Sunday, 18 November 2012

Race Report - Glasgow MoRun 2012

Having registered for the Glasgow MoRun 10k on a whim, in a hurry and unimpeded by the Crew Chief’s appeals for logic and sanity when designing my calendar, I approached the whole business with a certain reckless enthusiasm and revelling in the timeless ‘ignorance is bliss’ maxim. So much so that I had overlooked the need for a disastrously early start, the unimaginative two-lap course design or that most heinous of race-organisers’ crimes: a finishers’ T-shirt that you have to pay for separately…

But we had paid up and made a plan, and so it was that the Crew Chief and I left our lovely warm flat in Edinburgh at 8am to hit the motorway, picking up the usual troublemakers Neil ‘4:33’ Gray and his own Crew Chief Karlie. With absolutely no mishaps to do with multi-storey car parks, green buttons, slip roads or traffic lights, we made it to Glasgow with an embarrassingly large amount of time to spare, luxurious Mo’s adorning our faces as we wandered around the chilly Saturday morning bustle of the city.

Arriving at Glasgow Green and spotting the event village not far off, a marshall asked us if we were here for the race. Dressed in our running gear and with large painted moustaches smeared on our faces, I decided to humorously say ‘no’, which went down like a lead balloon. After a brief lecture we were pointed to the fairly obvious event village, and meandered over to register.
Ready for the off.

Being achingly early, we had plenty of time to pin on our race numbers (which had a space to write your ‘Mo Name’ – we chose Dave and Neil because we are boring), watch other runners arrive in a variety of ill-thought-out costumes, and above all, get very cold. When the time at last came for the ubiquitous mass warm-up, a fairly sizable crowd of runners and supporters had assembled and the mood was buoyant and light-hearted, but this did nothing to warm the morning's bitter temperatures. Neil and I participated in the mass warm-up with our hands firmly wedged in our pockets.

The 5k race took off ten  minutes before our 10k – a ragtag bunch of runners in lycras mixed in with people dressed as Mario, Scooby Doo and dozens of others. Almost everyone sported a Mo – real or otherwise – and this includes the large number of women and children in the race. It was an impressive sight.

Ten minutes later it was our own turn, and we finally relinquished our tracksuit bottoms to reveal running shorts and freezing knees underneath… We were a little slow off the mark to get lined up, meaning that we found ourselves some way down the pack, which proved a significant issue with early bottlenecking. Although we had no loftier aspirations than to trot round in under 50 minutes, Neil and I are terrible together when it comes to competition, and we gleefully picked off swathes of runners as we worked our way towards the front of the race. Just as with my Edinburgh Christmas Run in 2010, I had a feeling that this was closer to a fun run than a race, and we risked doing embarrassingly well in terms of rankings for our quite average pace.

So the goal was upgraded – we would aim for steady kilometres between 4:30 and 4:45. Which, as with most of our goals, failed miserably.

Our first k was the slowest at five minutes dead - we spent the entirety of it jostling for position and squeezing through tiny gaps on a narrow course. Shortly after clocking such a disappointing opener we overtook some of the Crew Chief's colleagues - a pair of female ultramarathoners whose running CVs were a bit intimidating. We were genuinely worried that they might beat us over the course, and spent the rest of the race nervously looking over our shoulders in case they were catching us... But otherwise we got our heads down and ploughed on, overtaking most of the costumed fundraisers as we found a comfortable pace towards the front of the pack. 

The course winds its way around the roads and footpaths in Glasgow Green, including a lengthy out-and-back along the Clyde, where various rowing clubs were preparing for what looked like a large scale race. In Glasgow of all places. Our own racing instincts were hampered and confused, however, as we fairly swiftly caught the back of the 5k race and found ourselves mixed in with slower fun runners, once again restarting our overtaking mission. Nonetheless we managed to crank out some faster kilometres, gradually speeding up  until we were regularly producing km's between 4:30 and 4:40.

