Monday, 30 October 2017

Munich Half Marathon

Stornoway running club....and guests!
This was the annual Stornoway Running Club trip to Europe that we had kindly been invited along to by Ross and Jim. In all there were over 40 of us in the group and many were just making a weekend of it however, having spent very little time in Germany, Simon and I decided to stay on for a week after the race and make a proper holiday of it. Having taken part in many European marathons over recent years Stornoway Running Club have developed close ties with runners from Austria and Germany who come over to Scotland on a regular basis to compete in races in the Hebrides. This was a great opportunity to visit Munich, a fantastic city, catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

We arrived in Munich early evening and went to find the train to get us from the airport to our hotel. Most of us managed to get off at the right stop but the doors to the trains didn’t seem to allow for unsure hesitant tourists and so three of our party were swiftly whisked away, an amusing look of horror on their faces as they departed…. Fortunately, they managed to get off at the next stop and made their way back to where the rest of us were waiting on the platform. Our hotel being a little way out of the centre of Munich required a second train journey on the underground system so it was all aboard the next one that came along. Until the sudden realisation that it was going in exactly the wrong direction. Off we piled off at the next stop before boarded the next train that went back to where we had just come from. Happily, this game of musical trains finished right outside our hotel which was good as it was late by then and I was weary and so looking forward to my bed. It was not to be. The hotel had botched up our booking so it was another 45 minutes and 300 euros before we could finally get into our room. A quick beer and it was time to collapse into bed.
Trying to find the right train
The following morning we made our way to the Olympic Stadium where the marathon expo and race registration was. You go in the main door and are directed past a huge variety of stalls selling all manner of running related items and assorted tat as well as stalls advertising exciting looking races in European mountains (not to mention your clothes bag and race t-shirt pick up point) before you reach the number collection. Once you reach the number collection point you are directed past all those stalls again until you reach the clothes bag and race t-shirt pick up points which you had already passed earlier on your way to race number collection thus maximising your chances of making some form of purchase. Crafty work by the organisers. It worked though, I succumbed to a new fleecy winter top.*sigh*

Obviously 40 is a big group and as moving around Munich as a herd wasn’t practical a splinter group of Rob, Cath, Ivor, Simon and I decided to head into Munich city centre to get some lunch of traditional Bavarian fare of sausage and sauerkraut in the open victuals market. This did the job before Ivor, led us all on a tour of Munich. 
Al Fresco dining at the victuals market

Tour guide Ivor

Ivor leading the tour
Dinner that night was much of the same type of Bavarian dishes. When you are racing in another country food can often be a challenge, different foods, less than hygienic practices etc can cause issues but Germany isn’t a country I would theses associate problems with food with and so I didn’t realise it at the time but I was soon going to find the meat and heavy stodge based diet exactly that challenge. The traditional diet as far as I could work out appeared to be all meat, and very large portions at that usually accompanied by a big heavy stodgy potato or dumpling concoction. Don’t get me wrong, its lovely and very tasty and high quality but I did struggle with the sheer quantity of meat, it is not something I eat in great quantities at home and it made me feel heavy, bloated and sluggish at times. There was a noticeable lack of green vegetables served up too. One night I admitted defeat and had a salad – but even that had strips of pork thrown into it. God knows how the vegetarians and vegans fared.
Pre-race dinner and beers
After a fitful nights’ sleep (the hotel air conditioning had one setting which seemed to be about 35 deg C) it was race day. While the marathon and 10k runners had the usual early start the half marathoners had a far more leisurely 1.30pm start and so we made our way to our subway stop alongside other runners with no train related navigational incidents.
Looking forward to the race guys...?
That'll be a "no" then!

