2016 Review

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I’ve been terrible at keeping my blog updated since London and still got so many races and events from April to December to write reports and updates on. I’ll try and get some progress on this over the next couple of weeks.

Highlights of the year include the Polaroid 10k Series with tumbling PB’s and my first sub 40 10k at Helensburgh then going even better at Clydebank with my PB of 37:58.

Edinburgh Half Marathon with another PB performance of 1:23:55.

Helping other people achieve their own running goals by coaching a beginners group from no running to completing their first 10k. Also being support crew for Robert in his successful attempt at the West Highland Way race 96 mile Ultra marathon.

Autumnal highlights for me have been the Yorkshire Marathon with my second sub 3:10 marathon of the year. The Glen Ogle 33 mile Ultra my longest run ever followed by the Southside Six the next day.

It’s the time of year to reflect on the previous year’s achievements and refocus and set targets for the coming year with some exciting things on the agenda for 2017.

London Marathon 2016

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So if you got the guts mister, yeah if you’ve got the balls
If you think it’s your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Sunday the 24th of April 2016, the day when I finally managed to achieved one of my big long held ambitions of running the London Marathon.  Even before I was a runner it was an event I was aware of, I can remember most years growing up watching it on a Sunday morning with my Dad, both of us not even remotely interested in running, me actually quite lazy if I’m honest. But still we were captivated by the sights and stories of the race we watched each year. Each April the London Marathon like the Masters and Easter Holidays was the symbolic switch to the start of summer after a long dark winter. I always remember it was mostly bright and sunny no matter what year it was. The TV coverage never fails in inspiring those watching with the elation, suffering and challenge of the event. From the superhuman speed of the elite field and faster club runners, to the colourful parade of the mass start with the elaborate fancy dress runners to people of all shapes, sizes and ages taking on their own marathon journey. Each year watching I am sure that this subconsciously planted a seed that if they could all do it one day maybe I could be a marathon runner.

It took until I grew up and discovered running for that seed to grow in to reality. I have completed many marathons now but still something was missing, I needed to run London, to experience what I watched each year as a child, to do it for myself, for my Dad, my family and to do justice to these memories.

Each year since 2009 I have entered the ballot for a place in London and each October I’ve received my rejection magazine. I never wanted to go down the charity place route as I didn’t want the pressure of a fundraising target and I also think if I am going to ask for sponsorship it should be for something that takes me out of my comfort zone like swimming! Running a good for age time was also highly unlikely. So unless there was any ballot success one year my chances of running London were quite slim. However one of the many advantages of joining a running club is that each UK club gets two marathon places so last December I put my name in the hat for one of the Kilbarchan AAC places and along with Norman we were allocated the places so 2016 would be the year I got to run London.

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Knowing that in April I would be running London gave me a real focus and determination to get out training and log the miles over the winter. I was out in the dark, cold, wet even in the snow all the time being driven by the thought of being ready for April and a run round London to Her Majesty’s house.

In the lead up to the marathon I really had the perfect training from running well in the Cross Country races to the daily miles of Marcothon. On top of this Donald at the club had taken on the role of providing training plans for the senior road runners so for each week since October we have had planned fartlek sessions on a Monday night and speed work at the track on Thursdays which has really brought me on more than I could have imagined as a runner. This was demonstrated by my better than expected results in the Balloch to Clydebank half marathon and Tom Scott 10 mile road race which were my two London build up races. So I was full of confidence from these results and the weekly long runs I had completed during training.

In most of my previous marathons I had done nearly all of my long runs on the fairly flat cycle path which passes by close to my house but this time I made a conscious decision to make my long runs a lot hillier as I felt it would make me stronger and faster on the flatter route on marathon day. Also in previous marathons I’ll be honest I had not been as dedicated and put in the full amount of training required for the times I would like to run, but this year was different. I managed all planned long runs and also included a mid-week long run of between 9 and 12 miles which I think really helped on two fronts, firstly it was miles in the legs and secondly psychologically it made the weekend long run less daunting which was a big help. My total mileage for each month of this year so far was January 162 miles, February 147 miles, March 211 and April 169 miles. This is the sort of work which I was putting in, it was all really building my confidence as I was running well and enjoying it, it wasn’t a struggle to get out the door and get going. I also managed to meet up with Norman for a lot of the mid-week runs and it’s amazing what a bit of company can do, it worked really well for us as we are both self-employed, live in the same village, run similar times and were training for the same event.

