All posts by Andy Todd

Loch Leven Half Marathon 2022 Race Report (Andrew)

The Loch Leven Half Marathon must have one of the worst starting locations in Scotland.

Kinross is a beautiful victorian town in Fife with large mansions, open fields and plenty of trees and hedges. It is the kind of town that people want to retire in. Rich people. Homes are not cheap here!

However, for the start of the race, you have to take a right at the bottom of the High Street and start beside an industrial unit and a large metal fence. No trees. No hedges. No homes thinking of applying for Scotland’s Home of the Year. Instead, you start beside a crane and a log splitter. It’s bizarre as the rest of the route is one of Scotland’s best half marathon routes as you run around Loch Leven with views stretching miles in each direction. It’s one of my favourites.

Perhaps to make up for the start line, the Loch Leven Half Marathon must also be one of the easiest half marathon loops in Scotland. You start beside metal sheds. You immediately turn right and then you only have to turn left three times after that before you’re back at the start. That’s one turn every four miles. You can’t get easier than that without running along the M8 to Edinburgh.

I was looking forward to the race but was conscious that my preparation had been poor. I’d ran 17 miles the previous week and I’d ran some longer runs during the week than I would have normally run in the week before a race. My legs felt heavy before I’d even left the industrial estate.

However, even with heavy legs, I still managed to run faster than Iain TwinBikeRun, which is all that counts because, unless you’re running for a record, than you’re running to beat your competitors and I ran faster than mine! 🙂

Race profile

  • 100% tarmac.
  • Open roads but with the number of people running, cars will crawl along to offer you a safe run. The second half of the route is much quieter.
  • Three miles of a steady climb, three miles of downhill and undulating, one mile straight down a hill, a few hundred metres straight back up one; undulating until a flat finish (except for one very short climb).

The Sound of Football: Burton Albion (Andrew)

Every fortnight we cover the best and worst football songs from every club in the UK from our book ‘The Sound Of Football: Every Club, Every Song’. You can buy it here

Burton Albion

Nickname: The Brewers

Ground: Pirelli Stadium

Stadium Capacity: 6,912

Song: Tom Hark

The town of Burton has a history of football clubs that have struggled on and off the pitch.

Burton Swifts were formed in 1871. It was a founder member of The Combination League before switching to the Alliance League. These may sound like rebel groups from Star Wars, yet they were real football league names. The Swifts didn’t last long – it folded when it amalgamated with Burton Wanderers, who are notable only for looking like a misspelt version of Bolton Wanderers. The newly amalgamated club was Burton United, which was ironic, as they weren’t united, and separated in 1910 after just nine years together.

The town had no football team for 11 years. In 1921 a new club called Burton All-Saints was formed but, only for three years, when it changed to Burton Town. It managed to keep playing until the Second World War but went on an indefinite break. After the leagues resumed, the team did not. Finally, in 1950, Burton Albion was formed. The hardest task for the new club wasn’t getting entry to a league but finding a name that hadn’t already been used.

Equally, the club has struggled to find a song. For the 2013/14 season, the club asked fans to choose new goal celebration music. Among the suggestions were Bohemian Like You, High Ho Silver Lining, We Will Rock You, Chelsea Dagger, Locked Up, Chase the Sun, Just Can’t Get Enough, Born to be Wild and Free, Woo Hoo, Mr Brightside, The Boys are Back in Town and Hot Chocolate’s Everyone’s a Winner. Sadly, everyone wasn’t a winner. Only one song was chosen, and that was Tom Hark by The Piranhas, a song used by many clubs, including Arbroath and Burnley.

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Celtman Low Level Route – Support Running (Andrew)

As a supporter, it’s important to believe in your athlete and offer unwavering support. You don’t want them to waiver and doubt, you want them to remain strong and resolute. Saying that, I had no doubt that Iain TwinBikeRun would not be running the final 13 miles of Celtman and I trained accordingly as his support running. I.e. I didn’t train at all as I thought even with no training I’d still be faster than him – and I was right. But, after a 3K swim, 120 mile ride and difficult steep eight mile run to make the 13 hour cut off time, he was entitled to take it a bit easier.

