Sunday, 29 March 2015

Stuck in a Rut

Mike's birthday AGAIN. In the bar of the Balavil. AGAIN

Beer festival. AGAIN
Too much beer. AGAIN
Dinner at the Glen. AGAIN....
A couple of weeks previously Mike had pointed out that we really should stay in the same hotel, eat at the same pub and do exactly the same activities as we do every year at Newtonmore as we should never venture out of the security of our comfortable rut, after all, who knows what terrible misadventure should befall us if we did?.
The rot, however, had already set in when no pasta party was advertised thus signalling that we were about to be forced out of our rut....
In a break from normality Geoff, Bert and Hamish were daft enough to listen to my latest great idea (Hamish, if anyone should know better) which was a hill walk proposed for the Sunday afternoon.

11 miles
2776ft climb
First problem was that we had been lulled into a false sense of security with a nice warm vest-only race the previous day and so the biting wind at the top of the hill was a bit of a shock, however conditions were clear which was probably a good thing as I was doing the navigating and the views were stunning. The walk out from Kingussie followed some woodland trails along the river and then a narrow tarmac road past the golf course before reaching the track at Pitmain Lodge. The route up Carn an Fhreiceadain, a Corbett of 2880ft follows a circular path and so the fact that the bridge forming part of our return route was in a state of disrepair was boldly ignored and consigned to being a problem for later that day (we will cross that bridge when we come to it….boom, boom!!) and we started the gradual ascent to the summit. This is one walk where the need for navigation is minimal as there is a wide gravel track the whole way round which we later established was due to the building of a small hydroelectric scheme on the mountain and we followed the path as it gradually ascended to the cairn on Beinn Bhreac where it was noticeably colder. 
Even climbing a mountain Bert can't bear to be separated from Facebook

Intrepid Hamish crosses the snowfield

It was a tad chilly on the hill
From here the route across to the summit and trig point of Carn an Fhreiceadain was very exposed to the wind and I began to lose the feeling in my fingers. Bert was clearly finding the same as his desperate attempts to take photos of the white ptarmigan and mountain hares seemed to result in some swearing however it was very amusing to watch the mountain hares dart about in front of us with Bert in hot pursuit clutching a camera. Luckily for me one mountain hare decided to sit in the ditch right next to the path and pose for its photo rather than resort to their usual tactic of hiding on a patch of snow and relying on their camouflage.
The obligatory summit photo
Mountain hare
We didn’t hang around for too long to admire the view, stunning though it was and trotted off down the path after the obligatory summit photos following the track right back down to the less than secure looking bridge over the river. Fortunately it was far more sturdy than it looked and we all made it across completely dry. 
Not at the end of winter quite yet
The day was finished at the mountain sports café in Aviemore where my greatest achievement of the day was not spending any money on yet more outdoors gear. I thought that I showed great restraint.

This wee jaunt was the “warm down” after the hangover mile in the morning which in itself is the “warm down” from the previous days 10 mile race and beer festival. The hangover mile really is as bad as it sounds and generally involves a lot of adults lining up at 9am on a Sunday morning looking like death warmed up ready to be out sprinted by small children and the real athletes, one of whom I heard confessing that she had allowed herself a glass of rose the night before. FFS. Personally I think anyone without a hangover should be disqualified and that should eliminate this ritual of humiliation every year where the lynx pack runners always show up over qualified for the event. I won a bottle of beer in the race but I’ve no idea what for, I was barely conscious at the time.
Check out those red eyes
And they're off!
John ran round wearing his wooly jumper!
There’s not much for me to say about the lack lustre effort that was my attempt at the 10 mile race other than it was a lovely day and I got mild sunburn, the tea and cakes afterwards were great as was the swim and the beer festival. My legs were pretty much stuck in second gear the whole way round and had no answer for the two who over took me in that last 2 miles. Bert and Geoff up ahead had a full scale battle on their hands trying not to be beaten by a giant banana. Yes, Really. To be fair though it was a pretty quick banana. It seemed to be a fairly successful day on the whole though as Cath, Megan and I picked up a team prize, Mike bounced back from illness and Innes set the groundwork in place for the Barathon later in the year. It is at this point I must mention the dark devious skull duggery that went on which allowed the person who came 2nd in the O/60s age category to take the 1st prize. I'm naming no names though....
It was a lovely spring day
After the race there was the usual fantastic post race spread of food and if that wasn’t enough we all went in search of the coffee shop on Newtonmore high street to sit, munch cakes, and watch lazily out of the window in the early spring sunshine. Maybe being stuck in a rut isn’t all bad….

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Running Inc.

