Friday, February 22, 2019

Post 166 - Armagh International 5K

Knowing that the Armagh 5K was coming up, I tried to focus training on some shorter intervals. A couple of hill rep sessions (14 x 60 seconds uphill, a fairly positive session), 6 x half a mile intervals (completely blowing on the final two, quite disappointing) and 14 x as close to 400m as my Garmin watch could measure (the first 6 acceptable, 7 and 8 slower, then wondering if it was worth continuing as the times were slipping, and then stabilising it for the last few reps).
I also managed an as-near-as-dammit ironman distance swim in the pool in just over an hour, so now the mental block of “can my shoulder deal with an ironman distance swim” has to be answered as “yes it can”. OK, it’s still a bit stiff and gets a bit sore, but if I want to do another ironman, at least I know now that I can do the swim. I’m on the turbo trainer once a week doing intervals and cycling to work when possible, to keep in touch with the cycling. Turbo trainer intervals give you a tough workout without the (for me anyway) damaging impact of actually running an interval session on tarmac. Training had seemed to be reasonable in the last couple of weeks. Without wanting to curse myself, my Achilles seem to be behaving themselves and not creating too many problems.
And so to Armagh for the International 5K. An unbelievable event. Almost 100 runners broke 15 minutes last year. World-class running. I ran 15:29 last year on a bitterly cold evening. The forecast was better this time around. I flew in the night before the race, as did Deirdre. Race day was like purgatory. How to pass 12 hours? Well, a terrible sleep meant I passed a lot of the day dozing in bed. Deirdre went for a run, up to both the cathedrals. The free lunch was great. Trying not to over-eat was tough. Dessert was also on offer. Everyone was declining it. I was hoping there would be dessert in the post-race meal. There were some great sponsored freebies – chilli almonds – tremendous.

The absolute biz
We went out for a wander. Up to the “palace”, where we were literally given the run of the place by the receptionist. Some fantastic artwork was on show. It turned out the artist was the former race organiser, whose cousin had now taken on the role. Everything’s local. The race organiser had made a speech at lunch where he said they wanted the race organisation to be “human” and not corporate. They certainly achieve that. Lunch had filled me up for a while, but I was soon hungry again. I’m not used to racing so late (8:30pm). I had a few more snacks. It was a tough balance – I had over-eaten prior to the race last year and didn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Then it was time. I got ready. I didn’t like the feel of my socks. Old and crusty. I had brought two pairs. Both weren’t great. I slapped on the Vaseline. Headed for the Mall – the race venue. It’s like an elongated running track, about 1k for a lap. Floodlights. Spectators. Kids’ races in full swing. Loudspeakers. Commentary. Music. Pre-race buzz. Serious looking athletes warming up. People come to Armagh from all over Ireland, from all over the UK, from all over Europe, from all over the world, to run a PB. It’s so fast. It’s like a combination of road racing, track racing and cycling crit racing. I doubt there’s anything like it in the world.
I jogged a warm-up. I felt terrible. My stomach was rumbling and jiggling. I did some sprints. Not great. Oh well. Nothing I could do now. I threw all my clothes to Deirdre on the sidelines and headed for the start.
What would I be happy with..? I had hit a good peak just before Christmas. I was possibly in 15:10 shape, maybe not quite sub-15. Sub-15 would be unbelievable, incredible for me. I didn’t think I was in that shape. I hoped I was in shape to better last years’ time of 15:29. But the warm-up hadn’t been positive. I didn’t know. Maybe I’d blitz it and get 15:10. Maybe I’d have a stinker and get 15:50. Maybe every single star in the universe would align and I’d get sub-15. Or more likely, I’d have an awful night at the races and run slower than 16.
I stayed very wide at the start and on the first lap – away from all the argy-bargy of the tightly-packed group, minimising the risk of a stumble or a fall, and able to carry my speed better round the wider turns I took. They had a marshal shouting the time after every kilometre. You need to do 3 minutes per kilometre to break 15. At 1K I was at 3:01 and feeling decent. At 2K I was at 6:01 and still just about feeling decent. At 3K I was at 9:03 and realising I couldn’t sustain it. Then it was into damage limitation…
The last lap was horrific, especially the back straight. There’s an incline, where you gain maybe 1m in height over 100m up to the back turn. Hardly even worthy of the term “incline”. But running up this felt like running through quicksand, it felt so slow compared to previous laps. Onto the back straight, everyone straining and sprinting and on their limits. I heard Deirdre from the sidelines. I ran as hard as I could. I saw the clock at the finish line from about 100 metres out. I knew I’d beat last year’s time and run a PB. I couldn’t run any harder. Crossed the line. 15:22.

And then collapsed onto a barrier in agony. It took a while to get my breath back. The initial reaction was that I was happy to run a PB. And that’s still the over-riding feeling. I ran a PB – I can’t argue with that. I probably had hoped to be slightly quicker, maybe 10-15 seconds or so, and probably had the shape to do that.
The transition from running cross-country (as I’d been doing all winter) to running really hard and really fast on the road was tough for me. The soles of my feet were in agony. So much so that I physically couldn’t do a warm-down. Which was bad news as I really needed to do a warm-down, and 4 days later my legs are still suffering from not being able to do it. Pacing Armagh is very difficult as you just get swept along by the tsunami of fast runners. My miles got progressively slower, as I started too quickly. Not disastrously so, but better pacing equals a better finishing time.
Anyway, it was done. I hobbled back to the hotel, sat in a sauna for a while, got showered, and headed for the bar where many runners would have been celebrating PBs with pints. I did likewise. A Guinness went down quickly. The dinner was at 11pm. 11pm! I’ve never eaten that late. They had videos of the races on the big screens in the function room where dinner was served. And disappointingly, no dessert…  I struggled with the second pint, but had a good chat with the former race organiser and artist – he had plenty of stories and by the time we were done we were the last ones left and called it a night. The soles of my feet were still on fire.

Friday was a complete day of rest, apart from 8 lengths of the hotel pool (I generally tend to think swimming isn’t worth it unless 100 lengths are completed!) Saturday was a beach ParkRun. I was insistent I was going to run nice and slowly, and treat it as a recovery run. But when you get there and toe the line… It turned out I couldn’t have run fast because my legs and joints were still sore from Armagh. So a nice easy enjoyable 24 minutes with Deirdre did the trick, followed by a bit of sightseeing. Forget all the famous Belfast icons like the Titanic quarter and the city centre, the coolest thing we saw was a huge flock (a murmuration) of starlings above the Albert Bridge over the River Lagan, to-ing and fro-ing in silent formation. It was spellbinding.

