View from the start of the 2013 Loch Ness Marathon – Beautiful and wild
Looking pretty broken as I struggle along the loch shore
….and surprisingly strong at the finish – not how I was feeling!
Two weeks have now passed since the Loch Ness Marathon. The distress and hardship of the last few miles have almost faded from the memory sufficiently that my Comrades ambition is definitely back on. However, I am determined to learn the lessons from the marathon and to plan my preparations accordingly. I do have a great sense of achievement post Loch Ness but also a nagging feeling that it could have been even better. I think I have three big areas for improvement:
- Most obviously, I need to race more. My half marathon in April went brilliantly, the marathon was much more of a struggle but both probably reflect inexperience.
- I think it is also clear that I need a much better base of endurance. In both races, I blew up at the end. Manageable in a half marathon less so in the full event. On reflection, this is logical enough. I have still only been running regularly for 14 months and the first six of those were primarily about converting from slob to jogger. Hopefully I have the time to do this before Comrades but time is a big factor so leaving the problem for a couple of months is not an option.
- My final big area is managing long periods of running. Obviously I reached a point where it was very tough during the marathon but even in training I found long stretches on the road difficult both before and during the long run sessions. Funnily enough, apart from the race, I never really felt bad afterwards and even then, my basic recovery was fairly quick. This is the hardest one to crack. It is some combination of preparation, nutrition and mental concentration but very hard to be sure what that combination might be.
These areas at least give me the basis of a plan. So far I have been running gently and occasionally as part of my recovery. This week I plan to have my first week back into regular running and the first proper step back up towards a high weekly mileage base. From a fitness point of view, I am hoping to maintain a pretty steady 40-50 miles a week from now until Christmas. This should include plenty of hills so that their is also a strength component. I think strength is an important factor so I am also planning some gym work to build up my gluteus and my quads. Special focus on quads because Comrades is a down run which puts massive strain on those muscles.
Next step is to start looking for races over the winter to build up my experience base. I should be able to fit in 10k or half marathon events pretty much any time but might also have a go at another full marathon around February time just to test my long running plans.
The mental and nutritional side is going to take a bit longer to work out. Will blog again over the next couple of weeks with more detailed plans and thoughts on this topic. In the meantime, great to be back on the roads again and enjoying the running.
So the Loch Ness Marathon is done. Having had time to reflect, my thoughts on the race and the plan for the future are below. Let me start though with thanks to all the organisers and spectators. The whole set up was excellent. The event village, bus pick up and finish were all in Bught Park right by the river in Inverness which was an excellent venue. The course starts on a moor between Fort Augustus and Foyers up above the Loch. It is a true wilderness start and there is literally now way to get there other than by the event buses. The first 17 miles are down to and alongside the Loch shore and as a result long stretches of the road are inaccessible. In these places only the runners and the mobile support crews were around but at literally every point where spectators could access the route, farm tracks, lay-bys, mountain bike paths etc, there were at least a few spectators. Once into the edge of Inverness the numbers and the noise just built and built.
The start area is on a single track road. Rather than pen the starters, the approach was to signpost target finish times and allow everyone to pick their spot and line up for a rolling start. Just before the off, the Lochaber school pipe band marched down through the assembled field. There is nothing more evocative than the skirl of the pipes on an open moor so an inspiring start. I set off from halfway between the 3.30 and 4.00 hour points and settled into an easy feeling rhythm pretty quickly. Having said this, I rarely felt entirely right. I was easy and not struggling but not quite in the light, floating sense that means things are going really well.
There is virtually no point on the route that is entirely flat. Mostly, the road rolls up and down but there are three serious hills. The first two are in quick succession just before five miles and then up into Foyers just after six miles. Both of these, I managed fine, even eating an oatcake at the top of the second. I remember at this stage being a little nervous about my legs but managing to tell myself that things were going smoothly and still not feeling as if I was pushing the pace at any stage.
