Sunday, 1 February 2015

Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon 2015

Gun Time: 1:55:22  Position: 127/182
This year I promised myself (and my family) that I would be (slightly) more selective with the races I enter and that I wouldn't sign-up for races that I have previously completed, just for the sake of it. The exception to this being, routes that I've really enjoyed and races that I have unfinished business with. The Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon fitted into both of these categories. Although, being a multi-terrain event and not an ordinary half marathon, I hadn't felt my best on the day last year and ran a personal worst (at the time) of 02:02:34 for the 13.1 mile distance. I even had to walk up some of the steep hill section. This year I was determined to improve on my time and resolute that there would be no walking!

Impeccably organised by the Forfar Road Runners, this event is the first half marathon in the Scottish running calender and sells out very quickly. Like an increasing number of races these days, in order to secure a place, you have to be very quick off the mark. I was poised by my keyboard fifteen minutes before it opened, refreshing Entry Central DoS attack style and was relieved to secure place 33 out of the 250 available.

As the name suggests, this race covers a multitude of different terrains, including bog, farm track, fields, ice, muddy paths, pavement, tarmac and usually has a knee\thigh deep "water feature". Unfortunately, this year the course had to be re-routed to avoid the water section due to health and safety concerns. It is stated in the course description that this is not a race for novice runners and that all entrants should either study the map in advance or carry one with them, but with all the signage, marshalls and checkpoints I think getting lost would be quite a challenge in itself.

Map of the usual route, however the water section was removed this year.

Registration opened at 9am in Strathmore Rugby Club's club house with the race kicking off from a nearby playing field at a 11am. I arrived just after ten and after a short wait to get a space from the limited parking available, I met up with Peter, Murray and Bob. It was Bob's 71st birthday and his partner Margaret had also come along to spectate. After a brief chat I headed off to register and then pinned my race number to my shorts in case I decided to remove my jacket during the race.

Glad I arrived early as car parking was very limited.

With the 11am start approaching, we all began to assemble on the nearby rugby pitch at the loch side. Since Forfar was the birth place of Bon Scott, I thought it only fitting to have a blast of Highway to Hell to help motivate me through the first few miles. After a brief countdown we were off, running the first section around the loch. The ground here was pretty firm and made for easy going. For the first couple of miles I kept pace with both Bob and Murray, covering mile one in 7:55 and mile two in 7:50 (my fastest mile of the race). For mile three the course turns uphill onto tarmac, before heading back down a rough farm track to join the Kirriemuir Road. 

Running around the Loch. Photo courtesy of Gordon Donnachie. @fishygordon

I'd taken my phone with me to snap some pictures whilst running and was surprised at how clear they turned out. A couple of months previous to this, whilst out on a very wet, sixteen mile training run, I almost managed to kill my iPhone with water damage. Water had leaked into my jacket pocket and saturated the phone. Thankfully, although still an unnecessary hassle and expense,  I managed to revive it by stripping it down, drying it out, then flushing the mineral deposits from the circuit boards using Isopropyl alcohol and then replacing the screen. It was a tense few days! After that incident I don't take any chances and now carry my phone in a zip-lock waterproof freezer bag inside my jacket pocket whilst running.

Approaching checkpoint 1

After arriving at checkpoint one and balancing on one leg, whilst waiting for the marshal to clip my race number, I began to regret attaching it to my shorts. However, I was soon able to head on my way down the road, turning onto a very potholed farm track for mile four. The ice had been broken on most of the large puddles leaving a very rough surface to run on. Some of these I managed to jump, others I just ran through, but a few forced me up onto the verge, which was quite a hazard in itself.

Photo courtesy of Gordon Donnachie. @fishygordon

Around mile six the course changed to a comforting trail section which provided much needed relief to my poor knees.

After a couple of miles of trail running, passing landfill and quarry sites,  I was again spat back out onto the road. One mile further on and another checkpoint later, I arrived at the foot of the hill. This hill is very deceiving. Just as you think you've arrived at the summit, you take a right turn and realise the climb has only just begun. I passed quite a few people who had chosen to walk at this point, but was pleased to make it to the top, without having to do so myself.

The sunlit forest trail made for some picturesque running.

Once I reached the summit I couldn't resist taking out my phone and snapping a few pictures of the scenery and view over Forfar, whilst I ran.

Looking over the town of Forfar from Balmashanner Hill.

From this point the route is mainly downhill or relatively flat, but there are still many trip hazards as you run down from Balmashanner Hill.

Balmashanner War Memorial, a c-listed monument built in 1920.

