Sunday, 31 December 2017

Bronchial Tubeway Army

It’s early on a Hogmanay morning. We are about to kiss goodbye to 2017. It’s been an interesting year. It seems to me that time continues to accelerate.  To Infinity and beyond. The calendar seems intent on racing toward 2020.  I’m wondering if I’ll manage to shoehorn in a few events and make any meaningful inroads into my own personal bucket list, not that I have one.  Terrible phrase. Society and politics are all over the place. Maybe I should apply for an Irish passport.   
I was given a pressie at Christmas of a day out at a sportive entitled the Tour De Peak, a 60 mile romp around the best inclinations Derbyshire has to offer.  That’s in May. I also fancy the Loch Katrine half and might venture further afield for off road events. I notice comments on gender etc in the entry blurb for Katrine. Not seen that before. But seems the half is full already, so might be the full 26 miles. Better value anyway!
I’ve watched a pile of tele. over this past few days; and it has been a pile. That's not really from choice. I’ve been laid up in bed for 3 days with a cold. Some people call it manflu. I had a sore throat on Boxing Day as we wandered along the snowy ridge at Simonside for a walk. The next day my nose was tripping me and I retired with Vicks, a box of tissues and the tv remote controller. This is, however, a quality cold. It’s a big, ballsy virus who has moved in and wants to make itself at home. It's brought all its mates. It’s not welcome. Not welcome at all.

With the frequency of colds in recent months, I have considered beginning a list of colds, giving them names, like they do with storms. This one would be called a *u&8#in t$”* of a cold. I am now an exhausted and bored invalid. By day three I might have been attracted to snorting the lemsip powder like it was a wrap, rather than mixing it into a steamy tincture if I thought it would improve the efficacy of the supposed remedy. Mrs Mac actually questioned whether stopping in bed was the best option. She postulated that it might indulge the virus, making the effects worse.  I don’t think so, however. Blidy cheek. My sick bed does not represent the Waldorf for germs, well at least not that I’m aware.  The room service is too poor for a start. The amount of clagg I’m producing would be more than enough to wallpaper the bedroom and still have some left to fill half the potholes in the county. I wonder if the highways agency might hire me. The BBC might cover it; certainly regional news should. I feel I should get Vera in to investigate.  Maybe make an appearance as a B celebratory or get grilled by Kirsty Wark on a late show.

If the 11k is on tomorrow (he said listening to the blustery wind outside) I will find myself on camera duty. As a result, I have been boning up between coughs, grockles and splutters, on how to use the Nikon. I do miss the Panasonic, however. I’m not really a fan of twiddling exposure settings and twisting dials. Not a camera anorak. I think I need a longer lense. I hope the lights good. I hope I remember to remove the lense cap.
I have also read the Marie Kondo book on tidying up so there could be some changes when I manage to get out of this snot ridden hell hole. I have made some serious inroads into Mrs Craddock. I should finish the novel off today. I have watched any number of films, but this morning I have happened upon Sooty and another kids programme called BottomKnocker Street. I bet you didn’t know such programmes existed.  One was lamer than the other, but not by much. If I was subjected to these with any regularity I would want to comfort eat as well.  Today is day 5 of the effin cold (needs to be said in a big brother accent). Al is still in bed as dawn breaks. The others are still asleep. The snow has gone outside and its time for a cuppa.  Perhaps I will put the radio on and turn the google box off for a bit.  Dino and Dina has just started. Guff.  Am I VERY grumpy?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

The Longest Night

I managed a steady 20 miles on Thursday Morning. 'Big deal' I hear you say? When I say 'morning', I meant 'proper morning'.
I ventured out at 1am to support Our Kid on her sponsored 'longest night' run for the charity Shelter for the homeless. Her route was a 5 mile loop around the town.
I am not a late night person; I much prefer running later than earlier and although this was very early in theory, it was, in practice, simply that bit later than my evening run. I had ran a prompt 9 miles in the early evening on the Wednesday and had a bath and an hours kip before I made an appearance in the wee small hours. By that time, the dark destroyer had been out on her feet for nine hours or so. She had clocked up just over 50 miles. She was still quite chipper but her pace had slowed a little. The support group that appeared at the front door with her were in good spirits as she arrived for a pit stop. If you chose a night to run in in December, then this was it. Mild, damp and still.
I had no idea how far I was going to go with her or for how long. It was safe to say that I had never felt the need for a coffee and three peanut butter and raspberry jam sannies at three in the morning. Kept me going a treat. The last of the supporters peeled off at 3am, and I carried on until half five when a buddy was meeting up with her. Running down the middle of the high street in the middle of the night with not a soul around was a little surreal, the silent sparkly Christmas lights doing their thing.
I glanced at the town clock with every lap; we were clocking an hour a lap. There were plenty of rabbits around but I was a little disappointed not to bump into a fox or two.  I fell into bed after a cuppa and woke a couple of times, disorientated, before getting up just after ten. She clocked up 76 miles before finishing at 8:30am and she's raised £1500 so far. Epic effort.
If you have a couple of quid for charity this season, any contribution would be money well spent.  Some very generous people out there.

