Cowal Hill Race

Just in the door from another brilliant pilgrimage home for the Cowal Games held annually in Dunoon on the last weekend of August. A welcome addition in the last few years has been a hill race up The Camel’s Hump and this was the main reason for heading down this time around. This event definitely fits the criteria of great value local races within easy reach of Glasgow with a stunning backdrop in terms of both scenery and the Highland Games.

 

After marshalling last year I was ready to toe the line again this morning hoping to improve on previous performances where I’ve either blown up after hitting the hill too hard or not attacked the downhill with enough aggression.

 

The 6km route starts outside the newly refurbished Burgh Hall on Dunoon’s main street. After a course and safety briefing we were off. A fast flat start ends quickly as within 50 metres the route turns left up John Street where you are faced with a steep but relatively short climb which really gets the heart rate going.

 

The chart below shows this to be the case and while I’ve been wearing my heart rate strap again in recent weeks I really need to read up more on the benefits of HR training and get a better understanding of what each effort means and feels like on the context of different sessions and races.

 

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Expensive Technology Confirming That I Was Working Hard

 

Anyway back to the race. The route levels off as you make your way up John Street until you enter the trail turning quickly into a foresty track. This is a trail I know well from previous efforts on the race, training sessions with Dunoon Hill Runners and boyhood adventures. It’s basically all uphill from here until the top.

 

The first few hundred metres are hellish and at the back of my head I knew if I could get to the first gate I could relax on the more gentle climb to the top of the hill. At this stage, around 1km into the race, I was sitting in around 10th place and thankfully feeling in good shape. Passing the gate I started to pass a few runners although the lead group were stretching their lead.

 

The route, still climbing, disappears into the forest above Dunoon with the sound of the pipes filling the air from the stadium below. This is another tough little section as although most of climb is done and the elevation is kinder the terrain underfoot becomes more scree like making it difficult to maintain a regular cadence.

 

It was great to see Morven (although I had heard her long before) at the Phone Mast, pretty much the highest spot on the route. Dropping down in to a break in the wood the underfoot conditions change for a third time and the effects of the previous week’s weather were immediately obvious. Thankfully I managed to stay on my feet this year putting to bed the ghost of 2015 as this marked the spot where I slipped and fell hard in my last go at the race.

 

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Still Looking Far Too Happy – Thanks to Morven for This Snap

 

At the end of the grassy break in the forest a short, but steep, climb leads to the top of the Camel’s Hump where the view of The Firth of Clyde and The Holy Loch opens up. It’s pretty much all down hill from here with the first 500 metres on open hillside with plenty obstacles and loose boulders giving a short technical / fell aspect to the race. With conditions underfoot slippy and the heart of a mouse I struggled to keep the brakes off, taking my time to navigate the worst of the conditions. More downhill practice is definitely needed but I was glad I had the extra grip on my trail shoes this time around. Exiting the wood I sadly passed one of the early pacesetters holding his wrist after what I assume was a slip on this tricky section.

 

The route meanders down a forestry road over the next kilometre where it joins the High Road headed back for Dunoon and the finish line. The runner behind was closing in on me during this stage of the race and I was starting to feel heavy legged after the exertions of reaching the top. Exiting the forest road and getting back onto the hard tarmac gave me a chance to pick up the pace and use the road speed which makes up the bulk of my training.

 

Approaching Dunoon it was obvious any chances of passing the runner ahead were gone and it was just a case of making sure I wasn’t passed. After you reach the Grammar School it is just a short hop into the back gate at the stadium to the finish. Kudos to Iain (the race organiser) for getting the finish even closer to the refreshment tent this year. I was well spent having emptied the tank on the last km and a bit along the road and glad to see the finish. It was great to hear that Michael and Grant of the Hill Runners had picked up 1st and 3rd place respectively. Although still to be confirmed it seemed I’d managed to come home in 5th place, which I was pretty pleased with, finishing just behind a member of Manran – the headline act in the Ceilidh Tent later in the day.

