Antonine Trail Race 2019 (Andrew)

This is the third time we’ve entered the Antonine Trail Race. You can read the previous reports, including race description, here (2017) and here (2018).

This year the challenge was to run faster and try and best two hours, a challenge made much harder by forgetting my watch. D’oh! It’s very hard to race against the clock when you forget the clock!

The race is well organised with a good t-shirt, an environmentally friendly water policy (bring your own bottle), decent grub at the finish and a route that provides a decent off road challenge along with some cracking views along the front of the Campsies. And, for those that love mud, it provides more mud than a tabloid journalist. Though I have to confess that most of that mud might have come from an unexpected detour.

“Do you know where we’re going?” I asked Iain.

“Yes,” he said, “there’s another runner up ahead.”

The only runner I could see was off to one side, through a bank of trees and running along what appeared to be a nice dry path. We were running in the middle of a field that could had so much water it could only be used to grow rice.

My foot disappears into the earth. Euuugh!

“Who are you following?” I ask.

“Him,” says Iain, pointing at man in the wood.

“That what are we doing running across a field!?”

“He must have taken the wrong way!”

Someone took the wrong way, and I don’t think it was the man in the wood!

A couple of miles later we see another man with a number on his chest run towards us.

“I went the wrong way,” he said, “took a little detour!”

Which just goes to show it can happen to anyone, and we weren’t the only ones to end up in the wrong place, however it was ever so slightly dispiriting to find that even with his detour he then overtook us and ran over the horizon. Lapped by someone going the wrong way, that’s a new first.

Despite that, we finished in under two hours and I was happy to finish with a new personal best.

Book Review: There is No Map In Hell (Andrew)

In 2009, adventurer Ben Fogle and former Olympic rower James Cracknell raced across Antarctica to the South Pole. The BBC documentary ‘On Thin Ice’ showed them recruiting a third team member, Dr Ed Coats, to complete their team. But if you read their book, also called ‘On Thin Ice’ you’d only find Fogle and Cracknell’s story. Dr Ed is nowhere to be found!

While the documentary shows he wasn’t lost in the Antartic, that he was as much part of the team as the others, the book focuses on the ‘stars’ – and loses something from it.

Big adventures are rarely achieved alone. Ed Stafford, the first man to walk the length of the Amazon, and a man who can claim to have achieved it alone, makes very clear in his book that he couldn’t have done it without the help of a guide who joined him shortly after starting. And he spends just as long talking about their friendship as he does about his own achievement.

That’s why I think I found The Mountains Are Calling a struggle. It was all about the runner, all about ‘me’. And also why I found There Is No Map In Hell a far better book.

Steve Birkenshaw is a fell runner. He holds the record for completing the Wainwrights – a run across all 100+ Lake District mountain fells. This book charts his race with a brief background on his running career before a detailed review of his record breaking run.

Unlike other books he also has other people involved write about what they saw or what they did to help. By adding the perspectives of his wife, support crew, nurse (for some graphic description of his feet!) and support runners he’s able to show the such records are not achieved alone and that they couldn’t be achieved without teamwork. And, while he might be running, he could only run because of what other people were doing for him – whether running with him, guiding him when his mind couldn’t grasp where he was going, to preparing support stops, logistics, food or just being there to urge him on.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

The Holiday Mile (Andrew)

I always take my trainers with me on holiday. I have this idea that I’ll go for a run when I’m away. That it’ll be a chance to explore a new city or town and get a fresh perspective of where I am. Yet, every time I come home, I find my trainers have reminded firmly in a well wrapped bag.

(The bag has to be well wrapped as trainers, well, there’s no,other way to say this, STINK. And the very last thing you want to do is place your trainers tightly in with all your fresh holiday clothes in a closed bag because soon everything will smell of your feet…eugh!)

This year I decided that there was no point planning a holiday run. I was going to be away for two weeks, I had to bring hiking boots and taking a pair of trainers too felt like I’d be using too much space for footwear I would only use for a few hours, if that.

And, if I didn’t take my trainers, I wouldn’t feel guilty about not going for a run. You can’t feel guilty if you can’t actually do something. Just like I don’t feel guilty about not going to the moon, painting a stunning landscape or eating beatroot (it’s purple – only bruises and dinosaurs are purple!).

