Monday, 31 January 2011

Running with the whisky demons

‘I’m ready whenever you are, mate.’

I am not ready. The time is 7.55 on a Saturday morning, my head is pounding, I have been asleep for a little over four hours. Last night I put away the best part of a bottle of wine, four or five beers and quite a lot of excellent cask-strength whisky. I slept fitfully on a sofa that was exactly the wrong size. I am not ready.

Unfortunately, the mate in question is bright-eyed and bushy tailed, dressed in his running gear and poking his head round the door with a look of expectation. Ben has rediscovered running and is training for his first half-marathon. He wants to run nine miles this morning, and I would quite like to stop existing.

Fifteen minutes later, motivated by outrageous competitiveness and a tiny amount of shame, I am ‘ready’. I am dressed as a runner, but it may as well be a fancy-dress costume given my utter lack of preparation for the task ahead. Ben baulks at my shorts and long-sleeved baselayer – he is wearing tracksuit bottoms and a hoody. It can’t be that cold, I insist. I run in Scotland, usually at night, on top of a small mountain.

It is that cold.

Somehow we are shuffling along the north bank of the Thames heading towards Westminster, working against a biting headwind and maintaining a mournful conversation. Our pace is dictated by two things – Ben’s current training tempo and my proximity to death, which conveniently happen to demand roughly the same speed, somewhere around 9:30/mile. I am very, very cold.

Arduously we cover the miles, Ben providing 90% of the conversation as I fight the whisky demons. He points out certain sights along the river, which are welcome distractions for a few precious seconds before the various new and interesting pains resurge with a vengeance. I should add here that Ben’s alcohol intake last night was no minor accomplishment either, though he did make it to bed an hour or two before me. He still looks sprightly as I start to perspire pure ethanol. The bastard.

After we reach the blessed turnaround at the Houses of Parliament, Ben asks if I would mind a quick walking break in Battersea Park, around the 6 mile mark. Impressed by the maturity of his training plan and entirely keen for a bit of a break, I agree wholeheartedly. It is the best news I’ve had all morning. However, as we slow down I realise that the running is doing two things – keeping me a tiny bit warm and distracting me from my hangover. The walk freezes my muscles and the thin layer of warm sweat quickly cools and sits on my skin. A tortuous headache comes to the fore. The hangover demons start a game of badminton in my stomach. I have literally no idea why I allowed my life to reach this point. I glance at Ben in his warm layers and tracksuit bottoms and think murderous, hoody-stealing thoughts.

When I ask Ben if we can run again, I fear that he thinks it’s because I am impatient or bored. This is far from the case; in fact I very literally have to run right now. I’m slightly frightened of what might happen if I don’t. With non-committal grunts I try to make Ben believe that I need to go faster due to some sort of innate athletic urge, and, with difficulty and heavy legs, we resume our pavement pounding.

Lifted ever so slightly by a tailwind, we pick up speed as the landmarks from early on in the run call us home. I am reminded of something I was told by a very good runner when I asked him why he always ran so fast in training, never far from his threshold. He smiled and said ‘if I run faster, it’s over quicker’. We run faster.

Half a mile from home I agree to a ‘cool-down’ walk with a wry smile and the resignation of one who is getting everything he deserves. We make it back to Ben’s house and the warmth makes me think that perhaps I could live another day. Ben is delighted with our run – it is his 9-mile PB.

The longest miles in London
Ben offers me breakfast, coffee, water, a shower. I want them all but I don’t know in what order. I collapse on the sofa, hoping someone else will decide. Eventually the antisocial reek of cold sweat pushes me towards the shower first, and later we wander over to a local greasy spoon for our brunch.

A few hours later Ben hands me another beer. We are not going running tomorrow.

Happy drinking.


Monday, 24 January 2011

I love a good training plan

‘How many miles do you run a week?’ is a question I am asked literally no times a day, though I am prepared for it as if Her Majesty's Secret Service might one day bundle me in to a van and demand a breakdown of my weekly mileage. The short answer for last year was ’20-25’, cheerfully ignoring the many weeks in which I did much less that. The long answer is that it varies, hugely, and hopefully in 2011 will be a lot, lot higher.

