Sunday, 28 May 2017

Baking, but not in the Kitchen...

'Grantchester's' on the TV and I'm sitting here not taking much notice. The fishing guy who had a brief singing career is in it. I think he'd make a good replacement for Vera, the Northumbrian detective. Talking about Northumbria (see that smooth segway...you don't deserve it), its been an unusual week, with only 27 miles in the bag all week, but six of those coming from the Cookson 10k at Whitley Bay and 6 more from the Allendale Fair Trail Race, yesterday.

The Clive Cookson 10k is about the fastest course around these parts. On Wednesday night there were around 300 overly warm p.b. chasers, looking flushed on lap one and becoming nicely toasted during the second lap of this two lapper. It was searing, it was.  My blue vest was ringing at the end.  I scraped a time just below the 40 minute mark, but only just. Even though I ended up 2nd V50, it was tough and a personal worst for some 10 years. But my aim was a sub-40 and it would be churlish not to be relieved that I scraped a performance of sorts. As I gasped my way to the finish, I kept telling myself to keep my technique. I spent the last mile with my eyes glued to the runners shoes in front. 'Just get me to the end' I thought. I think most folk had a tough time. The goody bag had a t-shirt in it. That's all. Just a t shirt....bit of a waste of a goody bag.  Would we have to pay 5p. Nice T shirt though.

Allendale Fair day 10k was just as hot, but with 650ft of climb and an 'out and back' affair, it was quite a different dish. Unlike revenge, it wasn't a dish served cold....not so much searing, more sweltering. With only 50 entrants and half of them women, we kicked off this modest Allen Valley Striders event at 11am. It was about 25 degrees. The rain clouds were gathering, but the heat hadn't broken. The course is a mile of tarmac road up into the moors and 2 miles of baked track that runs across the moor and makes up the back end of the Hexham Hobble fell race, held in December.  I found myself, early on, in 3rd place with Speedy Joe on my shoulder (the daughter) and a bloke from Ponteland Running club. I pushed on up the hill leaving them a little behind. Had I gone too soon? Were they just not trying? Who is Kaiser Sose?

I ground my way across the dry sandy track. It was rock hard. Dry as a bone. Drier even.  A dry bone. A couple of nesting Curlews flapped about as we trogged by. I didn't think that the 3rd mile could be so long.

I was running into a light headwind and could see the two front runners a minute ahead through the heat haze. At the turn (a marshall and her lone red cone) we were in a hollow and as I turned to head back, I was met by a wall of heat.
Cooking.  Was that Dante I spied at the side of the track? Was that Anonymous Bosch travelling incognito on the ridge getting some ideas for his latest oil?  I struggled back up out of the gully as the rest of the field behind me passed coming the other way and making their way to the turn, the hot bollard; glen furnace; the dip of sweaty misery.....

If I could keep up the pace, I would snaffle a podium place, but Ponteland runner was suddenly there. The heat wasn't a problem for him, clearly. And then at mile 4 he was ahead and making easy distance between us.  I expected 'Speedy' to come past also, but she couldn't summon up enough zing. In the event she finished 20 seconds behind and first woman by a good 5 minutes, so that's good enough. We all got a wee water bottle.

It was a good natured presentation, ironically next to the graveyard and next to the hall 20 minutes later.  I won £10 for best dressed v50 and then because of my stylish gait, a pair of socks in the spot prize. Tidy. We toured the stalls in the village and, armed with a cuppa, we watched the strongmen do their thing. We left with thirsty five quids worth of vouchers and stopped for chips at Haydon Bridge, cause we're hard-core!

This morning I was going to get 13 miles in to maintain my 40 a week habit, but my heel and Achilles are having an Allendale hangover, so no sport today.    Best get myself in shape, though, as its Black Rock 5 month next month and in preparation, I've a wee notion to return to Yetholm for the hill race, where I've enjoyed a tussle or two in the past. 



Thursday, 27 April 2017

Basking in Reflected Glory

The Elswick relays were a blast on Good Friday. We watched the women give the other clubs a good old easter pasting, with the A team winning in a record time around the 2.2 mile course and the B team landing 4th. Little Miss Speedy made the A team with Jane Hodgson and Laura Weightman - quite daunting company. Her sister, known affectionately as the dark destroyer, was getting back from injury and made the B team. They were no slouches either.

