Monday, 11 August 2014

Lakeland 100

Lakeland 100 Website
Lakeland 100 Pictures by Thomas Loehndorf

Its now two weeks since the Lakeland 100 race, an amazing experience that I will cherish forever. Here is my account of the race. A lot of it was hazy but it is still a long blog. I think when Marc Laithwaite said 7 I started to get nervous. I really hadn’t up until now. Training had gone okay, the taper perhaps too short though I had done my homework on who was racing. But at 7 seconds until the start of the Lakeland 100 I had a shiver. Was I really going to do this?
The Lakeland 100 is well known as one of the hardest Ultras in the UK with at least a 50% dropout rate and I had seen this first hand last year at the end when I went to see Debbie finish. I was used to the West Highland Way which although in the Highlands of Scotland is certainly far more runnable and far better suited to my style of running. But here I was at the start wondering if this was a good idea. I am sure everyone has these thoughts though and I know that Debbie would tell me to man up. The countdown reached 0 and we were off. The legs were stiff and I wasn't sure if running 4 munros the week before with Andrew Murray in support of his 10 peak challenge with Donnie Campbell was a good idea. Or perhaps it was the taper. No use worrying now as I was here now and running. By the outskirts of Coniston I was already in second place and a bit worried that perhaps it was too fast. Looking back at the race history a lot of people seem to run the start fast but Terry Conway the record holder had done the first section in 1 hour 9 minutes and 10th place at Seathwaite. I was sure I was on this pace but seemed to be in second place. Perhaps the heat had curbed everyones enthusiasm. It was at least 28C and there was even pictures in Facebook of someones car saying 33C although I did take this with a pinch of salt. Whatever the temperature it was warm and sweaty - not helped that we had lay around all day in the tent which made the heat now feel cold.

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 By Seathwaite I was part of the lead group of three which consisted of Charlie Sharpe, Lee Knight and myself. The running went without a hitch, each of us taking turns to open and close the gates. This group would be perfect for me as I was still unsure about the navigation during the night section and this would suit my plan of trying to take it steady until the morning and then hopefully if I felt good start to race after Pooley Bridge. In the end though this didn't happen.

I was confident though that even this early on in the race that the winner would be one of us 3. Lee seemed to be breathing harder but was in good spirits, Charlie seemed to be taking it all in his stride - looking relaxed and fit. We stayed together as a group all the way to Wasdale. For some reason I was having problems and kept tripping over things and falling. The 3rd time coming into Wasdale was a sore one and as I hobbled a bit into the checkpoint I wondered if it was a fuel problem. I stayed longer in the checkpoint trying to get more food in me and coke which I wouldn't normally take this early in a race. Charlie was in and out very efficiently and was away like a shot. Lee came in slightly behind and then pushed me to leave the checkpoint with him. As Lee and I set off together I could see Charlie making a break ahead. (At the time I thought he was making a break although later when reading his blog Charlie had continued out of the checkpoint still chatting to us but Lee and I were no where near him. Charlie's blog)

As Charlie pushed ahead I worried as I needed him to help navigate during the night as he had done the race before and I really didn't want to lose sight of him, so I pushed hard to try to catch him. Feeling a bit guilty as I slowly left Lee I wasn't making any progress in catching Charlie when suddenly my calfs started to go the tingly way when cramp is near. This was really not good. Cramp in the first 20 miles of a 100 mile race isn’t going to get you very far so I had to let him go and I slowed down to drink more and get some electrolyte in. When I reached the top of the pass I looked down and couldn't see Charlie anywhere all the way down to the Black Sail Hut. I knew from the miles we had done already that Charlie was quicker on the rockier sections and downhill. I had to slow even more on the downhill though as every small slip or misplaced foot had my calf tingling and nearly shooting into cramp. I was annoyed to be affected by this so soon in the race but also happy that it was early on. I had time on my side to fix it and I was still confident that I had in me a podium finish. As I headed up Scarth Gap pass I had to use my head torch. Thinking that Charlie would be doing the same I scanned the route again for any sign of his but there was nothing. He was miles away and I was starting to think that perhaps second place was a good result for a first Lakeland 100. I was worried about the next section as I had had a nightmare on my recce run and that was in daylight. What would it be like in the dark? Again coming down the pass was a tricky affair with the tingly calfs still there but when I reached the water of Buttermere I had a second wind and started to get back running again. Fantastic I thought but this only lasted a couple of minutes when I yet again tripped and fell on the road. Dirty, bleeding and pretty well bashed up I got up to hear a massive cheer from across the water. Charlie had reached the checkpoint at least 10 minutes away, I turned to look at the path behind to see 2 torches gaining on me with the section I feared the most in front of me.

I was in and out of the checkpoint at Buttermere pretty quickly but also felt rejuvenated after a coffee that I had there. I had to get the next stage right or I was going to drop further behind Charlie. By the end of the woods though I had already had to check the Road book 2 or 3 times. This was hopeless and I was never going to catch anyone this way. Then I remembered what Debbie had said about this section - “Cross 3 streams up the scree and then along to the cairn with the sheep fold and then up” So thats what I did - I read ahead in the Road book and summarised each part. I remembered parts from my recce too which helped. After crossing the second stream I could see Charlies torch in the distance and this also gave me a push but he was still a long way ahead. The two torches behind certainly looked closer but I didn't worry. Ill keep trying to navigate myself in front of the two torches but if that doesn't work I can drop back to the two torches behind and they can help navigate and together as a group we might catch Charlie. I guessed that the two torches must be either Lee, Ian Symington or Paul Tierney all of whom had done the race before and would know where to go. 

Before long I was on top of Sail Pass, it was a beautiful night - inky black with millions of stars keeping me company. I switched off my torch to get a better look at them - Amazing. I looked back and seemed to have pulled away from the torches behind which really pushed me on. Unfortunately the torch ahead was no-where to be seen. I then managed to go wrong at Low Moss - taking the wrong path which then disappeared and having to retrace my steps again - wasting another few minutes and then more minutes lost when coming into Braithwaite and turning at the wrong sign post even although I knew I had to look for a bench. Even with these route issues though I arrived in Braithwaite to be told that I was 12 minutes behind the leader. With 70 odd miles to go in an ultra 12 minutes is not a sure lead. Its a long way and anything can happen.

Whilst creating my race plan I had spoken to Richie Cunningham who had raced the year before and asked his advise. He had said that his approach was to take it easy to Braithwaite and then hammer it to Howtown and then taking it easy after that. Richie is a better hill runner than me and I like flat running so I was taken aback by this plan. In fact after my recce I decided it might be better to keep something for the end instead. But now as I came out of Braithwaite I decided to change the plan and now push. The good thing was the next 8.5 miles I knew without the Road Book. So I started to pick it up and was happy to see the average pace on my watch drop. When I got to Keswick there was a bunch of spectators and one of them shouted out 9 mins behind the leader. I couldn't believe it - I had caught up 3 minutes in just 2 miles. This pushed me on more as I pushed round Lonscale Fell and caught a glimpse of Charlies Torch. This pushed me on quicker. Now I could see that the torch in front was now and then looking back at me and for the first time I knew that Charlie was worried.

I was nearly at Blencathra when I saw the first torches appear across on Lonscale Fell. I had made great time and now had a comfortable cushion between me and 3rd place. 4th place seemed to be a bit further back again. I wondered who it was and how they were doing. Up front Charlie had pushed because I didn't seem to catch up anymore distance. At the centre I was speaking to the fab Checkpoint staff just as normal when it suddenly dawned on me I was talking to a grown man dressed as a fairy. I wasn't even hallucinating yet but it gave me a laugh and as I left asking what direction do I go. The next bit I was back trying to navigate so I never gained anything but I did know the route from the Quarry to Dockrey off by heart so I decided to take my time until the Coach road and then hammer it (as Richie said) to Dockrey. I never saw Charlie's torch once on the way to the quarry but the moment I was past the farm I spied it ahead perhaps half way up the hill. This got me going again and I took off towards the fence using it to guide me to the coach road. I felt that I was gaining all the way up the hill but was a bit dismayed when I reached the road to see Charlies torch miles away.

