Sunday, 30 June 2013

There Will Be Blood

Well, that was quite a weekend.

It seems like there are a lot of wee stories to tell:
the solo drive to Tyndrum with Nirvana and Spacemen 3 blaring on the stereo;
meeting up with mrs s (briefly) and Julia and Christina before setting off towards Auchtertyre in the wonderful left hand drive camper van with no power steering;
the joy of seeing Ian heading up the trail looking really strong;
meeting the bundle of excitement that was HappyG back at Tyndrum;
the prescient words of Alan No Mates;
the shock of finding no midges at Bridge of Orchy;
Minty taking a power nap before setting off up "Murdo's Mount";
my relief that my leg felt fine on the descent to Inverarnan;
the weird colours on Minty's leg;
seeing new ground on the stretch from Forest Lodge to Ba Bridge and finally covering every part of the Way;
burger and chips and hugs from mrs s at Glencoe;
the beautiful rainbow seen from Altnafeadh;
the drive to Kinlochleven to get ready to support Minty to Lundavra;
and possibly more.
But all of that would just be a prelude to the events that happened on the Lairig Mor at some time shortly after midnight. The Lairig Mor doesn't often appear in anyone's "my favourite bits of the West Highland Way Race" list. It's an uneven, stony path with a number of small streams and a few puddles; fairly hard going at the best of times, difficult when tired, treacherous in the dark. Nevertheless, Minty and I were making decent progress despite wet feet and me almost walking off the path once. We had reached the corner and turned northwards, we could see Lochan Lunn Da Bhra in the pale moonlight, and knew we were about two miles from the bonfire at Lundavra where we would meet up with the rest of the team again. And then there was a small thump and I heard Minty say something along the lines of "ow! I've tripped and hit my head". And there he was, face down on the path with a grazed cheek and a bit of blood above his eye. OK, not a problem, let's get him back on his feet and take a proper look. Except that he was a bit wobbly on his feet so we sat down again and I decided to give him my buff to wrap around the cut which thankfully wasn't flowing much. And then, he took a turn for the worse and slumped a bit. Thankfully, some other runners had arrived up the trail and we got his feet elevated and tried to keep him talking to check how he was. Which wasn't great - he wasn't making much sense and at one point fainted briefly and was slightly annoyed to come round a few seconds later as we having such a good dream apparently. Of course, there was no decent phone signal there but one of the other support runners ran on ahead to get help, and I sent out an emergency text after we got Ian wrapped in a couple of foil blankets in an approximation of the recovery position. At which point he said (quite clearly) "I'm going to be sick" and retched a few times. His condition generally seemed to be improving so it seemed like a good idea to try and head up the trail, towards warmth and safety so we got him back on his feet (on the second attempt) and we resumed our journey, more slowly than before, with Minty holding on to me, shivering, and realising that he'd also bumped his leg. Oh well, I was thinking, another mile or so of this and he can get warmed up and taken off to the hospital to get checked over.
Next thing I know, my phone goes off - it's the police, following up on my emergency text, and happy enough to stand down when I explained that the injured runner was back on his feet and close to getting extra help. And shortly after that, George called to try and find out more information - I explained what was happening and as he conferred with Dr Chris at race control, the battery went dead so we just had to keep going and hopefully, we'd be able to better find out what was happening when we met up with the crew at Lundavra. By this time, Minty's head torch was blinking occasionally to indicate that the batteries were getting a bit low, and I was worried we'd have to stop and wait in the dark which would have been bad news as we were now moving at a better walking pace, talking a bit and starting to warm up again. So it was a great relief to see a head torch heading towards us and to have Neal Gibson join us, especially as he was able to donate a very warm jacket to Minty's cause, and to further raise our spirits with more chat. And very quickly, the certainty that this race was over dissolved and it became clear that Minty would want to keep going, depending on how things looked when we met up with Julia and Christina at the meeting point. And almost before we knew it, we arrived at the bonfire, and sat down to warm ourselves and come up with a plan. Communications with race control weren't very clear so it came down to the support crew to decide on the best course of action. Our runner obviously wanted to continue (and I'm not sure we could have stopped him if we'd tried), bleeding had stopped, he had been moving well, talking coherently, he was taking on food and drink, and he was just 7 miles from the finish. Christina was due to take over buddy runner duties but very sensibly said she wanted another runner as well. Julia wasn't keen to accompany them on that section in the dim light, so I agreed (in less than a heartbeat) that I would continue on foot with them. And so, we set off, looking forward to seeing the sunrise over Ben Nevis. The sunrise was less spectacular than hoped for, but we covered the miles in good time and in good spirits and we were soon on the final climb and getting our first glimpse of Fort William. Thankfully, there were no tears for me this year. And when Minty suggested we run down the hill, I was happy to break into a jog all the way down to the bottom. Even the road to Braveheart Car Park seemed shorter than usual and it was great to see Mike there and be able to congratulate him on his brilliant finish in 6th place. He then scooted off in the car to let Julia and everyone else at the finish that we were on our way. Julia came out to meet us at the edge of Fort William and we all ran to the finish together feeling relieved and elated. He'd done it! Minty would be collecting his crystal goblet after all. At least, he would be as long as he was out of the hospital which was where Silke told him he was going to get properly checked out.
I was exhausted, but decided to get a shower at the Leisure Centre so I could wait with mrs s for our friend, Wee Rhino to complete the race. It was brilliant to see her finish but then it really was time to get to the hotel for some sleep - we'd heard by then that Minty had got a couple of stitches and they were keeping an eye on him but he was doing well so we slept fairly soundly for a few hours before heading up to the Nevis Centre for the prize giving. Minty had been released from the hospital so it was fantastic so see him get his goblet along with the other finishers, all of whom will no doubt have their own stories to tell.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped us out - the runners who stopped and assisted, the guys that ran on ahead to get help, all the folk at the bonfire. You were all brilliant and your help was greatly appreciated by everyone in Team Minty. I also want to say that I was very pleased to be a part of the team; we all got on really well, had some fun, and got the job done. And finally, I want to say well done to one of the most determined, meticulous, kind-hearted, wonderful, and mental runners I know. Ian Minty, you are a legend.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Boys Done Good

