Sunday, 31 March 2013


Good Friday vs Evil Saturday 29&30/03/13

There is something appealing about a high intensity workout on a Friday evening that gets me out the door when the thought of a low intensity 10 miler would have me feeling lacklustre and I'd probably end up dicking about on facebook until dinner, and oops I've missed another run.

It was a low mileage week as I've been doing long days on a huge work project that has left little in the way of time or energy for running. So I wasn't looking forward to Friday evening's obligatory run until Mary outlined three x 1 mile reps up the steepest part of the Queens Drive from St. Margaret's Loch, past Dunsapie at the top. A mile and a half warm-up to get there, then 3 mile reps with a jog recovery back to the start of each makes 9 miles and sufficiently full on not to notice the miles shoot by. Sounded good.

The mile and a half there warmed us up and I had to rein in the speed on the first climb aiming for negative splits: each mile quicker. I hadn't worn a Garmin which was my undoing. Mary told me the mile finished around the top of the steps (down to Duddingston) at the far end of Dunsapie. We should tempo pace up the snakey road then raise it to a sprint once onto the flat round the loch side.

Wasn't going this fast.

6 minutes to the level then another 2mins to the steps. While I waited on Mary I took some photos. I was trying to find a long exposure setting (it was almost pitch black) on the compact so wasn't paying close attention to the road. Then I took some more photos and realised I was getting cold – Mary couldn't have taken this long surely. Was it possible she had arrived and turned early (7.54 minutes is a l-o-n-g mile even with all that uphill). But she would let me know wouldn't she? Maybe she stopped for a pee. Lots of things went through my mind as I ran back the mile to the start trying not to panic. Near the bottom and here comes madam on her second interval and she complains because I interrupt her to ask why she wasn't murdered in the bushes. I think she saw me at the top but assumed I was busy taking photos and would catch her up.

Not a good start but things improved. I tried NOT to use all of the available adrenaline and shortness of temper in the second interval, reaching the steps in 7.45 which are about 80 yards beyond where the Garmin mile ended and Mary turned. Which explained how she had ducked under my radar.

Third mile and I gave it everything which cleared out any remaining resentment and ideas of heading home without waiting on Mary since she so enjoyed her independence. (7.28) I walked back round the loch as she scooted along the last stretch of her final mile. She came back to suggest if we continued round we would take the mileage up to 10 so that we did, stopping off at Scotmid on the way home for a bottle of Les Crouzes currently £4.99 and tasting better than many a bottle twice that price.

Fidra at top, deer below

Saturday (warning: not for the squeamish)
Started well with the sun peeking out from the blanket of clouds that has been around all week. The wind direction hadn't changed much from last weekend but because it was reduced to a very light breeze Mary suggested we do an E2NB following trails and beaches from Aberlady and making 27 miles or so. All going well we could join team Porty for the road version on Sunday.

Mary looking/feeling iffy.

As we were leaving Mary had a twinge in her tummy and mentioned things being not quite right. A mile into it she was feeling worse. Not an auspicious start to a 26 miler. I said we should run to 3 miles and if she hadn't thrown off the bad feelings should return home. At the Bowling Club she was no better and decided after a pause and consideration to return home. I texted AGH to see if she was up for a few miles for company. I also found I had to take an unexpected break at the Joppa public toilets. The signs were there but I was too busy anticipating the forecast sunny skies and good running down the coast.

I had worn the Garmin for this run. Every now and then I would check to see how my pace was. Without Mary along I thought I might try a faster pace but found if I didn't consciously raise my game my pace slipped back to the sort of speed I would go if running with Mary. There's no way you can push it over 26 miles and expect not to suffer later so I carried on at a leisurely rate putting it down to the hard week at work, the session the night before and the cold headwind. Although it was a light breeze it was Baltic cold and I could feel it giving me a chill on my front. As ever I focussed on the positives and ignored all the bad omens.