I was selected for the vets B team and I was first off. With such a short and flat course there are no tactics; its simply a case of how much oxygen you can get in and how much lactic you can stand before the falling apart malarkey starts. I tried to track the A team runner Rob, but he got 20 seconds on me in the second mile. I got round in 12:41, only 5 seconds slower than last year. We finished 9th. I wouldn't like to say what the cumulative age of the team was, but it was over 200 anyway; a bit like my heart rate at the end of the stage.

We nipped over the watch the North Tyneside to watch the 10k where DD finished second to Alison Dargie and picked up £50 for her efforts and with no ill-effects.

We tracked down to London last weekend to watch the play 'The Miser' on the Saturday with Lee Mack. A right hoot. We were hoteling in Swiss Cottage so I got me trainers on and took a wander up Finchley Road on Friday evening, a park run on Saturday (19:30/1st V50 at Finsbury Park in cold conditions) and then past Hampstead Heath on the Sunday morning.

After a quick wash and breakfast, me and Mrs M took up our usual positions at Rotherhithe at the 11 mile mark to watch LMS (at her second marathon) and DD improving every day and taking part in her 4th London Marathon. It was a metronomic and measured race by LMS hitting the line in 3:11, a 30 minute improvement on her Loch Ness Marathon last year. Meanwhile DD set off too fast; We all shook our heads and stroked our chins as we supped our lattes and studied the app. that tracks runners around the course. Very clever, really. She passed the halfway mark at 1:26 and bulldozed on to finish in 2:59 and win the Army marathon champs and inter-services title to boot. toot,toot. Probably broke the club record also.  Pb's all over the place.

They took forever to get back to the hotel and it was a hug, a quick burger and the train back up the road.

So its back to normality this week, other than I'm a few quid poorer, but strangely there seems to be a second hand lightweight tandem in the hall, So no excuse for Mrs Mac anymore not to get out on the road. If you see two mentalists out in the lanes on a Mercian and out of control, that'll be us.  

Monday, 10 April 2017

Whats that coming over the Mountain..?

Having at last finished CJ Sansoms 'Lamentation' and a jolly long, but well crafted and entertaining novel it was, I have opened Aprils account with JP Donleavy's 'the Onioneaters', picked up for a quid at Pitlochry station. Bargain...or is it? Started well, but I'm still making my mind up about it.

This weekend gone, I've been out on the bike. Pedalling away, mile after mile after mile, my mind wandering. During the course of the ride, I ruminated on a number of things. The condition of the roads is one thing. Appalling. A national disgrace. potholes waiting round every corner to gub you. There was report work to do for Monday and chores to be done in the house, but for the life of me, when the sun's out, I'm sucked out the door, some force of thermal or solar magnetism. Not so odd I suppose given the climate.

A night with the lads a wee while ago resulted in plans being tabled to ride back up to North Berwick again. And then down again two days later. Riding up was a full day out last year. Its all well and good looking at the A1 and saying that'll be around 100 miles. However, as I don't ride a juggernaut, we had to pick our ways through the cycle-ways which in places were little more than a rough track. Factoring in all the side roads, it was around 140 miles and that doesn't include border controls. So I need to get some miles in.

Then there was the other social night, where I stated, casually and in an understated way, that I was off to the Alps in the late summer for a few days riding and before I could finish my bowl of chilli, hands were raised and it looks like that might happen as well. Best start saving. Aunt Aggie always says that good things come in threes (she also says that bad things come in threes and that she is related to Mata Hari, but who knows the truth?!). The final item in this holy trinity of cycling are my recent, protracted discussions regarding acquiring an old tandem. Its still too early to say, but matters may be resolved later this week, at which time, I will need to book myself into a therapist for people who talk the talk but can't walk the walk. I am in danger of spreading myself too thinly in the sports arena, with a karate grading round the corner and various training shoes and early summer races vying for my attention.  There is, obviously, quite a bit of organising to do on the cycling front. Lets face it, it wouldn't look too good slowing to a grinding halt up the Col de Madelaine and pitching over due to lack of training or just sheer weediness on the Col de Aggie. I don't want to cause an international incident due to a bad case of inertia.

