Friday, 13 May 2016

Race Report: Dumyat Hill Race 2016

Dave: Utterly delighted to share the following race report from our Clackmannanshire correspondent and resident mountain-stomper Kat Welch, as she builds up to her first marathon later this year.

Kat: This year was my second Dumyat Hill Race, although about my eighth trot up the hill since the clocks changed and gave us lighter evenings. I’m ridiculously lucky to have Dumyat as essentially the back garden to my office, and as it’s on my way home I quite often head up there after work. The top of Dumyat is probably my favourite place in the whole world – incredible views, often quite crazy weather, and an amazing feeling of accomplishment having dragged yourself up there on your own two feet. I’d happily head up there every day.

Crikey though, racing it’s a different kettle of fish. I started training with my local running club at the beginning of the year, and Dumyat was only my second experience of a race where the Wee County Harriers have been out in force. It’s the friendliest and most welcoming club imaginable, but it’s definitely a different experience racing as a member of a club. There’s none of the pre-race hanging around on your own, lots more chat about routes and strategy and times, and a distinct internal monologue of ‘I’m wearing a club top, it’s going to look really crap if I’m last’. 

The race had totally sold out, with 400 runners (and a queue for on-the-day entries which disappeared within seconds) and slightly fancier chip timing than last year. We crowded into the starting pen, waved at a drone which was filming us from overhead, waited impatiently through the totally unintelligible race briefing, then were off. There’s a pretty short but steep hill that stops anyone getting too excited from the start line, a bit of a queue to get through a very narrow gap in a wall, then half a mile or so of flat trails, before crossing a river and getting into the race proper. After that, it’s pretty relentlessly uphill for the next half hour or so, which I tackled with a mixture of a) walk-run intervals and b) staggering upwards with my hands on my knees, staring at the ground and trying not to be sick on my shoes.

The club vest proved a massive advantage once we got onto the more open ground for the second half of the climb – loads of the club had turned out to support and many more people shouted ‘C’mon the Wee County’ as I passed, encouraging me to lope back into a reluctant jog – at least until I was round the next corner. It was an incredible sunny evening, and I tried to grab a couple of seconds to admire the view on the way up, especially the sight of hundreds of runners snaking out above me to the summit cairn. There was a rowdy crowd of marshals and runners gathered at the top, cheering and whooping as I rounded the cairn, then it was off for the return leg – a real mix of trails, slippery gravel, bog to sink into, boulders to scramble around and fences to jump over whilst trying to maintain some sort of momentum. I passed at least 3 runners who were nursing sprained ankles as they made their way slowly back to sea level, which helped keep my mind focussed on watching where I was putting my feet. Half way down I heard some banter from a marshal about ‘a good race between the Wee County runners’, and glancing behind me saw Sue - another runner from my club - catching up fast behind me. We met up for a quick photo from another club member who was out with his camera, then it was RACE ON for the finish.

The last 15 minutes were an exhausting mental seesaw of ‘I want to give up right now’ fighting for brain space with ‘there’s no way I’m going to let her overtake me’. We hurtled down the last section of ridiculously steep woodland path, then onto the final stretch, which always seems flat on the way out but is very distinctively uphill on the way back. That last 5 minutes felt like it went on forever, but eventually we slogged our way over the top and picked up pace for the finishing (mercifully downhill) straight. I could feel Sue right behind me with every step, and we both mustered up a final surge of energy for a brilliant sprint finish back onto campus. Then it was hugs all round, photos, and lots of cheering for the runners still heading across the line. I was delighted to take 7 minutes off my time from last year, putting a sub 1-hour finish just about within reach for next year.

Meanwhile, however, I’ll very much enjoy reclaiming Dumyat for my steady evening jogs, with plenty of time for photos, admiring the views and thanking my lucky stars that such a beautiful part of the world is literally right on my doorstep. I can’t wait to get back up Dumyat, but racing it once a year is more than enough for me. C’mon the Wee County!

