Saturday, 4 July 2020

Lockdown Experiences

Driving to and from work. Doing a day's work in the office. Getting the train to work while relaxing with a book, picking up a cup of tea from Greggs on the way in and running home. Training with my club. Racing. Venturing to a Parkrun and socialising afterwards. Going to the football with my Dad. Going for a pint with my brother. Going out for a meal with my family. Having the occasional Sunday run "away day" down the Ayrshire coast. What have all of these activities got in common? They have all been off limits to me since 23rd March 2020.

Above: the football with my Dad in happier times.

None of us need any introduction to the perils of Covid 19 and the destruction it has caused to our daily lives. Offices, shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes, sports facilities, hairdressers/barber shops and schools all closed. Friends and family separated from each other. Thousands of people losing their jobs and even their lives. It has been nothing short of a catastrophe. Lockdown has had an effect on me too in many ways. I thought that sharing my experiences might help others.

From the outset, I would say that I know that I am far more fortunate than many. My heart goes out to everyone who has suffered in any way during this. The first impact on me was the cancellation of a holiday. On 14th March, I was scheduled to fly out to Portugal's Algarve region for 6 days to enjoy some warm weather training for the third consecutive year. While Covid 19 had not spread throughout the UK and there were no travel restrictions at that time, Portugal was in a state of alert. Concerned about bringing the virus home with me (especially with my Mum having just recovered from a life threatening illness) and having to "self isolate," I cancelled the trip and decided to have a week off at home instead. I got more than I bargained for.

Above: a previous trip to the Algarve in 2009, once the training had been done of course.

You could sense things were happening. My time off was cut short at 3 days to prepare for homeworking. Lockdown started on 23rd March. My old room at my parents' house became my new office. It certainly had its perks. A much shorter, traffic free commute (less than 2 minutes), no need for formal dress, no face to face client meetings. It also gave me the chance to tune into the Ken Bruce show on Radio 2 every morning. I have been a fan of Ken for at least 16 years since seeing him as a guest in Dictionary Corner on Countdown. I used to listen to the late Terry Wogan on the radio and soon realised that Ken was on after him. When I was in Sweden for 6 months in 2004 my Dad used to send me recordings of his show on cassettes. Ken has proven to be a tonic during homeworking. Great music and chat and a wee quiz called Popmaster every day at 10.30am. I strongly recommend it.

Over time however, things started to fray at the edges. Realising that we were in this for the long haul, my morale, motivation and mental health slipped. I received a pay cut and reduction to a 4 day week. There is only so much you can achieve outside the office and the frustration at the length of time even routine tasks took grew. I found myself making occasional twilight visits to the office (with no-one else there) to complete some tasks. It wasn't uncommon for me to be there at 8pm or later.

Eventually, at the beginning of June, I agreed to go on furlough for 3 weeks. To be taken out of the firing line for a while was welcome but it's not really a holiday when leisure options are so limited. The first couple of weeks were fine but by the third week I was thoroughly fed up and, yes, a little depressed. Relief came when I was told that I could not only return to work on 1st July (still on a 4 day week) but also be in the office if I wished provided that I kept my workspace sanitised. At the time of writing, I have been back for 3 days. The sense of normality it has brought is a godsend.

More generally, the whole situation has been a massive test of my mental health. I have addressed this topic elsewhere on this blog. I'm quite a private person but the loss of the opportunity to socialise with others when I feel like it has been a massive loss. I'm still training on Saturday mornings but wouldn't it be nice to get to a Parkrun one week? I love a good brunch after training but occasionally enjoying it in a cafe with others would be lovely. Saturday afternoons in the house listening to Off The Ball and Sportsound on Radio Scotland have become the norm. While not the worst way to pass an afternoon, it's no substitute for being at a race or going to see my team. A drink at home or at my parents' is good once in a while but it's nice to break it up with an evening at one of my locals in East Kilbride once in a while. A "virtual" race just does not have the same buzz or social aspect as the real thing. I guess what I'm trying to say is that lockdown has been horrible. I stay alone and have had a few periods of depression and loneliness. This has caused the very real worry of slipping back to the state I was in back in 2018. Friends, clubmates and work colleagues, you name it, I miss you all more than I can put into words.

