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.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Calderglen Harriers 10km Trail Race, 24th June 2016

The trail race organised by Calderglen Harriers is of significance in my time as an athlete. I ran the race back in 2001 as  a 17 year old and became a member of the host club later that year. This really launched my distance running career. Until then I had mainly competed on the track, with varying success, from 100m to 1500m. For the record I clocked 44:43 that night. My Calderglen debut came in September 2001 with a time of 39:22 in what was then called the Paisley Pattern 10k. There is still a 10km race there though over a different course. You also have the irony that I now work in the Renfrewshire town.

Trail is by no means my favourite or strongest surface but I've tried to support the Calderglen event when possible. This would be my 3rd attempt at the race in 4 years, missing out in 2015 because it clashed with the 5000m in Watford. Attending a race straight from your work is never ideal but with lack of time this is what I did on this occasion. I'd had a Mens League match 12 days earlier with some acceptable performances, 3000m steeplechase (9:57.11), 1500m (4:17.99) and 5000m (15:26.89) so continued to be in reasonable form. I caught up with a few people and was briefed that the first kilometre or so had been altered due to landslips in the park. Handy to know.

I had a conservative start, letting a few others lead me round the unfamiliar opening stages. Once on the trails properly, positions started to establish themselves. Luke Traynor, home for the summer from his US scholarship at Tulsa, was the class act in the field and simply picked his moment to break away. Neil Renault (Edinburgh) gave chase, leaving me in 3rd under pressure from Grant Baillie (East Kilbride AC). The Calderglen course is a tough, undulating one with few opportunities to build momentum. The trail is also in poor condition, heightening the probability of a twisted ankle or similar. Neil is a man not afraid of mileage with marathon times in the 2:20s to his name and had even run the 5km race earlier in the evening. After halfway, I made an effort to close him down and, at around 6km, overtook. Local pride had kicked in and, even though I wasn't feeling at my best, I was on home turf (or trail I guess) and determined to put up some resistance. I held him off until roughly 1.5km to go when we approached a hill with stairs leading up from the River Calder. Neil overtook me here and held on to the finish. The race saw a repeat of the 1-2-3 at the Scottish 10,000m Track Championship in 2014 with Luke 1st in 34:55, Neil 2nd in 35:15 and me 3rd in 35:26. Grant was 4th, only 2 seconds adrift of me.

I had got away with the odd missed run and inconsistent training for just over a month but it told on the trails. I put the race down as a great workout and also really enjoyed chatting to so many old chums. Former Calderglen coach Jimmy Moore presented the trophy bearing his name to Luke, however, only after he promised not to take it back to Tulsa with him. It does after all have to be returned for the following year's race.

Full results of all the evening's races and previous years, including my appearance in 2001, can be found here.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Nairn 10 Mile Road Race, 5th June 2016

Always open to trying new races, the Nairn 10 Miler caught my eye. I had enjoyed my trip to Inverness in June 2015 for a Mens League match and never been to Nairn so put in an entry, booked an overnight at a guest house, the Ardross Glencairn, in the Highland capital and arranged to meet up with my Inverness based friends, Charles and Jenny Bannerman and Stephen Mackay for a bite to eat. They came up trumps with the Culloden Moor Inn. Charles surpassed this thereafter, signing us into the Inverness Caledonian Thistle Social Club of which he is a member. I know I had a race the next day but to not partake in a refreshment would be rude. It was just the sort of old man pub I love. After a couple of beers there, I walked Charles round to another pub close to the guest house where he continued with his evening while I headed to bed.

Above: the River Ness, close to my guest house. This is my own photo.

I can only assume that the Ardross Glencairn was previously two different properties because, to get from my room to the dining room, I had to go out the front door, along the street a few metres and in next door, there being no direct door leading you through inside. Someone clearly didn't think to create a gap in the wall! Still, breakfast consumed, I drove 16 miles along the A96 to Nairn. I was quite early so had a wander round and noted I'd unfortunately arrived a week early for the Book and Arts Festival.