This pretty much carried on until the halfway point. I looked at my watch for the first time and it showed 1 hour 45 minutes so dead on my most ambitious pace of 3 hours 30 minutes. For the next couple of miles, I persuaded myself that the slightly sluggish feeling in my legs was due to going at a good pace even though it felt easy. However, after fifteen miles, I realised that my legs were getting seriously tired. At this point, I knew there was another substantial hill coming up after Dores and I started to think that I could slow down a bit, walk up that hill and run smoothly in from there. I knew I would miss three and a half hours but thought I could get quite close.
Another two and half miles along the road when I was just passing through Dores, this was out of the window! I stopped to walk for the first time while eating an energy bar and when I started again, I knew I was seriously struggling. I jogged on for about half a mile and then started walking again up the hill. At the top I managed to start moving again but my hips, gluteus and the top half of my legs were just screaming at me. I staggered on to the nineteen mile point and checked the watch again, 2 hours 55 minutes so surely I would be well under four hours.
By mile 20 the watched showed well over 3 hours 9 minutes and the comfortable four hours had gone the way of my other pre race plans. In running terms, this was probably the lowest point although by no means the worst feeling. Looking back, the objective to get under four hours drove me on but at the time it was more just sheer anger at being in a position where missing four was even possible, and so quickly after feeling basically fine. As it turned out, this was my slowest mile but as I passed the marker, I was far from confident of this outcome.
The remaining few miles were a constant battle. I just kept trying to run as much of the mile as I could then walk to the next milepost and start again. After time for reflection, it does not seem that bad but trying to honestly describe how I felt, the best word I can find is tearful. I don’t think I actually cried but I felt like it for most of that last three miles. The crowd was growing and the PA at the finish was audible for most of this stretch and despite appreciating the support, I remember the noise actually seems to be painful as I struggled along. At one point there was a bunch of Dutch people in Orange shirts banging, shouting and hooting and it felt as if my brain was being bounced out of my head. Not good!
Eventually I crossed the river, running at this stage and had only 1 kilometre to go. I dragged myself along the river bank still feeling beaten. With about 500 to go, I saw Sue and Lorna and heard them cheer me on. Lorna somehow wriggled to the front and ran along the footpath beside me for about 200 metres. I usually go back and run alongside her at the end of parkrun so this was a nice repayment and cleanly helped a bit. Another 100 yards along and I saw my friend Carole Spy jumping up and down. When I looked up, I realised I was going to make it as the clock was just at 3.56.
Unlike, the hard finish to the half marathon earlier in the year, I still felt terrible after the end. The kind lady who hung the medal around my neck nearly dragged me down and the goodie bag and tee shirt felt like lead weights. Eventually, I came out of the finishing funnel and Carole was there to meet me. A few seconds later Lorna turned up and have me a hug and Carole introduced me to her friend who was 3rd in the over 60 10km. I was still dog tired so apologies to them all if I didn’t seem that happy to be greater – it did really make a difference. Lorna had a great run in the 5km but was still full of beans so ran off to fetch my bag while I leaned on a wheelie bin. I was afraid to sit down. Then Sue appeared and I was able to concentrate on recovery. It was another three hours and a hot bath before I really started to feel human again.
My immediate thoughts were that it was brutal, that I was really pleased to have finished it and that there were going to be some big lessons if the Comrades plan was still on. I can honestly say that at no point did I think, Comrades is definitely a non starter but I did realise somewhere in the mist of pain and distress that some hard thinking would be needed. I will blog more about the lessons and my thoughts next week. Right now, more endurance, stronger core and quads and better nutrition look top of the list.
Final thing, it was a great event but my only quibble with the organisers is around the 5km. I know it is billed as a fun run but Lorna was really disappointed not have a time recorded. Pop a chip on the numbers next year please.
Unbelievably it’s only a week to go before the marathon. Mentally I have been fixed in the medium and long term, getting fit, eating right, what is the plan for Comrades? and so on. I went out for a drink with some friends on Wednesday evening and as I started talking about training and my goals for the race, the short term suddenly hit me. A week on Sunday I will be out in a field near Foyers about to start my first 26 miler.