But, when I started to pack I realised I would have space for trainers if I wore my hiking boots onto the plane. If I didn’t pack,them, but wore them instead, I’d free up both space and weight. And then I thought, why not take my trainers but instead of thinking I should go for a run I would only aim to cover a mile instead: The Holiday Mile. A simple goal, less than 10 minutes and it would meet my goal of seeing more than just a hotel in wherever we stayed but would also be short enough that it didn’t feel like an imposition during the holiday. It would be over and done before breakfast.

And, as it turned out, if I went out for that first mile, I would also carry on if I was enjoying it.

Perfect

So, here then are my Holiday Miles for Dubai and Uganda.

Dubai

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And all I can say is…

Don’t do it! I mean really, really don’t do it. I tried my holiday mile at the end of September when the temperature was 42 degrees and it was horrible. That’s not running, that’s cooking.

Also, I ran on the beach so I didn’t even use my trainers.

But apart from that, I was happy the Holiday Mile worked. I got out, I ran, And if I can do it on what felt like the surface of a barbecue then it can be done anywhere. Places like…

Kampala

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One worry when running abroad is what happens if you get lost. It’s easy to do, you don’t know the area and signs may either be in other languages, other alphabets or non-existant. You might decide not run just because you don’t know where you are. What if you’re ina bad area of town?

That was my worry in Kampala, in Uganda. It was my first time in Central Africa and I didn’t know where one neighbourhood starts and another ends. Each road was either dirt track or basic tarmac and we were staying next to Lake Victoria and open ground. Luckily, I’d brought my Garmin watch with me and was keen to try out a new feature – Trackback, which would give you directions back to the start of your run.

I hoped not to use it. I thought I’d have a good sense of direction and was marking street corners in my head as I ran but, when I turned round, I managed to miss two turnings and ended up at the top of a hill next to a school and with no memory of seeing it before. I knew I was lost. This wasn’t the way I had come. But I had Trackback.

I switched it on, my watch showed a small map of the route I’d ran and an arrow point telling which direction to go. It then beeped when I ran passed a road I should have ran down and it warned me every time I ran in the wrong direction. It was brilliant. And I’ll forgive Garmin their dodgy straps – see Challenge Roth Swim – just for this function.

And, even better, I’d actually run two miles. A double Holiday Mile.

Why not try the Holiday Mile the next time you go away?

Outdoor Swim Review: the Arabian Ocean (Andrew)

It’s coming to the end of the outdoor swimming season. The thought of swimming in budgie smugglers is as appealing as actually smuggling a budgie in your pants. Wetsuits have become obligatory and swim caps have been replaced by swim hoods. It’s getting colder and the only thing worse than cold water is…. hot water.

I was lucky enough to swim in the Arabian Sea last month. I had a stop over in Dubai, the hotel was next to the beach and I decided that a 42 degree day would be ideal time to swim in the ocean. I was wrong.

As soon as I got in I felt like a teabag in a cup of lukewarm tea. The water was too hot. It would have made a nice temperature for soup. Every time I ducked my head I felt like I was going to come out as red as a lobster after five minutes in the pot.

What was going on? I’d never swum in water like this before. There was no cold shock when I started to wade in. No head chill from ducking below a wave. It was almost… pleasant!

I couldn’t take it. It was just too nice!

It was then I remembered swimming in Norway two years ago in the Norseman practice swim. Competitors from around the world had travelled to a Norwegian fjord and had braced themselves for near arctic chills and icy waters. Iain and I checked the temperature, saw it was 16 degrees and warm for Scotland and jumped in without wetsuits.

“Are you mad?’ A man cried.

“No, we’re Scottish” we said.

“No, you must be SALMON!” He said firmly as he finished pulling on gloves, socks and three swim caps.

And that made me realise that everyone’s idea of extreme is different. For him, 16 degrees was as cold as a Penguin eating a Magnum while watching Frozen in the middle of the Arctic circle. While, for us, 16 degrees may as well have been as comfy as a towel straight from the tumble dryer.

But swimming in warm water is just madness. The whole point of swimming is to cool off, to feel nice and refreshed and you just can’t do that with an ocean warm enough to make Earl Grey tea.