 

Despite being a long way behind the top four this was a run where I felt good and worked hard giving another good indication that my running continues to improve. Importantly I feel like I am applying my experience a lot more effectively in races resulting in better performances. Naively experience wasn’t something I would have ever factored into a running race before becoming a runner myself. Rather I would have reckoned the fastest guy would always win. Now I know there’s a lot more to it.

 

It was great to watch the ever-growing army of Dunoon Hill Runners enter the stadium with a string of excellent performances including a first female for Lucie Noakes.

 

If you stumble across this blog because you are thinking of the Cowal Hill Race I would definitely recommend it. £5 includes entry to the stadium which is normally £18. With live music, family entertainment and a friendly atmosphere you’d struggle to get better value. Throw in a well organised hill race at less than 200m elevation and this is a great entry into the often daunting sport of hill running.race organiser

 

As always a huge thank you to the army of volunteers at registration and out on the course. Particularly to my mentor and old Geography Teacher Mr Livingstone who assumed his usual marshalling duties at the top of the Camel’s Hump. Well done to race organiser Iain Cairns for another great wee event. I look forward to 2018 whether I am marshalling or running.

 

 

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The Hill

 

https://www.strava.com/activities/1153611678/overview

https://www.relive.cc/view/1153611678

#Paisley10k Race Review

This morning I took part in my first Paisley 10k. I’m not quite sure how I’ve avoided this one which is always a popular date in the running calendar. I’d been looking forward to this one since entering a few months back as it meant getting back to my old stomping ground after teaching in the town for 6 years. By complete coincidence I’d spent the night before being absolutely blown away by an ex-Paisley Grammar pupil in the lead role in the stage adaptation of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. And so it was cycling past The Grammar on my way to the start line that I made my mind up to try and give a season’s best performance.

 

The 6.5 mile cycle warm up has worked well in the past for me as a leg loosener and I arrived in what I thought was good time in the centre of Paisley around 30 minutes before the start of the race. Despite this I got stuck in the bag drop queue for a while meaning I missed my chance of getting close the front of the start pen. I tried to wriggle my way through but with a record breaking field of runners I accepted my fate and positioned myself on the edge of the start pen hoping to at least avoid getting boxed in.

 

However with a few minutes to go the crowd surged forward and I managed to navigate a path closer to the front. This was still a long way off my regular competition but gave me a fighting chance of catching them. Determined not to let this put me off I took a wide route over the first km which encompasses a small loop past two of Paisley’s most iconic landmarks – The Town Hall and Paisley Abbey. By now I had caught Billy from the Harriers who would surely have given me more of a ribbing about my poor pacing yet again following the Mens 10k if he’d seen me coming.

 

Heading around the back of Gilmour Street station the route settles into a reasonably flat and fast one on wide roads. Around 2km I caught Janine, Donald and Mark from the Harriers. A quick scan of my vitals told me that I had run the first mile in close to 6:20, too fast given how much weaving I had done and how slow the first 400m had been. Despite this I felt pretty comfortable. With a sensible head on this would have been a good spot for me to sit in as part of a pack and regroup but I felt strong and decided to try and maintain the pace as long as possible passing the guys and exchanging pleasantries.

 

Between 3 and 4km I caught sight of Paul B. and Neil from the Harriers on the horizon and I tried to reel them in over the next few kms. I was sure I would have settled into a good rhythm by now but my second mile split was 6:12. I was getting faster. Pleased to be holding a pace that could put me on for a new pb and feeling good I was still regularly passing other runners due to my delayed start giving me confidence in my fitness, speed and potential on the day. Passing Paul I gave him the shout to try and keep Neil, who seemed to be maintaining the distance between us, in sight for as long as possible.

 

Approaching the half way stage the route switches to the pavement before dropping down slightly to an underpass giving you a view of those ahead on the other side of the busy road. This meant only one thing – after the turn there would be a climb. Turning the corner into the underpass I was pleased to get a shout of ‘Mon Mr Taylor’ given that there can only be a small number of pupils left at Paisley Grammar who I actually taught.

