RunMhor Half Marathon 2019 (Andrew)

For the last year, a man and a woman park their cars at the end of my street and have a canoodle underneath a railway bridge.

They usually meet on a Wednesday and a Saturday. He arrives first. She then parks in front of him and pops into his passenger seat. She’s usually wearing gym gear as if she’s either just been to the gym – or, perhaps not going at all and using it as an alibi. They then proceed and….

… read a magazine, mostly, these weeks. It’s very dull. Occasionally, they share a bag of crisps.

The rendezvous has been going on for so long now – over a year – that they’ve moved into the “I just want to meet and complete a crossword with you” phase of their relationship.

It’s very strange. Although we don’t live on a through road, so it is quiet, we do have work going on and they’re parked right next to Scottish Gas’s compound and portable toilet.

It’s not discrete. Though they think it is.

“Ah”, they think, “no one will spot us if we meet every week at the same time, in the same spot in the same way!” (Except the people who live on the street and walk their dog at the same time they meet – people like me, who, after two weeks, thought “that’s the same cars!”).

I wonder now if they’ve reached the point now where it would be just too awkward to leave their spouses.

“What do you do under the bridge?” They would demand.

And they’d have to admit that it’s mostly reading Take A Break with an occasional cheesy Wotsit.

Either way, it doesn’t appear to be one thing or another. It no longer looks like a torrid secret affair and, yet, it’s definitely not two friend’s catching up.

For some reason, this couple came to mind after running the RunMhor Half Marathon. Or MhorRun as I like to call it, just to to say Moron.

It starts in Balquhidder besides Mhor 84 Motel before running on B roads and cycle tracks loop to Strathyre and back before heading out for a shorter, steeper loop onto hill trails.

It’s both a road race and a trail run. Neither one thing or another.

The first loop is mildly undulating but largely flat. The second features a very sharp climb through switchbacks up a hill before a gentle descent to the finish.

Throughout there’s plenty of water stops and jelly babies to hand. And at the end, if you can handle it, there’s even a free pint.

I took the pint just for a photo but then switched back to water – as a pint after a half marathon would be the equivalent of a Christmas party in one plastic glass.

It’s enjoyable race, with some great scenery, very little to no traffic, and a feeling that you’re running not one race, but two. Eights miles on the road then a trail run 10k to finish. But is it a road race or is it a trail run? I don’t know.

DrinkMhor

Freezing Your Ballochs Off At The Clydebank to Balloch Half Marathon 2019 (Andrew)

It wasn’t a good start. I was in the back of a taxi and having to point out to the driver that he was driving away from where we need to go. “Are you sure Clydebank is not back this way”, I pointed. He took one look at the sign saying “Clydebank” behind us and said: “I don’t know that way”. I asked if he was following his satnav and he added “Never use it – it gets things wrong all the time!”.

Given I had been tracking him on an app as he approached the house and I could see he’d missed the road, done a u-turn, missed the road again, got caught in a one way system and had parked for 5 minutes in a laybay (I assume to try and work out where he was going), he maybe wasn’t one to judge others on directions. Never mind criticise the location prowess of multiple geo-stationary satellites and the software calculations of Google.

“Can you just turn round and I’ll tell you where to go?”

“We’re going the fastest way,” he said.

We weren’t.

“You won’t get there any faster,” he claimed.

We would.

“But if you insist…”

I did.

And 10 minutes later we were in Clydebank for the start of the race and not in Hamilton, which is where we would have gone because ‘that’s the way he knew!’.

On the way over, between giving directions, I could see the weather was turning. Grey clouds were turning black. A few spots of rain became a shower became a powerwash from heaven. 

By the time I left the taxi, I was soaked through just spending 30 seconds looking round for Iain.

He wasn’t there.

Hardly, anyone was there.

I phoned him.

“Are you in the car park?”

“Yes!”

“No, you’re not. I’m here and I can’t see you.”

Then he asked if I was in the right car park as the race start had moved from the old sports centre to the new one. 

“Errr…”

Turns out my taxi driver wasn’t the only one with no idea of where he was going…

The Balloch to Clydebank half marathon should be called the Clydebank to Balloch to Clydebank half marathon as you start in Clydebank, the finish line, by jumping on a bus which takes you to the start at Loch Lomond shores in Balloch.