Thanks Kathryn! Readers with long memories may remember Kathryn from my Dumyat Hill Race 2015 Race Report or even my Mighty Deerstalker 2012 Race Report. Blimey we've been doing this for a while, eh?

Monday, 4 April 2016

That time I kind of got hit by a car

I reckon that in the 7-ish years that I’ve been a regular runner I’ve run somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 miles. And yesterday, for the first time in all those miles, I was hit by a car.

I’ll let that thought linger before I explain.

It gets a lot less dramatic from here. To be honest, it would be more accurate to say that a car was hit by me.

I was on a very slow recovery jog – early Sunday morning around the Tan Track in central Melbourne – unsuccessfully attempting to shake out some of the muscle and joint pain from my 16 miler the day before. The Tan is an almost uninterrupted trail that measures just over 5k from our front door, all the way round and back home again. I do it all the time.

To get to the Tan I need to cross two roads, both of which have traffic lights and pedestrian signals at convenient spots. So it’s probably no surprise that this isn’t where a car got hit by me.

I was on the home stretch having just left the Tan to run down a very quiet residential street, picking up a bit of speed on a downhill. I’m running on a narrow pavement – a bit unusual as this road is so dead that often enough I just run in the road itself. It would have been a better idea to do that on this occasion.

The nose of a car pulls out of a concealed lane. There’s an imperceptibly small dip in the pavement, no lines painted on the road, no visibility for pedestrians or drivers. The bonnet appears and then a door and then I’m thinking “Well, this is happening.”

The driver sees me and slams on the brakes at the point at which my chest and arms splay out melodramatically across his car’s bonnet. The car comes to a stop as my right knee connects with the wing, which buckles slightly under the impact. I’ve more or less tripped over his car and broken my fall with my entire self. I stay there a fraction of a second to check whether I’m dead.

I’m not dead, but I am immensely surprised.

In fact I’m not even winded – my arm is a little uncomfortable as I landed heavily on it, but as I take a step away from the car and lean back on a convenient tree, trying to catch my breath, I remark that I really am totally fine. I’m remarking this to the driver as he lowers his window and we both look at each other, wondering who is going to shout at who.

In fact neither of us shouts. He wants to check I’m OK because that’s a good place to start and I want to apologise because I am British.

Luckily I really am OK. Perhaps a little shocked but nothing more than that. He drives off, I wave and jog the rest of the way home. Carefully.

I’d like to thank my brain, which realised early enough that my legs weren’t going to stop in time to avoid a collision, so worked out that spreading the impact as much as possible was the best alternative. For a fraction of a fraction of a second it considered swerving me out in front of the nose of the car – but if the driver hadn’t stopped then I would surely have broken a leg or hit the pavement, maybe catching an ankle or something under a front bumper and leaving myself with a large medical bill and a severe disinclination to boogie.

So what have I learned from this little escapade? Well, not much. I learned that this particular laneway is there, and that visibility is appalling, so it’s worth slowing down for a spot of green-cross-coding. I also learned what I have long-suspected: that being run over – or indeed running into cars – is literally no fun at all. More importantly, as I trotted the rest of the way home, heartrate at 30 or 40 thousand bpm, I resolved to generally be more careful. In an abstract sense, I’d like to get to 10,000 miles, or 20,000 miles, or none at all if the mood doesn’t take me, but I’d ideally like to get there on my own two feet.

Happy running, be safe out there,

(5 weeks, 6 days to 26.2)

2016 to date: km's 442, parkruns: 6, races: 1

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Race Report - Brimbank Park Trail Half Marathon 2016

“The course is marked. But not very well.”

Nothing can better sum up the glorious chaos of the Brimbank Park Urban Trail Run than this perceptive but faintly concerning observation, which was announced with a sheepish grin during the pre-race briefing.

I say ‘the pre-race briefing’. In fact I’m pretty sure I heard this during the briefing for the marathon and the 50k ultra, which were both starting 30 minutes before the half marathon that I’d entered, which was itself 30 minutes before the 10k which would be followed 30 minutes later by the 5k and another 30 minutes after that, the 2k. That’s six races and five pre-race briefings if you’re counting.