I hit the road but just made sure that I kept a consistent pace. It wasn’t long though before I could see Charlie's legs illuminated from his head torch in front. His stride had shortened and he didn’t look as comfortable as earlier on the hills. This gave me another push that I needed and before long I had caught him up. Charlie heard the steps behind and said he was wondering where I had got to. Asking if he was okay he replied that he was just looking forward to the mountains again. Now I had a decision. Trust my dodgy navigation to Dalemain and run by myself or run with Charlie and then risk him getting away in the mountains again when there was no flat sections left for me to catch back up. I ran straight past Charlie. I felt guilty for a moment but then I remembered it was a race and I was here to try and win. When I passed him I felt relief that holding back had worked but I had still kept tabs on Charlie. I had learnt from the mistake of letting someone get too far away from me last year when I didn’t give Paul Giblin the respect he deserved in the WHW and thought that he had gone too hard to early only for him to beat me by an hour.

Into Dockrey and again a fantastic Checkpoint. The feeling of pride to arrive at a checkpoint first and feed from the supporters enthusiasm was overwhelming. They couldn’t do enough for me and I will have fond memories of all the checkpoints on the course. My main aim though was to be out of this checkpoint before Charlie arrived. When I left and crossed the road I heard the cheers as Charlie arrived. I had done it. I was leading and just had to keep myself grounded. I needed this section to go well. There is a lot of road from Dockrey to Dalemain and I remember cursing it during my recce run. Running long distance in a pair of Salomon Ultras that weigh 210g and are actually lighter than my racing flats that I would use for 10k running was always gonna hurt. I had started ultra running in cushioned shoes (although nothing like Hokas) and gradually found that the lower profile shoes actually gave me less injuries. When I ran the recce run I felt every mile of that road section coming up to Dalemain. I just hoped this time would be different.

First though I had to run Aira Force and then Ullswater. More navigation and the chance for Charlie to catch me. So I put the boot in down to the village of Dockrey - sprinting down the road to make sure he wouldn’t have a chance to feed off my head torch like I had his. Onto the off road part I looked round to see if I could see his head torch - nothing so far but I expected him any moment and for the next hour or so it became an OCD - turning round to scan for head torches. A horrible un-itchable itch. I was too busy trying to route find and look for Charlie and ran straight past the turn off and down the hill. Immediately I knew I had gone wrong though and ran back up… Concentrate Marco - Keep doing this and you will throw this away. I reached the climb round Green Hill, remembering Debbie telling me that the sunrise over Ullswater was beautiful. I took a break on the uphill to gaze around and wonder at the views. There was none though, it was still pitch black. I could see a big dark patch that must be the lake and is that a head torch through the trees? A head torch. Damn. I pushed up the hill, my quads screaming until I the path turns north. I scanned behind - nothing. I think I was starting to imagine things or seeing car headlights. I pushed on - remembering that I needed to turn right into the woods but running straight past the turn off. Everything was so different in the dark. Where is the bloody sun. Fighting back through long grass looking for the bridge and thanking God when I reached it.

Into the woods and startling something big when I reached them. Just a deer I shouted at myself - not an alien, flesh eating zombie, velociraptor or another runner catching me up. Out of the woods I start to see more light from the sun coming through and at last I am on open fields and I turn off my torch. It is still a bit dark but I don’t want to give anyone a bearing on where I am. When I reach the road I turn round - scanning for any light from the other runners. There is none. I take a look at the map and memorise the route to Dalemain. Left fork, right junction, left junction, castle, farm track, arch. And then I totally boot it again. I need a comfortable cushion before the hills. I am on road, the sun is up and I feel good. Dalemain is deserted. I half expected the Lakeland 50 runners to be there already but their race didn't start for another 6 hours or so. Running through the car park I hear a couple of cheers from people in their cars and then when I close in on the checkpoint I see a friendly face - my friend Thomas Loehndorf. He was on the course taking pictures. 14581829720 e3a717d200 o

Like every checkpoint the guys here are fantastic and my drop bag was with me before I had even stopped running. I had a small bag full of all the food I needed for the second half, more nuun tablets, coke and red bull. By this time I had drunk my full of coke but the Red Bull was so so good. I remembered Debbie saying she spent 20 minutes last year here so I was determined to make the stop as fast as possible. 2 cups of coffee and some soup (I think) and I was off, with cheers from the checkpoint and Thomas behind me. I checked my watch and was less than 8 minutes. That will do I thought.

All the way up the hill I kept listening out for a cheer which would tell me when Charlie arrived. As I made my way to Pooley Bridge I hear nothing. Could I start to relax? Although I am certainly not a hill runner I was looking forward to the next few sections. Mostly because I had done them twice in recce’s and so I could put the Route Book and map away for a while. Towards Howtown was beautiful. The sun was up and I was now on my way back to Coniston.

Feeling good I was even not looking back as much as before. I kicked again down the hill, still worried that I would be caught on the hills. I think I startled the guys at Howtown when I arrived but they had everything ready for me. I was starting to get really sick of coke now and so was trying coffee and soup too. I then started the climb up to High Kop. I was walking well up the hill, although I didn't recognise him - I passed Ian Corless (host of the Talk Ultra podcast) who was taking pictures and then onto the small flat section. I tried to get back running again but could only manage a few paces. Then a walk, then a few paces. This continued all the way to the hill. I was trying to think what would fix it - what did I have in my pack. In my haste to leave Dalemain I had put most of the food in my backpack and only a couple of gels were accessible. I couldn't be bothered going in my pack so took a gel and then marched on. Half way up the last climb to High Kop my legs rejected any sort of movement and I came to an abrupt stop. Yikes. Okay I have time. I stopped and took my pack off and rummaged through it. There was nothing in it that I wanted at all. The thing is I know I have to eat so I start to force down bars and gels together. Washing it down with water, gagging on it but knowing that this will help. I am now hit with the worst hunger ever. I was so hungry but nothing I ate filled me up. I had never felt like this in an ultra where I was so hungry as I am used to a support team looking after me and they normally force feed me way before this happens. I turn around to see a small figure making its way slowly past the ruins in the distance. Is that a runner? I look for a while. It doesn't seem to move. Is it Ian or is is Charlie? I stare for longer - is it a sheep? I can’t even tell if it is moving anymore. I swear it was when I first looked but now I am not so sure. Is it a sheep or a rock? I am not staying any longer to find out. I pack my bag back up and swallow another retched bar. From High Kop it is fairly runnable so I push again using the downhill and new found energy to get going again.

During the recce runs I always struggled coming off the hill towards the bridge. No matter what route I took I always ended up having to battle through ferns and today was no different. Tracy Dean had shown me the right way too but the ferns were much higher now and I struggled to find the paths and markers she had pointed out. I wasted at least 10 minutes tearing a new path through them continuously looking up at the hill expecting to see Charlie bounding down towards me. If I do the race again I have to figure out a better way to come down here. When I finally reach the reservoir, which reminds me of the West Highland Way section on Loch Lomond in which I had learnt that even although you are running slow it is actually hard work and so just be patient and take your time. Still it seems to go on forever and my legs are becoming tired. I trip and fall - battering my knee on a rock and then rolling down the side of the hill trying to grab onto something to slow me down. As usual I find something and of course its thorns. Climbing back up the hill and nursing bloodied hands and a sore knee I push on, struggling to get my running form back. It goes on and on but finally I can see the car park at Mardale Head and all of a sudden cheers and the sound of cow bells across the lake. The last few hundred meters feel slow into Mardale and I wonder if the guys at the checkpoint are wondering how I can be the first runner. I am asking how far 2nd place is from me and I think the answer was 20 minutes.