Arriving at the bottom of the hill, my race number was clipped by another friendly marshall, I then headed along a short section of the Dundee Road, before turning down another farm track. From here the route passes the farm and descends another steepish icey track, then along the side of the farmer's field. Last year the field was much harder going as it had just been ploughed, this year the farmer (or season) seemed to be ahead of itself and the crop had already began to sprout

After crossing the field, it wasn't long before I arrived at the next checkpoint on Glamis Road. Across the road lies the industrial estate and from there I knew it was only a short run along the lochside trail before I would be finished. With only about fifty metres to go, I mustered up a sprint and managed to pick off a couple of runners I had been keeping pace with for several miles. (I'm only ever competitive in races when I have the finish in my sights.)

Approaching the finish. Photo courtesy of Gordon Donnachie. @fishygordon

After crossing the finish line, I met up with Bob and Margaret and headed back inside the rugby club to enjoy some of Forfar Road Runners excellent post race hospitality. There were several different soups to choose from, tea and coffee and a wide selection of sandwiches, cakes etc. The bar was also open from 12:30pm, although I couldn't enjoy a post-race pint this year due to Scotland's newly imposed drink drive limit. I stayed around to watch the prize giving in which Bob received the veteran over 70's prize with his fantastic time of 1:47:18, putting many of us younger men to shame.

It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)

My only complaint with this race is the lack of medal or memento for finishers. I appreciate that it is only £7 entry fee for Scottish Athletics affiliated runners (£9 for non-affiliates), but I'd be more than happy to pay a few extra pounds if a medal, buff or some other commemorative item was included in the price.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Green Man 5k 2015

Gun Time: 25:34  Position: 06/31

When you're fundraising for a charity, no matter how many or how extreme the challenges you are undertaking are, there are only so many sponsorship requests that you can make before you feel as though you are becoming a pariah to your family, friends and work colleagues. To survive this depressing hiatus you have to become more creative! Last year I found my way around this by holding a charity breakfast at work. My colleagues were very supportive, offering to cook, wash dishes, put up posters and obviously eat their fair share of bacon and egg rolls! So much so, that with only a modicum of "managerial input", I found that it almost ran itself and boosted my sponsorship total by a couple of hundred pounds. Thanks guys!

In 2015, I wanted to try a different approach and came up with the idea of organising a race of my own. I thought this was a great way to raise funds whilst also getting people enthused about my own obsession.. running (well actually medal collecting!) In order to get people to sign up I approached a talented sculptor friend, Ellie, who attended Glasgow School of Art with my partner Clare. Ellie owns the website, Pretender to the Throne along with her Etsy store from which she sells some of her amazing creations. Knowing she was the right person for the job, I commissioned her to design thirty original medals based on the Green Man. I chose the Green Man as he is a symbol of rebirth and a representation of the cycle of growth in Spring, which ties in with all those people looking to get fit in the New Year. As I expected, Ellie came up trumps and produced a fantastic batch of medals which really helped sell the race! It's amazing how easy it is to get people to part with their hard earned money for the privilege of enduring physical punishment in severe weather conditions, with the promise of a nicely designed medal at the end. Trust me, I should know!

Medals and medal photos courtesy of Ellie Tarratt.

In order to maximise the field of competitors, I made the race both physical and virtual. In that, as well as being able to turn up on race day at a specified location and time, it could in theory also be run from anywhere in the world, at anytime, a day or two around race day itself. By submitting their results via Garmin, Runkeeper, Strava, Endomondo, etc.. it allowed friends and colleagues in different parts of the country and others who were unavailable on race day, to take part. The thirty places soon filled up. Ellie had kindly included a few extra medals, which she had made as spares in case some didn't survive the firing process. This allowed me to extend entry to a total of 32 runners.

The race itself, took place in the grounds and farm tracks around Battleby House. Under duress and with the rare promise of a post-race Happy Meal, my two year old son, Jack, had come along to spectate and help distribute the medals. The weather was abysmal and I didn't envy anyone for having to run on a day like that. I had ran my own 5k a few days prior to race day, as I needed to be available on the day to do the timing. Despite the weather, ten hardy humans and one faithful canine competitor lined up on the start line, transforming the race into an impromptu canicross event.

Since I'm not in possession of a firearm (legal or otherwise) and improvised explosives are quite rightly frowned upon in this day and age, I used the following starting pistol to kick off the race. With a shout of "BANG!" they were off! As the runners headed out of sight, Jack and I retired into the warmth of Battleby House with our clipboard and stopwatch, to await their return.

The Starting Pistol.

After many requests from Jack of "I want my mummy!" and "I want my eggy!" (don't ask!), the first of the runners began to return. George, Philippa and Andrew were first home, crossing the finish line together in a time of 24:01. Considering the extreme weather and the conditions underfoot, this was a great time. Over the next 15 minutes, in short intervals, the others began to cross the finish line. In no particular order, other than alphabetically; Alex (and her dog Rissa), Gill, Jess, Morag, Sharon, Stewart and Suzanne. Everyone of them a winner! Jack and I ventured out to distribute their well deserved medals, but it was far too cold for us to hang around for long. Besides, Jack was getting impatient for his lunch!

