecting a cup of hot soup I headed back to the car for the long drive home.

The Home Straight

Although this race comes at a difficult time of year I strongly recommend it, but intend to be better prepared for the first 2K if I run it again next year. Oh.. and I found out on Facebook later that the dog managed to stand after it was hit by the car and was driven off to the vets straight away. Let's hope it was OK.

The wider road which stands in place of the infamous "Devil's Elbow"

Driving conditions deteriorated on the way home