Top tips for supporting

  • You can start running with your athlete from either T2 or from T2A, about 10 miles into the course. I joined at T2A and you need to be mindful of traffic on the Kinochewe to Sheildaig road. As a supporter you can only drive east to west so make sure you spot the transition as you won’t be able to turn around and drive back. This may have happened to me…
  • There is a car park to unload at T2B, about a mile and half down the road. You can stop here too. If you see it. I may have missed it too…
  • At T2A transition, to save time, you can check your bags before your competitor arrives. This is also useful if you miss something and need to quickly find a replacement. Luckily, this didn’t happen to me.
  • The first couple of miles from T2A is along the main road so watch out for traffic.
  • After two miles, you switch to the low route around Ben Eighe and towards Torridon. Wile this may be the low route, it is not an easy or flat route. It is still a serious mountain trail with a lot of climbing and technical trekking. Watch out for your footing, a couple of tricky stream crossings and plenty of scrambling left and right to find good places to walk/run. Don’t be surprised if it takes 40 minutes to walk one mile.
  • This is an exposed part of Scotland. As the 2022 race showed, the weather can be brutal with strong winds and constant rain. Make sure to follow the race kit instructions and to wear/bring more than you think you might need. Don’t just bring a waterproof running jacket, bring seal skins. Don’t just bring a hat, bring a hazmat helmet. Think diving bell, rather than summer stroll.
  • The low level route doesn’t finish along the shore, like the high level route. Instead, thankfully, it’s a straight walk through Torridon to the finish line at the village hall. I thought we still had three miles to walk around the village and I was very happy to find out it was only 500 metres.
  • Get a buffet ticket for when you arrive at the hall, the hot food is essential after many hours in the mountain.
  • Think about how you’re getting home. I have to admit I don’t know how other competitors/supporters arranged to get back if they didn’t stay in Torridon. I would share what we did – but I’m not sure it was strictly allowed…

The Sound of Football: Burnley (Andrew)

Every fortnight we cover the best and worst football songs from every club in the UK from our book ‘The Sound Of Football: Every Club, Every Song’. You can buy it here

Burnley

Nickname: The Clarets

Ground: Turf Moor

Stadium Capacity: 21,940

Song: Tom Hark

Being a Burnley fan is special because the best-supported side in England isn’t Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea; it’s Burnley. Burnley holds the record for the highest attendance ratio of people attending a match mapped against the town population. This is either a remarkable show of dedication or a clear lack of adequate public transport at the weekend.

Burnley was one of the 12 founder members of the Football League and is one of only three English league clubs to have been champions of all four professional league divisions, along with Wolves and Preston. More infamously, Burnley’s the reason why clubs who finish bottom of the league are relegated automatically.

In 1897 clubs took part in playoff games to decide who was promoted from the second to the first division. By the time it got to the last match of the series, both Burnley and Stoke City needed a draw to ensure they would both be promoted.

Perhaps not surprisingly, both clubs were due to play each other in the last game of the season. You will also not be surprised to hear that the match ended 0 – 0 and became known as ‘The Match Without A Shot At Goal’. Both teams were promoted, and the Football League immediately withdrew the Test Match series in favour of automatic promotion and relegation.

While the Royal Family usually keeps their sporting affiliations to themselves (however, see Arsenal and Aston Villa for the Royals suspected affiliations); one family member has admitted publicly that he’s a Burnley fan. Prince Charles declared his love of the town and club at a ceremony for the British Asian Trust:

A consortium of my charities, including the British Asian Trust, has been working in Burnley. Hence, some of you asked this evening whether I support a British football club and I said ‘yes – Burnley’. And people have responded ‘Burnley? Oh yes, because Burnley has been through some very challenging times and I’m trying to find ways of helping to regenerate and raise aspirations and self-esteem in that part of the world.”