Looking forward to it, yes but nervously. Preparation wise of course, there is very little to do. However, as a result, every detail seems magnified. The main concerns are diet during the week and how much to run. Everything else is important as well though. Sleep pattern, other activities, planing out the detail of the registration process making sucre I choose the right gear and many other aspects suddenly loom very large in my mind. I am discovering lots of new websites with last minute advice which I am trying to ignore and follow at the same time.
When I am not stressing about detail, I am thinking about the race itself. I genuinely don’t know what to expect. Specifically, I have a very wide range of expectation in terms time and pace and no idea at all how my legs will feel when I reach the latter stages. Pacing is not generally my strongpoint in any case. When I ran the half marathon, I just aimed for a comfortable pace and only really checked the watch twice at 10km and 10 miles. After a tough last couple of miles, I ended with a time which was marginally better than my most ambitious goal so obviously the strategy was a brilliant one. Except this is twice as far, what happens of comfortable proves to be too fast after only half the race? If my legs blow up with three miles to go fine but what if its ten? On the other hand if I start slow and finish feeling like I have just had an enjoyable training run, how frustrating will that be? Unfortunately, I don’t know what I am capable of and even if I did, I am not yet good enough at pacing myself to run to a planned pace anyway. Not surprisingly this is feeding the excitement and the nerves.
All a bit focused inwards but can’t be helped. Will continue to obsess this week but hopefully enjoy the race. I will be on twitter, Facebook etc and updating with a full report when the head and legs have recovered sufficiently.
Beautiful view of Loch Ness from the roadside in Foyers. How hard can it be?
The start of September seems to have brought the Loch Ness Marathon date very close. With less than four weeks to go, I wanted to start by reminding everyone that, as well as taking a major step on the road to Durban, I will be raising money for the Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Charity. I am delighted to say that more than £2,000 has been donated so far. If you still feel able to give something, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/Kenny-Fraser or use Just Text Giving by texting an amount and the code KFLN68 to 70070. You can also find out more by visiting their website atwww.pkdcharity.org.uk.
Hopefully, the running preparations are going as well as the fund raising. The weekly mileage has been building up and I am hoping to be over 50 miles this week in my last week of heavy training before starting to “taper”. This is just code for having a few easier weeks! I am finding the really long runs tough but anything up to about 20km now seems pretty manageable. Adding new routes has also helped as I mentioned in the last post. Bellahouston Park for the first time this last week and some great views from the little hill in the middle. It also brought back vivid memories of watching Nat Muir win tough international cross country races there in the early eighties. One of Scotland’s best but never received the international recognition he deserved.
I have also been continuing to enjoy Stewarton Road and pushing further up the road onto Fenwick Moor. It is a tough and hilly route but very quiet and with great views all around. The solitude and peace seem to be working. Not sure whether that will be sustained when the Winter is blowing over the moor! It has set me thinking though and with so much hill country around, my plan is to use this over the winter as I build up my endurance for Comrades. I have dug out an old book with 100 hill walks around Glasgow and will be using these plus some coastal routes down by Troon and Turnberry to give some variety, especially on the longer runs.
The view from the top of the hill is well worth the effort.
For now, another batch of pictures from Stewarton Road and Bellahouston Park. I also have a mental note to find a better way of presenting these photo pages as they seem a bit dull at the moment.
Let me finish this week with two other pieces of news. I have mentioned a couple of times that my daughter Lorna has been enjoying parkrun, in fact achieving another personal best of 35’24” last week. Well she is now entered in the 5k run on the same day as the Loch Ness Marathon and is genuinely disappointed that she is too young to have a go at the 10k! However, I have also discovered that my cousin’s husband, Mark MacLennan, and the wife of my closest friend, Carole Spy, are both running the 10k. All in all a real family day so even more reason to donate or just get out and put your running shoes on.
Final announcement, entries for Comrades 2014 opened on Sunday and after checking through a few things, my entry is officially registered. Another big step on the road.
