Saturday, 20 September 2014

Scotland, let this land inspire us to be united once more

I can think of no better way to gain a fresh perspective on the our place in Scotland than to go for a run through it's beguiling lochs and mountains.  The geology of this great land is unmoved by politics, it's mountains have watched over this land from well before humans first walked on this Earth. Storms, wars, volcano's, earth quakes, ice ages, all making their mark like lines on an old fisherman's weathered face.  Our little human epoch is just a blink of eye in geological time.

So here's my pictures from my humble little run, 13 mile out/back from Callander alongside Loch Venachar past Invertrossachs house and back.

Just leaving Callander, running along Invertrossachs road looking towards Ben Ledi

Camera Phone accidental photo... it was such a lovely day even the shadows and texture looked cool to me... OK might be suffering low blood sugar :-)

Arriving at the wast end of Loch Venachar looking east towards Ben Venue

Phone was playing up, couldn't handle the sunshine!

Red squirrel ran along across the road in front of me and up this tree - spot it if you can!  Trossachs is one of the remaining strongholds for these gorgeous wee creatures, but even so you only get to spot them a few times each year

Looking back east towards Callander.

Invertrossachs house nestles amongst the forest.  Ben Venue in background

Return leg, loch is so incredibly low right now, it's been an dry summer

Sunshine too warm for Highland Cow and her calves

With my shaggy hair and red beard, and short sturdy legs, I do wonder if I might be related to a Highland Cow...

Does Scotland not fill you wonder and pride? Does me, what an awesome place we live!!!

River Ayr Way Challenge 2014 : Race Report

Aaraaghggh!!! Fecking shitty Blogger ate my REPORT!!!!!

Just now I logged in to finish up my River Ayr Race Report and the browser editor for Blogger just deleted all my text and pictures and left me with an empty document.  I had been writing over several evenings, quite a few hours work all gone with a single keystoke.  I never saved the empty document, but somehow blogger deleted all my work and saved the empty document with no way for me to roll it back.

If you wish to shout scream lots of expletives on my behalf please do.  I'll join in.   F*** S*** A*** #£$!1

After wasting lots of hours trying to write a blog post on my RAW race I simply don't have the time to pour more time into, so we'll just need to accept the following:

Race start, 9am at Glenbuck, the source of the River Ayr, time to race 41 miles to Ayr at the coast!

I turned up not feeling quite 100% after injury and lack of sleep due to worry about the Scotland's future but otherwise OK.  I raced, heart rate high right from the start, 15 bpm higher than my training runs at same pace!  Second half it was pretty warm as the sun shone relentless and temperate was up in the twenties.  I was on target for 6hrs based on even splits at the marathon point which I passed through in 3:54, but the hills, cramp and heat in the final 15 miles put paid to ambitious 6hr goal.

I finished in 3:15:18, a PB by 32 minutes which is effectively about 15 minutes faster than last year if you take account of the advantage of going downhill and running half a mile less with finishing at the Dam Park athletics stadium.  Came 5th overall, if it wasn't for cramp there is good chance I would have had my first podium finish - so I really need to fix this.  However, pretty happy with result as I felt I raced as well I could have on the day.  My average HR was 160 for the whole race, max HR was 180 during "sprint" finish as I tried to get under 3:15, but alas missed.

What next?  Recovery week, One weeks Half marathon training, then one week taper then the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow - I'll be chasing my half marathon PB of 1:28:58 I set back in 2010.  Jikes, changing from training for 9 min/mile ultra race to a sub 6:40 min/mile 13 mile race!


Sunday, 14 September 2014

River Ayr Way Challenge 2014 : Race Results

Many thanks to Anneke Freel and all the marshals for putting on another friendly race on the beautiful route along the River Ayr Way.  Follows are the race results, that Craig McKay, kindly passed on.  Congratulations to all those who run, especially to Robert Soutar and Gayle Tait for their race wins.


