Monday, 13 November 2017

Great Scottish Run 10km Road Race, 1st October 2017 (Including Preparation)

Due to work commitments, I decided to write off September in terms of races. I was far from idle however. After the Scottish 5000m, I had an easy 6 mile recovery run on the Monday then took a rest for the remainder of the week to let my lingering aches and pains clear up, particularly in my calves. Two high calibre races in a week had taken their toll. I'm getting old! I don't recover the same in my mid 30s as I did in my late 20s.

Thereafter I worked towards the Great Scottish Run 10km, a race where I had finished 4th in 31:11 in 2016. What follows is my training leading up to the race with some comments.

Week Commencing Sunday 3rd September
Sunday: 9 miles easy (57:19) in East Kilbride.
Monday: 9 miles easy (59:24) in Paisley.
Tuesday: Reps, 1 mile, 2 miles, 1 mile with 90 secs recoveries, 8 miles including warm up and warm down, rep times- 5:13, 10:35, 5:12.
Wednesday: 10 miles easy (1:06:00) in Paisley
Thursday: 5 x hill reps (800m approx per rep) with jog back recoveries, 5 miles in 30:28, 9 miles including warm up and warm down.
Friday: Rest.
Saturday: Longer run, 15 miles (1:38:25).
Mileage: 60

Week Commencing Sunday 10th September
Sunday: 8  miles approx easy (52:00) at Strathclyde Park- ran with a stopwatch, 8 miles minimum covered.
Monday: 9 miles easy (58:04) in Paisley.
Tuesday: Reps, 1 mile, 2 miles, 1 mile with 90 secs recoveries, 8 miles including warm up and warm down, rep times- 5:23, 10:51, 5:16- wet night and feeling off colour.
Wednesday: 8.5 miles easy (55:00 approx) in Paisley- ran with a stopwatch, feeling tired.
Thursday: Rest- working until 7pm to get up to date.
Friday: Rest- enforced. Day off work for my birthday. Intended to do a hill session but felt weak from a vomiting bug the night before.
Saturday: 10.6 miles easy (1:08:56)- feeling better, shortened run to ease back in.
Mileage: 44

Week Commencing Sunday 17th September
Sunday: 12 miles easy (1:19:42)- bowel trouble after 9 miles, nursed myself through the remainder.
Monday: Reps, 5 x 1 mile with 1 min-1:10 recoveries, 10 miles including warm up and warm down, rep times- 5:29, 5:24, 5:23, no time for 4th rep (watch didn't start), 5:25- poor session, feeling run down and bowel trouble during warm down. Felt need to regroup.
Tuesday: Rest.
Wednesday: 12 miles easy (1:16:55) in Paisley- pouring rain but a much better run.
Thursday: 5 x hill reps (800m approx per rep) with jog back recoveries, 5 miles in 30:30, 10 miles including warm up and warm down.
Friday: Rest
Saturday: Longer run, 16 miles (1:42:30)- felt very strong.
Mileage: 60

Week Commencing Sunday 24th September
Sunday: 8 miles easy (52:16) in Fort William- early morning run, away for the weekend.
Monday: Reps, 2 miles easy, 10 x 1 min with 1 min jog recoveries, remainder of the run easy, 8 miles in 47:35.
Tuesday: 8 miles easy (52:06) in East Kilbride.
Wednesday: Track, 5 sets of 400m, 200m with 200m jogs between reps, 5000m in 18:26, 6.1 miles including warm up and warm down, 400m rep times- 71, 73, 72, 71, 73, 200m rep times- all 35-36.
Thursday: 15 mins easy then 3 sets of 3 x 30 secs strides with 5 mins easy between sets and 30 secs easy between reps, 6 miles in 37:06 (in Paisley).
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 4 miles very easy (36:09) in Motherwell.
Mileage: 40

Sunday 1st October
Race- Great Scottish Run 10km, 1st in 31:37, first race since 27th August.