Lough Neagh sunset

I had made the decision to return and run the N.Ireland/Ulster cross-country next week, rather than the Scottish National cross-country. Turning out in Scotland would have meant I’d probably have become Edinburgh AC club cross-country champion. Turning out in Ulster means I will have a chance of extending my record of 5 team gold medals. I rarely get the chance to race in the red vest at home. I’ve been doing the Ulsters for years. So I’m back again next week.
With that in mind, I wanted to get in a couple of tough training sessions, while still leaving enough time to taper off before the Ulsters. I knew exactly what I wanted to do on the Sunday. Long beach intervals, finishing with a tough uphill up the road off the beach. But I didn’t know if my legs and joints would allow it. I went out and tried and they seemed OK. Even the day before, they wouldn’t have been able. So it was three-and-a-half minutes up the beach (into the wind), three-and-a-half minutes back, and one minute up the hill. A tough session, with the fourth and final rep in a white-out of sand. I got through it, but I’m still finding sand in my hair and ears.
I will need to give the legs some TLC this week – some foam rolling, self-massage, hot baths and so on. I’ll hopefully strike a decent balance between training hard but not too hard, and hopefully have a decent run in the Ulster cross-country at the weekend.
Training done was as follows:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Post 165 - Racing thick and fast

After a good performance at the East District cross-country championships before Christmas, there was a bit of a comedown. I peaked fairly well for this race, so there was always going to be a bit of a comedown, but it was worse than I thought. I picked up a chest infection over Christmas which took a while to shift. It’s always the way with me – I don’t often get sick, but when I do I’ll feel “sort-of” sick for a while, then my body will decide it can’t fight it off, then I’ll plunge into the depths of a winter bug, then it’ll take ages to shake it off, and yet further ages to get back to a level of fitness. I’d say a winter bug costs me 6-8 weeks in total. To force myself to try to see the positives, I suppose that an enforced break does me good, allows leg recovery, and you can’t maintain peak fitness all the time, but I’d prefer the break to be on my terms…

So it was damage limitation going into the Scottish Inter-District cross country championships. I didn’t get to train too much, or too well for this. It was the same story for the same competition last year. But it’s not every day you get the chance to run for Scotland East.

I never thought when I started running for Metro Aberdeen that I’d wear the Scotland East vest. That was what the big, seasoned, tough-as-nails runners competed for. The fast runners. I still wouldn’t consider myself one of them. But 16 years later I am a lot older, and somehow decent enough to challenge to be picked at district level, if a long way off being one of the top runners. So it’s an honour to pull on the vest for Scotland East, where my club running started in 2003 and where I am enjoying (or trying to enjoy) it continuing in the modern era…

So I took the black vest down off my wall and headed for Stirling. Yes, the vest is on my wall, along with all the other running vests I’ve worn over the years. I wanted to frame them all, but costs were prohibitive, so they are hanging on coat hangers hanging on nails…

It was a new venue for the inter-districts, comprising the junior and senior inter-district races, and then a series of international races as well. Arriving at the venue, it was fairly uninspiring, compared with the dramatic backdrop of Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, the previous location. To me, cross country running is about mud, it’s about countryside, wilds, courses dictated by the natural landscapes. It’s not about running up and down pristine football pitches on a course marked entirely by barriers and tape, nor is it about running up and down golf course fairways. But no matter, it was what it was.

Half the course was like this

Start and finish under Stirling castle

I knew the guys I had placed around in the qualification race. I had no expectation of being anywhere near them on this occasion, as I was still coughing and suffering the after-effects of the chest infection. It turned out I ran OK. I placed between the two guys I placed between in Aberdeen, in the qualifying race. I’d have taken that beforehand. I was lacking a lot of strength on the uphill inclines. They weren’t even steep or long, but I was losing 3-5 positions on each incline. I was so weak on the hills. Everyone that is picked for the inter-districts is a good solid runner, so any weakness will be found out. But I was pulling the places back on the flat. I love flat running where I can open the legs out. The wind meant that on the exposed football pitch section of the course, runners were jostling to be last out of a corner, to get shelter on the subsequent straight from runners ahead.

Close in the races (9 and 12)...

...pals off-course too

It was what it was. I wasn’t a massively memorable run, but nor was it a bad run either. Had I finished 13 seconds faster, the East District team would have won gold, and I’d have been a scoring counter. Had I not had a chest infection, this would probably have happened. What can you do?! Try again next year?!

I had a week before the next race, the final East District league race in Livingston. I plugged away at the training – 14 hill repeats in howling wind and horizontal drizzle (glamourous it ain’t, but hills I need to work on, so out I will go), a tempo turbo in the flat with the doors and windows open, the fan blowing, and it being so cold I had to wear a hat and gloves and a jacket, a mini-fartlek run, and another mini-turbo.

I had good memories of the Livingston course from last year, where I had a strong run to manage to squeak district qualification. The reality was different and the rose-tinted spectacles were obliterated. It was brutally cold, and a lot of the course was on hard, stony forest paths. Not a problem in cushioned trail shoes, but tough on the joints when you’re wearing spikes. It was 3 laps. Just under 10K. The first lap is never memorable as you’re always fresh. On the second lap, on the long double-sectioned uphill, I went backwards. Oh no. If it’s this bad before half-distance, it’s going to be a long and painful second half…

Over the top of the hill and clattering through the stony forest paths and getting onto the open, grassy downhill section, I felt better, and on the third lap I felt better still and made a bit of progress. Coming towards the finish, there’s a narrow downhill twisty section. I was in a group of about 5. There was a tight right-hander coming. There was a backmarker. I needed to be at the front of the group and past the backmarker before the turn. I surged. I was first through the turn. But I was passed out of the turn and got a little bit boxed in by another backmarker. I was screamed encouragement at from the sidelines. I’ve never had such a cheer. Thanks Deirdre. Through the final left hander and onto the downhill finishing straight, I finished second of the group of 5 I had been with, and eleventh overall. Looking at the results, probably a little down overall on where I wanted to be, but not disastrously so.

Not much between me and Darrell in the races

It was quickly on with loads of layers to stay warm and good to warm down with Darrell who I’ve been racing closely with over the last few months over the cross-country season. I enjoyed the slow warm down and chat with Darrell, a bit of a difference from racing at full tilt, with the two of us straining to stay on even terms with each other.

My knees and Achilles were both sore after this race. Wearing spikes with not much cushioning on rough, hard stony forest trails didn’t do my joints any good. I managed a painful, slow 9 miles the next day (my “long” run), in over 80 minutes. Grim running, but in a nice part of the world, out at the John Muir country park near Dunbar in East Lothian with Deirdre – beaches, woods, trails, tides, sea, rivers, views, wind, drizzle, and sore joints.

Tide out, water literally miles away...

...And tide in

Nice running

Monday was my rest day and it was also grim, especially painful walking up and down stairs. It’s about 50 stairs up to my flat on the third floor. By Tuesday I felt recovered enough to go and do a long interval session. 3 laps of the meadows, with 3 minutes of recovery, averaging around 7:15. The first one was OK, the second one was quick, and the third one was horrible, with strength ebbing away. Still, another session in the bank and knees/Achilles coping. And just when you think you've got away with one thing, I tweaked my back taking my shoes off. I say tweaked. It was actually pretty sore. I didn't sleep much - couldn't sleep much, any movement was very sore. Not much for it except to hope for the best. It settled after a few days, but I wish that I wasn't so fragile. I wish I could have unbroken uninjured spells. I'm always fighting something, it seems. It's a pain. Literally.

