Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Laurencekirk Tower Race

Laurencekirk Tower on a nice day (c Laurencekirk Tower race fb page)

Having seen some nice summer days through the window of my office during the week the Aberdeenshire weather did its usual and saved it all up for Saturday. It pissed it down with rain. This, however, didn’t put off the 30 or so runners who turned up for the Laurencekirk Tower Hill Race, many of whom were from Stonehaven running club and seemed to be intent on a Parkrun and Tower race “double” that Saturday.
Course Profile - 3.18m/702ft
The Laurencekirk Tower hill race is a lovely low key event, so low key I had trouble finding the registration. The race directions said that registration was at the primary school but what this actually meant was that the registration was at a table placed at the end of a farm track near the primary school. Once registered I had a wee chat with fellow Fife AC runner Bob who pointed out a misty hillside as being where the tower was located but assured me that it was a well marshalled out and back route and that I couldn’t get lost.

The route was up to the tower and back
It chucked it down with rain as we lined up for the start line photo and then we were quickly set off along the track with the small field of 30 runners spreading out quite quickly. A couple of hundred meters in we went under the A90 via a small tunnel (before the race I had been wondering how we were going to get across the road) before following the gently climbing gravel track past the farm. A marshal directed us through a gate and up the final stretch towards the tower over a slightly rutted and grassy field. Once at the top we were directed around the tower which meant tip toeing over the wet, slippery boulders which lay around its base and then it was straight back down the way we had come up.
Getting ready for the start
Startline photo
And they're off
The start was along a farm track
Under the A90
And a gradual climb
 I noticed that on the way back down the girl in front of me seemed not to be enjoying the descent over the rutted grass, to be fair it was a bit of a potential ankle twister, so I gradually gained on her finally overtaking her on the gravel path. I had to work quite hard to keep in front of her but eventually she seemed to drop back as I belted back down the track and through the puddles to the finish line. My quads did not thank me for descent that the following morning.
Soggy timekeepers
Bob Thornton finishing
Prize winners
This race was so low key that you didn’t even get a race number to pin to your vest, they gave you a sticky label with your number on to stick to your front. Runners were appearing over the line with little balls of very damp paper in their hands as the labels got wet and fell off. Mine disappeared completely and I have no idea where or when it fell off. The first 3 finishers got a wee prize each as did the winners of the junior fun run which was held just before the senior race. Every runner got a wee goody bag with a Mars Bar and Crisps along with the ample supply of water and bananas at the end. Perfect. 
St Cyrus beach
The beach was deserted
Swimming in the choppy seas off St Cyrus beach was the afternoon’s warm down activity. I guess the good thing about a grey rainy day is that we had the beach to ourselves.
Simon and his surfboard
It was fine for surfing but less so for swimming
Creature from the deep

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Barra and Harris Half Marathons

Beautiful Barra

Anaemia. Well that was a turn up for the books and a most unwelcome house guest to come knocking on my door.

I kind of knew something was wrong. But at the same time, I didn’t. I was trying to put in 3 or 4 hour back to back mountain runs in prep for the Monte Rosa race so it was only natural that I should be tired, isn’t it?  Add in the hassle from a fairly shitty project at work (my boss seems to be quite adept in spotting a mug…err sorry I mean willing volunteer) so the symptoms of anaemia were cunningly disguised as other things. My running times had got slower and slower which naturally I put down to me being a lazy slacker, yet no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move my legs faster eventually culminating in having to walk back from a 3-mile jog. I had given up swimming, the gym, yoga and was running less and less to feel less tired and it hadn’t worked It was only when the heart palpitations started along with the “brain fog”, feeling unfeasibly tired and irritable, sleeping 10 hrs a night, did I finally drag myself to the doctors. Why do we runners always leave it so late to get medical help when there is something wrong? 

I suspect it’s wrong to be pleased that there is actually something wrong with you but the fact that it has a name “Anaemia” means that it’s a real thing, not something concocted all in my head and that I was turning into some sort of basket case or that ubiquitous illness “stress”  or, even worse, that I had metamorphosed into a fat jogger (other downside in exercising less is I’m getting a tad porky)
A few little red iron pills a day and I should be sorted in a couple of months. Just don’t let me near any magnetic fields. 

Actually, when I think about it I am quite pleased. I think the doctor was originally edging towards testing me for diabetes. Given the amount of crap Simon eats it would have been one almighty karmic cluster-fuck if I was the one who ended up with diabetes.
Anyhow…. All the medical advice seems to be “train don’t strain” while recovering so two half marathons within a week should be fine…shouldn’t it? To be honest it wasn’t up for discussion as this was to be my 10th consecutive “Heb 3” and there was no way on earth I wasn’t getting that T-shirt.

The Barrathon

A hotel room with a view
Pre-race dinner. A diminished number of us this year
It was a stunning evening when the ferry docked in Castlebay and we made our way to registration for the usual catch up with the usual Barrathon crowd, the tented village had sprung up again on the sea front along from the newly built pontoon where a luxury yacht was moored. I found out later that this yacht can be hired for a weeks’ tour of the Western Isles for a cool £12k for the week. They give you dinner too so obviously a bargain…. 

