ultra running

Glen Lyon Ultra

Posted on May 9, 2016. Filed under: Glen Lyon Ultra, race report, race review, running, ultra running |

Unkempt beard : check

Race vest that smells like a mangy rodent crawled into it and died : check

Trainers that look like a peat bog troll has been dancing a strip the willow in them : check

Packing for an ultra is easy. After too many years of packing aero wotsits and carbon gizmos and caffeinated, gluten free, super, cyber gels for triathlon there was a levity to final ultra preparations.

Likewise the race briefing. No turgid powerpoint presentations of drafting zones and transition layout: “We have one rule – look after each other out there. Oh, and can everybody swim? The risk assessment says there is a risk of drowning”.

And, of course, no race briefing is complete without some new information: “Yeah and the course may be slightly longer than 30 miles, maybe nearer 31”. Oh.

To recap, back in November I had a brain fart and decided to do an ultra. Something that I had no interest in before and goes to prove that reading blogs is not good for you (you have now been warned).

I toyed with a few races but I kept coming back to BaM Racing, mainly because they make me smile. Their website is called runyabam.com which makes me chuckle every time I type it. Their rules include things like “nae dugs” and “don’t park like a fanny”. They talk like I do, it’s probably a Scottish thing. And more importantly they run races in amazing places. My choice was simple. But which race.

Glen Lyon is in a part of Scotland that is about as remote as it gets. If you follow the signs to The Back of Beyond and then keep driving long after the roads have stopped being roads then you are getting pretty close. Having hiked there before I know how tough the terrain is and how stunning the scenery would be.

We stayed in a wigwam in Morenish and the 17 miles from there to the race briefing took about an hour. Red squirrels, sheep and hydro workers are the only living things seen in these parts. For very good reason – it is hard country – bleak and beautiful and enticing and scary.

The race had been run in 2013 as the Tigh Nam Bodach ultra but it had never caught on and this was being run as a test event for BaM and limited to a small field. Entries opened on 14th February and I was there poised like a coiled serpent to hit the entry button. Which, ironically, was the last thing that I did fast in this race.


As a dreadnought class runner the course was not ideal for me but what’s the point on taking on a challenge if it’s not a stupid challenge?

It is basically a tale of two glens – a loop of Loch Lyon and then over a muckle great hill, a loop of the neighbouring glen and back over the hill. If you say it fast it doesn’t sound so bad but hitting a big hill at 26 miles was always going to be character building. And so it proved.


Just before 9:30am 80 of us stood in the shadow of the colossal Lubreoch Dam getting our final briefing and then we were called to the start line.

At Ironman Austria they played the Austrian national anthem, blasted a cannon and started a fireworks display to mark the start. At the Glen Lyon Ultra Bill blew his whistle.

We were off.

Down a wee hill, up a wee hill, down another wee hill, turn a corner, walk. WALK.


Everything they say about ultra is true. 600 metres in we were walking. I LOVE ULTRAS!

I settled into a march, it continued for about a kilometre gaining about 100m and taking us above the dam. I realised I was walking beside Rhona whose West Highland Way race report was one of the contributory factors that had got me into this mess. We chatted briefly as we walked up the hill and then ran together over the next couple of hills as I tried to extract as many tips from her as I could before I realised I needed to slow to a more modest pace.

And also to take some pictures:


Although the terrain map hints towards a flat first loop it was anything but. The gentle undulations are masked by the gargantuan climbs later in the race. While the ups and downs kinda cancelled each other out the lumps were still of a significant size to the gravitationally challenged.


The path and terrain were genuinely enjoyable around Loch Lyon and, like an Ironman, we were presented with some water obstacles (hence the risk of drowning). From about 5 miles onwards we were in wet shoes as we crossed 5 rivers – some just above the ankle and, for the stumpy legged like me, the deepest just skirting the gusset.


Climbing up from the first water obstacle I paused to take a picture back down the Glen and a runner, Laura, offered to take one with me in it. No selfie stick or other dickery involved and no runners obstructed because there were only 80 of us on 15 miles of trail. Here is a rare picture of me obscuring the view of Scotland at it’s very best.


I ran with Laura for the next 5 or 6 miles as we were moving at a pace that I was pretty comfortable with and knowing that there were still two mahoooosive hills to come.

Just after 9 miles, and after a very deep river crossing we hit the first water station and I filled my empty bottle. Walking up from the water station I had half a packet of BBQ Hula Hoops and we pressed on.  By now there was a noticeable headwind which was slowing progress and in a Glen of this size there are no hiding places.