Before too long, runners and crowds had gathered and the race was underway. The vast majority of the course was on country roads so proved to be hilly and rural in a mixture of warm and windy conditions. My main opposition turned out to be a local, Kenny Wilson of Moray Road Runners. At 2 miles I had a slight scare when I felt a bee or wasp bounce off my chest then experienced a stinging sensation. I took some water shortly after, rubbing some on the affected area and thankfully the feeling passed. I gradually edged a step ahead of Kenny at 3 miles and decided to inject some pressure for the next 2 miles to build a gap. It would hurt me but hopefully not so much that I wouldn't sustain it. I went through 5 miles in 25:54, quicker than anticipated it must be said.

Above: anticipating the finish. Photo courtesy of Jenny Bannerman.

I managed to keep the effort going and had some company near the end from the fun runners, this route taking in the tail end of the 10 miler. I finished in a satisfying 52:20, just over 2 minutes clear of Kenny in the end who, in turn, was comfortable in 2nd. Jenny had lined up for the race but was being afflicted at the time by a mystery illness and had to stop after a few miles. Her club mate, Sarah Liebnitz, took the honours instead in a very good time of 61:10.

Above: either the local paper simply made a mistake or they only know one Cambuslang athlete. Courtesy of Jenny Bannerman.

Though I had a long journey home ahead, I considered it only courteous to wait for the prize giving, receiving a trophy and some vouchers. The drive back south took 4 hours through the A9's maze of speed cameras. Overall, I had a very enjoyable trip. I'll have my eyes peeled for more events in the Highlands.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Glasgow Miler Meeting, 3rd June 2016

Photo courtesy of Colin Stephen.

At a time of bereavement, keeping busy is probably a good thing. On the week after Watford I had entered a couple of races, again arranged when family circumstances were a little better. Again, the word from my parents was to press ahead. My Gran had always told me to do things and not worry about her. This tended to come out when I visited her on my own, often on a Sunday to take the strain off my Mum. Best to respect her wishes. On her better days we spent afternoons with chats like that. Happily the last time I did a solo visit was a good day so at least my lasting memory is a happy one.

Next up was a Friday night outing over 3000m at Crownpoint, scene of my Scottish 10,000m silver medal triumph. The 5000m at Watford had been a draining race so I stuck to light training leading up to the 3000m. 2 sets of 4 x 200m in times of 29-30 seconds the night before suggested I may produce something acceptable. I still however felt nervous. It was a strong field of 19 runners and I ironically finished in 12th place like Watford the week before. I never felt great at any point and, in the circumstances, was pleased with a time of 8:42.19, only 2 seconds outside my best. Another 10 seconds would have gained me 6 places. The pace had been consistent with 1500m splits of 4:19 and 4:23. The quality of the field no doubt helped me produce the level of performance I did.

Above: almost perfectly synchronised with Ryan Thomson who finished 8th in 8:36.92.

I would be racing again two days later over 5 times the distance. This served as a good turnover of the legs beforehand.

The race results can be found here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

British Milers Club Grand Prix, Watford, 29th May 2016- Prelude and Aftermath

The days and weeks following the Scottish 10,000m proved difficult outwith running and gradually impacted on my performances in it. Week commencing Sunday 1st May turned out to be an uneventful, 7 days of training covering 50 miles with various standard sessions and runs completed, for example, my favourite "mixed grill" varied pace 7.5 miler, mile reps and High Point hill reps. Sunday 8th May saw the first Mens League match at Grangemouth. Scheduling the High Point for the day before proved a silly idea which resulted in 3 flat performances, 800m (2:06.08), 3000m steeplechase (10:09.1) and 5000m (15:50.29). I was however 1st Division 2 athlete in the latter 2 races so at least something was salvaged. Events later that week though put things into perspective.

To cut a very long story extremely short, my Gran had not been in the best of health since sustaining a broken hip in June 2014. Behind the tales of training, races and Queen's Park matches contained in this blog, family life had been challenging. Anyone who has helped care for an elderly relative will know that there are good and bad days. My Gran had more than her fair share of bad ones Alas she was admitted to hospital at the end of April and by Wednesday 11th May the prognosis was not good. That day would be the last time I saw her and, ironically on Friday the 13th, she left us. I hadn't run for a couple of days but, at my Dad's insistence, I did so that Friday, having left work early on receiving the news, before drowning my sorrows a little that night in the pub. A strict one off occurrence! The following day I was at Hampden as Queen's Park achieved promotion from League 2 but left a few minutes after the final whistle. Eurovision, normally the highlight of my TV viewing all year, took place that night but I watched with little interest. Dark clouds are horrible things. I returned to work and kept training to keep my mind off things but had another couple of rest days on the Thursday and Friday (19th and 20th) for the funeral. I can safely say that giving the eulogy was more nerve racking than any race I've ever ran.