This weekend sees me turning out for the Elswick relays, so its a two run day today and a thrashing of the weary tonight. Where will it all end?



Sunday, 2 April 2017

Alloa and Birnam


At the start of my annular weeks sabbatical in the highlands, the youngsters dragged me to the Alloa (allo, allo-a) half marathon. I didn’t even have the motivation to enter myself, and for anyone that’s tried that, it’s truly a voyage of discovery. Four of us arrived in the town amid a threatening sky and swelling breeze. A typical March day in the Ochils. I did this little beauty a good few years ago. The missus was training for the 2005 London Marathon and did a sub 2hr affair. I think i did a 1:22 or 1:23 or somit.

Missy L had a glute injury and couldn’t run, so contented herself with cycling up and down the high street. After the great toilet hunt in the leisure centre, a story which will no doubt be told and serialised in a later blog sometime in the future, Me, Miss C (who we refer to as Miss Speedy) and the missus joined the throng at the start and before we could secure our headbands and leg warmers, we were off.  
We clipped along at a 6:45/mile pace and it was a bit uppy and downy for the first 3 miles before diving down into some wee town where the pace shot up to a rather uncomfortable and unsustainable 6:20/mile. I was still in step with Speedy at the turn at mile 6, where you come into a long flat straight that the romans look like they designed and it doesn’t waver in elevation or direction for 4 miles. Quite dull and straight into the wind. It ground me down. Ground me down and spat me out.
At mile seven, I reached for a gel and my running partner sauntered off in front, no doubt chasing some of her club mates down. At 8 mile I told myself I was going to be fine, but knew inside I was lying and at 10 miles I was witness to a grisly, perambulatory breakdown with impeding terminal decline when the pace started creeping into the 7 minute mile territory as the road rose back into the outskirts of Alloa. This is crap, I thought; I do this pace every day of the week training. But the tank was empty. Its an age thing.
There was a canny crowd at the finish, but by then the damage was done and I flopped over the line for a 1:28. That said, I was happy enough with the run and celebrated at the Moulin Inn with a couple of swiffties and a bar meal. The puddings are bigger than the main courses, which is good if you like your puddings. I don't know why they don't do proper chips though. The Speedster had taken 2 minutes out of me and as I finished she was there, reclining beside the medals eating grapes and fanning herself on a chaise-longue and looking at her nails. 
The week rolled on, Miss L left midway through the week, and, by Saturday I was rested and raring to go. It was a cracking warm day and we headed down to Birnam for the hill race. There was a good crowd and we signed up and paid our £10. We'd met Adrian (the organiser) and a few friends halfway up Ben Vrackie earlier in the week. Mrs Mac decided it wasn’t for her, but me and Speedy Joe took our places after a number check. We set off up the hill and dug deep for the long steep slug, trying to break into a jog where the gradient eased, but without much conviction.  At the top I was tucked in behind the youngster, but had a sudden bout of unexplainable energy and took up the chase, knowing that the big sweeping downhill was just around the corner. I caught 2 or 3 on the way down and flat out, worked hard along the final mile to outsprint a lad who wasn’t giving up easily and it was 12th place for me and 1st lady for the youngster who wasn't far behind.  

The tea and cake was welcome as was the burger and blackcurrent juice at the Birnam Inn after the presentation. We could have camped on the grass outside the pub all afternoon as the lazy sun gave us an early taste of summer, but it was off down the road for the long drive south.  More short hill races I think this year. I’ll have to work on the stamina if I’m thinking about anything longer.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Round up


