Thursday, 31 December 2015

Reflections on a Year

Time for a bit of a round-up I reckon.  For once I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow account, and simply focus on 10 highlights, 5 lowlights (because the good should outweigh the bad), and 3 things I’ve learned (“that many?!” you say).


1.  Feel The Burns – January. A cracking race in the hills above Selkirk, with a fantastic haggis dinner afterwards.  A beautiful sunny day, with fresh crisp snow on the ground, and probably my favourite two and a half miles of running this year (the lovely downhill section from the far turn back to the stream crossing).

2.  Borders Marathon – March. Ordinarily, running 23.5 laps of the pock-marked gravel safety track around the inside of Kelso Racecourse would make few people’s highlights reel.  But it was my first ever (and almost certainly last ever) win in a marathon.  And it doesn’t matter that Stuart was the only quality athlete in the field.  Nor that he generously sacrificed his own race to pace me round, working with me peloton-style to shelter each other from the wind, before allowing me to push on towards the end.  I won!

3.  D33 Ultra – March.  Another slightly unlikely one.  Running from Aberdeen out to Banchory and back again sounds like it ought to be pretty picturesque but it wasn’t – you follow the old railway line, so for the most part it is a dead-straight path flanked by embankments.  But the company was good (I spent much of it chatting to Porty Roly and Johnny Stornoway), my pacing was sensible, I ran the whole way, and finished strongly enough to duck under my target of 4 hours.  And more importantly, proved that I could cope with the mental challenge of a race of beyond marathon distance.

4.  Highland Fling – April.  The first of my two “A races” of 2015.  Initially signed up for simply to take my mind off of the then impending Amsterdam Marathon in October 2014, it then became something I wanted to “do well”.  And it did go well.  So much so that I don’t think I’ll be back, as I don’t think there is really an aspect that I could significantly improve upon.  Full report here.

5.  The 7 Hills of Edinburgh – June. One of my favourite races, given the element of urban orienteering.  I had a good run, winning an individual prize (thanks to a generous/deep prize policy), and helped the Dunbar RC team (of Rhona, Jamie and myself) take a team prize.  Again, full report here.

6.  Lairig Ghru – June.  A long day out, but worth it.  I like the sense of covering a large amount of ground you get with a point-to-point race of this magnitude, and the feeling of history you get from tracing a centuries old route.  Tough, but rewarding.  Oh, and there was the wonderful sight of an HBT changing on the pavement on Aviemore Main Street, proudly displaying his junk to all and sundry.  Report.

7.  Tour of Fife – July/August.  Almost like an extended, sober, stag weekend.  Great company from Porties Peter, Michael, Willie and Andrew.  And my first V40 win, just days after my big birthday.  The particular highlight of the 5 race series was Day 4 at the Cambo Estate which combined warm sunshine, a scenic run, mild peril in the form of a cattle stampede, a cooling dook in the sea, and then chips from Crail.  Report here.

8.  Karlsruhe Marathon – September.  The second of my two “A races”, but in reality the culmination of a long-held (and at times seemingly unattainable) goal of going sub-3.  Delighted to achieve it in the context of a fab weekend away with Jo and good clubmates.  And pleased that the strategy of stepping up to ultras this year was successful in making the marathon seem more manageable.  Full report.

9.  7 Hills and 7 Beers – November.  How to improve upon a classic?  Add beer!  A large amount of laughs. Two world records. Surprisingly little urination, vomiting, injury or death.  Full report.

10.  7 Reservoirs Half Marathon – December.  For me, the best way to see the Pentlands – in them, without having to climb too many of the buggers!  A crisp, sunny, winter’s day undoubtedly helped.  Report.


1.  Fling Recce – March. Elements of my two day trip with Martin were excellent.  But the sections along the shore of Loch Lomond on the Sunday morning in the pouring rain were utterly miserable.  Although, having encountered the worst it could offer, I suppose I was well prepared for race day.

2.  Fling “apres-ski” – April. Elation quickly turned to misery in the aftermath of the Fling when my body went into full-on “purge mode”.  I could manage only one bite of a delicious burger prepared by Jen.  I then grew very familiar with the campsite toilet block, and was left with so little dignity that I struck up more than one conversation through the cubicle walls.

Lee's breakfast the next day

3.  East Lothian Summer Series – Longniddry – July.  A runaway and severely spooked horse on the bridle path turned the race into a bit of a farce.  Although thankfully there were no injuries.

4.  Oxton Border Games Hill Race – July.  I travelled to this on the day of my 40th birthday, hoping for a small field and a good chance of some kind of prize.  The field was indeed small, but included Colin Donnelly (multiple winner of races such as the Two Breweries), and Brian Marshall (multiple National Hill Racing champion).  Colin took 1st overall, and Brian took 1st Vet.  I had no option but to take it on the chin.

5.  Two Breweries – September.  Too much too soon – only 6 days after Karlsruhe.  The less said the better really, although the free beer in Broughton Village Hall afterwards was some consolation.  Full report.