I doff my 5 inch thick swim cap to all the warm weather swimmers. The one’s who can swim all year round and never reach that optimum temperature of 14 degrees when the water is as refreshing as a gazpacho soup. The one’s who never get the benefit of swimming with a five inch thick wetsuit so buoyant it could turn you into balloon. After swimming in the Arabian Sea I can see that all of you who swim in warm water all year round are truly the extreme swimmers!

Worst Tip Ever (Andrew)

I was reading an article with tips for taking part in triathlons when I spotted the tip above, possibly the worst tip ever because, if everyone followed it, there would be no bike pumps to hand out!

“Excuse me, can I borrow your bike pump?”

“Sorry, I don’t have one, I thought you did.”

“Why would I have one? I was following the top tips for triathletes!”

“So was I!”

“Damn!”

“Bugger – none of us has a bike pump! Does anyone know if you can inflate a tyre by blowing in it?!”

For a sport where drafting is banned, where competing on your own is the goal, this must rank as the worst tip of the year.

The Day After (Andrew)

James Bond stands triumphant. Blofeld is dead. The nucleur missile launch has been averted and the world is safe once more. Bond is bloodied, bruised and mildly blootered after too many shaken and not stirred martinis. But he doesn’t feel it – at least not until the next day…

When he goes to Tesco and buys some milk because the milk in the fridge went off while he was trotting around the globe; when he pops into the dry cleaners to remove the lipstick from his dinner jacket after a night with Blofeld’s beautiful assistant; when he slumps in front of Homes for the Hammer and thinks “you’d think I’d have got more than one day off before I have to go back to work and sit at my desk and catch up with all the emails I haven’t answered – I don’t want to go to work tomorrow!!!”.

Of course, he could skip work. But just because you’re a commander of the British Navy and an MI6 agent with a licence to kill doesn’t mean you can take your own holidays when the rest of the department has already booked it because it’s schools week. You try not turning up for work. You won’t be handed a Walter PPK again, you’ll be handed a P45.

I love thinking about the day after. What happens next for the heroes and villains we read and watch? Did Robocop rescue a kitten from a tree the day after he brought down Omnicorp? Did Hannibal Lecter have a chicken pot noodle because he’d ran out of livers and a nice chianti? What does Darth Vadar do on his day off? Does he, like Boris Johnson, paint buses using cardboard boxes?!? What happens the day after?

No one ever talks about the day after because nothing happens the day after. The adrenalin is gone. The action is over. It’s all admin, resting, cleaning up and blocking the number of the beautiful assistant from your phone as you don’t want to accidently answer it after she betrayed you and tried to kill you with a booby trapped piranha tank.

It’s no different from triathletes. Think about the day after a race. What happens then? You might have to travel, spending hours in a car with stiff legs and a sore back. You have to empty bags and wash race gear and wetsuits. You might check times and photos and update social media with all the ones where you have your stomach stuck in because tri-suits are not at all flattering…

Then the day after that, you think. What do I do now? You can’t save the world every day, just as you can’t race every day (unless you’re the Iron Cowboy).

And without the adrenalin of a race, and without the goal of an event to train for, it’s easy to fall into a slump. Why run, if you’re not training? Why go out on the bike if not as preparation? Without a goal it becomes harder justify your actions. Swim in the morning and then run home from work? That was normal, one month ago. Now, what the blooming nora were you thinking? Two showers in one day? How did you find the time!?!?!?

So, those first days and weeks after a race are a critical time. It’s easy to forget training. (And, possibly smart to do so as you can’t keep going at same rate after a race without risking injury). It’s easy to eat cake. (It’s always easy to eat cake!). But it’s also easy to try and recreate the race high. It’s why organisers know the best time to sell next year’s race is the day after this year’s race to the people who’ve just woken up with a feeling of invibility like they’ve just saved the world.

Sometimes I think James Bond must be an Ironman triathlete as only a triathlete with the Ironman bug, would think “hey, I’ve saved the world and almost killed myself, but you know what would be great – doing it all over again and again and again!”

I’m sure the next James Bond film will feature him killing twice the number of henchman, bedding four times the number of women, while saying he really, really doesn’t need a wetsuit because swimming to the underground lair in 10 degrees of water wouldn’t be extreme enough if he didn’t do it in skins.