The main thing that affects my mileage is whether or not I'm building up to a big race – when I’ve got a marathon in the pipeline I become a slave to the spreadsheet, carefully planning how many miles I should cover in particular weeks, what distance my long run should be, and the frequency and variation of my other runs. 

Right now I’m in week three of a monster 29-week plan leading up to the San Francisco marathon. Most marathon training plans are 12 or 16 weeks, and are designed by professionals. This one covers seven months, and was designed by Dave. 

The weekly mileage projection peaks and troughs due to the short tapering sessions I’ve allowed myself for my other planned races in the period, but basically started two weeks ago with a 22 mile week, dictates that I should run 29 in this current week, and tops out at the start of July with a frankly terrifying 50-mile week, including a 22-mile long run. It covers a total of well over a thousand miles, and suggests that I’ll beat last year’s total distance by the third week of June this year. When completed I'll have thighs of steel, chiselled calves, wrecked feet, five more medals and hopefully a couple of new PBs. It - will - be - awesome.


Like all runners - from first time 5k-plodders to elite and extreme superhumans, my training won't go entirely to plan. I'll get ill, I'll get injured. I'll be grumpy or fed up or busy. I'll decide not to enter one or two races, and training will change accordingly. I'll probably have to write off a few days after Nick's stag-do, and doubtless there'll be other weekends when I have a few too many glasses of wine. Basically, it will go wrong one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent, and for once I've accepted that from the get-go. Hopefully this means I'll be able to deal with setbacks better than in previous years...

Tony before his world record run
And if I thought I had made my plans with a hefty dose of realism and a side of pessimism, try this for size - on a recent Marathon Talk podcast, Tony Audenshaw (an Emmerdale actor who also holds the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon dressed as a baby - 3:13:30 at London 2010) divided his marathon training schedule into four distinct phases: 
"Running when I feel unfit, then running when I feel relatively fit, then getting sick of running with my fitness hitting a plateau, and finally getting ill, injured, or going on holiday at the wrong time, leading to a below par race." 
This from a 47 year-old bloke who regularly runs sub-3:20 marathons! What hope do the rest of us have?

What all this boils down to is that I'm going to aim to run an awful lot of miles, and if I manage even the majority of them I'll count myself lucky and in good shape to tackle SF. I'll let you know how I get on.

Happy training!


P.S. Haven't had a guest blogpost in a while - any takers?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

I'm rubbish at executive exercise

I am hurting this week. Not the usual sore thighs, tight calves or wretched ankles which come with the territory of high-mileage running. Nope, this week I have pain in my abdominals, my chest muscles, my backside and my shoulders. And my thighs and my calves. What is to blame? A mysterious contraption called a PowerPlate.

I’ve been meaning to integrate other sports into my running for some time now. I love running, and if I could get away with it I’d do it all day, everyday, but the body needs time for recovery and also needs the chance to use different muscles now and then (also, I have a job to go to, and a social life to occasionally attend to). The best athletes, in any discipline, are the ones who can ‘cross-train’ effectively, supplementing their main sport’s exercise with other sports to strengthen muscles, reduce the chance of overuse injuries and generally add a bit of variety to their workouts. In pursuit of some of these cross-training benefits, I bought a bike last year, attend the odd spinning class, and go swimming now and then.  

Then PowerPlate enters my life. Linds and I had been offered a free trial session at a PowerPlate ‘studio’ in Edinburgh, and then a discount on our first five classes. It seemed madness not to give it a go, which we did on Tuesday after work. The idea is relatively simple – you do a series of exercises whilst standing, lying, leaning on or generally associating your extremities with a vibrating plate, which purportedly multiplies your muscles’ workload by a factor of 30-50, depending on which of the scary buttons have been pressed on your machine. ‘The technology comes from space!’ says the instructor rather grandly. I envision Martians coming to Earth and handing over a vibrating plate. ‘NASA invented it so astronauts could exercise effectively when sitting down’. It comes from Texas, then, I think.