It seemed to come round quickly that the hard work was all done and we were in to the taper period. In many ways this is harder than the training, it’s a case of finding the fine line of still running and keeping the sharpness but not getting ill or injured or tired. In the week or two before the marathon some runs were just awful, it felt like I had forgotten how to run, I imagined myself to be all arms and legs flailing all over the place, breathing all over the place and pace fluctuating from insanely fast to plodding along, pretty much like all my normal runs but the only difference was out of injury paranoia I was over analysing every little detail. But I did manage to get through it all and was travelling down to London excited and ready to go. Sadly the same could not be said for Norman the week before the marathon he injured his hamstring and had been seeing his physio for treatment, we were both still hopeful he would be able to run after as many days of no running as possible, rest and treatment but we would not know until the Saturday or maybe even Sunday morning if he would be running.

Friday 22nd April

This was the day we travelled down to London, our original plan had been to get the train down and back up but for some reason or other it seemed the train companies did not want our business and made it as difficult as possible to book a reasonably priced ticket. The train appealed as particularly for the way back after the race we would be able to get up for a walk and stretch our legs rather than be cramped in to a plane seat.  But when we compared the cost of return train travel to a return flight there really was only one clear winner. It really is crazy when you think about it that you can fly return to London for less than the price of a standard one way journey on the train. So the plan was Easyjet for the short flight from Glasgow to Stanstead as the mid-afternoon flight down suited us and we would be at our hotel for about 6pm.

The Friday morning really should have been spent with my children but Hannah was at nursery and Robbie was at toddlers so I spent it packing. When it comes to travelling away from home to a marathon packing really is a several hours mission filled with dilemmas, debates and decisions about pretty much every running related piece of clothing, technology and equipment you own. Things get put in to piles of essential kit that is going no matter what, then there is a maybe pile of things that get put in and taken out of the suitcase and might end up making the cut. Then there is a just in case pile of things that you don’t think you will need but would like to have on the rare chance you do need them a bit like a running comfort blanket. You would have thought with all this debating over every little thing to take the marathon was in the middle of nowhere and it was all about self-sufficient survival instead of a busy city with shops and even more ridiculously I had to go to the marathon expo which is just one massive running exhibition selling everything a runner could need to collect my number. So if I thought about it logically if I forgot something or didn’t have it I would be able to get it, but you don’t really think logically at times in the few days before a marathon. Nadine arrived back home with the kids around noon after leaving me for over 3 hours and asked what I was doing and was not impressed when I answered packing, she then asked what I had been doing all morning and was even less impressed when she got the same answer of packing. However the end was in sight and after taking 5 minutes to throw in some non-running clothes for the rest of the time I think I was good to go. This still didn’t stop me several times over the next two hours before I had to leave opening the suitcase to add things in. I did nearly forget one of the most crucial things, a few minutes before we were leaving to pick Norman up I remembered I hadn’t packed my Stoats Apple and Cinnamon instant porridge, my tried and tested, safe to eat breakfast when I am running races away from home. Once they were safely in my case it was time to say goodbye to Hannah and Robbie and Nadine and I were off to collect Norman. In my defence despite all my debating about what to pack I fitted it all in to a small sensibly sized case for a two night trip. When we collected Norman he came out with a case that made you think he was away for a fortnight! It did make me feel a bit better that it wasn’t just me with the packing and that he had been the same or actually much, much worse. How many pairs of running shoes did you take Norman?!

