Running & fatherhood

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One of the reasons I started running: it turned out to be one of the easiest and cheapest options for staying fit and healthy after welcoming children into my life.  Prior to that, I focused on swimming.  I’m an average runner.  Objectively speaking, I’m much better at swimming.  In the Great Scottish Swim I regularly place in the top-10 of my age group and have finished in the 10% of swimmers overall over 1, 2, and 3 mile distances.  While I still love swimming, it can be a faff.  Getting in 20min of decent exercise can take over an hour when you factor in changing, showering, and the über-complex lane availability system at my local leisure centre.  Outdoor swimming is wonderful, but there’s that frustration of driving hours to a loch and then seeing blue-green algae.

I ran my first 10k when my daughter was still in the pram.  I was still focusing on swimming then, but turned to running as something that I fit in-between trips to the pool. I didn’t particularly enjoy running, but endured it because, like leafy veg, it was supposed good for me.

It was after my son was born that running because the most practical option.  Any baby will turn your life upside down, even if it’s a fairly “easy” baby (in other words, one who sleeps).  My daughter was, after some initial difficulties with a strange transient protein allergy, a pretty chilled out kid.  She loved sleeping.

My son, however, was a different story.  He was born with a cleft palate, was colic, and had a host of other dietary issues.  Even before his cleft repair surgery, we were in the children’s hospital more often than I like to remember (being in a children’s hospital is a terrible, wonderful, and draining experience; you see some tragic things, but I was continually amazed by how helpful, strong, and resilient people can be).  I seldom got out to the pool for my weekly swims because there simply wasn’t time.  The stress combined with fatigue led to some poor health choices.  Too much coffee, sugary junk, and even though I hate the stuff, regular trips to the McDonalds drive-through.  I think what lay behind theses uncharacteristic fast food binges was a psychological attempt to feel in control of something when life was so hectic.  Many days, I had no idea what was wrong with my son, but he kept screaming in pain and would never sleep despite our best efforts.  There was some comfort in buying some horrid apple pie, McFlurry, and a coffee because it became everything that life wasn’t: predictable, controllable, with the promise of instant gratification.

It wasn’t anything drastic.  I didn’t gain a huge amount of weight or anything, but my health was on a downward curve.  In reality, the mental effect of the junk food was worse than anything physical.  The reliance on pure sugar and caffeine to created this awful jittery and often incoherent vigilance.

Then I started running.  The benefits of running are well documented.  It goes without saying that running is no miracle cure or a magical solution to life’s problems.  Everything didn’t change overnight and I still didn’t particularly enjoy it at first.  But it was the most simple way to get myself out the door (be that my house or the hospital) and it afforded me some headspace for 20 minutes.  It was also a much healthier way to deal with that feeling of overwhelming chaos that comes with having a very ill kid.  As Clare Allan puts it:

“Running is the most brilliant way of showing the mind who’s boss. Your brain may be screaming at you to stop, telling you you can’t keep going, you’re not fit enough, you look pathetic, and still you just keep on running.”

Running helped me to manage the chaos in a healthier way.  Fast food offers the semblance of control and predictability, but nothing of value.  You have to keep returning for the sugar high and hit of predictability.  It might be comforting, but if offers no way out.  We really don’t have much control.  Running helped me deal with that fact.

On a run, things change and it seldom goes exactly to plan.  Your legs get tired, but you press on.  You get a stitch, so you breathe with a different rhythm to alleviate the pain.  There’s a tree that has fallen across the trail, so you need to jump over it or double back.  Sometimes a pavement is so icy you have to change your route.  In running, it’s necessary to shift and adapt goals on the fly.  In running, you have to be present in a world in flux, but learn that you can – most of the time – deal with the ebb and flow.  Sometimes a run goes to plan, sometimes it doesn’t, but you have the small victory that you were able to get out the door and do something positive.

I eventually fell in love with running.  It helped me get into a better frame of mind.  It helped me develop resilience. I became an all-round healthier person.

My son’s health eventually improved and his cleft repair went as well as it possibly could have.  Life once again settled into a nice rhythm.  But running became part of my life and it remains that way.  Along with all the other things I’ve mentioned, running gives me solitude.  It has also introduced me to friends and a supportive community I wouldn’t want to be without.  This dynamic of running being such a personal endeavour within community makes for a fascinating dialectic.