The beast in question
The session starts out well. I lay out my ‘fitness goals’ for the instructor (sub 3:45 marathon, sub 1:35 half marathon – I want to be clear that I am a runner and not a gym bunny) and we run through the basic operation of the contraption. I am assured that the studio’s clients include ‘loads of runners’ and that this will ‘definitely help with my core strength, overall fitness, CV threshold and muscle mass' - he stops short of adding 'it will also do anything else you want in the whole world’. We copy the instructor as he starts a few warm-up exercises. The first few are not too arduous: some squats, stretches, leg lifts and the like, and I think that this will progress well. There is a good level of resistance created by the machine and I feel virtuous for actually working out in a gym, if a little ridiculous in the giant mirrors all over the room. Every exercise lasts exactly one minute, timed by the PowerPlate and usefully counted down on a digital display. I completely abstain from any competitive behaviour whatsoever, though I note that Linds does seem to be giggling more than exercising...

Then we move on to some more challenging exercises, and it becomes clear that the PowerPlate is an instrument of gravest torture. One example should be enough; on flat ground I can do 47 press-ups in a minute (I know this for sure, I literally just did them to double check). On the PowerPlate, with my hands on the unit and feet on the floor, creating an incline that should make press-ups easier, I managed just 26 before faceplanting and looking sheepishly at the unimpressed instructor. He reminds me that the machine is on its lowest setting. More hideous work follows, using footballs and weights and that strange stretchy material that physios often use. They are the longest minutes of my life.

The main selling point, repeated every 15 seconds, is that you get the equivalent of over an hour in the gym in just 25 minutes of PowerPlating. Linds and I go along with the delusion that we are high-flying City execs who only have 25 minutes to spare in our weeks for exercise. Clearly this is executive exercise. I try to resist calculating how long I spend running in a serious week (5 hours? more?) and think how much running I could do in that extra 25 minutes, plus the necessary time to get to and from the studio. I usually make a point of running to and/or from any athletic activity, even if it’s only a slow jog, but I could barely lift my arms to drive after this taster session - let alone use what was left of my legs to run home.

The session finishes with a ‘massage’. I lie with first my calves, later my thighs on the plate, now whirring away on its highest setting, while the instructor puts his entire body weight into pushing my muscles against the plate. It feels rather good, and restorative, until my knee clicks loudly and painfully, a sound usefully covered up by the industrial washing machine-like hum of the blasted PowerPlate. Then the session is over, and we drag our weary carcasses off the floor and back to the reception area.

Confused and oddly energised, a slightly self-destructive crazy-athlete mentality convinces me that I should hand over my credit card immediately and book a thousand sessions. Linds’s calm distrust of the whole concept curtails any booking of anything, usefully postponing such a decision until we’ve ‘checked our diaries’, and we shuffle our confused muscles out of the door. I discover later that the standard pricing is £190 for ten sessions, and they recommend a minimum of two sessions a week. Nearly two hundred quid for five weeks’ exercise? Very difficult to justify, and very definitely executive.

Then we reach today, where as discussed I still hurt in places that I am not used to hurting. I’ve run 10 miles in the last two days, arguably, but I am quite certain that this pain isn’t running related.  So once again my attempts to find an enjoyable, affordable and effective source of cross-training glory have been thwarted. If I’m honest, I don’t really want to find one. I run because I'm rubbish at executive exercise.

Happy running


P.S. Annoyingly, my 6 mile run on Wednesday night, 24 hours after using the PowerPlate, was the fastest I’ve done in ages. Hmm.

Friday, 14 January 2011

I need goals

I’ve been a bit under the weather recently. Nothing major, just a bit of a chesty cough and a chronic case of feeling-rather-sorry-for-myself. So my grand plan to launch into 2011 with a few high-mileage weeks has been shelved and instead I’ve scaled back my time on the roads. I hate doing this, but luckily I don’t have any major races looming so I can afford to take a break and let my immune system do its thing.

