Sunday, 31 January 2010

Berwick xc

4th in the Borders XC series. This morning we drove down to Berwick for some beach and cliff-top running. It was sunny but cold as hell and down on the coast there was a good stiff breeze.

I was delighted to be racing again. I'd forgotten what an adrenaline rush the whole process is. As we made good time down the A1 in the sunshine I could feel the hair standing up on my scalp with excitement. It must be about 6 weeks or so since we raced so it was all new again.
A little loud discussion in the car on the way into Berwick and we found the race despite the maps we'd brought along.
Conditions haven't been good for doing any kind of speed training so I knew I'd be rusty and had already accepted the fact, so my plan was to not kill myself on the way out and then if I had anything left kill myself on the way back! Rachel was already ahead of me coming out of the dunes and I never made up the distance. I could see her most of the way. I thought I might make up a bit of ground on the hillier bits - but I didn't. So well done Rachel.

The running on the beach was novel in that it incorporated some interesting sandstone running. The surface of the sandstone was actually perfect and had very good traction but it was difficult to trust it. The beach was relatively firm so not the worst sand-running ever but not easy...some steps and then up a short hill and onto the cliff-tops. The ground was frozen but not particularly slippy - so again reaonable running. Probably the worst thing was that it was very pitted in places and the pits were frozen solid so it could be a real ankle twister if you were unlucky.

The way back was into the stiff wind. I tried to find someone to hide behind but I rarely have much luck at this and instead picked up a little trail of people in my wake! In a way its a compliment. I like to think its because of my leadership qualities.

The last bit through the sinky sand and the sand-dunes was the hardest.
So we managed to get a race in in January, but only just. Peter and I have done 4 of the Borders xc series so will get a final position now. We have to miss next week's xc at Galashiels as we're off to the Forfar multi-terrain race.

Tomorrow is long run day and we have a plan to do the Pentlands low level route twice. The weather forecast says sleet starting at noon so we'll have to get up and at it relatively early.
Good to see a good turn-out of Porties. James Harrison was 8th and knows he can do better. He was less out of breath on the way back than I was. I shouted him on not expecting him to speak and he gave me a very relaxed "Well done Mary". Johnny is in good form and went past Peter.
Good also to see Stuart Hay is on the road back from his injury and racing again.
Nice to see everyone but we had to get moving PDQ after the race so we didn't freeze solid.

Time for some stretching.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Pencaitland cycle path mystery tour

The team were looking for about 12 or 13 miles today. For a change of scene we took the car up to the beginning of the Pencaitland cycle track with the intention of doing a 6-7 mile run out and then back. A little way along however I remembered that last year I had taken a track that heads left after a bit more than 2 miles which had lead to an intriguing looking path through some woods. At the time I was too tired to go exploring as I'd run from Musselburgh so had just made a mental note to come back some other time and explore further. So today, with much disbelief from Peter ("Are you sure we come down HERE?") we took the left hand path and went adventuring.

At first it was a modest little path at the edge of a wooded area with a wall and a field on the other side. It was nice but looked like it easily might peter out in half a mile or so. However, it turned a corner, crossed a road and got better and better. There were public footpath signs but no mention of where we were except one sign that said MacMerry 3/4s of a mile. It started up hill and through pine woods which smelled lovely and the track was good and there were cut logs laid along the side of the track. We crested a hill and started to curve right and through the trees I saw there was a tiny wooden shed and imagined it might be a kennel for a huge dog but coming up nearer saw it was a tiny wooden hut with a seat inside and a view to the snowy hills. It was charming and friendly.

We continued round in a loop, hit the road, ran along and picked up a path again that took us to the start of the pine wood section and we headed back.