I have to admit to being fairly proud of my two elder boys this weekend. When I signed us up for the Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team's 25km sponsored walk, I wasn't entirely sure that it wouldn't be just a bit too much for them. I shouldn't have worried though - they both got on with it, and despite sore feet and tired legs they completed the 28km (!) under their own steam.
To be honest, I was also a bit worried about whether I would manage, particularly whether my ankle would cope ok. So worried was I about the ankle, that I crossed over into a dark and scary world - the world of the "jessie stick". Although I couldn't get used to walking with two sticks, I found that walking with one helped take the pressure of my iffy ankle and Calum seemed to benefit from having the other one.
The walk itself was jolly nice, a good scenic route, well signed and marshalled by ever-cheerful members of the AMRT who were also dishing out lollipops and juice at various points. At the finish, there was free coffee and tea, and sandwiches and cakes which were all excellent. We also each got a nice flask and a "neck gaiter".
All in all I thought it was a splendid day out and I'll be hoping to join in again next year.
Thanks again to everyone who has sponsored us so far. If you would like to contribute, please click on the button below.
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!
On Sunday we were at Aberdeen Sports Village for one of the semi-regular Aberdeen Fetch Miles. I didn't run but Lachlan managed to leave his mum trailing and finished in 6:18, making him the fastest miler in the family by quite a margin. The younger two ran 400m and finished in respectable times of 1:39 and 2:20ish. Most importantly, we had a nice time with the Aberdeen Fetchies and invited guests.

More photos from the weekend follow:

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Yuck, ouch, and ouch.

The Cateran Trail Ultra is a pretty tough race, not just for the runners but also for their kit. And sadly, it was as much as my trail shoes could bear. To be honest, they were practically falling to bits before the race so the decision was taken to send them to the bin.
Adidas Kanadia TR2

That's them---->
My second pair of Kanadias (and not my last; I have replaced them with a pair of Kanadia TR4), these trusty shoes racked up over 1090 miles (the previous pair managed 1111) and I would recommend the Kanadia to most runners as a good value, durable,comfortable trail shoe. Compared to other shoes I use, they're heavier than my Breatho Trails and not as grippy as my Mudclaws, but they're probably more comfortable than either and fulfil a different purpose. The newer versions also seem to have a better sole so definitely recommended.

Anyway, the main purpose of this post is to remind myself and anybody else of the importance of recovery. As you will recall, I wasn't in the best shape at the end of the Cateran race. In particular, my legs were a bit sore, my feet were a bit sore, and my ankle hurt. So, I took a few days off until the club run on Thursday when I decided to go out and see how it felt. And it felt ok; my leg muscles all felt good and enjoyed the work out, but the ankle still wasn't 100% and had a bit of a dull ache. Until the next day when it was bloody sore. Walking was difficult all weekend and I ended up taking a walking stick to work on Monday. So, yes, the Thursday evening run was a mistake and I should have waited until the ankle felt completely recovered.

Fortunately, it seems to be properly on the mend now which is great news because we're doing a sponsored walk on Saturday to raise money for the Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team. It ought to be a good, but tough day out. If you would like to sponsor us, you can do so through JustGiving:
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Thank you.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

I'd have done anything for a pint of orange juice

Stage 1 - Spittal of Glenshee to Dalnagair Castle

And they're off. Photo: Muriel Downie

My race plan was simple - run and see how it goes. Unusually, I just didn't have the legs or the confidence to keep up with Donnie Campbell and Mike Raffan and they accelerated away and were soon out of sight. As the field began to spread out, I happily found myself in a group of Stonehaven women (mrs s, Claire, and Nicola S) along with Alex P and Carol Martin. It was a good sociable group and we were soon at the checkpoint. I'd decided to have a small drop bag at each checkpoint but wanted to spend as little time as possible so just grabbed the bag and continued on down the road.