We saw the leaders ahead of us as they switched back after 3k. Two club runners jostled for position, though third place was a good minute or so behind them. We are not talking about a serious race here - more a fun run that a few decent runners had rocked up to for a laugh. As frustrating as it was for us to weave between Mario and Luigi, it must have been incredibly annoying for them.

5km rolled around in a flash as we looped the event village. Despite the ten minute lead afforded to the shorter race, Neil and I would probably have placed quite well in the 5k, as a steady stream of funrunners were still finishing around this point. We peeled off to the right and looped an enormous obelisk to start our second lap, grimly realising that we only had three miles left in which to make something of this race.

The second lap was a change of tone. Due to some dodgy marshalling we overshot one of the turns early on which threw us a little, and when we did find the right path we found ourselves now running against the flow of most runners - 5 and 10k alike. Though this was a sign that we were placing reasonably well, it was a major hindrance to finding a rhythm... 

Sprinting to stay ahead of the woman
overtaking on Neil's right shoulder...
After the second out-and-back our conversation waned entirely. We were accelerating with every passing km, playing cat and mouse with a few individuals who had dared to overtake us. When our respective wives came into view with 2k to go, toting cameras and waving, we could summon little but a grimaced smile. I am sparing you from reproducing that photo. Things were starting to fall apart in that exciting way they do at the end of a short race. Neil told me to go on ahead if I felt like it. I did not feel like it.

Amazingly, we were still overtaking slow 5k runners.

With less than a km to go we grunted an agreement that there would be no competitive sprint finish. We were too tired and feeling too rough for that kind of nonsense. As we entered the final straight, however, a preened and comfortable-looking woman made to overtake us, and like chauvinistic idiots, we cranked up an inevitable sprint for the line. Thinking we may as well go for it, we overtook a couple of other runners too, almost knocking one chap down as we crossed the line. Feel a bit bad about that. 

I had forgotten to stop my watch at the finish, so we queued to get our result from a tent full of timing equipment. When our turn eventually rolled around, we were delighted to discover a self-service computer with a keypad - just key in your race number and it prints a receipt showing your time and position. What a great idea. It wasn't until some days later, however, that we realised that it printed gun time and not chip time, which means we were pleased to upgrade our results from 47:24 to 46:49, and our positions improved by one each. The final results gave us exactly the same time, but for some reason assigned me 49th place and Neil 50th. Can't complain...

A cool idea. Shame it doesn't specify that this is gun time, though.
Now I've said this before, but that probably is it for me in terms of racing in 2012. This was fun - and after some much lengthier goals have been accomplished in 2013 I think I'll revisit the 10k and try to train for it specifically . It would be nice to get a sub-40 run on my PB list...

Happy running


2012 to date: miles run - 417.5, miles biked - 79.2, metres swum - 3950, races - 5

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A most profitable run

Last night I had a plan to go for a run with almost-elite athlete and total jobbyhead Megan Crawford. Megan is an awful lot faster than me and tougher than a pile of tough things tied together with iron chains of toughness, so whenever I can I like to think of a way to slow down our runs so as to save my lungs from exploding. Luckily last night I had a truly excellent idea indeed.

If you’re a whisky fan, you will already know about Jura, an island on the west coast of Scotland with a population of 200 and a major export industry of incredible whiskies. If you’re a whisky fan on Twitter you can follow them on @jura_whisky. This week they’ve started a competition to promote their ‘Superstition’ bottling, a beautiful single malt full of peat - surprisingly smooth and one of my favourites. Jura’s Twitter people hid a number of ‘lucky pennies’ in Edinburgh since, as you know, if you see a lucky penny, and pick it up, then all day long you’ll have good luck. In this case, you win a bottle of Superstition. Jura’s Twitter feed and the hashtag #JuraPennies gave clues as to their locations - first one to find the penny wins the whisky. Simples.

Around lunchtime and early afternoon, three clues went up on Twitter. By the time I left work around 5pm, one penny had already been found, and my heart sank. Surely the others would be gone well before I was meeting Megan at 6.30pm? I sat at home and fretted.