I did a hard turbo on Wednesday evening, then a hard fartlek run on Thursday, then a swim that turned out to be much harder than it should have been. It was my first time in the water for about 5 weeks. I still had good fitness but had lost some of the specific swimming conditioning, so I came out of the water feeling knackered and despite a long sleep, I woke up feeling knackered, on race day – the East Lothian cross country championships.

I’d love to win a cross-country race. To do that I probably need to get a little bit lucky. I probably should have won this race last year but felt terrible on the day and lost out. Similarly, I felt terrible this year, I was never really at the races, I had had a tough week of training, no taper, a fatiguing swim the day before, and for the 8km I averaged 5:59 per mile (compared to 5:15 – 5:20 at previous races). OK, East Lothian wasn’t a quick course, but still, it was a bit disappointing although entirely explainable. In the first couple of hundred metres I realised I couldn’t keep pace with the winner. I tempo-ran the race, it was all I could do, and I came in second. 

I like taking photos. I usually try to take photos at races and post them online.
I'm a bit limited by my old iPhone4s (old technology now). 
This one came out great - a clubmate winning the East Lothian cross country,
with two young kids watching on - just a shame the kids are a little bit blurry
but that's the fault of the basic iPhone4s camera...!

It was less a good race completed, and more an unremarkable training session completed. Still, a good day out with a few clubmates in a nice part of the world (the John Muir country park again!).
I plodded through 10 miles on Sunday and felt so tired that I am debating taking an entire two days off to rest and recover. The past few weeks have been full-on, three races in a row, me still trying to recover from the chest infection, cold temperatures, hard training. I’ve got two-and-a-half weeks before my next outing, the fast 5K in Armagh, then 9 further days before the Scottish or Ulster cross-country championships. So hopefully a good block of training, and a couple of good performances to follow.

I’m still no further along with decisions on what to do with the year. Ironman? Short course triathlon? Running? I priced up going to the world duathlon championships at the end of April. I genuinely think I could win my age group at this race. Is it worth nearly £1000, and a stressful, solo trip, driving to Liverpool airport at 4am, flying to Porto on Ryanair with my bike packed up, hiring a car, driving to Pontevedra, staying in a cheap hotel by myself, racing, flying back to land at Liverpool at midnight? Could I use £1000 better? Plus I've qualified for the world sprint and standard distance triathlons in Lausanne in Switzerland at the end of August/start of September. They'll be similarly expensive trips... So much money, but doubtful the chances will ever come around again. There's a purity and a lack of expense in running compared with triathlon. Can I justify these trips? Especially if I’m doing an ironman? Am I doing an ironman?! Watch this space, I am interested to find out…

I’ve started getting a bit more serious about things this year, as evidenced by the fact that I am now maintaining a training log again. I’m not going to type it all out here is I have done in previous years, it takes ages to type it out, but a photograph will do the job almost as well. Training done was as follows:

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Post 164 - Frustrated musings

I somehow managed to get myself into good shape for the Scottish East District cross-country championships in Aberdeen in December, and somehow managed to back this shape up with a good run on the day to qualify to represent Scotland East at the Scottish Inter-District Championships in early January. It really was a tough build-up and I was always fighting niggles and managing myself to make it to the race in one piece.  I’m not getting any younger and it’s not getting any easier… Indeed, just recently, for the first time, someone said (seriously, not jokingly) to me, “Are you a master yet John?” A Master being a cross-country runner who is over 35 years old... I was happy enough with Aberdeen, but saying that, I again wondered how much better I could be if I could run 60-80 miles a week consistently instead of the 20 or so I inconsistently manage, backed up by some turbo training and a little swimming. I wonder this a lot.

It seems I cannot maintain high levels of fitness without breaking down injured or breaking down sick. There was always going to be a bit of a comedown after Aberdeen as it had been a big target and I needed a bit of a switch-off for a few days. But I knew I was in shape to run a sub-32 minute 10K, given who I had run with and finished beside in Aberdeen. I’d love to run sub-32, as much as I’d love to qualify for Kona. It has kept me going with running. A tough experienced runner-turned-coach in Aberdeen looked at me as a silly, na├»ve 18-year old who thought he might break 40 for a 10K, and told me “you’ve got sub-32 in you.” Him saying that was one thing, me coming to believe it was another thing, but 16 years later it still hasn’t happened. I’d do anything to make it happen. For 16 years it’s one of the things that has kept me putting on my runners and going out training, and has kept me coming back for more when out injured. It’s a monkey on my back. Or a massive bloody gorilla that won’t let go until I get rid of it with a 31 clocking.

So straight after Aberdeen, I wanted to find a fast 10K ASAP, while I had the fitness for it. I found the Ribble Valley 10K on 30th December. The English 10K championships. In the north of England. Not too far from Scotland. People were going from Scotland who I knew would run sub-32, who I had beaten in Aberdeen. Could I hold it together until then? My brother was due to get married on 22nd December. I decided against Ribble Valley. Sub-32 would have to wait. But I really wanted to do it, and to strike while the iron was hot. I didn’t want to wait until spring time. I could be injured or back doing multi-sport (duathlon or triathlon) or whatever by then. I said I’d do anything to make sub-32 happen. I guess that was a lie, because if it wasn’t I’d have declined my brother’s wedding, stayed in my flat in Edinburgh, not touched any alcohol or Christmas food or gone out or talked to anyone all Christmas, kept training, kept eating clean and nutritious food, and gone to Ribble Valley and finally done my sub-32. But I didn’t do any of that.

The wedding was really good fun, but I fully expected to get ill afterwards. This blog is written from an athletic point of view. Sure enough, from an athletic point of view, the wedding and Christmas was a disaster, and I was glad I hadn’t made arrangements for Ribble Valley. I knew what would happen, and it's exactly what turned out happened:

I did a fairly fast beach ParkRun in the morning of the wedding, depleting me. Then at the wedding, shouting over loud music at hundreds of people I hadn’t seen for ages, many of them seemingly ill, being spat on by them as they shouted back at me, having my pint spat in, being in a crowded hot function room, eating relative rubbish, not able to eat my normal (or abnormal) diet of ginger, garlic, seeds, falafel, turmeric and everything else I eat to try to stay fit and well, drinking, staying up late, dancing, sleeping badly, doing “normal”, “fun” stuff, all a bad, bad, bad mix for an athlete in good condition. Especially the ever-fragile, ageing me. I don't realise how tight I turn the screw, how much I put into it all, how every aspect of life is as geared as it can be towards enabling me to do the best I can at my sport, until I step back from it all. The funny thing was, the next day, I actually thought I had gotten away with it.