Stage 2 - Dalnagair Castle to Kirkton of Glenisla

Up the hill above Forter

Auchintaple Loch
The girls pulled ahead a bit on the road section but I was confident of catching them again on the climb after Forter and I was able to overtake them for a bit before the next flattish bit when we all regrouped and there was plenty more good blether on this bit and again, the miles passed fairly easily.
It was good to see the junction where Minty, Alan and I had gone wrong last year and to go the right way - helped by the huge new gate blocking the wrong route. Coming in to Glenisla, I was drifting off the pace a wee bit so even more determined to make it as short a stop as possible and let the rest of the group catch up after a longer break if they wanted to.

Stage 3 - Kirkton of Glenisla to Den of Alyth

Untitledmrs s and Alex very quickly rejoined me and we were soon away up the steep hill and over the wee stile where I managed to jar my ankle - an action I managed to repeat twice on the way down the hill. I realised that pain was going to be a constant companion for the day, but it didn't feel as bad as I first feared and I was able to keep going. Wet weather had been forecast so it was no surprise when the rain came on as we hit the road section near Ardormie - in fact the surprise was how little rain there was compared to the forecast which was probably just as well. As I pulled on my waterproof, I also realised that the foot pain which had threatened to stop me running had disappeared, or was at least being masked by the slight pain in the ankle and the familiar pain in my toe joint which suggested that I was in store for a gout episode at some point. Sorry, don't mean to moan - simply jotting things down that I remember.
A couple of miles from Alyth, we met up with Ali and Kate (Alex's sis) who ran with us into the town. It was a nice boost to see them and have a wee chat, although I think it boosted my running companions too much because they kicked on a little bit quicker leaving me trying to catch up as we jogged down into the Den of Alyth. I don't remember being particularly uncomfortable at this point, but this picture taken by Muriel Downie seems to suggest otherwise.

Stage 4 - Den of Alyth to Blairgowrie

Another super quick pass through the checkpoint and food on the move as I walked through the wooded den before being caught and passed by Dave K and then reunited with mrs s and Alex and it was on up the road towards Drimmie Woods. I felt like I was definitely struggling to keep up by this point so started to suggest that they should go on ahead as I was going through a bit of a slump. Anna caught us up in the woods, saying that she couldn't run downhill but had been forced to carry on and was stopping at Blairgowrie. Stopping at Blairgowrie. Now, there was an idea. I could do that. I'd just have to get there first, so try and keep going for now and let's see. After a bit more plodding and getting passed by a couple of people, I noticed a small stone in my shoe and decided to sit down for a minute and clear it out. When I got back up, my legs felt much better than they had and I was able to get a decent jog going on the long descent although I was easily passed by Claire who was running well but slightly concerned that Nic S might have gone the wrong way somewhere but was probably back on the right track.
It was great to see santababy and get a huge hug at the road crossing in Blairgowrie and I could also see Ali, Kate and Laura at the checkpoint. Again, the idea of stopping here and cadging a lift up to the Spittal flashed through my mind. After all, I was pretty sure I could get a lift up the road, I would probably have Anna's company so I wouldn't be mooching about on my own, and I might even get to see some of the fast guys finish for a change. Very tempting.

Stage 5 - Blairgowrie to Bridge of Cally

But not tempting enough. I was going to finish the bloody race. So, I got my drop bag, got my water bottled filled (thanks Bill), another hug from santa, and I was away.
The River Ericht at Blairgowrie
My drop bag contained a buttery and some flapjack, neither of which appealed at the time so I downed some liquid and thought about what I really wanted. And the answer was some orange juice, specifically a pint of fresh orange juice with ice. Oh, that would have been so good. Ada passed me on the way up the hill but not only did she not have a pint of orange juice on her, she gave me a very strange look when I asked. I decided not to ask Vicky or Claire who both passed me again (because they'd stopped longer at the checkpoint) but I couldn't help thinking about that orange juice. I had a wee trip down memory lane at the farm where mrs s and I got on the wrong side of a fence in 2011 and I scratched my calf climbing over a barbed wire fence (I still have a faint scar 2 years later) and then the rain came on again and I hit a bit of a low. I was passed by Jo Rae and Karen but otherwise didn't see anyone for ages. Just before the descent to Bridge of Cally I was thinking about the 2011 race again and remembered bashing my toe and falling but feeling much better afterwards. Just then, I stubbed my toe again and although I laughed at the coincidence, I didn't fall and headed on down to the checkpoint to see if they had any orange juice. They didn't, but Sean did have some vaseline which I was pleased about for a different reason. They also had Jane, Carolyn, and Johnny Fling with much needed words of encouragement.