1.  Food/nutrition – it turns out that chugging away on sugary crap and caffeine for 8-plus hours will lead to a dicky tummy. Who knew?

2.  Pot-hunting is a mugs’ game – best to focus on running races that you enjoy, mean something to you, or fit into your training plan.

3.  Greed is NOT good – although I still took part in some fun events after September, my racing performance was severely compromised by too many races, of which a large number were long.  Next year I intend to be much more selective, with a couple of main targets, and anything else fitting into an overall strategy of peaking for those targets.  Must not sign up for absolutely everything!

Here’s to a great running year in 2016!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Into the Valley - the Carnethy Great ESKape

Under cover of darkness, I climbed over the wall and entered the church grounds.  It wouldn’t be the last wall I’d climb that day.

It was around 7.45am on Sunday morning and, rather than searching for copper or lead to plunder, I was looking for war memorials.  If push came to shove I’d accept a war grave.  First stop after leaving the car at my Mum and Dad’s in Portobello was St Phillip’s.  Nothing doing.  Not a huge surprise as it doesn’t have a graveyard.

Next up was St Mark’s, which seemed promising as it had the green Commonwealth War Graves sign on its fence.  But in the absence of a large central memorial, and lacking a torch, I couldn’t make out the inscriptions well enough to find a relevant headstone.  Bellfield Street church drew a similar blank.

Trotting along the Prom, I saw a familiar figure approaching – Peter, on his way to Musselburgh from Leith.  He agreed to run back with me to check out St John’s on Brighton Place (nul points) before moving on to the large cemetery on Milton Road.  Despite the sun now being up, our having a good run around it, and Peter ringing the bell on the lodge house to ask for directions (we got none as the only folk in were workmen sanding the floors), we came up empty.

Ah well, onwards to Goose Green Crescent for the start of the Carnethy Great ESKape.  A social run from Musselburgh to Carlops, following as close as possible to the River North Esk, from its mouth to its source.

We arrived just in time for the mass start, and having clocked around 5 miles each which, with the advertised 25 miles of organiser Willie’s planned route, should see us hit the required 30 miles for this month’s Tynecastle Bronze run.  Although we still needed a suitable memorial.

Our first obstacle of note was a six foot high stone wall near the A1.  My left thigh cramped badly on the way up and over, and I managed to put my hand on a nettle sitting on the top before rubbing it close to my left hip.  Not a great start.

Further obstacles were to follow throughout the day and, while a number of them seemed wholly unnecessary and included simply for the perversity of taking the most challenging course available, there was no denying that they added to the experience.  And as Neil pointed out, the opportunity to contract leptospirosis from the water flowing under the new Borders Railway line is not something that is presented to you every day.

We encountered further walls, bridges with locked gates, slides down lampposts (think fireman’s pole), any number of barbed wire fences, lashings of slippery mud, occasional rain, gusting wind, tussocky grass and more.

There was the odd other travail as well like Peter losing half a sandwich to the lightning reactions of Florence the dog.

But despite these slight inconveniences, it was a grand day out.  The scenery was superb and varied, we encountered plentiful fauna (including a pair of deer, and an otter being released back into the wild), there was interesting architecture, the company was excellent, and there were loads of laughs.  After the stop for bacon rolls at Penicuik, Peter and I joined the “fast group” of Graham, Olly and Jason, so those laughs were frequently unprintable.  At times it felt like I was in an episode of The Inbetweeners.  Telling you that there was a lengthy and detailed discussion of the Viz Profanisaurus is probably enough said.

Arriving at Carlops around 3.30pm, Peter and I had a quick run up and down the High Street to see our Garmin’s tick over the 30 mile mark.  Job done.  And then checked the bus timetable, only to find that we’d missed the 3pm bus back to Edinburgh, and the next was not due until 7pm.  Bugger!

Nothing for it but to have a restorative pint (Peter) or coffee (me), and then do another 9 miles over the Pentlands in gathering and then total darkness to Balerno to catch the more regular Lothian bus service.  Thankfully Nasher, Olly and Peter all had head torches.  I did my best to keep our spirits up by falling regularly and in classic arse-over-tit fashion.  By the time we reached Bavelaw, I was caked in mud.  There was concern that the driver might throw me off the bus.  So long as he didn’t toss me off.

Thanks very much to Willie for organising, and for allowing non-Carnethys to tag along.

Peter tries to head-butt the wall over, with Neil egging him on

Peter, Willie and Anna share a joke

It was raining at this point which made for an interesting light

Peter and I considered taking our chances with the trains

Mavisbank House (the remains of)

These shutters were banging rather eerily in the wind

WM at Polton Village

Haunted tree

Column of rock

Hawthornden Castle

Rosslyn Chapel

Grounds of Roslin Castle

Damaged weir

Fast group of Peter, Graham, Olly and Jason

A pipe well-insulated with gaffer tape

Marking out a gymkhana

Valley of Death

Olly prompts the "Casualty" theme tune in my head

Olly, Nasher and Jason at Carlops

Next bus is in three and a half hours - not what do we do?!