Monday, 12 November 2018


Its been a weekend filled largely with black and white images of men and women and a time gone by. A weekend filled with nostalgia and an intensifying sentimentality. I think they were made of sterner stuff in those days. You had to be. I can say without fear of contradiction that it does make you thankful for what you have and the times we live in, with all our little campaigns and superficiality.

I was in two minds whether to post photographs of several previous generations of my lot on facebook, aware that I was partly basking in the military glow of others, but here's an oldie; my great grandfather. Having been rejected by the Argylls (A&HS) in the mid 80's when I was on the bounce from being made redundant off the North sea rigs, I have sometimes thought that I should have had another try. But the army's commission board's assessment was right, in so far that they didn't think that I was sufficiently committed; and I guess they were right, otherwise I would have had another crack at it.
But why, I hear you ask have I time to engage in all this navel gazing? Its because I've done not a jot of exercise since the Drighlington 10 (see previous entry). I would add that the results from this event have yet to appear anywhere. The organisers need to give themselves a blidy good talking too. This is in spite of repeated texts. Lets face it, I have little else to do but hassle the organiser.
On the home front medical matters are still not fully diagnosed, but I think (and to a degree, hope) that tests will reveal and confirm a tear in my adductor muscle, the one in the abdomen you can feel when you try and do sits ups. I have only myself to blame I fear, trying to force matters and a big gear on the cycling front. However, the lying around giving myself lots of RnR has not made a bit of difference. The bikes gather more dust. The trainers continue to curl up in the corner of the cupboard like stale bread left too long. I am in a sportsmans limbo. I will be demoted back to a white belt at karate soon if I don't get a shifty on.
Once I know the score I can make plans accordingly, whether than be selling the bikes and taking up guitar or chess or booking myself in for some theatre action, you know, the surgical type.  It's frustrating, but we're not quite at the Terry Jacks stage (goodbye to you, my trusted friends...)
I did breach the exercise embargo last month in 'Feldy when I met up with the lads, but other than a rapid 25 miles on two wheels, its been literally pedestrian.  I guess you can't really count an ascent of Schiehallion (the fairy mountain) or long walks in the slate islands (Seil, Easdale and Luing) or even a wandering circumnavigation of Kerrera as sporting triumphs. Power of Ten aren't interested. Neither can you count the short jog to the pub a week ago, although I felt mightily better on my return.  I even had to stand and watch from the sidelines at the recent Amsterdam marathon. I adopted the stoic and sanguine approach.
I'm hoping to get the benefit of all this new fangled medical technology and will soon be on the road to report future sporting malarkey. The season up to July was very promising and I should be grateful for my fitness early in the year; but physical dormancy is a challenge. It also doesn't make for an interesting or busy sporting blog!   

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Drighlington 10

I ordered a new saddle on Monday after doing some research about sit bones, numbness and time trialling. The first principal of 'testing' as its commonly called by the velominati is that unless your comfortable, you can't focus on optimising your ride. The saddle was an ebay special, a seconds, but still fifty quid. Still about half the normal price. Nothing is cheap in the world of cycle racing...never has been. I fitted my new saddle and the latex tubes and Continental tyres to the bike on the Friday and loaded the bike it into the car. The forecast for Saturday was grim for Yorkshire with heavy rain. Predictable.
I arrived at Brotherton Hall, picked up my number and drove the 4 miles to the start. There was hardly anyone else around. It was a filthy day, loads of surface water and quite dark considering it was Saturday afternoon.  I was going to warm up with my rollers, but opted to sit in the car and stare out the window at the rain. There were a couple of magpies sheltering under an umbrella by the side of the road.
I had remembered to bring my rear light this week, but initially it wouldn't work and it took some recharging using the car cigarette lighter socket before it would flash. I reckoned to ride a busy road in Ferrybridge in the pouring rain without good lights would be madness. As I pulled on my velotoze over my shoes, I knew at least my socks and shoes would stay dry for the ride.
I rode up and down the street for a couple of minutes and then it was time to go. I was number 34. I had driven the course before I had parked up. It was very wet, quite busy and full of long drags. As I got into my stride I knew the first half was generally uphill. There were 4 roundabouts to tackle on the route out and this certainly slowed progress. It would be pointless to skid off after travelling 2 hours to this gig. The tyres are devoid of tread, were thin and were pumped up to 80psi. Wet oil on a wet road is an ambush waiting to happen. As the occasional car came by, it threw up bucket loads of roadwater, but I was wet already. It's not so much about being wet on a bike, but its the cold that makes riding miserable. I was a little wary of water filled pot-holes along the course and tried to take a line away from puddles which often drew me into the centre of the lane.
I reached the turn in 14:07. That was a minute down on where I wanted to be, so it meant I would have to bury myself on the return leg. There was no repeat of the previous weeks discomfort on the saddle front. That allowed me to concentrate on the riding. I was back through the various roundabouts before long and glancing at my garmin mounted on the bike stem, I had less than 30 seconds to reach the finish line which I could see out of the wet safety glasses I was wearing. The objective was to crack 26 minutes. The fall-back was to beat 26:11, recorded a fortnight ago in Bishopton. Returning to the Hall with my number, I was pleased to see my time given as 25:59. Phew, that was tight, but mission accomplished...until next year.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Stirling SVTTA 30

We crept out of the Weem B&B on Sunday with the bike in the back. It was quiet and the sky pewter grey but it was dry. Only the ravens cackled in the nearby trees. A red squirrel hung off the bird table.
We made our way over the high road by Amulree through Crieff as the rain started. It was light and sporadic by the time we got to Cambusbarron near Stirling. The event was the Scottish Vets 30 mile time trial. Two laps of an A class road, turning at roundabouts at either end of the strip. Flat as a pancake.
I was off second, at 9:02am. I signed on and spoke to the organisers as to how best to get to the start which was around a mile and a half away. I dug my gear out and realised that I had forgot my rear light. Having a red flashing rear light is usually required in time trials. A good back light that lights up your buttox like a Christmas Tree in Times Square is no bad thing given the questionable quality and attitude of some drivers. After locating a cheap rear light in the boot, I managed to fix it to to the seat post using my wifes hair bobbles. Very Heath Robinson. Some much for aerodynamics, I thought!
I wrestled with the new ‘velotoze’, tight rubber overshoes that keep the water out and apparently are supposed to improve aerodynamics. Twelve quid. Cheap at half the price. I was ready to go. At the start line things were not quite fully formed, with one lad sent running to get a start-sheet and one of the starters advising that we wouldn’t be held up before the start, and then promptly stepping forward to hold me up as I prepared to set off.
With no appearance on the first rider, I was first off. I got into my stride and got up to speed. There was hardly any wind which was a blessing and I was soon turning at the roundabout under the watchful gaze of two marshalls.  The tarmac was mostly smooth with only a couple of patched sections and some bumpy stuff at a road junction. I tried to concentrate on holding my upper body still and focus on delivering as much power to my spindly thights as I could. I was soon passing the start and on the way past for the first time was slightly smug in the fact that I was nearly halfway through my ride and the riders starting had all that pain to come. I had to slow at the second turn for traffic and began the second lap. I was experiencing some discomfort in the under-carriage area with more than a little creeping numbness. Normally on the bike I tend to be quite animated, always off and on the saddle. This discipline of holding the same position for several miles seemed to be affecting circulation, and not in a good way. One or two late starters came past me between 20 and 25 miles and their smooth, powerful and compact style reminded me of what I was trying to achieve. Continuing to push a big gear my discomfort was becoming more pronounced and I was relived to finish after 1hr:21minutes, some way behind Carlos Riise who won in 1hr:07minutes. 
Mrs Mac was in attendance at the finish. I struggled to dismount. My hips were in a bad way. Temporarily incapacitated, it was murder in the car park trying to get my gear off as the rain began again. I was reluctant to sit down when I got back into the hall in case I couldn’t get up again. Surveying the results board, Marg couldn’t quite believe that I was 4th last, casting a surprised eye over the field of crusty old lads who despite their decrepitude, still somehow remembered how to exculpate 24 and 25 miles per hour. I was even beaten by a mustochio who admitted to just getting back from a double hip replacement. That's how I felt. 
We returned to Weem for lunch at Eilean Creagan. Having finished Flowers for Algernon, a short but enjoyable if a little dark, read by Daniel Keyes, I recovered slowly in the Water Mill café in Aberfeldy in the late afternoon after purchasing William Boyds latest novel ‘The Dreams of Bethany Melmoth’ in the book shop upstairs. Previously I really enjoyed 'Any Human Heart' and 'Restless', both superb novels; but conversely, I failed to get through Brazzaville Beach.
A beer in 'the Fountain' later and an early bed saw me up and out on a recovery ride on Monday Morning up toward Glen Lyon past Fortingall.  Was it really the birthplace of Pontius Pilate? Who would make that up?