Stage 6 - Bridge of Cally to Enochdhu

Nicola going up the steep hill towards the boggy slopey bit
As I was heading out of the checkpoint, munching on a buttery and drinking irn bru, I heard someone behind me and turned round to see Nicola S. I was really chuffed to see her, partly because I'd been worried she might have dropped out after thinking she was lost and being on her own for a bit, but mainly because I hoped that it meant I would have some company for a while. I walked on slowly for a wee bit to keep warm and she soon caught me up so that we could continue together. It was good to have somebody to talk to and we made decent progress, walking the ups and breaking into an occasional run on the downs. It certainly brightened my mood for a bit until the rain hit us again on the approach to Kirkmichael and it became a bit of a slog.
Some humorous route marking from Neil and Marc  
A pretty waterfall
We caught sight of Dave K in the distance a couple of times but were unable to close the distance. The little wood before Enochdhu provided some shelter from the weather but I decided to put on waterproof trousers just before we got back out into the open. Nicola said she would keep going and I could catch her up. I faffed about getting my trousers on and also threw an extra top on as I was concerned about getting cold, then exited the wood and jogged on after Nic. I couldn't see her at first, but it was reasonably clear which way to go (wasn't it) so I was sure she would be just a bit further along the way. Still no sign of her past the big white house and down towards the junction; I must have taken longer than I thought and she was already at the checkpoint. I heard some dogs up the hill and briefly wondered what they were barking about before I headed in to Enochdhu where I was happy to see Carolyn, Flip, and Leon but where there was definitely no Nicola. Shit. Where was she? Obviously, she must have missed the turning or something. I decided to drink some of my vodka while we decided what to do. It tasted good (would have been better with orange juice!) but didn't solve the problem of the missing woman so Leon agreed to head back along the track and see if he could find her while I would see if I had her phone number and give her a call. Before we managed to locate my phone, Leon reappeared, with Nicola and we let out a huge sigh of relief. She had a little of my vodka, I managed to get some orange lucozade from Carolyn (not quite orange juice but not bad!) and we were ready to set off on the final stage.

Stage 7 - Enochdhu to Spittal of Glenshee

Thanks to Carolyn for this picture at Enochdhu
As we set off, Flip gave us a good send off by forcing some Soreen (other malt loaves are available) into Nicola's mouth and then pointing out the damage he'd done by bumping Dod's van into a bollard. Well, it made me laugh.
What didn't make me laugh was the aching in my thighs and the feeling that I just couldn't get even a decent walking pace going. After we got past the farm and onto the hill track I felt pretty bad but was just determined to keep going to the finish. Three deer skipped across the path and I was going to comment to Nicola but realised she was out of earshot because of the ever-present wind and was getting further ahead of me all the time. It made me smile to see her looking strong but I knew I was in for a hard, lonely slog up the hill. I can remember looking over towards the sun and trying to figure out if it would drop below the skyline before I reached the finish. It did but there was still daylight and I could make out a few dots further up the path. Somewhere near the bothy, I realised that one of the dots had been coming down the hill and was Marc. He and Neil had been doing a fine job of escorting runners up that last bit of the hill and it was good to see them and hear some of the stories from the day, and to have some fresh ears to moan about the wind to. Since they thought that any other runners were in a group with the sweepers, they decided to accompany me to the finish. I had been hoping to run down the final hill with them, but found it was sore so the three of us walked down together.
So relieved to finish.
 It was annoying for me as I really liked the finish in 2011 and 2012, and it must have been very frustrating for them as I'm sure they could have barrelled down the hill in no time at all, but we eventually reached the bottom and I managed to jog over the line for a series of massive hugs from Karen, mrs s, Dod, and probably some other people but my brain wasn't on full power and I can't remember everything. I do remember a huge round of applause on entering the bar so thank you to everyone there.
Thanks also to Karen for putting on another great race, to all the marshals for making it possible and for their help and encouragement at all the checkpoints, and to the sweepers for helping keep us safe - you are all brilliant and I hope you all read this. I also want to say thank you to the winner, Donnie, who filled his winner's quaich with some very fine whisky and shared it with everyone there. But most of all, I'd like to thank everyone I ran with who kept me going on a difficult day - without mrs s and Alex, I doubt I'd have got as far as Alyth, and without Nicola, I still think I'd have finished but it would have been a much less enjoyable race.
Thanks for listening.

All Bound for Moo Moo Land

The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon

The blog is brought to you by the tune Karen (race director) played at the pre-race briefing:

We're justified, and we're ancient, and we like to roam the land... seems to fit some of us ultrarunners ;-) some aren't that ancient, although we might feel it after 55 miles!

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I said I wasn't going to do any more ultras after the 2012 West Highland Way Race. I changed my mind when I remembered that Karen had very kindly allowed me to defer my entry from last year. I ran the race in 2011 with Iain but last year I had an ITB injury from the Fling so I decided to marshall instead. The best thing about the race is that it starts and finishes at the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel and every room is taken by folk involved in the race. This means that it's really two nights out with a race in between :-). Eight members of Stonehaven Running Club were taking part this year and we travelled down in three cars. No-one wanted to car share with me and Iain for some reason(?!) so we didn't meet the rest of the gang until we reached the hotel at 8pm. We checked in, dumped our bags, then proceeded to work our way round the bar hugging everyone! Too many friends to mention, it was great to see everyone again. We also registered and received these goodies:

I love the bag and it is in our club colours too. I enjoyed two small glasses of white wine and two large glasses of water while I chatted to various folk in the bar including Dave & Carolyn K, and Minty. At 8:45pm all the other Stoney folk said they were going to bed! They were taking the race seriously ;-). We decided to stay up to see Flip, Anna, Dave H, and Darren who were driving up from the North East of England. Great chat followed with everyone getting their excuses in and saying they were going to be last (yeah yeah) especially from David Heatherington! Also chatted to Neil and Marc from our club who were on sweeping the last hill duties. Their other job was to spray paint the arrows at various points and we suggested some inspiring messages for them to write. We went to bed at 10:45pm to cries of "you're taking this race seriously" but didn't sleep much due to the noise of the wind. 