Position Name Time FFFM/F
1 Robert Soutar 05:44:58 M
2 Roger Greenaway 06:04:20 M
3 (Joint) Colin Milligan 06:11:02 M
3 (Joint) James Connelly 06:11:02 M
5 Robert Osfield 06:15:18 M
6 Steven Morrison 06:28:33 M
7 Gayle Tait 06:39:17 (1st)
8 Richard Whittaker 06:39:43 M
9 David McCauley 06:48:24 M
10 Craig Mackay 06:50:46 M
11 (Joint) Shona Young 06:59:55 M
11 (Joint) James McPhate 06:59:55 (2nd)
13 Mark Caldwell 07:00:50 M
14 Myvanwy Fenton-May 07:03:52 (3rd)
15 Glenn Gemmell 07:09:06 M
16 Chris Boyce 07:09:50 M
17 Neil McRitchie 07:11:26 M
18 Campbell Wilson 07:15:18 M
19 Bobby Miller 07:15:35 M
20 Eryk Grant 07:17:16 M
21 Andrew Crichton 07:17:40 M
22 James Murray 07:21:20 M
23 Alan Robertson 07:21:38 M
24 Kenny Tindall 07:23:11 M
25 Kevin Cameron 07:36:48 M
26 Norrie Hunter 07:37:54 M
27 John Donnelly 07:38:18 M
28 Kate O'Brien Temple 08:00:18 F
29 Graham Templeton 08:00:42 M
30 Stephen McAnespie 08:00:56 M
31 (Joint) Stuart Chalmers 08:15:05 M
31 (Joint) Raymond Quinn 08:15:05 M
31 (Joint) Paul Markac 08:15:05 M
34 Frank Skachill 08:16:04 M
35 (Joint) Carol Martin 08:30:48 F
35 (Joint) Alan Cormack 08:30:48 M
37 Bridget Halewood 08:32:15 F
38 James Scott Elliot 08:34:33 M
39 Katie Hall 08:48:18 F
40 Ailsa Taggart 10:03:31 F

Friday, 12 September 2014

Why all sides in Scotland should vote NO(T YET) to Independence.

I care passionately about Scotland and it's people, while I normally avoid posting political opinions on a running blog, I feel compelled to write a blog post about the Scottish Referendum on Independence as I a deeply troubled by the divisive nature of the debate and possible outcomes.

A Divided Nation is no way to begin Independence.

What is very clear is how divided Scotland's people are over whether Scotland should become Independent right now or stay with the United Kingdom.  You can't build a strong, prosperous nation on a divided society. 

If 51% of the electorate vote for Independence on September 18th with 49% against we will see Alex Salmond and the SNP attempt to take Scotland Independent.  Within such a scenario nearly half the population will be deeply unhappy with what is happening to the country they love.  Is this a good place for Scotland to be?

Given how close the polls have been it will be the floating voters that will swing it either way.  What happens if we go for Independence with a tiny majority and those floating voters have second thoughts.  We could easily have a majority of the population that is against Independence but have the wheels set in motion.

If we look to our Holyrood Parliament we'll see an equally divided place, only the SNP and single green party member of parliament are for Independence, while all the main opposition parties are staunchly against Independence. What would happen if the SNP loose the next election and one of the pro-union Parties or a coalition of them get into power at Holyrood?  Would that stop the process or hamper the process?  Or would they call another Referendum?

This is before we look at any of the uncertainties over negotations of what happens to the break up of various government bodies and services that span the border.  While the SNP might paint a rosy picture of how this will all go in Scotland's favour, the reality is that a rapid and unilateral break up will create a huge amount of turmoil and cost during the transition.

With the inevitable uncertainty and disruption a rapid break up will cause, will our population remain convinced that it's a good idea?  Will those floating voters change their minds?  What about businesses and investors?  With the close vote we are already seeing significant companies talking about moving down to England, the pound and the stock market have already been hit.  Business confidence can be a rather fickle and cruel thing, so the whole UK economy and  Scotland in particular, could be heading back into recession.

There are huge risks economically and socially associated with trying to go for Independence with such a divided nation.  It's very clear to me that the time is not right for Independence. 

The Right Way for Independence is to build consensus and co-operation

If Independence is indeed the best way forward for Scotland then the right way to go about it is to build a broad consensus for Independence across the people of Scotland, across all the main political parties in Scotland and with broad support from local and international businesses.

We would also need to work co-operatively with the rest of the UK, working steadily to build the capacity of our public bodies to take local responsibility for providing services.  Some elements will be able to move across easily and at low cost, others will take many more years to get right and cost much more.  Forcing these changes too rapidly will increase risks and costs so patience and long term commitment is required.

With areas like sharing currency where strong links will have to endure after separation we'd need to work with the rest of the UK to find a system of economic and political coupling that is able to maintain a resilient currency.  It may take quite a while to create the right political will across borders to make this possible, crucially it needs to be something that all parties will need to subscribe to, you can't force such things on other nations.

The good thing is that we already have a template in place for this process of gradually taking on more responsibilities in Scotland - we already have Devolution, something that was made possible by the UK government.  We also have further powers being devolved that have already been passed by the UK government, but not yet come into effect.

The UK government isn't some foreign body that lords over us taking away power and riches from Scotland.  The UK has been steadily giving powers to Scotland.  We already enjoy more local powers than any other part of the UK. All main UK parties have declared they are happy for more powers to move to Scotland.

Through Devolution the progression of moving powers from UK government to Scotland has been steadily occurring, we are moving closer and closer to full Independence.  It's happening slower than  Alex Salmond might want but it is happening no less.  The fact that it's happening steadily and co-operatively is a good thing, it means less uncertainty for people of the UK, less risk for businesses of rapid changes.

If parts of the Devolution don't work well then we can back track and have another go at later date.  Getting it right is the crucial part for me.