With that many races spread across the day, using mostly the same trails, some with loops and laps and switchbacks, to be honest it would have been nigh on impossible to declare the course ‘well marked’. The pre-race instructions, issued by email, contained pages and pages of almost-identical maps, with ominous instructions like ‘runners are expected to have at least some knowledge of the route’ before offering navigation advice, in intense detail, based on a number of landmarks which didn’t seem to be marked anywhere. I’d done my best to understand where I was supposed to be going, and I’m glad I did. In an event with just 300 runners divided up between six distances, there is a very real chance that one could either get totally lost, or (perhaps worse) end up following someone in an entirely different race for a potentially very circuitous diversion.

These are the hallmarks of a race series that does exactly what every runner dreams of: inviting the world to come and have a go on your favourite routes. Trails+ has a shiny website and a headline sponsor in Garmin, but in the real world it’s the mission of one bloke, Brett Saxon, who set up the franchise to raise funds for teenage cancer charity CanTeen. When I stopped comparing it to a big corporate event and start appreciating it on those terms, it suddenly made a lot more sense.

Brimbank Park is a sizable and generally rather picturesque public reserve about half an hour north of Melbourne, defined by a deep gorge and a winding river and spoiled only by the inexplicable stringing of massive pylons across it and the occasional but equally massive noise pollution from nearby Melbourne airport.

After watching the ultrarunners and marathoners set off on their hapless quest to find the right number of kilometres to run, we killed some time mumbling about the weird humidity and pointing out our early favourites (the gent in fluorescent orange taking the marathon at a stern walk was mine). As ever, all too soon, it was time to get going.

Not particularly ready for the off.
I lined up with the other half-marathoners – all 57 of us – and, panicking, tried to set my watch while a local MP started an abrupt countdown. The blasted thing was still looking for satellites when I’d completed the first 400 metre loop, but before too much longer I had it going and started to settle into a rhythm, neatly ticking off the first few landmarks at around 5 minutes/km (a whisker over 8 minutes/mile, for those of you only just keeping up at the back). Despite its tiny size, the field was comprised of a real cross-section of the running world, and in the early km’s I watched people of all shapes and sizes shoot past me along the river trail. I wondered how many of them I might see again.

After a relatively comfortable run on undulating loose gravel, sometimes slipping into fine sand and other times firming up into rockier trail, I reached a bandstand at the 10km mark where a volunteer glanced at my light-blue half marathoner’s bib and declared ‘this is your turnaround!’. I grabbed a cup of water, thanked the volunteers and did as I was told. Feeling fresh and with 11km left to go, I headed back the way I’d come and started hunting down some other runners, overtaking a couple in the next few k’s. I flew past two guys I’d seen shoot off at the start, then overtook a bloke who I’d briefly chatted to in the early part of the race. I was feeling strong and ready to roll, and delighted in the weird experience of conducting hundreds of two-second conversations with runners heading in the opposite direction, still working on the out-and-back. On my way to the turnaround I’d only seen a few, suggesting I was relatively near the front of the field, but on the way back I saw the rest of the half-marathon field plus some of the marathoners and ultrarunners. Everyone assured everyone else that they were looking good and doing a great job and we all totally believed each other. It was great.

Things started going wrong for me at around 16km. It was a humid day and I was drenched in sweat, my vest clinging to my skin and feet blistering in soaking socks. I was running low on energy and the jelly snake I’d eaten was turning unpleasantly in my stomach. Weirdly I started getting goosebumps and feeling chills as well, maybe I was struggling with dehydration, or something else wasn’t regulating itself properly. I hauled myself along on the promise that it was really only 4 or 5, or was it 6km to go? My watch was 400m short, right, but does that mean I need it to say 20.7km or 21.5km? And is this definitely 16km? Have I gone too far? I’m very tired. This would be easier in miles.