When the Dam came back into view I was pleased with progress. My initial plan had been to be back at the Dam within 3 hours so that the second loop with the hills could be taken at a more, ahem, leisurely pace. Ideally, I wanted to be finished in 7 hours. This plan still seemed to be on.


Rhona’s husband was marshalling the end of the Dam and cheered everyone onto the Dam. I’m quite a simple man but running across the top of the dam was probably my favourite part of the day even if the path was a bit clatchy underfoot.

I ran down the banking into the aid station and declined the change of trainers that I had in my drop bag. I chugged half a can of coke, stashed another packet of hula hoops and walked out munching an excellent piece of fruit cake.

And then the climb started. I made no pretence of running. Up and up it went. According to my watch it was 2.8k and about 200m of ascent. By the time I had reached the top I had drunk 500ml of water.

The road is probably marked as tarmac on the OS map but, in reality, I imagine there are roads in the midst of civil war in Syria that are in better nick. It was fine going up but I knew it was going to be challenging on the way down. Not least because I descend like an uncontrolled brick. Only slower.

As I was nearing the top I saw James, the winner, coming down at a sprint. I expected to see a chase pack but it was nearly half an hour before I saw the next runners. A crushing victory.

At the bottom of the descent I took on some water and headed along the high path. The climb had taken the last spring out of my legs and as I went through 20 miles I felt like a leaden hooved clodhopper. I started counting steps to keep up momentum. Walk 100 steps, run 200 steps. I continued this strategy until the next climb.

This loop seemed never ending with kissing gates every few hundred metres. Some full to the ankle with sheep shit. Looking at the low path 200m below was a constant reminder that there were big descents and ascents to come.


The drop to the low road, when it finally came, was my least favourite part of the day. The path was steep, with switchbacks and treacherous under foot. I had expected to run down but opted to walk most of it to save Mountain Rescue and Air Ambulance a trip to pick pieces of me up to shovel me into a full body stookie.

The return up the glen was uneventful save for the headwind and then I saw the climb. More correctly, I saw a lorry bearing down a path at a 45 degree angle. In this direction the climb was awful. Even more awful. 4.5 kilometres and 280 metres of climbing.


I filled both bottles at the last water station even though it was (theoretically) only 5k to go. Great words of encouragement from the marshalls. And upwards I continued. Actually, continued is far too vigorous a verb. Upwards I trudged on deadened legs.

My watch beeped 48k in just under 7 hours, but the end was not in sight. Literally not in sight despite being halfway up a mountain.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.13.52

Cat passed in the car – I told her I’d done 48k, she smiled and without a word handed me a piece of tablet and drove off.

And then, finally, I could see the dam. It was all downhill from here. I just pretended I couldn’t feel the pain in my feet, but it seemed fair that they were sore having taken 64,000 steps.

I could see the bottom, I crossed the bridged. I walked the wee hill.

I saw Rory running out to meet me and we ran the last 100 metres together.

Beep. 50.7km.  Well, that will save me signing up to do a 50k ultra.


I can honestly say I loved every second of it, even the bonus 2.7k. Two big lessons for me were to run on much rougher terrain and not just forestry tracks – I wasn’t prepared for the rocky paths. And to practise marching up steep hills ready to run on the other side. My calves and hamstrings really suffered on the hills.

Bam Racing and their volunteer marshalls laid on an incredible race. It was safe and stunning and incredibly well supported. And also, there is a lesson for triathlon here – a £32 race fee and a shitload of great stuff.


Will I do another ultra?

There is something quite magical about doing a race in a stunning place that is easier to get to on foot than by car.

So, hell yeah I will.


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Posted on May 1, 2016. Filed under: edinburgh, parkrun, running, ultra running, Uncategorized |

Yesterday I parkrunned. Or parkran. OK, I may not be fluent in the verb construction but I ran in a park, organised by parkrun. Always one word, lower case. Remember that.

With an ultra a week away, tapering and still wanting to go for a jog I thought I’d pop down to parkrun for the first time in ages.

parkrun is a very British phenomenon. A bunch of people meet in a park on a Saturday morning for a timed 5km run. Dog walkers look on bemused as the lycra clad do their stretches, drink coffee and catch up with virtual strangers as they await the start. Those strangers could as well be an Ironman World Champion as it could be the old lady that sells  you sausage rolls in Greggs. It is inclusive and classless and free.