Both of my children see that my wife and I run.  The see us sweaty and striving to the best of our ability for rather average times, not winning races, but still pushing outside our comfort zones.  I hope that sets a good example for them.  The kids love coming along to races and things like parkrun.  My daughter was excited when my running club started a mini-Harriers group that introduces young kids to the simple joy of running, jumping, and throwing.

I’m also delighted that my kids now ask me to take them out on runs as well.  My daughter specifically requests trail runs because she loves the feel of bounding down a hill, darting around trees (child after my own heart!).  It feels like a real adventure.  At the finish of a run, she begs me to stop and get a daft self-timer photo, “To make mummy laugh.”  We run at the camera, jump, or goof off in some other way.  It’s silly and something I’d be too self-conscious to do on my own, but with a kid it feels totally acceptable.  And it is fun and reminds me that while running is a seriously important part of my life, it’s better if I don’t take it too seriously and forget the simple joy of it in the midst of track sessions, training plans, and so on.  I’m sure the kids won’t be terribly keen to run with their naff dad when they get older (even though I hope not!), so I’ll enjoy and relish all this while it lasts…

PJ.

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Race Report: Jack Crawford 10k

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Look at me, living proof that running is… um… fun?

After some respite from the icy remnants of the “Beast from the East,” waking to the sound of gusting winds hammering fat raindrops against my window made me want to succumb to inertia, stay in my bed, and curl under the duvet.  I’m normally well up for a Saturday run — especially a race – but I’m ready for the gentler climes of spring.  From the cosy perspective of my bed, a 10k didn’t seem particularly inviting.

At the beginning of winter, I’m usually excited about a bit of snow and cold.  Running in adverse conditions can be invigorating.  There’s a strange kind fun that comes with heading out all bundled up, buff over my face, and hat pulled down so that it leaves only a slit for my eyes (my son tells me I look like a ninja, which is kind of cool). I could be sitting inside watching Saturday Kitchen with a cup of tea instead of braving the elements and feeling fully alive.  I like that.

But the novelty eventually wears off and this winter has overstayed its welcome, IMHO.

As much as I wanted to stay in bed, I know it’s important to set down markers in my running.  I haven’t run a hard 10k since I’ve started training with the Springburn Harriers, so this would be an ideal chance to mark my progress, as well as taking part in one of my own club’s events.  Even though conditions weren’t ideal, I felt that a 10k PB was on the cards.  So I pulled on my shorts, club vest, and made the short journey to Bishopbriggs.

As always, the hardest part is the first step out of bed.  Once I arrived at the Bishy Leisuredrome and saw many clubmates and friends also mad enough to run on a day like this, I was glad that I decided to turn up.  It’s always worth getting out, even on the worst days.

The Jack Crawford 10k was rerouted due to the lingering snow heaps that remained on the road.  So instead of the usual course that takes in a bit of the road, the route became an out n’ back along the Forth and Clyde canal towpath.

During the race, there was a nasty headwind on the way out that made running hard going, but thankfully the worst of the rain held off.  Racers were trying to do the sensible thing and draft off other runners.  Unfortunately, the problem with that is everybody wants to draft, so there was a fair amount of leapfrogging that made pacing difficult.  I eventually decided to stick to my own pace and take the wind head on rather than attempting to shelter behind others.  This meant getting a bit isolated, but it was easier slotting into my own pace, rather than trying to set my pace by other runners. There was an “on a dime” turn after the 5k point, after which the wind was blissfully at our backs.  I’m not sure how much the wind, strong as it was, actually slowed me down in real terms.  The psychological effect of the wind, however, shouldn’t be underestimated.  When it’s all up in your face, it the wind is an energy-sapping adversary,  whereas the perception of the wind totally changes when it’s at your back, it becomes an encouraging helping hand.