Again the Checkpoint volunteers are superb. Soup / coffee fill the bottles with coke. I think thats what I did but things are starting to get hazy. I have no idea how many miles I have done or how many there is left to do. I have the route in my head, the long squiggly line on its way to Coniston and I still have a third of it to go. My head maybe on a different planet but I am enjoying the run as I start the grind up Gatesgarth Pass. I think this is where being a fast walker comes in handy as I again push the up hill, each step pushing on my knees with my hands. I often wonder if poles would be a good idea for these climbs but I would break my neck tripping over them. Running 24 hours on a running track hasn’t prepared me for the off road nature of this course which I am struggling to not bash my toes on every rock never mind throwing in a couple of poles to trip over too. Finally at the top and I have the nice long downhill to look forward to, but my knee is really beginning to ache and what should be a pleasant rest bite ends up a teeth clenching battle. I give in and take painkillers hoping they will ease it and then I battle more with each uneven boulder wrenching the knee in a different direction. While it has been a couple of weeks now since the race I must admit a lot of the rest of it is pretty hazy. The lack of food and sore knee taking their toll I suppose. The rest of this report won’t go into as much detail - you will be glad to hear.

I finally arrived at Kentmere. Well actually I am awoken from my dazed state by Jenn Gaskell screaming “Its Marco - I didn't know you were running today!!” I have to admit Jenn’s enthusiasm is infectious. I had met her a year ago at the Lakeland 100 when my wife had introduced me and then again at the Tooting 24 hour where after she pulled out of the race she had the unenviable task of counting my laps during the night but still she smiled and laughed with me the whole time. Today was no different and her enthusiasm woke me up from my haze and I started to think what I needed to get going again. “Anything savoury - no sweet stuff” I blurt out. Immediately they are giving me water and nuts. I choke on the water spitting it out all over the checkpoint and then can’t chew the nuts as my teeth are too sensitive and so spit them out. The checkpoint volunteers think I am about to be sick and follow me about with buckets. They give me pasta which I wouldn't normally eat during an ultra but it goes down so well that I guzzle the whole lot up. “How far is second behind?” I blurt out thinking that he must be catching me up by now. The timing guy is at the checkpoint and tells me that Charlie is an hour behind. I can finally relax I think and then more good news, Debbie is leading the girls race.

Coming out of the checkpoint I am finding it harder to remember where the route goes and have to ask Jenn for the directions. I do remember though that it is a hill all the way to Garburn Pass and with the knee getting sorer and sorer when I start running I am glad of the hill. At the top I have to push to get going again into Troutbeck but once going the pain subsides and I manage some good running on my way to Ambleside. I am sure its only 16 miles from here but the Garmin has run out of batteries and I am in the dark. Reaching Ambleside, I am again feeling hazy. There are certainly food issues and as I write this I am struggling to remember anything. Most of it feels like a dream that I am trying to latch onto fading memories. What I do remember is the Checkpoint crews. Everyone of them were absolutely superb.

In Ambleside I immediately recognise Clare from the recce runs who seems a bit bemused when I say I want to go into the checkpoint. I ask again how far second is behind me and again it is an hour and so I decide to eat and drink as much as I can. By now I am wasting a lot of time at checkpoints and Clare mentions that they had expected me at 10:30. It is now 11:30 and the food and knee issues are slowing me down but as long as I keep going forward I should be ok. I must have spent over 10 minutes at Ambleside before I start my hobbled run across the park. I feel so slow that I am embarrassed but I hear a spectator say to her kids that she can’t believe I am running so fast still. It gives me a push.

The trails are now getting busy and I am meeting people that know about the race or people that probably after seeing the state I am in - ask me how far I have ran and then probably don’t believe the answer. It doesn't matter anyway as the conversations and support get me going again. Although I am really enjoying these final sections it feels like I am going painfully slow. By now it is really warm which is also not helping. When I look back at my timings in these sections I am not slow but at the time it felt it. The distances between checkpoints are much shorter now but the time drags. Running towards Chapel Style I am awoken from my hazey slog by cheers from Paul and Vicky Hart. I can’t believe they are down here and the support helps push me on. Then another spectator cheers me on and I shout back that I am going painfully slow. They tell me that I am flying and no-one will catch me if I keep it up. This gives me another push and I manage to run non-stop all the way to the checkpoint. Chapel Style was the first place I sat down since the start. Just a couple of minutes. The settees where just too inviting. At every checkpoint since Ambleside I am asking for pasta but none had any so I was just drinking soup and again Chapel Style was the same. I haven't eaten anything from my rucksack since High Kop and now surviving on whatever I find at the checkpoints. (at the end of the race I was carrying not just the 400 calories emergency food you are required to carry but another 2000 calories of uneaten food and gels.)

The run towards Tiberthwaite was warm, very warm but by now it was starting to dawn on me that unless something disastrous happened I would win. I couldn't quite believe it and got a little emotional as I dragged myself towards the end. I was still emotional when I reached Tiberthwaite and it didn't make it any easier when they had specially made me pasta as they had heard I’d been asking for it for the last few checkpoints. Oh and it was so good - I honestly can say it was the best pasta I had ever tasted and then when I asked for energy drink they said that they had none but 2 minutes later one of the crew appeared with her own energy drink and filled my bottle. Thank you so much to everyone at Tiberthwaite - I don’t know any of your names but as I left the Checkpoint I felt so much better but still pretty emotional. Half way between Tiberthwaite and the end I met a man that had been following the race online. I stopped and chatted to him for ages. Much longer than I should have but it just felt right. Every now and then I would scan the route behind just to be 100% sure that none was coming. Then just one more downhill and my God it hurt my knee so much. I was in agony but when I reached the road it started to feel better as the adrenaline hit me with the finish so near. The run through Coniston was amazing. People were cheering and I ran along the middle of the road. Cars stopped for me (in my haze I probably gave them no choice but at the time I thought they had stopped for me). Debbie had told me this was amazing and she wasn't wrong. Then I saw my friend Karen with a Scottish flag which I grabbed for the end and as I ran the final few meters I couldn't believe that all these people were cheering me on and then that was it. All that planning and months of preparation and training finished too. Its a strange feeling to finish a race - you are so relieved but sad at the same time.

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Thomas was at the finish too, Karen had come down too and they both helped me into the hall for a final kit check and my medal. Until now I had always thought of my race as being the West Highland Way race. Not because I was good at it or done well at it but because I felt like part of it. It was like family and I never thought that any race could be as important to me as it was. Even when I started the Lakeland 100 race and lined up at the start it was just another race. Sure I knew it was a big race - one of the biggest I had ever done and I had not been blasé about it and had done all the prep before hand but it was just a race. That changed during my journey in this race. The race is massive - from the moment you arrive the organisation is top notch with all the volunteers really happy and enthusiastic. From the guys standing in the car park to the people at the registration. Then you have the checkpoint crews, one word - legends. These guys are out there longer than I was looking after every runner. They saved my race. The runners that were out there - it doesn't matter if it was 21 hours or 40 hours. Actually I don’t know how the runners out there for two nights do it. All legends. Mark, Terry, Clare, the Montane guys - thank you for a marvellous race that is one of the best organised events I have ever done. I am sure I have missed loads of people - thank you everyone involved with the race. Thomas - without your help I don’t know where I would be. Your training advice and friendship got me here. Karen - thank you for all the help at the end. That ice cream was amazing Thank you to my sponsor UVU Racing for having faith in me. …. And of course Debbie who won the girls race - “We did it!!!!! “

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So what went right and what went wrong? 