AGH texted to say she hadn't been running this week so wouldn't be joining me. Unspecified illness. So it was going to be a solo jaunt. Just after Porto Setonia I ducked off onto the sandy trails between the beach and pavement and enjoyed the familiar routes through the Bents car parks and the magic forest. The trails continually improve from this point out making this direction preferable, however there are still 16 miles to Aberlady, (17 to the bridge,) and its only then that you leave the road behind for the finest 9 miles. The weather though cold was brightening. I called into the Londis shop but the coffee machine was still broken. I reluctantly bought a cold caffeine drink from the fridge. I had a brief stop to eat a Pain au Chocolat, drink my miserably cold drink, and eat a Star Bar. I ran on at a jog – difficult to get fired up again – and waited for the energy drink to kick in. It never really did and I had to admit I wasn't having a good run. The tide was as high as I've seen it at the wooden bridge and again once I got over to the beach it was nearly touching the “Footpath” signpost just beyond the dunes.

I was trying to enjoy the visuals and was taking loads of photos but I couldn't get rid of the chill in the top of my stomach. Around Gullane point I put on my rain jacket to cut the windchill. I had 3 thin layers below it and although gloves and hat and earband were keeping the extremities warm my core felt dangerously chilly. Everyone else I passed (and there weren't many) was wrapped in heavy coats and long warm trousers. (I had tights in my backpack but was saving them for the train home.)

One-legged Oyster Catchers

Getting to Gullane car park I decided to throw in the towel. I was tired and every time I stopped for a photo I found I preferred walking to running.

Only the thought of a long hike to the road, a stand at the bus stop in the cold, then an hour or more on a slow cold bus was so unappealing, I found myself drifting out the other side of the car park and into the dune trails thinking it was a quicker route home via North Berwick train station. I was glad the jacket obscured Mr Garmin and I could no longer see what pitiful pace I was doing. I was now feeling mighty strange and jogging/walking where ever the trail led. I had a vague notion to go through the woods as they would cut the wind. Also the tide was still very high making some of the beach trails unmanageable.

2 deer - unconcerned

Earth Stars - not the prettiest of fungi

I was still trying to be positive. Usually in an ultra you will have bad moments. Here was a whole heap of bad moments and therefore good training in the “toughen the f**k up” stakes. And the surroundings were so familiar that I felt I was amongst friends in a favourite part of the world. I came round a corner to see a couple of deer. They looked quizzically and I heard them decide that I was definitely not a threat, and that as soon as I had dropped dead they would search my corpse for sports bars. Earlier a cluster of Oyster Catchers in a huddle by the shore looked up as I stumbled past. They kept half and eye on me but I could see that they were all hopping weirdly on one leg as they didn't think I merited a two legged retreat.

Marine Villa and I was pleased I was hitting the beach just at the right point – the tide was receding sufficiently to let me get past without having to hobble over the rocks. 20 minutes later and the sun would be disappearing behind a bank of cloud down at the horizon. What time was it? I reckoned possibly 4.30 so was mildly appalled to pull back the jacket sleeve and reveal 6pm. We set off before 1.30. I was trying to remember what time the trains were and figured at this pace I might catch the 7.21 if I didn't have too many walk breaks. I was thinking it was 27 miles (I had done 22.5 by 6pm.) However my addled head forgot the last mile was down home from Waverley.

After Yellow Craigs I stopped to walk and had to gather myself as I nearly threw up right there on the beach. The top of my stomach was now a substantial ache although I hadn't eaten anything in ages. I put it down to the cold headwind and knew that if I took much longer it would get dark which wouldn't improve things. There is a terminally long beach with high dunes on the right before a bridge across the stream at the golf course. I noticed a jump-able section of stream which saved the normal 100 yard detour over the bridge and was very grateful, though the effort of the jump nearly forced me to stop and walk.

As soon as the edge of North Berwick appeared I took the shortest line across the golf course. We normally run along to the traditional finish on the putting green but today it was straightest possible line to the station. I crossed the main road and finally looked at my watch – I had been putting this off in case I left myself with an unlikely sprint over the last mile; it was not a day for sprinting. I was expecting 7.15 and so it took my eyes a while to work out what 6.40 was doing on my watch. When I got to the platform there was a small crowd waiting on the 6.51. I ran till the Garmin bleeped 26 miles then stopped, and wondered why the usual relief at stopping failed to materialise. As I stretched I almost felt worse. Getting onto the train I tried to sit far away from the Saturday revellers and folk talking loudly on mobiles. Everything seemed to be annoying. I even had an ache in my camera arm. I have run with the camera for 30 miles before and it has never caused my arm to ache. Still oblivious, but the evidence was now all there.