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Bealach Path

I spent a small fortune in Pitlochry yesterday. I was concluding my  two day winter fitness camp and was mooching around the town waiting for the late train. A pub lunch here, a new jumper and scarf there and before you can say 'that'll do nicely', I was overloaded with luggage I hadn't anticipated 3 hours earlier.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was in two minds to go, but work has quietened off and no one was chasing me on the phone. I scrutinized the forecast in some detail, before looking at hotel and train prices. Good discounts available. There was also a good chance of snow (Wunderground is a good site when looking for future snow). When I called the hotel, they said there was some lying on the hill. So, with train tickets reduced for 1st class and the hotel room and breakfast at a bargain rate, I went for it.
Taking the early train up, I changed in Edinburgh. On the way up, however, things were still very green as I scoured the hills. No matter, it would be good change of scene.
I arrived in the town mid-morning to be greeted with black ice and the hangover of a hard overnight frost. Old folk were clinging to each other like their lives depended on it. It was dicey on the icey.
I sat in the hotel until lunchtime after a slow tea and an even slower bowl of soup. Too early to check in, see.  However, I didn't want to run in the dark, so changed in the toilets and left my gear with reception and off I went up Ben Vrackie and then not quite getting to the top, cut down and followed the Bealach Path over the mountain before the grey clouds began turning purple blue and the snow arrived. There was around two or three inches of snow on the hill and it was just me, a handful of Ptarmigans and late in the run, some deer. They were high up and wary of some muffled nutter aimlessly tramping along in the snow; and rightly so. It was a slow affair with 10 miles covered by the time I got back, nearly 3000ft of climbing and 2 hours of snowy Scotland all to myself. I resisted the siren call, the temptation of the Moulin Inn; next time, I promised myself.

To make the most of the next day (Thursday), I needed to be out the door by 7:30am. Breakfast was served until 10:30am and as it was in with the deal, I needed to be back in time. So, eating early on Wednesday evening, I retired shortly after port and cigars and it was lights out at 8:30pm. Slept well until 2:30am and was wide awake. Got back to slumberland sometime later and was up and out the door sure enough at crack of 7:30am. It was cold and dark and icy, so I ran round the town and over the bridge under the orange gaze of the streetlights and then along the north of the river picking up to river path to Killicrankie. As dawn broke, the run developed into a thing of beauty and the camera came out here and there. Frozen lakes, dangling icicles as long as your posh aunts finger nails and plenty of grouse and a few grey squirrels foraging under the copper beach leaves strewn liberally across the forest track. It was plenty icy in places, but mostly all runnable. No one around. Solitary bliss.

As I neared Killiecrankie, I could feel the draw of the old soldiers lament and by the time I had reached the Battle of Killiecrankie Visitors Centre and the Soldiers Leap, it was well after nine, and with seven miles under my belt, it was time to turn back. I got up the bank and onto the old road between Pitlochry and Blair Atholl and headed back on the tarmac just as the snow began. At first it was light and the flakes quite icy, but as I arrived back into Town just before ten, the flakes were huge, cold and floaty. They filled the sky. I expected Mrs Deagle to come out of McNaughtons drapery or catch Gizmo's huge doe eyes peeping out from under some wifeys shopping bag.
Shower, breakies and lashings of hot coffee.  Spent the rest of the day wandering and parked up close to the fires in the Old Mill and McKays , which I returned to for a wee ploughmans. Once I'd read the paper I reverted to Somerset Maugham's Mrs Craddock. Dated, but I'm halfway through now.