After registering it was back to the newly refurbished Craigard hotel for a nice relaxing evening. Unusually for me it was a large red meat dinner instead of my usual pre-race fish and chips, some last minute desperate iron top ups! Again, though it was a reduced crowd from Aberdeen this year – is this the final nail in the Lynx pack coffin? It’s true though, the demise of the lynx pack is in direct proportion to the levels of improvements and posh-ness of the places we are staying. 

Before the race started the pipe band played a touching tribute to one of their members, a young girl from Barra named Eilidh MacLeod who was tragically killed in the Manchester bomb attack. 

Despite being one of the most scenic half marathons anywhere it wasn’t destined to be a pleasant experience. One of the hilliest half marathons around accompanied by some good ol’ Hebridean weather made it, well, lets say challenging. I briefly ran alongside Melissa who was suffering from a whole range of nasty looking injuries from a very recent bike accident before we lost each other. The doctor had warned me that the iron tablets can cause nausea. And they did. If I thought I was running slowly for the first 9 miles of the Barrathon then my perspective on the word “slow” changed quickly in the last 4 miles. Up a large hill, into the headwind and driving rain, feeling nauseous with a nasty metallic tang in the back of my throat as a seemingly never-ending stream of runners passed me. Even the sight of Kisimul Castle sat proudly on its rock out in the bay failed to have its usual refreshing effect as I ran into Castlebay desperate to beat the 2-hour mark which I failed to do all the time looking over my shoulder for Hamish, my Heb half nemesis, who I suspected would be closing on me rapidly. I felt a bit mean passing Bruce in the final strides before the line but I was fixed on the 2hr time. I missed it by 4 seconds. 
Nearing the finish
The beach at the 2 mile mark
As I sat on the kerbside disconsolately I was joined by Simon who had run considerably faster than me as well as managing to down a pint of Guinness at the 8-mile mark. Meh. If he had known how far back I was going to be he’d have probably stopped for a bar lunch too.
Simon downing his pint half way round
Best buffet ever
Thats what happens when you insult the ladies serving the puddings...
 After sulking for a wee while in the sauna I cheered up considerably once I had downed a beer and a large amount of fresh seafood at the buffet. Barra has one of the best post-race feeds anywhere. I cheered up even more once the celidh was in full flow. 
Heather with her prize
Davie with his prize
Bert with his prize
Simon with his prize

Barra regulars

The morning after
The following afternoon the band were back on form

Leaving Barra
 The Harris Half

For some reason the Heb 3 felt like a bit of an anti-climax this year. Maybe because I was running so badly, maybe because we didn’t take the evening ferry back to Skye with the other runners, the aptly named “Harris booze cruise” so missed the party or maybe just because the weather denied us the usual glorious Harris sunset that we have come to expect after the race, sitting outside in the late evening sun having a beer.
How Luskintyre looked a couple of days before the race!

Speaking of the weather, that is easily the most un-summery weather I have ever experienced for this summer race. I think this is probably the first road race during which I have ever worn a waterproof and I was very glad I did as at no point was I feeling particularly warm, I guess I just couldn’t run fast enough to warm up. When I saw the near hypothermic state of Hamish at the end I knew that I had made the right call. This week though there was more of a tailwind which on a point to point course is always a bonus even though at times it didn’t really feel like a tailwind. Other people said it was definitely a tail wind so it must have been. Whatever. It was preferable to an out and out head wind and I needed all the help I could get. At the famous “pee stop” en-route to the race start we got the full brunt of the weather. It is always entertaining watching the faces of Harris half newbies when they realise why the bus is pulling over next to a wind swept cliff top and this year particularly so as it was blowing a hooley.

The race was a similar story to the Barrathon. I plodded for about 9 miles before going backwards for the last 4 as again other runners came past me in a stampede. I scraped in under two hours this time, a four minute improvement – could the iron tablets be taking effect this quickly? I bloody hope so. As soon as I can stop eating spinach every dinner time the better as far as I am concerned. It gets stuck in your teeth and makes you look like swamp thing.

It was Jim Bruce's 103rd Heb half
It was so wet and cold Simon decided that he couldn’t be arsed waiting for me at the finish line and had gone for a shower, after all he was the guest presenter of the prizes as sponsor of the Heb 3 Series.
Heb 3 organisers
Dave Wright
Megan wright
Carolyn was first local
After the race it was off to Stornoway to visit Ross and Mary for a lovely eveing of whisky and the film whisky galore - the original version - and its safe to say that Barra, where it was filmed, has hardly changed.
Whisky by candlelight. In the summer it doesnt get truly dark

Sunday warm down activity - Bee Keeping
Leaving Stornoway
 To summarise. I got my Heb 3 T-shirt. And right now that’s all that matters