As Stuart Mills often talks about in his blog a race is won or lost not in how your physical condition is but how mentally fit you are. I went into the race with bags of confidence. I had in the last year raced 4 ultras before now, 2nd in the WHW, first in Tooting, G2EDM and Crawley with 2 course records. Physically too though I was prepared having spent a month doing hills and with the endurance from the 12 hour still in my legs. I had felt tired after doing the 4 munros the week before but this can be because of the taper. So physically and mentally I felt in good shape. I had gone through the start list and picked out 8 runners that could win, most of them having done it before, I checked where they were strong and how they had raced before. How had Terry got the record, where he pushed and where he took it easy. This all helps me mentally prepare for a race. If someone pushes the start I know whether to follow or leave him. Don't get me wrong - this doesn't always work as people can surprise you like Paul Giblin surprised me with his awesome West Highland Way race last year (which he yet again destroyed this year) but mostly it works and it gives me bags of confidence. In fact I was surprised when chatting to some of the other runners that they didn't know who was running the race or what they could do. In some ways I was glad that I had entered late and got a charity entry as I was in a different start list than everyone else and so hidden from view. Paul Tierney asked me on the start line if I had got a late entry and even this gave me confidence. I spoke to Stuart Mills at the end and he had said that in his eyes I have started to run better not because I am physically fitter but because I am mentally fitter and with every good race I have more confidence and I believe this helps me more than anything in a race.

Food was a big issue in this race. It went well the first half - I was eating loads of Jelly Babies and the best tasting gels ever - Torq (whom Debbie is sponsored by and so I nicked a pile of them) I was drinking coke a lot earlier than I wanted to though and this is normally is what I would count on when I have food issues and so when I did I couldn't drink anymore. I also had a load of bars that when it is warm and you are dehydrated are a struggle to eat. It was a lot warmer than I thought it would be so struggled to eat them too. At Dalemain I only had the same food I had eaten the rest of the way and so was pretty bored of that by then. In the second half - all I wanted was savoury and so just ate what I could find at the checkpoints - soup, pasta and coffee. This saved my race but also probably slowed me down a bit too as I think you need sugar to keep up a good pace. I started to feel hazy, completely stopping and having to force feed my self on the way up High Kop and making small navigation errors. If a runner had caught me in the second half I wonder if I could have stayed with them as I was having to take longer stops at the checkpoints to get food in.

The weather. It was very warm during the race. I really don't mind the heat but I did suffer from the cramp calfs early on and in pictures I can see I was sweating a bit more than I should. It made a big difference too on the food and I think it affected what I was able to eat later on. I really think I could be faster on this course if it had been a cloudy cool day. Saying that though the course was as dry as a bone due to the weeks of dry weather before hand so this was helpful too.

Would I run the race again? Most definitely. I loved the race, the support, the organisation. Its a fantastic event and definitely should be on every UK Ultra runners to-do list. I think I could improve my time with better weather and hopefully knowing the course a bit better. Hopefully I will get the chance to in the future.

Thank you to Thomas for all the pictures

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Grizedale 26 Trail Recce Run

Debbie has been trying to talk me into running this marathon for a few weeks. The problem was that it is the same weekend as the National Cross Country championships in Falkirk. A race I perversely enjoy but also one that lets me figure out where I am with training. I agreed though to compromise and so we went to the Lake District to recce the course. Reading the blurb on the website leads you into a false sense of security - "Taking place from Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre close to Hawkshead in the Lake District, this popular location for both trail runners and mountain bikers is perfect for our event series. The route will largely take place on forest trails with some stunning views of Coniston Water and also Lake Windermere if you choose the Trail 26 option. If you think the route will be flat then think again, Grizedale Forest and the surrounding areas provide challenging hills and rolling trails throughout the route" Easy peasy I thought. Its only 26 miles. I did some research and looked forward to a run with some navigation. Like the blurb from the website says the race starts at Grizedale Forest Visitors Centre and after a 5am rise and 3 hour drive we were ready to get the show on the road. The course starts to the West of the centre and follows a 14 mile clockwise route through the woodland before going back to Grizedale and doing another circuit clockwise via Windemere and then back again to complete the figure of 8. Straight away it was up a hill, not unlike coming out of Rowardennan on the WHW I enjoyed the relaxed pace as we climbed higher and higher. After the first quarter of the loop we came out of the forest and onto some hills with fantastic views. This race looked and felt like fun and I had already made up my mind to race it. I asked Debbie what the winners time was and she told me Marcus Scotney had done it in 3 hours 30 mins. At that time I was averaging 9 min 30s and it felt easy. Surely I would be fine to push the pace a little and do the 8 min mile necessary for a 3 hour 30 minute marathon. Plus I would know the route and wouldn't have ran 20 miles the day before. This race was really starting to grab me. Back into forestry and lovely trails although every now and then it would have some mud but nothing too bad. The hills though seemed unrelenting. I know I last trained for a flat 24 hour race but this was nuts. Actually it made navigation easier because when you had a choice you just picked the one that went up hill and this became the standing joke between Debbie and me. We went wrong at one place but navigation was easy and the terrain was too. As we headed back into Grizedale I felt tired but looked forward to a smaller loop. "What if the second loop is all forest. I could get a seriously good time on this" I thought. "Forget 8 minute mile - I am sure I could be quicker." This all went out the window in the first ascent back out of Grizedale and onto the Eastern loop of the race recce. Straight away it was rocky, muddy and wet. I slipped and sliced all over the place. Not great for me in Inov-8s but an absolute nightmare for Debbie in her no-grip Hokas. There was certainly some places where even a small bit of ice would make the course un runnable. The second loop was much more breath taking than the first though. Coming down onto Lake Windemere was a big plus albeit very slippy. The whole second half was rocky and slippy, although there was a few sections on road but by that time I was feeling pretty goosed. Towards the end I made a navigation mistake that meant the recce turned out to be a bit long at 28 miles. My watch said I had been running for 4 hours 30 minutes although with all the stops we had been out for 6 hours. I have to say this was nothing like a marathon and more like an ultra. My legs prove it today, feeling sore and a bit bashed. Will I run the race? I think so. Its some route - Scenic, awe inspiring and bloody hard work. Ill need a few weeks to recover after it, thats for sure. As we limped to the car I asked Debbie was she sure that Marcus managed 3 hours 30 min on that course. Perhaps it was 4 hours 30 minutes I suggested? In fact we looked up the website to find that he did it in 3 hours 12 mins. I couldn't believe that anyone could run it in that. Absolutely amazing time in that course. I will of course not be chasing him then. IMG_0980IMG_0984IMG_0979IMG_0987IMG_0978IMG_0982IMG_0986IMG_0981IMG_0985IMG_0988

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Highland Fling 2013

Highland Fling Website


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The Highland Fling is a 53 mile Ultra Race from Milngavie just outside of Glasgow to Tyndrum on the West Highland Way long distance path.  The race itself is now in its 8th year and originally started off as a training race for the West Highland Way race held in June but The Fling has now grown to become the biggest Ultra Race in the UK and now also hosts the UK and Scottish Trail race championships.  From less than 10 competitors 8 years ago the field has now grown to almost 600 including some of the cream of ultra distance running in the UK.  Originally the race was conceived by Murdo MacDonald and Ellen McVie, Murdo has passed the mantle of to John Duncan who has continued to grow this race beyond recognition.