I have spent the past week in London. Mainly trying to get some things moving for my new business but also catching up with some friends and playing a bit of golf. I enjoyed myself for most of the week both socially and from a business perspective and I certainly felt as if I achieved quite a lot. However, I must say that I also found it a very draining experience. Ultimately, I was a zombie by Sunday. This really brought home to me how much I have been taking out of myself for the past fifteen years. It also set me reflecting and this turned my mind to running and specifically, what is it that I have been enjoying so much for the past year.
I did run a fair bit while I was down south and because I was staying in Belgravia at the Caledonian Club, I was mainly on new routes. This included full laps of Hyde Park which was very enjoyable. Once away from the main drag alongside Park Lane, it was also fairly quiet. Finding new places to run and embracing the scenery is definitely one of the motivating factors. Even here at home, the last couple of weeks have been fun because I have started using some new roads. Generally, finding parks, countryside, beaches and other “back to nature” running routes has been best but occasionally industrial landscapes or residential districts can also provide an engaging backdrop to a run.
Looking across Hyde Park from near Marble Arch
The biggest thing which has kept me running though is the way it makes me feel. I am not someone who feels an immediate and physical rush as soon as I step off the road. However, I do find an hour or so after I have finished a run, even a rough one, I feel great. I am confident, focused, full of energy and bursting with desire. Mostly, this lasts all day provided I eat properly. I also notice the difference. On days when I don’t run I become edgy and a little frustrated. I achieve less. Whatever tasks are on my to do list are much less likely to be completed on a rest day. Even if I really need the rest and have no desire to run, by the end of the day I will be missing it and wishing I had gone out after all. One of the distinguishing factors about the last week is that I didn’t feel this way at all on Sunday. I was so tired I just wanted to veg out.
I don’t generally feel this way while I am actually running. Rarely, I will slip into a zone where everything feels easy and I just seem to be floating along, but this never lasts for long. Not that I am straining for every breath but just conscious of a pleasant and continuous level of effort. What I do enjoy during a run is the peace and quiet. Sometimes this enables me to think more clearly about a problem or idea, sometimes I just lose myself in the music and other times I become absorbed in the immediate world around me. Almost always, I am transported to my own world and I am convinced this is the best form of relaxation. The other great thing about my own world, everyone there knows me and leaves me alone. One side effect of this is that I am not a big fan of running with other people. I enjoy parkrun and I definitely feel the adrenaline flowing in a race but it is just a nice change rather than the way I would like be every day. I have read a lot which advises finding a running buddy or group as a method for motivating yourself to start and continue running. I am sure this works for many people but it is not for me. The solitude and freedom of the road is a big plus.
The other obvious benefit to running is health and well being. From the outset, my objective in running was to get fit rather than explicitly to lose weight or to look better. Obviously, the weight loss follows but it is not how I set my goals. I also think about being fit in terms of longevity rather than immediate physical changes. I played a match in our club championship a few years so against a gentleman who was 76 years old at the time. I have known my opponent all my golfing life and I was deeply impressed by how active he still was (and how good his golf was – he took me to the eighteenth!) Although it took time to sink in, the idea of being able to enjoy a fully active life for as many years as possible was really my core motivation for change. I have always been lucky enough to enjoy very robust health so I can’t point to any specific improvements even with the dramatic weight loss I have achieved. The increased energy and focus described above is obviously closely linked to health. In addition, when I have a medical check lots of things point in the right direction like blood pressure, resting heart rate and so on. Apparently, once you reach middle age, any weight loss comes first from the fatty tissue which has accumulated around our internal organs so this is also an unseen but potentially long term benefit. I will let you know in twenty-five years whether it has really worked.