One key difference in my training in 2017 has been increased mileage. At the time of writing, 45 weeks into the year, I've manged 60 miles or more in 17 of those weeks with a high of 63 so far. I aim to have clocked 20 such weeks by the end of the year. For a lot of runners, 60 miles per week is not a huge amount but, for someone who was used to 40-50 then 50-55, it is. I have noticed a great benefit, particularly feeling stronger in the later stages of races, even when it's not been going as well as I want. The Scottish 5000m at Grangemouth is a case in point.

The planned preparation for Glasgow had been 3 weeks of 60 plus then taper off. I managed 2 out of the 3 60 milers, the only exception being a vomiting bug seeing me miss a session then shorten a run to give a total of 44. As for the race, I was delighted with how it went. Yes, my time was slower than 12 months previously but conditions were far less favourable. Running in a group until 3km, I made a burst for glory uphill onto the Kingston Bridge and pretty much held on from there. I couldn't relax because my gap in the end to runner up Alasdair McLeod (Shettleston) was only 18 seconds with my clubmate Douglas Roberts (sadly disqualified due to an admin mix up) another 11 seconds adrift. People can often assume that because you're clear in a race it's easy. Rest assured it isn't. I always run on the assumption there's someone on my shoulder. I would also add that you've not won until you've crossed the finish line, no matter how big your lead. Celebrate after you're safely over the finish line.

The day wasn't only about me as my buddy from Inverness, Jenny Bannerman, took runner up spot in the ladies race in 35:50. In addition, my brother Robert, running the race for the second time, clocked a personal best of 51:28, a 6 minute improvement in a year. Finally, there was the mystery friend who has enjoyed an occasional cameo appearance on this blog recently. When I say "friend," putting the word "girl" as a preface more accurately describes matters. So well done to Laura Farquharson of Hamilton Harriers who, improving by 2 minutes on 2016, recorded 45:58 and a new personal best (which she has since bettered again incidentally). Thankfully her 4 mile run with me the previous morning did not do (too much) harm. I need to watch my back!

Above: Laura and I. One of us is getting slower and the other is improving. Guess which is which.

Above: Robert, myself and Laura post race on a beautiful(!) day for running.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Scottish Athletics Track and Field Championships, 27th August 2017

Earlier this year, I got a monkey off my back by taking part in the National Cross Country for the first time since 2013 (I failed to finish in 2014, suffering badly from the after effects of the Dublin Marathon so don't feel that counts). I scrambled and slid round a mud caked course in 38th place but the main thing was to see it through which I did.

Another such opportunity presented itself with the Scottish Track Championships. My last outing in this was an extremely disappointing 5000m in 2014 at Kilmarnock, 15:45 and 11th place in howling wind and rain. It jolted me so much that, the following month, I clocked a 10km personal best, which still stands, at the Scottish Championship at Stirling, 30:34 and 5th place.

I headed to Grangemouth in a positive frame of mind after the previous week's exertions at Stretford. Admittedly my calves were sore but the week's preparations went as well as expected and I was hopeful of doing myself justice.

The pre-race rituals (call room then being lead onto the track) completed, I focused on the task at hand. It became apparent early on, with a first lap in 74 seconds, that I wasn't going to get the performance I hoped for. The mind was willing but the body sadly wasn't. Nevertheless I kept the pace consistent and hung in there. I was particularly grateful for the support of Matthew McKenna, one of my clubmates, on the sidelines. I was around the middle of the field. In the later stages, I dug deep and managed to pick off another couple of athletes, eventually finishing 9th in the field of 20 finishers in 15:16.39. Another of my clubmates, Grant Sheldon, won the race in a swift 14:22.34, 3 and 5 seconds respectively ahead of Lachlan Oates and Alistair Hay. Impressive running by all 3. I left with my head high having had the mental strength to grind it out and secure a top 10 finish in a national championship. Another monkey off the back. Onwards and upwards.

The full race result can be found here.