Highland Fling 2013


I entered the Highland Fling this year as a warmup for the West Highland Way Race. Actually scrub that, I should say it was meant as a shock to my body to get me back into running on trails and off road. After three months of training on canals and roads for the 100k I felt I needed to get back into the way of trail running again. I had intended on doing some easier WHW runs before the Fling but my legs had been in such a state that I managed one run the week before. Luckily it was a good one. 


Looking at the runners in the race I was glad this was to be a training run. The big guns were here for the GB and Scottish trail Championships. I was glad that I could sit back and relax.  That was until Debbie announced she would support me. Then that Sharon would too. I then added Thomas to the mix myself. So now I had a world class support team of two GB athletes and last years Scottish 100k champion I couldn't really do this race any other way but 100%. Recovery from the 100k though had been difficult. I could barely walk the first week and then barely ran the second week after it. By the time I was running properly everything was tight and sore. Then once I finally got going I pulled something in my calf. This was now my biggest concern and I spent the week before the Fling nursing it along. 


Milngavie to Drymen

Distance 12.18 miles

We started off after the briefest of race briefing.  I like it that way.  I can't really listen to them when I just want to get started. Straight away a small group formed in front of me.  Perhaps 4 or 5 runners. Insert runners I was in a second group with Matt Williamson, Paul Giblin, Paul Fernandez and a few others.



If you have ever ran the Fling you know that the start is the section that has the most consequence on your finishing time. The 12 miles to Drymen can be run at half marathon pace although 

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that would be stupidity in an ultra and thankfully not many people try that. I am one that has always thought that 1:30 is the fastest you should do this section and that it will pay dividends later on in the race. Well after telling everyone all week that would listen that you shouldn't go out fast I did the complete opposite and did it in 1:23. And do you know something it felt fantastic. 

I was chatting away with Matt and I was having a great time. The groups thinned out until it was only the faster group at the front, perhaps 30 or 40 meters away and then the group I was in. When I glanced round I couldn't see anyone behind us at all. On the way past Glengoyne Distillery I noticed us catching another runner. It was Stuart Mills. I was excited at catching him but also slightly worried as he is we
Il known 
for starting races fast. Still I was chatting away and it felt effortless so I continued on. As I got near to my Support team I was at the front and thought they would shout at me for leading such a crazy pace so I stopped for a quick toilet break and then joined the group at the back again.

Just as we were approaching Drymen one of our group appeared to pull off and ran at break neck speed away from us. I remember the chat at the time : who is that? anyone know that guy?  Someone also added that they were sure they would see him broken at the side of the road by half way. 



Into Drymen and I was shocked at the pace we had hit here. Although it felt fine I had noticed that my dodgy calf was getting a bit sorer and stiffer. It really hit me though in the hill out of Drymen. 


Drymen to Rowardennan


Distance 14.9 miles

Total 27.08


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Our group certainly thinned more on the hill out of Drymen and it was now Matt, Paul Giblin and me at the front with Paul Fernandez not far behind. Paul F had won the 50k 4 weeks before and had run it in 3:05. A fantastic time and under 6 min miling for the whole thing. We were doing just under 7 min miles and I thought he sounded like he was breathing hard for the slower pace but he didnt seem to be in any discomfort. 

The hill was tiring for me though and the calf was certainly starting to throb more. My legs also felt like they didn't have as much kick in them as they should. It certainly felt like the 100k was still in them and I was getting worried that I wouldn't have 53 miles in them. 


I reluctantly let Matt and Paul Giblin go. I knew I would blow my race if I continued at this pace and worse I may end up knackering my calf. I was really annoyed because I felt the pace was very comfortable. Paul Fernandes went by me too and then Andrew James.  My legs were really struggling at this point but slowing just that small amount I was able to take at least keep moving.  I arrived at Conic hill and had to walk up some of it.  But I noticed that the runners were not getting much further in front and even some of them were walking too.  At least I wasn't losing any more distance or if I was it was only a small amount.  I met Ian Beattie at the top of the hill and he gave me a wee boost by telling me I was bang on target.  I wasn’t really sure what my target was but it helped anyway.


I wasn’t far behind Paul and Andrew on the way down the hill to Balmaha.  Running was now feeling easier again and I relaxed a bit.

I met Cairn and Sharon on the way down too.  I really enjoyed seeing Cairn during the run today. He gave me a big smile and a high five and I continued on meeting the rest of my support team in Balmaha.  Debbie and Thomas were faultless and I made a quick turnover and headed out in front of Paul and James.  

I was spurred on and ready for the Lochside.  To me that is one third of the race gone already.  Okay its the easy third but still its a third.


A lot of people hate the lochside but I like it.  It deserves a lot of respect and if you push even a fraction too hard it will gobble you up and spit you out like a quivering wreck at Beinglas.  You will then take an eternity to get to Tyndrum, all the time wrecking your legs and increasing your recovery from the race.  So its important to pace this perfectly.  I had ignored my pacing plan to Balmaha and so now I had to get my head screwed on at the Lochside or this B race would end up wrecking my West Highland Way preparation and I would be lucky to get a PB or a top 30 finish.


The first couple of inclines went by without too many issues but then after not long my legs felt awful.  This wasnt going to be my day I kept thinking.  I cursed the 100K for killing my legs.  I should be flying along here I thought.  Paul and Andrew went by and then Donnie Campbell too.  They all looked so relaxed and comfortable.  I had now dropped to 10th or 11th place and was out of contention for a Scottish Medal too as I was now 4th Scot too.  My heart sank again and I started to wonder if this was a good idea continuing.  My calf hurt and I was wondering if I was making it worse.  Thomas met me in the middle of no-where and I stopped and walked to him.  “Get going” he shouted in his increasingly more and more Scottish laced German accent.  “I can’t Thomas, my legs are knackered”  Thomas in reply shoved a Chocolate Brioche and Jelly Babies in my hand and pushed me on my way.  I jogged along trying to eat the Jelly Babies and looking at the Brioche wondering how the heck I was gonna eat it.  It looked hellishly dry.  Debbie and Sharon appeared in the car beside me.  “You are doing fantastic Marco, is there anything you need at the next checkpoint”  

“Nah, my legs are goosed.”and then threw half of the Brioche at Sharon hitting her in the face.  I ran off leaving them both shocked.

On I jogged.  I started to eat what was left of the Brioche to find out it was easy to eat.  Damn, I wish I hadn't thrown it at Sharon now. Karma I thought.


At Sallochy my support team were mobilised and ready for me.  I came in a sorry pitiful sight.  They shoved painkillers and red bull into me and pushed me on my way.  All done in seconds. 

I kept going on.  I was sure I was going slow and at anytime the 400 people behind me would slowly start to push by but it didn't happen.  In fact the opposite did.  I caught up someone else who looked in a far worse state than me.  They got out my way and it pushed me on.  The painkillers and Red Bull kicked in and I started running faster.  Still I didnt want to push too hard so I ran economically and walked fast up any hills.  I had trained to run the hills so it was a bit worrying but I wasn’t gonna complain as I felt like I was going again.


I came into Rowardennan and I have to say I was a bit all over the place here.  I didnt feel like I was all there and people were shouting things all over the place and I didnt really understand it.  But what I do remember was seeing Paul Giblin.  This gave me a wee push.  Perhaps I hadnt been that slow along the Lochside so far.  Maybe I can get going aga

in?  Paul left first but after more Red Bull and a load of sugar from my team I was on my way again.  It was like someone had strapped a bomb to me.