These were the circumstances leading up to the BMC meeting in Watford on 28th May which I'd done so well in the previous year. Flights and accommodation had been arranged well in advance so both my parents insisted I went through with it. I simply doubted what effect the upheaval would have on my performance. More doubts crept in with a flight delay in Glasgow then a lengthy wait for my luggage, both of which ate into the nap I'd planned to have at the Premier Inn that afternoon. In the end, lining up in the B race, I used the atmosphere and the rest of the field to produce an acceptable performance of 14:51,6, battling my way from the rear of the field to 12th place out of 19 finishers. It was actually far better than I had anticipated so I munched on my McDonalds Chicken Meal back at the hotel with some contentment.

Since the Monday was a holiday, I had booked an extra night in Watford and planned a trip to London, somewhere I incredibly had never been to. I got up early for an easy recovery run before breakfast at the hotel then caught the train from Watford Junction to London Euston. It's virtually impossible to see everything so, with the aid of a tour guide from my local library, had picked out what I wanted to visit. I began with the British Library (maybe not everyone's first choice but I like books) then took the Tube (a nervous experience) to the Westminster area and blatantly played the tourist, taking in the usual- Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey. I concluded with a walk along the Embankment to Trafalgar Square where I managed half an hour in the National Art Gallery before it closed (probably covering about 1% of it, you could spend a day in there on its own). Sipping a pint of London Pride in the Square rounded off a fantastic day. Having your running over with and a full day to basically do what you want, there are few things better.

Above: early evening at Trafalgar Square, London.

For obvious reasons, I didn't want to be on the Tube too late at night alone so made my return journey to Watford while I still had daylight on my side, enjoyed dinner and another beer at the hotel and got a flight back to Glasgow the next morning. This break was just what I needed at that particular time.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Scottish 10,000m Championships, 29th April 2016

Reviewing my training diary at the time, my confidence was certainly up after a good run of races since the beginning of March. At the end of week commencing 17th April, I commented that I was following a training regime for Watford, referring to the BMC meeting on 28th May in which I had entered the 5000m. Before that, on 29th April, I would be contesting a race which had borne fruit in the previous 2 years with bronze medals, the Scottish 10,000m Track Championship. I had 2 weeks training behind me following the 12 Stage Relay.

The race this year moved to Glasgow's Crownpoint track, opened again after being resurfaced with the Hampden Park track surface used at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. A Friday night suited because, although the race came at the end of a working day, I had 2 days over the weekend to recover.

There were 3 races, a mixed gender one, a male B race then mine. As before, while on paper the male medallists would come from my race, the rule applied that the 3 fastest overall took the prizes. A field of 14 runners plus at least one pacemaker (I'm writing this a few months after the event so I can't quite recall) set off on the 25 laps of the track. For a long time, I felt the pace was too fast and found myself struggling to stay in contention. I sat in 5th place striding out to keep in contact while trying to conserve energy. I went through 5000m in 15:22 yet there were still 4 guys ahead of me.

It took 14 laps before I moved up from 5th and maintained it- I had earlier attempted to gain places but been hauled back. By now I was working extremely hard. I always try to be relatively fresh at halfway in a 10,000m then treat the next half as a 5000m race. I had progressed to 4th then gradually got into a medal position, 3rd, my placing for the previous 2 years. Defending champion William Mackay (Aberdeen) clearly enjoys this race as he was out in front again followed by Michael Deason (Shettleston). I eventually moved up to Michael's shoulder and overtook. I couldn't really tell if I was catching the leader or not but I do know the gap at the end was only 9 seconds. I ran probably my best race of the year to date, taking the silver medal in 30:45.44, a personal best and first time under 31 minutes on the track. Michael was 7 seconds behind. My previous bronze medal winning times would not have won a medal this year.

Numbers were slightly up with 36 men and 4 women contesting the 3 races. 

Olympians Callum Hawkins, Derek Hawkins and Tsegai Tewelde were in attendance to do presentations and they are pictured with the 3 medallists below. Photo courtesy of Scottish Athletics. When your running clicks there is no better feeling and it certainly did on this occasion.