The nice thing about a mid-afternoon flight is that the airport is relatively quiet so when we arrived to drop our bags there was no queue at the Easyjet desk and then when we went upstairs we sailed through security in a matter of minutes so we had time to relax with a coffee before boarding opened for our flight. Everything with our flight was to time and we arrived in Stanstead ahead of schedule where we were quickly off the plane to collect our bags and straight downstairs on to the Stanstead express to Liverpool Street. It was not long after 5pm when we arrived at Liverpool Street and we had to negotiate a rush hour underground ride on the Central line out to Stratford. It was at this moment I was thankful for having the smaller suitcase as Norman and the Underground barriers had a bit of a disagreement about his case fitting through.

We arrived at Stratford and with the thanks of Google maps managed to navigate our way the short distance to our hotel. We had left Glasgow with warm sunshine and were now walking through the streets of London in the rain and a noticeable drop in temperature. Which was not too nice to walk in but if it was like that for running in on the Sunday I would have been over the moon. We half talked about going straight to the expo to collect our race numbers but as it was only open till 8pm we thought it was more important to get checked in to the hotel and then head out for some dinner than rush our way down to the Excel when we had the option of doing it on the Saturday afternoon.

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Close to our hotel we had the Westfield shopping centre which was good as it had plenty of food options for our lunch and dinner requirements over the few days we were down there so after getting settled in to the hotel we headed back up there and got our dinner at a Thai restaurant which was very nice. It was a bit surreal walking back through the shopping centre on a Friday night to see people living the dream and sitting at a champagne bar in the middle of closed shops, it seems I have been missing out on that type of experience so far in my life. It got even stranger when we were looking for a supermarket to get some supplies for our room the Westfield options of Waitrose and M&S were shut so we crossed the road and went in to the Stratford centre which was the London equivalent of the Paisley centre with a eclectic mix of customers at that time on a Friday night. It did have a supermarket which provided us with all we were after so we survived it and made our way back to our hotel and bed as we planned to do some running on the Saturday morning to stretch our legs and give Norman a fitness test to see if he would be running the marathon after his hamstring injury.

Saturday 23rd April

On the Saturday morning we were up early to get breakfast at the hotel before heading out for our run. I am ashamed to say I have never done any of the worldwide phenomenon that is Parkrun, the free weekly timed 5k races which take place on Saturday mornings. Norman is a Parkrun regular and race director for the Victoria Parkrun in Glasgow so he had researched London options for our Saturday morning run. The closest and easiest to get to from our hotel was the one at Mile End park, this was a short journey a couple of stops along the Central line and we were there in lots of time to get a short warm up completed before the crowds started to assemble. I think the regular runners were boosted by quite a few Parkrun tourists in town for the marathon and we were all made to feel very welcome. The run is a two lap circuit with a few up and downs in it through Mile End park and along the canal path. Norman appeared to be ok during and after our warm up and the plan for the Parkrun was to take it gentle and see how Normans hamstring held up. For most of the first lap I think Norman was quite close behind me but going in to the second lap I couldn’t see him behind me when I turned. I thought he might have just eased up the pace a bit, but I did start to get a bad feeling that his hamstring may have been causing a worse problem than expected. My fears were confirmed when I finished in a time of 24.53 and waited around at the finish line for a few minutes and couldn’t see him come in. I started walking back down the course to meet him walking his way back in and could tell straight away that his fitness test had not gone well and it would be unlikely he would be running the marathon.

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It was a bit of a difficult journey back to our hotel as Norman debated over his decision about pulling out of the race. Deep down I think he knew from the moment of the parkrun that there was no way he could do the marathon. But actually saying those words and the reality of it was a difficult moment for him. Norman’s son David had surprised him by booking flights down to come and watch him running the marathon and I think this was weighing on his mind with the decision to withdraw but I am sure this turned the negative of not running the marathon in to a positive of having a day with his son and company to watch the race the following day. Also Norman has a place for the New York marathon later this year and he will be back strong and ready to go for that one which he may have jeopardised by trying to run in London.