So I’m doing exactly what I always do when I’m taking time off from regular running – thinking about my running and getting a little carried away from reality. Specifically, I’m thinking about my goals. Runners are usually goal-oriented folks, and running-based goals are, to my mind, the purest form there is. Some people, usually city-boy types, are driven to distraction by their work-based goals – targets, quotas, promotions, ‘making partner’ (whatever that means) or ‘landing the Henderson contract’ (who is this Henderson? and why is he handing out so many contracts on American TV?). But however driven and talented you are, no matter how many TM Lewin shirts you own, a goal you set for your professional life can always be affected by any number of factors beyond your control, like the economy, your employer’s priorities or your colleagues’ behaviour.  

Running goals are different. No-one else can accomplish your running goals for you, and no-one else is to blame if you can’t achieve them. It’s just you, a pair of trainers, and the target you’ve set yourself. But there is one thing that others can do in pursuit of your goals – they can make you accountable for them. Since I started this blog I have been avoiding doing something which I think most runners should.  I have avoided writing down, and thereby becoming accountable for, my ultimate goal. 

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I want to tell you what it is. You’ll know what my aspirations are, what I’m working towards, and what measure of success I’ve chosen for myself. You might laugh at my delusions of grandeur, or baulk at the madness of it all. You’ll be able to sit there, on the sofa, half an eye on the TV, laptop gently overheating next to you, and judge me for how far I’ve progressed (or not) towards what I want to achieve. You’ll be able to witness my success or failure. You’ll have all the power, and I’ll be the one doing all the work. It hardly seems fair.

But I’m going to tell you anyway. Because I want you to have the power. I want you to quietly judge me and silently bully me into achieving my goal. Nobody made me choose this objective – it was entirely my own decision. Your role, as guardians of public consciousness, is to make me feel incredibly guilty if I’m not taking steps towards reaching it.

But first, to contextualise my goal.

Runners fall into two broad categories: those with time goals, and those with distance goals. The former are tenacious in that they put in a lot of work to improving their form and technique over particular distances. The latter are tenacious in that they’ll just keep going further and further until they reach a ceiling of endurance for one reason or another, and eventually join the former category.

I have always been a ‘distance goal’ runner. With less than a year’s experience of running, in a haphazard and fairly lazy way, I had registered for a marathon. I reasoned that since I couldn’t run faster than most people, I would run further instead. I ran my marathon, got my medal, but crossed the finish line with an odd lack of satisfaction. I think I suffer from a dangerous combination of being a distance goal runner and having oddly low self-esteem. I crossed that line thinking; ‘if I can do this, it must be easy’.

I ran another marathon in pursuit of that satisfaction, thinking maybe that if I ran faster I would reach a sense of completeness, that I would have properly achieved something. I ran the second one just a minute faster than the first (partly to do with a chest complaint similar to what I have now) – which didn’t help, but still I knew that my goals needed to be further, not faster.

Paris 4:06:43
Brighton 4:05:24
The night before I ran that second marathon, I read the first two chapters of a book by some random bloke called Dean Karnazes. His memoir, ‘Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner’ has, in no small way, changed my life. ‘Karno’ as he is known in the world of ultrarunning is a very public advocate of a very little-known sport – racing over distances further than a marathon. Google this kind of nonsense and you’ll discover a wealth of 50k, 50 mile, 100k, even 100 mile races and beyond.

Karno has been near the top of this sport for the last 15 years, and has been at the forefront of innovating mad new events and challenges for a similar amount of time. He’s run marathons at the South Pole. He swam across the San Francisco bay. He ‘regularly’ runs more than 200 miles non-stop, without sleep, without more than a few minutes’ rest, eating on the run. He once ran 100 miles through the night to enter a marathon, arriving at the start line 5 minutes before the gun fired, then completed the race in 3:15 (‘not superfast, but pretty good’ he adds). He ran 50 marathons, in 50 days, in 50 US states, then decided to run back home, from New York to San Francisco, unsupported. (He got as far as St Louis, Missouri, before deciding that he missed his family and hopped on a plane back to SF). He’s like Chuck Norris, except that he has actually done those things.