Undeterred, when the time rolled around I explained the plan to Megan, and though quite reasonably confused and slightly suspicious, she agreed to the hunt. Here’s the first clue we pursued:

So near something called Thomas on Princes Street. With no time to lose, we ran straight there, me trying to explain the wider context of the marketing campaign as we went, though most of our conversation revolved elsewhere. Such was our distraction, that by the time we reached Princes Street I felt a little silly for dragging Megan up here, where there’s loads of traffic and plenty of interruptions to running, which is what she actually wanted from the evening. Pressure to find the penny mounted.

We jogged passed a few of the imposing statues on the south side of the street, looking for anyone called Thomas. We settled on Thomas Guthrie, whose statue sat inside Princes Street Gardens but faced north towards the street. It being dark and late and windy and horrible, the gardens were locked. Without hesitation, we levered ourselves gingerly over the fence – though clearly not gingerly enough as one of the fence spikes went straight through my trainer and into the insole, poking me in the foot but causing no lasting damage. We looked nervously at each other once into the gardens, wondering if this was a tad ridiculous, and what on earth we would say to a groundskeeper or PC should they ask. Eager to move on, we started scouring around the base of the statue using the headtorch I’d brought for the purpose, but to no avail. Bringing Megan was a stroke of genius – she gamely rummaged through piles of leaves and clambered all over the statue feeling for hiding places, but still nothing. Things were looking bleak. We had trespassed on council property on a whim and had nothing to show for it. Hmm.

Just as I thought all was probably lost, I pulled out my phone to re-read the clue. ‘Take a seat to find your penny.’ That’s it! The penny must be under or near a seat! If you know Princes Street gardens and the general area, you will know that there are dozens of benches to hide things under, and we started the process of scouring all of them around the statue. Again having two of us to share the search was ideal. But still nothing.

Hopping carefully back over the fence (no puncture wounds this time) we crossed the road to try the benches which faced the statue, but again found only chewing gum mixed with disappointment. We agreed to give up on this clue and started thinking about the second, though we agreed to have a cursory look on the last few benches on the south side of the street before we left the area.

And we only ruddy well found the penny.

We leapt around like season-winning F1 drivers, confusing the commuters and drawing a load of mad looks. I held the penny aloft like Charlie (of Chocolate Factory fame) and we hastily read the rules on the packet. No doubt about it – we had won ourselves a bottle of Superstition.

But wait, only one? To share?

Five seconds later the penny was stowed in my pack and we were sprinting along Princes Street, heading up the Mound and onto the Castle Esplanade. We had tasted victory and we wanted more. The last unclaimed clue was as follows:

The side of the castle. Hmm. Have you seen Edinburgh Castle? It’s enormous and built on a volcano. It has more sides than you can shake a stick at, and even if you did you would need a stick that could shake at dozens of roads, footpaths, building, alleyways, a railway and plenty of other stuff. And a map? Like a tourist information board, perhaps? Again there are hundreds of those all over the centre of Edinburgh. This could take hours to find.

Running straight up to the castle and through a ghost tour (we probably looked dead and can only have added to the effect) we carefully toured the perimeter of the castle esplanade, looking for a map. In the near-total darkness, we convinced each other that many things were maps – memorial plaques, a guardsman’s hut, a blank wall. Megan even closely inspected a drain cover in case that turned out to be a map. But no joy. Returning to the top of the Royal Mile, we spotted the Scotch Whisky Experience, a visitor attraction all about whisky – and lo and behold it had a map of its many attractions displayed on the wall outside the building! This had to be it.

It wasn’t. We ran our fingers over every possible nook and cranny. We focussed on the phrase ‘lead to your penny’, thinking maybe that it could be hidden near something made of lead. We dismissed this idea. Eventually.

There are some stairs running down the south side of Castle Rock near the entrance to the esplanade, and I suggested we go down them looking for an info board or map, maybe somewhere towards the Grassmarket. Megan eventually agreed after I promised we could come back to the Scotch Whisky Experience and look again if we still couldn’t find it. We ran just a few steps down before coming across a black box, stood on a post on its own at the edge of the stairs. A box that dispensed something. A paper something. A tourist map kind-of-paper something. And taped underneath the box was only another ruddy penny! No doubt you got this hours ago, but here we were on some steps to the side of the castle, finding a map. Obvious when you know how. The ghost tour guide looked a bit miffed at our whooping and laughing and cheering, but we didn’t care. We had two pennies.

