Thursday, 13 July 2017

Barra and Harris Half Marathons

Beautiful Barra

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

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

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

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

The Barrathon

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

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

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

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

Barra regulars

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

Leaving Barra
 The Harris Half

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Skye half marathon - changed days.

Race Bling
Its not known as the misty isle without reason

After a crappy week at work and a late-ish departure my general mood was much improved by fish and chips at Granton on Spey. It works every time. My running mood wasn’t though, I have been feeling rubbish for weeks other than one brief flurry of actually feeling ok in a mountain run in Romania which remains an anomaly to the current overall fitness situation. My last race, a mere two nights before setting off for Skye, was 8 minutes slower than my best time. “So what?” you say. It was only over 5 miles, that’s what. Project that over a half marathon course then I was looking at…well, a very long day out on Saturday.

As we left an overcast, chilly (for June) Granton and headed west towards Achnasheen and Loch Carron the weather improved dramatically, beautiful clear blue skies, stunning evening sunshine and mountains with light mist skimming the tops in an Everest style plume. Even my spirits were lifted at this point and I’m only sorry that I have few photos of it. Trying to take photos out of the car window while Simon threw the vehicle round corners like a Lewis Hamilton wannabe was just a no no, I couldn’t afford to lose the fish and chips I had just consumed. Simon is tetchy about me eating fish and chips in his car as they make the car smelly and I’ve been consigned with my supper to many a park bench and shop doorway so I warned him he had better be careful as I’m not sure he’d be delighted with the smell of regurgitated fish and chips in his car. Actually if I recall I threatened to throw up in the hood of his hoodie.
Evening sunshine on the Cullins
We got to Portree, quickly checked into the B&B and then went straight off to the pub. The usual suspects were in the Tongadale (something that’s guaranteed to cheer me up) but it is noticeable how quiet the pubs seemed despite there being nearly 1000 people descending on Portree for the race. It is not how I remember the night before the race from my early days of coming to the Skye half marathon in the 90s, the pubs used to be buzzing. Changed days. It was a lovely clear summer evening when we wandered back to the B&B and so there was a general feeling of optimism about race weather and I felt smug that I had actually remembered to pack the sun cream

Enjoying the summer evening
My smugness was short lived. We awoke to heavy rain and thick clag and most concerning was the strong wind. Although I was starting to dread the race the only thing stopping me feeling too sorry for myself was the fact that John and Hamish were camping. It’s true what they say – there’s always someone worse off than you.

I settled for a vest over t-shirt combo should we be running into driving rain at some point but to be honest at times I felt a bit too warm. There were over 700 starters in this race and I was getting irritated trying to fight my way to registration, the bag drop off and the toilets. I remember when the field barely reached 200. Changed days. As I had no great expectations for the race I didn’t find the crowds on the start line an issue this year when usually I get rattled with people getting in my way. The gun went and I was carried along slowly with the mass of runners. As you might expect I didnt take a camera with me so no race photos this time. The low hanging mist and cloud somewhat spoiled the views anyway.

The first two miles were probably the worst, I really did contemplate calling time on things at the two mile marker but happily matters, if not my pace, improved over the rest of the run. The stampede of people who passed me in the first 4 miles had slowed to a trickle by about 7 miles then pretty much stopped altogether by the time we hit THE HILL. It may have been coincidental but we hit THE HILL at approximately the same time as we started running into the strong head wind and although I wasn’t exactly feeling fantastic I took great (some may say cruel) pleasure in overtaking those unfortunates who were obviously having an even more torrid time of it than me, that is the ones who were either walking or had stopped by the side of the road. There’s nothing quite like someone else’s suffering in a race to make you feel better. Don’t try and deny it, you know it’s true!

I felt as though I had gone a bit quicker over the last two miles but as I haven’t yet downloaded my Garmin so that may not be true however I am enjoying the blissful ignorance that I might have managed more than a slow plod for at least 1 mile of the damn thing. So I trotted over the finish line, sniffed in disgust at my time and then wandered off for a swim. My legs are usually totalled after the Skye half but this time other than a niggly shin I had barely a twinge so I obviously didn’t go hard enough…yet I felt incapable of going any harder. How does that work? Anyway I spent so long sulking in the sauna I missed the post-race cakes and the prize giving was well underway by the time I emerged. It was nice to see a local winner of the women’s race and the local women’s team do so well. Strangely enough the men’s team winners HBT all appeared to collect their prizes devoid of the uniform brown kit. Noticeably the tribal start line chant of “HBT” was also absent. Changed days.
The Skye legend ran with number 1000 (c Isle of Skye Half Marathon)
Ruiaridh was 1st V40
Aberdeen runners in the audience
As I had started further back in the pack I hadn’t seen Simon or Robin or Davie on the start line as they all had started and finished well ahead of me, Heather had skipped past me at about the 5 mile mark chatting away happily, but before we went to the pub to meet up Simon had his press obligations to fulfil. The theme of “changed days” seemed to be the line the interviewers were pursuing – how has the Skye half marathon changed since Simon set his record in 1986? I sometimes wish Simon would steer away from the topic of how much slower todays runners are compared to the 80s. It might be true but….well…is it really how you win friends and influence people? Mind you, I don’t know why they should be spared, he’s already told me I need to lose 10% of my body weight if I want to run faster.    
"When i were a lad runners were faster and cake was bigger..."
I have to concede, grudgingly, that he is right though, the increase in participants has not led to a corresponding increase in standards (and I am a greedy little porker). If you can be arsed then try comparing the top 10 from these three years in the mid- 80s against the results from last Saturday. Don’t forget in the 1980s the Skye half marathon was over a longer 13.8 mile course rather than the 13.1 mile course that is used now.

Back when the race started and finished at the square... I dug this one out of the attic
.....and the Pier Hotel used to be a regular haunt
Finally we all settled ourselves into the bar of the newly refurbished Portree hotel to catch up, exchange race stories and watch a certain football match. 

Celebrating a win
Ultra runners Ruairidh and Cath were using the half marathon as training runs for big races later this summer

Oh dear. On the slippery slope
John and Hamish ran round together
Scotland actually appeared to do quite well so maybe “changed days” isn’t an entirely inappropriate theme for this blog. A few beers in and one person in particular, naming no names, got a little bit rowdy when Scotland scored, sending beer flying over innocent bystanders and breaking glasses. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad had the beer not been followed by wine everywhere the second time Scotland scored.
Can you guess the culprit from the series of photographs below….?

After the first soaking...
And there goes the wine...
After a quick change of clothes/quick rinse for those who had been showered with beer we made it to the restaurant for dinner to probably the finest meal I have had in Portree. It was perfect.