Alex & Rissa both sporting their hard earned medals.

Meanwhile other groups had chosen to run in other parts of the country, with Craig, Jeremy and Sarah running in Kinross..
Sarah & Jeremy aka "The Kinross Contingent"

Maz and Malcolm enjoyed running what was their first 5k race from Fife..
Malcolm & Maz proudly displaying their new medals.

Whilst Ruaraidh, Odette and Lousie had run their race a few days beforehand in Inverness.
Ruaraidh, Odette & Louise post-race selfie.

Nina and Steven also ran their race in Inverness through horizontal sleet, wind, ice, slush and snow.
Nina & Steven never took a photo on the day but sent one of  their new trainers.

Aga had ran the race in Perth as part of her 40ᵗʰ birthday celebrations along with her husband Arek and a couple of their friends; Alicja and Wojtek.
Alicja, Arek, Aga & Wojtek. Happy 40th Birthday to Aga too!

Other competitors who equally deserve a mention are Carmen, Geoff, Lachlan, Margo and my daughter Sophie, who ran the race at different times, but also did very well!

The prizes for fastest male and female runners.

With all results combined, the first female home was Philippa in 24:01 and first male Craig in 23:25. Well done to both of them! They both received a £10 gift voucher, redeemable online at Ellie's Etsy store.

The race was such a success that I'm considering running it annually with a different themed medal each year. Perhaps increasing the length to a 10k and upping the number of places available to maximise charity profits. So, if you would like to take part in the "Demon 10k" (my current idea for 2016) please get in touch, you have a full year to train for it!

Possible medal design for "The Demon 10k" 2016.

A huge thank you and well done to everyone who took part. After medals and prizes were paid for, together we raised over £200 for War Child, which takes the current total to around £1150.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Hardmoors 30 2015

Hardmoors 30 2015 Finisher's Medal
Gun Time: 06:49:58
Position: 144/194

I first heard about the Hardmoors 30 race on John Kynaston's excellent ultra-running blog. Since there appear to be no marathons or ultras in Scotland in the months of January and February, I decided I would need to travel further afield to allow me to complete my charity fundraising challenge of at least 20 marathons in 2015. With this in mind, I booked the Hardmoors 30 for January and the Northumberland Coastal Marathon for the end of February.

The Hardmoors 30 race takes place in and around Fylingdales (near Whitby) on New Year's Day. This is a day I usually wake up on a floor somewhere, wondering not just where I am but who I am. This year would be different, I would wake up, put on my running gear and set out to complete my second ultra-marathon; a tough 30(ish) miler over some very challenging terrain in some very harsh conditions.

For accommodation we booked a Gypsy Cabin for three nights at Middlewood Farm Holiday Park in Fylingthorpe. We use wigwam style accommodation quite a lot when I'm running races further afield. As well as being economical and relatively comfortable, the children find it much more of an adventure than staying in the usual hotel or B&B.

Middlewood Farm, Fylingthorpe, Gypsy Cabin
Sophie being her usual helpful self, busily unpacking our bags.

After a 4½ hour drive, we were relieved to arrive at Middlewood Farm. Clare checked us in and settled the children into the cabin whilst I headed back to Whitby to get some of their famous fish and chips for our supper. After washing that down with a couple of beers, we all cosied up in our sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep, whilst listening to the rain and wind lash the outside of the cabin.

Hoping to emerge from my cocoon in the morning with the ability to run 30 miles.

Registration took place between 8-9am in the Fylingdales Village Hall, in Robin Hood's Bay. As this was only one mile from our accommodation, I didn't have to get up until around 7:30am. After a quick shower and change into my running gear, I leisurely sat outside the cabin and enjoyed a few cups of coffee and a couple of croissants with cheese. I was relieved to see that the storm had abated and although still very cold, it looked like it could be a promising morning. I thought it best to err on the side of caution and had chosen to wear two base layers, a technical t-shirt, a waterproof jacket and a pair of running trousers under my shorts. 

Determined? Serious? Nervous? Worried?
All of the above ✓

The race rules require that you carry the following items of compulsory kit (I now completely understand why!):
  • Hat and Gloves
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Minimum of 500 ml water/sports drink
  • Headtorch/Torch
  • Whistle
  • Emergency food supply (chocolate/energy bar)
I arrived at the hall at about 8:30am and after getting my kit thoroughly inspected and my hand stamped to say everything was present and correct, I joined the registration queue. I was surprised to see a familiar face in the form of Zoe from my work in Scotland, helping behind the registration desk. She explained she had also signed up for the race but had to pull out due to an injury so was instead assisting with the race organisation.

At 9:15am we were all called into the main body of the hall to receive the race briefing from the race director, John Steele. After receiving our instructions and a bit of impromptu pantomime from the stage, we headed outside to the start line.