Rowardennan to Beinglas

Distance 14.08

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Total 41.16


I left Rowardennan and before long I could see Paul in the distance.  I remember doing this section a couple of years ago with Paul during the West Highland Way and he was so strong.  If I could hold onto him he could pull me along.  I caught up with Paul and found out he had fallen before Rowardennan and had a terrible section too.  We arrived at the first hill and I thought that I would have my work cut out trying to walk up here if Paul ran it but instead he seemed to drift behind me and I went ahead.  I tried to be sensible as I didn’t want the legs to go again so I walked quickly and then ran as soon as I could.  I kept expecting Paul to catch up but he didn’t.  I then got another boost when I turned a corner and met Keith Hughs who was walking the WHW.  I walked with him up one of the hills and he told me I was doing great.  I still didnt think so but pushed on, sneaking a look back to see that I couldn’t see Paul behind.

All the way to Inversnaid I tried to run economically and not push too hard.  I was starting to relax and dare I say I was enjoying it now.  The first time since just before Drymen.  My calf was still hurting but it wasn’t too distressing.  I arrived in Inversnaid desperate for some sugar.  Karen, George and David Gow were there and handed me a bottle of coke.  I drank it so fast that I spent the next 10 minutes burping.  Always seemed to burp when I caught walkers too.


I couldnt believe the difference in my legs.  They felt fresh and I was now scrambling up and down the hills.  It was really good fun after a winter of canal training.  I played around too trying different ways of running on the terrain.  All in preparation for the WHW race in June.  This was also a test for my shoes and they seemed to be doing okay too (Inov-8 Rocklites) although y the end of the race I had managed to rip them.


All of a sudden I caught sight of another runner.  Well I think it was.  If you have ran this section you will know its tough to see very far ahead or behind you.   No it most certainly was another runner and they looked like they were struggling.  It was Paul Fernandes and he looked like he was having an issue with his pack while running along.  I pushed to catch him and it wasn't long before I overtook him.  I was starting to enjoy this.  Within another 10 minutes I caught sight of another runner but I would not pass him so easily.  It was Andrew James and he held the record for the Fling.  He wasnt doing record pace today but he certainly wasnt letting me overtake him.  As I drew close he sped away and my technique of now walking all the hills want working.  He would run up them.  He didnt seem so sure on the rocky sections and I would catch up there but then we would reach a hill and he would fly up them.

The last hill before Beinglas he took a lot out of me and I could see his luminous top run off into the distance.  No worries Marco. You will be faster on the next sectio



As I came in towards Beinglas I felt a glow.  I had saved this race and I was going great guns now.  I was in 7th place and 3rd Scot.  I couldnt wait to see my support team and show them that they hadnt wasted their day out.  This was gonna be my day.



Beinglas to Tyndrum


Distance 12.23

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Total 53.39


As I came into Beinglas I couldnt see my support team.  Then all of a sudden I heard a disbelieving shout....  “Its Marco”  

I think I even surprised them.  I was smiling and enjoying myself.  They handed me a Magnum Ice Cream and I ate three quarters of it in one mouthful and then they handed me my Red Bull.  Which I topped up the my already full mouth.  

Debbie was pushing me on telling me I was right behind Andrew James.  I was nodding - unable to speak.  Mouth full.

On I went.  I couldnt chew the concoction in my mouth.  It was lovely but I couldnt swallow.  Eventually it melted enough and I got back into my stride.  I could see Andrew James.  Right you I thought.  I am gonna catch you.  He stopped for a toilet break and I smiled to myself.  He is having toilet issues.  That is why I am catching him.  I knowits not that sporting of me but it happens to all of us Ultra runners and I was going to seize this moment.  I started to run to try and catch him but I never did.  Perhaps with less weight he was faster now.  He flew off.  (I later found out he was never that far ahead of me but I thought he was)

I could see another runner now and I thought I would catch him but he was also too strong.  I thought that they ended up miles in front of me but they weren't by the end.


For a sub 8 time I knew what I had to do.  I had 2 hours 15 minutes to do it so I started to relax again.  I was here for a PB and not to kill myself.


I always find this section slow going.  I suppose everyone does.  You don’t notice it but there is a fair amount of climbing from Beinglas to Crianlarich and after the Loch section I think you expect this part to be easier.  It never is and that also drains you a bit.


I could still see Andrew James in front and every  flat section I tried to catch him.  But every hill he would get further away again.  By Carmyle Cottage I met my support and could tell that I had slipped behind a bit as they no longer pushed me to catch Andrew.  I didn’t mind.  I was onto a PB and a good placing.  It was not an embarrassment to be beaten for a place by the current record holder.


From the cottage to Carmyle I had a good section, running most of it but taking some walking breaks.  I even had time to enjoy some of the scenery and even watch the Harry Potter train go by.  Cow Poo junction was even worse than I remembered it ever being but I was happy and didn’t mind.  I met Thomas at Crianlarich and we walked up the hill together as he fed me more coke.  It was all very like a training run and I didn’t have any real  urgency.  Now and then I would check my watch to make sure I was on target for the sub 8 and then I would continue my jog to the end while enjoying the scenery and actually enjoying myself.  A far cry from earlier on at the start of the Lochside.


I reached the wigwams to be greeted by my excellent support team.  My relaxed running was shattered when they announced that if I got my finger out I could break 7:45.  Now the race was on.  I buckled down and started to run as much as I could.  Now and then I would have a small walk.  A couple of paces and then force myself to run again.  My watch was the enemy as it counted ever closer to 7:45.


7:32....  I was onto the last section, I was across the road and Tyndrum was now and then in sight as I turned corners.  


7:38....   I was going past the loch with the sword that marked a battle that happened there. One day I will stop and read what battle it is but not today.


7:40....  I was passing the last gate as I approached Tyndrum


7:42....  I had to walk.  My legs didnt have much left


7:43....  I mustered enough to run again.  I came onto the road where the finish was last year and it wasnt there.  Feck.  Where is it?  A marshal pointed me up a side street.


7:44.... I can see the finish.  Its still a bit away and I dont have seconds displayed on my Garmin.  How long until 7:45...  Cairn joins me for the last 30 meters and we run together.  Well until he slows down and I need to run away from him to make sure I stay under 7:45.


7:44:19....  I have finished!!!!  I am over the moon.  Nearly a 40 minute PB and I have to admit my legs feel better now than they did at 20 miles.

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I was overjoyed and ran the final few meters with Cairn.  I couldn't believe how it had gone especially after the first 20 miles.  My support team were fantastic. All four of them - Debbie, Cairn, Thomas and Sharon. A world class support team that I hope I didn't embarrass too much.

I just want to thank my Support team so much.  If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have completed the race.  Also thank you to John and the rest of the Fling organisers.  This is one of the biggest and well run races I have ever ran.  It certainly deserves to be the biggest Ultra in the UK.

Monday, 4 June 2012

An Elite Treat - The Edinburgh Marathon

Tapering is a very confusing term that runners dread. It is where they get ratty, restless and hell to live with. They think they are getting slower, fatter and unfit. So why do runners do it? Because every book tells you that you must. Every article and every runner swears that it works.

The reason in tapering is to allow your body to recover and be in tip top shape for your event. I have seen runners who have tried to fit in last minute miles appear at the start of an ultra already broken before running a single mile. So certainly for a race over a marathon I think you require some sort of taper. Less miles but still doing speed work until the last possible moment seems to work for me. But what would happen if you trained for an ultra and then decided to race a shorter distance like a marathon on no taper at all. In fact what would happen if you did a 10k race 3 days before you ran the marathon.

What would happen if you had no pressure to perform and you just ran how you felt? In short, you ran the way people have ran for years before the invention of Garmins.

Most people would say that you are mental. That you would certainly be injured and broken before getting to half way in the race. With foresight I know it worked but a week ago I didn't know if I would be writing this from a plane on my way to Zurich or a hospital bed. Okay that's an exaggeration but you get the idea.