I texted Mary to say I was on the train and she texted back to say she was really sick. As it sunk in this might be more than just a bad day's run I could feel the rising nausea. I looked along the carriages to see if I could see a toilet. None. I could imagine sprinting down the corridor spraying the carriage with... and reached into the backpack to remove a freezer bag only just having time to remove the contents before I bent double behind the seat and filled it up like pulling a pint. Four or five power heaves later and I wondered what was going to happen when the contents, my contents, became greater than the volume of the bag. I stopped before that happened but had to carry my bag of toxic bio-hazzard off the train and through the station like a terrorist. Luckily its all downhill from the station and after I had sourced a drain and nearby litter-bin I jogged the last mile.

toxic bio-hazard

After a quick shower I joined Mary in bed (8pm) and we compared horror stories. (She had had it much worse than I did, having regular occasions to empty herself.) I drank a 2lt bottle of water and by 2am had the strength to eat a bowl of cereal. I realised I probably wouldn't make the Porty E2NB run at 9am.

Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhoea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, coughs, and low-grade fever may occur. The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Then vs Now

Exactly a year ago I made a video at Aberlady. In contrast to the current Siberian Spring, we were enjoying, if not a heat wave, at least a week of unseasonably warm weather. The coastal haar it produced fought with the sunshine to create a memorable day.

Instead of being out for a run I was out for a walk as my foot was in terrible shape. I had taken a few weeks away from running to let the Plantar Fasciitis ease and when I began the return I was scarily inept and could only jog for a few hundred yards. The warm week in March was followed, if memory serves, by a fairly poor Spring and the usual disappointing Summer. While the foot injury persisted I found ways to get out running without aggravating it, to the point where now, some 14 months after the lowest point, it seems to be ready for pretty much anything.

The 3 most important aids to my PF recovery were:
1/ Stretching: overly tight calves and legs create the tension that puts additional burden under the foot.
2/ Taping: gives support when running fast.
3/ Hoka shoes: reduce impact on foot (feet), with massive cushioning, protecting foot and legs.

I can't recommend these as a general panacea, all I can say is these things got me back running. Its good to bear in mind that even in the darkest days things can and do get better.

Here's what a hazy warm day looks like!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Siberian Spring Run

Having braved the elements for Friday night's hills sprints I was surprised when Mary woke up full of beans and with the concern that maybe she needed to up the distance / time-on-feet for the Fling in 5 weeks.

I had a quick breakfast, grabbed the bigger camera, and we dashed out the door, up to the station to catch the 1.43pm train getting into NB and started running for 2.20pm. The weather was Baltic; snow flurries and a stiff Siberian breeze. The East~West wind direction had suggested running back from North Berwick rather than to NB, and on the couple of occasions we ran into the wind it was extremely discouraging.

I had changed a couple of settings on the G3 and was pleased to see taking it off manual focus led to a fewer number of badly focussed photos. There just isn't the time while running to stop and fiddle with fine tuning – especially while wearing 2 pairs of gloves. Which is not to say I kept an even pace. I would see a big wave crashing on the rocks and set the camera up to capture it. By the time I had missed several exploding tsunamis Mary had disappeared over the horizon – underlining the benefit of a steady (slower) pace, during a long run, over a sprint then stop, sprint and walk. Although we ran the same distance – 27 miles – I clocked half an hour less on the Garmin, which stopped timing (auto-pause) every time I paused for photos.

The first 10 miles were the most taxing terrain but most enjoyable, on the beaches and sandy trails from North Berwick to Aberlady. The sea was storm tossed and a sullen grey green with white breakers mashing onto the beaches. There was so much to occupy us the miles flew by and every corner revealed new spectacle. Just after Fidra we passed Ian and Jane out dog-walking.