Friday, 31 August 2018

Dooleys Race of Truth

I drove up early on Sunday morning for the Dooleys 10 mile time trial. The cycle event termed by some in a jingoistic stylee as ‘the race of truth’ . The event had a capacity field of 120 riders. It was over-subscribed and I had initially failed to get in, but a little cajoling of the event organiser by email coupled with a few drop-outs saw me secure number 87. I was off at 10:27am. It was a two and a half hour drive and the roads were empty. It was grey and overcast, but dry. I scanned the car radio for something other than religious programmes, all organs and reverential hushed tones. I settled for a cd by Canada's best kept secret rock band; back to the 80’s: Saga. I rocked past Ecclefechan. The range of toms, snares and cymbals the dashboard has to offer were surprisingly extensive. It began to rain. By the time I got to Bishopton, it was wet. Thankfully the wind wasn’t too bad. 

The community centre car park, race HQ, was quite busy with much to-ing and fro-ing.  There were several riders on their rollers, doing the warming up thing. I got my number and after driving the course, I still had an hour to wait. I sauntered to the coffee van and ordered an Americano.  Wandering back to the car in the cool drizzle, I realised I had entered the land of funny fashions.  Strange Gandalph-esque pointy helmets, solid disc wheels, unfeasibly narrow tyres inflated to an inch of their lives and half of them so pumped up, they should be licenced and require deflating by the bomb squad.  Let’s not mention the one piece skin-suits, so tight that the riders can’t stand up straight without breaking into a Bee Gees number.

As I supped my coffee, I noticed a new arrival. He was regaled in the livery from the Perth United Club. He walked briskly into race HQ and shortly afterwards came out with his number attached…number 86. So he was one minute in front of me. He looked the part; young, lithe, fancy matt black canyon frame, Zipp wheels and all the bells and whistles. He just looked fast. He mounted the bike and took off for his warm up. The start was 2 miles from HQ so after digging out the new time trial bike, I adjusted the saddle and fitted my rear red light (obligatory), I pedalled out to the start.

The course is a 5 mile out and back dual carriageway affair along a flattish stretch between Bishopton and Port Glasgow.  Some early competitors were already finishing. They looked tired and wet. They all looked faster than me. A few riders had punctured in the wet conditions, the rainwater washing fresh sharp gravel onto the road.

I sat behind number 85. He was counted down and set off, winding up a big gear. The starters who comprised two old crusty lads sitting below the railway bridge then turned and shouted ‘number 86’…..’number 86’…..It was a ferris bueller moment……’number 86’ ….anyone... anyone: number 86 wasn’t there. I sat on the top tube astride the bike listening to this and thinking ‘well, I know he’s here; I’ve seen him with his fast wheels and stealth frameset. But there was no sign and after 30 seconds they gave up and began the clarion call….’number 87’….’number 87’. That was me.


I was held up by the starter and readied myself. Then, at 30 seconds to go, number 86 appeared on my shoulder. A staccato conversation with the starters revealed he’d missed his slot. ‘Not my problem’ I mused as the countdown was nearing completion. I gripped the bars and turned on the Garmin with 5 to go…. ‘3,2,1,Go’ . I was off. Cutting left at the roundabout, I adopted the familiar ‘tuck’ position.

The new machine was going well. The time trial handlebars, brake levers and gear levers cost a good few quid to buy and can be fiddly to put on your road bike, so I decided to fish around for a second hand time trial bike, rather than buy the separate components. It is (so far) my only concession to joining the fashionistas in the race of truth, the race to shave seconds off your P.B.s.

My feet were wet after 2 minutes as the spray shot up from the front wheel and the rain continued to fall. I nearly lost control up a short and rough pot-holed drag at Finlaystone, but recovered and punched the pedals hard, rhythmically with little piston thighs. At 3 miles I heard the whoosh, whoosh sound of a disc wheel behind me and Lynsey Curran came past. At 6 miles just after I avoided the broken down Audi on the road, I had a bad case of déjà vu as another rider came past. He looked like number 86. He was number 86. The starters must have relented and let him take number 89’s place, presumably after number 89 failed to appear. Saps.

I buried myself to the end and my thighs were creaking down the slip road where a small gazebo and 3 other marshals sat with clipboards. ‘Not a great spectator sport’ I thought as I caught my breath around the bottom roundabout. My quads were like rock.  I made my way back to the HQ and changed before handing my number in and looking at the results board where they already had all the results up. 26m:11secs. 71st out of 83 starters. An average of 23 mph.  ‘Not too bad, considering’ I thought, but definitely some work to do to match the winning time of Adam Wild in 19:40. Ridiculously fast. 

It was scones and tea back at Glasgow Harbour where I met up with speedy Joe and boyfriend, and then it was home down the A74 in the rain. This weekend, I have a 30 miler at Stirling. I’ve made more concessions dropping in ‘on-line’ to buy some new go faster tyres and latex tubes, a smooth black stealth helmet, without the spikey bit, mind, and some velotoze, which are tight overshoes. That should buy me a few more seconds!  Likely to leave me bankrupt at this rate. Bankrupt and exhausted....!!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Brambling at Pease Bay