It’s only fitting that Prince Charles supports Burnley: every time Burnley scores, you’ll hear ‘Tom Hark’ by Elias and His Zig Zag Jive Flutes. The song was partly based on a 1927 melody which sang about dancing with a girl who had danced with the Prince of Wales. And the current Prince of Wales is… Prince Charles.

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Wet, Wet, Wet (Andrew)

For someone who loves wearing a wetsuit, I do hate getting wet.

The first time I was properly soaked while running was at the Helensburgh half marathon during a day where it was impossible to tell where the sea ended and Helensburgh began. The puddles were so deep that trident submarines were using them for dive practice. It was a grim, grim day.

Yet, I ran anyway and my only thought the entire way round was to run as fast as I could so that I could get back to the car, back home and to never venture outside again. With such a thought, I ended up running my fastest ever half marathon – and my fastest ever medal collection as I didn’t stop at the finish line, I just kept going straight through, grabbed a medal, and sprinted back to the car.

The second time I was properly soaked was during the Three Peaks Challenge. We started at Ben Nevis and it was so wet that you could practically swim to the summit. It was impossible to stay dry even in thick waterproofs. By the time I got to the summit I pulled off my sodden gloves only to discover flippers instead of fingers. It was a grim, grim day.

The third and last time I was properly soaked was during the Celtman 2022 run route. I was acting as support runner for Iain TwinBikeRun and, thankfully, I had assumed that by the time I joined him, he’d be knackered and would be walking rather than running. As such, I brought my full mountain gear rather than trail running clothes. A thick waterproof jacket instead of a packable one. Gloves so thick you could pick up radioactive blocks at Chernobyl. And a pair of full length trousers rather than waterproof shorts.

This time the rain was on and off but, as we walked, the rain spells would last longer and stronger until, eventually, I was soaked through again. Another, grim, grim day.

So, the lesson I want to pass one is not the one about rain making you run faster (which it does) or always be prepared for the weather for more equipment or clothes than you think you need (and more again, you can never have enough clothes where you’re cold and wet), it’s a simple one: move to somewhere it doesn’t rain!

What’s the connection between my three tales? They all happened in Scotland. Scotland is a grim, grim place! Why not live in Dubai? The Sahara or even the middle of Death Valley? It never rains there!

Celtman Support (Andrew)

Conditions for Iain TwinBikeRun at Celtman were brutal. 3K swim, 120 mile bike and a marathon in 40mph headwinds and driving rain. However, I can report, with my duvet and pillow, the support car was roasty toasty.

Swim Start

Competitors need to register in Sheildaig and board the bus to the start line by 4am. There’s no access to the swim start for supporters so, once you’ve helped them set up at transition and register there’s nothing to do but keep warm and wait until they return to shore from 6am onwards. One of the local cafes was open, so there is an opportunity for some food or a hot drink, but I just used the time to try and catch up on sleep. We were up at 2:30am with a target of leaving the AirBnB at 2:45am so I’d only had a few hours sleep.

Sleep wasn’t helped by Iain TwinBikeRun booking another pre-race base with no curtains. And, just like Norseman, it was another night of trying to sleep while it was still as bright as noon outside. One day, maybe, Iain will book a room with blackout blinds..!

The swim exit is easy to find – it’s the one surrounded by supporters, braziers of fire and a drum troupe. You can’t miss it in Sheildaig. And with the drums banding away, you probably couldn’t miss in half the western Highlands.

You need your support t-shirt to access the exit and transition so remember to wear it as, with it, you can get onto the shore and help your competitor over the rocky beach and up to transition.

After you help them change, you pack up everything, pick up your car and you have a couple of hours before you can join them again. You’re not allowed to support competitors during the first 15 miles of the race. I used this time to go back to base, eat some breakfast, pick up Mrs TwinBikeRun and BabyTwinBike and ensure the car had everything for the rest of the day.

Bike Course

We met Iain TwinBikeRun around three hours after he started. We then tried to meet him roughly every 45 – 60 mins. He didn’t always stop but we wanted to give him the chance to pick up food or drink or to change into or out of his waterproof clothes.