This year it might also have taken you back to the start because, as we drove up, the rain turned to snow, and you could see it start to cover the pavements. When we arrived, the driver was told to wait, in case the race was cancelled.

I thought it would be cancelled. The snow was heavy and I couldn’t imagine either runners racing on it or volunteers standing outside. I didn’t think it was safe. I was wrong. And right.

I was wrong that it would be cancelled. The race went ahead but with the option for people to jump on the bus and return to the start. But I’m not sure it was safe. There’s was a lot of snow and slush on the pavements and runners moved onto the road at points to run through Bowling and Clydebank.

While the roads were quiet, there were cars and buses driving behind them and I heard a few frustrated honks from the drivers. 

The race itself was a challenge to remain warm and comfortable as the weather changed from snow to rain to dry spells to rain again. 

Knowing that it might rain I’d just worn shorts and not leggings. My theory is that leggings don’t help in the rain. They just get wet, then your legs get cold as leggings cool you down. You’re better off with just your hairy legs – nature’s leggings! – when it rains.

I don’t know if this is true though but for half the race I congratulated myself on my choice as the water dried from my legs during the dry spells, and the other half of the race cursing my choice as everyone else looked like they were running as a happy as runner with toasters strapped to their thighs.

You can’t call the race scenic. There’s a few nice spots, mostly at the start as we run along the canal from Balloch, but most of the race is through housing or industrial estates. It does though have the advantage of feeling like you’re running downhill as there’s very few climbs, or even gentle inclines, and there’s a few long stretches when you run downhill. 

But at least the finish line is scenic. If you like skips and bins. 🙂

IronMan UK 2015 (Andrew)

I found my race report for IronMan UK that I’d posted on the Glasgow Triathlon Club forum and you can tell that I wrote it within a couple of days of racing because the first line is far too emphatic. And I then broke it by entering Norseman and now, this year, Challenge Roth. Oh, if only I’d listened to Wise 2015 Andrew!

Here’s the report:

Swam a bit. Rode a bit. Ran a bit. Walked a lot. Happy to finish. Will never do it again.

I just wanted to share six AMAZING tips I learnt from the race that you won’t find in Don Fink’s training guide*.

Tip 1: Crash at least once when it’s totally not your fault. I did and I promise that you’ll forget about your legs as you spend the next 20 miles daydreaming about a bike pump, the rider who crashed into you and the elaborate torture porn of the Saw films. 

Tip 2: Your nose will run. It will never stop. Why not devise your own word for wiping your nose on your sleeve, arm, shoulder, any dry patch of jersey really. Snotting anyone? 

Tip 3: You can leave a special needs bag to pick up during the bike course. You could leave spare gels and energy bars or, you could do what I did, and leave a cheese & ham sandwich and a packet of crisps. It may take a couple of minutes to stop and eat it but, after a constant diet of gels, bars and electrolyte drinks those few minutes were the highlight of my day. Mmmm…. Cheesy Wotsits!

Tip 4: We all run our own races. That’s true. But, secretly, in our heart of hearts, we all get a boost when we see a fat bloke struggle. (This is an equal opportunities tip – remember, for the people ahead of you, you will be their ‘fat bloke’ ). 

Tip 5: Spectators will cheer you. They’ll shout “You’re doing great”, “Keep going”, “You’re running really well” etc, etc. However, sometimes, you know you’re not doing great. You’re walking. You’re crawling. You’ve given up and had a cry at the side of the road. At those times, the spectators should shout “You’re crap”, “You’ll never make it”, “The fat bloke’s beating you”. Sometimes we need a bit of humiliation and tough love from strangers. For your next Ironman, to run faster, why not wear a gimp mask?

Tip 6: Finally, a tip I’ve never read before. This must be a special tip reserved only for the most dedicated Ironmen and women. I call it “Recycling”. It works like this: at some point during the race, you’ll need to go to the toilet. When you do – why not eat a banana? You’re hands are free. You’ve got time. You’re not going anywhere. So why not put in what you’re… erm… putting out? 

I’ve no other explanation for the amount of food found in the portaloos: folk are chewing and pooing – and they’re heading to Kouna! This could be you (but, please God, wash your hands, you’re an athlete, not an animal!).