The Northumberland Coastal Runs
Running and Big Business. Not a combination I had given a lot of thought to until I read Richard Askwith’s excellent book, Running Free. In this well thought out and entertaining read Askwith makes some very valid and thought provoking points about the influence the big sports corporations have on running, arguably the most basic and cheapest form of sport when practised in its purest form. He introduces his book by showing how much the sports companies would have a newbie runner believe they would need to spend in order to commence running. The grand total?  An eye watering £1,144.10. This includes trainers, compression gear, energy shots, digital devices, bottle belt, runners headphones for the ipod….. Apparently in 2012 the UK running retail industry was worth £425m. Well, who knew.
A personalised number, no less!
I can’t say I’ve been totally oblivious to the whole big business and running combination as it has been pretty obvious for many years, Brendan Fosters various running related business enterprises are a case in point. There are more and more events springing up over the country which are organised by businesses rather than by running clubs and volunteers from communities and “Endurancelife” now appear to be firmly established as race organisers for a series of events organised to take place in fantastic coastal settings. A quick glance at the information available from Companies house shows that they are not only firmly established but they are also increasing in profitability year on year. The Northumberland Coastal Runs are one of their events and I signed up to it on the basis that it was going to be a good old fashioned HBT road trip, staying in a bunkhouse in Seahouses with real ale on tap. It was also doubling up as Ross’s stag do so it was going to be an entertaining weekend no matter what, helped along by a good trotter turnout and the proximity of the fantastic “Ye Olde Ship Inn”. The setting of this race in a scenic coastal location of course was another draw.
Trotter cake icing
It was Ivor's birthday as well as Ros's stag do
Real Ale on tap
Targets to be reached
There were a few complaints about the cost of the race and some did not perceive it to be value for money but more of that later. My own observation is that the bigger the race, the bigger the faff factor. On arriving at registration you joined a queue to read your number from a list. One you found your number you queued up to have your number written on your hand in a big black felt pen. Then you queued up to sign a piece of paper (no idea what for- might have been a disclaimer of some sort) the you queued to get your number, then you queued to pick up your electronic checkpoint dibber, then you queued to get safety pins for the aforementioned number before joining the queue for the bag store and then finally joining the queue for the toilets. Tiring work, all this queuing.
Eventually Sandra and I got on the bus to the start and were able finally to relax and take in the scenery. Long empty sweeping stretches of golden sands, blue seas, sleepy seaside towns and dunes covered in long marram grass, all of which formed the various courses of the Northumberland Coastal runs and I began to feel a little more enthusiastic. The runners had the option of the Ultra race, the Marathon, the half marathon and the 10k and both Sandra and I had opted for the half marathon. Ross was injured and so Sandra ran with Ross number while Ross looked after Sandra’s children, possibly not the most traditional of stag weekend activities.
Today Sandra is Ross....
Craster, the start of the half marathon
The race start
The race route
It was pretty flat
We got off the bus at the tiny village of Craster and made our way to the start. By the time we were milling about the start line waiting to get going the ultra runners who had started earlier that morning were already coming past. The race briefing seemed to last an eternity as these things often do but finally the gun went off and we were on our way. The route followed soft grassy tracks over the sand, around links golf courses, and on the beaches. Fortunately the sand for the most part was reasonably firm and so not desperately hard going and it wasn’t too windy so the sand wasn’t being blown about. Sandra had belted off ahead of me and my legs would barely go forward. Inwardly I groaned, this was promising to be a long day out! After a mile or two my legs felt less heavy and I relaxed into enjoying the run and trying to take in the scenery while scurrying up and down sandy trails between dunes and rock hoping over slabs of sandstone. The long beaches meant that you could see runners quite a bit ahead of you but the combination of the 4 individual races taking place on the same route meant that you were never quite sure if the runner you had overtaken was a competitor in your race or was an ultra runner that was moving more slowly and equally if someone overtook you then you were not sure if it was a fast ultra runner who had got a second wind, your competitor in the half marathon or one of the 10k runners who were set off after I had passed by the start of the 10k. That made things a little more interesting until Donald Naylor came sprinting past me as if I was walking, clearly in the lead of the marathon and proclaiming to be struggling (aye right). By the last mile and a half my lack of mileage in training was beginning to show and I slowed dramatically and was really was looking for the finish line which I imagined was to be on the beach. Unfortunately for me it was actually in the grounds of the castle where registration had taken place and this involved a scramble up a dune, climbing upwards on a sandy track which turned into a gravel track as it followed the wall of the massive 12th century fortress of Bamburgh Castle and finally through the archway leading to the finish line. On completion everyone received a medal and a very nice T shirt, as well as a kit check which caught out more than a few folk including the great YP and the number of disqualifications in each race for this reason was quite high. Personally I have absolutely no issue with kit checks and being asked to carry kit. Yes, it did seem excessive for a half marathon in a well populated area on a mild day but its easy to forget that the race organisers have to cater for all abilities and eventualities. In particular all abilities, and lets face it there are some right numpties going about.