As Devolution progresses, our political parties in Scotland will have a chance to adapt to greater responsibility.  Evolution of political movements can take decades.  A steady progression also allows the Scottish population time to learn more about which powers we might need to share with the UK and which are appropriate to keep wholly local.

As things progress the end goal could well end up with 80% of population for Independence and all major parties backing it.  Once we get to this stage the last step will be off a mature base where already have the bulk of powers local. Cutting the ties will be less shocking to the people of the UK and business.

This slower route to Independence is the low risk route, building on co-operation and unity will be far more likely to create a stronger and more prosperous Scotland.

Saying NO to Brinkmanship and divisive politics

The idea that this Referendum is our only chance for Independence is quite simply a lie that the politicians are feeding us to try and force us to make a quick decision without thinking fully of the consequences or alternatives.  They want to win the argument no matter what the costs are to our Country.

The truth is that if we stick with Devolution we will still have the door open to Independence in the future.  If the will of the Scottish People moves to clear majority in favour of Independence then there is no way that politicians in Scotland and the rest of the UK would not respond.  We'd simply elect the party that promises the Referendum and it would happen.  It happened this time around with far less support in the population for Independence.

It might take another ten, fifteen or twenty years but we'd be all the stronger for it because we will have consensus in the population, and a timetable governed by rational decisions, rather than the ambitions of a single political party.

This consensus needs a need a new generation of politician to build it.  Right now we don't have a politician up to task of uniting Scotland as well as with the skill to not alienate all other parts of the UK.

We also need a new generation of politicians to develop in the rest of the UK as well.  We deserve better than the current crop.  The whole UK needs reform.  Scotland shouldn't be a special case, but a model for all parts of the UK.

We can't get there in a day though, we need to be patient with them, and for sure not respond positively to the type of crass, dishonest and divisive politics from all sides that we've been bombarded with over the last few months.

NO thanks or NO(T YET)

Whether you are against Independence or for Independence I believe the only safe action to take is to vote NO on September 18th.  If we are to eventually go for Independence then it should be from a platform where we are unified as a nation not divided.  This might take a while, but as we are already doing OK out of a Devolved Scotland the risks of few more years of being patient are pretty low.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Goals for River Ayr Way Challenge

This Saturday I head over to Ayrshire to run the 41 mile River Ayr Way Challenge (RAW), it'll be my first ultra and first big test since running the West Highland Way Race back in June.  It'll be my third time doing the race, back in 2010 it was first decent sized ultra and I finished in 7:37, last year it was held in the uphill direction a ran 6:47.  This year we are heading back down stream from the source of the Ayr at Glenbuck to Dam Park Athletics Track in Ayr.

This year the pressure is one to set another PB as I've PB'd in all the repeat races I've done since the RAW last year.  Training had been going really well until I strained my left calf on a 21 mile long run at race pace last Saturday.  This week I've been resting up to let the injury heal, and today (Thursday) I ran a 4 mile at very gentle pace (9:50 min/mile) to test everything out.  My left calf didn't complain, and only experienced a little discomfort right calf above my Achilles. While not perfect, it's not something that will prevent me from being on the line at 9am on Saturday.

The graph below of my training illustrates the mix of training paces and distances, and how my 10k training morphs into ultra training with tempo runs being swapped for longer runs.  Also note the green bars on the right which are the times went I went out for walks as form of active recovery.



As usual I've been tracking my heart rate, calories burned per mile on my training runs and putting it through a spreadsheet that aims to estimate my current fitness level and what race times I might be able to achieve by extrapolating each training run to the target race distance, adjusting pace for heart rate drift, typical average HR and the length and elevation profile of the course.  Lots of data but given how many variable there on race day that you can't take account of these estimates ]aren't ever going to be perfect, but they should give me a rough idea of where I'm at.



All my runs this month suggest a sub 6hr time is possible, however, this assumes an average HR of 160, just a tad higher than I achieved last where I averaged 159.  As I'm expecting to not need to run for so long running at higher intensity should be possible.

However, this last month my heart rate for given pace was been unusually low - a good sign of fitness, but it could well be that my idea race pace heart rate is also lower, if it were as low as 156, then my race time predictions all slow down by 13 minutes.  If this is the case then a time around 6:10 might be more likely.  If a lower HR is optimal on the day and I tried to exceed it what will happen is that in the later half of the race I would fatigue far more and invite the possibility of cramp and end up slowing dramatically.  In such a situation overall pace would be slower and final average HR would also likely be lower the original overly optimistic goal HR that one started out with.

Another factor are conditions on the day - if the route is more muddy the pace for given heart rate is low, and on a hotter day again the pace is lower.  It's been unusually dry this September so mud shouldn't be a big concern, but with 17 degrees forecast it could get quite warm for running, especially if the sun makes an appearance. 