I was knackered for whatever reason. A combo of work and lack of sleep and maybe longer than usual mileage, but the sun and the lovely surroundings made it a good run anyway.
The track is higher than Edinburgh and it felt a lot colder and there was still a good bit of ice to be seen but nothing that interfered with running.
11.5 miles and I wouldn't have wanted to run more today.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


Lateish yesterday we made a decision that since it was forecast to sleet today and for the wind to come from the east what we should do was take the train to North Berwick and run back. We emailed our friend Richard to let him know what we were up to as we knew he was planning a long run today and might have wanted company but he is somewhat inflexible about when lunch time should be (quite often round about the time me and P are just setting out on an adventure ) so we thought it unlikely that he would take us up on it. Still, we were looking out for him all day in case he popped up. We got up as planned and caught the 11.33 to NB, and the day wasn't as bleak as predicted and both of us felt surprisingly positive, if a little cold, as the train pulled out the station and along the backs of houses etc. It was good to be doing something different.

The weather wasn't as grim as promised and there was virtually no wind and as soon as we got going we warmed up. We still hadn't figured out (Peter hadn't figured out) what to do about pacing as our cruising speeds are a bit different. If we try to stick together it often doesn't really work out as its too easy for him and too hard for me, so he chats when I'm having to focus and maybe I become a little grumpy! Anyway, we deferred making a decision. He was free to rock on if he felt the need. First stop was Gullane. We didn't need a stop but it was time to address the issue of eating on the run. Sadly, the Gullane Delicatessen was closed so I didn't have the opportunity to revisit there. Instead we went into the local Scotmid and settled for a packet of 5 chocolate brownies. At first we wondered about how we were going to carry the left over brownies but soon realised this was less of a problem than we'd thought as we were perfectly capable of eating the whole lot then and there.

Since whenever either of us has run through this territory we have run it in the other direction - and usually in a race - we were both pleased to experience it while we were fresh and the running was easy. We saw a lot of things we'd never seen before. Imposing looking ruins covered in ivy and towers and turrets. Coming out this side of Aberlady we stuck to the path parallel to the road rather than on the road and this seems to be much developed now. It was a nice alternative to running along the side of the road in the grit on the camber hoping not to get hit by a car. We weren't sure how long we'd be able to stay off the road here so were delighted to be able to use small off-road trails all the way to Seton Sands.

At Seton Sands I'd promised myself another food stop. On several of the Edinburgh to North Berwick races I've noticed a shop just as you come out of Port Seton that advertises that it sells Orkney fudge and I've always had a hankering to go in and get some. I carry a bias as I grew up there but Orkney fudge is the best there is and I thought it highly likely to prove a good endurance staple. Sadly, all the small shops were shut so we had to settle for another trip to the Co-op (what would we do without it) - this time scoring ourselves a can of Red Rooster (cheap alternative to red bull) and a Snickers bar each. Both went down very easily and we were finding we were really quite good at eating and running. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable for me. I used to get stitches at the drop of a hat. Clearly things have changed.

The Red Rooster gave us a little spur for a while but the aches were decidedly starting to settle in. We went round the beach at Preston Pans and had to run very gingerly on the green-weedy slipway. We continued to skirt round the coast and avoid the roads but by the time we were running into Musselburgh I just wanted to head for home. Haven't run further than 17 miles for probably months and we were moving well beyond this. We got into a slow steady rythm and just chugged away the last few miles. The last highlights were a guy playing "In the Mood" on a squeeze box with a huge grin on his face at Portobello Prom. (We both grinned back in foolish delight) and a nice pink sunset as we headed through the Leith Links on the final stretch home. So. 24 miles if you include the mile we ran up the station to get the train (and I do). Surprisingly we ran it together. It was really pretty pleasant, only the last 5 miles hurt. And what I'd kind of forgotten is that it starts to hurt and then it doesn't get worse and worse and worse, it just stays about the same, and the trick is to know why you're doing it and try to distract yourself as much as possible. So I am very pleased with myself and my weekend. I even washed my bike in the dark last night and then fitted new brakes and levers AND cables AND pumped up my suspension AND oiled my chain. Its a bloody marvel.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Drizzly run over the Seat

Continuing our recent non-heroic form, I wriggled out of doing the Devil's Burden today and neither of us could be bothered gettting up early enough to take part in the Park Run despite the vague memory of bursting with enthusiasm for it towards the end of last year. Instead a leisurely start to the day at 10.30am, only rising because I was starting to get sore from lying there. Up to an uninspiring grey day. Drizzly sky and wet pavements and flat winter light. (Hey that's nearly a Haiku I think.)