If you get the chance to get to Pitlochry for a day or two, there are some great off road runs around the place. Some good deals on as well with the hotels. I stayed at McKays. Terrific value. 22 good miles over 2 days.
Next time; soon; maybe early next year I am going to go all the way along the path and road  to Blair Atholl: should be a great run.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


The ice queen has arrived and not before time. She arrived with her chilly cohort. She's a cool customer, parading her sub-zero wares around the place in her frosty chariot. The mercury has plummeted to a testing minus 6 in the last few nights and still below freezing during the day. In celebration (as I am of the same Ilk; from the same tribe) I have knocked out two solid 8 milers through the 'frizen' woods at lunchtime. No speed; no ipod; a low thrum from the A1. Hard on the soles in fell shoes. Just me and a few robins, the occasional pigeon or blackbird and magpie.
There has, in recent years, been a creeping propensity, a predisposition to wind work down when the opalescent grey clouds of winter arrive and we are fed the annual fare from the mainstream channels of the Country grinding to a halt. The big freeze. Happy enough with this apparent state, and never reluctant to find an excuse to cop off to the immure and torpid forest, the ferns wizened and brown below a coating of crystal pyjamas, I have for some considerable time, felt eager to get out when the proper icy air clamps your face and your finger ends are looking for more than a cheap wooly glove for somewhere to keep them from going white.  Here, at blog HQ, we are near the coast and this has moderated the climate a little. So tomorrow first thing, I'm off in search of some running in colder climes. Wish me luck.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Black is the new Black

I was both excited and anxious as I arrived at Sunderland's City Centre University Halls for the November black belt grading. My sporting routine has been gradually grinding to a halt as I have packed in more and more karate lessons in the run up to the Special Dan Training and Grading session. Each club session is six quid a pop and an hour and a half of (more or less) full-on aerobic effort.  High kicking in your fifties is no balm to the elderly, I can tell you.  Ain't natural.  Thankfully, my running history has provided me with more endurance than the average joe public, and by god, I needed it.
It was a crisp morning. Firstly we had an hour and a half's training with two of the top Karate practitioners in the Country. Then there was a 2 hour wait before the afternoon grading began. I did my best to avoid contact and aimless small talk and speculation by walking to Greggs for a cuppa and then reclining as best I could on a hard chair with my eyes closed in the noisy and crowded sports centre. The air of expectation and mild fear was palpable.  It was like being at the dentists or sweating outside the headmasters office in the 70's.  
Having written out a cheque for £70, I was incentivised to do as well as possible. A crowd of around 50 candidates trooped into the small hall and I was in the second last group of 4 to go through the syllabus.  After 2 hours of waiting and watching others, I prayed to anyone that was listening that I'd manage to keep it all together.
My name was called. I stepped up and I set off to impress, but mainly to try and avoid making  stupid mistakes, the same ones that had littered my training.  After 15 minutes of full on effort, I finished and went back to my corner. I dropped my sparring mitts and gum shield into my bag and, exhausted, sat hunched with a towel over my head, the sweat dripping off my nose.  However, the judges had other ideas and with only the final 3 candidates left, an odd number, I was called back to spar and fight again to make up the numbers. Much joy! I hastily grabbed my gear and lined up again for another bout of sparring. As I tried to summon the energy to fight convincingly for two minutes, I couldn't decide if I was called up again because I was good last time, or because I was  marginal and they wanted another look. No matter, it was soon over and I bowed, left the floor and sat down again, spent. 
Its not until the very end of the day that if you've convinced the panel, they ask you back up to do another different kata (a pre-determined set of moves). Out of about fifty present, there were only about 15 or 16 asked up. Thankfully I was one of them. There was still room for failure, but the kata suited me and I raced through it. The end was in sight. 
The whole class was brought to the front and the individual results and comments delivered. Success and a long tough day, but a memorable one. 
 I am having the day off today and lying on the settee with the rain outside.  Its now time to resurrect my running career, methinks. Where are those trainers?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Seasons End

She reminds me of someone famous...?
I've managed to tot up 40 miles running this week. I did the same the previous week. You also need to factor in the 3 hours of martial arts in there somewhere, so early days but goin alright. While there's no speed, there is some pavement pounding going on. It was a steady 12 miles yesterday, some of it in the woods with a small gang of oldsters from the club.

The cycling hill climb season came to an end yesterday with the Nationals being held up in Northumberland. The hill at the aptly named Hedley on the Hill attracted 240 starters, most of whom needed a good feed. There was a large vociferous crowd (at least on the second half of the course).

Full moon last night...?
I drove over and took the bike the two miles from Mickley to the start. The event was already well underway when I arrived. I walked the course and planted myself at the busiest bend, the final kick-up, and I have to say for the hour I was there, it was a hoot. I let my mind wander as I waited for each rider and thought I should have entered, but I did this course 3 years ago and it was longer and lumpier than I recall.  I didn't miss the heart rate shock and lactic acid paralysis not to mention the dry cough at the end. The stretch of road was closed so the spectators could take over the place. What a din there was at the end of the course. Pots n' pans, horns and cowbells. Great. One or two of the lads even got carried away!