Friday arrived and that heralded the big ride weekend to North Berwick (and back). Its a trip of around 105 miles. Not to be sniffed at! I had been watching the forecast with more than a passing interest over the past few days. It was forecast dry and breezy on the Friday, but the Sunday was looking bleak. However, the forecast can be well off sometimes, so as we kicked off from Lidls where I shoved 6 cereal bars into my already swollen rear pockets, I focused on matters in hand. We cracked on at high speed up through Warkworth to Bamburgh. My Garmin announced each 5 mile split and it occurred to me we were motoring on. Steve, my partner in crime, had taken receipt of a new Willier road bike the previous week. His sorry back catalogue of broken bikes and crippled components was, hopefully, a thing of the past. On the way up we took a couple of wrong turns, one of which threw us back onto the A1. We spent 3 miles at 22 mph riding hard up the hard shoulder being kissed by Coaches and goosed by HGV's before the side road at Scremerston beckoned. That marked the 50 mile mark and we stopped for soup and cake.
The café is next to the Go Outdoors place and is warm, reasonably priced and the waiting staff worked attentively. We cracked on after the half hour stop and passed through Ayton. A small dear ran across the road in front of us, chased out of the nearby field by a combine.  Hitting it at speed on a downhill could have been nasty. After Coldingham we started the long climb to the wind farm. It began to feel like a cross-headwind and progress definitely waned.  The chat became sporadic. Pease Bay came and on the short climb out from the caravan park, I found myself unable to resist the plump brambles at the side of the road. After a veritable fruitfest, I wiped the purple slaver off my chops and we cracked on, stopping again at Dunbar for a juice stop and it was a touch over 6 hours for the 105 miles into North Berwick.
On Saturday, we elected to ride into Edinburgh along the coastal route rather than watch the footie with the other 2 lads who had driven up.  Steve was feeling the previous nights beer and we toiled into a stiff headwind all the way to Portie, where we stopped outside two cafes that were heaving. We sat outside beside the sand. A dog walkers paradise. It was soup and tea again before the speedy wind assisted ride back and another 40 miles in the bag.
We took in the Chinese restaurant in on the 2nd night out in the town.  I slept soundly until I was woken in the early morning by the rain and wind. The wind had turned to a north easterly and it was with a little reluctance that we donned our gear and hit the road at 9ish.  I was saturated after 10 minutes. The clag was down and the snails out on the road en-masse. It must be grim at times being a professional road racer in stage races having to wake up to weather like that and knowing you have 150 kilometres in front of you. The rain never really let up down the road, with us being kept moist in a persistent drizzle and grey sea haar until Seahouses. The handlebar tape gets wet and never dries off and climbing is a little more tricky with the hoods of the brake levers slippy. You never really dry out. By Lesbury there was some unpleasant chaffing to report, so we stopped at the co-op where I invested in some aloe vera lip balm and applied a good dollop to the affected parts. Steve dragged me back the last 10 miles after I lost the will to pedal around Felton. But all in all, a big weeks total for the bike.
Regrettably I picked up my emails on my return and have found out that I didn't manage to get into next Sundays time trial at Erskine, so I'll consider what else is on and see how it shapes up next weekend.   

Monday, 13 August 2018


I'm just back from an early morning 20 miler. Having done me amdramstring in a fortnight ago on the track, I have been back on two wheels and knocked up a couple of 120 mile-weeks. Sweet. But the weather has taken a turn for the worse since I dug out my trusty steeds after cutting my way through the garage. I was nicely sautéed (in wet and warm conditions) after yesterdays solo 40 miler during which I witnessed the pinging and ejection of one of my flat spokes. Sheer speed or simply metal fatigue? More like rider fatigue. I wondered why the wheel had begun to lose it shape. The replacement spokes seem a tad expensive.

When you're a bikie (and you can be a bikie and a runner), there are several 'do's and don'ts' which should be followed; An extensive list of these cycling commandments has apparently been drawn up by the wise lycra clad elders. My attention was drawn to said list by a mate on strava after I loaded up my latest ride.  The link appears to be all good humoured stuff - it can be found here  Apparently going out in the rain when most other sun loving types are huddled away inside their dry warrens stroking their whiskers is Rule 9 and makes me a 'baddass'.  I stopped for a coffee after 20 miles (mind, no cake - note Rule 91. Actually I would have welcomed some fruit cake but I only went out with £2) -  I was also dangerously close to breaking Rule 56 - thankfully the village hall café at Capheaton on a wet Sunday morning were not offering lattes or soya milk refreshments!

I have been trying to introduce a little speed training into the routine. With this in mind, I rode out to Cramlington last Wednesday (late afternoon) and attempted the 10 mile time trial course to see what shape I'm in. The course is a 2 lap affair with a fast start and all on dual carriageway; not much scenery here, but then time triallists spend 90% of their time looking down at the tarmac and trying to keep their upper body rigid. My opinion of the black stuff on this course is that it could be smoother and the manhole covers leave something to be desired. There's always the token numpty some way along the route trying to get his vehicle as close to you as possible. With a perky westerly, I completed the slog in 26:42 which was not too bad, considering. However, my enthusiasm waned late in the day.  I had clearly over done it. I felt over-tired at dinner, had no time for port or cheese and took myself to bed at 9pm collapsing on top of the bed and coming to at 2am. 

In order to give my training some purpose, I have entered a couple of time trials. My season opener at Erskine in a fortnight will need to be in the 25' minute bracket if I am to come away with any dignity. Finding a minute is a tall order though. Aunt Aggie simply grunted when she heard this. Spread-eagled over her Meccano set in the lounge, she said I can draft behind her mobility scooter if needs be.  Its one of the last 10 mile time trials of the season, but I'm a late starter. For good measure I have shoe horned in a 30 miler early in September on a 'rolling' course between Stirling and somewhere ending in -uchty.  I stand a good chance of being last unless I can devise a method of getting some discreet battery power into my down tubes (not a euphemism) and/or getting my hands on half a pound of horse steroids.  Aunt Aggie says she 'knows someone', but I suspect that means she'll come back from the church coffee morning with a handful of peppermints in a brown paper bag. She's already offered me a cocktail of whatever she's taking. I declined the offer. Her 'special mix' might not increase my speed, but I would be guaranteed of having no recollection whatsoever of what I did over the weekend.  

I should easily deliver 200 miles this week as its the annual pilgrimage to North Berwick (round trip on the bikes is 160 miles). I will need to dig out the winter gear (Rule 21) as the evenings are getting cooler and the rain keeps coming.  I'd like to have another crack at the Tour de Trossachs in October, but one thing at a time. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Grin and Bare it

Back of the field & Pistol Pete in the rain (thanks Pam)
I missed the track meet on the 16th, but I made the following one on the 30th. The organisers vary the events and the nearest event I could find to fit my new self stylee profile of a middle distance bald Alan Wells was the 800mm. How hard can 2 laps of the track be? I'm not a complete novice in this event. Having ran it three times previously over the last 13 years, I have faithfully delivered a 2:20 every time. Would it be too much to ask to manage another 2:20 well into my 50's? Well, I'll not keep you hanging on (in the words of Kim Wilde): I was well off the pace.
It was breezy with heavy showers. There was a large field of runners. There were 8 heats. I was in heat seven which meant there were some fast guys and gals there. I found myself drawn in lane 5 next to Hughes of NS poly. As I haven't been doing any track training with my spikes, I elected to go with my new Saucony Jazz's. I took my place in the lane and cast my eyes across the wet track, the surface half submerged in puddles of rippling water. I wondered to myself if I could skid off the track. Not likely. The gun went and off we went. I fund myself near the back and stayed there until the beginning of the second lap when I passed Mcluskey and then at 600m, I took the long way round Hughes. I could feel my face gurn badly as I hit the final straight. The rain was heavy again, but I worked on my facial expressions and leg extension and fended off a fast finishing mcluskey with an admirable turn of speed. It was a 2:33, but what could I reasonably expect without any speedwork this summer?  It was too wet for a warm down and frankly I didn't feel that I had expended any excessive energy.
However, my hamstring is sore tonight after 6 steady miles through the woods which have become the recent refuge of the little burgers they call horse flies. 'That's why I don't do the track', I reminded myself as I walked the last kilometre home.  Looks like I'm back on the bike for a few weeks. That's timely, in a way as I have been looking at doing a few time trials and Hill Climbs early Autumn.