One also has issues like cramp or injury that affect the result too. Last year I struggled with cramp for the last ten miles, but then raced off my lower training mileage.  If I can avoid cramp then running strongly in the last ten miles should be possible as long as I don't go out too fast.

However, having been injured in running 21 miles last weekend, running 41 miles might raise the possibility that I might have nurse injuries along.  This week I've done everything I can to heal my calf injury and make sure I'm fully recovered and rested.

For pacing I'll adopt the same approach as I've used in all my races since last years Devil O'the Highlands - pacing by heart rate.  Given a bit of uncertainty about just what heart rate is appropriate I will run the first hour keeping my heart rate below in the 150 to 155 range and see how I feel, and also see how I'm progressing relative to 6hr splits.  If I'm well ahead of the splits, feel like my pace is quite hard but my heart rate is remaining low I'll stick to a 155 to 160 range  till the last 10 miles, then see if I am still fresh enough to up the intensity to put away a sub 6hr time.

If my heart rate does rise quickly like it normally does in races then I'll assume that 160 average is reasonable target and aim for a range around 158 to 162.  Again in the last 10 miles I'll review how things are progressing, if all is well I'll stick to this or push on harder and allow my heart rate to go up into the 160 to 165 range.

I will need to be cautious though, last year I let my heart rate drift up into the 160 to 165 range from mile 8 to mile 31, but then got hit my cramp and had to nurse my legs to the finish, unable to keep up the intensity.  Last year I would have better off keeping the heart rate range lower as this would have likely held off cramp from longer.

If you are wondering about using heart rate for pacing yourself then you'll need to recalibrate the ranges for your own body.  My max heart rate is over 190, and my lactate threshold is usually up around 175bpm.  My average heart rate in the Killin 10k back in August was 174bpm.  The 160 average is roughly 92% of my 10k heart rate.

As it'll be good weather on Saturday I'll wear compression shorts, t-shirt and as it should be relatively dry underfoot for most of the route I'll put my F-Lite 252's on my feet.  The F-Lite shallow lugs work really well on road and dry trails, but don't grip well in mud so any mud I encounter I'll just take it a little slower to avoid slipping.   I'll also wear Dirty-Girl Gaiters to avoid getting debri in my shoes, it's as much peace of mind though - once they are on you don't have to worry about stuff getting in your shoes and you can just run.

So two more sleeps now, then race day. Been itching to find out just what shape I'm in for a couple weeks now.  Good looking spreadsheet results mean nothing compared to a real race, and that's where all the fun is too.

My goals for the RAW will be:
  •   Gold : Sub 6 hrs - if I am able to run the perfect race
  •   Silver: Sub 6:20 hrs, should be possible if nothing bad happens
  •   Bronze : Sub 6:47 hrs given how well this year has gone so far not getting a PB will be disappointment
I would love to go sub 6hrs, but it requires averaging 8:52 min/mile pace which is rather daunting given how much faster it is than any previous ultra I've done.  Last year I managed 9:54 min/mile pace for the race, which was the only time I've ever averaged sub 10 min/mile pace for an ultra, going over a minute/mile quicker feels like a tall order.  You don't ever make big leaps unless you aim high, so that's what I will do.

Another loose goal I have is to get in the top 10 again.  I came 7th last year, my first top ten finish in Scottish Ultra Marathon Series race, the field looks a similar size this year, it's be great improve upon this, but it's as much down to how many good runners turn up on the day as it is my own ability.  My primarily goal will be racing myself against the clock though, exploring just how fast I can push myself over the course on the day.

Monday, 8 September 2014

How to heal injuries as quickly as possible

The worst thing about being a committed runner is injuries.  They sidelined us for doing the daily activity that we love, and they throw plans for races in turmoil or ruin them completely.  The key question is

 "How to heal injuries as quickly as possible?"

Quick Personal history and context

Since I've got back into running five years ago I've struggled with injuries of various sorts, each year my training mileage and racing has suffered.  This year has been my best in terms of consistent mileage and getting PB's in every race I've run, the key has been getting better at spotting injuries before them become too serious and then mostly doing the right things to heal them quickly so that interruptions to training have been minimized - over the last five years I've learnt from others, blogs, academic research and from my own mistakes.  With this post I'll collate the various bits of wisdom that look to be helping me, and perhaps go some way to answering that key question.

"how to heal quickly?" is particular relevance to me right now - two days ago, on Saturday morning, during a 21 mile long run my calves, left one in particular, began to progressively more painful.  Unfortunately there was no easy opt out from the run, I had to complete the return leg nursing an injured calf.  To ratchet up the stakes I have a the 41 mile River Ayr Way Challenge (RAW) to run this coming weekend, which gives me just 7 days to heal up and be ready to race.