Breakfast time came far too quickly for my liking (5:45am). The day had dawned still windy but dry which cheered me up considerably. Here are the SRC ladies at the start:

The two ladies on the left are Claire and Nicola S who were doing their first 50+ mile race. Margaret is next in the pic and she unfortunately got lost and did 6 extra miles at last year's race (eek!) so her mission was to finish 55 miles without crying. Nicola R and Jo are the other two and they are training for their first WHW race this year. I'm crewing for Nic R (lady next to me). We had a vague plan to all start the race together and see how our paces compared and then split up if needed. The other people I planned to run with were my husband Iain and my friend's twin brother Alex. Alex was also attempting his first 50+ miler and had come up from Buckingham to do the race. His wife Laura met him at every checkpoint.

7am arrived and we were off, with Mike and Donnie zooming off in to the distance. Our little gang set off at a more leisurely pace except for Margaret, Jo, and Nic R who went ahead quite early on.

Time to complete section to  Dalnagair Castle( 6 miles): 1:11. (2011 time: 1:10)

The gang 8 miles in:

Bit further on, with Carol too, who I enjoyed talking about the WHW race with:

Time to complete section to Glenisla (9 miles): 1:45 (2011 time: 1:46) Race time elapsed: 2:56 at 15 miles

As we reached Glenisla I realised that there were actual 'real' toilets there and Claire and Nic S were going to use them, so I thought I would. Meanwhile Iain had other plans and wanted to keep on going and refused to wait for me. I didn't think I'd catch him up so I changed my mind and carried on with him and Alex. I was looking forward to the next checkpoint at Den of Alyth because I knew Alex's sister Kate and her husband Ali were going to have a run out to meet us from there. The rain had started by then but I felt grateful that we'd started off dry and it had stayed off for a few hours. We met Kate and Ali a few miles out and it was nice to chat to different folk. Alex and I were met by Kate and Ali's son Oli at Den of Alyth:

Time to complete section to Den of Alyth (11 miles): 2:40 (2011 time: 2:36) Race time elapsed: 5:36 at 26 miles

I was feeling quite strong at the halfway point just after Den of Alyth. We caught up with Dave K here and he said he'd been thinking of stopping but had been persuaded to carry on to Blairgowrie. Also saw Anna. One of the nicest parts of the race is Drimmie Woods and I wish it had lasted longer as it's such a good surface to run on. There had been more road than I remembered and it was taking it's toll on my feet. Alex kept spirits up with his chat including a movie quiz. Sample question: Name the only trilogy of films Tom Hanks has appeared in.*
Anna caught us up in the woods not long before we saw the spider's web, scene of 2011's shenanigans with me, Iain, and Anna's boyfriend Flip ;-). Unfortunately the web was broken. We saw a few spray paint messages from Neil and Marc including this one:

Anna was having trouble with her quads and was finding it impossible to run downhill. Iain had sore legs and just before Blairgowrie he told Alex and I to go on ahead. I had my concerns that Iain would now DNF with Anna but I won't tell you any more of his story as he is blogging too and I don't want to spoil it. Alex and I arrive at Blairgowrie with Ada just behind in the pink:

Time to complete section to Blairgowrie (5.5 miles): 1:18 (2011 time: 1:25) Race time elapsed: 31 miles

Got a big hug from Sandra here as she was helping folk cross the road. Met Laura, Carolyn, Kate, and Ali too. Laura had mini pork pies and I had one. The next section towards Bridge of Cally was a bit desolate and it coincided with the worst rain of the day. There were strong winds too and the ground was very boggy in parts. I think it was in this section that we caught up with Darren. I asked him about Dave H and he said he was miles ahead. So much for finishing last! From then on every man I saw in the distance I thought might be him and it would be fun to overtake him ;-). During this section Claire caught us up after leaving Nic S with Iain. She ran with us for a bit but before long she was off in to the distance!

Time to complete section to Bridge of Cally (7 miles): 1:42 (2011 time: 1:49) Race time elapsed: 8:36 at 38 miles

Every checkpoint now was a blessing and I for one was very pleased to see them! Kate and Ali said they were going to Kirkmichael and would run out to see us again. Kirkmichael isn't actually a checkpoint but is easy to get to and is a few miles before the last checkpoint. It was great to see them again when we finally did. The section from Bridge of Cally to Enochdu seemed to take forever! Kate asked me if she could get me anything and I said a mug of tea would be nice. She said she'd see what she could do.