Friday, 10 November 2017

British Milers Club Grand Prix, Stretford, 19th August 2017

Hot on the heels of the memorable Islay weekend, I had another race only 2 weeks later, a 10,000m track race in the British Milers Club meeting in Stretford. Having completed a 60 mile week leading up to the Islay Half Marathon, I did another the following week, which included my first session at the club since mid May due to work commitments. To do a session in company and see my clubmates again was nice.

I approached the 10,000m race with some trepidation. The standard was high and it would be my first ever A race at a BMC event. The entrants included previous European Championship medalist Chris Thompson. These though are the races that bring the best out in me. A telephone conversation with the same friend who contacted me in Islay (the identity of said friend will be revealed in a couple of posts time) on my journey down did settle me a little.

Onto the race and over 20 edgy athletes lined up for the 25 lap encounter. This was the last race of the night and the gradual darkness and floodlights added to the tension. I really just had to go for it. I decided to see how long the first mile (4 laps) took me and take it from there. I hung on at the back of the field. I was either really struggling or the rest of the field were shifting. The first mile took me 4:51! How could I run so fast and be last? It's beyond comprehension. I gritted my teeth and fought to stay in contention, reaching 5000m in 15:12. How can you be doing that pace and be at the rear end of the field? I was being comprehensively outclassed by a top class field. All I could do was keep going. I fought like a caged animal during the second half. Despite my struggles, this was a great race to be in.
Above: metaphorically fighting for survival in the BMC 10,000m.

Unsurprisingly it has to be said, the leading runners started to lap me. Chris Thompson lead the way. As I neared the later stages, I aimed to keep my time under 31 minutes. My lungs and legs were burning but I knew I just had to put one foot in front of the other and complete one lap, and another, and another.

As I approached 2 laps to go, I could hear the announcer proclaim Chris Thompson as he entered the home straight. Being lapped once is acceptable. Twice is certainly not. I'm not ashamed to say that, despite my tiredness, I increased my pace to avoid another lapping, and thankfully succeeded. It was a matter of personal pride. I kept battling and finally crossed the finish line exhausted in a time of 30:57.66, 19th out of 23 finishers. Thompson won the race in a time of 28:40. I had been put in my place by a field that was simply too good for me. It was a humbling experience. I had however been in a race I will never forget. 19 runners, including me, broke 31 minutes and 5 of those were under 30.

The drive home felt long but thankfully I had some company in the form of Giffnock's Luke Traynor who had finished 3rd in 29:08.52. I got home at 3.10am and to bed at 4am. Needless to say I wasn't in the mood for anything too exerting the next day.

These are the races that keep the running fire burning in me. I love them.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Islay, 4th-7th August 2017 Part 4- Haste Ye Back


In contrast to the picture perfect conditions of the previous evening, Sunday morning brought an overcast sky and heavy rain. Albeit, being Scottish summertime, at least the rain was warm. Despite waking fairly early and hearing Russell up before me, I was naturally feeling a little fragile and dosed on and off until just after 10am before finally mustering the energy to get up. Few others were to be found. I wanted a post race recovery run and knew that the weather was due to improve by early afternoon. However, experience has told me that if I linger, I'll either delay a run for ages or not go at all so I ventured out to brave the elements. I negotiated a rain soaked 10 miles in just over 68 minutes, heading out on the half marathon route then diverging onto another narrow road before the airport. After 5 miles, I turned round and ran back the same route in reverse to Bowmore. I endured a headwind for the first 5 miles but had a helping hand from it on the return.

Like Saturday afternoon, the day was really your own until that evening's barbecue. Russell was going home which meant not only did I have the room to myself that night but I could also remove the gallon of whisky from under lock and key! Newly weds Andy and Lorraine Buchanan were also homeward bound though, unlike Russell, did not pose such a strong threat to my race spoils. A few folk took a trip to one of the other beaches. I expressed an interest but alas, there were not enough seats in the cars. I wasn't too bothered though because I felt content to potter about in and around the cottages. A few of us watched the tail end of the men's marathon at the World Championships and I remembered that I hadn't replied to my friend who had texted the night before. The phone signal had disappeared on re-entering the village hall. I found the main square in Bowmore to be a telecommunications hotspot and managed to stand in the correct position for long enough to convey how the previous day and night had gone. Said friend, freshly back from a 5 day family break in Prague, seemed suitably impressed and wished me well for the rest of my stay.