A pretty cool ParkRun photo

Then I was down to Dublin for a night and the bus coming home stopped off at Dublin airport, and so many ill people got on, it was horrible, like a mobile influenza ward. The next morning (Christmas morning) I felt awful. I still went and ran Greencastle on Boxing Day and ran a course PB, even with feeling so terrible. I just missed the podium and the prizes, but if I’d been fit and well…

I continued kidding myself that I wasn’t sick and did a bike ride with my dad before finally accepting I needed help and went to the doctor and got antibiotics for a chest infection. I bailed on the New Year’s Day triathlon in Edinburgh. I was gutted. I dare say I probably would have won it. Deirdre was in Edinburgh and she raced, going really well on the bike. 

Christmas running, where the running all started for me

Christmas cycling with the oul fella leading the way

100m to go in Greencastle

Less than a mile to go in Greencastle (approximate mile splits: 4:50, 4:50, 5:30, 6:20, 4:55.
Mile 4 = hill. Race slogan = "It's just a hill, get over it!")

Such a brilliant day for the New Year's Day triathlon

Deirdre blitzing the bike

I had thought to myself that at least I had two and a half weeks to get better before the Scottish inter-districts, but Christmas and new year completely warped my sense of time, and I realised that I only had just over a week before the race on 12th January, so I was very much on the back foot and it was damage limitation. A shame – last year’s race was ruined by exactly the same thing.

A week after that will be a district league cross-country, then a week after that will be a local cross-country, then we are into February. I’ve entered the Armagh 5K again (the fastest 5K in the world in terms of how many people finish under 15 minutes), and will hope to have a good run there. Maybe not sub-15, but if I can be consistent, not sick and not injured, I don’t think I’ll be too far off it.

Then the dilemmas start. Dilemma number one is a fairly minor one as it won’t shape the course of the year: whether to run the Scottish national cross-country championships or the Ulster cross-country championships – both are on the same day.

Pros for the Ulsters: I’ve got a great record, I’ve won 5 Ulster team golds (I don’t think anyone else has 5 golds, and so why not try and keep the record going as long as I can), it’s a rare home race, I like the course, I could finish quite high up if I can avoid injury and illness.

Pros for the Scottish nationals: There’s a good chance I can win the club cross-country championships but only if I run the Scottish nationals, I’d like to get selection for the UK inter-counties in Loughborough in March and the stipulation is that selection is mainly based on how well you run in the Scottish Nationals (OK, I could make a case for myself if I run well at the Ulsters, but it’s much more preferable to do things the right way), the Scottish race is just down the road and is therefore handier and cheaper, and it would be interesting to see how I could run there.

I don’t know what to do. I’ll need to think it through.

Then come more dilemmas. I really want to run a sub-32 10K (and a sub-70 half marathon, and therefore a 52-minute 10 mile race). I also really want to qualify for Kona (the Ironman world championships). I really want to do another good short-course triathlon season, as last season (my first season doing short-course triathlon) went far better than I ever thought it would until injury ruined it. I’ve qualified to go to the world short-course triathlon championships at the start of September and I want to go there and do as well as I possibly can (possibly threatening the podium). I’ve qualified to go to the world duathlon championships at the end of April where I genuinely think I can get on the podium. I also want to run a sub-2:40 (sub-2:30?!) marathon.

All of which I want to do before I am over the hill, and I've a feeling at 34 years old now the top of the hill is approaching, and other things in life may also take over. Achieving these things is possible. Not a given, but a possible. I have the potential to achieve them. I don't like unrealised potential. I like to be able to say "that was the best it could have been." Then I would probably draw my modest competitive sporting career to a close on my own terms rather than being forced out due to long-term injury or medical issues. The problem is, none of these targets are compatible and I can’t do them all in a year.

I think I can plan up until the end of April relatively easily. My training is going to be lending itself to doing a bit of cycling anyway, as I simply can’t do the running mileage without getting injured. So a week of training might look like this:

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: Bike intervals
Wednesday: Tough swim or easy run
Thursday: Running intervals
Friday: Easy run or rest
Saturday: Race or tempo run or tempo bike
Sunday: Long run

I would tweak it depending on the upcoming targets, for example doing more cycling if a duathlon was upcoming. Adding in cycling to/from work and with all the strength and conditioning work, I can get myself in decent shape like this.

If I get through the Armagh 5K, and do either the Ulster cross-country or the Scottish national cross-country, then March will be busy. Hopefully I’ll go to Loughborough (UK inter-counties), and I’d love to go back to Bere Island in south-west Ireland and have a crack at the ParkRun course record there in March. I’d like to do the Scottish Road Relays in March. The Scottish Duathlon clashes with the Titanic 10K in Belfast at the end of March, so that’s another dilemma. I’m still undecided. If I didn’t do the Belfast 10K then this would only leave me one chance at a 10K in mid-April in Grangemouth. Then a big target will be the world duathlon championships in Spain at the end of April.

Then the dilemmas really start. I have three choices:

One: Do I continue with the running through the summer? I’d love to do this. There’s much less expense, much less stress in travelling to races, running is “pure” – one pair of runners is all that’s needed and the playing field is level. Give me £10,000 and I can buy a lot of nice equipment that will make me faster on the bike, but running is pure. It’s feasible I could run 69 for a half marathon, 52 for a 10-mile race, 31 for a 10K, sub-9 for 3K.

Two: Or, do I focus more on short-course triathlon? There are a number of local races which I could do, and I could make the main focus of the year going to the world short-course triathlon championships in Switzerland at the end of August in top shape. I would think it realistic that I wouldn’t be too far off challenging for a podium there. I enjoy the variety of training that three disciplines offer, but I am frustrated by having to accept that doing three sports means I’ll never reach my potential in any one of the three. Therefore I’d have to accept that summer running will not be the priority. The world duathlon and Scottish duathlon would also tie into this plan ,with the possibility of a world medal and another Scottish national medal.