Plan for the weekend; shortish run today, longer run tomorrow. Nothing more specific. Also, replace the brakes on my bike because after much lack of maintenance followed by being soaked in salt day in and day out in the recent weather they barely work.

Looking out the window, Whinny hill caught my eye and I thought a run about up there would be good. So we ran round the top of the crags and then up to the summit of Arthur's Seat - had to go very gingerly over the slippery wet rock on the way back down - and then down onto Whinny hill.

Whinny hill has some very good running on it because its undulating rather than straight up and straight down and we ran around for a while, following random paths and racing each other to some extent. (To some extent because Peter can always always beat me unless he is distracted and doesn't know I'm coming so I can surge past him and hold him off as long as I can.)

It was good fun and despite the heavy skies it cheered us both up. We did a final lap of Hunter's Bog and headed for home.

Not looking forwards to washing my bike in the dark prior to getting its new brakes. (New brakes arrived from e-bay today. E-bay is great for bike parts.) Nor to our long run tomorrow to an as yet unspecified venue on an undecided route. The team is not really firing on all cylinders.
Photo stolen off the www. and decidedly not of today.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Another 17 miler

Most of the snow has gone and there is no longer any excuse not to get out and do some longer runs. I've been out and taken ages but not got far recently - so the last longish run I've done is a 17 miler. I thought it made sense to match this for now and then try to raise it over the next few weeks. Peter ran up the Water of Leith and then back along the canal etc. yesterday and warned me of some very bad icy patches. The sun was beating down today however so I thought that maybe the icy bits would be reduced, and when pressed Peter said the only real problem area was in Colinton Dell and up the muddy cycle path from there.

The ground was fine as far as this. I had to take a detour as the Water of Leith was flooded in parts and I couldn't get along the normal way just after the Dean Bridge so cut up a steep road and then down some very slippery steps back onto the path. The river was very high, presumably with melt water from the Pentlands.

When I got to Colinton Dell I found out what Peter had been complaining about. The sheerest of sheer ice with nothing to hold onto but the odd thorn bush and at times I was in genuine fear that I was going to slide out of control off the path, down the steep bank and into the fat brown torrent of the WOL. I tiptoed down the muddy edges through the dog turds, raked by thorns, glad of anything that gave me traction. It continued much like this up to the 8 mile mark - which is the tunnel on the bike path. Its usually an enjoyable turnaround point as its then downhill but I had to shilly shally in the thick black mud at the edges again getting ever more intimate with the undergrowth, nearly to the canal. At the canal it was possible to pick up the pace again.

And on it went. My legs went from fine to a bit sore to oh I'd rather stop now and my head a-top was bored even though it was a nice day and there was diversion in the blue skies and the iced up canal and the ducks. I have overused this route and will have to expand my repertoire again. I've done this to nearly all the routes I know around Edinburgh.

I still don't know what I'm going to do to get some ultra training in. Maybe just increase my long run by 2 miles every week from now on. I still need to think about eating on the trot. I quite fancy fudge but Scotmid doesn't have any so I've not tried it out yet. My one experience of eating on the run was stopping in Gullane at a delicatessen and eating chocolatey marshmallow cake (it had a name but I can't remember it) and a can of lemonade, and that worked incredibly well, pulling me back from a feeling of aching pointlessness to positively inspired on the last leg to North Berwick.

At least I've made a start and it was great to be out in the sun for so long. I wore shorts and at one point I was too hot. Fantastic.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Meadows Mayhem

Okay, that title was just for grabbing attention. There wasn't much mayhem going on in the meadows today. What was going on was a speed session devised by me - since the meadows are pretty much 1.5 miles all around, we did 5 X mile repeats with a half mile jog recovery. I've done this before so have a bench that marks (benchmark ha ha) the start of the mile and the finish is at the far corner of the Meadows nearest Arthur's Seat. There were a number of hazards today - not least of which was a bitter easterly wind. I thought about doing the session in reverse but habit prevailed. It might have been a bit better, but then again the recovery would have been into the wind which would have been unpleasant.