The weather did indeed clear up and, while sipping a cup of tea in the kitchen with Billy Buchanan, Frances, Kenny and Eddie, they unhatched a plan, a la Mary Poppins, to "let's go fly a kite." The kite was in the style of a pirate ship. I accompanied them to the beach behind the cottages though left the kite flying strictly to the experts.

Above: kite flying on Bowmore beach. Left to right- Eddie, Frances, Kenny, Billy.

Meanwhile, I had my second self taught lesson in stone skimming. There's certainly a knack to it, one I struggled to discover. Eventually, about a dozen stones later, I managed to successfully skim one. It bounced back up off the sea surface once. A mini triumph! Remarkably I repeated the feat with another one before my luck ran out.

Above: a stone skimming practice session. Photo courtesy of Frances Ferguson.

The subject then turned to swimming because the Harriers boast a few proficient open water swimmers in their ranks, including Sandy. In a moment of bravado, I declared that I was getting into the sea and ran into the cottages for my swimming shorts. I approached with caution. Feet first, then knees, then waist, then, much of my amazement, full immersional baptism. My goodness it was cold!! I acclimatised and swam about for a few minutes to my heart's content (ok, until my skin turned blue). 

Above: it's alright once you get in...sort of! My open water swimming debut. Photo courtesy of Frances Ferguson.

I emerged feeling extremely triumphant.

Above: post swim, feeling chuffed, and a little chilly.

In the meantime, the pirate ship had eventually sunk. I headed in for a much needed hot shower then opted for a dressed down look for the rest of the day, Islay race t shirt, swimming shorts and trainers with no socks.

Above: a view of the harbour in Brodick. Thanks to one of the locals for taking this photo.

The barbecue proved to be a successful affair and my compliments go to those responsible. As far as I'm aware, those co-ordinating operations were Jim Holmes, Eddie and Kenny. If I've missed anyone I apologise but if you were involved, consider yourself thanked as well.

Above: just some of the barbecue grub on offer.

Gradually as the night wore on, the buffoonery levels increased. The back garden became a games zone, co-ordinated by Stephen Phimister and family, with various timed challenges including "Tennis Ball Keepie Uppie Around The Quadrangle." Experienced tennis player Allan McLellan set the standard here. Indoors, once the midges had come out to play, traditional party games ensued including Musical Chairs and the well known classic, "Catapult Your Face With Shaving Foam." Not as proficient at such activities as I am at running, I came off pretty badly in both. I bailed out for the night at about 1am. I can't speak for others!


Alas, all good things must come to an end and unfortunately Monday finally dawned for those of us who were still in Bowmore. Checking out time was 10am and I forced myself out of bed early enough to squeeze a 5 miles run in at 8.30am. Thankfully some time still remained in hand before the afternoon ferry. Gordon, Sandy, Alex and I were sailing out of Port Ellen and we took a trip to the beach at Kintra campsite in Port Laggan. The journey got delayed somewhat when we got stuck on a single track road behind a lorry delivering what looked like a new washing machine to a farmhouse. Island world problems! We were only grateful the wee wifie didn't invite him in for a cup of tea as well. Our patience was rewarded by the beauty awaiting us. Beyond the campsite there lay a beautiful beach. The photos say more than I can.

Above: the beach at Kintra, Port Laggan. The 3 people seen, from back to front, are Alex, Sandy and Gordon.

Above: why do we have to leave? Thanks to Gordon's friend Alex for taking this photo.

Above: the beach looking towards Kintra campsite.