An irritatingly well-marked sign turned the course away from the picturesque river path and up a truly massive and fairly grimy hill beneath a motorway overpass. I’d been hovering on a bloke’s shoulder for a while but he pulled away on the approach to the hill and disappeared up it at a fair lick, while I slumped my shoulders and resigned to a walk. It’s far from the biggest hill I’ve ever run but it was definitely placed at the worst point for my mood and wellbeing...

I trudged onwards. Two, then three, then five runners overtook me, including the three I’d caught just after the turnaround. We swapped a few murmured words of encouragement as a weird, humid wind picked up. I shivered some more and wondered whether this whole running thing was still working for me. It used to come so easily, you see. 

By now I was at the top of the hill and intermittently walking and running not very quickly along a ridge on one side of the gorge, scanning the valley below for the event village and the finish line. Was it still 6km to go? Had to be more like 4 now, or maybe even less? I ran on, cursing the very idea of races and finish lines and hills until an aid station came into view at a road crossing, where the course dropped down into the valley below and presumably on to the finish line. My watch said 19k. “No worries, only 4k to go!” chirped the volunteer. I said a bad word and mustered some energy to ride the downhill and into the bottom of the valley.

A few more confused and faintly miserable minutes of jogging later I started to hear the unmistakable chaos of a finish line, and allowed my spirits to be slightly lifted by the noise and excitement. I picked up the pace a little and ran past a few families and couples in the 5k, but quite clearly just out for a nice fundraising walk in the park rather than a race. I envied their decision making.

Moments later I was crossing the finish line, entirely on my own, and ran directly to the Crew Chief who – unable to help herself – had started volunteering by removing people’s timing chips from the back of their race numbers. She did mine for me, and I shook hands with one of the organisers as I accepted a medal and scanned the event village for somewhere that I might do a bit of collapsing in a heap.

Crossing in 1:52:12 (the clock is from the marathon start)
I lay down on a bench, soaked in sweat and still sweating profusely. The Crew Chief found me some water, then some fruit and miraculously a hot dog, which I greedily devoured along with a bottle of Gatorade and a mumbling narrative of self-pity, which she patiently absorbed in a ‘what do you expect me to do about that?’ sort of way. I didn’t expect anything of course, unless she happened to have thought of an excuse that had managed to elude me so far. She blamed the humidity, which I laid into with gusto.

Really very warm. Is this normal, Australia?
As runners continued to trickle over the finish line we slipped away back towards the car and a change of clothes for me – I wasn’t aware how I had done overall but I was confident that my services wouldn’t be required on a podium any time soon. I tried to seek out those few runners whom I’d chatted with along the way to congratulate them on their pacing, but I couldn’t find any of them so I settled for shaking Brett’s hand and slinking off. I resolved to race a lot smarter next time.

Next time is a bloody marathon, so I suppose I’d better.

Happy running


2016 to date: Km's - 347, parkruns - 6, races - 1

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

What's that in miles?

Kilometres. Ask me what the main cultural challenge has been since I’ve been running in Australia and it’s kilometres. Endless calculations that start with ‘well a 5k is 3.1 miles and a 4 minute k gives you a 20 minute parkrun which is about 6:30 a mile, and I’ve run 8k in the last 40 minutes so that must be, er, 5, no, yes, about 5 miles which is about 8 minutes per k, that can’t be right. 8 minutes per mile. Ace. Wait.’ By this point I’ve run another k and have to start again.

But the cultural challenges of the metric system are nothing, nothing compared to the climactic challenges of running Down Under.

When it’s cold you can always put on another layer. If it’s raining you can just get wet, or put on another layer. But when it’s already 30 degrees at 8am and the sun wants to aggressively cook your insides for some reason and there’s not a lick of shade and you’re a pasty white Englishman who’s spent the last decade living in Scotland, you suddenly realise that there aren’t enough layers to take off before you’re calculating km splits in the back of a police van because running in the nude is apparently not allowed in city centre parklands.

Yes, I’ve moved to Australia and it’s bloody brilliant. Melbourne, where the Crew Chief and I have settled is a runner’s playground and once you’ve navigated the massive road system and waited a million years for your traffic light to change there are endless trails, footpaths, parks, beaches, rivers and roads to explore.