Monday, 23 July 2018

The heat, the flies....

I've been struggling with the heat and the prolonged hot spell we're having. Probably like a good number of folk, I like a warm day, don't get me wrong. Sometimes a nice couple of sunny weeks is just the ticket. But the watering can is knocking on the door asking for Sanctuary and I find myself closing the curtains at mid-day in the absence of my Mediterranean shutters. Someone cheery in a flowery dress on the news this morning was pointing to a number that was over 30. FFs.
The running has been going steady and last Monday I ventured out with the club for a session. Panning myself around a 9 mile circuit, however, does not really fit in with the new short distance specialist image I am trying to cultivate. It took me 2 days to recover from said exertion. Instead, I have been dropping down to 4 mile steady sessions, the intensity of which are dictated by how I feel after a mile or so (usually hot).
It was the Sunderland 5k ten days ago with its ski slope start, a faster 5k course you'd be hard pushed to find. I was in the first race and aiming to beat my Vicky Park Parkrun time in March of 18:45. Around 150 vets and ladies galloped down the wooded lane and then settled into a grumpy trample around the flat 2km circuit around yon big pond. It was pretty bloomin hot and after passing Holt and Bennett Jnr, I tried to make some impression on training buddy Walker, but I ran out of juice and commitment in the last kilometre and was presented with a slice of summary justice when the Holt Bennett tandem came passed me and continued to move away ahead. I nevertheless careered onto the finish like the frothing racehorse loon that I am and delivered a halogenetic 18:36 which took, as they say, every bit of my sinew to deliver.
This weeks been steady with only 22 miles on the road and 45 on the bike, not forgetting, of course a weekly trip to the dojo. I have been the toast of the house however for my splendid efforts in clearing out the garage which has never been a happy place and has been a tipping ground for memorabilia and such like for many years. As I sifted through the detritus and debris I found a small group of lost soldiers. They were reclining in the undergrowth there having a smoke. Thankfully, they had no ammo left. I always thought I could hear voices at night below the bedroom floor.
I think I've been booked into a couple of half marathons later this year by Mrs Mac. She can barely find the energy to run after long shifts at work, but it doesn't stop her getting carried away on these new fangled websites for the lycra endowed. I should break the news of my new short distance image to her soon.
I have checked the forecast for today....pheeuw, more of the same. Is that the watering can I can hear again at the door...!?     

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Nibbling the White Line

Thanks to CM & the Clan-facebook
I wasn't sure if I should run at Monkton in the vets mile track race. I had a number for the Bridges of Tyne 5m tonight which I had transferred from Miss L. who had entered previously but couldn't make it. However, an email from the organiser yesterday sealed the deal when he said I hadn't got in to the road race. I was 4 days late with the transfer, so it was a no-go.  Total bo%£cks.
Anyway, that left me free to bury myself in a 100% effort in order to secure a sub 5:30 on the track. Easy target? I had a big extended family day out on Saturday and my previous weeks mileage was just steady miles. No speedwork whatsoever.   Why should beating a PB by easy? I think not.
In the process of getting to the track, I misplaced my phone. I hunted around the car when I arrived at the track. Time was getting on, however, so I locked up and trooped along to the little clubhouse of Jarrow & Hebburn, Steve Crams old club.
I joined the queue and signed up for the event.
There was quite a good turnout and I found out I was in the 5th heat of 6 races. I thought there was a good chance of running in a group, which might help with pacing. I donned my Nikes and did some  stretching. Although it was dry and warm, there was a decent breeze on the back straight and I wasn't at all sure it was a fast night. No matter how many times I rooted through my bag, though, there was still no sign of the phone. A wee jog back to the car. Nope.
It was soon time to line up and I was 3rd from the inside. There were around 10 in the race and we were under starters and ...bang...we were off.  I tucked in behind Mr G with 3 others ahead. We were round lap 1 in 73 seconds (or so the bloke at the line shouted). On the back straight the 3 in front were moving away and Carla M. from N Shields moved up just as I was thinking about going across the gap, so I moved onto her shoulder. She was moving well but I wasn't sure about the pace. It was fast, but I was reluctant to move to the front of the group and sat there for 2 more laps. With 200 to go, I moved out and went. I could feel someone behind me and knew I wasn't alone, but ploughed on to the line. The fact that I could attempt a sprint meant I hadn't run this as well as I might.
The result was 5:44. How could I have lost 14 seconds from my run a fortnight ago?
But we weren't quite I began to jog on, I was called back by an official and politely read the riot act about 'nibbling' the inner edge of the white line of the track. Next time a DQ was on the cards. I nodded. Disappointed with the time, I was probably more disappointed with my lack of drive in letting someone else do all the work. Resolving to put in the graft next time, I said my goodbyes to Mr G and took off home.
I caught sight of the lads road training group coming back from the Steads as I got back into 'Peth. Maybe I would have been better doing a long training session?!
The phone was in the toilet. Plonker.
Giving myself a hard time for my poor track run, I put my trainers back on and promptly knocked out a 10 miler round the lanes. Must try harder, Mr Mac. Slacker.


Sunday, 24 June 2018

Got My New Shoes On

I’m going through a bit of a salad phase at the mo. This means a salad of some type most lunchtimes. If I can apply this to the evenings as well and ditch the snacks and beer, the flab may begin to drop off again. Having been down to 62kg a couple of years ago, I might have looked like Skeletors hungry brother, but the running didn’t half improve. I positively flew up them there hills.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit thin on the training front. However, it didn’t stop me eyeing up an open one mile event at Jarrow in South Tyneside. There was fixture congestion on Saturday with both Windy Gyle and Earsdon Hill races on, but a flat 4 laps round the running track sounded much more attractive.

I was in Newcastle on Wednesday evening on taxi duty so engineered a short run around the quayside. The Sunshine 5K Run was on. All well supported and for a good cause, but the numbers were a bit sparse. During the course of my 3 mile jog, I shoe-horned in a mile effort round a couple of blocks of flats and clocked 5:55 for the mile, so the target for Saturday was a sub 6 which I thought should be easily deliverable. A quick scan of the power of ten rankings suggested that for my age group, this would put me into the top 50 in the UK. I would add that there was probably on 50 or so running the distance so its not a 'big ask' as they say. 

I packed my spikes and a towel, in case I worked up a lather. I donned my new club top. The Committee have acquiesced to the club name and town coat of arms being put on the top which has really freshened up the look. Having not run in my spikes for years, I’m not sure why I packed them. Wearing spikes for a race without first training in them is a recipe for rapid achilles destruction. The sun was up and a gentle breeze blowing down the home-straight welcomed me and my coffee as I arrived at the stadium. I caught up with Mr G and Mr B and Pam. After getting my number and paying my £3, I sat down to change my shoes only to discover my trusty lunar-glides were still sitting on a chair at home. It was either the spikes or the Salomon trail shoes.  Step forward Pam offering her pink lunar-glides. Being a metrosexual sort, I nodded and eagerly took my inserts out of the Salomons and tried them on – a perfect fit. I was cutting a fine figure in my new shoes….Woke up cold one Tuesday I'm looking tired and feeling quite sick, I felt like there was something missing in my day to day life...
I asked Mr B for advice on running a 4 lapper. He thought for a moment then said that I should concentrate on lap 3. Lap 4 would take care of itself. I warmed up in my usual animated fashion on the back-straight before taking my place on the line with 10 others. There were a handful of girls from Jesmond Joggers. The bloke from Blaydon asked me what time I was going for and I replied ‘somewhere under 6 minutes’. He seemed disappointed and replied that he wouldn’t be able to use me as a pacer. The cheek of it!