Quite frankly it is cult like. Numbered t-shirts mark out the elders, everyone is a selfless volunteer and it is free to join. I have prayed at the altar of the cult for several years. Of course, when I say “prayed at the altar of the cult”I mean that I have projectile vomited on my shoes at the finish line. And with that vivid memory in mind I wore my Special Trainers. The ones that, if Asics did paint samples, would be called Corrosive Lime Zing. The ones that could cope with a projectile spinach smoothie and not look sullied.

There is probably a bawhair in distance between my two closest parkruns but as Dunfermline is, quite frankly, Himalayan and I ain’t no sherpa I opted for Edinburgh.

Now, there are two kinds of Edinburgh parkrun. The kind where the dank, grey sky presses down on the grey waves of the Forth topped with white horses galloping to escape the icy, razor rain that strips the flesh from the skin. Or the big sky Edinburgh parkrun where the cobalt waters draw the eye across the islands jagging from the Forth to the snow topped Ochils behind the Forth Bridge.

Yesterday was a big sky day.


Having done only two speed sessions this year as I concentrated on plodding long distances in hills it is fair to say that my parkrun expectations were modest. Pedestrian even. But the great thing about parkrun is that everyone is welcome and no matter how you finish you get great support.

I can’t recall running 5k in under 31 minutes so far this year so in my mind I had a plan that went 5:30 for first three kilometres and then try to finish strongly but be somewhere near 27:30.  It’s always good to have a plan.

As 500 odd people (odd meaning roughly as opposed to strange, although some were) mingled around the start area I found myself in the shade of a tree. There was a slight chill in the shade but I stayed there, warned off by the smell of cooking bacon in the air as the remainder of the field’s Scottish skin was grilled under our re-discovered sun.

It didn’t escape my attention that there were more than five times more people loitering around to run 5k than there would be at my ultra to run 30 miles next week. Next week will see no congestion.

With little fuss the run started. It was so busy that I just went with the crowd with little consideration for my pace.

I heard my watch beep 1km but it was still desperately busy and I didn’t want to clip a heel by looking down.

Sweat was rolling into my eyes. My breathing was progressing through telephone sex pest to asphyxiation.

Beep. Second kilometre done.

I glance down. Lap 2 : 5:12. Bugger, a bit quick.  Cumulative time : 10:24. Double bugger. It had been good to have a plan. A plan to completely disregard.

I could feel the bloody, metallic taste of Too Much Effort Too Soon rising in my mouth. I consciously eased a little.

Beep. Lap 3 : 5:21.

I was right in the hole on lap 4. I couldn’t get air in my mouth fast enough. Ironically my legs felt fine but I couldn’t get the fuel to them quick enough. 5:28. Still faster than The Plan though, but I was fading.

The last 500m of Edinburgh parkrun is a bit off road. A lady overtook me on the grass. I let her go but I though “what the hell” and cranked back up the engine. I ACTUALLY OVERTOOK SOME PEOPLE. Having said that I am not entirely sure if they were doing parkrun or just walking their dogs.

Finish line. Gasp. 5:22. Gasp. 26:47. Gasp. Better than plan. Gasp. No vom.

And that was my first parkrun in ages.

If you’ve never done parkrun – register and go. If you haven’t been for ages – find your barcode and go. If you are a parish council thinking of charging parkrunners to use your park – get a grip and don’t be dicks.

Next week I am running 30 miles in the wild Highlands. If I haven’t blogged by mid week, alert the authorities. (That is a joke, by the way)




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Deja Vu

Posted on January 6, 2016. Filed under: swimming, ultra running |

In October I was on a roll. In November I was on a roll. I started December on a roll. And now I am 73% roll. The remaining 27% is, that particularly wholesome Scottish delicacy, square sausage.

The rhythm has been lost. The wheels have come off the juggernaut. Almost literally.

This is not, as Kris Akabusi might say, a lack of positive mental attitude. Motivational memes are not really my scene anyway but my sudden indolence is not a lack of moral fibre. Well, it kinda is and it kinda isn’t.

Let me explain.

At the start of December, on my way to pick up Rory from nursery, in the face of a squall of hail, snow and torrential rain, I aquaplaned into the central reservation of the M90. It was quite the most elegant pirouette that a large bloke at velocity could achieve.

I walked away. The Audi A5 that I considered with some affection became deceased, a crumpled pile of tin. Along with my beloved merino beanie that became collateral damage somewhere along the way.

The next day I had a sore back. Quite sore, indeed.

I couldn’t say whether it was a consequence of the impact. Or standing for an hour in the flimsiest of waterproofs, on the bleakest stretch of motorway, in the foulest Scottish winter weather . Or sitting on an uncomfortable chair, eating cake, while waiting for my car to be MOT’d. (Oh yes, the irony of writing off my car driving home from the MOT has been lost on NO-ONE).