 

Cresting the small climb I was still feeling strong and enjoying the relative speed at which the miles (and the kms even more so) pass off in the middle distance events. The next km sees you approach the canal section of the race. A switchback onto the main path and you can really start to open up the legs if you still have the energy. Around this point I was slowing slightly as much due to the small climbs in these miles as the fast start and this would be where I lost precious seconds and my concentration lapsed. With about 2km to go I contemplated picking up the pace but I could still see Neil from and Mark from Motherwell A.C. ahead giving me two good benchmarks that a good time was on. If I could close the gap slightly, coupled with my slow start, my chip time would be good and I could smell a sub 39 minute pb. Sadly for Neil as I almost got within shouting distance he took a wasp in mouth situation and had to stop to clear his throat.

 

The route exits the canal path at the 9km flag giving a clear indication that it is time to put the foot down if you have still got anything left in the tank. Although I was still feeling strong I was continuing to slow coming off the canal path. Unfortunately there is also a small rise up to the Coat’s Memorial Church so you’re doing well to maintain pace at this point.

 

A watch check would definitely have helped me at this point in knowing a. How much further was to go, and b. How close I was to my pb.

 

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Hitting the Final Climb With Less Than 1km To Go – Photo Courtesy of Coach Tony Coyne

 

Route experience would definitely have helped me at this stage as I was concerned that the finish might take us around the back of Gilmour St. again. As I was beginning to struggle with the pace I definitely took my eye of the ball at the most important stage. As it turns out the final 600m is a racer’s dream with a gentle downhill sprint to the finish line. I picked up the pace from about 500m to go after a strong show of encouragement from the al fresco dining Harriers but dropped off this pace slightly with what turned out to be about 200m to go worried that we’d be directed to do a loop of the town square before seeing the finish line. As it turned out it’s a straight run down the main street before a sharp left turn into the main square.

 

I crossed the line in 39:11 in position 100 (a few places higher on chip time). A PB equaling effort and a result I am pretty pleased with all things considering as I’ve only had a couple of weeks of solid training under the belt since returning from Japan. It’s definitely given me confidence for the next couple of months with some exciting new and old challenges to look forward to.

 

It was great to see such a strong turnout from the Harriers at this one and to catch up with so many others who seemed pleased with their runs in the main. This is definitely a race I would do again and I am confident that if I run as well next year course knowledge would definitely see me dipping under my current pb.

 

As always thanks to all of the marshals and race organisers – particularly those that gave their time for free.

 

https://www.strava.com/activities/1142748902/overview

 

 

The Road to Berlin: Week Six

Week Six: 14/08/2017 – 20/08/17

Total Mileage: 82.3M

Monday:          8M Easy

Tuesday:          12M (10 Moderate)

Wednesday:    8M Easy

Thursday:        8x 1km reps

Friday:              AM:  5M Recovery

PM: 6M Easy

Saturday:          8M Easy + Strides

Sunday:             22M (13.1 Steady)

Reflections:

This has been the heaviest, in terms of volume, that I have done in a very long time (possibly ever!) and I was a little concerned coming into it about how my body would cope. I am delighted to have got through it unscathed and have actually really enjoyed the sessions.

Monday’s easy run was a gentle start to the week – which was nice as this would also be my last day off before work started up again! It was nice to get back into the ‘run commute’ habit on Tuesday with a longer Moderate run along the Clyde which felt very comfortable. It’s always reassuring to have these sessions as at the start of the program I know that this run would have felt far more laboured. Another easy run on Wednesday took me to 28 Miles and it was nice to feel like the legs were simply ticking over.