Above: the Allan Scally Road Relay on 29th February and the Cambuslang Harriers 10km Road Race the following day, the last two occasions I did a real life race to date. Photos courtesy of Kenny Phillips.

As I write this, the virus seems to be getting suppressed, at least in Scotland, and restrictions are being eased. I'm mentally drained from hearing phrases like "social distancing" and "new normal." With regard to the latter, in no way do I wish the way that we are currently living to become normal. I don't want to resemble a bank robber when I go to the shops or get on a bus or train. When I meet someone I want to greet them with a hug or handshake. I have no desire to watch sport played out without spectators. I wish to see people physically in person, not on a screen. I certainly would be grateful to see more tolerance and respect in society than there was previously. Otherwise, Covid 19, please give us our lives back.

I have grown to love a beautiful song by The Adventures called Broken Land. I became aware of it when Ken Bruce played it one day. It contains a line which beautifully sums up my feelings about this year's events- "where I stand, I see a broken land." I hope and pray every day that it is fixed sometime soon.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Then You Open A Hotel....

"Depression is a very bad thing. It's like a virus. If you don't stamp on it, it spreads throughout the mind, and then one day you wake up in the morning and can't face life anymore!"

Eagle eyed readers will recognise these words from the critically acclaimed BBC sitcom, Fawlty Towers. They were expressed by the hapless hotel manager Basil Fawlty towards an equally unfortunate individual, Manuel the Spanish waiter. Eavesdropping on the exchange, Basil's "little nest of vipers" Sybil delivered the punchline, "then you open a hotel."

While stated in a comical context, reading these words in isolation makes you realise that they convey a very serious message. Depression is indeed a very bad thing. Just ask me.

After a period of fairly regular activity, updates to this blog have dried up completely in recent times. There is a major reason for this and it has taken me until now to find sufficient courage to share my story.

I may as well just come out with it. In a nutshell, throughout 2018, I suffered with depression and anxiety. It just happened. A number of things contributed. Family matters, my lifelong friend moved away after living on the same street as me all of our lives, a couple of other friendly neighbours placed their properties up for sale, I was struggling badly at work. Everything just accumulated to the extent that, by January, I found myself in a deep, black hole. I also had next to nothing going on from a social point of view.

I've always been a worrier by nature and endured some low moods. I get stressed about all sorts of things. However, this was seriously bad. Try to imagine, if you can, the feeling of getting up for work on a cold, dark Monday morning in the winter. I felt like that every day of the week. If I was not in employment I may not have got out of bed in the morning. It's a miracle that I managed to hold down my job. I never sought medical help but was on the cusp of it. My local health centre has an online facility where you can describe your symptoms and submit them for a GP to consider. It's designed to free up appointment space so you can receive a prescription without needing a face to face meeting. However, the most serious cases still get seen in person. There is no doubt that I would have fallen into this category. I completed the form more than once but every time I came to the final submission page I bottled out of it.

I continued to run though my training regime and form dipped badly. I missed the odd run and session. It's a negative cycle. When you feel terrible, you don't want to train. When you don't train, you lose fitness, your race performances slump and your bad moods worsen. I went through this cycle a number of times. My 2018 training diary makes for grim reading in places.
Above: a 5km road race in Portugal in March 2018 during the height of my troubles. The pain on my face isn't solely due to the race.

I started to develop problems in other areas of my life. My diet suffered. My usually careful dietary habits gave way to comfort eating- fizzy drinks instead of healthy ones, having sweets or chocolate bars with my lunch at work. I have always strictly enjoyed a drink socially and at the right times but, during this period, alcohol had a detrimental effect, simply making me more depressed.

Things came to a head in May 2018. During a work night out in Paisley early that month, I simply drank too much. I missed the last train, somehow managed to get a taxi home, not even remembering what time I got in. I had a horrible hangover the next day and could only manage a 3 mile jog. I was self destructing.