Time to complete section to Enochdu (10.6 miles): 2:47 (2011 time: 2:47) Race time elapsed: 48.6 miles

It was wonderful to see the Enochdu checkpoint with Kate and Sean huddled together under a brolly, Leon and Flip were there too. Kate gave me a mug of tea! Sean said it was his mug and he wanted it back! Sure, I said I'd see him at the finish. The tea was perfect and I drank that as I walked up the hill out of Enochdu instead of my tin of gin and tonic. I offered that to Alex but he declined. I kept the gin with me in case of emergencies. We were on the final climb up the biggest hill of the race, a race which includes 7,450 ft of climbs by the way. Luckily Neil and Marc from Stonehaven Running Club were sweeping the big hill and kept us company all the way to the top. About the first thing Neil said was had we heard the gossip about Flip? No I said, do tell! It turned out that Flip had pranged George's van! Poor guy, 25 years of driving transit vans and no probs then he crashes George's! Luckily no one was hurt. Flip also had to deal with two very irate dog owners, one on a motorbike and one on a horse accusing the race of making their dog go missing. We also heard that Nic S had tummy troubles and had to run-walk from halfway! Neil and Marc also gave us the great news that Jo was on for 2nd lady! We reached the Lairig Gate at the top of the last hill and Neil and Marc went back towards the people behind us and Alex and I ran down towards the hotel. I had about 20 mins to get down in time for a PB and so I really went for it. I saw Ada up ahead and ran behind her for a wee while but then I said sorry for passing her but I was on for a PB. Alex and I finishing with Ada close behind:

We  did it! 13 hours 14 mins, a PB for me by 7 minutes. It was a PB for Alex, the furthest he's ever run by 22 miles! Hugs from Karen and George, and lots of other folk who were watching the finish. And here I am
giving the tea mug back to Sean with Mike (2nd male), Jo (2nd lady), and Kate looking on:

Time to complete section to Spittal of Glenshee (6 miles): 1:51 (2011 time: 1:49) Race time elapsed: 13:14 at 55 miles

Also at the finish was Dave Heatherington smoking a fag. Quote from Dave - "I smoked 10 fags during the race, I even had to buy more from the shop, and I still beat you!". Thanks Dave :-). I limped off for a bath and was back in time to see Nic S finish. So proud of her. In fact I'm proud of all my club mates and everyone who took part, whether racing or marshalling. We couldn't have the race without you. Huge thanks to Karen and George. From our club Jo got 2nd lady, Angus did really well with a sub 12 finish, Nic R managed to finish in a great time despite tummy troubles, Margaret finished without crying or getting lost in 13 hours, Claire finished sub 13 for her first 50+ miler. Iain will tell you how he got on. After a huge plate of lasagne and chips and a bottle of white wine I finally got to bed some time after 1am. Very happy with my race, and loved it all, especially the afterparty! Thanks so much to everyone I ran with, especially Alex, you kept me going x
The quaich presented to every finisher:

*Toy Story

Monday, 20 May 2013

To Run Or Not To Run

My preparation for this year's Cateran Trail Ultramarathon wasn't really as good as it should have been. For starters, my training hasn't been great this year - too many long runs that have felt tired and slow rather than fun and easy. And to make matters worse, I got a really sore foot on the Tuesday before the race - not really sure what the problem was but some sort of pain on the top of the foot on the inside above the arch (any medical people who want to diagnose this please let me know in the comments). The pain was bad enough to stop me running the Durris Mast race on Thursday evening and at that point I was putting my chances of running on Saturday at about 40% (the length of the blog might give you a clue as to whether I reached the start line so don't scroll down if you don't like spoilers). The foot felt a bit better on Friday so I went ahead and registered at the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel but felt the pain increase a little over the course of the evening - as I headed for bed, I really didn't think it would be worth pulling on my shorts in the morning. A combination of high winds, a draughty window, a banging fire door and the foot pain meant that I didn't get a lot of sleep; I think I was still awake at about 1:30am when I took some more Paracetamol and played some games on my phone in the hope that it would make me sleepy enough to get a couple of hours kip before the 5:30am breakfast alarm. I woke feeling less sore, got dressed as if I was going to run, and headed off for a nice breakfast with the mrs and a quick hello to many of the runners who we hadn't seen in the bar the previous evening. After breakfast I jogged a few steps to see how things felt. Well, it was a wee bit sore, but no worse than I've felt at the end of other races so there was nothing for it but to get ready to run, take some more paracetamol, sort out the drop bags and join everyone for the wee walk round to the start line and we were soon off on another wee adventure.

But that's a story that needs more time in the telling so I'll sign off for now.

(Sorry to anyone who believed the bit about the length of the blog being significant in any way)

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Raspberry Pi HC-SR04 Module

The Raspberry Pi is a small, fairly cheap little computer which was developed mainly for use in education but has caught the imagination of a lot of hobbyists and geeks of various types.
Lachlan got one for Christmas and has been learning a bit of Python programming on it. More recently, he created a simple circuit with LEDs, controlled using a wee Python program. Not that thrilling, but a nice little step and enough to prompt me to spend my birthday money on a pi of my own to have a play with and try a few things out.
So, what have I done with it?
First step was to install TightVNC (as per the guide on so it can be easily accessed from another computer.
Then I built a wee case using Lego.
Then, on a whim, I got an HC-SR04 ultrasonic thingummybob so I could build this...
What is it? Well, it's basically a distance measuring device. Run the correct software and it can tell you how far away things are from its buggy eye things.
Again, none of this is very exciting but it's been fun to try things out and the same basic code would work to stop a robot crashing into things or detecting someone in a certain place or who knows what.