After Challenge Roth, I knew I would feel these thoughts. The need to chase the next adventure. That I’d want to look at the next race and the next hit and not just enjoy the feeling of completing Roth itself. So, I made a promise to myself. I wouldn’t enter or commit myself to anything serious for at least two months after Roth. Only then would I think about whether I would want to train for a long distance event again.

So, amateur athletes of the world, remember this – even James Bond can’t save the world every day!

RIP ZipVit (Andrew)

When out riding, some people have a favourite cake stop or coffee stop or, for the hardcore and borderline alcoholics, a favourite pub stop, but, for me, I have a favourite bin stop.

I don’t like carrying the remains of energy gels around in my back pocket because the pocket just fills with leftover gels until it feels like diving into high sugar swamp every time you reach in for another. Urrghh!

That’s why I have a bin stop. Somewhere I can stop and have a gel and immediately throw it into a bin. My soggy pocket problems is solved!

My favourite bin stop is at Whitelee Windfarm, near Eaglesham. It’s the highest point of one of my usual routes and a good point to stop and have a gel before carrying on. Here it is:

You won’t believe what happened next!

Normally I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had a favourite bin stop for the same reason I wouldn’t tell you my preferred technique to cut my toe nails, how I clean my ears or the satisfaction I might get from a pick of my nose. There’s some things you just keep to yourself – and not even your nearest and dearest know that the real reason you’re smiling is that you managed to extract an entire bogey in one go with just a deft flick of an expertly judged fingernail.

But this photo is special. And tragic. In fact it should be on a clickbait internet link headed “Seconds from disaster! You won’t believe what happened next – number 8 will blow your mind!”. And, when you click on the link, there’ll be a photo of this bin and this energy gel and then a simple explanation that just after I opened this gel – a ZipVit – I got back home, went to the ZipVit website and discovered… tragically…

… they don’t make them anymore!!!!!!!

I’ve been buying Zipvit for 10 years. And I know it’s been 10 years because they sponsored the first Etape Caledonia and I had my first ZipVit at the footstop there. And this year was the tenth anniversary of the Etape. And now, umpteen ZipVits latest, boxes and boxes of the banana flavor (my favourite), it looks like they only make one flavoured gel and they’ve stopped making energy bars all together.

Noooooooo!!!!

But what do I do now? I’ve used the same bars and gels for 10 years. I have one halfway through a bike ride. I have a bar after swimming on a Wednesday morning. If I had any more ZipVit, I’d turn into one. Which would be doubly tragic as I’d propably eat myself because I was so tasty.

Instead, I’ll need to find a new gel that I can eat and eat and eat and know that it won’t be too sweet or too sour or too thin or too thick or to chalky or to smooth. Where do I turn now?

And then I remember, I’ve written about ZipVit before. I know who can help me. I can write to Sam! And if you don’t know who Sam is then she’s definitely a real person and she definitely does exist as I’ve written about her before: Sam The ZipVit Packer.

So, phew, crisis averted. Sam will help!

Outdoor Swim Review: Findhorn Beach (Andrew)

Findhorn is a small village in Moray famous for it’s eco-living and for the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community. It’s also has one of the nicest beaches on the Moray Firth.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There’s plenty of parking beside the beach although a sign does warn that parking costs £1. However, as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to actually pay a pound, I’ve never paid it and I’ve not seen anyone else pay either.

There’s plenty of grass beside the car park and it’s easy to walk to the beach, even barefooted.

Water quality: Very clear when I was there at end of July. There’s also plenty of room to swim before the beach starts to drop away. You can easily move away from shore and still, not only see the bottom, but also find places to stand and keep your head above water. The water temperature was c15 degrees.

Swim Quality: Excellent – at high tide, the sea was calm and there were views straight across the Moray Firth. Watch out for the estuary though – it looked too calm to be natural so I assumed that it was full of undercurrents. Afterwards someone else told me it also had a “whopping great whirlpool”, not sure if that’s true but I’d definitely avoid swimming near it and head east instead along the beach only.

Other People: Findhorn Beach is popular but, at more than five miles long there’s plenty of quiet spots away from entrance to the car park.

Would I go back: Yes. Though I would like to see it on windier day to see how conditions compare.

Book Review: The Mountains Are Calling (Andrew)

I think it was Rod Stewart, rock star, famous Celtic fan, and a man who now asks “Do You Think I’m sexy?” as a rhetorical question, who passed on this tip when you go to the pub. Always buy the first round, said Rod, that way everyone will remember you’ve bought a round as, once the drinking starts, no one will remember who bought the second or third round. And, because you bought the first round, no one will ask you again because you’re the only one they’re sure has had a turn. 