There's a charity 12 mile time trial on just before Christmas. Its just a bit of fun, but I thought I might get Mrs Mac involved on the tandem. Fancy dress of course. The second hand Roberts frame I bought is away at Bob Jacksons in Leeds getting chopped down and re-sprayed and I'm still chewing over the choice of transfers. For the money they're charging, its gotta be right. A good while ago I had a frame I won at Meadowbank (back in the day) resprayed. The paint job was fine but the decals (transfers) they put on it ruined it, and I never rode the thing again. Sold it a couple of years ago.

The youngsters have been showing me up; The dark destroyer, fresh from her win at the Kielder marathon is cranking out about 100 a week and Speedy Joe is also flying at each weeks cross country' She is limiting herself to around a 70 mile week training around the parks and meanstreets of the Dear Green Place. Maybe I need to go north and have another go. My last run was at Eildon, and I struggled. I wasnt fit then and the recovery will need to be managed right. However, I noticed the Hawks are struggling for a masters team and maybe its time for a late season foray perhaps late November into some low profile affair or cross country.  Better get myself a set of spikes. After all , I have a £20 voucher sitting here. I'm fairly sure, however, I didn't win it this year...crumbs from the daughters table of plenty;  cheesey offcuts from their smorgasboard of victory!!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Tour Des Trossachs

It was a busy cycling sort of weekend. Saturday morning saw me drive the team car to the Wooler Wheel Sportive. Mrs Mac had challenged herself to the 35 mile affair, which some metric-gnome tells me is 50km. It was cool but dry and most of the 550 field were on the starting line as we arrived. Speedy Joe had agreed to chaperone her and her hybrid around the wee rolling lanes in deepest Northumberland. I said my farewells and, as I hadn't splashed out the £20 fee for the t-shirt and drinks stop and jelly babies took off without any further ado. Expensive jelly babies. I cracked on trying to catch and pass the happy sportivers and clocked up 25 miles before cutting back to the old auction mart and the car, pie and peas and a cuppa. Some time later, and I mean sometime, Mrs Mac made an appearance and managed the trip in after four and a half hours. She was tied but happy. Too much sugar from the Jelly Babies. Speedy Joe was losing the will to live. However, the sun had arrived and we sat outside and took in the rays with a slice of cake for a half hour before the trip up to Calendar.

We arrived at 5pm just to catch the town closing up. Its looking a wee bitty tired compared to the last time I was there. All cafe's and chintz. Half the shops closed for whatever. The B&B was fine and we were up in the loft. We had a quick bar meal at the Crown and then it was back to the room to crash.

Sunday was still and cool and we got to Aberfoyle by 9am. The Tour Des Trossachs has been going every year for around 60 years and has been won by the likes of Millar and Obree. I felt pretty good as I was up at 10:06 (no 6). The lad at no 4 was on a reclining bike and I thought that was pretty brave. I hit the Dukes pass after 3 minutes and it was 19 minutes before I got to the top. I was passed on the way going up. My lack of technique and swinging the bike from side to side was in total contrast to the smooth pedalling Ayr Roads lad who just sat there and ground it out. Over the top I tucked in, slapped it into the biggest gear I had and hammered down the hill trying to give chase, the roads greasy and grizzly. Rider no 9, a woman with triathlon sympathies and oozing determination and purpose passed me, but I wasn't having any of it and stayed close for 2 miles before the little rise at Brig O Turk took me to another place, an unwanted slow motion world. I was in treacle; but I recovered to pass the hinterland of Calendar and begin the last big dig up the final climb. Then at the top, it was all hands to the deck as I stuck my hand in my back pocket for something to give me speed; a handy sized, sub-atomic particle accelerator perhaps. Something that might whisk me and my particles to the finish.
I fought all the way to the line at Braeval and was exhilarated that I had managed to maintain my focus over the shortened 26 mile course. After a hot choc at McGregors café on the corner it was up to the Hall. The results were still coming in, but I was not too far away from nearly the bottom of the middle of the field. 47th out of 58 finishers and 1:18:53.
That's the racing over for the year, but I think I can improve on things and I might do a few more flattish time trials next year. Happy to get home and hit the sheets. zzzzz. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Cleveland Wheelers Hill Climb 2017 and the 'poles