Three: Or, the big call, do I go all out for one last Ironman? I feel there is unfinished business there. I’ve lost count of the number I’ve started. About 10. I’ve been good enough for Kona. It's another monster gorilla on my back. But due to dreadfully bad circumstances Kona has never happened (bad luck? Is bad luck a thing? Do you make your own luck? Do you get what you deserve? 10 races and nearly a decade of disaster? How often do you keep coming back for more?) If I'm ever going to come back for more, 2019 is probably the year, when I am free enough and settled enough to commit the time. Plus, strike while the "iron" is hot. I was on a high after the half ironman world championships in South Africa in September 2018. I learned a lot there. A few missing puzzle pieces fell into place. It would be a shame not to apply all that learning to another ironman. Plus there are other things that all add up:

  • I probably don’t need to do as much training as I think I need to do. I ran a 1:22 half marathon in the half ironman in South Africa, off no running training whatsoever. Not a step. It was genuinely unbelievable.
  • Being fresh for the race is better. When I was doing Ironmans from London, I was grossly overtrained and overcooked by the time the races arrived. Be 15% undertrained rather than 1% overtrained. 
  • I have a faster and more aggressive aero position on the bike.
  • I have a disc wheel (faster).
  • I have a great new aero helmet that doesn’t give me appalling headaches like my old aero helmet did.
  • I have great Scottish country roads that are easily accessible, rather than having to do 5-hour turbo trainer sessions as I did in London. There’s no substitute for long rides on the road. Plus my road bike has a power meter so I can ride to power on these training rides.
  • My nutrition is sorted (Tailwind nutrition, tried in South Africa: a powder you mix with water that gives you all you need. No build-up of solids to come exploding out in a port-a-loo if you’re lucky or in your shorts if you’re unlucky. No feeling hungry throughout the race. I didn’t once feel like I needed a port-a-loo in South Africa. It was a revelation. Nor did I feel hungry in the race).
  • One bottle of concentrated Tailwind nutrition and one bottle of water is all I’ll need to carry (no gels, no bars, and only two bottles) – weight on the bike will be less, to the tune of maybe 2-3kg, which will mean more speed.
  • Losing a few minutes in the swim is OK if you exit the water at 150bpm instead of 170bpm, you'll get benefits for the next 8-9 hours.
  • Take the benefit of gravity on the bike to let the legs recover. My front brake fell off in South Africa and I needed 5 minutes at the mechanic station to fix it. I was raging at the time but the enforced rest set me up for a strong second half of the bike and a strong run. I lost 5 minutes on the bike due to the stop, but if I hadn’t had that 5 minute break then my run probably would have been a lot slower.
  • Lower tyre pressures are generally a little bit faster (galling to think I might have qualified at a previous race with 20psi less in my tyres).
  • My feet – wear tri shoes with no socks to let the feet dry out on the bike (whether after the swim or after peeing on the bike), this means they’ll not be wet, wrinkled, soft, and ending up in agony on the run. As opposed to bike shoes and wet socks as I did in the past.
  • Trusting that I’ve been there and done it before when it comes to ironman, and trusting in all of the above, and trusting in my fitness, and having a much shorter build-up and going into the race fresh, peaked and ready to perform.

There are cons too of course. It’s hugely expensive. I am sick of spending the money. The bike is currently in for a service. I haven't touched it since South Africa - I barely built it back up again, I could hardly look at it. It was filthy. The bike shop quoted £250 for the work plus a few parts. 

Also, it’s a huge time commitment. It could go wrong again in which case it’ll be another year wasted. A year in which I could have kept on running, spent a fraction of the ironman money on physio and massage, and had a great year of PBs. Or really focused on the short course triathlon and duathlon world championships.

It’ll be pressured, because this really will be the last chance, if “real life” starts happening and I start thinking about settling down and all that adult stuff that I’ve never had to think about before. I couldn’t be doing ironman training around all that. I wouldn’t want to be. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, if I can’t give something 100% and maximum commitment, I’m not interested in doing it. I know I could do it this year, but beyond this year I am not so sure I could, or indeed would want to. I would be very happy to draw a line under the obscenity of competitive long-course ironman triathlon. I'd have been happy to draw that line in 2011 or 2013 (or 2014 or 2015 or 2016) if I'd qualified. 

So if I decided to go for it (and I haven’t yet decided), then that leads to the question, which Ironman to do? I’d love to go back to South Africa and do the full Ironman there. I've been there, I know it, it’s a great course, it suits me, it’s not cold (I hate the cold and can’t race well in it), it’s a continental championship race which means more Kona slots available. But it’s a long and expensive way away, I couldn’t do this April’s edition as I have other racing plans, and I don’t want to drag it out into April 2020. Plus, it would mean winter training in Scotland. Tough.

Ironman Wales? Relatively local. But a very tough race, potentially very cold and wet, and very tough to qualify at. Ironman Cork in Ireland? A new race, an unknown, difficult to get to. And a cold June sea swim. Ironman Lanzarote? No, a spring time ironman doesn’t fit my plans. A continental European Ironman? That would mean flying with the bike, foreign country, tough competition, tough to qualify. North America? Australasia? Too far away. Too expensive. I don’t have unlimited funds.

Ironman UK? Not many Kona slots, but it’s in the UK summer, it’s a benign lake swim, I know the course and the logistics, it’s not too far from Edinburgh. I think if I had to choose, it would have to be Ironman UK. If I did it, I could train up to the world duathlon championships i April, then have May and June (8 weeks) to fully focus on long-course training, a 2-week taper in July, then Ironman UK, and then if I qualified for Kona I could still go to the world short-course championships at the end of August (albeit that my performance would certainly be compromised as I’d be training for Kona and not a short-course race), I’d go to Kona in October 2019 and then retire from long-course racing. If Ironman UK didn’t go well, then Ironman Wales could be a back-up…

So. Will I give up my year and my running ambitions and my short-course triathlon ambitions for one last throw of the dice at Ironman UK…? That is the big question…

One last thing to do at this time of year is reflect on the highs and lows of the year that has passed. So here goes, off the top of my head, from an athletic point of view. Starting with the lows, because it's always good to finish on a high...