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After we went back to the hotel and got showered and changed we headed down to the marathon Expo so that I could collect my race number and stuff. Again this must have been difficult for Norman after having to withdraw from the race however I was grateful for his company. After a wee wander through the expo we decided to head off for lunch somewhere. We took the Air line across from the Excel to the O2 arena at Greenwich, I quite enjoyed this as it was one of the tourist type things I had never had the chance to do in my previous trips to London. After lunch we stopped off in a pop up craft brewers bar for Norman to have a couple of drinks and for me to sit and rest my legs. Then we headed back to the hotel so I could rest for a couple of hours before we headed out for dinner. When we planned the trip we had looked in to heading out to watch a football match on the Saturday afternoon on of the options was to go to Wembley for the Everton v Man Utd FA Cup Semi Final but we decided a teatime trip across London was not the best idea before the marathon but it did give us a good chance to relax watching the game in our hotel.

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Dinner on the Saturday night was back up to Westfield for me to have a big bowl of pasta from Jamie’s Italian to fuel me up for the following morning’s effort. Then it was back down to the hotel for me to prepare my race kit and get in to bed and sleep as well as I could as tomorrow was the big day.

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Race Kit

Kilbarchan AAC Club Vest, Craft Shorts, Smartwool Socks, Compressport Calf Guards, Nike Zoom Streak 5 racing shoes, Adidas Team GB Sweat band, Adidas Sunglasses, Garmin Forerunner 220, SiS Energy Gels 2 x Orange, 1 x Berry Caffeine, 1 x Double Espresso Caffeine.

Sunday 24th April

I woke up on the Sunday morning feeling a combination of excited, nervous, confident and ready to go. I had a shower and then my good old Stoats porridge and a quick trip down to breakfast for some toast and honey before returning to the room to put sun cream and my race kit on. Before long it was time to leave to make my way to the start line. Norman joined me heading up to Stratford station as he was going to Liverpool Street to meet David so we said our goodbyes and Norman wished me luck and said he would see me on the course as I headed off to follow the other runners on to the DLR and down to Greenwich for the marathon start. It’s a strange feeling and journey travelling to a marathon start, particularly when you are travelling by yourself. I watched the other runners some travelling in groups, who were louder and more exuberant than others, some who were travelling with family or loved ones who were trying to be positive and encouraging and calm the nerves of their runner and lots of people travelling solo like myself. There was a mix of all nationalities, ages and runner types from really nervous first timers to regulars who had done it all many times. It’s very strange that the trains are so busy but also really, really quiet as everyone is quiet and thoughtful thinking of what they have ahead of them.

I checked my phone and had a few messages of good luck and comments on Instagram and Facebook wishing me luck. I was really touched by these, it meant so much to me and gave me a boost that people were thinking of me and supporting me. So thank you.

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The journey down to the start went smoothly and once off the DLR it was a case of joining the procession of all the runners walking up the hill to the start area in Greenwich Park which was about a 20 minute walk away. For the walk up to the start I put some music on, I don’t really run listening to music any more but I do like to use it to get motivated and in to the zone as they say. The album of choice was my normal marathon one of Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. It just seems to fit perfectly for me with the thoughts and emotions I feel with marathons. Dad was a massive fan of the Boss and his influence has rubbed off on to my brother’s and my own music tastes.

My start was the Blue start so I went in to the start area and got ready. I got myself in to my racing kit and then loaded my bag on to the baggage trucks. It was a dry, sunny morning in the park but it was still very cold. I was always going to run in only my club vest as I knew it would heat up so I was glad I packed an old jumper to wear and throw away at the start. My biggest decisions was if I would wear my sunglasses or not, in the end I went with them and I was very glad that I did. Next stop was to join the queues for the toilets which were big but moving well, again at times like this I am very glad to be male. I still had time before the start to have a cup of tea, anyone who knows me is aware of how much of a tea addict I am so this really was very welcome and it helped heat me up for the start. A final quick trip to the toilet and then it was in to the start pens and before I knew it the start countdown was on and Tim Peake in the International Space station was setting the runners of.