The same thought applies to the Ramsay Round. A hill climb of 24 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) in 24 hours that starts or finishes with Ben Nevis – depending on whether you run it clockwise or anti-clockwise.

It’s named after the first person to run it successfully. And, after Ramsay’s Round, only a further 159 have managed to successfully run it again. Of those, only a handful have managed to complete it in Winter rather than Summer, when crampons and ice axes are as essential to any runner as a pair of trainers.

Yet, despite it challenge, despite the brave stories of those who’ve managed to run it, I struggle to name any runner’s round after Ramsay. And that’s despite reading about – what feels like! – all of them in Jonny Muir’s ‘The Mountain’s Are Calling’.

The Mountain’s Are Calling is a comprehensive and detailed history/biography of the hill running in Scotland and the Ramsay Round, in particular. It’s well written, extensively researched and contains many first hand interviews with the most successful hill runners of the last 20 years including Finlay Wild, the undisputed king of the Ben Nevis Race, and Jasmine Paris, who, until recently held the record for the Ramsay Round. Yet…

Yet…

It’s just too much!

The mountains, the people, detail upon detail obscure the joy of running in the hills. And it seems ironic that a book which celebrates the hill runners who eschew gadgets, Garmin, records to run as natural as possible and a book which celebrates the “doing something, not the achievement of something being done”, should be so baggy.

While individual chapters, most dedicated to one athlete or one race, are complete in themselves, each chapter taken together becomes a slog. Much like the Ramsay Round. No sooner have you completed one hill then another presents itself and then another – and another. 

A particular low point is the chapter covering in page after page the detail not just of a race but watching Twitter updates about that race. 

While the book does make me want to try more hill racing – and I’ve marked the entry dates to try and get a spot in the Abernety 5 in my diary – largely it succeeds in showing you how much of a slog an actual 24 hour challenge would be. Which was maybe the point. There’s a good reason only 160 people have completed the Ramsay Round.

You can buy the book here: Amazon

Blair Atholl Horse Trials (Andrew)

Blair Atholl Horse Trials. As far as I can tell there were twenty three guilty, thirty six not proven and one mistrial for a case of mistaken identity with a Shetland Pony.

I admit may not have understood what was going on around me…

The Blair Atholl Horse Trials are an annual event, held in the grounds of Blair Atholl castle. But they may as well be called the Blair Atholl Dog Trials given the number of dogs in the grounds. Or the Blair Atholl Land Rover Trials given the number of Land Rovers in the car park. Or even the Blair Atholl Barbour Jacket & Welly Boot Trials…

Basically, I’m saying there were a lot of farmers, people who wanted to be farmers and dogs who wanted nothing more than to run around a farm chasing sheep all day.

Don’t worry if you don’t have the right gear. There’s loads of stalls selling everything you need to look the part. Though I was a bit taken aback by the large sign for Welligogs – which was a spoonerism away from selling a KKK robe.

The Trials take place over four days – Thursday to Sunday. We went on Saturday to see the main cross country and show jumping.

I admit I know nothing about horses but my wife has been learning to ride so she explained what was happening and that while her jumps may be smaller, the technique was exactly the same.

She said this as we watched one rider fall off.

“Is that what you do?” I asked.

“Exactly, the same,” she said, “I’m just closer to the ground when I fall!”

There’s plenty to see throughout the day as the cross country course has different types of jumps, some water hazards and is long enough that it’s a ramble in itself to move from one place to another.

Every five minutes a horse would gallop along the course with riders with different expressions of happy, joy and positively please make it stop screams of terror depending on how experienced they were.

One thing to watch out for though is that the tickets were cash only. Unless you do what we did and bought the ticket on our phone then showed the phone to the staff at the entrance. A long walk back to Blair Atholl avoided – until we worked out that most of the stalls were cash only and that we’d need to scavenge for food for lunch.

I like seeing new sports and, with a sunny day, some action at all times, and a loudspeaker that blared across the course in an upper class accent updating everyone on the scores, there’s plenty to do.

Would I go back? Probably. But with cash. And a tweed Land Rover.