My plan was to initially pace for a 45min 10k.  That meant heading out at a hard-but-in-control pace of 4:30 per kilometre, then trying to run harder on the final 5k to (hopefully) nip under 45min.  As per usual, I set off too quick and ran the first kilometre in 4:10.  At the time, it didn’t feel too taxing, but I knew it wasn’t a sustainable pace.  The jostling for position to use other racers as a windbreak made the 2nd kilometre a bit wonky; it turned out to be my slowest split.  After that I was able to keep my pace fairly steady at a 4:30 for the first half, and (as planned) picked up speed in the second half keeping under 4:30 (with the exception of a 4:32 wobble on the 9th).

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I find pacing on a flat course difficult because I’m more accustomed to hilly routes.  It feels unrelenting.  Hills offer a chance to change things up.  The Jack Crawford 10k is pancake flat, Garmin only registering 7m of elevation gain.  I’m pretty happy with my pacing, even though the race showed there is room for improvement.

My official finish time was 44min 33sec, which is my fastest 10k to date.  I’m delighted with the PB, especially given the tricky conditions.  Last year, I was running my 5ks around 22:20, so to maintain a slightly faster pace over twice the distance is a nice reminder of the progress I’ve made.

As for the race itself, it was well organised, friendly, and competitive. Big kudos go to the team who had to alter the route at short notice and everything thing still went forward without a hitch (from a racer’s perspective at least).  As Springburn Harrier commenting on a race organised by the Springburn Harriers, I’m probably biased here, but I think the organisers did a great job.

– PJ

 

Crichton’s Cairn… what’s in a name?

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Just a pile of stones?

What we’re doing here, all this running up hills business, is nothing new. I find it sobering to remember we’re running on – quite literally – well trod slopes. The first recorded hill race took place at the Braemar gathering about 1,000 years ago. People have been running up hills for a long time.

This reality was recently confirmed for me. I stumbled across what you could describe as some local hill running history when I looked up a place name marked on my OS Map: “Crichton’s Cairn.”

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As it turns out, the history of that cairn is fascinating as it is muddled. Is it a monument to athletic prowess and spirituality? Or, conversely, a grim reminder of scandal: murder, suicide, or heresy? It could also be a mixture of all of these things.

But why is it Crichton’s Cairn…? And who was this Crichton anyway?

As it turns out, there are a number of theories, discussed in some detail in an 1860 book by Hugh MacDonald, Rambles Round Glasgow: Descriptive, Historical, and Traditional. There’s a story of a smuggler named Crichton who was overtaken and killed by loathed gaugers.[1] The cairn commemorates the smuggler’s unfortunate death. On the other hand, some say that this was the place that Crichton the smuggler killed himself; unlikely because, as McDonald amusingly puts it, “in such a ‘heaven-kissing’ locality, could manage to fling a coil over the horn of the moon, we really cannot see how this horrid purpose could be at all effected, a blaeberry-bush being the nearest approximation to a tree which he would be likely to find” [p.399]. There’s also a folk story about a local strongman who wagered that he could climb the hill with a sack of meal, but died of exhaustion at the site of the cairn.[3]

The more attested story is that the “Crichton” in question was James Crichton, who was installed as the parish minister in 1623. According to legend, he would grab a peasemeal bannok[3] for sustenance and summit the hill, where he would study his sermons.

The accounts differ when it comes to how fast Crichton could go. James Lapslie said Crichton could summit the hill from Clachan of Campsie in forty minutes,[4] whereas Robert Lee and Hugh McDonald say he managed the feat in twenty.[5] Knowing that hill, I can assure you forty minutes is a brisk but not particularly impressive; on the other hand, twenty minutes is pretty quick. It’s impossible to know what’s true, but I like the idea of a twenty minute ascent for a few reasons: first, more sources cite twenty minutes. Second, McDonald bases his account on hearing local oral history. Third, twenty minutes is surely a more notable time than forty, and thus, more memorable (I – as a mediocre athlete – can not only manage that without too much difficulty, but summit and return to the glen in under 40 minutes). Sure, twenty could be an example of how legends grow in their telling, but I’m more inclined to believe it.