The code I developed was based around code found here which appears to have been cobbled together from other sources:

My code below...

# Module:
# This module can be used to operate an HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor
# from a raspberry pi GPIO.

import time
import RPi.GPIO as GPIO

# setup which pins are which
TRIG = 8
ECHO = 10

# set the trigger pulse length and timeouts
pulsetrigger = 0.0001 # Trigger duration in seconds
timeout = 2100        # Length of time for timeout

def configure(trigger, echo):
    TRIG = trigger
    ECHO = echo
    GPIO.setup(TRIG, GPIO.OUT)
    GPIO.setup(ECHO, GPIO.IN)

def fire_trigger():
    # Set trigger high for 0.0001s then drop it low
    GPIO.output(TRIG, True)
    GPIO.output(TRIG, False)

def wait_for_echo(desired_state):
    countdown = timeout
    while (GPIO.input(ECHO) != desired_state and countdown > 0):
        countdown = countdown - 1
    return (countdown > 0) # Return true if success, false if timeout

def measure_time():
    # Fire the trigger to set the whole thing in motion

    # Check that the echo goes high....
    if wait_for_echo(1):
        # Start the timer and wait for the echo to go low
        echo_start = time.time()
        if wait_for_echo(0):
            # Stop the timer
            echo_end = time.time()
            return echo_end - echo_start
            print "Timeout 2"
            return -1
        print "Timeout 1"
        return -1
def measure_average_time():
    count = 1
    total_time = 0
    while(count <= 3):
        total_time = total_time + measure_time()
        count = count + 1
    return total_time / 3
def distance_cm():
    time = measure_average_time()
    if time < 0:
        return -1
        return time * (1000000 / 58)

if __name__ == "__main__":
    print "Starting ultrasound test"
    # Set up the GPIO board

    # Tell the Pi which pins the ultrasound is on
    configure(TRIG, ECHO)

        while True:
            distance = distance_cm()
            if distance < 0:
                print "Timeout"
                print "Distance = %.0f cm" % (int(round(distance)))

    except KeyboardInterrupt:
        print "Stopping"

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


...would be a reasonably fair description of my long run on Sunday but that's not really what this post is about.
While out on the run, I noticed a lot of litter at the side of the road and even a little on a couple of the forest trails and it really made me think that it's an absolute disgrace that people are so happy just to dump their garbage in this way. I suspect that the worst culprits are drivers who simply toss empty bottles, cartons, cigarette packets etc out of the window, but some of the blame must be shouldered by cyclists, walkers and even runners who occasionally drop wrappers where no vehicle could have been.
I noticed that during the D33, a woman in front of me put an empty gel wrapper on a bench where someone had already left a similar item. What is that all about? Are the local residents or other users of the path expected to be happy to tidy up your litter because you placed it on a bench rather than just drop it? And that's assuming that it didn't get blown away by the wind in the first place. I'm sure someone once told me that a lot of products come in biodegradable wrappers. That may be true, but unless it degrades within about 5 seconds, it's still unsightly litter and you should take it home and bury it in your garden/window box/plant pot and let it degrade there.
So please folks, whether you're a driver, a cyclist, a runner, a walker or any other sort of visitor to the great outdoors, take your litter home with you or carry it to a proper bin and dispose of it there - you were able to carry it full, you should be able to carry it empty.