One of the longer passages of his first book is devoted to a race called the Western States Endurance Run. A 100-mile race over mountain ranges in California, including snow-capped peaks and bone-dry, desert-like valleys, a total climb of 18,000 feet and descent of 23,000 feet. Competitors aim to complete the distance in under 24 hours, putting themselves through almost unimaginable torment just to earn a silver belt buckle for their trouble. Here's a video illustrating some of this utter insanity, featuring people who make it look easy along the course and at the compulsory checkpoints. Note that they're running on taxing mountain trails, not lovely smooth tarmac or carefully-maintained footpaths:

I want to earn one of those belt buckles.

Entry to the Western States is by lottery, with extremely high qualifying standards. Essentially one has to be an experienced ultramarathoner, with fast qualifying times over a minimum of 50 miles. Those 50 miles have to have been completed on a course similar to the Western States, i.e. great big fuck-off mountains. One often has to be an experienced marathoner and hill runner just to qualify for the races which would qualify you to enter the Western States. This race is for the best of the best, and even then only 75% will finish at all.

So where does a mediocre marathoner like me start? By running a lot of races, for one. A lot of marathons really, and before too long, a lot of ‘ordinary’ ultras, too. I am provisionally planning to tackle my first ultra in summer 2012, most likely by entering a 40-50 mile race like the Devil o' the Highlands Footrace or the Glasgow to Edinburgh Double Marathon. Training will become life – no more the leisurely trot home from work, no more the lazy, slow adventure run on a Saturday afternoon. If I’m to achieve my goal I’ll need to be running 70+ miles a week minimum, and make significant adjustments to my nutrition and sleeping habits. Earning that belt buckle will take years.

I am terrified of this goal. Not just because of the many challenges I’ll face on the way, or because of the pain and suffering that the race will almost certainly cause. But because I know that when I cross that finish line in Auburn, California; broken, bleeding, ruined, traumatised, possibly having gone temporarily blind (as happened to Karno at his first Western States) or simply drained of all life, but somehow sneaking under the 24 hour cut-off and earning my silver belt buckle, I’m going to look at it and smile sadly.

Then I’ll probably say in a croaking, broken voice, to no-one in particular: ‘If I can do this, it must be easy’.

Happy running.


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

851 miles: my 2010 in running shoes

Hello people in internet-land. Just a very quick note before we move on to this post: I'm going to make a couple of changes to irunbecause... over the next week or so - first, I'm going to include guest blog posts at the end of my own posts, rather than grouping them into sets. The first guest answer, courtesy of Jenny Mackay, is at the end of this post. And second, I'm going to make a few cosmetic changes, probably starting with the painfully low-res banner up there. Stay tuned!

So on to today's post - a round-up of my 2010 in running shoes...

Since January 2010, I have run a total of 851.55 miles. If I had started at Land's End on New Year's Day and headed north-east I would probably have reached John O'Groats on Boxing Day, and would have needed to get a ferry to the Orkney Isles to polish off the last 14 miles. In doing so I comfortably beat my 800-mile goal for the year, which tells me that my 2011 target needs to be a lot, lot bigger. This figure includes all races and training runs - on top of this total are a few long walks, bike rides, rugby and swimming sessions. This might sound like a lot, but my running averages just over 16 miles a week - hardly a heavy schedule, whoever you are.

My longest run was the Brighton marathon at 26.2 miles, the shortest just a 2 mile commute. I didn't run much over the summer, sometimes just 5 or 6 miles a week and during two weeks I didn't run at all, both due to injury. My biggest week was 40 miles, again this isn't really very much for someone who claims to be a reasonably serious marathoner...