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View on the way up to Crichton’s Cairn

Why? Let me explain. Okay, I know that collecting data via Strava segments isn’t scientific, but go with me here as they give an interesting picture. There are two segments that make up most of the late minister’s route: “Glen run to crow road” and “Crow Rd Climb.” Put together, these segments make up most of the route, with the exception of the final 0.5k and 63m climb to the cairn itself. My best times on these segments adds up to 17:35. The Salmon athlete and 2015 Glen Coe Skyline champion Joe Symonds can do both segments in the blistering time of 10:08! Even with the final 0.5k taken into account, even I am within touching distance of the late Rev Crichton’s fabled time (Joe Symonds on the other hand, can do it in nearly half that time!)

Ascending that hill now, of course, is a different matter to what it was 411 years ago. We have fancy light and waterproof kit, grippy trail shoes, and the befit of four centuries of footfalls that have trod a prominent track to the cairn. The author of the brilliant Welcome to Lennoxtown website casts some doubt on the twenty mintue story commenting, “Although not ruling it out as an impossible task, it would take someone with unbelievable strength to accomplish it.” I’m not so sure about the “unbelievable” part. I’ll go with Nemo on this, who says, “The etymology of the name is traditionally handed down in the… pleasing and very probable manner.”[6] Twenty minutes is impressive, but well within the realm of possibility. No doubt, many modern hill runners could, and can, reach the cairn from the glen within the late Rev’s twenty minutes. Again, I have no doubt it was a much more impressive feat in 1623 than it is now. In order to achieve that time, I’m certain Crichton would’ve needed to break into a run, not just walk as the old Statistical Accounts of Scotland report. Lapslie records that Crichton was “a remarkable stout, well breathed man”[7] — that would make sense if he could summit in twenty minutes and did this regularly! Historical hill reps?

There’s still whiff of mystery and scandal to cairn. Lee records in the Statistical Accounts that James Crichton “was deposed for what was called corrupt doctrine.”[8] I’ve looked, but I can’t find the content of his particular heresy, but it’s worth pointing out that Crichton was minister during the tumultuous reign of James VI. “Corrupt doctrine” is so general, so it tantalises the imagination even more so.

That “considerable heap of stones, which no sacrilegious hand ever attempts to demolish”[9] is testament to a fascinating muddle of history and folklore. I also think it’s a monument to the fact that people have been running in the Campsie Fells for a long time. It’s cool to be reminded of that on one of my “backyard” runs.

I’ll close here with a nice little poem that Nemo uses in praise of the Campsies, which is a lovely testament to my local “little” hills:

The tow’ring Alps and Appenines can boast

Their lofty summits in the vapours lost;

But lesser hill may have a pow’r to charm,

And yield us pleasure mix’d with less alarm. [10]

PJ

~***~

[1] I had to look this one up: the “gauger” was the Scots moniker for the loathed exciseman who were supposed to clamp down on the illicit trade of spirits; they were awarded a bounty on whatever seized and were known to be ruthless – see this article in Whisky Magazine.

[2] An author by the name Nemo in the 1811 Glasgow Magazine (Vol. II,) appears to amalgamate this story with the legends associated with James Crichton.

[3] Here’s another thing I had to look up – peasemeal is made from milled yellow field peas; it fell out of favour because of its association with poverty. It is, however, being milled again and is actually a nutritious meal, with a good amount of protein and vitamins. I’m sure it’s fair healthier than those polysaccharide gloop you see many endurance runners sucking down. Read more about peasemeal here.

[4] James Lapslie. “of Campsie.” The Statistical Account of Scotland (1795, Vol. XV p.363).

[5] Robert Lee. “Stirlingshire.” The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845, Vol. VIII p.260).

[6] Nemo, “A Panoramic Prospect.” The Glasgow Magazine, and Clydesdale Monthly Register (1811, Vol. II) p.12

[7] James Lapslie. “of Campsie.” The Statistical Account of Scotland (1795, Vol. XV) p.363

[8] Robert Lee. “Stirlingshire.” The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845, Vol. VIII) p.260; Hugh MacDonald, Rambles Round Glasgow: Descriptive, Historical, and Traditional (1860) p.398-399.

[9] Nemo, “A Panoramic Prospect.” The Glasgow Magazine, and Clydesdale Monthly Register (1811, Vol. II) p.12

[10] Ibid.