A fortnight ago it was time for the Signals Relays held again at Hetton Lyons Country Park. It’s a blue riband of an event, a bit of a wafery biscuit so to speak. A lemon puffer. Club runners only. Whose who of the Region. Teams of 4 to count each with a leg twice around the lake, a smaller version than Strathclyde Park I imagine. I managed to infiltrate the A v50 team and was on 3rd leg. I was likely to be the slowest in our team. We won a bronze last year when I got around in 13min:16sec. Its usually North Shields Poly aka Guy Bracken who win (he’s worth 2 minutes on the time of a mere club runner) and we battle it out with Sunderland Harriers. This year we had a good team, but Bracken was jogging around, making his slight stature and build felt during the warm ups.  He was off 3rd. That’s nice, I thought. I wondered how much time he’d take out of me. After we were 3rd   in the first leg, Phil W. moved us out into the lead and as he arrived I set off. I got round the first lap without being caught but halfway round the second lap I heard the pitter, patter of a 9 stone runner and the boy moved past with ease. At the finish I had lost 2 minutes to him, but were weren’t too far away and Tim M recovered some time, but we were still 30 seconds adrift of first place. However, that meant we had second place, so a very respectable performance and a wee bitty silverware.   Last Wednesday I did a 16 miler round the lanes, but got home wrecked. I was that tired I put myself to bed on Thursday evening for a couple of hours rather than train. Friday was no better. The Saturday trip to Alnwick which was hosting the final north east cross country came after a 2 hour karate sesh and I knew early on I was tired, so plodded round without conviction for a 200th or something finish. The lurgy soon made itself known and so this week I have been spluttering around the workplace with no running to speak of. It was only on Friday that I jogged a 4 miler and then again yesterday another 4 miler. That said it was pretty prompt (28mins), and so today after an evening of wining, whining and dining, I’m of with the youngster for a steady 9 miles. Its Alloa next weekend, and if I can get close to 1:30 or thereabouts, that’ll do nicely.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Mudfest at Peterlee


Its now Thursday and I’ve had enough time to reflect on last Saturdays Cross Country event at Peterlee. The weather was bleak. It had rained all Friday night and continued through most of Saturday. It was grim. It looked grim. it was cold, cold and grim.
The turnout at this seasons penultimate xc was, therefore, well down. Only 350 finishers in the mens event. 

I had sat in the car and changed my spikes from the pathetic stumps that I’d been using quite happily over the previous few months to some silver 12mm beauties that looked like they were fresh from a B horror movie. Keeping my OMM tights on,  I was almost ready to go.
 
At the entrance to the farm, an old gadgie sporting a fluorescent safety jacket had taken £2 off me for parking before his partner in grime had ushered my old Renault onto a sloppy bog. I parked as close as I could to the entrance track which was gravelled but I was still on the soft grass. I looked down the hill where there were snaking soft ruts of mud and knew I’d be lucky to get out without a push or tow. ‘ We’ve got a tractor’ was the confident mantra the gadgie was rolling out to all and sundry as they pointed us into the deepening quagmire. The course for the xc wasn’t any better; and there was no club tent; instead a club flag was flapping, solitary and godforsaken in the strengthening wind. We were pleased when Aurora offered their facilities for us to stow away our bags.  
 
The womens race was up next and I watched the youngster finish 7th and Mrs Mac some way further behind. I tried to get some fotos, but the light was poor. Did I mention it was grim. Grim and cold... and windy. Mrs Mac was wearing my vest as she'd lost hers, so I ended using the youngsters vest for my event. This was a 36 inch chest, I guess, and I knew it was too tight even as I pulled it over my head. It wasn't a good idea.  I adopted a lets get it over with’ mentality. It was 3 x two mile laps and off we went after a little delay. It wasn’t really possible to drop into a regular pace as the mud, divets and pools of running water draining from the nearby fields sucked relentlessly at your spikes; frequent buried cobbles and boulders grabbing at your feet. I was buoyed up by knowing I had a couple of millimetres more than I normally had down there (oo,er).
 
On the second lap I began flagging a little. The borrowed vest, my little straight jacket, was constraining my breathing. I needed all the air I could get, but was working on eighty or ninety percent; I was stuck with it.  I felt like ripping it off.
 
Some way along where it was uber-muddy ponds- slop-gunge (you get the idea) , I must have caught a spike on a submerged rock and went down, 'Splodge' , landing on my left side and only just managing to keep my face above the murky primeval glug. I emerged like I was a dude from Glastonbury and all of my left side was caked in muddy slime. The beast from the bog. My borrowed formerly blue and white vest could have been mistaken for a 'HBT' affair:  But no course was gonna beat me, and on I went grinding out a lamentable pace which slowed even further over the 3rd lap. I couldn’t even be bothered to tuck in behind Smith from Saltwell as he passed by and I finished 76th  after summoning no speed at all in the long final straight. To rub salt into the grubby wound, we didn’t even manage to finish a team, so I might as well have stopped in the car and painted my nails.