Lows (some lower than others):
  • Having to run for Scotland East in January 2018 at the Scottish Inter-Districts with a chest infection, and being way below par.
  • Being off the boil at the East Lothian Cross Country - I've managed to win a few road races, but never a cross-country race. I'd love to win a cross-country race. This was one that got away. I led for a lot of it but knew I wasn't having a good run, I was still coming back after the chest infection, and I got passed with a mile and a half to go.
  • Missing the Bere Island ParkRun course record by a few seconds. I'd love to break this record, but chances to do it are few and far between. Once a year if you're lucky... The windy wild Atlantic conditions cost me the record. Oh well. Also missing the Poolbeg ParkRun course record by a few seconds - the previous evening's drinking and sloppy Mexican dinner cost me the record, and nearly cost me my dignity in the final half-mile...
  • Wearing tri shorts with no drawstring in my first pool triathlon meant that with every wall push-off, the shorts came down, which meant having to push gently to minimise the coming-down (losing so much time), and then fumble with them while swimming to pull them back up, and take pauses at every turn to pull them up. Amateurish.
  • Realising that my inability to do tumble turns was costing me dearly in the pool-based triathlons - e.g. I lost 4-5 minutes on the leader (the current world and European champion in my age group) in the Selkirk standard distance triathlon - he had finished his 60-length 1500m swim while I had done only 48 lengths. I pulled him back to 1-2 minutes at the finish but the damage is being done in the pool. I'm not that much slower at actual swimming (in an open water 1900m swim with no turning I'm only a minute back off him) but I just can't tumble turn fast enough/well enough/confidently enough to stay in touch in the pool swims, despite working on it all summer.
  • Being terrified on the bike in the Eyemouth sprint triathlon - my deep-rimmed front wheel was catching far too much wind and the bike was very unpredictable, being blown all over the road. I had to get a new, shallower front wheel which made a big difference.
  • The Edinburgh half ironman - was the main focus of my year, I trained really well, was in good shape at the start, and completely blew on the run with horrific leg cramps - like being stabbed with knives. Reason being - all the shorter triathlons I had done were all-out blitzes, without having to give much thought to holding back, or to nutrition or hydration. A gulp of water here and a gel there was enough. The half ironman was a different matter, as I found out to my cost. A scorching day and I didn't drink enough or take on enough nutrition on the bike, started fading in the final 5-10 miles of the bike, thought that the run was my forte and that I'd be fine, and ended up screaming in agony in a heap at the side of the road after a mile of the run. I just about managed to "run" under 2 hours in the end. I should be running under 1:20 in such a run.
  • Obtaining a half-ironman world championship place by default at the prizegiving later that day - I wanted to feel I'd earned it and I definitely hadn't.
  • Injuring my Achilles a week after the Edinburgh half ironman, with the European sprint triathlon championships looming in Glasgow, and the world half ironman in South Africa not long after. I had to bail out of the Gullane and St Mary's triathlons. Entry fees aren't cheap. A stupid, stupid injury. I risk assess everything I do. There's so much I don't do, because my body won't be able to cope. Carrying heavy things. Playing tennis or squash. Playing golf. Any form of contact sport. I thought shooting a few basketball hoops in an amusement arcade with my brothers would be fine. It got competitive. Who can shoot the most hoops in the time limit? We absolutely smashed the high scores. My brother beat me by one lousy shot. The tiptoeing action had strained my calves, which in turn led to an Achilles break down and I couldn't run a step for 2-3 months. How I wish I hadn't played that basketball. I'm still suffering now, 6 months later.
  • The European sprint triathlon championships in Glasgow. My reasonably decent performances in sprint triathlons earlier in the year secured my qualification for this. I genuinely had aspirations to finish on the podium in my age group. I wasn't able to run a step for weeks and weeks in training, with the bad Achilles. If I don't go into a race knowing I'm at 100%, I lose interest. I didn't really want to be there. I decided to go anyway, as the opportunity may not come again. People encouraged me saying that you can still give 100%, and I knew that I could and would, but you're giving 100% of a much lower level than if everything had gone well. Anyway. I had a terrible swim, got pummelled in the mass-start, came out of the water on the back foot, had a reasonable bike, not spectacular but not terrible, and then the run - would I even finish? Usually I'd blitz through the field, on this occasion I still did make up places and still did finish (can't remember if seventh or eighth or ninth, it doesn't even really matter), but I reckon I lost 40-60 seconds on the swim and well over a minute on the run. That time matters.
  • The world half ironman - again I couldn't do any running in preparation. Same attitude as for Glasgow above. An expensive trip that I just couldn't get excited about. My brake fell off on the bike, I lost a pile of time, and even though my run massively exceeded expectation, ultimately the lack of training and brake issue meant the end result was way off where it could have been. So from a "maximising performance" point of view it was a disaster, but the learning and how much I exceeded my low expectations meant I finished it on a bit of a high.
  • The Stirling cross-country league race. I had a break after the world half ironman. Then the first few cross-country races of the season were shorter runs. I got away with these and exceeded my expectations. The first "long" cross-country was Stirling. Simply put, I had an awful run, particularly on the third lap: no fitness, no endurance, and it was a painful realisation that I had a lot of work to do to get to a decent level before the main target of the East District championships.
  • The chest infection I got a couple of weeks ago over Christmas and over my brother's wedding. Bah humbug. I had to miss the New Year's Day triathlon and I'm now in damage limitation mode for the first few races of 2019.
  • Continual rehabilitation for 3 separate injuries - the dislocated shoulder from summer 2017, the broken wrist from the same bike crash, and the Achilles injury from summer 2018. I'm sick of physios and hospitals and scans and treatment and endless, tedious, time-consuming rehab. It was a huge low to finally get a good NHS physio who tested my shoulder strength after a year of rehab, and to find out that it was still really weak. At least he was able to give me some good, targeted, strength-based rehab.
  • Running a 5K PB (15:29) in Armagh at a race with a very high-quality field (almost 100 people went sub-15).
  • Having a decent run at the UK inter-county cross-country championships in the Scotland East vest. The longest and muddiest cross country I've ever done. I got completely boxed in at the start, which I was raging about when it happened but which set me up nicely for the rest of the race, running strongly and coming through the field to finish in the top 50% (it was another high-quality field!). Also running side-by-side with an old uni running mate who I hadn't seen in over 10 years, and having a chat at the finish. It was a great trip.
  • Actually getting back on the bike on the roads after the crash in 2017 which caused a bit of damage. I was tentative, scared even, but I did it and managed to get back to racing at full tilt. 9 lives... how many are left...?
  • Finishing third overall in the Scottish National duathlon championships, my first duathlon and my first outing on the "new" (second-hand) bike I'd bought a few months previously. Literally the first time I'd been on it. I had a good run, lost 20 seconds due to a wrong turn, only got passed by 2 people on the bike (one a pro), and had a strong final run up into third overall.
  • A decent first short-course triathlon season, and realising that short-course suits me well. Peak performance was winning the Stirling sprint triathlon with my mum and dad watching. I had a very strong run - 17 flat, on a very hilly tough course.
  • Running 1:22 for the half marathon in the half ironman world championships. No idea how I managed that as I had done no running training for almost two months, with the bad Achilles. I expected to be walking for most of it. 1:22 was unbelievable. I couldn't walk for a week after it as my legs were so deconditioned, but 1:22 - I finished happy, but wondering what it could have been had I been able to train. I was also happy with the new nutrition - Tailwind nutrition, mentioned earlier in this post.
  • Winning the Peebles duathlon two weeks after South Africa and having done nothing in the intervening two weeks. I was more pleased about being able to race strongly after the break than actually winning it.
  • Team silver at the National Short Course cross-country championships in Lanark - I had a decent run (very fast course - first mile in 4:48 and I hung on fairly well to finish reasonably well) and was our fourth and final scorer. My Achilles needed a lot of TLC after this, but a national silver medal was good.
  • Winning the Edinburgh men's health 10K on a really good course, taking in the castle, Princes Street Gardens, Holyrood Park, the Grassmarket, running on the (closed) Western Approach Road and finishing inside Murrayfield, not far from my flat. I had a strong final mile and although the time wasn't especially quick, the way I executed the race was good. Let the leaders go early and trust that they'll come back later.
  •  The East District cross country championships in Aberdeen. I managed to keep the training together, had a strong run, finished in strong company, got picked for Scotland East and realised I was in shape to run a sub-32 10K.
  • Winning the club Christmas relays - teams of 2. My team-mate absolutely buried himself for this, it was a great race at the front between 2 teams, a really enjoyable evening, and more like what running should be all about.
  • Running ac ourse PB at the Greencastle 5 mile road race on Boxing Day, despite being ill, unfit, and overweight (all relative of course). 
Happy new year...