A (late) 2017 Running Round-Up

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Here’s a bunch of posts shoved into one!  New things at work, sick kids, and taking on some new responsibilities (some freelance teaching and training) have kept me from the blog. Yes, I’m still running and have carved out some time to get back to the blog  here more regularly.  As follows are some pieces that I only half-finished and never posted.  Here they are:

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On the joys of “Advent Running”:

In the mad season before the holiday break, in reality the whole of December, everything is too busy.  Work is too busy.  Home life is too busy.  The kids are too busy with their Christmas presentations and parties.  So at first glance, it seems odd that for the past three Decembers I’ve given myself something else to do on top of all that: Advent Running.

Put simply, the challenge of Advent Running is to run (or some other form of exercise) for 30min every day leading up to and including Christmas. The Guardian did a piece on it, which you can read here.   There are a number of other similar challenges, like the popular Marcothon.

Back in 2015, taking part in Advent Running was when I shifted from seeing running merely as a cost-effective (if not dull) form of exercis, to having a major psychological shift where I started to enjoy the act running itself.  December, at first glance, seems a strange time to #FallInLoveWithRunning because the weather is awful and it’s dark and there’s not enough time… and you get the gist.

The challenge of a run streak, however, turns battling the elements into an adventure.  An online community that has formed around the slight-madness of trying to run 25 in 25.  The Advent Running group on Facebook is a nexus of bonhomie, where people of all abilities support each other in the pursuit of trying to live a little healthier over the holidays.  I’ll admit that I’m inclined to cynicism and melancholic by nature.   Yet I don’t find the support of fellow Advent Runners cheesy or contrived (like that forced smile of the waitress last time I was in an IHOP).  So much is wrong in the world and there’s a lot to be angry about and many reasons to be sad — something a tumultuous 2017 has only confirmed.  The Advent Running community is something that reminds me, in the midst of everything, how good people can be and that there is a lot of joy to be found in the everyday.  The ability to share what might seem like inconsequential victories and stumbles (“I had a terrible week, but I at least managed to get out the door for a 5k in the rain…”) feels liberating.  As Boris Pasternak once wrote, “And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness.”  Maybe that’s making too much into it, but if so, I wonder why I’ve kept coming back to it three years in a row?

The other thing about making time to run every day is the realisation that there actually is time.  When work leaves me tired, I’ll plop myself on the settee and sucked to a blue-black hole of social media scrolling.  Before I know it, it has eaten up a half hour of life.  Realistically, I can find time to run.  I can also find time to sit and play a game of “Fireman Sam Snap” with my son.  It’s a reminder that in the busiest time, there is still time.  There’s also the reality that taking a break from the tyranny of urgent workstuff actually makes me more productive.

Here’s to Advent Running!

~*~

Race Report: Kirk Craigs Christmas Cracker

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My final race of 2017 was the Kirk Craigs Christmas Cracker, a perfect way to cap off a year of running.  I was hoping to go under 1hr, but managed 57:48, which was good for me.  Still worth saying that only put me in 51st out of 73 racers.  This stuff is humbling.

Kirk Craigs captures the no-frills thrills and unstated brilliance of hill and fell running.  Jonny Muir made this apt observation:

Capture

The race stats in a field, goes straight up, and “down to big stone and return via same route.”  There was prize giving and homebaking  in the village hall afterwards.  It was great to catch up with some of my fellow Carron Valley Trail Runners because I haven’t been able to get out for the midweek runs recently.

It’s little brute of a race, packing 536m of climb into 6.8k.  It was also my first run in the Ochils and it set the bar pretty high — lovely hills and more mountain like than my local Campsies.  The initial quad busting incline is flowed by a glorious fast and flat-ish section along the top that gives that unparalleled feeling I only get when racing in the hills: a sense of presence that come from being immersed in the elements while pushing at the edge of physical ability. It feels a bit like flying. Is that what the cool people call “flow state” (it’s an accurate description, but I feel silly saying that due to the mediocrity of my running!).