The Blue start follows straight after the Elite field so it took me a minute or so to get across the start line. In all my previous marathons I never really had a plan or strategy for the race, it was always a case of head out at a pace which I probably optimistically thought I could sustain then hold on before the wheels come off usually around miles 18-20 and then run walk the best I can to the end. However for London based on my training and warm up races I actually put thought in to a plan for the race. Check me out, going in to a race with a strategy! My aim was to run the first 10 miles at 7.30 per mile pace, then increase that from mile 10 to 7.00 per mile pace and hang on to that pace as long as I could, possibly 20 miles or optimistically beyond that, I would find out if I was able to put that plan in to action. My main target was any form of PB with a time of 3:15 being the optimistic aim and I hoped my plan would allow me to get near to this with a margin to allow for the wheels coming off.

The first mile was quite congested so my pace time was just shy of 8 minutes which was off what the plan said, however I didn’t panic as I knew I had a long way to make that time back up. From the off the thing that hit me straight away was the crowds, they were several people deep at each side of the road. This was only the start and it got even more impressive as we progressed along the route and passed some of the iconic London marathon sights. My second mile was closer to planned pace with a 7.36 and taking advantage of the downhill nature of the course miles 3 and 4 were 7.09 and 7.04 respectively. Running without headphones makes you really appreciate the crowd and the sounds along the route. You really do hear every type of music along the route as all the diverse communities of London come out on to the streets and turn the marathon in to one long party that the runners are passing through in a procession. Pubs had speakers blasting out music, people in flats had put sound systems on their balconies and on top of that was the constant noise and cheers from the crowds.

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I was feeling good and in control and had to make a conscious effort to keep my pace under control and stick with my plan. I passed 10k in a time of 46:42 and that was the first mental point checked off. Not long after this point is the first real iconic part of the route round Cutty Sark, as you come in to this area it really is a wall of noise as every piece of space is filled with spectators, there is also what I think was a pub that had a live Ska band playing outside which was just incredible. I didn’t like the twisty nature of the route round Cutty Sark but for the lift and shot of adrenaline the crowd gave it was a small price to pay, for about the next mile the crowds seemed just as deep and loud and as much of a lift I was getting I really had to keep the pace under control and not speed up, it wasn’t time for that yet.

My nutrition strategy for the marathon was to take energy gels at 8 miles, 12 miles, 16 miles (caffeine) and 20 miles (caffeine) so my next mental marker was my 8 mile gel where again I was running well and in control. It was around the point of my pace increase to 7.00 minute miles at mile 10 that I got in front of the 3:15 pacers and the bunch following behind them. This gave me a real boost as I was ‘ahead’ of target time and also the pacers had a real bunch following them and once I got past them there was a lot more space to fall in to my own rhythm and have more control of my running line which meant I could follow the measured blue line showing the shortest, exact marathon distance. It’s all these little things that help add up to a big performance. Another mental check and marker as I took on my gel at mile 12 and I was feeling good and running well.

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The next of the iconic sights and points is the crossing of Tower Bridge just before the half way point, everyone who has run London tells you how special this is and how amazing the crowds are here. That is all true and I couldn’t agree more, what they don’t tell you is that it’s actually a bit of a hill up and on to the bridge. This took me a bit by surprise but I did have the downhill side of the bridge to get the heart rate back under control and the adrenaline shot of the crowd allowed me to keep the pace up and before I knew it I was at the halfway point in a time of 1:36:21.

Around about the 14 mile mark I could see the leaders in the men’s elite race heading back in I had hoped of catching a glimpse of Callum and Derek Hawkins from my club who were going for qualification for Rio but I only saw the first two men before turning right to head in to the Docklands area and around Canary Wharf. At I think just passed the 15 mile mark I saw Norman and David at the side of the road cheering me on which again was another massive mental lift.