After a hard 30-45 minutes milling about (and paddling on Sandy's part), we drove back to Port Ellen and stopped in at The Islay Hotel for cakes and tea or coffee. All too soon, it was time to board the ferry to the mainland and the most beautiful, dream like of adventures was over for us all.

Above: a "selfie" in Port Ellen. I used the timer on my camera to take this photo. Any photos in this or previous posts where no-one is credited have been taken by me either personally or using the timer setting.

Such was the perfection of this trip that one post could not do it justice. Yes, it included a race  but you will see that running actually played very little part over the 4 days. I can truly say this was one of the best trips I've done anywhere in many a year. Words cannot do it justice. My first visit to Islay will certainly not be my last. Haste ye back indeed!

If you've read up to this concluding part, thank you for doing so. I hope it was worth reading.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Islay, 4th-7th August 2017 Part 3- A Night for Local Heroes

Once the whisky fuelled prize giving had passed I returned to the cottages to shower and eat. We had by then reached mid afternoon. Time was really your own so folk split up into doing their own things, going to the swimming pool, the beach etc. By this time I had really melted into my surroundings. If you have ever seen the film Local Hero it will give you an indication of the ambience of Bowmore. We had tables booked for dinner at the Lochside Hotel, located a short walk from our accommodation (in saying that, this could be said for all our necessary amenities). We needed to give our dinner orders in advance (there was over 20 of us after all) so I pottered round to do so, visited the book shop and actually purchased a book, called into the beer shop for a selection of Islay beers and chilled out on the beach. At times I can be content in my own company. Islay offered plenty scope for time to myself and to really just reflect and clear my mind of all life's anxieties. They were a world away from me at this point. Since my Gran died in May 2016, home life has been a challenge at times. Work has as well. It has been enjoyable and business certainly is booming but you need off the treadmill every so often or else you burn out. Where better to do that than on an idyllic island?

Above: in a reflective mood on Bowmore beach with my shopping from the book and beer shops and Co-Op. I also attempted some stone skimming...unsuccessfully.

Above: Bowmore's book shop with a cafe upstairs. Very quaint and worth a visit.

Above: Bowmore's beer shop which received very generous custom from me.

Above: Bowmore's bilingual Co-Op.

Back in the cottages, I attempted to phone my Dad. Why "attempted" you may ask? Telecommunications in Islay have clearly still to advance to modern day standards since, unless you stand, lie or sit in a particular position in a room, you will not obtain a phone signal. I was lying on my side on top of the bed when, lo and behold, I got a signal. Taking advantage, I stayed in position (leaning to the left on my elbow facing away from the window) and gave my Dad a call to discuss my afternoon. He asked what book I had purchased. The answer was impossible to convey because said book was located on the floor behind me and to turn and retrieve it would have seen the signal disappear and the conversation end. He would have to stay in suspense until Monday night. Such is life! For the record, it was The Secret Library: A Book Lover's Journey Through Curiosities of History. At the time of writing I've still to start it because I'm working my way through Gulliver's Travels.

A beautiful, hearty 3 course dinner, as well as some refreshments, was consumed by all at the Lochside with the backdrop of a glorious sea view. I shared a table with Russell, John McBride, his wife Dot, and Geo Ferguson (Frances' husband). Russell declared to all concerned to be dining at the champion's table. He had fairly been buttering me up since I took possession of that gallon of whisky! At around 9.30pm, a walk round the corner and part of the way up the hill (I did say everything was a short walk) took us to Bowmore Village Hall for the post race ceilidh. Apparently this is the one gig of the year for the band who play on this occasion. They certainly make the most of it because they gave it laldy for the best part of 3 and a half hours. Referring back to Local Hero, without spoiling the film for those who haven't seen it, a ceilidh takes place at one point. This one was an exact replica. I genuinely felt like I was in the film.

Above: taking the floor for the post race ceilidh where a catalogue of injury and illness problems among the Harriers present miraculously seemed to evaporate. Photo courtesy of Calderglen Harriers.