I should also mention diet. Because my motivation was primarily fitness, I did not set out to diet and I certainly did not follow any set plan. However, I have found that high levels of exercise and increasing fitness have led to changes in the way I eat. My body simply demands different things. Sometimes, this is very subtle. Over the years, I have looked at many menus and thought how interesting and healthy the fish option looks…..and then had a burger anyway! Nowadays, I am much more likely to decide to give the sea bass with sweet chilli and lemon grass a try. I also eat carbs in a different way. White bread and other processed stuff genuinely bloats me and very quickly, within 30 minutes or less. Oat or whole grain based products simply don’t have the same effect. I still enjoy chocolate and sweets, I love a few beers with good friends and there is nothing better than a good curry. But, these have become exceptional treats rather than my daily bread. My diet consists of fish, chickens and whole grains with nuts, fruit and vegetables as flavourings. Let the exercise lead the nutrition rather than the other way round.
It has occurred to me that I have not yet managed to thrill you with a diary of my actual running. Having had a good mix of very good days, bad days and differing routes last week, I decided to share may day by day experience before wandering into the usual digression. Don’t worry, I will try not to repeat the format.
Monday 5/8/13 – started the week with a tough run (not something I always feel like doing) and did 15.90km on a very hilly route. Total elevation is 634ft and it feels much more than that. Route starts from my front door and involves a Crookfur Rd, a good climb, a shorter hill up Broom Rd, then another longer one on Broom Rd East before a long and in some places very steep climb up the Old Mearns road and past Eastwood Golf Club. Another hill up past the coup and East Renfrewshire Golf Club completes the set. Was amazed when I checked the watch that I had a time of 1hr 19’31”. This is pretty much dead on 5min per km which was very pleasing for that route.
Tuesday 6/8/13 – rest day
Wednesday 7/8/13 – long run day with a target of doing my first 30km outing which would be six laps of one of my Pollok Park routes. Felt great for my first 15km but then fatigue set in big time and the next lap was tough. Kept it going but lap 5 was a desperate struggle and felt I had to stop after 25.55km in 2hr 26’17”. Was very disappointed but realised afterwards that I had run 77km in six days including a rest day and a parkrun day when I only did 5km. Just too much of a step up in distance. Pollok Park remains my favourite collection of routes and hopefully the new pictures page will show why.
Thursday 8/8/13 – rest day seemed in order and I was also up early for a train back to Inverness.
Friday 9/8/13 – back on the Black Isle and ran 10.69km from my Dad’s house along to the tennis courts, up Manse Brae out of Rosemarkie and along the main road towards Fortrose before turning down Ness Road and managing two laps on the track around Fortrose & Rosemarkie Golf Club. Included a brief stop so enjoy the dolphins off Chanonry point again. Pretty relaxed 58’37”.
Saturday 10/8/13 – Inverness parkrun in Bught Park. Much less windy than the previous week so was able to take advantage of the flat course and get round in 20’42”. This felt OK albeit tough but the old guts started playing up in the final mile and were really bad as soon as I stopped. Had to make a sprint (of sorts!) to the leisure centre for an emergency pit stop.
Sunday 11/8/13 – stayed with my Aunt further along the sea front as Gordon and Carole Spy were staying with my Dad. Up early and had a nice easy 7.26km. Basically same route as Friday but lay one lap of the golf course. Felt great despite being on my feet all night at Runrig and could easily have done more.
Overall hit the forty mile target with 64.40km so pretty satisfied.
The other highlight of the week was Runrig. Fortieth anniversary celebrations culminated with the Party on the Moor concert at the Black Isle Showground near Muir of Ord on Saturday night. 17,000 people and not a drop of rain made for a perfect night. The band played for three hours and covered all the old favourites. The political old stagers Donnie Munro and Pete Wishart both made an appearance and Donnie’s rendering of An Uibhal As Airde was especially memorable. The pace of the evening and the totally informal, down to earth Highland atmosphere really made it. Having Gordon and Carole there was fantastic and Lorna also came along and despite being new to the music basically danced all night. Altogether wonderful.
Runrig on stage at the Party on the Moor with the big Highland sky as a backdrop
If none of the above makes sense to you then get online and check then it out. Runrig are the original fusion of Gaelic and Rock’n’Roll. Their music is party music, spiritual fodder and an elegy for a disappearing culture all rolled into one. Maybe you have to be Scottish but the Danes, Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians in the crowd would disagree. The true spirit of the Highlands.