Startline antics
We started out in the suburbs somewhere and I settled into my pace as Simon, Ross and Rob disappeared into the distance. For the most part the course was wide, flat and the weather was cool so pretty ideal conditions all in all. Things got a little more interesting as we ran into the city centre with bands playing and spectators cheering and we started to catch up with the tail enders of the marathon race that had started earlier that morning being careful not to run into the back of any of them especially when they stopped for a wee walk. I started to feel a bit weary around 7 miles so for the first time ever in a road half marathon I took a gel. Yes, I know, it’s not wise to do something in a race that hasn’t been tried and tested in training however I got progressively faster towards the end of the race so I can only conclude it might have given me the sugar boost I needed. My guts also got progressively grumblier so I can also conclude it was a caffeine containing gel and as such I might have been better taking it nearer the end of the race. 

It didn’t seem long until I reached the outskirts of the Olympic stadium and then had the magical experience of running through the tunnel on to the track. I guess that’s about the only time I will have a taster of what an Olympic athlete experiences. The tunnel was dark and had some sort of atmospheric lighting and smoke thing going on and you only hear the sound of your own footsteps and the those of the runners around you and then you burst out into the light and noise of the stadium. I expect it fell a little short of the full Olympic experience as the stadium wasn’t packed with spectators and they weren’t all cheering me on but still, it was fun. 
Running through the tunnel into the Olympic stadium
As I turned out of the tunnel on to the track I spotted Simon ahead of me, not moving particularly quickly. A dilemma. Do I do the nice thing and say something encouraging or do I sneak past on the outside unnoticed and steal the all important win? My conscience got the better of me and I tapped Simon on the shoulder….and he promptly sprinted off round the track like a scalded cat. Meh! As I turned into the back straight I found him waiting for me his conscience having got the better of him and we ran over the finish line together. I had assumed that we would be awarded the same finishing time and I was assuming that Simon thought the same as he would never allow me to finish in front of him but what we had failed to remember was that I had started further back in the field on the start line so I was unexpectedly awarded a time 2 seconds faster than Simon. As you might imagine I didn’t let him forget it for the remainder of the week although I knew I would pay for it sooner or later. My time was some 15 minutes faster than i had been running for the Heb halfs earlier that summer so at least the Iron tablets seem to be kicking in now, well I'm putting it down to that as I've certainly not been doing any additional training!
Crossing the finish line together...awww sweet!

Post race beers
Race medal
Stornoway running club have their own travelling support!
I couldn’t find the stand serving water and Lucozade or similar but quickly located the beer stall (my excuse and I’m sticking to it – and so were quite a few others by the looks of it). After locating our bags Simon went to get his medal engraved and then we met up with the other runners and then headed back to the hotel for showers, beers and the usual post-race festivities and more traditional Bavarian food.
Celebrating with a post race dinner
Ethel was celebrating her 80th Birthday on this trip with a 10k race and a surprise special award from the Western isles local authority for her services to her sport.
I hope i can still run 10k races when im 80!

The following morning people started to head home and we headed to our new hotel for the rest of the week. Packing was a wee bit of a struggle with an immense hangover and the air conditioning temperature at the hotel seeming to be increasing be the hour but once outside of the hotel into the cool air I felt a bit better and after the days’ activities of a sight seeing bus tour and another trip to a beer hall I was right as rain again. Norman, Murdo and Shona also stayed on for the week and did a different set of sight-seeing activities to the ones that we did including a trip to Salzberg which I was very jealous about. There is a lot to see and do in Munich and the surrounding area and a wee surf of the internet indicates that there is also a mountain marathon in the mountains of Bavaria not too far away….I wonder how to break the news to Simon….I suppose I could always use a trip to the Audi museum as an incentive.
Team photo at the finish
A leisurely bus tour. The perfect activity for sore legs and a thumping hangover

BMA World

The Olympic stadium

The view from the top of the tower. BMW world and the BMW museum below
View of the Olympic stadium from the tower
The very sombre memorial to the Dachau Concentration camp.
The crematoria at the Dachau concentration camp
The Eagles nest, Hitlers tea house at Bertesgarten in the Bavarian Alps
No trip to Munich would be complete without a visit to a traditional beer hall
1 litre Stein glasses. The large portions of food they serve you in the beer hall mean that its a struggle to drink too many of these without your stomach feeling as though its about to burst!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Scurry to the Sea

Presumably this is the view from Allermuir Hill on a nice day...