Injury prevention

Prevention is far better than cure, if I had been more sensible I would have chosen to listen to my body before my run. I awoke with slightly sore calves, something I was surprised by as I had done three easy days of running prior to my long run, normally plenty of time for my body to recover from the tempo run that I had done on the previous Tuesday.  Prior to me long run I did consider  choosing a half marathon route instead of 21 miles to avoid risking over stressing my pre-fatigued calves, but I had in mind using the long run as a race pace rehearsal for the RAW so just stuck to my original plan.  In hindsight this was foolish.

Lesson to learn : Listen to your body, not plans or ego.

Injured, what to do next?

Staying the right side of training hard enough to adapt and get stronger and faster, but with enough recovery to avoid injury, is hard balance to get right consistently.  When you do get it wrong, injure yourself you then have to do everything you can to heal quickly and fully so you can get back to training and racing.

What should you NOT do?

Research into injury prevention and rehabilitation has provided some surprising findings that go contrary to years of practice, but once you understand the physiology of healing it actually makes sense.  The following items have been found to reduce symptoms of injury - like swelling and pain but harm the healing process as they reduce the very damage markers that immune system uses to signal that it needs to repair flesh and bones:

  1.  Icing/ice baths - reducing swelling and pain, but hampers recovery but switching off the some of the immune response.
  2. Pain killers - reduce discomfort levels but make it's more likely you over stress damage tissue before it's ready to bear full weight.
  3. Anti-Inflammatory drugs - doubly wham of immune suppression and fooling you into pushing too hard too soon.
  4. Anti-oxidants like vitamin C and E have been shown to reduce damage markers and discomfort but at the cost of also suppressing the immune response that uses those markers.
  5. Caffeine - stimulants like caffeine don't compromise the immune response but they do suppress pain which can lead to over stressing the body.
  6. Stretching.  Part of the immune response to injury is for the muscle fibres around the damaged area to shorten to take the load off the damaged so that it can heal - this is why muscles often feel tight after an injury.  The worst thing you can do is fight this protective mechanism by stretching the muscle fibres back apart as you then expose the damaged fibres to stress and can easily create even more damage to them.

What SHOULD you do?

To repair muscles back to full strength as quickly you must listen to your body, work with the immune system, stimulate it and support it. How can you do this?

  1. Sleep well, heal well : Growth hormone is one of the key tools the immune system uses to stimulate repair of tissue and bones.  Growth hormone naturally peaks during sleep and this is when the majority of injury repair will happen. This means you should get as much good quality sleep as you can.
  2. Avoid stress : Cortisol is one of the hormones the body uses to release energy for the body, and in particular the brain, to use.  However, Cortisol tells the body to start breaking down muscle proteins for fuel use which obviously runs counter to what we want when repairing muscles. Cortisol naturally goes up and down through the day and during exercise and as long as it's balanced by adequate Growth hormone they body will find a balance.  If you are exposed to lots of physical, mental or emotion stress then one can be exposed to chronic levels of Cortisol that aren't balanced and the body steadily breaks itself down.  So it's import you avoid stress during injury rehabilitation.  If you can't avoid stress then make sure you can relax as soon as possible to get your Cortisol levels back down.
  3. Eat well - eat plenty of good sources of healthy fats, proteins, whole fruits and vegetables for their macro-nutrients and fibre and complex carbohydrates to support the bodies immune system and reduce stress on the body.  Animal proteins are the most complete and effective at supporting muscle repair, in particular grass fed cattle, oily fish, eggs and fermented dairy products like hard cheeses and yoghurt.
  4. Don't ever stretch tight muscles, listen to the body when it's tight and avoid loading tight areas.  Gentle movement, massage and heat is the best way to relax up muscles.
  5.  Massage : initially you want to employ gentlw massage on the injury area, for the first few days avoid intense massage as this can just cause more damage.  As the pain subsides and area starts to loosen you can help stimulate the immune system and blood flow by massaging the area more deeply.  As it heals massage will become less painful, but don't over do it - listen to your body and learn how it naturally relaxes once the worst of the damage is repaired.
  6. Get outside into the sunshine and expose your skin, ideally for at least 30 minutes each day.  The skin creates Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and this Vitamin is crucial part of keeping the immune system active and balanced.
  7. Active recovery beats full rest.  You want to keep you body moving during rehabilitation, both moving the rest of the body and the injured area.  You have to gentle and progressive and listen to the body - if it hurts then stop and do some other activity or rest, if it's just a dull pain that eases off as your exercise then it's safe to continue.  Walking and swimming can be great ways of getting the muscle working in a gentle way that doesn't overload any areas.
  8.  Re-introduce running progressively.  If you can walk without pain then it is probably safe to try a few running steps.  If you find a few steps of running painful then stop immediately. If there is dull ache then proceed with caution, if the pain starts increasing stop and walk immediately.  The best places to run/walk will be out in nature on well kept trail - listen to the birds, the wind, relax and enjoy the time out in fresh out.  If you do this then you'll get some exercise and be relaxing at the same time.  
  9. Be patient, let the body heal itself and listen to when it's ready.  If you body isn't ready yet relax, enjoy taking life a little slower.  The less you stress about getting back to training/racing the quicker you'll heal.
If I spend longer pontificating I could probably come up with more do's and don't, please feel free to add any further pearls of wisdom in the comments section.