I was in a foul mood - mostly brought on by fear and desperation I think. Looking ahead in the week yesterday I realised that there were few more opportunities to squeeze some running in so today's session would have to count. Its the first time the surface has been semi-reasonable for doing some speed training so it had to be today. I've not ducked below 8 min/miles since handicap night at the club in late December and I'm a couple of pounds heavier and I really wasn't looking forwards to facing the facts of my condition.

I talked over a change of direction of course with Peter but he said "Nah, It'll give us some excuses." "I don't want excuses I want results!" I thought to myself shirtily - but as it turned out I had to make do with excuses. Well, it was a strong easterly head wind. There were patches of ice on the route. There were a lot of people - maybe students returning to uni. Stupid people anyway - stupid bildering people who flopped from side to side as they walked and used up all the available space so I had to jump sideways onto the ice. Other excuses? Well I'm 43 and I've got short legs and a funny style and its a shame for me right!

I tried to let the numbers the Garmin was throwing at me drift right over my head. The thing was we were out making an effort and matters would surely improve from there. It was a relief doing some proper training again and really the time flew by. I've no intention of letting on how long my miles took but the whole session including recovery jogs, and run to the meadows and back was 12.5 miles so I'm quite happy with that. I need to sneak in a wee one tomorrow morning before work and again on Friday in the morning before I go through to Glasgow.

Richard has recruited me to run the last 30 miles of the Glasgow to Edinburgh double marathon with him on March 7th, so that gives me something to aim at. I need to start getting in longer runs so that that's not too much of a stretch...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snowy Pentlands

Another trip into the Pentlands - the low level route to avoid the worst of the drifts. We met Scott and Amanda at the car park at Flotterstone and set off up the road. We texted Richard before we went but there was no response and Ben couldn't come for reasons unspecified. As soon as I jogged across the carpark I realised yesterday's run had taken more out of me than I intended it to. My legs were already stiff! We set off at a reasonable pace and I was not too far back but the going underfoot got more and more difficult as we climbed.

Amanda and Scott must have been doing some weird ninja snow-floating training as they kept up a pretty good pace. Peter was stopping to take photos and chase rabbits etc. so he was behind. I had to knuckle down and keep working to stay in touch at all - and by staying in touch I mean Scott and Amanda stopping and waiting for me at each stile.

The surface relented for a while on the other side of the hills but was replaced with a very sharp witchy headwind which tried to peel the top layer off my face and whipped my skinned lips and nose. Then the piece de resistance was wallowing uphill into the wind in thigh deep snow. God that was tiring. Scott and Amanda applied their Ninja techniques again and seemed to be sauntering off fairly quickly as I tip-toed, post-holed, tumbled over sideways and cursed my way up behind. By the time I caught them up they were nearly dead with cold which will serve them right. Peter was...oblivious..."oh look at that...oh look at that over there!" he chirruped on as I churlishly told him to fuck off and shut up I was working.

The run down the other side should have been easy but my legs were shot from high-stepping, wallowing and what-not. I was a sorry state by the time we arrived back at the carpark. Anyway, 11.5 miles done. Amanda had baked some of her gob-smackingly good muffins so we sat in my big cafe van and ate them. Richard wasn't there for his so we had to eat that too!

Think I'm going to have to rest up tomorrow. Think I'm going to be sore! Cold feels much much better though.

Stars in the Park

I took my new inov8s for their inaugural run up to the Queen's Park to see some stars running. It was absolutely freezing but at least the snow stopped and the sun came out for the races. Due to a lapse in attention we completely missed the men's 4km - but its not really a man's distance is it?

Tirinesh Dibaba looked like an escaped fairy as she romped home miles ahead of the rest.