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Not long after that I was running through a tunnel and it was an incredible contrast for a couple of reasons, firstly we were out of the sun for a start as it had got quite warm and sunny and to go in to the cool shade of the tunnel was really refreshing but most startling for the first time all race there was no crowd and all you could hear was runners footsteps and breathing. It was like the crowd and light had been paused and you had a bit of rest and relief from them before all of a sudden you emerged back in to the light and noise of the marathon. Mentally I took that point to think right, I’m doing this, things are going well today. From that point on I never doubted our thought the wheels would come off. Sure I would get tired and sore, it’s a marathon you expect that but from that moment I knew I wouldn’t need to walk and doubted my pace would drop too much. Then it was time for my 16 mile caffeine gel!

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Miles 16 to 20 were all within the 6.47-7.05 pace so all was still going to plan. Between miles 21 and 22 when the route joins up with runners still heading out the way is another point where I got a lift, well that and the effects of the caffeine gel at mile 20 hitting me as I was now on the opposite side of the road heading for the finish just like the elite runners had been as I was heading out. Around here I started to begin overtaking quite a lot of runners who were starting to suffer due to the pace or heat or distance. It’s amazing the lift that this was giving me to be feeling well and overtaking people, this is something I had never felt or experienced in a marathon before. For mile 24 I pulled a 6:49 out of the bag, I was getting quicker and ahead of pace when I thought my pace would be dropping.

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I could see on the skyline the London eye, I was running alongside the river I knew I was getting closer to Westminster, I could see Big Ben. I knew the turn on to Birdcage walk, I was alongside St James’s park I’d seen this loads of time before on TV but now I was here, I was running and I was actually doing this. Round the corner, there is the Queen’s house, the Queen Victoria fountain, not long to go, I’m on to the Mall across the line, look up to the sky and I’ve done it. Dad this one is for you, I hope I have done you proud, I’ve ran the London marathon.

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I’ve got a new PB and exceeded my expectations with a time of 3:09:05. It is also a time within the Boston marathon qualifying standards for me so it’s slim but it may be good enough to get me to Boston. I’ve done 2 of the World Marathon majors now, it would be wrong not to tick the other 4 off of the list!

I shake hands and congratulate a few of the runners around me and keep walking forward and a cheerful friendly volunteer congratulates me and puts a medal around my neck. I am overcome with a feeling of pride in myself. I’ve put in the hard work and got a result and experience which was better than I could have imagined.

I collect my bag from the baggage truck and phone home, Nadine is surprised to hear from me so soon and panics that something has gone wrong and that I’m calling with bad news, but all is well and it’s good news. Hannah asks if I won the marathon, I didn’t win it, but I tell her I did win my marathon. Next I phone my Mum and let her know I’m ok, she then tells me the good news that Callum Hawkins was 1st Brit (8th overall) and has qualified for the Olympics and his brother Derek was 3rd Brit (14th overall) and within the Olympic qualifying standard with a chance to go to Rio. Gemma also came home as 3rd Scottish female so it was a very good day all round for Kilbarchan Amateur Athletics Club.

I then went to the reunion area to meet up with Norman and David who had had a good time out spectating on the course and following the elite races. We head back to the hotel so I can get a shower and we can collect the bags as we are flying back home that evening. Before we need to head to the airport there is time to visit Westfield for a final meal and by that point I am starving, I had been craving a burger so we went for pub food. It was all excellent and hit the spot but we had some surreal experiences with the waitresses from them thinking Norman looked like someone famous to their shock and disbelief that I wanted a cup of tea as if no one had ever ordered one in there before. Then it was back to Liverpool Street and the Stanstead Express and Easyjet back up to Glasgow and I was home and in my own bed to recover and ready to carry Hannah up to nursery on my shoulders on the Monday morning as 5 year olds don’t understand that Daddy’s legs are sore as he ran a marathon!