I also entered seven races in 2010:

    Alloa Half Marathon (1:37:03, PB)
    England Kilomathon (2:03:59, PB)
    Brighton Marathon (4:05:24, PB)
    Great Edinburgh Run (45:41, PB)
    Edinburgh Marathon Relay, leg one (1:00:04, PB, 5 seconds off my goal...)
    Scotland Kilomathon (2:05:18)
    Edinburgh Christmas Run (no idea!)

What is 'off-season'?
I spent a total of 11 hours, 51 minutes and 29 seconds racing, over a total of 88.2 miles (not including two 5k parkruns). Looking at it I think I must have spent about £170 on entry fees alone. Totally worth it.

The other main expense was three pairs of running shoes: a pair of Asics which were badly fitted and only did about 300 miles before I gave up and took them back to the shop, a pair of Sauconys which I'm still using, and my Vibram FiveFingers (barefoot running shoes), which I've only used for short distances so far. Quite a lot of money gone there, too.

To offset this retail frenzy, I managed to get a review of the Great Edinburgh Run published in Runners' World, which was excellent and meant I actually earned some money from running. The magazine's 300,000+ readership amazes me. That's almost as many people as read this blog.


This week's guest blogger is 'Aye Aye' Jenny Mackay, a seasoned runner, rower, ceilidh obsessive and all round good egg. I am enormously jealous that she's run the two biggest races in the UK, the London Marathon and the Great North Run, neither of which I've managed to get into. However, as she runs most of her races for charity, and puts a huge amount of time and effort into fundraising alongside her training, it's impossible to be properly jealous anyway. Good work, Mackay.
I run because…I can’t stop!
I started running seven years ago, starting at one mile. At my most fit, I ran the London Marathon in 2009, and ever since I comfortably complete half-marathons and 10ks every so often. However, my regularity of running has not been constant over the years, with life getting in the way. Work commitments, other interesting sports, and the wintry weather, have all derailed my attention at some point. This winter I have barely placed a shivery trainered foot outside my door, for fear of falling on ice. 
However, once Dave’s post (Let It Snow – 30 Nov) caught my eye, I realised that snow and running can co-exist. So, on Boxing Day, feeling like a right Christmas Pudding myself, I decided that “today is the day” and I would start trimming myself back into running shape. I found my first tentative steps in the thick white snow in Newcastle-upon-Tyne no problem at all, much to my surprise, and headed out to some open space for a good loop. I was blown away by the fresh feeling of really being alive - my trainers would disappear into trenches as I tackled an icing-cake snowfield. I stopped after 20 minutes, to take in the panoramic view of Newcastle’s skyline, and to reflect on the fact that I have actually made it out to run…successfully in the snow! As I padded back through the fun fluffy snow, I passed one other runner, who I saw coming my way in his bright yellow gear. As we passed, we nodded the nod that runners do that says ‘we’re so damn cool and virtuous– look at us, even running in the snow!’. In that one short run, I was reminded of all the wonderful things I love about running, and why I can't stop.
Thanks Jenny! Hope to see you on a start line somewhere soon...

Do you want to see your answer here? Email me and make sure you start with 'I run because'.

Happy running!


Saturday, 1 January 2011

How to spectacularly break a promise to your girlfriend

Dave: Linds, I've been thinking.
Linds: Makes a change.
Dave: Instead of running lots of races next year, which cost a bit to enter and also have travel costs, 'require' new kit, and generally involve spending lots of money, I'm only going to enter one big race instead.
Linds: Oh. How [yawn] interesting.
Dave: Oh indeed. And I think we should go to the USA and I'll run a race there as part of a longer holiday. I'll use the money I save by not racing to help pay for the trip and all will be fine and dandy.
Linds: Oh! How actually interesting! A big exciting holiday to America, hooray! And no other races for me to graciously pretend to be interested in! Hooray Hooray!
Dave: Hooray Hooray indeed.