Above: 2 good guys I spent a lot of time with over the weekend. On the left is Gordon McInally's (who drove me from home and back) friend Alex. On the right is Harrier John McBride whose wife Dot mothered me a bit all weekend, making me cups of tea and washing my dishes. Lovely people all 3 of them. In the background, ceilidh chaos ensues. Photo courtesy of Calderglen Harriers.

Having run 19 miles that day (2 miles warm up, a race 13.1 miles long then a 4 miles warm down) I moderated my participation somewhat but did partake in a few of the group dances in between sipping cans of Tennents lager. At around 11pm the band declared they would be taking a short break. They finally did around 45 minutes later (island time, nothing is done in a rush) for a raffle to take place. I hadn't bought any tickets because the prizes included whisky and I had a more than ample supply! I took the chance for a toilet break and also nipped outside the hall for some fresh air and to chance my arm of getting a phone signal. 3 Irish guys were standing outside smoking and immediately recognised me from the race- at least one of them had handed me water at a water station. They are working in some of the local businesses in Islay. We chatted away. While we did so I was clearly standing in a telecommunications hotspot as I received a text message from a friend enquiring about my fortunes that day. For all I know it could have been sent hours before. Once back inside my new chums somehow earned themselves an invite to our barbecue the following night from Eddie. Alas, the raffle had not been kind to the Harriers. In particular poor Russell could be found crying into his whisky at his 11 year losing streak in Islay. In his 11 visits, he has never won either a race or raffle prize. If his allegedly foolproof plan pays off in 2018, that could change.

The band returned to display the extent of their repertoire. Frances jokingly/drunkingly (delete depending on what you think most accurately describes the situation) suggested they play something by Avicii. Remarkably they knew one of his hits and we jigged away to a ceilidh version of Wake Me Up When It's All Over. A few more upbeat numbers followed and I remarkably found, not only had my race aches, pains and jadedness evaporated but I also possessed a remarkable range of dance moves. Confidence or too many beers and lagers? You decide.

Alas all good things come to an end and shortly after 1am the band packed away their instruments until the following year. As we staggered downhill to the cottages, I declared to anyone who would listen that I wanted to stay in Islay and make a life there, doing little bits of business. Someone from Bowmore could perhaps swap and take my place working in Paisley and staying in East Kilbride. We passed by a shop advertising vacancies in the window and Sandy suggested I submit my CV. At that moment, I believed in fate.

Adding to the beauty of the occasion was the night sky. A full moon could be found at the top of the hill. In the other direction, across the horizon over the sea was a red sky. Life felt so perfect and complete. Why can't it always be like this?

Above: a gorgeous sky to end a wonderful day. Behind me as I took this photo was also a full moon.

Fear not, the tale does not end here. How wild did things become on Sunday and how did it affect the mood on Monday? Find out in the final instalment of this epic adventure, coming soon.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Islay, 4th-7th August 2017 Part 2- Whisky Galore

Race day dawned with conditions looking promisingly dry. Tiredness from travelling, the sea air, 2 bottles of Islay beer with my dinner and my roommate and old Harrier friend Russell Couper kindly refraining from snoring gave me a superb sleep and I woke feeling extremely fresh. Oh yes, a lovely, soft, comfortable bed helped as well.

The start time had endeared me to this race more than anything else. 10.45am on a Saturday morning! This left Saturday afternoon, the whole of Sunday and Monday morning to basically do whatever you want. What's not to like?

A large field considering the remoteness of the location, approximately 160 runners, took to the start line directly outside our cottages. Among them was a face I recognised from my last half marathon, in Copenhagen in 2015, John Sharp of Inverclyde. Knowing his capabilities, he would definitely be a threat if I wasn't on my game. The rest of the field, apart from the Calderglen contingent, were largely unknown quantities but you can never take anything for granted.