The following week, at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, I finally made my situation known publicly. I just couldn't take any more. I ran the Monklands Half Marathon. The race also took place on the second anniversary of losing my Gran so I was in a heightened state of emotion. Barring a disaster, I had the race won by 10 miles and spent the last 3 planning in my head what to say. The outpouring of support received was overwhelming and had an instant effect. My problems still existed but, for the first time, I felt that there were people out there who cared about me. The two tonne weight on my shoulders eased a little.

That said, things got worse before they got better. At the end of May, I travelled to Watford for a 5000m at the British Milers Club meeting. I was in the A race, something the old me would have relished. Not this version of myself. I was like Superman laced with Kryptonite. 6 laps into the race, well off the pace, struggling and feeling drastic, I stepped to the right and off the track. I felt lonely and humiliated. This was rock bottom for me, as bad as it got. My Dad just wanted to see me home the next day.

While progress has never been a straight line, that weekend signalled a turning point. The Monday (the race was on a Saturday) was a Bank Holiday. I got back to basics and spent the day down the Ayrshire coast with my parents, enjoying a 15 mile run in glorious sunshine.

Above: with my parents in Saltcoats after my 15 miler, May 2019, 2 days after Watford.

Thanks to the support of my family, some very good friends and one or two other people who, through the whole experience, have become close friends and confidantes, the remainder of 2018, though with a few troughs along the way, constituted a general upward curve. Through all the turmoil, I had somehow managed to purchase my first flat. Having got the keys in March however, I seriously underestimated the vagaries of homeownership and wasn't in a position to move in until mid August. In July I enjoyed a dream holiday in Scandinavia I will never forget. It is a worthy subject of another blog post. It looks like this blog is going to be resurrected again! Most significantly, my running took a turn for the better. In late July, I clocked 15:06 (fastest time of the year up to that point) for a 5000m in Glasgow before putting Watford to bed at a BMC meeting in Stretford in August, bring my time down to 14:55. The state of my mental health is closely linked to my running so you can imagine how I was feeling now.

Above: BMC 5000m in Stretford, August 2018, clocking 14:55.

The recovery continued for the remainder of the year, with considerable help from good people as stated, and by Christmas I was as close to my old self as I had been all year. I still had my bad days but they were considerably fewer and never as awful. I had also got my training together, even resuming my regular attendance at my club's Monday track sessions in November. A strong showing at the undulating Ribble Valley 10km Road Race in Clitheroe (31:16, fastest 10km of the year), between Christmas and New Year was a real signal to myself that my training was getting there and I was back. 2019 has been a year of positivity which deserves to be the subject of a separate post (see, the blog is definitely resurrected). One thing I would mention is winning my first ever Scottish individual title in January, a Scottish M35 3000m gold indoors. I was one emotional and proud runner that night.

I could say more but I think I've probably said as much as I need to in order to give everyone an insight. We all have mental health. It can happen to anyone. From the outside, I had a career, a loving family, decent social life, some talent at my sport, other interests. Yet, it happened to me. I am so pleased that the stigma has been removed and more people are finding the courage to open up. The work of organisations such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Back Onside is to be commended. I have definitely become a better and stronger person for what I have been through. A lot of lessons have also been learned. I am very strict now about being kind to myself- maintaining regular working hours, treating myself (you can't beat a good cup of tea), making time for things I enjoy (I've found that I love Parkrun catch ups with folk over a post run tea or coffee). The little things matter. I also have coping mechanisms for when things feel tough. To everyone who helped me in any shape or form and continues to do so, you have my heartfelt thanks.

It has been a worthwhile experience writing this article and I only hope someone reading it can take some strength and inspiration from it. Remember you are never alone. No-one with any shred of decency will judge you negatively. Speak to people, seek the help you need. I just needed family and friends to talk to but I found them. Above all, stick at it and never give up. Perseverance creates a strength to withstand anything life throws your way. The only time to really worry is if you find yourself opening a hotel....

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. 

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.