Here follows my 2011 race calendar. You'll notice it has slightly more than one race in it...

I reckon designing a good race calendar involves finding the right balance between racing to ordinary life, allowing enough time for training and recovery, a spot of travel, a contrast between big-city pazzazz and rural idyll, and ensuring that I end up with an eclectic collection of commemorative tat and freebie T-shirts by the end of the year. A mix of distances, terrains, locations, types, topography and style. A blend of races that are free to enter and round the corner, races that are the other side of the world and cost the earth, and those which fill the enormous gap in between. Races, in short, which keep things interesting.

I've been making these plans for a while, and I still haven't gotten round to registering for any of them except SF, but here is my tentative schedule for 2011:

March - Alloa Half Marathon (Clackmannanshire, Scotland). This will be my third year running Alloa, a professionally-organised 13.1 mile road race usually entered by around a thousand people. More of a serious club runners' outing than a fun runners' jaunt, but a good show all round and at £17 a bargain. This is where I set my half-marathon PB of 1:37:03.

April - Lochaber Marathon (near Fort William, Scotland). This is probably the least finalised of all my plans, as running a full-length marathon should really involve a bit more commitment and planning than I've put into this idea so far... But, seduced as ever by the prospect of entering a race that friends are running, this is a definite prospect as a warm-up marathon. Warm-up marathon, I know. Who even am I? Lochaber's race typically has a few hundred entrants, and follows an out-and-back course along the banks of Loch Eil.

May - Edinburgh Half Marathon (Edinburgh, Scotland). Part of the audaciously self-styled 'Edinburgh Marathon Festival', I've run the relay part of this event for the last three years. I find quite a lot lacking in certain aspects of the Edinburgh Marathon and its spin-off races, so I really should vote with my feet and give it a miss, but I can't quite bring myself to ignore a major race going on in my home town... So I've chosen the half this year, all being well.

June - Seven Hills of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Scotland). A madcap race that's part orienteering, part hillwalking, part running, part guesswork and completely hills. Starting from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, racers have to summit each of the city's seven hills in the correct order, which is verified by having your race number time-stamped by a marshal at each checkpoint, before slogging back up Calton Hill to finish. There is no prescribed route, the roads remain open and more or less anything goes. Accepted wisdom suggests that it covers about 14 miles and a total ascent/descent of 2200 feet. 

July - San Francisco Marathon (California, USA). The jewel in the crown of my race calendar, and the 'one big race' alluded to in the convincing scene laid out at the start of this post (also the only one I've actually registered for so far). 26.2 miles of staggering scenery and rolling hills. Starting with a few miles along the Embarcadero, then over the Golden Gate Bridge and back, the course then loops into central SF taking in parkland and some pretty funky hills. So funky, in fact, that the Wall Street Journal dubbed this 'the race even marathoners fear'. The race's own tag line is 'Worth the Hurt'! I'm running this race during a two-week holiday to California and New York that Linds and I are taking in July/August, and if I get enough hill training in and get some proper speedwork done I hope to run a very strong time here. Running a marathon is a staggering achievement, running a second and racking up a PB is a proud moment, but running a truly strong time in the race even marathoners fear will be worth the hurt. 

September - Great North Run (Newcastle, England). A hugely tentative proposition - entry to this incredible half marathon is by an extremely competitive ballot (I've been rejected twice already), or alternatively by getting hold of a charity place, which I'm hesitant to do. With 54,000 runners the GNR is one of the biggest races on the planet, with a fast course, incredible support and live TV coverage. It's one of my ultimate aspirational races - I'll get a place one day...

October - Dublin Marathon (Dublin, Republic of Ireland). I have unfinished business with this marathon. And I've heard rumours that certain guest bloggers are keen to tackle Ireland's biggest 26.2...

On top of this lot will probably be quite a few parkruns and any other free stuff I can sneak into. What are your plans for 2011? Want to join in any of these? Let me know!

Here's to an epic year. Happy running!


P.S. Sorry Linds. Love you.