I got my place for Edinburgh two weeks before the race. I had an idea that I might be doing it but it wasn't for sure. With not long to go until the Celtic Plate I would not be able to taper or change anything in my training plan. Also I was already entered into two of the Polaroid series races: Helensburgh and Clydebank.

I raced Helensburgh full out, trying to overtake Chris Upson who beat me by nearly 10 seconds to the finish. With a time of 35:59 I was determined to beat it a week later at Clydebank. The marathon would be a training run and I would not think about it at all until the day before. Before that though I had a normal training week :

Friday : 6 miles easy with Oregons Session (circuits)

Saturday : 20 miles AM, Hill reps PM

Sunday : 16 miles (fast finish)

Monday : 8 miles easy

Tuesday :Speed session : 1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1 (I missed out the 5 and 4 to prepare for the 10k)

Wednesday : 5 miles easy

Thursday : Clydebank 10k (36:29) really warm and suffered with a bad stitch in the middle after drinking too much electrolye pre race.

Friday : Rest day

Saturday : 5 miles with Strides (struggled to run consistently at 7 min mile)

So as you can see the 10k didn't go to plan. It was warm but I don't normally get affected too much by the heat but what did happen was I had a really bad stitch which slowed me down for a bit. I do think that this race prepared me for the heat in the marathon but it also taught me a lesson not to drink too much electrolyte for the marathon. So my plan was to have 200ml of electrolyte at the start, 10, 15, 21 miles with a gel each time. Debbie and Silke would be on the course so this worked really well. My race pace would be 7 min miles for the first half and then I would pick it up and finish the second half with 6:50s

After my run on Saturday I was worried about even doing 7 min miles. Although I felt my recovery from the 10k had gone really well I still felt that 36 miles at the weekend was still in my legs. But also in the back of my mind I knew my body well enough to know that it is very smart and knows what is ahead and so is probably preparing for it too.

People kept asking about my plans and I stubbornly told them about my pace plan. I was determined to do it and had promised Mark I would. I totally rely on Mark who has always helped me with training so I always listen to his advice. Mark had been apprehensive about me doing the marathon as the last time I ran a fast race while training for an ultra I destroyed my calfs and that started me towards an Achilles injury that kept me out most of last year. This time though I would be running on different shoes and heal inserts plus the pace will be slow I told him. My Achilles had actually been niggling all week but it was just a niggle and nothing to worry about too much. I hoped.

One positive though was on Saturday a bird shat on my tshirt. Debbie told me it was lucky. Cool.

On race day I was at the Elite start. I could get so used to this I thought. No toilet queues, free entry and warming up area with the real elites. I didn't do a warm up. I just chatted to people. I told Bryan Burnett that it was a training run for my 100k. Thomas who I train with appeared with only minutes to the start so I did some jogging with him or was it Murray. Anyways I only did about 2 minutes light jogging before looking back at the thousands of people behind us.

"oh shit" I thought. "I am going to get run over if I do 7 min mile at the start". This is the reason I hate big city marathons. Too many people and the pace is sometimes forced upon you by the crowds. "okay, I'll do a quicker first mile to get away from them and then settle to 7s"

Debbie, Cairn and Sadie wished me luck and then later than we should have been the race started.

I ran with Thomas who was wanting a 2:40 something time. We were chatting away to each other and I did a 5:50 first mile. Fuck. But it was easy. I was still chatting as if I was on a Sunday training run. Okay slow down I would say to myself. 6 min second mile. Still chatting. Yesterday's 7 min miles were harder. Okay it's all down hill for the first 5 miles so I will do them how I feel and then throttle back.

Still chatting with Thomas other people that we passed were huffing and puffing already. Okay it didn't probably help that Thomas and I were chatting away and I was having to apologise for getting in people's way. Everything just felt right.

6:15 3rd mile and a little uphill. It's just Thomas and me. "right Thomas I am going to throttle back now". I said. I meant it too. I had had my fun. I let him go. 30 seconds later I was back behind him. This pace was just TOO easy and I couldn't understand why. 5 miles and we were picking people off that had over cooked the start "right Thomas, I am going to slow down now and take it easy. Have a good race. Good luck". Again I totally meant it.

20 seconds later I overtook Thomas. I was by myself and loving the freedom of running a big city marathon with only the crowds cheering me on and no other runner. It was amazing. They would cheer for just me. Not the person beside me. Just me. Then the clapping would die down. 5 or 10 seconds later I would hear it again as the runner behind me received the same cheers. And the crowds were amazing. All the way. The whole course had people cheering. I heard someone shout "That is one of the people that does 6 min miling" I looked down and I was sitting at 6:15s so not quite but it was so easy. I did a health check. I felt fantastic but did technology agree with me? My HR was at 160. Yes it did. I know I can sustain that HR for hours.

Every now and then I would hear my name being shouted. People I knew were all about cheering me on. Neal and Caroline, Ian, Jude, Alan, John and more. Thank you.

At 10 miles I was needing my electrolyte and gel. I was worried. Debbie wouldn't be expecting me for another 10 minutes and she did look startled when I saw her but handed me my bottle and gel which I was desperate for. The gel pushed me on and I overtook more runners. The slower half marathon runners were now joining the crowds and cheering me on too. I was on a high and cheering them back. Clapping the bands and thanking the crowds. It was so relaxed and I was enjoying every minute.

I heard a runner behind me. It could only be Thomas. We ran together right up to 15 miles where we met Silke. I had more electrolyte and gels but my legs were a bit tired now and Thomas started to pull away. Only to slow down again to spray me with water. Thank you. It was only 2 or 3 miles now until the route turned back on itself. There was a rough section for about a mile and then we rejoined the same road and I saw the thousands of runners running the opposite way. They joined in cheering as I ran and I tried as much as I could to cheer back. I was looking out for Jim my brother-in-law who was doing his first marathon and looked totally fresh when I passed him.

Loads of cheers from crowds and runners. I high fived Mandy as she went the opposite way. My hand was still stinging 5 minutes later. The miles ticked away. Compared with an ultra they just flew by. I was a bit sad but also happy when I got to 20 miles that it was nearly over. By 21 though I was desperate for my gel and Electrolyte. I would say that it was here that I had a slight wobbly. My paced slowed to 6:30s and for the first time I struggled a bit. Luckily it was right where Silke was and so I got water, electrolyte and gel and within a mile I was going again. In fact I was speeding up. Again I was passing people. The last person who had overtaken me was Thomas at mile 13 and before that maybe only one or two after the first 3 miles. You could see the wheels falling off people and as they slowed I was getting faster. At 24 miles my average pace was at 6:15. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't set my watch to show total time as I assumed I wouldn't need it but by now I knew I was on for a PB. I tried to remember what pace my PB was but couldn't. I wouldn't break 2:45 which has always been a goal of mine but at least I would PB.

At mile 25 I saw Debbie and Cairn and I felt quite emotional. I wanted to scream at them that I would get a PB but I was too focused. Now I would push. For the first time in the race I would push. It had never happened to me in a marathon before. Normally I am just holding on. But today I had it. I pushed. Someone shouted out you are at 2:42. Damn it was confirmed. I wouldn't get under 2:45. I might not even get under my 2:48 PB if I don't push hard. I pushed. I had a mile to go. I wanted the PB.

The last mile felt long. It always does. I was under 6 min miling. It still felt easier than it should have but don't get me wrong I was getting tired. I turned the corner to start the last 300 odd yards to see the timer saying 2:44:10,11,12. The person that had shouted 2:42 must have meant from the official start. We had started late and I now had loads of time.