As a location for a race HQ Bamburgh Castle is hard to beat, it is spectacular but I suspect for the race organisers that it wasn’t without its problems and I wonder if the owners put a few restrictions on what could and couldn’t be done. Problem number one being that only the runners were allowed into the castle grounds for free and any supporters had to pay to go in which caused a few grumps especially when it was announced that the prize giving would take place within the castle grounds therefore meaning family and friends could not be there to witness it without paying. Somewhere along the line the race organisers relented and, after a not inconsiderable delay, held the prize giving outside the grounds. The other grump was the lack of food available at the end of the race, not so much as even a Mars Bar in a goody bag. Any food had to be purchased at the castle cafe and again I’m not sure if that too was a restriction imposed on the organisers. I can imagine the day will start to get rather expensive if you have to pay for food for the whole family....after having to pay for them to enter the castle grounds....on top of a £60 race entry fee. And that’s as well as filling your bag with the required first aid and safety kit. At registration and the race briefing it was stated that kit checks would be carried out and the Endurancelife shop located just by the registration desks conveniently stocked all those items that were needed....I guess that this is just the world of Running Inc.
The finish line was in the grounds of the castle
The Farne islands in the distance
Bamburgh Castle

 So to summarise there were both positives and negatives about the event
Positives –
·         A well marked and marshalled course. No map required. Needless to say Big D got lost though. There’s always one.
·         If you had entered one race but changed your mind in the days preceeding the event then the organisers were very accommodating in allowing you to switch events.
·         A good interesting course with a spectacular finish which would be hard to surpass
·         A decent race T shirt  (if you like that kind of thing)

Negatives –
·         A slightly weird rule about not handing out plastic cups of water. The 10k runners were allowed a cup of water but the ultra runners were left begging. Yes, it was in the rules but there are quite a lot of variables in an ultra race and it seems strange, if not dangerous, not to allow the ultra runners to drink a cup of water. And why only the 10k runners? Do you actually need water for a 10k race in February?
·         Prize giving – a long time by which time people were getting cold. And no prizes were actually given out
·         The faff. Big races = faff. I hate faff. Just about as much as I hate toilet queues.
·         No toilets at the start of the marathon and ultra. Seems a strange decision given you will have a number of over hydrated and nervous runners.

So on balance was it value for money and would I do it again? I’m not sure that it was outrageously expensive for the experience it provided particularly when compared with other large races and yes, I have to say would do it again. It was a great course and that spectacular finish line approach was worth it and with the ironing out of silly details such as the lack of toilets, a long wait for the prize giving and water on route then I’m sure the event would be all round more positively received by the runners.

The role of honour

20  Stuart C      HBT      57.57  (1M45)
7 finishers disqualified

Half Marathon
5   Dave M        1.37.04
 6   CapDan        1.37.31
7   Simon H        1.38.20
17  Gash             1.41.58
 8/49  Louise P     1.51.14
10/61  Sandra         1.54.13 (1W40) 
11/68  Joanna C     1.57.02
37/130  Katie M      2.09.47
Disqualified:  YP       1.52.44 (2M55)  Didn’t carry (or own for that matter!) a mobile phone (18 disqualified in total)

 1  Don                3.05.30  (1M40)
2  Ray                  3.16.08
3  Big D               3.16.37
9  Ivor                  3.38.24  (1M50)
11  Jon                 3.47.48  (1M45)
32  Mickey G       4.28.28 
7 finishers disqualified

6   Dave W/L              5.02.26
 8   Jambo                    5.10.06
 9   Nick G                    5.12.26
1/12  Hannah              5.21.28
2/15  Carrie                  5.27.22
17  David W                  5.29.23 
 71  Brian                       6.45.55  (1M55)
DNF  Zoe K - had to drop out after 10/3 hours, due to leg injury
9 finishers disqualified.

The post race entertainment included fish and chips, tea and cakes and beer on tap and an evening at “Ye Olde Ship Inn”.  The discovery of a piano/organ sort of instrument in the hostel/bunkhouse was obviously a result in terms of entertainment…..

The bunkhouse itself was a great find, well equipped and clean with large social areas and plans were already being hatched for its use in a future trotter event, maybe another attempt at this event next year. Thanks must go to Ross for organising this less than traditional stag weekend, it was great fun.