Monday, December 17, 2018

Post 163 - Fighting to the Districts

11th December 2018

After the Scottish National short-course cross-country championships, both of my Achilles tendons were really sore. It was a flat, fast run, on good ground. The first mile of the race was my mile PB, in 4:48. I hung on well and felt I had a decent race. But it was hard, fast running, much more so than I’ve been used to recently, and my Achilles were not happy afterwards. So I had to take a good few days off running, and had to make use of the turbo trainer. Nothing else for it. It’s not a bad thing to be keeping in touch with the turbo trainer and keeping the bike legs, in addition to cycling to work whenever possible. But it’s not a good thing when you want to be getting on with some consistent running training.

I had a wee trip over to Dublin the following week, with a flat(ish) ParkRun planned. But the day before, I wasn’t even sure I should run it, so I went out for a trial run, thinking to do a 5-minute warm up and then 20 minutes of fartlek running. Neither of my Achilles felt great but I started the minute fast/minute slow fartlek, thinking I’d see how it went. It wasn’t comfortable but neither was it so bad that I had to bail out. So I’d start the 5k the next morning, I’d try to run fast and see how it felt, I could always slow down or bail out if it was too sore.

Dublin tourism took its toll with a trip to the Guinness storehouse, a few drinks, and a sloppy Mexican dinner not leaving me feeling the best for the run the next morning. The course record was on, even with the surprise hill and dead turn halfway through the race, but I suffered in the final mile; having to slow a bit to avoid a very visible and disgraceful accident from appearing down the backs of my legs… it would have been nice to have taken the record with a sub-16 run but I was happy that my Achilles had survived.

The following week was another Scottish East District league race, in Broxburn, not far from Edinburgh. Then it was a week off, followed by the Scottish East District championships, in Aberdeen. This had been a target race for a while, to try to get fit enough and run well enough to be selected to run for the district/county (Scotland East) in the Scottish, and then UK inter-district/county championships in the new year.

Anyway, I had to get through the training and the Broxburn race first. I knew my fitness wasn’t bad, especially for shorter stuff, but there was a question mark over my ability to run well in the final quarter of a 5-6 mile race. There were also two further question marks, one over each of my Achilles. Another question mark arose very suddenly and in a very unwelcome manner when I was out for an easy training run one evening, nothing tough, just a nice easy few miles, when without warning my guts and stomach (which had both been emptied earlier in the day) decided to empty themselves before I even had time to think about where the nearest toilet was. Let’s just say I’m glad I was wearing leggings, but it was a very uncomfortable 30 minutes that followed.

Anyway. On to Broxburn. A 3-lap race. I jogged a lap of the course to warm up. I was terrified. Very narrow, very twisty, some horrible cambers, especially at the bottom of the hills, very slippery, and worst of all, very uneven and bumpy underfoot. The sensible thing would have been to bail out there and then, and not risk turning/spraining/breaking an ankle. But I wanted to run. I needed to run, to get another tough race in the legs. Also, I’ve an eye on placing well in the club’s cross-country grand prix, and I need to do as many of the races as possible.

So I started. I ran well, with good form, and good mental alertness, for the first two laps, trying to avoid the lumps and bumps on the course. I was actually really well up without knowing it. I think I ran a lot of it in 4th or 5th place. Then, on the third lap, in the final mile and a bit, my legs tired, my form went, my mental sharpness went, and I lost my bottle. I half-turned my right ankle twice on bumps, bad enough to yell out, but not so bad as to have to stop. Bottle disappeared. Even if I hadn’t lost my bottle, I didn’t have the legs. And even if I’d had the legs, I didn’t have the bottle. I lost nearly a minute in the final mile, and a few positions, but I was just so glad to be finished.

Struggling up a steep hill

Scared witless going down a steep, off-camber, slippy hill

I assessed the damage. Dare I have said it, but the ankle seemed OK. I managed a warm-down of sorts. Then had another “bloody hell get me to a toilet as quickly as possible” incident, this time just about with a good outcome. Driving home I was happy enough, I knew I’d had a stinker of a last lap but having placed so well in the race was a good sign, I still had time to work on the weaknesses and try to build strength for the final quarter of full cross-country race distance. But then climbing the stairs to my flat I was spontaneously cursing the whole way up. Ankle very painful. Top of foot very painful. Achilles very painful. Oh no. Out with the emergency frozen peas to ice everything. It’s the not knowing. It was painful. Would it be a day or two, or a month or two? I wasn’t in a happy place.

5 days later and I felt it was good enough to attempt some hill reps. This was an important session to help me build strength and I wanted to get through it. 14 hill repeats. Get through it. Come on legs, and ankle, and Achilles. I am getting more and more fragile as I get older. I got to ten repeats. It was going well. The eleventh repeat was into a horrible headwind and the time for this repeat was rubbish. I could feel the different bits and pieces weren’t happy. I didn’t want to finish on 11 with such a poor time. I was pleased to pull the time back on 12. I should have stopped there. Often as a runner it’s harder not to train, it’s harder to decline a run, or the final two intervals. I did them anyway. I would have bailed if I’d thought it was going to be very bad. The times were good. It was a good session. But again at what cost…? Both Achilles were sore again. But again I got away with it.

Looking at my Garmin watch, since the world half ironman, my weekly mileages have been as follows: 2, 8, 13, 17, 24, 19, 18, 15, 17, 21, 18, 26, 25. Not many miles to be honest. The body just can’t cope. Maybe I should put money into getting regular massages.

Anyway. If I could keep it all together for 9 more days, get to Aberdeen in one piece, I felt that I might have a chance of qualifying to run for Scotland east. Easier said than done. I was down in Leicester that weekend. A long drive. I ran laps of motorway service station car parks to try and stay loose. I found corners in the service stations to lie down and stretch my back and stick my arse in the air doing “happy cat” and “angry cat” yoga poses to keep the back loose. I did a slow ParkRun, and an even slower Sunday run. If you’d told me beforehand the paces I’d do for both, I’d have cringed and said “not enough by far…” With hindsight, both were perfect. A short moderate-tempo run on Saturday and a slow, long Sunday run, getting good time on my feet. Not taking too much out of myself. A nice bit of relaxation in between as well.

Back to Edinburgh, and 4 x half a mile repeats on Tuesday night, a light sharpening session, not a big intense wrecking ball of a session as the 14 hill repeats had been. I was very pleased to do all 4 repeats in well under 2:30. Decent. A swim session on Wednesday night to save the legs. A super-fast swimmer-turned coach told me that I push off the wall and glide for too long, thereby slowing down, which then means I have to accelerate back to up speed. And also that I don’t glide enough on each stroke. Good pointers. Over 3K in the water was more than I’d have liked, but at least the legs were saved. A short fartlek run on Thursday, a short turbo session on Friday, and there I was – in one piece, as well trained as circumstances had allowed, fighting and managing and working around circumstances all the way.