Whatevs. I had a sore back. And so, as is my norm, discretion became the better part of valour with injury and I haven’t run since. Which is a bugger. Especially in peak binge eating season.

I am back to roly-poly. I am not ready for long swim or long run.

However, this is a familiar situation to me. One January day several years ago Iron Nessie got me into running from a slobbish mess (as the fat boy before pictures testify). By May of that year I was ready to run my first 10k.

It’s January now. I am chubbily, wheezily unfit and I will be ready for a run by May. Just like 2009. Well kinda. Except May 2016 will be my first ultra. I’ll be ready. No biggie.

Anyway. Enough shooting the shit, I must get on with some visualising of writing a training plan.

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A Very, Very Long Way

Posted on November 2, 2015. Filed under: forth crossing race, great scottish swim, henley bridge to bridge, marathon swimming, swimming, ultra running |

I’m not sure how it happened.  I’m not sure how an innocent couple of days thinking about things to do in 2016 could turn out like this.  Perhaps it just proves I am a dumbass.

The reason that I am definitely indefinitely retired from iron distance is because it’s so far and the training takes up so much time.  So obviously the conclusion of my deliberations would be no Ironman in 2016; because it’s a long way and it takes so much time to train.  And there is no Ironman planned in 2016.  And for that I am pleased, very pleased indeed.

However, and I shall type this very quickly for it is indeed very silly, I shall instead be doing an ultra and two marathon swims.  Like a TIT.

Yes, I decided not to “race” a very long way and spend hours training and instead “race” a very long way and spend hours training.  Duh.  The difference is so subtle it is practically invisible.  In fact it is, indeed, invisible.  See?  IDIOT.

How did I get here?  To be honest I’ve thought a lot about this and I don’t really know.  A bit like a child is often accused of being “over tired” I seem to be over inspired.  There are so many fun things to do and I want to do them ALL.  (Not really).

Anyway. Long swims.  Until August they terrified me and now they don’t.  And now I want to swim a very, very long way. And often so it seems.  I have two flavours of long swim for 2016.  First up is the Henley Bridge to Bridge – 14km in a stretch of the Thames between Henley and Marlow where all the poshes live.  It is apparently downstream but no-one will tell you what impact the flow has.  I guess it’s like an inside secret.  I’ll blab when I find out.  It’s probably bugger all.  The second very, very long swim is the 10k Great Scottish Swim.  A wholly different challenge presented by a serious stretch of open water that can boil up without a moment’s notice.  It will probably be my soberest Friday night at Loch Lomond ever.  Two very different swims – one in crystal clear loch water surrounded by the hills and one floating downstream fighting for water space with posh people’s jobbies. Bring. It. On.

IMG_20140130_124048Very different though they both are, even from a long history of swimming, the training is intimidating.  Peak week in July will be a minimum of 24k with 6 days of swimming and an 8k long swim.  The grumpy auld wifies will be loving me down the pool.  I will hopefully be tapping up proper long distance crazies like Donal Buckley, the Lone Swimmer for much needed help along the way.  These two swims definitely don’t feel like light undertakings right now.  In fact they feel as big as running a marathon but with even more anti-social training.  And hopefully all that swim fitness will carry me on for a late season PB in a repeat assault on the Forth Crossing Race.  These three events have all been booked and paid for to encourage me to start training NOW.  I’ve even planned it.

But before all that, proving that I have taken complete leave of my senses I am going to run further than a marathon.  What a walloper.

Having sherpa’d at Glencoe I rekindled my love of the hills.  Mainly looking at the hills as I am not built for going up hills.  Then I read blogs and got over inspired – Sarah’s Autumn 100 (miles yes 100 MILES), any of Susie’s ridiculously numerous very, very long runs, Glenn’s maiden ultra around Tiree and mostly, definitely mostly, Rhona’s epic West Highland Way race.  I was lost for hours in Rhona’s blogs of the amazing Scottish ultras and if you read the WHW race report do it on a day when you don’t have to work the next day.

D33 looked a perfect race for me but having only fannied about with my trainers without actually running for months it was going to come around too soon.  Everything else was either too long or too far away.  So I have my heart set on a race that is just a holding page just now.  But the Glen Lyon Ultra is in one of my favourite areas and it is calling.  I will be ready.

I’ve been running.  All off road and I’m enjoying it.  Maybe ultras aren’t such a stupid idea after all.

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