At the start I tucked in behind a Gateshead vet for a lap. One of the Jesmond girls was out in front but I thought she'd started too quickly. I was chomping at the bit though and burst out of Gateshead's shadow after the first lap when the timekeeper said ‘87’ (seconds). I overhauled the slowing Jesmond runner soon afterwards. The second lap was about 70 seconds and the third maybe a bit more. I was out on my own but keeping pace broadly with the Blaydon bloke who was 100m ahead. I think the timekeeper said 4:07 after the third lap. The last lap required a bit of wellie but instead I ran like I was wearing a pair and had to dig deep to cross the line in 5m:30secs.  I caught my breath, cooled down and returned the shoes to Pam. A very reasonable first attempt at this distance, but well off my best 1500m time of 4:32 – mind that was about 12 years ago. A bit of track work and even more lettuce should see me creeping into the low 20’s. A bit of application is required. I’ve got the Bridges of Tyne 5m and the Sunderland 5k.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Righteous Dude at the Black Rock 5 (2018)

It’s difficult to come up with an original report for the Black Rock 5. As I trawled through the results from previous years, it shows I’ve run this 5 mile beach race on-and-off since 2006. That’s a whopping 12 years with probably around 7 or 8 appearances. My times have all been (un)comfortably below the 30 minute mark with the fastest a slow 26 minuter. I must have been keen then. This year, as I lined up a little way behind the Stuweb chip timing pads, I eyed the tarmac rising up steadily ahead. For some it would be their first hill: For me, it was my runway to Nirvana. ‘Was 28 minutes possible?’ I mused. Maybe 29 would do. I was in ‘the zone’. Staring fixedly at the long stretch of road to the top where the crowd was gathering I jabbed a finger imperiously at my quarry; Was I going to give it 'one hundred and ten percent?' Hell Yeah.....Bueller.....Bueller......Bueller ? 
With 5 minutes to go I glimpsed the young Donald boys from the Hawks stretching their legs at the front. ‘Not much spare on them lads’ I thought. Was that the Perth runner Fotheringham next to me? The guy who made the pace with Aitken and left me behind at the 2016 Tay Ten? 'Is he running well? Maybe, Maybe not.'. Two minutes to go and as the crowd condensed, people pushed in. The viscosity of this mass of athletic humanity (1000 of them), were busting a gut for release, like a bottle of coke that’s been violently shaken, then dropped on its cap. One minute to go and there was a lot of bouncing around and pogo-ing on the spot;  Thirty seconds and I was checking my garmin for the tenth time, another visual scan on the double tied laces and …lift off….Houston, we are good to go and off we went. The cork was out and bouncing off the ceiling.

Finding my pace early, it was warm with a gentle easterly breeze. The throng began to thin and sort itself out. I had entered last year but been injured and, as I careered down the high street toward the beach, the crowd shouting and joking with the spectacle presented in front of their eyes, I thought ‘take it easy big boy, at least you’re not injured’.  Some way back, Missus Mac was fighting it out at somewhere at the back of the field.   

In no time at all we were hitting the beach. The long lensed cameras pointed from left and from right like mini-daleks and you couldn’t expectorate without the risk of hitting someone with a camera phone pointed at you. Do people not remember things anymore? Is memory going the same way as Woolworths and gobstoppers?  Do folk ever manage to look at all their captured images? So many questions..... anyone.....anyone.....anyone?
'Ahh, there they are…the 3 bridges and the rock of doom ahead'.

We were suddenly into water and then onto flat sand, then more water. Wet shoes, then a mile of ‘Riddle of the Sands’, tramping over baby dunes, a filmscape for a Borrowers production of Lawrence of Arabia. The camels would have been tiny.

The sweat began to drip from my reversed cap. I wondered whether I could catch the little group ahead before the turn; I wondered whether the little group behind me was going to swallow me up. The rock and the piper came in good time. I grabbed the bum bag I had strapped to my waist with my phone and wallet in it and hoisted it up as the knee high water lapped at my gusset, the splashes swashing the bottom of my vest. 'Could have done without the baggage'! Out of the water, I worked hard to catch and then tuck in behind a tall runner from some leisure club, all black and red decals. However, as we made our way back unconvincingly toward Kinghorn, I imagine that he decided I was drafting and began to weave. Maybe he was tired.  ‘What’s he on?’ I thought, indignant that someone had the audacity to try and force me to the front like some cheap velodrome rider. As I reluctantly came to the front, I initially feigned exhaustion, blowing hard out of all orifices in an exaggerated fashion and pulling a twisted deviant gurn. However, my theatricals were only a cue for a girl from Central to cruise past and I attempted to latch onto her, my would-be exhaustion suddenly forgotten. She pulled out ahead of me in confident fashion and by the time I came off the beach, she was off and away. 

We were in slow motion as we pitter-pattered up the penultimate climb. What on another day was a slack wee drag up from the seafront, today was K2’s big brother, and all the Sherpas were laughing at me. Swearing quietly to myself for being so old and slow, I crested the top of the drag and, at last, began to pick up speed. With the last quarter of a mile ahead , I eased into second gear. I glanced at my garmin and it was turning 27 minutes. I needed to control my breathing and find 3rd gear. I managed this just in time as a couple of youths came past and the final turn under the railway viaduct came and I had to slam my legs back into first gear to get up the pyramidal grizzly peak that is the final hill and the finish line.  I was aware of my heart slipping out my arse as I tried to go more than 2 miles an hour to the finish line and there it was. Another sub 30 (28:48) and 5th V50.  Why do I do it? High on sandy endorphins, I collected my water, banana and bottle of beer.
Missus Mac appeared after a wee while and was well up the field and certainly not last. It was fish and chips and a couple of beers at the Auld House Pub before bedtime. Not so much craic with the locals this year, but there you go and it was back to the campsite for a night in the tent.  It was breakfast in Burntisland and a few pages of Tim Moores highly entertaining ’Gironimo’ before we commenced the trip south. All good stuff.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Helensburgh 10k

As I dragged my sorry torso, slapping spider arms and spindly legs around the final corner into Hermitage Academy, my eyes fell on the race clock in its understated grey box perched next to the finishing banners and blue and white blow up arch. The first two numbers were ‘38’. As my lungs continued to blow like an engine on empty, a pair of bellows with a hole in the middle,  my eyes continued to move right to see another two numbers. They said ‘38’ as well….but the second set of numbers kept moving….39….40…. I was nearly at the line but had to dig deep. Desperate measures. Run, Forest. Crossing in 38:41 I fell forward and gasped in lungful's of air. I wiped the sweat off my head and nose. That was tougher than it should have been.

On reflection, I was really pleased with my run, all things considered. My technique had crumpled somewhere around the 5k mark, as I peered at my garmin. Running along Argyle Street the roads were on ‘soft close’, the occasional car creeping along between runners. We were in the middle of the road. The cherry blossoms that lined the unlikely boulevard were, in any other circumstances, beautiful.  I had no time to appreciate their feminine beauty. I was on a mission.

I have family in Helensburgh and used an excuse of a visit to justify an entry and overnight stay for the first of the Babcocks Series's 10k’s.  The new school, with all its bells and whistles, was the race HQ and there was plenty of space to park and toilets for all. The youngster appeared from Raintown to offer support, but was miffed that the tea, coffee and cake stall wasn’t opening until after the race….think they missed a trick there.   