*tips not found in Don Fink’s book for good reason!

Etape Caledonia 2018 (Andrew)

Recovery

It’s not often you see someone carrying a spare tyre when they’re out riding. A tube, yes. A tyre, not so much.

What are the chances you’ll need a spare tyre in the middle of a race? Or worse, in the middle of a race that you ‘d be planning to race for six months? Or worse, 10 miles into that race, you need a tyre and you don’t even get the sense you’d even started it.

What are the chances? Pretty high actually, if you’re me. I had a tyre explode 10 miles into the Etape Du Tour – a race which follows a stage of the Tour De France.

A rip in the tyre wall meant a wait at the side of the road for a motorbike support.  And then another wait as the support checked if they had any spare wheels they could give me before I was finally told “the only wheels you’ll see are the four on the bus that’s coming to pick you up!”.

I remembered this horrible memory on Sunday as I waited at the side of the road, this time just after the five mile point, for motorbike support. I was taking part in the Etape Caledonia and had selected the wrong gear before climbing a short sharp hill. I tried to change gear. My chain slipped. It became caught in the crank and it became so twisted and knotted even Alexander The great would have said “I may have conquered the world – but, fek’s sake, even that knot’s beyond me!”

But, as I waited for the inevitable conversation with the mechanic that would lead to the sweep up truck, he said:

“Wait, is that a quick release link?”

Before he pressed the chain, split it in half, threaded it through and released the knot in 30 seconds. He then threaded the chain back, linked it together and said: “You’re good to go!”

And I had a second flashback. I remembered in January I’d tried to change the chain, failed miserably at removing the pins, destroying the chain tool in the process, before I’d replaced the chain again with quick release links.

Thank you, January Andrew! You’re a star! (Even if you didn’t know what you were doing and was just following the first YouTube mechanic video you could find).

So, despite starting again near the back of field, as every one had passed as the bike was fixed, at least I was starting again this time

As for the race, a new three mile loop adds an interesting challenge to the first half and some cracking views of Schiehallion. A rebrand gives some cracking looking jerseys. And, despite a heatwave on Saturday and forecast of a dry day with more to come, there was still a couple of spots of rain as we passed Loch Tummell. The Caledonian Etape – never knowingly dry no matter what the forecast!

The highlight of the race however came as I reached the 70 mile point. I saw a man with a spare tyre tied onto the panniers on the back of his bike, I didn’t think “Ha! He won’t need that!”. Instead,  I thought: “Well played, sir, well played indeed!”

(Oh, and Iain claims he won – but the official time shows a dead heat, so I’m still the undisputed heavy weight champion of the Etape Caledonia!)

Glentress Trail 21K (Andrew)

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“Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” is referred to by the British Army as the ‘seven P’s’.

Let me add another P. Prior Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

You might say ‘prior’ is implied by ‘proper’ but, after the Glentress Trail Half Marathon, I want to emphasise how important it is to plan things in advance.

Not that I’m very good at that. I change route and distance mid-run depending on how I feel and whether I ran down a particular street before or “Oh, what’s that over there?”. Which makes runs more interesting but it doesn’t help me prepare for races where running a route is part of the whole challenge.

Perhaps I should take up orienteering but, the only time I met an orienteer, he patiently (and in depth) explained why and how he adjusted the stitching of his shoes to craft a pair of trainers that were better suited to run on an incline. No sport should require a detailed knowledge of cross stitching. Orienteering is just fast rambling with embroidery.

I thought I’d prepared for Glentress. I’d checked the weather – a perfect dry, if cold, day after a week of dry cold days guaranteeing a mud free run – and I’d checked the pre-race information for recommended kit and brought it all with me in case there was an inspection.

I even checked Iain’s Strava profile for the race from November. And, from that, I worked out that it would be six miles of climbing and six miles of descending. The profile almost looked like a pyramid.

So, mile 1, with ankles stiff and complaining as they failed to warm up while running up hill, I started to count the miles in my head as my Garmin beeped them off.

Mile 1 done. Okay, only five miles of climbing to go.

Mile 2. Some flats. Free speed. Only four miles to go.