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me, all festive, at “the big stone” / photo credit: Pat Fitzpatrick (https://www.flickr.com/photos/152725946@N06/albums/72157690655097324)

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I ran 1,000 Miles

I’m happy to say that I reached my goal of running 1,000 miles in 2017.  It was a fun challenge that Trail Running Magazine put to their readers.  A bit like Advent Running, they’ve hosted a virtual community where runners of all abilities can find mutual support, ask questions, and argue about the best shoes.

I was happy to get to 1,000 miles in the end after a number of weeks out due to my adventures with pneumonia and sepsis!

I feel like my running has really progressed this year, so I’m hoping to run  2,018 kilometers in 2018.  As I pace and mentally calculate distances in kilometres, I’m happy to set a goal in metric because it means less maths.

I also achieved my goal of completing to 50 parkruns this year. Making sure that I dragged my arse out of bed all those Saturday mornings helped me cross that 1,000 mile finish line.

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cheesy photo with the #Run1000Miles pledge — this appeared in the 2018 Run1000Miles supplement!

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Some racing, but less racing in 2017!

I did a lot of racing in 2017.  I’m going to step back from bigger events.  The running community is wonderful, so I’m hoping to give something back and do more volunteering this year.

I signed up for the Strathearn Marathon.  I don’t think road marathoning is my “thing” but I’m keen to give it a bash.  I think it will set a good marker as to where I’m at with my running.  It’s not a flat or fast course (as evidence by the men’s record being 2.39.33!), but I’d like to run close to 3h 30min, or at least sub-4hr if training or the race day goes pear-shaped.  The Strathearn Marathon is my main focus this year.  It also means that I have the marathon under my belt, so I can put my name in the hat for bigger races like the Highland Fling in the future.

I also love that this race is organised by the Strathearn Harriers and is good value for money.  If I’m honest, I find the cost bigger city marathons off-putting. Maybe I’m just getting more stingy as I get older?

I’m toying with the idea running of the Ochil Ultra later in October, but we’ll see how training goes and if I’m able to keep my mileage up.  If last year taught me anything, it’s the danger of committing to too much.  Increasing training and intensity too quickly is the direct route to injury.

~*~

Au revoir!

PJ

Race Report: Antonine Trail Race Half Marathon

So here’s a race report . It’s a month late.  In keeping with the usual and depressing November tradition, the family has run a gamut of winter bugs and viruses.  I’ve written much of this in the down time between washing cycles of vomit soaked laundry.  This is glamour of life with young children!  But let that take nothing away from what was a brilliant race.

***

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Credit to David Hamilton for the photo!

When I took part in the Antonine Trail Race half marathon last year, that was the longest distance that I had ever run.  In the year since then, I’ve run ultra distance (50K), competed in a mountain race that kept me on my feet for over eight hours, and joined a running club.  So I was looking forward to coming back to this race.  Not only because it’s a great event, but to see how well I could race with an extra year of training and experience under my belt.

Comparing 2017’s ATR to last year’s race isn’t a true like-for-like comparison because the course changed and is now slightly shorter (by 0.8k).  That said, the new course is possibly tougher as it puts in more trail – not groomed, but muddy singletrack — and adds an extra 70m of vert.  Many of my fellow racers were of the opinion that the new course is tougher.  In my mind, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

When I logged the race on Strava, I saw this:

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Now, these aren’t true PRs as I’ve run a quicker 10k that wasn’t logged (but is that real? It’s not on Strava, so…?).  Still, it shows that I ran well according to what I usually do.  For once I was actually pleased with my pacing in keeping my effort fairly steady. Given the ups, downs, and mud, the ATR isn’t one for an experiment in negative splits.  But I think that I managed to keep the effort pretty consistent.

Before the race, I thought I that I had the potential to go under 2hrs on the course, but managed to go well under that.  It couldn’t have gone better.  To compare results:

In 2016: 2:12:46, 90th out of 165 runners.

In 2017: 1:57:19, 64th out of 210 runners.

That’s an improvement of 15min and 27sec.  Last year I finished in the second half of the race, this year I moved up well into the first half.  I’m under no illusion that my time is impressive in any objective sense.  But I found it encouraging from a personal perspective.  The race provides a some confirmation that after a year of training properly and getting out of my comfort zone, I’ve improved.  It’s a satisfying feeling.  I’m aware that in the past year I’ve seen my times improve by considerable margins and know that my progress will, inevitably, start to plateau.  And that presents  a new kind of challenge to look forward to in the years to come.