I’ve become a morning person out of necessity – it’s too hot to run at lunchtime and my long-held favourite after-work training slot is often the hottest part of the day – so I’m out at 6.30am two or three times a week and am practically a regular at my local parkrun (I've been five times), which starts at 8am. I’ve also revived something of my University schedule and been running after 9pm some nights to try to beat the heat, with massive bats overhead, possums scurrying into bushes underfoot and the city skyline lit up in the middle distance.

28 degrees at the start line, 30 at the finish line. An arduous 23 minutes in between.
The problem will be when I need to run longer distances, because there just aren’t that many cool hours in the day at the moment. And that time is coming.

Yup I’ve registered for another marathon. After graciously bowing out of Yorkshire this year on the grounds that I, well, left the hemisphere in which it was being held, I’ve been scouting around for another. Actually Ben did the scouting for me and now here we are – planning for the 2016 Great Ocean Road Marathon. Yikes.

Except inexplicably the Great Ocean Road Marathon is 45km, not 42.2km like you could quite reasonably imagine. Strung out on a piece of extraordinary southern coastline – next stop Antarctica – I guess the GOR organisers have limited options for logical start and finish points so 45km it is. There’s a timing mat at 42.2 so you do get a proper marathon time, but the rules are clear; if you cross the 42.2km line but not the 45km line, you get a DNF for the whole race and no times at all. Those last couple of kms are basically non-negotiable and you’ve technically got to finish an ultra to qualify as having finished the marathon. Brutal.

I’m telling you. Kilometres. Not to be trusted.

Happy running


Miles: apparently 765, Kilometres: 1,231, races: 3, parkruns: 11

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Race Report - Dumyat Hill Race 2015

For the last two years I’ve been laid out with a heavy cold in the first week of May. 

I know this because during the two and a half years I’ve worked in Stirling, I’ve been out of action during the annual Dumyat Hill Race, a long-established out-and-back peak-bagging adventure of mud and rocks which I’ve felt like a fool for missing.

It’s taken an embarrassingly long while for me to get to the start line of a race whose route I can actually see from my office window, but I’m so glad I did...

Dumyat [pronounced dumb eye at] has been run annually since a £1 bet in 1972 claimed that it was impossible to run from the University of Stirling’s Gannochy Sports Centre to the summit of Dumyat, a 418m/1,371ft peak at the edge of the Ochil Hills, and back, within an hour (a distance of five miles and total ascent of 390m). The hour is the watershed, therefore, between metaphorically winning the pound or slinking off home to think again. With men’s and women’s records in the region of 35 minutes, it’s achievable, but not without a fight…

Added pressure for me came in the form of many colleagues who have raced previous years, or entered this year, or who just know more about the event than I did. I’d also recruited a pal, Kathryn, whom you may remember as Deerstalker-in-Chief and whose mountain credentials are infinitely more impressive than mine. All this conspired to an impressive amount of pre-race excuse-making on my part. I mean look at the weather. My back hurts. I’ve been sat at a desk all day. Etc.

Dumyat has always been a low-key affair but I think this year it’s edging towards more infrastructure. The race is ‘gun-to-chip’ timed, entries are managed online, marshals are everywhere and almost 300 people finished the 2015 event. We are a long way from 1972.

But once we were away from the start line we’re into a magnificently scrappy, scruffy, off-road test that feels much more like I imagine oldschool hillrunning to be. It’s crowded in the middle of the field, and we’re ducking and weaving between trees and gaps in stone walls and stiles and streams, occasionally slowing to allow the crowd to thin out ahead, tripping over rocks and sinking into watery mud. I’m grinning madly with delight.