I didn’t really read the race description with any great care, it all sounded fine, basically run from the Pentlands to the seaside following various footpaths and traffic free routes through the centre of Edinburgh which is pretty much the same idea as the Water of Leith Race. What could possibly go wrong? 
Summer in Scotland at Musselburgh beach
Its name was enough to tempt me to sign up for it – “The Scurry to the Sea” sounds like fun doesn’t it? And besides just about all my running plans for the summer, and maybe the rest of the year, are in tatters anyway so I was looking for something a bit different to keep myself amused and drag me out of my current state of lethargy. It was only the night before the race that I noticed that the race referred to itself as “Urban Orienteering” and the warning bells started to go in my head.

This race is a brand new creation of “Edinburgh Racing” who I think are related to the triathlon club and it was only advertised about a month before the race was actually due to be held. Despite the short notice it attracted a field of about 60 runners. We all congregated at Musselburgh harbour on a dreich grey morning at 8am which had meant a 4am alarm call for me (groan!) to register and catch the bus to Hillend ski centre in the Pentland hills. I didn’t know or recognise a single runner there although there was a few Portobello and Carnethy vests on show. I think the race was won by someone from Edinburgh Athletics club and the winner of the ladies race was a Carnethy runner.
Misty Pentlands
Heading to the checkpoint on Allermuir Hill
 At 9am we were set off into the mist, firstly to tackle the climb to the summit of Allermuir hill. Despite it being grey and misty it was surprisingly warm and I felt ok on the climb but even better on the descent as I passed people who did not seem keen on the wet grassy descent. From the summit a few people disappeared in different directions so I figured that there might have been a quicker line of descent from the checkpoint on the top of the hill rather than the taped course that I had followed on the way up but given I could barely see 50 yards in front of me through the mist I decided to play it safe and stick to the marked route which most of the other runners were taking. Next we went passed Swanston and over the bridge over the city bypass into Oxgangs before being directed up a small footpath. 
Allermuir Hill (c Edinburgh Racing)
This race was described as “urban orienteering” meaning that it was pretty much up to you how you got to Musselburgh (obviously getting the bus wasn’t an option) but you had to pass through 3 compulsory checkpoints. The optimum route was about 11.5 miles and this was sporadically marked with bright orange marker tape, particularly in areas where the footpath or cycle path you were running along crossed a busy road junction. I trotted through Oxgangs watching out for marker tape and other runners and then, slowly, I began to get that sinking feeling. I hadn’t seen anyone in a quite a while, and there was a distinct lack of marker tape anywhere. Oh Crap. There was no doubt about it, I had gone the wrong way. I stopped and took out my iphone and eventually Google Maps flickered to life confirming what I already knew. A quick 90 degree turn and I was heading back to the course but reached the Checkpoint at the gates to the Hermitage of Braid having lost a lot of places and time.
Can anyone spot where i went wrong?
I cursed my stupidity as I ran through the Hermitage and desperately hoped that the sweeper bike wouldn’t catch up with me. I took out my map from my backpack and made sure i carried it for the rest of the way but this was definitely a case of too little, too late. As I reached the end of Blackford Glen Road three other runners caught me up, all who had also been lost. One had managed to get herself lost on the Pentland Hills presumably by taking a different line from the summit than the marked one. I tagged along with these three and we all kept a careful look out for orange marker tape as we went past Duddingston and the foot of Arthur’s seat, the summit of which was shrouded in mist. 
Arthurs seat in the mist
From now on the race was pretty uneventful apart from for the 4th race weekend in a row it was pissing down with rain but it was quite a misty still day so it wasn’t cold at all. The field had now spread out and I didn’t see anyone else at all which surprised me as my legs had pretty well given up and it had sort of turned into, well, not quite a death march, but more of a painful shuffle along the final stretch after crossing the A1 as my legs gradually seized up.  You know how these cycle paths have the little blue sign posts indicating distances? I wonder who decided the distances? Possibly someone with as good a sense of direction as myself. It is a little disconcerting to pass one sign post saying “Musselburgh 3 ½ miles” then to run half a mile to the next sign post which says “Musselburgh 4 miles”. And no, I was running in the right direction this time.
The path along Brunstane Burn
Eventually the course reaches the coast and the final few hundred yards are across the soft sands towards Musselburgh harbour where each competitor received a goody bag on completing along with a really nice “Scurry to the Sea” mug and home baking. It transpired that quite a few people had got themselves lost at various points and that the race winner hadn’t gone the way the checkpoint marshal had expected at the gates of Hermitage of Braid. Clearly local knowledge was a massive advantage. My Garmin recorded the distance that I had run as 13.5 miles, a full 2 miles further than the optimum route and needless to say I finished quite close to the back of the field. Despite the navigational mishaps, all of the runners finished and there were no drop outs. Hopefully this race will become established as it really is a great concept and a nice, predominantly traffic free, scenic, course.
Race finish line
Last couple of hundred yards were on the sand. Note im carrying a map
Sadly, the heavy rain continued throughout the afternoon so people didn’t hang around at the finish. I felt sorry for the race organiser as it would have been quite nice to relax on the beach afterwards and watch the prize giving, that would have really made it more sociable.  Instead I got a burger from the burger van and a cup of tea and hid from the rain in the car while I ate the burger. Summer in Scotland!
Makes it all worthwhile...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Laurencekirk Tower Race