Roll up, roll up, read all about it. Man cycles up hill, is 10th last from a field of 45; claims small victory. Beats 14 year old by one second. Cause for celebration? 8mins 31secs. 35th out of 45 starters. The small victories are the precious ones. It was a much more disciplined ride yesterday at Claybank up the Jurassic scarp of the North York Moors. Off the seat for a full ride almost and just stared at the road until the end. In the rain. Like Pedro Delgado (only 30 years older).
I cannot recall if this is the 2nd time I've ridden the event or the 3rd, but I was surprised to see that the first time was 5 years ago. I didn't realise how long this sort of asinine stupidity had been going on.
Other than Sundays Tour De Trossachs (yes, a real event; a 28 mile hilly time trial that includes the Dukes Pass at Aberfoyle), I have no more two wheeled escapades planned for the year. I feel the need to dig out the trainers and get some more running done, now that the Achilles is sorted. There's a perfectly good cross country season out there.
The tadpoles are nearly gone. I've fed them and watered them most days from early June. Some (that are no size at all and look like a 'snotter' with legs) have insisted they leave the garden post hole a.k.a 'puddle' and forage around and about. I've even almost stood on a couple (or the same one). Since the sad demise of my old running partner, meg the dog, a month ago at the ripe old age of 15, we have had some cats prowling around. One has been in the house twice now, uninvited. Best keep the doors shut.
I have completed the 'Canticle for Liebowitz', a sci-fi classic and one of my dads favourite books. I have moved onto 'The Old Ways' by Robert McFarlane, a kind of travelogue. Halfway through, a steady read, not much going on, but very nice prose. Happy October!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Sunderland Hill Climb 2017

This is the face that you need to pull in order to finish 4th last in a hill climb time trial. As a vet in athletics over the last few years I have been described variously as a 'good club runner', pretty decent (or was that pretty vacant?) and 'a good hand'. My recent demise in the running scene has not gone altogether unnoticed, I think I'm glad to say. According to sources, I am still struggling with an Achilles injury. I would guess that if I pulled the trainers back on and began to wrack up the weekly miles again, I could dovetail myself into the top 5 in my category in most races, be it a fell race or a 10k. Not so with cycling. I have spread myself thin this year, with some running, the karate and now the cycling and, with the bike, at least, it shows. True, hill climbing is a particularly masochistic sort of activity, but the seasons short and I punish myself with only one or two events a year.

Weight is the key. Weight and power. Power to weight ratio and all that. If I eat less rubbish, I might get slimmer, lighter. Yesterday, working from home and still in my dressing gown at eleven in the morning, I found myself under the stairs with the lights off scoffing a Danish pastry like Billy Bunter. If I couldn't see myself eating it, I wouldn't know I had. Heart rate has also got something to do with it. As an oldie, I strongly suspect I can't get the heart rate up to what I used to and therefore fail to pump the oxygen round my veins and hearteries fast enough. Some sillyologist will no doubt tell me different.

The first of this years paingivers was the Sunderland CC two stage event at Kibblesworth near Gateshead. I set off too fast and then spent the rest of the first climb in oxygen debt and only just managed to retrieve my technique for Jack Earl, the classy cameraman ubiquitous at these events. Its worth the £10 entry fee just for the photo afterwards.  A good pose is critical when a camera is around. Its all about the ego.

I was lying 4th last out of 50 after the first stage. I comforted myself with the thought during the 2 hours break between stages that only people who think or know they're good at going up hills on a road bike enter these. I peered into my coffee at race HQ, willing the caffeine to provide some miraculous improvement in the 2nd stage, but I would have settled for being 5th last. For me, however, it seems to be a race to the bottom. If I sound depressed or despondent, don't worry. I actually find a good moan very good therapy. I would be in a category A prison for the times I 've beat myself up mentally. It's the only way to squeeze something more out of the system. The second stage was a much shorter affair on smooth tarmac for the most part. I set off steadier and simply tried to keep a rhythm going. The finish was just over the crest after half a mile and allowed riders a little respite and a sprint to the finish. As the results came back I found that I had indeed improved, but failed to move up the rankings, and left knowing that improvement is required. I was, however, sanguine about the whole horrible business, feeling a sort of perverse satisfaction that I can bury myself, compete and not be desolated about finishing well down the pecking order. Better than dressing up in sackcloth and dishing out lashings of flagellation.

As some solace I was 4th O50, but then there were only five in the field. I am looking forward to this weekends climb at Claybank near Stokesley. I used to train there when I was a teenager. I remember being sick there one Saturday morning after my first beery night as an under age drinker. Oh, fond memories. The even better news is that there is a 60 year old and a 70 year old riding in the 60 strong Cleveland Wheelers Event, so there's hope that I can improve on 4th last. In the words of Jason Kenny, "I started training again and I thought I might try a bit of a comeback. I did a couple of efforts and they weren't great results, but I felt like I did when I was 18. I felt refreshed." So here's to feeling refreshed.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Alpine Adventure