My new inov8s are great and my cold is nearly gone.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bike Maintenance

I've had a cold for weeks now but its seemed to be on the wane so I haven't worried that much about it. Over xmas and the New Year there's only a minimum of staff at work so being off isn't much of an option unless you really can't go in. My criteria for being off work sick is being so sick that I wouldn't go for a run - and that generally means I go in. I've had about 2 days off in 5 years, or I think, in total, 4 days off in the 7 years I've been there.

Its more a matter of habit than anything else.

The last couple of nights though I've been so congested I've had to sit up to breathe, and definitely couldn't sleep - probably not helped by running in the snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures... and last night at 4am I realised that there was a. no way I was going running that evening, and b. why was I going to get up at 5am to go to work? So I phoned in.

So now I'm at home with a stuffed up nose and I'm definitely not going out running. It occurred to me that I should face that test of character and adulthood - wash and do some maintenance on my faithful bike which has recently been sporting an orange chain from (the little) salt on the roads and, rather alarmingly, has almost no braking power at all. Well I've done the first part - washed it, which is no mean feat as it means running up and down three flights of tenement stairs with buckets of water and the bike and doing it in such an order that my bike is never left alone in Ned territory. Its an exercise reminiscent of the puzzle where you have to cross the river in the boat with the fox and the chicken and not have the fox eat the chicken. Okay its not that complex...I take the bucket of water down first, because if the Neds steal that its the lesser of 2 evils. (Although they wouldn't know what it is. Foooharhar har. Actually not true. The Neds are probably meticulously clean under their pristine white trackies where as I'm a bit too posh to wash - well, too lazy to wash...)

Anyway. The next stage, once its dry will involve seeing whats up with the brakes and fixing them and then oiling my chain. High tech. I know I know. Its not difficult, its just hard to get started.

After wondering on my last blog whether there is a known syndrome where you want to eat all winter I googled it and discovered that in fact one of the symptoms of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is a craving for carbohydrates and a tendency to overeat and put on weight. Also listed are irritability, sleep disturbance...I've got them all! So does Peter. So part of me is tempted to part with some cash to get one of these expensive lights for treating SAD for which there is some evidence apparently, but also some contradictory evidence - so nothing conclusive. The trouble is I also feel that diagnosing SAD is probably medicalising something more normal and maybe even essential, although inconvenient for a runner. Maybe we need down-time where we're less active, more introspective, less fun to be around. Is it right to grasp for eternal summer? Like old men chasing young women to regain a sense of youth for themselves. Still, what if one of these lights made me feel better? And didn't undermine my moral fibre? What then?

Answers please...

Monday, 4 January 2010

Cabin Fever

Much as I was longing to be off work, the days are short, the flat is small, the telly is no distraction (generally). We'd tried to get out a longish run a few times and found ourselves skating on ice or high-stepping through snow-drifts - unable to cover much ground. So it was without much expectation for a clear run that we took the car to the near end of Silverknowes and ran along the front heading for what we call the Airport loop. The front had been icy but a new shower of snow had made the surface more runable. The weather report had said - 5 so I was wearing three layers on top and thick tights and a woolly hat. This seemed about right.

I had insisted that we take supplies in case it turned into a 3 and a half hour epic wallowing in deep snow at sub-zero temperatures - but when we turned off under the trees up the river towards the airport we found the path in very good condition. This way is sometimes difficult in summer because of the mud but the cold had frozen it hard and the fresh layer of snow took care of the traction. My dark mood from feeling trapped at home with some kind of eating compulsion began to lift as it looked like things were not going to be so hard after all.

Up the riverbank things were pretty nice. The path winds in and out of the trees. There were squirrels and possibly a wren. The ground stayed good all the way.

It seemed quite bright out with the snow but looking back on photos I can see that there wasn't much light - it was just our eyes compensating. I wonder if absence of light leads to eating? We could test it out on rats, or, for that matter, our mouse, which visits when, presumably, the neighbours scraps become too thin on the ground.