By mile 10, when I was thinking, “What another false summit?!?”, Iain finally admitted something he’d suspected from mile 2. It was a different route!

Instead of six miles up and six miles down it was over 10 miles up (with some flats) and then a legs flailing, almost falling two mile descent back to the start.

Of course, if I was a soldier, the seven P’s would have told me to read the website course and not rely on Iain’s previous route. If I’d checked the website I’d have spotted it was a different course.

That’s why I add the eighth P. There’ no point figuring out where you went wrong halfway up a hill on mile 10 –  checking is essential!

The race itself is tough – did I mention the 10 miles of climbing? – but an excellent and varied route through the mountain bike trails of Glentress. There’s also a 10k and a marathon option (twice round) if you fancy a different challenge.

Kirkintilloch 12.5K 2018 (Andrew)

There are two types of runners. There are runners who park beside the start line and then there’s runners who park on Mars – to give themselves a bit more of a challenge by running 55 million kilometres as ‘warm up’.

I’m a runner who parks beside the start line. If I had a choice, I’d park on the start line. Warming up is just wasted energy after all. Why run before you need to run?!?

Now, some people – coaches, athletes and professionals – will tell you that warming up is an essential part of the whole running experience. If you don’t warm up then your muscles are cold and stiff and more likely to break. But those people – those experts – have clearly never had warm up in Scotland in January when it’s cold and wet and miserable and the thought of spending 30 seconds stretching each hamstring is as enticing as sharing a hot tub with Donald Trump.

Scotland is not a country for warming up. It’s a country for running as fast as you can out your front door until you run as fast as you can back in your front door and straight into a hot shower.

Which is what I wanted to do after Kirkintilloch 12.5K.

The Kirkintilloch 12.5 is a hilly circuit around the edge of Kirkintilloch on mostly old farm roads. It’s also one of the most exposed races with the top of every hill giving the freezing cold winds a good 50 mile standing start to breeze right through you.

It also doesn’t help that there’s very few car parking spaces near the start so, before the race, there was also a battle between the runners who like to park next to the start line to actually park next to the start line. Most failed.

We saw quite a few running a mile along the road from the centre of Kirkintilloch to the edge of the town, where the race started.

Luckily, we found a spot on a side street not far from the start as otherwise who knows what might have happened if we’d had to run before we ran. (We’d have probably run round faster as we were warmed up but that’s beside the point!)

The race itself featured a cold wind, some ice on the side of the road and a Penguin biscuit at the finish line. It also had a few sharp wee hills and a couple of longer drags. The good thing though is that the hill you race up at the start is also the hill you race down at the end. At which point we could see people cooling down.

Don’t get me started on cooling down. It’s Scotland. In Scotland, if you cool down any further you’ll turn into Frosty the Snowman.

Instead, don’t warm up, never cool, just park near the finish line, you know it makes sense.

 

 

Antonine Trail Race 2017 (Andrew)

Normally you get a banana at the end of a run but, yesterday at the Antonine Trail Race, we got a big banana at the start – along with two skeletons, several witches and a Homer Simpson.

That’s what happens when you have a race on Halloween weekend.

We didn’t join in. It was tough race and the only fancy dress I wanted was a jet pack to help get up and over the two hills that made up most of the route. First up, Croy Hill, a long climb through muddy tracks and thick grass, then Bar Hill, another long climb along a forest track before, cruelly, the race finished with another climb up Croy Hill.

It was a fantastic day, sunny, bright, and with a slight chill that made it impossible to decide what to wear – assuming you were wearing running gear and not a large yellow fruit costume – as it was too cold for a t-shirt at the start but too warm to run in two t-shirts a mile after starting. I choose a single t-shirt and then stayed in the car with the heater on until the race was about to start. This is my version of warming up…!

The race was mostly off-road and on narrow tracks. While dry, the previous week’s rain had left much of it covered in thick mud. The first few miles were spent doing the bandy legged hop leap and jump of someone half runner/half frog.

The good news was that you could follow the runner in front of you and try and follow their footsteps on the basis that if they cleared a path then you would just be stepping into the hole they’ve already created in the mud. So, if you want to keep your trainers clean when running through mud just follow someone with big feet in front of you.