I couldn't beleive it. I wasn't only going to get a PB but also a London championship time too. Adrenaline shot through my body and I took off. The last couple of miles had been fast but this was even faster. I had the finishing straight to myself. The crowd were cheering, the sun shining. I could hear the commentator Bryan Burnett announce my name. Something about how happy I would be with my time on a training run.

I have had some amazing finishes to races. The West Highland Way, the Glasgow to Edinburgh Double marathon. All ultra races when you have battled the elements to get to the end. This was just a marathon but the finish was up there with them all. It was amazing and I was dancing on air towards the finish. This must be what it feels like to win a race. The atmosphere was electric.

Then it was over. I had finished. 22nd in a time of 2:44:37. I may one day beat that time but nothing will ever take away the feelings I had when I finished and was ushered into the elite finishers area. I had come here for a training run. I can honestly 100% say that I thought I would struggle to do that. But out of no-where I ran one of my best ever races. It felt easy. Relaxed. And at the finish even although I had just ran the fastest marathon I ever had I felt I could go on. Compared to my last 3 marathons where I felt done in by 18 miles this was an amazing feeling.


I met Thomas who had had an amazing race too. Finishing over a minute and a half in front of me and also an amazing PB. The both of us were as high as kites as we basked in the heat. Debbie wasn't long in coming to the finish and congratulated us. Ian and Sandra (in the VIP area, which I later tried to get in but was told you had to finish in the top 3. Wish I had known that at the start. ;-)...) congratulated us as well.

All I can say now is that I have got my love back of marathons again. I think it was good training for the 100k and I would like to do more. I had an absolute ball. The crowds, the atmosphere, the race and organisation were all top class and I would love to do it again. I just need to get under 2:40 to get another elite place though.

I want to thank Debbie and Silke for supporting me in the race, Adrian for getting me the place and everyone that I both knew and didn't that cheered me on every single part of the course. Mark the coach - thank you for all your help. Sorry I didn't listen to you this time but I will for the 100k. I promise.

Oh yeah and Thomas. It's 2-1 to you so far this year. You totally deserved your time and position. Great run and can't wait to training with you for the 100k. :-)



Monday, 28 November 2011

Boscombe 10k

What? Marco blogging again? And he isn't talking about sore Achiles or the West Highland Way. WTF a 10k race? Really. 

Since coming back to running in early September and finding out how much fitness you really do lose by not doing anything all summer I needed a goal to get back into the way of it. I don't know what other people do but I need a race or challenge so that I can focus on training. Without it I find it easy to miss days and not give it my all. With Debbie and I planning on visiting my brother Paul and his girlfriend Gillian in Bournemouth it seemed a great place to also do a 10k where I wouldn't know anyone and so have false expectations of trying to keep up with them. Perfect. 

So training started in September after being fixed up by Frank from Sports Medicine Science at Hampden I was then instructed to only run 100m at a time. Training with the lunch crowd I noticed they all now ran at International Standard or perhaps it was that I was just so slow now that I was just miles behind where they and I used to be. But the beauty of starting from scratch is that you quickly make fantastic gains and although they were slow to come by at the beginning by the start of November every week I was getting faster and my endurance better. Even so I knew that a 10k was going to hurt. With no 10k under my belt in over a year as well I had also forgotten how to race them too. Some people might think that is strange but I really think that if you don't continually race a distance you forget how to race it and have to relearn it by racing it a few times to get back to your best. 

Anyway enough gibber gabber. Back to the race weekend. Disaster nearly struck when Cairn was sent home for nursery with Chicken Pox and Debbie decided to stay at home to look after the wee man. I was torn what to do and so with a heavy heart I travelled to Bournemouth myself. 

Paul and Gillian have been fantastic and it has been great down here. I was getting worried by how much steak I have been eating though and how that would affect the race. When I arrived I had steak, for dinner I had steak, for lunch, yes steak.  I have to admit though Paul cooks damn good steak. He also knows a butcher that sells (what I now hope is steak from a cow) very cheap. Seriously though I have eaten very well down here and they have both made me feel so welcome. Both Paul and Gillian are fab cooks. I have had lovely chicken soup, banana cake and tablet. Yum. I needed a 10k to make space for more home cooking. 

Race morning came and I was shitting myself. Thankfully not because of the steak and also thankfully not literally as the water was off in the flat for maintenance and that would be embarrassing not being able to flush the toilet.

So we arrived at the stadium for the start of the race. Paul started to point out some fast looking guys to me. "he should win" or "keep up with that guy cause he does about 36mins". Although I wanted this to just be a fun run I was now getting into race mode and was sussing out the runners. Trying to figure them out. What could they do. But I wanted a conservative start so I just positioned myself in the middle of the pack and waited for the race to start. 

It was a strange start. All of a sudden a klaxon sounded and away we went round the track.  The runners quickly fanned out though and by the end of the loop around the track the front guys had formed a pack of 5 and were galloping off. There was another group of about 6 about 20m just in front of me. I looked at my watch and I was doing 5:40. Too fast. So I reigned it in a bit and relaxed. I felt fantastic. Now running 5:50s I noticed that the group in front weren't gaining any distance and I was now in no mans land between them and whoever was behind. So I picked up the pace and slotted behind the 2nd group of runners.
Perfect. As we ran through an expensive housing estate the wind would come and go and being tucked in helped me here. This was when I noticed the runner that Paul had pointed out to me who was "about 36 min". The thought now entered my mind that I could get 36 mins. The group started to break up now so I moved forward and kept with the lead 2 or 3. 

Still this felt easy and relaxed. There was a long way to go and I was worried about the last 2 miles. I hadn't raced at this intensity for a while and I knew it was gonna hurt then. 

The route was not an easy one. I had been told this before the race but as I ran through the housing estate that was far from my mind. Then we hit the first hill. I am seriously crap at hills at the moment. Really bad. The Killers Hill session a few weeks back had me crying for my mummy as I struggled round the loop. So it was a big surprise when we hit that first hill and the group collapsed and I found myself at he front and still feeling good. At the top though I slowed a bit intentionally and a couple of the runners caught back up. I still wanted to run in a group and didn't feel ready to go it alone yet. 
The course was now getting a bit harder. Under an underpass and then a sharp turn and through barriers. There was a lot of wee sharp turns. I didn't mind the slowing down for them. It was the speeding back up that hurt. 
Then we hit the big hill of the run at about 4 miles. A half mile slog up a steep hill just when you are starting to feel it at 4 miles. Again though I seemed to be fitter on the hill and the group collapsed again and I found my self alone. Also I started to see that the front group had collapsed too and a couple of runners that had gone off too fast had been spat out the back and looked like they were struggling. 

Now the race was going through trail paths with sharp downhills that made my tired quads scream. Now I could feel the effort and my HR monitor was agreeing. It was now reaching 170. I expected that at this point in a race though. I caught one of the lead pack runners. 
Then there was a grass section up a steep embankment. My quads turned to jelly but it wasn't too long and we were back on trail. Then back under the underpass and the dreaded barriers. 
On the other side it was back into housing estate. I was caught by a runner who seemed shocked when I shouted well done to him. Maybe that's an ultra running thing talking to the competition. :-)

Only one mile to go and some cheeky sharp uphills through the estate.  I was gaining a bit with the runner that had overtaken me but when we got to the stadium he kept the distance from me. The last section was so windy going round the track again. 

So that was it. I finished in 36:27. Very happy with that and I think I would have been closer to 36 dead on a flatter course. But that is for another day. :-)

Paul finished not long after in 40:39 and Gillian in 1:03. Both a little slower than last year but happy with how they did. 

I would certainly do the race again. A hard wee course but good and friendly. 
Coming down and seeing Paul and Gillian and spending the weekend with them has been fab.