I had a thick throat, but otherwise was buoyed up by my new mantra of self-management in terms of my weekly training and racing.  You have to have the right mindset before races. I am mainly my own coach now, although I still like nipping down to the club when I can. I keep it varied. I have had a couple of good races in recent months, albeit that they are short and relays. A 10k is a step up in distance.

The first mile was a six minute affair with a drag up through a housing estate before a steady drop onto the mean streets of drizzle town. There was quite a bit of support out for the local Dumbarton and Helensburgh runners, and I fell in between 2 girls, one of which was running for the prison service, the other was wearing a yellow top.  They both looked strong. Both had good technique and every time someone else passed me, I latched onto their stride, their heels, anything. I tried to copy them to get me through another kilometre.  The periodic barks from the marshalls was like something from Poltergiest….’keep to the left….don’t look at the light, child….’.

A wee dog on a lead had a go at me as I mounted the pavement at 7k and the shock gave me a little adrenaline jolt but it wasn’t enough and I eventually lost touch of the two girls in the last 2 km; However I clocked in 67th and 4th vet (O50) and delivered a ‘well below my target sub40’. I also won a spot prize - I found a great tome of ‘100 years of Shettleston Harriers’ along with my Tunnocks log (not a metaphor) in my medal bag. Not sure if I also got a pair of socks or not.  The youngster flicked through it, raised her eyebrows and said ‘its all men and there aren’t even any colour photos in it; typical.'

This serious racing stuff is punishing and if undertaken, has to be approached with both caution, respect and commitment.  Either way, it’s the best 10k result for me since Dumbarton in 2016 when I was a lot lighter. Next up, the Black Rock 5. All aboard.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Elswick and NEMAA Relays

The need to blog has been bouncing around the bottom in recent weeks, but I've been tipped over the edge by a mixed metaphor and last nights late spring performance.
It was the North East Masters Relays. Lots of old folk trying to relive past glories. Evocative of a wrinkled Chariots of Fire where we're all white vests, awkward baggy flapping shorts and the Greek keyboard king giving it large in the wings on his stylophone (I imagine).
I had no intention of running this. It wasn't on my radar. I was busy doing other things in my mission impossible control centre. God, its dark in there.  All buzzing, clicks and L.E.D screens. Dangling from that rope all day really takes it out of you.

A weekend in London at the marathon watching the daughters gently frying to a brown crisp over 26 miles was enough for me to mooch backwards discreetly from competition. I had just got rid of my 3rd cold of the year, which is just ridiculous. I wonder if I am someone's experiment and they just haven't got round to telling me.

I was contacted last week and asked to run in the crack over 45's 'B' team. Considering I am a month off a decade older, I was both sanguine and flattered by the request (obviously of a desperate man). Being the reliable Johnny that I am, I confirmed my availability in the soon to be forgotten 3 man team.   By the end of the week, however, I had received an upgrade to the 'A' team after the withdrawal of Rob H pulling up at training with a recurrence of the hamstring thing. Not everyone had been taking it easy, it seems.

Happy with my sub 13 minute relay stint at the Easter Elswick Relays and a nearly sub-19 minute Parkrun in Southwick, I am in good shape. Don't count your chicklets, however. Work is doing its best to thwart my sterling efforts (thwart...there's a word you don't hear ever...what you call a person who tries to thwart you?... a thwart hog).  But I've now reached capacity and not taking any more work, I can find time to breath and blog and other things beginning with the letter B.

The NEMAA relays comprises three legs each 3k long (about 1.9mile) and twice round the Campbell Park in Monkton, south of the Tyne.  I arrived in the sun in good time and secured pole position starting first. Around 30 or 40 set off and I cracked around the first lap. I settled down toward the end of the lap and took shelter where I could where the park road was exposed. I even recall telling myself I was feeling pretty good, but that errant thought was parked soon after when I began to tire. The 5:55 first mile was not reproduced in the second lap and it was down to around 6:11 at the end.  I jogged around for a couple of laps afterwards and took some snaps. Not sure where we finished, but I thought I made some sort of contribution. In self-recognition it was chips at Wallsend afterwards, much more digestible than a medal. On the way back my thoughts turned to maybe re-joining the masters association so that I can run some track events in June and later summer. Before then there's the Black Rock and I am toying with the Helensburgh 10k next week. mmmm...maybe!

Monday, 26 March 2018

Aberfoyle Spring Week

After making light work of the Loch Katrine Marathon (see previous blog; wink, wink, say no more), we had a wind-down week in a wee cottage in Aberfoyle. It was 2012 since I previously put my feet up thereabouts, although I did ride the Tour De Trossachs there last October. The weather had, thankfully, improved and we didn't see a repeat of the bitter conditions witnessed on the previous Sunday.

Every day, I ran up through the gravel tree lined trails around the David Marshall Lodge, halfway up the Dukes Pass. Some days I went off-piste and got lost in the wooded kingdom. The runs were usually followed by a eggy based brunch. Not a big mileage week, but I was clocking around 1000ft of quality ascent every day and gulping in the stunning scenery together with bucket loads of fresh air.  Mrs Mac spent her time recovering from her 6 hour Katrine shuffle and read for much of the Week.

Spring, mild and wet weather arrived by the end of the week when the frogs were everywhere doing what they do at this time of  the year in the woodland ponds. Have they got no shame? On the bird front, they were pretty shy, but we caught sight of a Goldeneye in Loch Achray and a Goosander at the Lake of Menteith hotel where the venison burger proved too strong for me. Earlier, late on the Friday afternoon after the rain stopped, I came down like a sack of tatties on a slippy bend, but got up quickly in case someone was watching and having a wee laugh at my expense, a wee bitty schadenfreude up the Dukes Pass. Anybody had a wee bitty schadenfreude up the Dukes Pass...anyone...anyone...Bueller?

Saturday saw us pack up and clear off home via Glasgow. The sun was splitting the pavements (really), so we felt compelled to visit Victoria Park in Whiteinch where my granny used to live (not in the park) for the Park Run. Around 270 converged on the crocus laden grounds. The pond was busy with various swans and ducks.

I soon fell into step behind a high stepping female, an unattached Louise Dytch, after the first lap when the field began to thin out. We threaded our way around another 2 laps and I lagged a couple of seconds to her with 100 to go, but crossing the line in 18:48, I was pretty pleased to go sub 19 for ages. Checking the results, it looked like a big PB for her also. It was, I suppose, a perfect day for a Park run and the course is pretty flat.

We warmed down afterwards, meeting up with Speedy Joe for a salad and chips at the Hyndland Fox, a little bit of bohemia among the red brown sandstone tenements. Very nice. Very civilsed.

This week I'll be back in the gym, the first time for ages. I am enjoying the running and trying to ensure I manage myself to stay injury free. This, seemingly, involves trying no to over-do the interval stuff, being sensible with the long runs and rationing the races. That said, its the Elswick Relays in Newburn this Friday, so better not take my foot off the gas yet. I'll be in a new age category in June and was reminded by a running buddy that I should be aiming to make an impact.  Always happy to oblige! 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Loch Katrine Running Festival

I entered the Loch Katrine marathon in January after finding out there were no more places for the half marathon. Mrs Mac also put her name down. Aunt Aggie would have, but there were no crayons to hand.
I have trained very reasonably for the event over the last 2 months, managing myself and trying to ensure there were no heroics that led to injury, with a capital R.