How well is working for my calf? 

After the problematic long run I've had two days off running, and instead did a 15 minute walk yesterday, and 35 minute walk today in the sunshine.  My calf is still a bit tender when walking up and down stairs but definitely improving.   I've been using a foam roller several times each day and am seeing lessening discomfort here too.  I've occasional felt the urge to stretch but have avoided it so far, it's a hard habit to break, but as my calf is already less tight then it was is a good indication then stretching isn't required at all, just a bit of patience and listening to the body.   The danger zone might be feeling too good and running too soon, so tomorrow no matter how good the muscle feels or how lovely the day looks I'll stick to walking.

The progress made so far is really encouraging and looks like there is every chance after five more sleeps I'll be good to go.  With this progress I'm feeling really positive about being able to chase another PB at next Saturday as we run from the source of the River Ayr down to the coast.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Killin 10k 2014 Race Report

Chasing Personal Bests

Back in 2012 I set my 10k Personal Best at the Killin 10k of 39:36, I was in great shape at the time and ran the perfect race.  Since then I have ran three more 10k's hoping to get under 40 minutes, the closest I've got was a 40:54 at the Trossachs 10k last September.  What I have done is in the two years is consistently set PB's in all distances of a Marathon and further.  Setting a new 10k PB was the one area where there was unfinished business, so when I signed up for the 2014 Killin 10k in July it was to set a new 10k best, which meant run faster than I've done any other race in my adult life. 

Having built the first half of 2014 entirely around training and racing the 95 mile West Highland Way Race (WHWR) and with no idea what physical state I'd been in after the big race I hadn't signed up for any races in the second half of 2014.  After the WHWR two weeks complete off running I took another two weeks to very gently ease myself back into training.  After four weeks of tacking it easy the stiffness was gone and it was clear that my body was ready for some serious training once more.  But train for what?  Having had a good experience at the 2012 Killin 10k it was easy to sign up, and as I've had a PB streak in every race since last years River Ayr Way it seemed natural to aim to keep that steak going.

Race Training

Once signed up I had five weeks training to add speed back into my endurance tuned legs.  To balance the overall training load I cut back on the amount of longer training runs from two a week before the WHWR to just once every two weeks, and added in two speed sessions each week.  The speed sessions were either 8 mile tempo runs, or alternation runs where I'd alternate between above lactate threshold and marathon pace.  In between the training sessions I kept my recovery runs nice and slow to make sure they aided recovery rather than just add more miles in my legs.

The idea of speed training was to improve my aerobic fitness, push up the pace at lactate threshold and to get familiar with how 10k race intensity feels like.  Initially running at the required 6:20min/mile pace felt very hard, so at the start of training it seemed difficult to comprehend how I managed averaging 6:23min/mile back in 2012.

As the weeks passed my tempo runs go faster, my first tempo run I did 7:05 min/mile pace and but by last week did the same route at the same heart rate but achieved 6:45 min/mile pace, 20second per mile improvement was great to see.  Feeling confident about the improvements also set about setting PB's for training routes that I often run on, and was able to lower my times and do so at lower heart rates and better efficiency (calories per mile.)  My efficiency at all distances and paces was also up - according to my training logs I was in best shape of my adult life.  Everything was looking good for a new 10k personal best, and I started to feel that a sub 39 minute time was possible.

The chart below illustrates the combination of regular fast training runs with recovery runs in the month leading up to the race.  Only two longer runs over 10 miles is also a departure from what has been my usual ultra-marthon training over the last year. Surprisingly mileage for the month still ended up high at 198 miles - you can cover quite a few miles when running at tempo pace!


These fast training runs done close to 10k race intensity came at a cost though, the fatigue in my calves had been accumulating over the last ten days.  The obvious solution was to back off from the hard training and do primarily recovery runs for the last week, with short strides of race pace to keep the muscle tension up for race day.  However, the opportunity to run with friends came up on the Saturday and on the Wednesday before race day.  Each of these runs I just followed what my friends had in mind was mixture of fartlek or hills, nothing too intense but further than faster the recovery runs I'd have run on my own.

Catching up with friends whilst running was great, but by the Thursday before race day it was clear my calves just weren't settled yet so I ran just 4 mile recovery runs at 10 min/mile pace on the Thursday and Friday.  I had wanted to do the last mile on Friday at race pace but my left calf just didn't feel comfortable so kept it easy. 

After four weeks of great training it felt like I had screwed up my taper week badly. I had got too cocky with my last few fast speed sessions chasing times on training routes and sidelined the recovery in between them to have a few enjoyable training runs with friends.  All these runs were fun at the time, but left myself with too little time to fully rebuild overworked muscles.   There was nothing for it but to get a good nights sleep and hope the calves would settle.