With the sound of a hooter blown by long time race organiser, Kate (another whose surname I never learnt), we set off on our 13.1 mile journey at 10.45am sharp. I decided not to be a slave to my watch and switched it off while we ascended the first hill onto the back road out of Bowmore towards Port Ellen. I knew when we'd started so could work out a rough time at the end. I would run based on how I felt.

With only 2 week's training behind me after the same period on an all inclusive family holiday in Majorca, I tackled the climb uphill cautiously. John took the bull by the horns, opening a concerningly large gap. I tried to stay disciplined with a game plan to get to 3 miles relatively comfortably then treat the run as a 10 mile race. At the same time though, I couldn't let John get too far ahead. He was moving well, especially on the descents. As I passed the 3 mile marker I took an energy gel I had decided to carry as a precaution and put on a spurt to catch John. I stayed behind him for a few strides while contemplating whether to stick or twist, ie take a chance and overtake or sit in for a while. I opted for option one, mounting a surge which left me breathing quite heavily. What would happen from here?

I could sense myself pulling away from John gradually. Approximately 9.5 miles is a long way to potentially run virtually on your own but I at least had the lead car to follow. I started to feel demoralised at 4 miles with the fact there was a fair distance still to go. It had been 2 years since I last raced a half marathon and a year before that for my previous one (Glasgow in 2014 when I kept the Kenyan women company). Injured Harrier Eddie Reid was assisting at the water stations. He told me at 5-6 miles that I had a 100m gap. Hmm, not big enough. I needed to keep working. At around 7 miles you turn right off the back road towards the airport (not yet offering package deals to the sunshine but you never know) then right again onto the main road connecting Bowmore and Port Ellen for a 5.5 miles stretch to the finish. Eddie popped up again at 8 miles, telling me that I had increased the gap. Good to hear. However, you haven't won a race until you've crossed the finish line. I pushed on. At 10 miles I turned the watch on and had a quick glance. Roughly 56 minutes. I was within my expected finishing range. I tried to take the last 3 miles at a high tempo only to turn into a headwind with 2 to go. It had been a crosswind up to that point. Not much you can do other than grind it out. That I did.

Above: grinding it out. Photo courtesy of the McLellan family.

Seeing the bilingual (English and Gaelic) sign indicating my return to Bowmore relaxed me for the first time. I pushed with everything I had left down the hill. My watch indicated I had taken around 1 hour 14 minutes. The time turned out to be 1:13:40.

John wasn't a million miles behind, coming through in 1:15:46. Without my risky turn of pace at 3 miles things could have panned out a lot differently. 3rd place was taken by a visiting Australian, Michael Nitschke, with 1:16:10, one of a sizeable foreign contingent in the race. Hopefully he enjoyed the trip to the Highlands he told me he was planning.

The post race prize giving was a lavish affair. I have never been at such an event where unlimited supplies of free whisky and lager were offered to anyone present. I was the first to receive my prizes, a trophy, shield and a gallon of whisky. I repeat, a GALLON of whisky! It was quite some time later before the last prize was awarded. Calderglen had a successful day, taking two team prizes, 2nd male and 1st female. They should have taken the win in the male category but poor sportsmanship from a bunch of individuals who had never met each other and clubbed together to call themselves a "team" cost them pole position. Definitely against the ideals of the race and would not be allowed in normal circumstances (Islay doesn't have a Scottish Athletics permit so the organisers relax one or two rules. That said, recruiting random strangers on the day and claiming to be a team leaves a sour taste). As for the Harriers individual awards, Joanne McEvoy was 3rd woman overall and 1st female vet as well as one of the winning team and Kenny Leinster was 3rd "supervet" and in the 2nd placed team. One of my clubmates, Jennifer Reid, took the 2nd lady prize, watched by her partner Kenny Campbell. Kenny is another clubmate and the 2016 winner at Islay but unfortunately sidelined for now with knee trouble. Being sponsored by a distillery, the prizes were differing measures of whisky ranging from my lifetime supply to various miniatures. If you left the prize giving with nothing you were in a minority.