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As for the race itself – you could go back to my write-up about the ATRX as my effusive comments for that one also apply here.  The marshals are super stoked to be there, encouraging, and helpful at all the critical points.  Organisation is spot on.  The race also manages to have a fun vibe – the people in fancy dress for Halloween contributing to that – while feeling like a competitive race with some pretty rapid runners in the mix.  It gets that balance about right, competitive enough without feeling cliquish.  There were some nice touches with the Halloween decorations at the halfway water station and light up skulls in the canal tunnel.  I now have an amazing bright fuchsia race t-shirt to match my equally bright fuchsia buff from the 10k — dog walkers on the Strathkelvin Rail Path now shield their eyes when I come running past!

We had perfect weather, which helps to show off what a beautiful part of the country  this is (before doing these races, I only knew Croy as that place where I changed trains to get over to Edinburgh).  This was my fourth race in the Antonine Trail Race series and the weather has always been amazing.  I don’t know what kind of crazy voodoo magic James and Co. have up their sleeves, but it seems to be working.

I love how the Antonine Trail Races are so open about how their funds are used, their commitment to low environmental impact, and how they link into local charities.  The race doesn’t just feel like it’s a disconnected even that happens to take place in the area around Croy and Kilsyth.  Rather, it feels like it’s actually linked into the community as well as showcasing what a lovely place it really is.  I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about these races and it’s a credit to all the work put in by the race director and volunteers.

PJ.

Here’s a great bit of race footage from Ryan Davidson (“Thermal Tech Search” on YouTube):

Cracking Cairngorms

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Carrbridge’s Old Packhorse Bridge in autumn

Eight years ago, I remember driving up the A9 thinking that we might die.  At that time our car was this anti-aerodynamic Vauxhall Agila.  Our little silver box on wheels was getting blown about the road in crazy winds and it was hard to see through the sheets of sleet.  Massive lorries kept thundering past, their draft further throwing us around the road.  The A9 can offer white knuckle driving at the best of times, but this was special.  My wife and I had planned a spring trekking break in the Cairngorms, but the horrendous weather was making us think that our long weekend would be spent in the pub… if we made it to Avimore in the first place.  We eventually made it to the hotel in twice the amount of time it should have, checked in and fell asleep to the sound of rain hammering the window.

What a view to wake up to — Cairngorms in March, 2009

We woke to an odd light streaming through the curtains and a strange silence.  When I drew the curtains, I could see that everything was covered in a couple feet of lovely powdery snow, and it was still falling.  It seems the temperature had dropped just enough overnight for the rain to transform into snow.  We were treated to a winter wonderland at the tail end of March.  We weren’t prepared for the snow, so we just did some lower level walks rather than the Munros we had planned.

Loch Morlich, 2009

It was magical.  Ever since then, I’ve had a real love for the Cairngorms and keep returning.

Our most recent trip was about eight years on from that unexpected snowy break.  Big changes since then — we came up during the half-term holiday with two little people in tow.  We both took up running after we had the kids.

We were able to spend a good chunk of time running on some of the trails around the Cairngorms; many thanks to grandparents who were willing to watch the kids so we could indulge our hobby!  We haven’t spent much time running in the area before.  Turns out it’s a fantastic place to run.

We made a point of running the routes that we walked in the snow eight years ago.  The vistas were the same, but they were emblazoned in autumnal glory, rather than sparkly wintery whites.  Both equally stunning views and somehow now better given the contrast of seeing the same landscape transformed by the seasons.

We also ran some new-to-us trails.  We based ourselves in lovely Carrbridge.  The village has a nice network of trails through the local woodlands.  It makes for very enjoyable running on almost bouncy pine needle covered paths.  Quite similar to the trails that I remember walking on as a kid in California’s high sierra.  Wildlife everywhere!  We saw red deer, red squirrels, and bold songbirds.  Here’s a good map; we were able to run most of the marked trails.  The Carr Plantation Trail was a real highlight.