The first half is very up. But it’s also a bit down – we’re fighting to gain elevation but then keep maddeningly losing a little on our progress to the top. After the first mile or so we’re literally out of the woods and onto a broad moor-type landscape, which allows much more room for overtaking and the field spreads out width-ways as runners choose different lines up the hill. I’m surrounded by people of clearly varying ability, but the wild spectrum of terrain and profile mean that this race demands you to be a sturdy climber, fearless descender, navigator of rocks and mud, good at choosing lines and also pretty competent on the flat. I’m confident that everyone in the race will have felt great at some points and found wanting in others.

Out of the woods and chasing down the summit.
Photo borrowed from
After a couple of miles the leaders fly past me in the opposite direction. Dumyat is the prototypical out-and-back, so we’re sharing a boggy, hilly, rocky, narrow route trudging uphill with extremely talented hill runners who are flying back down. It’s perilous and thrilling and hilarious. Club and university vests dominate the leading figures and I do my best to stay out of the way whilst also trying to maintain some worthwhile progress of my own.

An odd phenomenon is the peer pressure to both walk and run certain sections. Kathryn and both found that whenever the person in front of us slowed to a walk on the steepest sections, we did the same, even if we were feeling fresh enough to run. When they ran, we felt compelled to run too. This may have something to do with the narrowness of the route in places – and for me my total lack of course knowledge – but next year I’ll resolve to ignore everyone else and run my own race.

I finally reached the summit and was blown away by the view. The concept suddenly made sense. Weather earlier in the day may have been abysmal, but at 7.30ish in the evening the view was so clear I could pick out the Forth Bridges and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, 40 miles distant. Sadly, with no time to appreciate the full majesty of the entire Central Belt, I started a reckless, wild descent back to the Gannochy.

There’s really nothing better for the ego than being on the ‘back’ leg of an out and back race. The banter’s hilarious and you feel like a minor celebrity. I did my best to be brave and let my legs fly down the hill, moving so fast I could feel my insides shaking about with every impactful step. At points I was basically falling down a cliff and trying to keep my legs moving fast enough to keep up with my progress. Hill running – for me at least – is mostly about trying to think fast enough to work out where each foot can safely land next, and the added chaos of people running towards you makes for a major mental and physical test.

I passed Kathryn, on her way up, as we splashed through a waterlogged flat(ish) section. She howled in mock pain as we high-fived at high speed. The descent passed in a blur – although a small incline with half a mile to go almost finished me off – and before long I was back to the sports centre and accepting the incredulous congratulations of some colleagues who had come along to support. I clocked 51:19 and won my metaphorical pound.

Papped at the finish. #KeepUpLad
Kathryn beamed across the finish line a little while later and we debriefed, incredulous as to how much fun it was. We immediately resolved to be back for 2016 – and what’s more I know exactly where I can shave a minute or two off my time. A few practice runs wouldn’t go amiss either...

Happy running


2015 to date: miles run - 405.62, parkruns - 3, races - 3

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Race Report - (Half) Kilomathon Scotland 2015

Blast. Race reports are more or less the one thing I can normally pull together with relative competence and now this one’s three weeks late. Cutting edge blogging going on here. What a time to be alive.

Anyway, Kilomathon Scotland. If the word ‘Kilomathon’ is flying over your head like a furious buzzard, then allow me to try to unpick what’s going on here. In 2010 GSi Events invented a new race distance – which they swiftly dubbed ‘the perfect race distance’ – of 26.2km, ie the same number of kilometres as a marathon is in miles. The idea is a step-up from a half marathon towards a marathon, I guess. I ran the first two of them, one between Nottingham and Derby (in 2:03) and the other a circular route over the Forth Road Bridge and back from Ingliston (2:05 and my god those hills). It was a pretty good distance. Not sure if it was perfect, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Since then I’ve been dimly aware that the 26.2km distance had been binned, and that a Kilomathon was now considered 13.1km, which I might have better called a half kilomathon. Interestingly, this distance is ALSO branded as ‘the perfect race distance’. Whatever.

A pal who once beat me in a terrible game of tennis asked if I was up for this event – his first ‘proper’ race – and with nothing else planned I signed myself up. What I hadn’t twigged was the 8.30am start time. In Leith. On the day the clocks go forward. Cripes.