Having heard this weekend’s forecast, however, I was resigned to the event being cancelled.  We travelled up regardless, on Saturday morning after Mrs Mac’s nightshift. The dark destroyer was in tow after her storming 3:04 and first British woman at Barcelona. We then collected Speedy Joe in Glasgow. She’s claiming injury and has been taking it easy after a full-on XC season. Although neither were racing, I was in good company.  They are both doing London.
After setting up camp in Aberfoyle, we ate big on the Saturday night. We woke this morning to snow. Around an inch all told. Strangely, the Facebook page for the event still appeared to be showing no change; The Alloa half was cancelled together with a handful of other races. ‘Surely it couldn’t be still on’, we asked ourselves.  

We piled our gear into the car and set off avoiding the Dukes Pass and drove via Callender. The event HQ was up and running at 8:30am when we arrived having picked our way through the snowy lanes of Kilmahog. Everything was green for go, even though everything was actually white with snow. There was a good inch of fresh powdery snow on the road along the loch.
With a wind chill of around minus 8, there was, not for the first time, much discussion about the choice of footwear and how many layers to wear.  About 60 runners set off for the marathon including me and Missus mac. I had checked with the organisers beforehand that, in the event of me getting too cold and copping out, I could cut the event short and do the half, 13 miles, rather than the 26.  Fine, they said. No problem.
I had opted for the Salomons on snowy tarmac, but was fairly sure I definitely didn’t want to run 26 miles on tarmac in them. The soles of my Nike Lunars, however, were as flat as the UK economy and useless for snow running. 
Running for the first few miles with a huge tailwind blowing me west, I overheated badly. I was sitting around 5th or 6th just after mile 6, when I spied the turnaround marker for the half marathon and as soon as you could say ‘that’ll do nicely’ I had implemented a swift no-nonsense volte-face and was soon heading back into the wind and snow flurries. As I ran on my own along the single track that wound its way through the woods all I could think of was '....good weather for the judderman'. Long slender icicles on the rocks. snow flurries. Occasional ravens, cawing. desolate. Beware the judderman, my dear, when the moon is fat. ......I was woken out of my hypothermic stupor by the half marathon and 10k runners who had set off half an hour later than the marathon runners. A small stampede of folk coming at me from all angles. I got plenty of ‘well dones’. ‘What on earth do people think I’ve achieved’ I wondered; the only runner from the marathon group to bail out and retreat like Napoleon being chased by the Cossacks.
I arrived back at HQ in 1:34 which was perfectly fine and explained myself to the perplexed marshalls. They recorded the time and I got a hat, medal and tea-cake. The 2 young athletes had a good jog around the place and we enjoyed a lunch of hot soup at the pier café. Mrs Mac returned some good while later and we had a good chat about this low key but very popular event in the Forth Inn after a wash and warm up.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Big Freeze

Everything has ground to a halt. The town is like a ghost town.
Not a Special in sight.

I was a little sceptical at the weekend about the forecasts of doom regarding the weather we were to expect during the week. However, for once, they've been right on the money.

It was already freezing cold on Saturday evening.  I know that because Virgin invited us off the warm train at Alnmouth. We had to alight in order to catch a connection. It was 8pm. We had been up Edinburgh getting some scrambled egg at the City Café and some culture at the Lyceum. A treat. It was no treat when we found out that the station was closed. Dark. Brooding. Polar. Ice Station Zebra without Rock Hudson. Six of us were stranded without sanctuary and without fur lined parkas; banished to hide away in alcoves, competing with the pigeons. Crouching behind cars to keep out of the penetrating and biting wind. I half expected to see John Carpenters 'The Thing' scuttle from under a vehicle. 'That'll teach me to go and see Jacobean Theatre' I mused. In the olden days, I imagine we would have waited, sitting by a real fire on chairs of green velvet, tired upholstery. The bespectacled, grey haired station-master would have offered us tea in china cups and a rich tea, maybe some shortie.  I can just see Will Hay and his side-kick fussing round us.

Anyway, I digress. Sunday was fine. But the snow arrived right on schedule two nights ago and it hasn't stopped since. Aunt Aggies been out 'trapping' and insists on hanging her wet furs over the radiator. She came back late last night with two kinder eggs.  She said they were free range.

Yesterday at lunchtime, I slid my feet into plastic bags and strapped on the Salomons. I was chomping at the bit for a run in the snow and had a stop-start run with the camera through the woods at lunchtime between the snow showers (although, I realise, that I said earlier that it hadn't stopped...cut me some slack). The sun came out and I had a wee sweat on tramping through the fresh scrunchy snow. Beautiful.  That Panasonic weighs a tonne though.

However, this mornings meteorological offerings were rather more hostile. I stood at the window and shook my head a few times for a good hour before Aunt Aggie finally let me in. Seriously, I was geared up and out the door into blizzard conditions for 5 miles, first thing. The traffic was sparse and crawling. Several drivers gave me a thumbs up for sheer stupidity.

I've spent the rest of the day watching the snow creep higher and higher up the steps. I was back out again tonight for an hour as the light failed and another dark icy night blew in from east. Mrs Mac is stranded at work and covering for others tonight.

I have postponed both the appointments I had tomorrow, but the forecast for next week is still pants. On the plus side, however, I feel another snowy run coming on in the morning assuming I can physically get out the door. Much as the draw of the snow is irresistible, the mid-range forecast is not good at all and I feel the need to stock up on kindling, cous cous and grapefruits, currently my food fads; obviously not the kindling. I've noticed my appetite mushrooms when the snow arrives.

All the races including the cross country have been cancelled this weekend. So it'll be me, Phillip K. Dick's 'Man in the High Castle' and my copy of Steven Wilsons CD 'To The Bone' which is fab and the sort of music you buy and just stick on repeat play; just like old times.  I might even watch a Will Hay film, maybe 'Oh Mr Porter'. Can you believe that was made in 1937?!         

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

'The Time Machine'

I hatched a plan on Monday night after failing to summon up the energy or application to get a Monday run in during the day.

I would do double the distance on Tuesday. But how would I avoid ducking out? I would accompany Missus Mac on the six thirty dawn bus to Newcastle and run back home. I felt fine after my 15 miles on Sunday and I've clocked out a steady 50 mile week for the last month. Another 14 today would be good.

There’s not a big field in the Loch Katrine Marathon. It’s in March and only for charity, probably not even a measured course; but I would like to drop in a sub 3:20 if possible. Evidently, the weather will have a big influence but I reckon that, given that I have been injury and niggle free for a couple of months now, it’s not too ambitious a plan.  As I watched the news this morning, I realised that a southerly wind was forecast with snow on the way. I stepped out the door in the dark. It was two degrees. brrr.

When the bus arrived, I committed; I made the £5 investment and bought the ticket. Contactless. We live in changing times. We were off.

Missus Mac got off at her stop and I was left to watch the red and purple hues of the dawn horizon take on a brighter but greyer look. The cars kept coming; all those on their daily pilgrimage to ‘the office’. I thought computers and the internet were supposed to do away with the rush hour. 