What little wind there was was behind us on the way back along the promenade so it was quite warm and the light was nice as the sun was just setting. 11.3 fairly unhampered miles. I couldn't raise much speed but Peter was sprinting hither and thither. (Following smells no doubt.)

To top off an already uncannily good day I got over 100,000 playing dx ball on the computer and the The Simpsons The Movie was on the telly. I'd forgotten how funny it is. All I have to do today is get my exhaust fixed. It inexplicably broke on the way back from Silverknowes. Could the cold have broken the welding? I don't know anything about it so will doubtless have to pay an idiot charge at Kwik-Fit.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Escape from Castle Dalkeith Country Park

Work has not been as busy as usual but for some reason has been taking more out of me. Maybe its the knowledge that everyone else is off and partying and sleeping late or maybe its just the time of year and the lack of light really settling in but it has been an effort to drag my sorry bones out of bed and up the road to work.

Anyway, yesterday I finished up until Tuesday and was reluctant to make any plans at all feeling totally knackered and unable to plan. I sank a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and an after dinner port which was my concession to the party season and as Peter fell asleep in front of the telly at 11pm I chased him off to bed and did some stuff on the computer and was asleep myself by 11.30. Woke up to the windows rattling with the fireworks and then later on from time to time to what I ungenerously thought of as the idiots outside singing and shouting but never lost any serious sleep time to this. At 9.30 am it seemed the right thing to do to get up even though I still felt stunned (like a clubbed seal cub on the ice). After breakfast I felt ready for another nap and went back to bed for a while. In the meantime we'd made a loose arrangement to meet up with Scott and Amanda and get some form of running in. Despite my pitiful motivationless state I did actually want to get out running so after reading a short chapter in my Freud reader and appalling Peter by telling him about it.."What? What are you talking about? Thats a lot of rubbish." I got up and we arranged to meet A and S at Dalkeith for a 7 miler in Dalkeith Country Park.

Scott has a sore eye so was sporting cool Oakley yellow sunglasses. Amanda had her new running jacket on. Brighter and more yellow than the sun itself! We chatted for a little while as we warmed up and then I got hopelessly left behind and kept getting snippets of gossip but not the whole story. It was the hardest I'd had to run in a while and I had to make a continual effort which I thought grimly was good for me but oh it was HARD, although good to be able to get enough grip in the snow to work hard (the surfaces were mostly quite good, optimised by my Inov8 mudclaws which I am growing to love passionately), but definitely hard.

Scott dropped back out of sympathy and we had a conversation which started with my idea that the human race was at a crossroads where two quite different branches were going to emerge. (This is an old hat theory but revitalised it for the sake of debate.) There were going to be the people who order out and the delivery people. The ordering out people would have a functional finger and of course a mouth and big fat bellies and the delivery people would continue to have full working bodies. Scott said this reminded him of a cartoon that he'd seen where there were big fat people who floated around in space and people on the ground who had to feed them. This step into the surreal got me to thinking that the odd buildings in the woods at DCP actually reminded me of a computer game Wolfenstein that I played obsessively for a while. The sophisticated plot of which being that there are Nazis everywere and its absolutely fine, in fact essential, to shoot them all to pieces. There is a level where the countryside is in snow with high towers (similar to the one I'd just spotted to my left) dotted around the landscape which would have snipers in so you had to use the cover you had to sneak up benind them and take them out unawares. I told this to Scott and he got it immediately and pretty soon, in what in psychiatry would be called folie a deux, we were both spotting Nazi encampments in the woods and indeed fat people floating in space "We could shoot them with Nutella" Scott suggested. All this served to distract from the sheer effort I was putting in not to get dropped by my running peers. As I always go running in Dalkeith Country park with people who are faster than me, I am always working too hard to pay much attention to where I am so I have no idea where we went....although it was 8 miles not 7...
But the cup of tea afterwards was mighty fine.

Now its a delight to write nonsense on the computer in our work room, with the heater on and tomato soup, toast and peanut butter and a cup of tea recently scoffed. Happy New Year.