The clean up at home was quite like some of the cyclo-cross events that I’ve ridden and I was happy to immerse myself after an hour of cleaning shoes, scrubbing kit and generally trying to rid myself of the mud. Don’t even start with the good for the complexion thing.  One to forget.

On the upside, Jim Richards ‘Gold Rush’ is nearly finished and I’ve really enjoyed reading about the adventures of an errant geologist.  It looks like CJ Sansom’s Lamentations is the next literary stop.  Next stop this Saturdays Signals Relays. All aboard.  

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Forfar Nipple


Some experiences leave their mark on you, others simply come and go and the memory bleeds away almost as soon as it’s formed.
 
Forfar half marathon, which happens in the grey and winter wraith time of early February, is one of the former. It’s a multi-terrain affair, with a circular route that takes runners around Forfar Loch on gravel tracks, a short hop through a housing estate or two, invites you along rutted, puddle strewn farm tracks, along rights of way that cut through landfill sites and old quarries and, when you're especially knackered and late in the proceedings, up 500ft’s worth of wooded track (to yon big f^*k-off hill) before plunging back down through another set of tracks. I don’t profess to know Forfar very well; the last time we were there was after the Glen Clova Half Marathon and that was a good few years ago. From memory, we were locked out of the hotel after the ceilidh up in the Glen, and it took 20 minutes to stir the night porter (or whoever it was that eventually opened the doors).

We had spent the Saturday night in Broughty Ferry and dined at Forgans and very nice it was too. Sunday saw it teaming with rain as we drove up the deserted A90 to Forfar catching glimpses through the lichen clad trees of the snow on the Grampians. Arriving in good time, me, Mrs Mac and the young pretender sat in the car quaffing the vestiges of the McDonald’s Americanos while trying to puff clouds of hot vapour out the window into a scene from Fargo. 
 
The rugby club car park was soon full with 200 or so runners. The dilemma was what to wear on our feet. We asked a few buddies and watched to see who was wearing what, but there seemed no obvious choice. I stood at the back of the car, stroking my chin, pondering, staring into the boot where a pair of Salomon Speedcross lay untidily together with 2 pairs of old road shoes and a pair of newish Hokas that have never really seen action. The youngster plumped for the Salomons and I was inclined at 10:50 to concur. Studs it was. We reasoned that if time was to be lost it would be off-road.

We set off at eleven and I settled in to a seven minute mile pace with the youngster alongside. She has the same cadence and stride length which is a bit spooky. We metronomed our way past 20 or 30 runners who had started too eagerly, getting up to 6:40/min mile-ing for the early part of the race. There was a heavy sleet shower in the first mile and I thought I might be underdressed, but once warmed up, the choice of gear was perfect; Gloves, hat, 2 layers and shorts. We overhauled the first lady at mile 5 when she founded on a soft, muddy track in her road shoes, and, at 7 miles, my running mate took off and over the next 6 miles put a minute into me. However, I was having my own private battle with an Arbroath Footers runner and spent 45 minutes wondering if he was V50. Back on level ground and into the park, the last mile was murder and I lost 2 places drifting from 17th to 19th, but had no resistance left and it took all my energy to stride to the finish line in 1:32.    Mrs Mac went walkabouts with some backmarkers and ended up doing 14 miles but they all got back in one piece. The cake, soup and tea selection was ace and we came away with £50 of vouchers and a mental imprint of a really good day out.  My nips were also suffering from some unwelcome running vest frictional imprinting.
Its good to do different races; keeps you on your toes. Pass the Vaseline.

(photos by fishygordon and craig cantwell - see facebook)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Devils Burdens Relays 2017


I knew it was cold yesterday morning as I scraped the frost off the inside of the car windscreen. It was six in the morning and foggy as I encouraged the car up the A1. Stopping at Dunfermline for a banana and a latte, the clag was down and it was decidedly foggy in places.
As I made my way to historic Falkland with its palace and twisty, winding narrow streets the village was still slumbering. The village hall was bulging with runners and an air of anticipation pervaded the scene.  I got lucky parking the car but there was hardly any space to park on the streets.
 