Getting off the bus in Central Newcastle, I took a leaf out of the strategy of fellow bloggers and went for a coffee. It was a two pound small Americano. By 7:45 I was fizzing. I plugged in the orchestral earplugs, zipped up the bum bag and took off along the pavement from the café at Eldon Gardens and got into my stride. It was cold and grey. But I was immediately aware of a big, blousy southerly behind me and blowing me along. I was running north. 15 minutes later, as I ran through the deserted Exhibition Park, the home of the 'Toons weekly Parkrun, the moor-hens and mallards were picking through the ice in the pond. They looked bored already.  They were in for another bleak day.

I was welcomed into Gosforth along the Great North Road by Simple Minds and I was aware I was getting a bit ahead of myself, but the tailwind was irresistible.  Mark Knofler was invoking the memory of Elvis through the High Street and by North Seaton, 40 minutes and 6 miles into my run, I was cooking. I stopped to dispense with the wind jacket.  By Wideopen (8 miles) the wind had dropped and the weather front moved in, dusting the wet road with a carnival of sleety flakes and then cold, steely rain. Stannington came and went, a few crisp brown leaves and the clouds of my exhaled breath preceding me and confirming that I still had a tailwind. But I was fading at 11 miles and, given that there was nothing riding on the morning’s efforts, I stopped by the A1 and fished out a green gel. Yummy! The viscous and sickly fluid vaguely resembled apple something and I drained the pallid liquor. Two miles to go. Grace came on the ipod and I was slave to the rhythm for the next mile. How come they can fit in a stadium sound into a piece of metal the size of a box of matches? My running had become ragged and I was tired, but I was home by 9:30am.

Galvanised by my efforts, I spent the next few hours tidying the house in preparation for the arrival of the plumber. Royalty. An air lock somewhere in the system resulting in a cold bedroom and bathroom. When I come back next time, some-one remind me to sign up for plumbing. 'Name your price' stuff.

Aunt Aggie checked herself out of her care home last week and is back in the potting shed, knitting doilies. She doesn’t like 'being with the old folk' she says. 'Its dull watching the birds' she says. Who can blame her? But life is moving on. Time just keeps passing. She says unless you're Rod Taylor, you can’t slow time. So, instead, you need to do memorable stuff; stuff like today. I’m inclined to agree with the wizened but loveable old bat. I shared a pot of tea with her. I told her about my next 'point to point' test before Loch Katrine. I have an idea to do 'Consett to Newcastle' along the old wagonway; It’s all downhill. Nice Plan. She just nodded and said ‘amaideach'. That care home has a lot to answer for. She couldn't speak the gaelic before she went. But that's St Kilda for you.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Devils Burden: Lost in the Woods

I arrived at 10am in Falkland and stalked around the Fife village looking for a parking space. The first priority is to find a suitable slot, a spot that doesn’t leave your rear end poking out into the street or impinge on some grumpy residents drive. I drove down the south end and found a space outside a weary looking semi. With some curtains still closed and the residents, no doubt, still cosy in bed, I grabbed my woolly hat and donned my 'silver' Salomons. They are described as silver in the adverts, but have always looked grey and abit on the drab side in my eyes. They are looking decidedly dog-eared now. I stole out of the estate and jogged down to the Hall. It was busy, but not overly so. In the backroom of the hall a few buddies were sat buttering the largest pile of deformed morning rolls I had ever witnessed.  The huge vats of soup couldn’t be far away.

Some weeks previously, I gleaned that the Hawks were struggling for runners to make up teams for the Devils Burdens Relays and I threw my woolly hat into the ring. This event is the January season club-opener in the hill running calendar.  A tasty come as you please event for teams of six runners.  The weather is always a factor and, today, there was a gloomy blanket of murk around the hills. Squally.  

There are two solo legs and two legs for pairs. It attracts most clubs in Scotland. This year there were 150 teams. That’s 600 athletes on a Saturday morning converging on a village with little in the way of transport links.  Plenty cars. There are two waves at the start; the oldies, some female and some mixed teams go first at 9:20am: then the younger faster striplings set off at 10:30am.

The Hawks ‘A’ squad (‘A’ in the loosest sense) had set off at 9:20am and were in the Over 40’s category. I was running the last leg. Eager as I was I wandered around the hall looking for a silver bag which had my number in it and after the 3rd revolution and staring at various chair legs, I found it, to my relief.  I pinned the number on and, pulling my beanie over my forehead, left the hall and jogged through the town to the woods where the start of leg 4 was.

It had been suggested that my leg 3 duo would be coming by at around 11-11:30am. I jogged up on a woodland track through Maspie Den. Other than a few dog walkers there was no one around. Not an ounce of lycra, not a studmark or whiff of wintergreen. I continued up the track. As I came out of the trees, I was passed by a young bloke. A quick conversation confirmed that he was on leg 4 as well. I jogged a mile with him and was nearly dropped in the process. As he began to move ahead I tried to clarify if the start was up where we were jogging to; ‘No’ he said, ‘its back down there through the woods’ gesticulating with his thumb over his shoulder. I then realised he was a leg 4 runner from the second wave and was out doing some reconnaissance.  

I high tailed it back down to the start and still there was no-one there. No voices, no red tape. Nought. By this time my garmin read ‘4 miles’. I had a sweat on. This was no good at all. Not being able to determine the starting point for an event that involves, to some degree, map reading skills, was less than convincing.

I phoned Dave H. He was back in the hall after running leg 1. He suggested he might have been a bit off with the times and thought 12-12:30pm was a bit more realistic. He advocated a return to the hall. I duly ran back and chatted for 20 minutes before returning to the start, by which time some officials and a handful of leg 4 shufflers were congregating. I chatted with a couple of Falkland Trail runners who suggested that the Hawks were ‘well up’. I hoped not. Didn’t fancy the pressure. However, it was nearer 12:40pm when the lads rounded the trees and I got my hands on the cardboard control punchcard needed for the last 3 checkpoints. 

My 5.5km route with 400m of ascent would take me up one side of East Lomond and straight back down the other side.  I had kept my orange wind jacket on as I ran. It was very mild for January, but the jacket is thin and I thought there might be a wind chill up on top. I passed a woman runner quickly and then ate up a Westerland runner as we came up to my first checkpoint. This is always good for morale.  The sweat driven, rain soaked exertions of my  team-mates had resulted in the erasure of most of the checkpoint  numbers on the card. It was beginning to resemble a soggy papier-mache affair. It was pot luck which square I clicked.

I left the shelter of the trees and caught a 3rd runner half way up East Lomond. I thanked my stars I had my jacket on as a burly, rugged westerly blew me up the steep slope. However, at the top I could see the Trig point but no flag with the punch.  There were no marshalls present. I struggled to remain standing. Bent hard into the wind, I looked around the top for the checkpoint. Chris Russell, running for the Las Vegas Club (the fife branch) appeared about 20 seconds later and went straight to a shallow hollow below the Trig point and was off like a shot. Realising where it was, I punched my card and took off after him. The steep descent took 12 minutes, 2 minutes longer than the ascent as we combated deep tussocky grass and moss. As we descended the wind rescinded and I reached him on the lower slopes just as the first runner from the 2nd Wave, a Westerlands runner, screeched past, bee-lining for the last checkpoint. Momentarily, I was right up with Russell, but the Vegas runner had other ideas along the final half mile of track that led back to Falkland and he put a good few seconds into me as I felt the residue of the ghost of Christmas Pasta weighing heavily on my normally mercurial quads and calves; but before you could say ‘calorie controlled diet’ , I turned the corner and there, in front of me, was the finish line. Just a touch under 37 minutes, but a better descent and less gormless wandering at the top of the hill might have got us an extra place. Next time, eh?