Friday, 29 March 2013

The D33 Ruined My Birthday

OK, so that's a bit melodramatic, but after the race and the party, my birthday the next day did feel a bit flat what with having a very slight hangover, tiredness, and just a hint of soreness. On the positive side, I had a nice enough day and my birthday tea was a lovely bit of steak washed down with the D33 beer and it was all rather pleasant....
Heading towards Drumoak
Unlike much of the weather on race day which was a bit cold with some rain, light snow, and a bit of a breeze. I've been out in worse but should probably have stuck on my waterproof rather than the thin windshirt which was soaked through by about an hour into the race - well at least I wasn't just wearing a yellow t-shirt and no gloves like one numpty I know. I spoke to a few folk in the early miles and ran for a long while with Ian S and Carol which was good to keep my mind from worrying about the feeling I'd been having that my training hadn't been great. Unfortunately  I couldn't keep up with them and felt my pace drift a bit as various niggly pains started to make themselves felt. I always like this race when the fast guys start coming back past you and you get a chance to see everybody in the race as you head in and out of half way.
On the subject of half way, I was determined not to waste time at check points on this race and managed to get in, pick up my drop bag, and started walking back immediately. Then I heard a shout behind me and wondered if there was something wrong but turned to see it was Johnny Fling just wanting to wish me good luck for the second half of the race.
The second half was always going to be a bit of a struggle and I felt in a bit of a slump but then remembered I had my wee iPod in my bag so stuck on the earphones to see if it would help. And it did. I don't have a specific running playlist or special power songs lined up, so I got served up a fairly odd mix from my music collection which raised a smile and helped eat up the miles between Crathes and Drumoak. As I made my way up the hill before the next check point, my pace and my temperature dropped. At one point I was just shuffling along with my hands under my armpits and thinking that if I looked just a wee bit more shivery, Sean would pull my out of the race, give me a nice space blanket, bundle me into a warm car, and get someone to drive me to the finish. But if that happened, I wouldn't get my medal, I'd feel like a quitter, and I wouldn't stay in the "finished every D33" club, so I jogged into the check point, got a bit of help retrieving my irn bru from the drop bag, and set off as quickly as I could. Which wasn't very quickly but it was enough and I started to feel more confident again.
At the finish
On the approach to the road crossing at Milltimber, I could see Santa up ahead offering water and sweets (thankfully not an unseasonal Xmas hallucination just in case you're not on Fetch and getting worried by this), but when I told her all I needed was a big hug, she was happy to oblige and it gave me the boost I needed for the last few miles of plodding away. I think I looked at my watch and realised that I was going to miss a 6 hour finish by quite a bit, but it didn't matter at this stage - I just knew I was going to finish.
And so, to the final stretch, nice to see a giant Jess Ennis as I took the bridge over Holburn Street and then it's just the graveyard and the winter gardens and the turn into the park.
It was great to see the finish line (better than previous years when it was hidden over the hill) and a few familiar faces cheering me in as I crossed the line and got a big hug and medal from George and a beer from Karen. So chuffed to see Iain Steel with a finisher's medal but my main concern was finding the mrs, getting my kit bag and getting changed into some dry clothes. I wasn't sure of my time but found out later it was 6:14:15, a long way from a PB but not a PW so I can't complain too much.
After the race, it was back home (thanks to Minty for the lift) for a hot shower and then off to the Station for food and drink. And drink. As usual, it was a good night with plenty of chat and we eventually headed home just after midnight.
Looking forwards, it's probably just as well I'm not running the Highland Fling this year and have a few extra weeks to get ready for the Cateran which is sure to be another tough but enjoyable weekend.

1 Thanks to the fabulous Annette at craftrocks for the photos and for all the medals (except the first one)
2 In case you're wondering, I wrote most of this a week ago but never got round to finishing it until now.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year

It's been a wonderfully chaotic and fun-filled end to 2012 and start to 2013 with much drinking, eating, and general socialising. Oh, and a bit of this sort of thing....

(more fantastic pictures from the fireballs)

In any case it seems like a good time to very briefly look back over another year of running and forward to what's coming up, much of which is looking similar to last year...

As in 2012, the first big race of 2013 should be the D33 in March. It's going to be difficult to better my big birthday PB from last year but a small improvement would be nice - looks like there'll be a lot of familiar faces there so looking forward to a fun day.

A few years ago, April was the month of Balmoral, but more recently became the month of the Highland Fling (which I was delighted to complete in 2012 after a 2011 DNF). In 2013, I'm planning to be at the Highlander Mountain Marathon - as ever, the goal will be a couple of good days out in the hills with a mate and a respectable finish.

In May, we'll be back at the Spital of Glenshee for the wonderful Cateran Trail Ultra. I'm already looking forward to this and really want to improve my time as I feel that I've not performed my best at this race in the last two years. Looks like there will be a decent Stonehaven crowd there so another big party at the finish.

Which takes us to June and the West Highland Way Race - last year, I was very happy and proud to help the mrs on her way to Fort William and that lovely goblet. This year, I'm planning to do a similar job for my good mate Minty who I am absolutely sure will do brilliantly - so much so that I'm going to have to train hard just to be in a position to keep kicking his arse up the trail, even though he'll already have run 50+ miles by the time I can join him. Rhino (with mrs s in support) and Jo will be representing Stoney and Mike R will hopefully be up the front somewhere so, once again, it should be a very sociable weekend.

July and August are likely to feature a couple of smaller, local races (Ballater 10K possibly) but will mainly be about preparation for my main event in 2013 - the Glenmore 24 hour race in September. It was wonderful to watch the end of the race in 2012, especially seeing Minty complete his 100 miles, a feat I hope to emulate in 2013. In all honesty, looking at the last couple of years results, anything over 90 miles would probably be a good distance for me, but triple figures would be amazing and with the right training and the right attitude, I'm hoping I can do enough for Ada to give me the horn. Not sure if the distraction of my wife's birthday starting half way through the race will be a good thing or a bad thing but I do feel sure it's going to be another fun weekend with a whole bunch of great people.

And after that, nothing. At least, nothing planned so far so I'll just wait and see how things look. In 2012, I had the GMC in November (and thoroughly enjoyed it) but that won't be back until 2014 now. Maybe, I'll be looking at some disorganised runs in the mountains, or walks with friends and family - let me know if you've any good ideas for places to go, things to see, etc.

Whatever happens, I hope to have a lot of fun in 2013, do some new things and spend some time with friends (old ones, new ones, and ones I haven't met yet). I hope you all have a great time this year and achieve your goals.