I would recommend anyone to take on a marathon. You will learn more about yourself and what you are capable of both physically and mentally than you could ever imagine. It’s a life affirming challenge but one that once you have achieved it no one can take away from you. You will forever be known as a marathon runner. Even if you can only run a few miles or a 5k, with a bit of training and self-belief you can complete a marathon. Or if you can’t and don’t want to do one go and watch one from the side of the road. It really will restore your faith in human nature and inspire you.

Thank you London Marathon, I will be back to do it all over again sometime in the future.

London Marathon Strava

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p.s The following week I was a bit frustrated and angry with Scottish Athletics as they were using the London Marathon for the Scottish Marathon Championships. This consists of an individual event which Callum Hawkins won obviously with Derek Hawkins in 3rd. There is also a team competition which is the combined time for the first 3 runners from each club. In the week after the marathon Scottish Athletics announced that Edinburgh AC had won this in a time of 7:53:50, however if you tally up Callum and Derek’s time with my own all be it slower time we have a combined time of 7:32:54. We questioned this with Scottish Athletics and the reason is that Callum and Derek are not eligible for the team competition as they were not wearing their club vests. So as Scottish Athletics see it you can have the first and third place runners in the Individual Scottish Marathon Championships excluded from the Scottish Marathon Team Championships which are taking place within the same race on the same day at the same time based on what they are wearing.
In my opinion it needs to be an all or nothing rule about club vests for Championship events not an ok for some things but not others. I can understand the rules regarding vests for closed Scottish Athletics races, district events and races which are hand timed. But when you are using an open road event in another country for your national marathon championships surely you can have a bit of leeway and common sense?
We are all athletes registered with Kilbarchan AAC and Scottish Athletics who were running in the race with timing chips on our feet, that fact doesn’t change if we are wearing our club vest, sponsors kit, charity vest or pink tutu’s.
I live in the real world, I know my standard and place as a runner and it’s extremely unlikely I will ever win a race or team medal in my running lifetime. I know that it’s just luck on my part that two Olympic standard members of my club were running the same race as me as without that it would never have been an issue or even a topic of discussion. But it still makes it hard to take that when it’s 3 counters for the team title our combined time would have won it.

On the grand scheme of their careers this team title would unlikely not even register for Callum and Derek. For me though it’s a once in a lifetime medal that I would have been proud of and cherished forever that I am not eligible for due to double standard rules from Scottish Athletics.

 

 

 

 

Tom Scott 10 Mile Road Race 2016

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My final London Marathon build up race was the Tom Scott 10 Mile road race which fell two weeks before Marathon day. It’s a race distance I had never run before so no matter what I was guaranteed a PB. It was also a good opportunity to give a final test for all clothing and shoe decisions for the marathon so I went with the racing shoes as this is what I was planning to use on marathon day. It’s probably purely psychological but I am sure the racing shoes make me faster!

The race is held around the rowing loch within Strathclyde Park and I assumed it would be fairly flat but it turned out to be a bit more undulating and rolling that I had expected. On the morning of the race the weather was perfect with clear skies and cool temperatures so I was looking forward to my run as I travelled through, I also hoped the weather god’s would be as kind on marathon day.

I shared a lift through to Strathclyde Park with Norman from my club who I would also be travelling to and running London with so it was a good opportunity for us to talk plans and look ahead to our trip south for the marathon.

Race number collection was at the venue on the day and we arrived to be met with a queue to wait in but luckily it moved quickly and we still had time for a warm up before we had to assemble at the start line. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have posted the race numbers out as it would have made things a bit less stressful pre-race but no real harm was done. While in the queue we met up with Euan from our club who was also running and we got our warm up in together.

After a brief warm up we assembled at the start area and met a few other faces we knew, we actually got a bit caught up chatting and Norman and myself found ourselves a bit far back when the race started so our first mile was run quite a bit faster than planned (6:19!) as we weaved our way through the bunch but we soon stabilised out in to a more sensible pace that was sustainable for the duration of the 10 miles. I think Norman and I stayed together for the first 3-4 miles after which I started to pull ahead a bit. The course is run on narrow paths around the loch so at times it was hard to get a sense of exactly where you were sitting within the field.