I was looking forward to Aberdeen. I lived there for nearly two years, a long time ago. I did a lot of my growing-up in Aberdeen, was well looked after by Metro Aberdeen Running Club, developed my running, shaped my life. I enjoyed the drive up the A90, a very familiar road. I enjoyed the warm-up and seeing the old familiar faces out on course, helping out. I enjoyed briefly catching up with people. Conditions were good. It was a good course. It should suit me. Part of me wished I was still in Aberdeen.

There would be 15 qualification slots to run for Scotland East. These might trickle down to the 16th or 17th finisher. Last year I was the final qualifier in 17th place. I knew there was a strong field assembled. I reckoned I’d finish somewhere between 14thand 20th. Before the start I chatted to Conan from Northern Ireland who was racing for Central AC. It turned out last week he had run 31:25 for a 10K in Belfast. Great running. I doubted I’d be anywhere near him. We lined up. A good mate Darrell was also hoping to put himself in the mix for qualification. We wished each other luck.  

And off we went. One short lap and two long laps. 5 hills, two of which would be in the final mile-and-a-bit. This was a bit of a concern, given my poor form in the final mile-and-a-half of previous recent races. So, leave something in the tank for those final two hills…

The way it shook out was that I ended up tucked in behind Conan, Mr 31:25 for 10K. I wondered was this a bit ambitious, should I throttle back? But I felt OK. I needed to be ambitious. I knew who was behind me. I needed to try and keep them behind. And so it went for 4 miles. Running well. Into the last lap, I tried to look ahead and work out what position I was in. I reckoned 11th or 12th. Maintain that and you’ll have done it. Easier said than done.

Right at the lowest point on the course, with maybe 6 or 7 minutes left to run, Conan gradually opened up a small gap. A few seconds. He was stronger. I wasn’t as strong. I knew full well who was behind me. Quality runners. Maintain it, don’t let them through. But you can only run as hard as you can run, if they can run harder, if they are stronger, then they will come through. Once one comes through, another can come through, and another, then the previous four miles and all the training is for nothing. You need to be mentally and physically strong. I dug in. Up the second-last hill. Halfway up, my form going, my former coach from Metro roaring in my ear. Fighting my way up that hill. I knew if I could get over it, and onto the downhill, I’d be much less likely to be passed: relative to others, I run well on downhill sections that aren’t too steep. In theory I could recover on the downhill, maintain position, and get ready for the last hill.

And so it panned out. I maintained. No-one came through. Down the hill, onto a short flat section, around a sharp corner, then up the last hill. Maintain. Get up it. Keep them behind. As hard as you can. I doubt it was pretty but I got to the top, no-one passed me. Onto the last downhill. It was a downhill in two parts, punctuated by a devilish tight left-hander, needing good eyes to pick a line, and good acceleration out the other side to get back to speed. I had neither but I got onto the final flat section – out to the perimeter, around a hairpin, and then back to the finish. I underestimated this because I hadn’t thought about much beyond getting over the last hill.

At the last hairpin, for the first time, I looked back to see who was there. I had a gap. I doubted I’d be passed. Halfway down the home straight I had another look. Maybe he was a track runner and would unleash hell and get me. I looked again. Nope. I maintained. Crossed the line. Reckoned it was good enough. Conan one place and a handful of seconds ahead. Darrell two places behind. We had a wee hug at the end. Hopefully good enough for both of us to qualify.

Old hero from the old days in Aberdeen

A little warm-down, a wait for the results to be stuck on the wall of the clubhouse. I was 12th. That should do it. A good run, in a strong field – so much so that the guy who was fifth is a commonwealth games marathon bronze medallist… On the road back, we stopped. At a burger king. I had a double whopper burger. It was amazing. I had a Guinness later that evening. Scandalous. I was looking forward to a day or two of switching off. I had a think about the results. Conan told me at the finish that he ran as well in the cross country as he did in his 31:25 10k. So in theory that means that I am in shape to run a sub-32 10K. I’ve wanted to do that since I was 18, when I started with Metro and club coach Jackie Stewart told me “you’ve got sub-32 in you…”

For someone who had no idea about running and who could barely break 40, this was exciting, but unbelievable. It became more believable as my running career progressed, but it never happened. I really want to do it. It also means I’m probably in shape to be able to run a sub-70 minute half marathon.

It’s a shame that it’s the winter season when road races are few and far between. I had a look online. I knew about the Ribble Valley 10k on 30th December, down near Blackburn. Possible for a day trip. A quality race. The English 10K championships. 6 of the top 20 fastest entrants are from Scotland. However, entries are now closed for it, and anyway I get back to Edinburgh the night before. My brother’s wedding is just before Christmas. Then Christmas itself. Plus I’m down to do the new year’s day triathlon in Edinburgh. There are a few 10k races in London in the run-up to Christmas, but they don’t look particularly fast. With racing commitments in the new year, it might be April before I can get to do a 10k… anything could have happened by then…

For now anyway, I need to rest and recover. I went out the day after Aberdeen and did 10 miles, far faster than I needed to. This completely knackered me. I had postponed putting up my Christmas tree until after Aberdeen, not wanting to get injured in the process. That’s how ridiculous things are – when it gets to the stage where you are worried about getting injured by a Christmas tree… I bought it off the buy and sell noticeboard at work for very cheap. It is a big steel thing, weighs a ton, and sure enough, when I got it put up, my back was in pieces, so I have been sitting boiling myself in hot baths and giving it cold showers ever since…

What’s next? Well, I’ve just had my selection for Scotland east confirmed. Maybe a ParkRun before Christmas, trying to survive the wedding and Christmas without eating and drinking too much, keeping an eye out for a 10k although this is unlikely, doing the Greencastle 5 mile road race on Boxing day, doing the new year’s day triathlon in Edinburgh, and then into January with the Scottish inter-district cross country in Stirling, another East district league cross-country, and then the East Lothian cross country, all coming thick and fast in January. Assuming I stay injury-free… and then a longer-term question of what to focus on next year – short-course triathlon, ironman triathlon, or running. Given how well I ran in Aberdeen, off not that much training, the decision has become a lot more difficult…

Selection confirmation. Compare this with the East District Championships I ran 
in the mid 2000s, where I had no hope whatsoever of qualifying, and with 
last year's effort where I went in without a hope but had a good run to finish 17th, and
wondered if it might be good enough, waited for the email, didn't receive it, 
and then heard via messages from friends that I'd made it, as the email
went into my spam/junk folder. This year, I went into the race hopeful that a 
good run would see me in the mix, and so it proved with a 12th place finish
that I was fairly sure would be good enough at the finish line.

Birthday card pose looked a bit like my pose

Allez allez birthday present, fantastique