Yes, Leith. It’s really quite nice these days, and the kilomathon route intelligently leaves from Ocean Terminal shopping centre (handy pre-race infrastructure – ie proper loos) and winds its way through a network of high-quality footpaths laid out on a former railway line. It snakes its way south west on a 99% traffic-free course  and finishes on the pitch at Murrayfield Stadium, home of endless disappointment in international rugby (I should know, I have a season ticket) but a magnificent stadium nonetheless.

James and I exchanged chilly pre-race banter on a desolate stretch of access road and before long we were away, looping behind the shopping centre past the Royal Yacht Britannia. James was looking for 75 minutes and I was hoping for 65. It didn’t go to plan for either of us. At all.

Right away I got a wiggle on. I was working hard to run the tangents wherever possible and the cold damp air on my flimsy running vest meant I was in no mood for hanging about. I shot off way too fast, but much like the time we didn’t even BQ when there were four of us, I somehow found a way to hang on to that pace and ran more or less perfect splits all morning.

I had examined the course map ahead of time, but hadn’t fully appreciated just how windy some of the loops were, at times clumsily added to make up the distance rather than to enhance the experience. I was absolutely flying by 3km but frustrated to be directed around Victoria Park on a series of tight turns which really limited my rhythm. I could tell others were annoyed too. Luckily before too long it was back on the footpath proper and steaming towards Murrayfield, and there was really only one random bit of loopy route to contend with from there...

As the kilomathon starts at sea level, the route is a gentle climb pretty much all the way and it’s easy to be caught out in those places where it’s more noticeable. I was working hard to keep my pace on track and the rise in profile did make this challenging. The Crew Chief popped up at a convenient cheering point (one of perhaps 40 spectators on the entire course – a slightly out of the way footpath at 8.45am on a Sunday is not prime cheering territory) and I cheerfully told her that I was dying but would see her at the finish. Luckily I was only half right.

I’m not good at pacing kilometres and I was even more confused as my watch was showing pace and distance in miles and the route markers were interspersed with those for the 6.55km quarter-kilomathon. I’m not joking. In fact there was even a 2.62km event for kids. I passed the start for the quarter kilomathoners around 6 or 7km, who were penned up waiting for, perhaps, a gap in the kilomathon traffic and wondered if I could keep them at bay or if the speedier ones might catch me. So anyway – there were way too many numbered signs, my own confusing watch readout and a sleepy, GMT/BST confused brain, which taken together meant that by 9km I decided to forget about digits and just put the hammer down.

We peeled off the footpath near Murrayfield and barrelled – finally - downhill towards the stadium, skirting Roseburn park. I rounded what I thought was the final corner to see a tunnel leading straight onto the pitch and prepared a last-gasp straight-line sprint. Sadly the kilomathon route instead peeled away to the left as we did a pointless and annoying fingerloop of the stadium’s car park before finally taking a few tight turns to get into that same tunnel.

Just as I stepped onto the hallowed turf – imagining just how bad next year’s 6 Nations run would have to be in order for me to get a call up –  two men flew past me at a full-on sprint. Remember that I’m running at about 7:15/mile here and that these guys blew me away from absolutely nowhere, all elbows and knees. As I crossed the finish line I got mixed up with a load of marshalls trying to hand things to these speedsters – in fact they were the first three finishers of the quarter-kilomathon, and their crazy pace was due to the fact that they got to do the arrow-straight finish into the stadium. I was a tiny bit miffed at having been jostled about by these mere quarter kilomathoners, as if that’s even a thing, but I suppose fair play to them.

Check out this dodgy GoPro video I shot at the finish:

Just as in 2010 the organisers distributed medals that just said ‘Kilomathon’ and showed the event logo – no date, no distance, no location. Clearly they’re reused at multiple events, but whatever. The finish line setup was slick and well organised, felt like a fun stadium finish and best of all was done and dusted well before 10 am.