On Thursday I had to plan for an 8x1km interval session as part of my run home from work. The goal was to get a couple of miles of warmup in at a nice easy pace (which would also take me conveniently down to the Clyde Walkway) and then bust out the kilometre reps along the Walkway towards Glasgow. I needed to get two mins of jogging recovery in between each rep too which meant that the total distance covered would be significantly further than just the 8km. I hit the reps at ~10km pace and felt great. There is something very reassuring about beginning a rep and seeing that it I only 0.62miles to go when you’re used to counting down in full miles! I had to do a little doubling back on myself when I got to Glasgow Green in order to fit all of the reps in but this was not a problem and I enjoyed a nice easy few miles back up to the flat once they were done.

Friday and Saturday were reserved for more easy running. I made sure to hit my strides on Saturday as I had missed this from my session earlier in the week. For Saturday’s run I enjoyed a nice few miles down to Pollok parkrun where I ran round with Paul Houston (and had a good chat!) before knocking out a few easy miles home again.

Sunday was the big one. This was a session which has been staring out of my plan at me for a few weeks and which I have been fairly intimidated by. Not only was the idea of running 22M with 13 of them at target race pace terrifying, I was scared of the implications if it proved too big a task – if I could not manage half a marathon at my goal pace, what chance would I have over the full thing! I set off with Walshy nice and early to get the first 5M in at an Easy pace. This was great and it was really helpful to share the session with someone. We were both nervous but definitely took confidence from having the other there. As we hit 5M, Walshy and I parted ways to complete the faster section at our own target paces. My goal was to keep the mile splits in the 5:51-5:53 area for the first half and then see how I felt. As the clock ticked along I soon realised, to my absolute joy, that the pace felt comfortable! I hit the half way mark pretty much on track (except for one poor split which I am blaming on tree coverage messing with my GPS) and decided to pick things up for the next 7M. I picked up the pace to 5:45/mile and felt great. With a mile or two to go it did start to feel like a little effort to maintain the faster splits but I still felt strong and my HR suggested I wasn’t working too hard. I hit the final mile and threw in a 5:41 to see how the legs would cope. This was a bit more of an effort but I felt great and was delighted to get through this section of the run. As I hit the 13.1 mark, I reached Walshy and we exchanged a few words about the run – we had both had similar experiences with the pace and were buzzing with adrenaline. Together we climbed back towards the Southside to complete the 22Miles. My final mile felt tough – the legs were completely empty. At first I was a little concerned about this but I figure it was to be expected as we had made the decision to hit the run without gels or water. After a decent feed, I was able to look back on it as a very positive session and a real confidence boost as we come into the last 5 weeks.

This has been a pretty full-on week but it has been great. The volume and quality of the progressive sessions seems to be paying off and I am feeling very strong. I have had some tightness in my calf (left) but daily stretching and rolling seems to be working. I will monitor this closely and continue with the additional exercises I am doing.

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The Road to Berlin: Week Five

Week Five: 07/08/17 – 13/08/17

Total Mileage: 70.8

Monday:        6M Recovery

Tuesday:        12M (8 Steady)

Wednesday:  6M Recovery

Thursday:      2M Time Trial (Race)

Friday:            AM:  5M Recovery

                          PM:  6M Easy

Saturday:       AM: 8M Easy + Strides

                          PM: Conditioning Circuit (Light)

Sunday:          20M Easy

Reflections
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Delighted with the way this week has gone. This is the final week of my school holidays and it has been great to get out and get some quality sessions under my belt. 

Tuesday’s run was a great confidence boost as I ticked along the 8 Steady miles at ~ 5:51/mile pace and felt comfortable. I will look to build on this in the coming weeks as I attempt to tune into Marathon Pace.

Thursday was another huge confidence boost as I ran a PB at the Bella Harriers Time Trial with 9mins 58secs. I enjoyed a nice 2M warmup and cool down with my brother Oli who was up visiting and felt brilliant toeing the line. I made an effort to hold back a little in the first mile of the race andlooking at my Garmin data after the race revealed that I actually ran the first mile 7secs slower than when I ran my previous PB. Nevertheless, I felt really strong because of this and hit the ascent with confidence. This was the first time that I have really felt in control running up the hill on this course and it seemed to fly by. I hit the peak and wretched things out with a fast finish. I managed a slightly negative split despite the climb and this definitely contributed to the PB. I was also lucky to get a fancy photo taken after the race by award winning professional photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert who was taking portrait style photos of club members for his latest project.