We soon moved on to the quirky and rather outrageous. First local, youngest local, oldest finisher, last finisher, first couple, first overseas runner (as far as I was concerned anyone not hailing from Islay should have been considered as overseas), runner whose birthday is closest to the race date (honestly!). One absoloute cracker was any runner whose number matched their finishing position. A Harrier achieved this remarkable feat, number 107, Anne McLellan, taking 107th position. Anne's husband Allan finished in a time of 1:40:02. Allan remains the course record holder having set a time of 69 minutes in 1989. Russell declared that the following year, in an effort to win something, he would be a 93 year old Spaniard, finishing last, whose birthday is on the race day and who lives in Bowmore. Full marks for innovation if nothing else.

It was then back to the cottages for a photoshoot as these images illustrate.

Above: Bowmore beach with the fruits of my labour. Thanks to Sandy Hayden for taking this photo.

Above: one use a non whisky driver can put a gallon of whisky to- a microphone. Photo courtesy of Frances Ferguson.

Above: the prize haul and some of its recipients.

Plenty time remained to be filled on Saturday afternoon and beyond. What activities did the intrepid cottage dwellers embark on? You will have to wait until part 3. To be continued....

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Islay, 4th-7th August 2017 Part 1- A Journey To Paradise

December 2016! It is much longer ago than I thought since I last put the online version of pen to paper on this blog. This has largely been due to personal reasons. In the posts to follow, I'll allude to what these were and, if appropriate, may sum them up in a post of their own. A lot of things have changed in my life in the 8 months since I gave an account of my efforts in the 2016 Calderglen 10km Trail Race. The 2017 edition of the race, where I assisted with marshaling, has even taken place. Suffice to say, my Gran's death in May 2016 started the chain of events. It had a huge effect on our family and we, myself included, are only now beginning to come out the other end. My life today certainly does not quite resemble what it was then.

For now, I have been inspired to resurrect this blog by one of the most fantastic weekends away I have enjoyed in many a year. The Islay Half Marathon has been a Calderglen Harriers tradition for much of the club's history. Recent years have seen high demand from the club resulting in the trip becoming fully subscribed. This year however some space opened up and one of my old Harrier friends, Frances Ferguson, kindly invited me to fill one of the gaps. Looking at the calendar, the race fell on the local Paisley Fair holiday weekend. My work was closed on the Friday afternoon and the whole of the Monday. By taking the Friday morning as a half day holiday, I could have a 4 day break. Authorisation from my boss was duly given. The fact he loves Islay and visits often and one of the other bosses hails from the island made the request one with a higher probability of success. I was all set.

Having never been before, I felt dependent on the guidance of others and was picked up for the drive to the ferry terminal at Kennacraig by Harrier Gordon McInally. After two brief stop offs to collect another of my Harrier friends, Alexandra (Sandy) Hayden and one of Gordon's chums, Alex (I spent 4 days with him without ever finding out his surname), we reached Kennacraig, after another stop for brunch in an Inverary cafe, at 12.32pm. A brief, nervy moment ensued when an over officious yellow bibbed attendant threatened to refuse us boarding for being late (by a full 2 minutes, help ma boab), despite Gordon's car having been booked in advance. We were eventually waved on and made our way upstairs to the passengers area. The crossing proved to be a pleasant experience and we sailed into Port Askaig after approximately 90 minutes before a short drive to our cottage accommodation in Bowmore. I went for a 5 mile jog to stretch my legs then settled for a pizza dinner, kindly prepared for me by Sandy, and took in the Bowmore beach situated directly behind the cottages. I had arrived in an idyllic paradise. Would the race the next day shatter my peaceful state of mind? You will need to come back to find out. To be continued.

Bowmore beach.

Bowmore beach later in the evening at sunset.

The main street in Bowmore. The hill in the distance  was part of the half marathon course. Our cottages are the white buildings on the right.