Race day

I took the whole family up to Killin, my wife and two eldest children would spectate while my youngest daughter Ellen would enter the 1k fun that would start five minutes after the 10k.  The forecast was for sunshine in the morning with the possibility of showers in the afternoon.  We parked the car in sunshine but the walk to registration a light shower came and went. 

After registration we all headed up to the west end of Killin to the race start next to Falls of Dochart, there really aren't many 10k's that can boast such a pretty start.

Falls of Dochart, race start is beside the houses on the left

Arriving at the start with ten minutes in hand I used the time to do a short 1km warm up run.  My calves felt fine which was relief and while I wasn't obviously carrying any fatigue I just didn't feel like I had any bounce, times when I picked up the pace to stride out at race pace it felt awkward and forced.  It was clear that the last few days of slow recovery runs had left my legs tuned for ultra marathon speeds not 10k racing. 

To help with racing hard I had planned to take a caffeine tablet an hour prior to the race but due to a little mix up at home ended up without them. Back in 2012 I had tapered properly and had taken a caffeine tablet and felt that it had helped with diminishing the discomfort and making running hard easier so it was frustrating not to repeat that winning formula.

Feeling a bit lack lustre I lined up in the second row of runners at the start, physically I might have not felt perfectly tuned but mentally I was still committed to keeping the PB streak going, I knew my basic aerobic fitness was better than back in 2012 so if I raced well a PB should still be on the cards.

Race start

The main road through Killin was closed by the police and the 200 runners all assumed behind the start line.  I put myself a couple rows back from the start line and with little delay we were tearing off down the road. 

Charge! (race photos courtesy Ron Allner, The Studio, Killin)

On the sound of the starting horn I had pressed start on my Heart Rate monitor watch to use as timing km splits at keep track of intensity.  However, approaching the left turn onto Dochart bridge I glanced down to my watch to find it hadn't been started.  I pressed start firmly and started it recording but had no clue just how many seconds had passed, twenty? thirty?  I really didn't have a clue.  What I did know was this was going to make estimating finishing time a good deal more difficult.

Shortly after start, number 161, friend Rob Latimer right behind me 
As I passed over Dochart bridge follow Callander runner Ally passed me running strongly, he commented that he hadn't done much training so would likely be seeing me later.

Lead group of 11 runners charging ahead, I'm not even in the round the bend yet..
(photo courtesy Ron Allner, The Studio)

The first km is downhill through the village and is the fastest of the whole route, a cluster of runners had formed a lead group with the rest of the runners ahead spreading out.  I passed through the first km marker in 3:13 on my watch, and knew that the first km was well under 4 min/km pace but how far under I could only guess.

Approach first km marker in Ally's wake
After the first km the route levels off and then starts a gently climb.  With this climb the field spread out and for the first time I started reeling runners in, passing several before the 2km passed.  I felt the intensity was about right, but found myself drifting further behind Ally so I was left wondering if was taking it too easy.

Shortly after the 2km mark the route turns off the main road and heads up Glen Lochachy for 4 mile loop that goes up the south side of the valley and then back down north side.  Heading up Glen Lochay takes you gently uphill along an undulating road and I kept the intensity up slowly picking off runners and finally caught Ally around the 3km mark.  After this the gaps had opened up so I just had to content myself with being patient and slowly reeling them in.
 I kept checking my time at each km marker and knew that after the 2km mark I was just outside 4 min/km, but as I didn't know the start time I didn't know just how I was doing overall.  Being outside 4 min/km wasn't too surprising as this part of the route is gently uphill. 

The sun felt pretty intense along this section, my throat was dry and so the sign "cream teas" sign just prior to 5km marker and water point was both amusing and tempting.  I only saw water though, I have attempted to drink from cups when running in 10km's before and have ended breathing in, coughing up or spilling the contents of the cups so thanked the marshals but didn't passed up on the offer.

My watch at the half way point read just over 19 minutes and guessed adding an extra thirty seconds was still on for a sub 40 minute time.  However, the next km is the toughest of the race with a steep climb, up to the road along the north side of the Glen.  I just kept the intensity constant, checking with my heart rate monitor to double check I wasn't slacking or pushing on too hard.  The hill seemed to take more out of the runners around me and caught one runner before the turn around and then one shortly after as I sped up heading downhill.

I passed Ally and Rob on my way back during the short section of out/back so knew that they were both still doing well.  Ally went on to do a PB for the route, while Rob sadly struggled with sort calf to keep up the early pace and missed out.

My own quest for a PB was still on, after then steep hill I passed the 6km marker checked my watch and had lost nearly 30 seconds so knew to go sub 40 I'd need to do sub 4min/km for all 4km's that were left.  Thankfully the final 4km are undulating road that on average is downhill but my brain was a bit too frazzled at this point to keep track of the splits so I knew just to keep pushing hard, as long as I did this then a second sub 40 was still on, but really didn't know whether I was still on track for a PB.