Friday and Saturday were both geared towards recovering from the hard start to the week and I felt good getting through the slower miles. On Saturday I also managed a very light circuit of conditioning in the gym followed with a brief, easy swim and a sauna.  I finished the day feeling refreshed and spent a lot of time on the foam roller in front of the athletics.

Sunday was a big one and I headed out with the lads for a 20M Easy paced run over the moors. This is a very hilly route with over 1000ft of ascent, mostly in the first half. We manage to tick the miles off however and stuck to the planned pace effectively. This really is a stunning route and the views make the hills worth climbing! I tested out race strategy with gels today and had success with taking two Science in Sport gels during the run. I had one at 10M and one at 15M and had no issues with them. The run concluded with coffee and croissants courtesy of Craig before I popped home for some more foam rolling and stretching.

This was a fantastic week or me. It was my biggest week in terms of volume so far and included some nice confidence boosting short runs too. I’ve got a few more ‘big’ weeks to go before hitting my taper and am feeling very strong. I’ll be focusing on hitting the sessions as planned in the coming weeks and also ensuring my nutrition and recovery is effective to support this. 


Thanks to Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert for the photograph!  

The Road to Berlin: Week Four

Week Four: 31/07/17 – 06/08/17

Total Mileage: 53.7

Monday:         10x 1min on/1min off

Tuesday:         6M Recovery

Wednesday:  18M (10 Moderate)

Thursday:       6M Recovery

Friday:             8M Easy

Saturday:        REST

Sunday:           11M (7 Tempo) 

Reflections.

This week was spent pretty much entirely in Cyprus (I flew back to London on Saturday evening) which meant a slight shuffle of the sessions. I was worried about trying the do the Tempo run whilst away as I felt the heat would make it very difficult to hit the speed that I was aiming for. I therefore swapped this session with the long run which had been planned for the weekend. I also switched out Monday’s planned Hill Session as there were no hills available and so did a fast,flat interval session instead.

Monday was an a tough session in the morning heat and I definitely underestimated it. I got the session done but realised I would definitely need earlier starts from this point on. I also realised that I would need to ensure I had water for all of my runs. 

Tuesday was much more enjoyable as I was able to drop the pace and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Salt Lake.  This also gave me a chance to scout out the first section of a route for tomorrow’s longer run. Felt good and had to make a real effort to hold the pace back towards the end of the run.

Wednesday was a session which I had been dreading. It would mean being out in the heat for a long time and there was also the very real possibility of me getting lost! I decided to get up before the sunrise and head out at 5:30am.  I also decided to break the run into sections which would enable me to re-fill my water bottle. I set off for the first 5M section at an easy pace and made sure that I consumed a full bottle of Gatorade during this loop. I then re-filled my bottle with cold water during a quick pit stop and headed back out the door. I gave myself one more mile of easy running to get back into a rhythm before hitting the 10M at Moderate pace (6:30/mile). I felt great and succeeded in holding this pace for the duration as I completed a full loop of Larnaca’s Salt Lake and headed back along the seafront. This faster section was followed with a couple of easy miles to bring the total distance to 18M.

Thursday and Friday were a nice dip back down to gentler paces and I was able to soak up the sun with a little less pressure. I felt good although I had a little tightness in the left calf, leading to a slight ache in the shin, after the 8M Easy run on Friday. I’ve been slacking on the stretching/foam rolling while away so will make an effort to get back on with this!

After a rest day on Saturday and a flight back to London, I headed out for a Tempo run on Sunday. I got a lift up to Kenley  Aerodrome for the session as I figured this would be nice and flat and traffic-free. Unfortunately I didn’t consider how windy it would be and this made it very tough to hit my target splits. I missed the goal pace by a few seconds per mile but this still felt like a decent session. It was a relief to get through the run with no aches in the shin or calf.