199 runners lined up on the start line. Not all will finish. (Photo courtesy of Ann Brown.)

The race commenced at 9:30am. I remember seeing one guy in the above photo sprint off as if he was running the 100 meters. I'm not sure how he fared for the rest of the race, but it seemed unsustainable for over 30 miles, even for Superman.

The course takes the form of a figure of eight which uses the Fylingdales Village Hall as a start, middle and finish point. The first six miles of the route heads North along old railway line and cinder track from Robin Hood's Bay to Whitby. With a tailwind I found this leg of the race fairly easy going and settled into a steady pace covering the first six miles in around 55 minutes.

Chewing Jelly Babies at Checkpoint 1: Whitby (OS 890 107). (Photo courtesy of Ann Brown.)

After checking in at the first checkpoint, I downed a couple of cups of water and some jelly babies and preceded down through the town of Whitby, onto a cobbled street and then up the 199 steps to the ruins of Whitby Abbey on top of the East Cliff. The steps are over two-hundred years old and have "landings" on them to assist the coffin bearers on their journey to the graveyard at the top.

The famous 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey. A challenge in itself!

At the top of the steps the route heads back South along the coastal paths of the Cleveland Way to Robin Hood's Bay. The going got much harder here, starting out through fields and then along very slippy, muddy paths which dozens of runners had already churned up before me. There were also quite strong headwinds for much of this stretch which made the going even tougher. Due to erosion, the cliffs were treacherous in parts and I spotted a couple of bunches of flowers along route where I can only presume, people must have sadly lost their lives by one means or another.

The view heading South along the Cleveland Way.

Unusually for me I ran the whole race without any music. I did have my MP3 player in my backpack, but instead just enjoyed the scenery and chat with other runners I met along the route.

The view back to Whitby along the cliffs.

Things got a lot muddier before I arrived back at Checkpoint 2 in Robin Hood's Bay. In some places it was a challenge just to walk never mind run.

Mud.. mud and more mud!
What's worse than steps? Mud AND steps!

Thirteen miles done, I arrived back in Robin Hood's Bay. I checked in with Zoe and then began to eat my own body weight in watermelon. There was a fantastic spread of food, but slices of melon were the only thing I craved. In retrospect I think I must have been quite dehydrated by this point.

Reverse psychology and food at Checkpoint 2: Robin Hood's Bay (OS 952 055)

After a couple of minutes I headed back out to face leg three; the route to Ravenscar. A few miles further in my legs were getting quite weary and I struggled to maintain a steady pace along the incline of cinder track, instead deciding to alternate between running and power walking every few 100 meters, to conserve energy for later on.

I began to hate cinder paths!

Arriving at checkpoint 3 at Ravenscar, I met a group of runners, some of whom I'd been loosely running with over the past few miles. After a handful of jelly babies and with a new lease of life I set off toward Hayburn Wyck. Unfortunately, a few people up front had missed a turn off, which led to around twenty of us following them down a dead end and adding at least another half mile onto our journey. My only consolation is that I was able to snap this picture of some llamas up to no good.

What did the llama say when it took a wrong turn? Alpaca my bags and turn around.

Once back on course I soldiered on to checkpoint 4 at Hayburn Wyck. Just after this, at around the 22 mile mark, I resisted the temptation of an extremely inviting pub by persuading myself it was probably just a mirage.

Not just the jokes!
More de-motivational signage at Checkpoint 4: Hayburn Wyke (OS 0086 9678)

From here I carried on to join another rather challenging section of the Cleveland Way which took us back to Ravenscar and checkpoint 5 via lots of steps and wind beaten coastline. The weather began to deteriorate at this point. Most people around me seemed to be struggling including myself. I remembered I had a Cliff Bar in my backpack. I'm not even all that keen on raisins and walnuts but at the time it seemed like the most delicious thing I had ever eaten.

Arrgh.. more steps!

26 miles in and feeling broken I set about the final leg back to Robin Hood's Bay. This involved a lot more muddy coastline, many more punishing steps both up and down and a switch back to tarmac which was a killer on the knees. Arriving in Robin Hood's Bay, even the thought of the extremely steep hill back up to the village hall couldn't dampen my spirits and I managed to complete the race with a sprint finish to find Clare, Sophie and Jack waiting for me at the end.

Another t-shirt for the collection.

I really enjoyed this race, it was impeccably organised and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a serious challenge and an alternative to the traditional forms of New Year's Day over indulgence. I'm also hoping that it has been a great training run for the 53 mile HOKA Highland Fling which I have booked for April.

Sophie and Jack enjoying the water at Scarborough beach.

We spent the rest of our time exploring Robin Hood's Bay, Scarborough and Whitby with a few stops at Marske, Sunderland and North Shields on our route back up to Scotland. I hope to return next year to improve my time. Happy New Year everyone!