I'm not long back from a week in the Alps. I, like a cohort of other 50 something men, felt compelled to experience the grief that bike riders in Le Tour and the Dauphine Libere face. The pain comes from exotically named climbs like Le Galibier, Le Col d'izoard, Le Col De Bonette and others. These mountain passes have a mystical reputation among cyclists. There's nothing much to match them in Blighty.  I travelled with Mr M. He's not a huge cyclist but is a couple of years older than me. He also felt drawn to tick this slow burner off his bucket list. I was also keen to try on the new Gothic mash up jerseys which look great (even if I did the design myself).
We arrived at Nice, where we picked up a Clio estate after a false start with a fiat. We shoe horned the bike cases into the boot. It wasn't exactly commodious. There was barely enough room for anything more. He had booked a Focus estate, but the hire company advised that they had none. Breach of contract I would have said (or check the small print), if my French had been any better.

Nice is mega busy. Its getting a new tram down the high street just behind the promenade, and trying to find a parking space late at night was a near impossibility. At least their tram looked like it went somewhere useful. It's chaos in the town.

The next morning we took off after a coffee and croissant to Jouliers, a two hour drive into the Alps. We parked the car in the village and after a pretend steak (reconstituted mince) and sad flaccid chips washed down with tea au lait, we set off up the Bonette. This is the highest mountain pass in the French Alps at 9000ft above sea level (three times Ben Nevis, nearly). As a relative lightweight, I was soon some way ahead of my buddy and climbing steadily on smooth roads. These climbs are long steady drags with frequent zig-zags to reduce the gradient. They were formed so that you could get your horse and cart over the mountain in yon olden days, so nothing desperately steep or arduous. However, this beast went on and on; and on and on. I spent 2 solid hours going up into the sky. I noticed the air getting thinner near the top (who wants fat air anyway?). My breathing became a little more laboured. I imagined, at one point, a grey tree stump looking like a wolf. There are no houses or cafes at the top. It looks like the moon. It's deserted. It also blows a hoolie on the crest.
Promenading with the new mash up jersey at Izoard
A mile from the top, it began to get darker. A sinister heavy air arrived like a mugger. The cloud began to drop. The rain began as I crested the final bend. Within 2 or 3 minutes I was wringing as the horizontal freezing rain pelted down (or rather across). As I cowered behind an old ruin, hurriedly putting on a thin orange waterproof and scrabbling through frozen fingers to put my phone into a plastic bag, a little voice in my head was saying 'this is not good, this is not good at all'...I didn't want to be a statistic. My own personal Brexit. I had to get down off the hill, even as the cloud dropped and visibility become next to nothing. Thankfully I had lights on the bike and knew I had to get off the mountain as soon as I could. However, it took me a full hour to come down, stopping once coming out of the mist to tell Mr M to turn around and another couple of times to blow into my numb hands. Not much fun. The dutch guys in the café tabac had a chuckle as we came in, teeth chattering.
'Froid?' inquired the bar man as we order coke and hot choc. and huddled round the cups for warmth.

The next day we chose an easier ride and biked 20 miles up an old gorge near Briancon, but there's nought flat about the Alps and even this ride was testing. The next day after a glass or three of wine and another burger in the evening, we attempted Izoard. The sky was blue and as I climbed it was quite a contrast to Bonette. It took only 1:40 for the climb to the summit. The roads over there are smooth for the most part and it was a delight. I had a teary moment at the top, before manning up and rattling off a few photos. I even had the bravado to drop back down a kilometre to meet Mr M coming up. Descending was exhilarating and back into town, it was hot and sunny. We sat on the kerb and feasted on ham,brie,baguette and plum tomatoes. This was our lunch every day.

Later in the day, we drove to Les Deux Alpes, a ski resort at 6000ft. There had been snow on the peaks the night before and things were decidedly chilly. We were not far from Alpe D'Huez. I could hear the metamorphic behemoth growling down the valley as we approached our hotel. The resort was surprisingly large with more than a mile of high street, but it was truly deserted. Thankfully we found a great restaurant (Le Rustique) and spent two nights at the resort. We rode the back of Le Galibier on the Sunday and met a couple from Oregon and a bunch of lads from Cork. It was brassicks though.

The threat from Huez was regrettably enough to scare us back to Digne Les Bains, back down toward Nice the next day. We took a back road for a low intensity spin and still ended up finding Le Col de Corobin at the end. It was then onto Nice, our final day. Huez will have to be tamed on another trip. Before our late flight we managed 20 miles up and down the flat and balmy sea front. We dodged other bikies, joe public, suicide scooterists and flash cars with even flashier occupants. I welcomed the easy ride. I had developed a sore knee, maybe not surprising after 18000ft of climbing in the week.