At the finish, with a Wallace cheeser
I clocked 58:03 (half 24:25 – negative split!), seven minutes faster than I had guessed when I registered and good enough for 94th overall out of 1,398 finishers. My splits are pretty tasty, too.

James finished almost exactly ten minutes behind me in 68:26. He had also beaten his estimated time by seven minutes. He went for the classic medal-biting pose:

For £20, this is a solid event. But next year I think I’ll stay in bed.

Happy running


2015 to date: miles run - 320.89, parkruns - 3, races - 2

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Whose NHS is it anyway?

The morning after the Deerstalker I debriefed the Crew Chief. With her professional interest in medical provision at sports events I knew she’d be intrigued to hear how the organisers had managed to get first aiders and mountain rescue staff to accessible places on an entirely inaccessible course. We have pretty romantic conversations, the Crew Chief and I…

Anyway we got on to talking about the more extreme end of obstacle races, and the relatively high incidence of serious medical emergencies. This is almost inevitable as gung-ho but technically inept runners throw themselves off increasingly wild obstacles dreamt up by event organisers trying to innovate the next big thing in challenge runs. She mentioned with horror the sheer costs involved of getting ambulances and helicopters to these (often remote) events, calling out highly skilled medical professionals to airlift showboating mud runners to A&E because they’ve somehow got half a femur sticking out of their backsides. Her valid point is that this voluntary, reckless activity is a drain on resources, is unnecessarily dangerous and – crucially - is entirely preventable.

I nodded sagely in agreement because I am good at marriage.

Ambulance crew at Tough Guy 2009
Then I mulled it over for a while. Who else is using the health service’s resources? Where might that ambulance be if not responding to the self-inflicted ailments of runners so desperate to prove themselves that they’ll happily leap through flames or take an electric shock to the face? And most crucially, how many users of our beloved NHS rely on it to treat preventable ailments?

Smokers are an obvious place to start. The latest research suggests that smoking is likely to be costing the NHS between £2.5 and £6 billion every year. Preventable. It’s a similar figure for alcohol-related treatment. Preventable. Obese and overweight patients are more or less a bargain at just £4 billion every year. In many cases, that’s preventable too.

And here’s the fundamental difference; whilst puffing away on a fag, drinking 100 pints of Carling a week or stuffing your face with McDonald’s has literally no discernible health benefit to weigh against the massive cost of related healthcare, those reckless fools launching their fragile bodies off some monkey bars and into a freezing pond are at least being active. To me that really is the crux of the issue; whilst the occasional accident might make obstacle racing seem like a pointless endeavour, it’s reaching a demographic who might otherwise not engage in physical activity. And surely anything that gets people off the sofa and momentarily away from packing their arteries with Greggs sausage rolls has to be a good thing? Take this thought a step further and surely the only conclusion is that any physical activity that raises your heartrate, strengthens your muscles and improves your mental wellbeing has to be a good thing.

And let’s not for a moment discount the health charities and Air Ambulance services who profit considerably from the fundraising efforts of thousands of runners every year. I’m pretty sure that no smoker has ever used their habit as a means of raising money for a cancer charity. It would be a pretty audacious pitch on justgiving, that’s for sure…

I concede that these events are dangerous, and whilst there have been deaths in Tough Mudder races in the USA, it's worth remembering that people also die running marathons, and skiing slightly off-piste, and crossing the street, and in industrial accidents, and from diseases contracted on exotic holidays. Nothing is entirely without risk. I concede also, of course, that rescuing a daft bloke in fancy dress who’s broken an ankle by leaping off a cargo net is a less worthy use of an air ambulance’s limited resources than, say, hastening to the aid of a road traffic accident or to uplift someone suffering a heart attack.

But if ever a Health Minister decides to definitively rank the order of precedence for using our National Health Service, I would petition for the stricken runners to get a decent spot in the queue, to my mind well ahead of people who are eating or smoking or drinking themselves to death. If it’s a race for spots, we’ll probably do alright anyway.

Happy running (be safe out there)


2015 to date: miles run 234.2, parkruns 3, races 1