The Cairngorms aren’t really known as an autumn destination (though the National Park has published this article showing why it should be considered as such). The skiing takes a lot of attention as well as more serious long mountain treks.  But it’s fantastic this time of year.  The mix of deciduous and evergreen trees makes for some cracking views.  We did get a bit of rain, but the weather felt more ‘settled’ than it has on some of our summer trips to the area.  Another nice thing about running up there is that the trails are well defined and not terribly boggy.  Navigation feels pretty straightforward.

So if you have the chance, enjoy the Cairngorms in autumn for a run.  It has everything from nice groomed low level trails to serious big mountain ascents.  And while Aviemore is not going to win any awards for architecture, it’s a handy base with good infrastructure, outdoors shops, and food.  It’s a lovely place and I can’t wait to go back.

PJ.

Race Report: Kippen Trail Race

The Kippen Trail Race has become one of my favourite events on the calendar.  I did it last year and made a point of making time to do it again.

It stands out in contrast to my previous race, the Salomon Ring of Steall — with its huge participant numbers, corporate sponsorship, big screen telly with clips of rad pro runners downhilling, a big Salomon truck selling the latest kit, etc.  Not that I have anything against that.  I enjoyed being part of such a big, almost over the top, event like that (and admit that a big city marathon appeals for the same reason).  All of this said, I feel like the lower key races on the calendar capture something of the heart of trail running: it brings the most basic and joyful elements of the sport to the centre.  The Kippen Trail Race fits into that category.

There’s not much pomp or pretentiousness to the Kippen Trail Race.  It’s very well organised, friendly, and feels like genuine community event.  It’s supported by local businesses: Skinner of Kippen , Rhubarb Lime, The Inn at Kippen, and – exciting for me – on of my favourite breweries the Fallen Brewing Company (if seeing those cans of lovely local beer isn’t enough to inspire you to run hard…).  Conditions were challenging this year.  The rain was absolutely chucking it down and even the hardiest runners found themselves huddling for shelter in the retro football changing room.  Despite the obvious challenge of the elements, there were still a lot of smiles and laughter.

I did the race on my own last year.  This year I made sure to get my family to come along, because I was sure everyone would enjoy it.  I wasn’t wrong!

My son took part in the preschool field race and came in second place (proud dad!).  Preschool races are both ridiculously  cute and hilarious.  I love how all the kids just stop immediately at the finish and the way my boy can’t run in a straight line but still gives it 100% enthusiasm.  He loved it, but really wanted there to be more races for him!

There’s a 1 mile race for older children.   Around the start of this one the heavens opened and it began to bucket.  The kids were pretty stoic.  It was my daughter’s first trail race and she seemed a bit unsure about the whole thing, but still took off like a trooper at the start.  There are some blisteringly quick kids at that race!  My wee girl made it around the course, but was soaked to the bone and was a bit annoyed that she had slipped to the back of the pack.  But once she dried out and had an empire biscuit, she felt pretty good about her accomplishment – but kindly requested that we have a sunny day next time!  My son, on the other hand, “wants to get really muddy like the big boys” when he takes part next time.

The full race was the same as last year.  It’s a 7.5km route with 150m of climbing.  The course starts from the sports field, heads up through a wood to a couple of farm roads, then back down to the start via a farmer’s field.  It’s a short course, but packs a lot in.  There’s a good climb to start with, some tarmac, some rocky dirt road, open field, speedy grassy descent, and some singletrack.  The views are great as well.  Most of us are used to seeing the contour of the Campsies from Glasgow, but the Kippen Trail Race gives us a totally different look at these underappreciated hills, looking southwards at them from the route’s highest point.  It’s a nice distraction during the rather fast and furious pace of this one.

I felt good about my run last year and conditions were great.  So I was really pleased with cutting 2m47sec off my previous time, especially with the rain and mud this time around.  I came 22nd out of 42 runners.  I probably could’ve cut a few more seconds had I not played up for the camera, but what’s the fun in that?

The Kippen Trail Race is always great fun.  I’m making this one a regular fixture on the calendar.

PJ.

Thanks to Sophie James [http://www.bluebellsonthegreen.co.uk/] for allowing me to use her brilliant photos!