I have a 2 stage hill climb at Gateshead tomorrow. Plenty of altitude, but I can be fairly sure there'll be no snow at least. Next time, I think I might give Huez a go, but perhaps in June.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Mash up

My Achilles is much improved tonight as I lie on the bed half watching 'Grand Designs' and waiting for something better to start. There's been little or no running for a good wee while now. The biking is coming on, though. I've ridden around 100 miles this week so far, over 4 rides. Short and prompt. 18-20mph, but no heroics. I also got the other Condor back from my errant daughter and am looking forward to a change of bike. Like all long-time bikies, I have a small stable of two wheelers, but not enough time to appreciate them all, or money to make sure they're all road-worthy. Its true, they are in various states of repair. New biking bits are pretty pricey, and I like to shop on ebay when possible, but mostly browse...its cheaper. However, on the cycling clothing front, I am prepared to make an exception. I have designed a new jersey for the Gothic cycling club. Its not the official jersey, but a leftfield 'mash up'. I think its 'the dogs' and can't wait to wear it in the soon to arrive Hill-climb season (all 8 weeks of it!). They're due on the 20th September. There are a few spares and I think there won't be a problem with demand for the surplus items. I tried to change the pdf of the design to a jpeg file so I could stick it up, but my computer skills are just above the abacus level, so you'll have to imagine it or get on the clubs Facebook page.

As I consider re-engaging the running scene, I have a mind to butcher an old pair of Nikes that were due to be thrown out. I think if I cut out a section of heel, it might reduce the chances of inflammation from the constant rubbing. Worth a try.
Its karate tomorrow and the bike later. In between , theres a curtain rail thats looking for a fix and a hedge that needs to be taken down a peg or two.   There's also the Wiggle Northern Angel Sportive passing my doorstep on Sunday and I've a mind to gatecrash it. Pick up a little company and some quality miles. We'll have to see how it pans out.    

Friday, 4 August 2017

Hard Boiled

I'm struggling badly at the mo. with an inflamed right Achilles. I'm not even sure why I felt the need to put Achilles in capitals. Anyway, I've haven't even had the energy to take an interest in the usual races that have come and gone. Some words like 'ruptured' or 'torn' have crept into the conversation, then hobbled out of it. These are words that haven't been invited to the party. They're gatecrashers. Unwelcome. These kind of words are for other people.

There was never any chance of me going to A&E; partly because they do good work and have little time for self induced injuries, partly because they've no time for malingerers like me, but mostly because they might tell me no exercise Mr Mac; or they might even stick my leg in a cast-off moon boot from a star wars storm trooper. Does the Empire do half sizes? Some exhausted doctor might advise me to take a course of paracetamol, or, alternatively, to 'use the Force'. Would this save on the prescription charges, I wonder? 

I have accepted that the running thing may have to take a back seat in any case. The karate continues to demand more elasticity, discipline and washing powder than I can provide.
A weeks planned cycling in the Alpine passes in September also means I need to beef up the quads and cut out the donuts. Easier said than done. The summer's been a bit up and down, but even as my old running canine partner declines, my new best friends are a pool full of tadpoles in the wee garden. They are keeping me busy, topping them up every day and willing them to get bigger. A bit needy, they're taking an age to sprout legs. The pool is actually only a posthole. I dug it earlier in the year and some frog decided it was the spawning spot for them.

Me and Missus Mac took the newly arrived tandem down to Ely 3 weeks ago. Its working out well so far. We had a cultural whirlwind tour of the town, Cromwells House and watched a performance of Richard the Third. We also did some flat roads around Norfolk and hung out at the Cathedral (as you do). We stopped frequently to graze on the bloated brambles at the side of the road. Its a different climate down there, I tell you.

I returned from down south only to go straight up north as I was press ganged to ride with three bandoliers up to North Berwick for a long planned weekend. We set off at 8am and had a tailwind almost all the way up in dry conditions. The 105 miles were a breeze. I then did 40 wet miles on the Saturday morning back around Dunbar turning at the Pease Bay roundabout with Steve H. It was so wet, the snails were all out in force. We kept bumping into wet, subdued Canadian couples doing some tour of the Scottish coast or somit? Might have looked like a good idea at the time. On the Sunday, we rode back home in the rain. When we stopped at Berwick for a cuppa, the delightful woman in Fortes Café brought out some towels for that's service. The only other saving grace was that we had nearly a tailwind back home. It was wet. Very wet.