The thing to watch out for on the bike course is that many parking spots are slightly off the road requiring you to pull in, rather than parking at the side of the road itself. It’s particularly tricky to find a spot on the road between Ullapool and Garve. So, you may want to agree in advance the spots you’ll meet.

Other than that, the support cars are well spread out and there’s plenty of room for everyone on the road. I had been concerned that the Gairloch coastal road may have seen some bottlenecking but there were no issues at all.

Run Course

Car parking at Kinlochewe is challenging. This year, parking was in a field. A muddy field. A VERY muddy field. A local farmer had to pull some cars out of the field with a tractor as they struggled to get through mud at the entrance.

Luckily, we were directed to park just outside the field so had no problems but a lot of people were struggling and panicking about how they were going to get to the transition T2A without a car to take them there.

At T2A there’s no shelter, just a portaloo. This year, that meant I had to change into all my warm clothes and waterproofs while waiting for Iain TwinBikeRun to arrive. This was okay as it was largely dry while I waited with only a few brief showers. However, if it’s a decent day then you’ll normally be arriving here around peak midge times. So, if there weather is decent, prepare face the might of a million Scottish midges as you wait.

Overall

The race is well organised and each transition is supported by knowledgeable and friendly marshalls. We always knew where we were going, what we had to do and where we needed to go next.

The Sound of Football: Bristol Rovers (Andrew)

Every fortnight we cover the best and worst football songs from every club in the UK from our book ‘The Sound Of Football: Every Club, Every Song’. You can buy it here

Bristol Rovers

Nickname: The Pirates

Ground: Memorial Stadium

Stadium Capacity: 11,626

Song: Goodnight Irene

Rod Hull was a children’s TV presenter during the 1970s and 80s. He was famous for his puppet Emu, which he used to ‘attack’, in a light-hearted way, children and celebrities. Rod was a popular presenter, and many were upset that he had been killed in 1999 by… Manchester United.

Rod was watching United play Inter Milan in the Champions League when he decided to improve his TV’s reception by climbing onto the roof of his house to adjust his aerial. Tragically, he slipped and fell from the roof and through a greenhouse.

If only Rod had watched Bristol Rovers instead of Manchester United. Bristol was Rod’s favourite team, and there’s little chance of seeing them play in Europe. The only major cup competition the club has won was the 1972 Watney Cup. A competition held before the start of the season was contested by the teams that had scored the most goals in each of the four divisions.

The closest the team ever came to playing in a European competition was the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1992/93. While the club played in the group stages in England, when it came to playing the games in Italy, Rovers lost out to West Ham United. After both finished, a coin toss was held over the phone with the same points and goal difference. West Ham won the toss and played abroad in Rovers place.

In 1974 Rod Hull and Emu recorded ‘Bristol Rovers All The Way’ and the B-side ‘I’d Do Anything’ with the Bristol Rovers squad. Normally, the football players are tone-deaf in a song, but this one has some of the most off-key singing since Cheryl Cole tried to sing live. It’s not played today.

The club’s official nickname is ‘The Pirates’, reflecting the maritime history of Bristol. The local nickname of the club is ‘The Gas’, from the gasworks next to its former home, Eastville Stadium.

The Gas started as a derogatory term used by Bristol City fans against their rivals but was affectionately adopted by the team. In 2001, the club honoured the fan’s support by awarding them number 12 in the squad to recognise them officially as the club’s 12th man.

The club’s official song is ‘Goodnight Irene’, an American folk song from the 1930s. The lyrics tell of the singer’s troubled past with his love, Irene. Several verses make explicit references to suicidal fantasies, making it appropriate as a football song as losing games can make fans suicidal.

It was first sung at a fireworks display at the Eastville Stadium the night before a home game against Plymouth Argyle in 1950. During the game the following day, Rovers were winning quite comfortably. The few Argyle supporters present began to leave early, prompting a chorus of ‘Goodnight Argyle’ from the Rovers supporters – the tune stuck and ‘Goodnight Irene’ became the club song.

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