This was a good week of training and it was nice to get everything done without it eating into the holiday too much. The change of scenery was fantastic and it was great to be running in the heat before cooling off in the sea and enjoying my ‘recovery’ wth a book on the beach.

The Road to Berlin: Week Three

Week Three: 24/07/17 – 30/07/17

Total Mileage: 62.6

Monday:          PM: 6M Recovery

Tuesday:         AM: 8M Easy + Strides

Wednesday:   PM: Kilmaurs 5k Race

Thursday:       PM: 6M Recovery

Friday:             AM: 18M (10 Steady)

Saturday:        AM: 8M Recovery

Sunday:           AM: 8M Easy + Strides
Reflections.

This felt like another solid week. There was a slight shuffle around of my original plan due to a holiday in the Cypriot sun which would make fast running very difficult! With my flight to Larnaca departing on Saturday, I was advised to bring the long steady run forward to Friday. This meant that I could at least settle in to my first day of holiday with an ‘Easy’ run and not an 18 miler! The shuffle would mean fewer days recovery between race day and my long run but sometimes things just need to get done!

Monday and Tuesday were fine and  just ticked along feeling comfortable at the designated pace. I have been making an effort to do my strides properly during this marathon attempt as this is something that I have found easy to neglect in the past. I have found a decent stretch between two sets of lampposts on Tantallon Road which serve as reasonable markers of distance and these have worked effectively.

Coming into Wednesday’s race I was feeling confident. I had not been satisfied with my 5k time at Springburn parkrun a week and a half earlier and was keen to give myself a boost with a fast time. Secretly, I was hoping to challenge the 16minute barrier but, all things considered, I was happy enough to finish in 16:09. I felt much more comfortable than I had done previously and this gave me another indicator that things are moving in the right direction.

Thursday was all about recovery so it was a nice and simple recovery run into town to pick up some clothes for holiday (nothing like leaving things to the last minute!).

The long run on Friday was hard going and completely due to poor planning on my part. I had flown down to London to see family before my Cyprus flight an had planned on doing this run while there. The idea was to get 6 Easy miles under my belt before hitting 10 sub6 miles and then finishing up with a final 2 Easy.  In my memory ‘The Woldingham Run’ is a flat, traffic free loop which I could double up to get my 10 faster miles. I discovered mid-run however that, while it is indeed traffic-free, it is definitely not flat!! I had a quick re-shuffle of my route (which for someone with my sense of direction is always dangerous!) and managed to get things sorted. The run ended up being fine and I was glad to get it done.

Saturday morning was a straightforward recovery run before my lunchtime flight to Larnaca.

Sunday was my first run in Cyprus of the holiday and was pencilled in as 8M Easy + Strides. I found a map which suggested a that a footpath would take me all the way around the Salt Lake which is not far from where I am staying and which looked to have a fair few miles to it. I had no idea how suitable this ‘footpath’ would be for running, all I knew was that it would be hot. And so it was that at 7am the alarm went and I headed out the door with a (too big) bottle of water and a sense of adventure. Vicki was a also heading out for a few miles along the seafront – which as handy as I am sure a lot of partners would be less than impressed with a 7am alarm on the first morning of a holiday! The footpath was ideal but the heat was rising and was close to 30degrees even at this time. I will need an earlier start before my long run next week! For my strides I ran along a section of the newly pedestrianised seafront which was absolutely fantastic. The sun was rising over the ocean and I could smell the strong Greek Coffee from the roadside cafes. Post-run it was straight to the beach for a dip in the sea and a few hours of reading my new book (Stephen King – Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger).

All in all this was a good week. I was pleased with my 5k performance and glad to get the long steady run done – besides, it is difficult to complain when your day consists of running in the sun, sipping Iced Coffee and eating Souvlaki. Magic.