The km's clicked by the gaps to runners ahead changed little with them well out of reach with gap of 100m+.  Save for one runner that had been much closer at the half way point, and as he had an awkward running style that he just didn't look like a regular runner, so I fully expected to catch him, but somehow he took off and got further and further out of each and over took several runners well ahead - just shows you can't judge a runner by hit gait!

One runner take looked impeccable from start to finish was Dave Blackie, who left the field behind to finish 1st for the second year in row, his time of 35:10 was over a minute ahead of second place. 

Race winner Dave Blackie, Killin 10k winner second year running
He also crossed the line with me about a km to go, still that a tad closer than when Paul Giblin crossed line at this years West Highland Way Race with me 26 miles back just about to arrive at Glen Coe Ski centre!

Going the the last km I was still running well, struggling far less than I had at this stage in my previous Killin 10k, but without any usable timing stats to compare I didn't know whether this was down to my fitness improving or being slower.

When I finally turned off the main road into the short finishing straight for the final 50m sprint it was clear I was going to get a new PB, but alas sub 39 minutes was gone already.  Even without anyone to catch I summoned up a sprint finish and crossed the line.



Sprint finish and still so geeky that I have to stop my watch exactly as I cross the line!

My official time was 39:14, a PB by 22 seconds, 11th place overall, and 5th male vet.  Back in 2012 my 39:36 I was 8th overall and 2nd male vet which just goes to show how not only the size of the race has increased with 186 finishers in 2014 vs 115 back in 2012, but also the quality of field.

I collected my goody bag and waited for friends to arrive, some in glory with a new PB and others in pain with injury and slower times.  I also caught up with Ellen who had raced in the 1km fun run.

Fun 1km

Within 5 minutes of the 10km start the 1km fun ran commenced, and was well really attended by kids racing on their own and parents walking with them. My youngest daughter Ellen was taking part.

Fun run start


Unfortunately as I was still running I didn't witness Ellen coming home 3rd girl. We aren't sure of the time as the timer was running since the start of the 10k, but guess it must have been in the region of 5 minutes.


Ellen finishing in full flight (note timer is since start of 10k, not 1k)

We had a little competition between Ellen and I to see who would come highest in their respective races and Ellen was victorious.  Well done Ellen!

 Post race reflection

After the race my own feelings were rather mixed, I had a PB, keeping my PB streak going for another race, but fell short of performance that I feel my current fitness should deliver.  I felt rather lack lustre throughout the race - it was clear that I had messed up my final ten days, over reaching too much in harder training sessions and then trying over compensate by doing recovery runs for the final days before the race.  Missing taking my caffeine tablet might have also took the edge of the intensity too, but then is taking a stimulant really fair play?

Steve Magness of Science of Running Blog and Book discusses the importance of tuning muscle tension for race day - but I had ignored this advice and rather than completely resting as I should have, I did a number of short recovery runs at 10min/mile pace leaving my muscles recovered but with such low muscle tension that I felt absolutely no bounce or efficiency when I raced. The taper that I've used for Ultra's this year and instinctively now fallback on just wasn't appropriate.

A better taper would have been to avoid cramming too many tough workouts in the final ten days and cutting the mileage dramatically in the last week to ensure full recovery but retaining the faster runs in the final half week to keep the muscle tension up for race day.

On a positive note, my average heart rate for the race was 174 compared to 178 for the race back in 2012 - I am faster but achieving this with lower stress on my body.  I believe my breathing was more under control as well.  I suspect these observations suggest my aerobic fitness has improved, and also I'm hoping that if I can get taper right and able to run harder and really nail the race.  If I do this I'm sure I'll go sub 39.  Picking a flatter route might help too...

What's next

I have signed up to three other races this Autumn, the 41 mile River Ayr Way Challenge on the 13th of September, the Great Scottish Run (Glasgow half marathon) on the 5th of October and finally the 38 mile Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra on the 25th of October.  With the Killin 10k it'll be four races each with 3 week in between them.

This leaves me in an odd situation with each 3 week block have to recover from a race, train for a completely different type of event, then taper then race, and... repeat, repeat, repeat!

In each of three races coming up I have the opportunity to do PB's to keep my streak going, so no pressure there... :-)

Thanks

I would like to thank the organisers of the Killin 10k, Pete Waugh of Tay Fitness, and all the marshals that helped out on the day with both events.  The event is really well run and the route is beautiful from start to finish.  I would also like to thank the photographer Ron Allner, The Studio, Killin, for the photo's (Pete kindly gave permission to include them in this blog post :-)

Also thanks to my family for their support in training and on the day, and especially to Ellen for making me proud of what a fantastic wee runner she is.