The pennies were safe but the night was young. We ran another four or five miles around Edinburgh, taking in a few little hills and chatting some more. When we got back to my flat we took photos, laughed at the madness of it all and sent tweets to Jura so we could claim our prizes. I tried to tempt Megan with a wee celebratory dram, but she took her penny home, probably for some sports supplements and stretching or whatever it is she does of an evening. I stared at the penny I was left with and laughed. What a wonderful and mad evening.

The competition continues throughout the UK as the Edinburgh competition is just the beginning – you should follow @jura_whisky and get your own paws on some tasty aqua vita. I strongly recommend running as a way to find your quarry. If nothing else, runners tend to know their cities inside out, and you may find the clues much easier than the competition will...

Happy running (and hunting!)


2012 to date: miles run - 402.8, miles biked - 73.2, metres swum - 3950, races - 4

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A change of pace

I have been lazy so far this year.

There's no denying it - even accounting for the hernia/oedema worries at the start of the year, even giving some leeway for the wrecked left ankle that has bothered me since summer, I have really not put in the hours or the miles this year. 2012 has been rather busy for the Crew Chief and me, between her finishing her Masters and starting a new job, us planning the wedding, me changing job, recently trying to buy a house, several other weddings, travel and work - I have found plenty of excuses to push running down my priority list. That said I have still managed respectable performances at some cool races like the Deerstalker and the Edinburgh RnR half, and though it nearly took me five hours I did also tick off my fifth lifetime marathon. But the mind and body have been weak. I could have done better.

Something has shifted my thinking and approach. I feel like I'm back in the groove. Maybe it's the exciting news about the Virgin London Marathon that I'm not sure I'm allowed to tell you about yet. Maybe it's the ever-shrinking gap between my PBs and those of my friends whom I have bullied into taking up the sport. Whatever it is, I am registering for races and making ambitious plans like they're going out of style. Here are a few:

Next weekend I'm having a bash at the MoRunning 10k in Glasgow with notorious Orcadian troublemaker Neil Gray. I registered for this race on a whim and while the Crew Chief was out of the house... I had just published my Survival of the Fittest race report on Facebook under the banner 'last race of the year' and felt a pang of sadness that the year was drawing to a close, so googled the date and venue that I wanted and found a race that fitted the bill. Ten minutes later they had my money and I was on the phone to Neil suggesting he should do the same. I haven't run a proper 10k since May 2010 so this will be interesting.

Shortly after that, the Crew Chief and I fly to Australia then New Zealand for our three-week honeymoon. There will have to be some running done there (and a race, if I can find one) so I can tick off my third running continent after Europe and North America.

Then next year rolls around, and in February I'll be back on Kentish soil for a half-marathon smackdown in Tunbridge Wells with (or possibly against) some rather dashing men whom I've known since we were 10 years old - a certain Matt 'Bathmat' Pritchard, Ed 'Naked Dash' Coughlan and Chris 'these guys call me Steve' Stevens. We have never really raced against each other before and it is going to be immense. Building up to this I have another idea; that I'd like to try and run at least a mile on every single day of 2013, completing a 365 day runstreak. Could be tricky.

Some other plans aside (more anon) it looks like 2013 will also be the year that I finally break the 26.2 barrier and run my first ultra. And if I'm already planning one marathon in spring and a multi-day ultra in summer, I may as well run another marathon in autumn, bringing my tally of marathon-plus races to nine (that ultra is more than a marathon on both of two consecutive days, so I'm counting it as two marathons). Plus, in the context of a changing hometown and job, I'm once again thinking of joining a running club and a gym. Watch this space.

Must dash, gotta run.


2012 to date: miles run - 392.9, miles biked - 73.2, metres swum - 3950, races - 4