Laurencekirk Tower on a nice day (c Laurencekirk Tower race fb page)

Having seen some nice summer days through the window of my office during the week the Aberdeenshire weather did its usual and saved it all up for Saturday. It pissed it down with rain. This, however, didn’t put off the 30 or so runners who turned up for the Laurencekirk Tower Hill Race, many of whom were from Stonehaven running club and seemed to be intent on a Parkrun and Tower race “double” that Saturday.
Course Profile - 3.18m/702ft
The Laurencekirk Tower hill race is a lovely low key event, so low key I had trouble finding the registration. The race directions said that registration was at the primary school but what this actually meant was that the registration was at a table placed at the end of a farm track near the primary school. Once registered I had a wee chat with fellow Fife AC runner Bob who pointed out a misty hillside as being where the tower was located but assured me that it was a well marshalled out and back route and that I couldn’t get lost.

The route was up to the tower and back
It chucked it down with rain as we lined up for the start line photo and then we were quickly set off along the track with the small field of 30 runners spreading out quite quickly. A couple of hundred meters in we went under the A90 via a small tunnel (before the race I had been wondering how we were going to get across the road) before following the gently climbing gravel track past the farm. A marshal directed us through a gate and up the final stretch towards the tower over a slightly rutted and grassy field. Once at the top we were directed around the tower which meant tip toeing over the wet, slippery boulders which lay around its base and then it was straight back down the way we had come up.
Getting ready for the start
Startline photo
And they're off
The start was along a farm track
Under the A90
And a gradual climb
 I noticed that on the way back down the girl in front of me seemed not to be enjoying the descent over the rutted grass, to be fair it was a bit of a potential ankle twister, so I gradually gained on her finally overtaking her on the gravel path. I had to work quite hard to keep in front of her but eventually she seemed to drop back as I belted back down the track and through the puddles to the finish line. My quads did not thank me for descent that the following morning.
Soggy timekeepers
Bob Thornton finishing
Prize winners
This race was so low key that you didn’t even get a race number to pin to your vest, they gave you a sticky label with your number on to stick to your front. Runners were appearing over the line with little balls of very damp paper in their hands as the labels got wet and fell off. Mine disappeared completely and I have no idea where or when it fell off. The first 3 finishers got a wee prize each as did the winners of the junior fun run which was held just before the senior race. Every runner got a wee goody bag with a Mars Bar and Crisps along with the ample supply of water and bananas at the end. Perfect. 
St Cyrus beach
The beach was deserted
Swimming in the choppy seas off St Cyrus beach was the afternoon’s warm down activity. I guess the good thing about a grey rainy day is that we had the beach to ourselves.
Simon and his surfboard
It was fine for surfing but less so for swimming
Creature from the deep