Really been pleased with the way things have gone in the past couple of weeks. I have not quite topped 40 miles yet but both have weeks have involved over 35 miles of running including some long and some tough sessions. I have also spent most of the last week with my Dad at Rosemarkie in the North of Scotland. The change of scenery and some beautiful new routes and challenges has really helped. I also found time to start writing down some of the story of this journey prior to the start of the blog. You can find this under the new On the Road page.
My daughter Lorna has also been with me and before any more detail about my own running I must digress briefly to talk about Parkrun. This is a brilliant concept which started in Bushey Park about 6 years ago. The idea is very simple, a free, timed 5km run, open to any age or ability, every week in a local park. It has taken off and there are now around 200 events in the UK and another 80 overseas. The whole thing is easy, fun, friendly and relaxing but can only happen through the co-operation of local authorities and communities for use of the parks, the support of a few key sponsors and most importantly a whole host of volunteers who give up their time to run the events every Saturday morning. The volunteers are typically park runners who skip a week once in a while to help out. I have been going along since January so feel a bit guilty about not helping out yet – I promise I will soon.
It is a great idea and if you fancy a bit of no pressure running an excellent way to start. On the other hand, if you are serious you will also find plenty of company up to and including top international athletes on occasion. As an illustration of how great it can be, Lorna has run the last two Saturdays, once in Glasgow and once in Inverness. She will not mind me saying she is not really a sporty type but she wanted to get a bit fitter because she is determined to improve her hockey (she is only 14). The first time was a huge struggle, she walked a fair bit and came in last in just over 52 minutes. Nothing daunted she came back and managed to beat about a dozen people in Bught Park Inverness and finished in just 36 minutes. She was so excited when she heard her time and is now completely hooked. You don’t need to be aiming for Comrades to see that this is just a perfect.
Inverness parkrun was one of several new experiences for me as well and I must say I really enjoyed it. Generally, the running has been fun as well as effective. Rosemarkie is a seaside village and my Dad’s house is right on the beach. There is a 5km lap from there along the road and round firm sandy footpaths the encircle the golf course which has been the main base for my routes. As well as being by the sea virtually the whole way, I also pass the spot where the last witch was burned in Scotland, the place where the Brahann Seer is reputed to have been boiled in oil and the best dolphin spotting place in the UK. As well as this route, I have run the other way along the beach and onto the cliff path which is a bit overgrown but beautiful and I have taken on a fairly stiff hill run up to the farm where my Mum grew up and my cousin farms to this day. I have posted a few pics just to give a flavour and with decent weather it is a pretty idyllic setup.
Those of you with some basic grasp of geography will have figured out that this is also close to where the Loch Ness Marathon will take place. In fact, the event finishes in Bught Park where parkrun happens. I drove most of the route on Sunday as a bit of a recce. It is very undulating with one pretty stiff hill so I think interest will be maintained throughout. Rather than continuous views of the loch, the rod is in and out of trees with regular and spectacular glimpses of the water. Just a couple of examples included amongst the pics. I like the fact that this maintains the air of mystery. Loch Ness is a truly mystical place. It is so deep that apparently there is more water in it than all the rivers and lakes of England and Wales combined. No-one knows how deep it actually reaches. It is also hard to reach because the depths are surrounded on both sides by high mountains. I often think it is as if some ancient god and tried to strike Scotland in two with a massive axe. All of this means that the light is different, the vegetation is unusual and there are several species of fish that are found nowhere else on earth. It also means that few people have ever lived by the Loch so it remains relatively untouched. There is a great little book which my Mum gave me years ago called The Story of Loch Ness. Read this and you will easily understand why the legend of the monster arose.
I guess my conclusion is, I am seriously looking forward to running the race now but it will no be easy. Back home for a few days and then back North to see the Runrig fortieth anniversary concert at the Black Isle Showground on 10 August – you have to be there!