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"