The race was tough, with a few steep climbs (which in this context means, ‘walks up hill’ rather than ‘gets out the rappelling gear’) but some great views across to the Trossachs and outwards Falkirk and the east coast.

You can see part of it on this short video:

The Dirty Reiver 2017 (Andrew)

The Dirty Reiver 130 (80 miles) is a gravel race along the access roads that service the vast areas of forest covering the border of Scotland and England.

A gravel race is basically an off-road race and, as such, you don’t want to use a road bike.

The clue’s in the name: Road bike for…. roads. Off-road bike for… going off the road.

It should have been obvious but, oh no, not me, I knew better. Or worse, as it turned out…

The Dirty Reiver started last year and it’s based at Keilder Castle in Northumberland, an an area of the country that I, and it turned out, the mobile network, have never been.

Keilder is home to Europe’s largest man-made lake, though why there’s a lake in the middle of Northumberland is not something that’s mentioned in any of the leaflets I checked at the castle. It’s certainly not there because it’s easy to get to because Keilder is in the middle of a large moor crossed by single track roads then large forests crossed by slow winding b-roads.

It’s beautiful but it’s the kind of beauty that demands patience – and an ability to ignore the tractor blocking the way in front of you.

We drove down on Friday and registered on Friday night, though you can register before the race too. We stayed in the town of Bellingham, which was on 30 minutes from the start, though an early start of 5:40 was needed as the race started at 7am.

Normally, bike races start early to avoid traffic – so I wasn’t sure why a race with no traffic needed to start so early. But, I also thought I could use a road bike, and I wasn’t any better at predicting timings.

“Maybe six hours?” I said to Iain.

Nowhere close.

Race day had ideal weather. Sunny-ish. Not too warm. A very light breeze and, as it had been dry all week, the trail was dusty rather than muddy.

It was cold to start but nothing that an emergency use of the Glasgow Tri Club buff couldn’t fix, after I realised that I’d forgotten to bring gloves.

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Did I tell you how well prepared I was for this race…?

The race started in waves of around 20-25 bikes with a sharp drop from the castle then straight into the forest. The first couple of miles were… okayish. A steady climb. A dirt track then…

Ouch!

The first descent.

Crickey!

Another stone.

Blimey!

And another.

Jings!

And another.

And I’d only gone one metre.

100 metres of a descent later and I feel like Godzilla has kicked me in the baws then grabbed my arms, shaken me about, and punched me in the back.

And only another 78 miles to go.

It was horrendous. Every bump, stone, rock and pepple went straight through my bike and into me. I had to pull on my brakes through any descent just to keep some control.

I was going slower downhill than I was going uphill.

It was HORRIBLE.

And I knew then that my six hour estimate was completely wrong.

The first hour followed a pattern of grinding up a hill, with slate and pebbles sliding away beneath my wheels, to trying to go down hills as slowly as possible so as not to go over my handlebars or become an involuntary eunuch.

I hated every minute of it.

And, to make things worse, Iain was on a mountain bike and making the whole thing look easy as, every hill, he was picked up by Godzilla and given a soothing massage through the magic of suspension and fat tyres.

Not that I didn’t have the right tyres. The organisers had recommended 33 inch tyres as a minimum and that’s what I had. But I needed more than the minimum, I needed big knobbly tyres and shock absorbers. Instead I got BATTERED.

The route itself was spectacular with the scenery changing every 10 miles as you go through forest, moors, farmland, dirt track, walking trails and, thankfully, blessedly, a five mile stretch of smooth, smooth tarmac.

There’s even a river crossing.

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But it was tough and my lack of a ‘granny gear’ meant every hill was a challenge and my lack of springs in my bum meant I’ll never sit down again.

After eight hours we finally got back to Keilder castle. I had to:

  • Stop once to reattach my back wheel after all the shaking shaked it loose from the frame!
  • Stop twice to stop my nose bleeding after all the shaking  shaked it loose from my brain!
  • And stop umpteen times to just stop shaking!

I’m glad I took part. I now know what it’s like to race a gravel race and to race off-road but I don’t think I’ll be signing up for another anytime soon. Not without a mountain bike – and not without a doctor’s note that I can still father children.

Oh, my poor baws!