As I am partially laid up, I have digested Murikami's left field and engaging but weird 'Hard Boiled Wonderland' and then it was on to 'The Watchmaker of Filigree Street'.  The book was a present but it took me an age to read. It tried but failed. disjointed and poor character development. However, I am continuing to ply the urban fantasy theme with Neil Gaimans 'Neverwhere'. Its an easy, wholesome and cheery read. Now he's someone who can tell a story.

Anyway, I feel some gym work beckoning, otherwise I wont be able to pull on my jeans. Wish me luck. till next time.

Some this week      

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Black Rock, Eildon and Dollar

I have been very remiss in posting recently. I have given myself a good telling off. However, that said, I recall my stifling eagerness in 2007 for running, when I started blogging. The blog was really a diary for my running. With age, 12 years of club running and many thousands of miles under my belt, I have allowed myself a bit of slack as I begin to accept that in order to keep myself in one piece, I might have to cut my cloth (as they say) and learn to enjoy events, rather than beat myself up trying to compete. Its a slow transition, but I'm working on it. If I keep telling myself to enjoy the run as I run out of puff, I might start believing it...sometime. In the meantime...

Three weeks ago I strained my right hamstring  a week before my second karate competition. I still took part and got a good mashing by a national team member. He was good. I hobbled off home to recover and ducked out of a club training run a week later after half a mile.

We took off on the Friday (23rd June) to Kinghorn, pitched the tent and, after tea at Burntisland, met up with speedy joe, the daughter, at the railway station. I was on camera duty. As the whole village began to jump to the annual sound of the Black Rock 5, the village population swelled with 1500 runners. It was bouncing in the midsummer heat. I half walked, half jogged down the street and across the sand and took a position on a rocky promontory.

After an age they came galloping down the road and across the sand and I clicked away for a good wee while before jumping down and running into the snake of runners, clicking as I went. I then jogged halfway back along the street and continued taking snaps as they returned.

Afterwards, I retired to the Auld Hoose pub and waited for the missus and speedy J. They returned via the showers and the chip shop which had apparently run out of fish and chips. Some beer was supped. During the evening I admitted that I may as well have run the race as I had jogged most of the course (well, some of it). We wandered back to the tent around 11:30.

The next day after breakies we took off home, but deviated across to the A68 and to Melrose, where the Eildon 3 Hills Race was on. It was hot and the town was in full gala mode, and after some chin scratching, I thought I might test the hamstring. I took the Canon with me as a crutch more than anything, thinking that if I had to stop early into the race, at least I could get some snaps. As it was, I grafted up and over the hills and passed speedy on the way down as she tip-toed her way over the scree. I shouted that she needed to 'trust her studs on the way down'.  I finished some way down the field, but not a disaster by any means and more importantly, without any serious aches. Mrs Mac, who also entered was nearly last, cursing us for persuading her to run this Borders Bonanza. We did enjoy the chat, tea and cakes afterwards.

Training last week was patchy but come Saturday morning, I committed myself to the Dollar Hill Race, and took off up the road arriving in good time for the start in the rarefied grounds of the Academy. It was vest only, long shorts and compression socks, partly to try and avoid injury and partly to cover up from tick-central. I hate those blighters. There were about 10 or 12 runners from a French running club (plus some cheery hangers on) which boosted the numbers and gave the race a continental flavour.

Eildon Hill Race Start
The last time I did this race was in 2010 when it was a UK fell running championship counter. I forgot about the punishing start, this time reverting to a spider like crawl up toward the crest of Saddle Hill.  I was wearing a nylon cap  and near the top I was enveloped in my own little rainforest monsoon, a regular series of salty drips discharging across my face. Over the top I was around 20th and just behind a Kinross runner. However, the cloud was down and visibility was around 50m, and after putting on my waterproof on the move, I clung to him as he ran on with purpose. I hung on with him around 10-15 seconds ahead for a while, seemingly wandering around the tussocky and undulating ridges for a long time with hardly anyone else in sight. On the climb up to the last rise, Andrew Gannel Hill, a Penecuik runner who had been shadowing me, passed me and took up the chase with Kinross, who was well away.
I found the descent hard and wasn't sure if the compression socks were the reason I had begun cramping up. I ended up walking a little way at the end and losing a few more places before those cheery continentals gave me some reason to pick it up and 'Allez' to the finish line. Nice chat with a couple of lads, 20 minutes with the masseur and great cake layout with tea galore. Home via the Dalkeith kebab shop and spent an hour in the bath, partly reading and partly obsessing about the days race, re-running parts in my head.  I loaded up the snaps of Eildon on Flickr with a link from the Scottish Hill Racing Facebook Site. Still got another 80 snaps from the Black Rock to load up, but it takes an age. Maybe find time tomorrow. Upwards and onwards.


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 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.