I ran the Devil Burdens Relays, a 30k hill running challenge for teams of 6 back in 2011, when I teamed up with Steve Mason. This year I was in the v50 team running the 3rd leg, 6 miles with 1800ft of ascent. As we gathered in the hall, I was advised that things had changed and that I was running the 2nd leg in a ‘faster’ team.
I pinned my number on my vest and checked my bumbag as the organiser from Fife AC called out the rules, the do’s and don’ts for the race. I found myself running leg 2 (another 6 miler) over Devils Burden and West Lomond with Mr G. Who I didn’t know. After asking around we met and I managed to get a lift to Strathkinness. I sat in the car looking at the map and the 7 checkpoints we needed to find.
 
We were dropped off and watched the early runners coming in from leg 1. We were soon off and passed a few teams through the woods before we hit the hillside. We tacked up the hill in the fog, as several teams came together looking for the 3rd checkpoint. It was shown to be located just east of the crags and it took a few of the teams to comb the area before we found it in the greyness and poor light.  
 
 It was upwards to West Lomond then and we slowly emerged out of the thick swirling mist to a clear blue sky and superb scenery. We managed a wee conversation on the way to Strathmiglo once the climb was over. Somewhere before the last checkpoint I found a knee deep pool of mud that stopped me in my tracks but I was never in the red and we finished at the base of a steep descent with around 70 minutes of running. We searched for the car through the village. I began to get cold as my damp sweaty gear cooled, but soon enough  it was back to Falkland before I changed on the car and left to take the long trip south.   It’s a good early season event and a good day out with lots of nice fotos.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

No cheese, thanks


Yes, thank you for asking; I had a lovely Christmas and, well, I suppose a ‘measured’ new year. You might be thinking that the latter is a veiled reference to measures of alcohol, but, no; the usual attempts at holiday discipline were exercised and I emerged from the obscene consumer driven mire not completely unscathed, but at least missing no limbs.

I read that 2016 was a shoddy year and most folk are keen to put it behind them. Will 2017 be that much better? Well, I’ve just this minute received an email advising me I have been selected for a £350,000 prize, so things are looking up I must say. 

Among the holiday purchases was an old leather chair and cushion. It’s a bit battered but I’ve been on the lookout for one, at the right price, for years.  Now as I sit here in my cast-me-up dressing gown by the hearth, I must say I can see myself morphing in Rowley Birkin, Paul Whitehouses inebriated character from the fast show.  I think I resemble David Stott from Vic Reeves big night out.

Talking of fast shows, yesterday’s Cross Country mud fest at Herrington Park near Sunderland was a hard day out for an old duffer, and running in unseasonably mild temperatures with only shorts, vest and hat for effect (although I have no idea what impression I was trying to affect),  I overdid it. Even with the benefit of a slow pack start, I crept up to 58th place after lap 2, before capitulating in the strength sapping Wearside slop to come in at 101st  from a field of around 550. The last time 50 or so runners got past me was the super-lubricated claggy descent during the 2009 Ben race. Yesterday, I may as well have replaced my 10mm spikes with raisins, or donned a set of clean brushed cotton floral pi-jim-jams and a pair of travel ballerina slippers for the number of mud-watts of power I successfully generated. The only saving grace was a star performance by the young ‘un who won the womens race and the fact that I didn’t have to queue to get out of the park, having undertaken a covert reconnaissance of exit points and available spaces near the gates during a short and unconvincing warm up, before moving the car to the optimum spot.  I didn't need a warm down!

Getting back to the house, I scrubbed the xc shoes and took a scraper to my legs, before having a pre-bath shower, then managing to fall asleep in the bath itself.  My heart rate was still abit up on the usual this morning, so today will be two short runs rather than the longer Sunday run.  But its leftover steak for lunch and something about chips and peas is in the ether.

The current read, Steinbecks Cannery Row is not a thick affair, but coming on the back of Le Carre’s the night manager, I may need something lighter.  I asked Aunt Aggie last night for a recommendation, but she was rather down-beat as she sat among the box of Christmas bobbles and tinsel that are destined for the loft for another year. When I asked why so sad, she felt compelled to admit that she had put a teaspoon in the knife compartment of the cutlery drawer on purpose and was subsequently wracked with guilt.  Her new year resolution is to improve upon her cheese making skills, but we're going to have a sit-down serious chat soon about where she stores the curd and some of the more exotic smells that are coming from behind the kitchen radiator.