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Trossachs 10K (Andrew)

Processed with Snapseed.
Processed with Snapseed.

Every race needs a starter. If you don’t have a starter then you don’t have a race, you just have a lot people in lyrca standing politely and looking at each other to see if anyone else is going to move first. That’s not a race, that’s a queue.

You need a starter. Someone to fire the pistol, sound the horn, drop the flag, or fire a smoke cannon and let off a hundred fireworks (Long Course Weekend, I’m looking at you and your extravagant start!).

The Trossachs 10K however did things a litle different. It was started by a local chef from the Forth Inn.

“Good luck,” he said, dressed in chef’s whites and still wearing his apron like he’d just wandered out of his kitchen, which he had, because the kitchen was only 20 metres from the start line.

“Why is the chef starting the race?” I asked Iain.

We couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t mention a running club, so we assume he wasn’t one of the organisers, he didn’t mention a charity, so he wasn’t one of the beneficiaries, and he didn’t plug his restaurant, so he wasn’t even looking for publicity.

We can only assume that there was a misunderstanding. Someone must have said they needed a starter and someone else thought they’d best get a chef because, if there’s one thing chefs know, then it’s starters…

It’s apt that the race was started by a chef as the only reason we were racing the Trossachs 10K was that there was a cracking butchers in town and we fancied a run then lunch from the butchers (sausage roll and a macaroni pie for me, delicious).

The race itself is run through the Queen Elizabeth forest and is mostly on trail paths. It’s a great route with some ups and downs through the forest. It was raining but not too heavily to make it uncomfortable to be out running.

I ran round with Iain, we weren’t competing against each other or looking for a time, but, at the end, I felt comfortable and sprinted the final few hundred metres. Sadly, the chef wasn’t at the finish, but, you know, no one finishes with a starter.

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Tough Guy (Iain)

I’m a tough guy!

It’s true. I can prove it.

A) I’ve been in a fist fight. It was against Andrew, and we were aged five, but it still counts.

B) I’ve crashed my car and survived…It was at low speed and entirely my own fault and some people might say it wasn’t a crash, it was a poorly executed three point turn, but it still counts.

C) A man once said “Iain, you are a Tough Guy”.

First staged in 1987, the Tough Guy Challenge is held on a  farm near Wolverhampton. It has been widely described as “the toughest race in the world”, with up to one-third of the starters failing to finish in a typical year.

I did the event in 2006. Four of us came down from Scotland for it. The night before the race we stayed in a barn on the farm. The barn smelled of horses and horse shit. The hay was very comfy to sleep on but it was tricky to find a patch that a horse hadn’t used…

The race starts with a 10K run over farmland. At various points we were made to run up and down small hills. The aim is to spread the field of participants out so that there’s plenty of space once the obstacles start.

The first obstacle was bits of string hanging from a frame. Next to the frame a sign said: “Electrified!” I took one look at the string, one look at the sign and immediately ignored the warning and walked into the string. I woke up 2 seconds later. My head hurt and I wondered why I was lying in a field staring at string. The electric shock had been strong! It felt like I’d been punched by Mike Tyson. I crawled under the string.

The next obstacle was a muddy body of water. I started to go round it. A man shouted “No! In it!” I’d rather not. It looked cold and was full of mud and who know what else. I jumped in. It was disgusting. I went in as myself and emerged as Swamp Man. Why am I doing this stupid race?

After that was a net. At last, something straightforward. Oh no. I notice the flames above the net. Great. If I don’t drown then I get burnt alive. I started crawling under the net. I was now faced with a much more horrific site. The man in front of me was crawling along wearing nothing other than a g string! His big sweat mud encased arse swaying in front of my face. I hope he doesn’t stop suddenly.

The race continued in this vein for nearly three hours. I wish I could say I enjoyed it but I struggled to see the point in it. I finished first amongst my friends and when I did so I heard a man say “Iain, you are a tough guy!”

But I wasn’t the toughest guy. My mate collapsed half way round. He was brought round in the ambulance. They asked him how he felt. He replied “I feel like continuing” He got up and finished the race. That’s tough!

Today I saw an advert on on Facebook – this year’s event is going to be the last one ever.

Will I do it again? No – I’m a tough guy, not a stupid guy!