Then 3 runners up ahead turned out to be Bernie and a couple of chums (Standard Lifers?) They were travelling quicker than ourselves but they took the rocky beach, we took the newer bulldozed path next to the green fence, and caught them just before the newly exposed WWII brick lookout. We ran with them for a bit but let them go, watching them gain ground into Gullane. They had parked at Aberlady, run the road to Dirleton into the wind, before the more pleasant trails back to Aberlady. Bernie assumed we had timed our run to coincide with the low tide. Hilarious to think we were that organised. With the new paths above the beach near Marine Villa the height of the tide is much less of a deal maker.

For variety and extra mileage we ducked into the woods before Gullane where the tree troll builders had been busy remodelling the vandalised stumps. The wind break of the trees was appreciated. The low tide let us run along the beach at Gullane Point although there was a bit of rockhopping. I had asked if we might hug the shore as I could see waves just beyond the point crashing dramatically on the rocks there. I ran across and spent so long there failing to capture the biggest waves that I got a bit cold, and Mary had long since gone. After a bit I saw her waving silhouette on the horizon.

Aberlady beach was as open and empty as I've ever seen it, the mini subs along the far end, high and dry. We didn't get that far, taking the inland trail along to the wooden bridge and car park. Just before this section Mary had warned that it would probably be into the wind. It was, and the accompanying hail / snow was deeply unpleasant. It left us well ready for the anticipated delights of the Londis shop. Coffee machine still broken but on the upside 1.5 Pain Au Chocolats each. I also had a Double Decker to ward off the cold. Mary had anticipated the broken coffee machine and carried a small light flask of coffee which we shared.

This, and the deer flying through the magic forest (as I chased them in a more lumbering fashion) raised spirits and we set off on the remaining 16 miles in good heart. Essential on a day when it would have been easy to have a cold, tiresome run in ugly, grey weather. Slowly we ticked off the landmarks – Seton Sands and the return to tarmac. The caffeine had inspired a visit to the public toilet here and I ran ahead. The increased jostling increased the urgency and it was with alarm that I hauled on the locked door. However reducing the shoogle also reduced my internal dilemma and I felt I would be ok till the aptly named Pans. Here, the same story, locked toilets. Mary advised if I stood on the shore looking out to sea nobody would see I was having a dump on the beach. (Or rather I wouldn't see anyone.) Our brains were a bit addled and as weariness and exposure reduced inhibitions I felt I might take a main street shit on the doorstep of the next locked toilet.

Mary insisted on a walk break at 19 miles. It was not a lovely evening for a walk but five minutes passed quickly while we chatted about rubbish knocking around our empty heads. I was pleased with the regularity of long run training for the Fling which means feet and toes are used to the trauma of 5 hours of pounding and don't blister. Minimising aches is the cornerstone of ultra running. I was also testing distance running without tape, the tape that has greatly helped me slowly recover from the dreaded PF foot. No tape and no PF ache. 14 months of taping maybe coming to an end.

At the Pans we ducked onto the shore (beach is too pretty a word for the coast there,) and a couple of lads gave us a cheery smile and some good natured cheek. I think the Siberian weather had kept all the neds indoors. Slowly the Pans coast becomes the lagoons of Musselburgh which we chose in preference to the shorter tarmac direttissimo home. As dusk fell the orange lights of Edinburgh called us home. Musselburgh became Joppa and Mary had another walk break around 23miles. This gave me time to set up a long exposure shot from just before the Prom. The camera “senses” when it is immobilised by a tripod or fence post and will take a several second exposure (6 seconds here) if the (lack of) light requires it. I have no idea about the processes involved in making a decision like this, but I was very pleased with the result, showing the red glow in the sky above the prom.

I caught up with Mary and took some photos of her in the orangey red light on the prom. I was using the flash but the camera decided on some longer exposure shots and there is an amount of drift that is quite fun. Messing around like this passed the grim last few miles, though with home and wine just around the corner it all went by without too much horror.

It was a major journey in very trying conditions. (On the back of a tough session the night before.) It is this sort of training that makes a long arduous race easier to cope with. We left the house before 1.30pm and returned around 8pm. All for less than £10 a piece. Bargain!
Video to follow.