I managed to keep my pacing fairly consistent in the 6:30-6:40 range and was feeling good and in control for most of the race. On the way back around the loch the short sharp hills took their toll and my pace dropped to 6:46 for mile 8 but once on to flatter ground and on to the final stretch I was able to up it again for miles 9 and 10. The last two miles were run in to a headwind and I sensed someone catching up behind me and trying to tuck in behind me to shelter from the wind, it’s amazing how a competitive spirt can kick in and I made the decision that I was not going to give them a free tow to the line and I manged to up the pace getting a gap on them and move clear.

The final mile was a tough drag to the line but it eventually did come and I stopped the clock with a time of 64 minutes 37 seconds which was quicker than the estimated time I had at the start which was 65-70 minutes so I was delighted with that.

It gave me a final confidence boost heading in to London that I was running the best I ever had in my life and the hard work was paying off.

Strava Tom Scott 10 mile

Balloch to Clydebank half marathon 2016

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The first of my London Marathon build up races was the Balloch to Clydebank half marathon. This is a race I had previously run two times and one which I enjoy. It’s a race that comes early in the year so it can be a bit hit or miss with the weather but I was feeling confident if the weather co-operated I would be on for a good run as my marathon training was going well and I was feeling strong and confident in the lead up to the race, I knew the course and was looking forward to having a go at the goal of a Sub 1:30 half marathon.

I woke on the morning to almost perfect conditions to run in, it was cool and overcast with little or no wind and I knew at that very moment I would be on for a PB today. One of the advantages of racing fairly frequently is that the pre-race routine becomes habit and you know what works for you. So I stuck to my usual breakfast of porridge and cup of tea then got my kit together and headed over to Clydebank. As this is a point to point race there are busses for the runners from the finish at the Playdrome in Clydebank to the start at Loch Lomond shores in Balloch. Everything went smoothly with the busses and on the journey to the start I sat on the bus with a calm confidence. Once I arrived at Lomond shores I met up with a few of the other guys from the club who were running in the race so we all headed off for a warm up close to the start line. On the way over we met Gemma from the club who would win the women’s race in a time of 1:18:12.

Before long it was time to start, for this year’s race there was a few changes to the course with it using more of the cycle path next to the river virtually from the start as opposed to the main roads through Alexandria. This was a nice change in terms of the scenery and running location however the first couple of corners and nearly the whole first mile it was really tight as the field had not had the time to spread out on the open road before switching to the narrow cycle path with little to no opportunity to overtake. Once we got through the first mile things had settled a bit and it was easier to fall in to goal pace for the race and not get caught in the slow, fast, slow fast pace changes of weaving your way through other runners. My aim for the race was to try and run at 6:40-6:50 per mile pace which I managed to stick to quite accurately.

For the first 6 miles I was running with Ryan from the club just ahead of me, my plan was to follow him as closely as possible hoping he could tow me to the finish as he is faster than me. However just after 6 miles I overtook him and it gave me a massive confidence boost (It turns out Ryan was having an off day due to a virus) Around this point we were also joined by Chris from the club and we tried to work as a trio but Chris and I pulled away from Ryan.

Chris and I worked well together along the cycle path and through Old Kilpatrick and in to Bowling we were still together taking a good share of turns at the front. Chris is in training for the Manchester marathon and has also been running really strong at club nights. At mile 11 I tried to up the pace a bit to target a PB and to get a bit of a gap on Chris as there were precious club league points up for grabs turning it in to a race within a race! Euan was away ahead up the road for the top point’s prize but it was still close between Chris and myself for the 2nd and 3rd male home from the club.

I think I opened up a slight gap for a short period but in the industrial estate within the last mile Chris appeared on my shoulder again and then not long after overtook me, I tried to follow him but the legs couldn’t co-operate and speed up when I tried to ask them to. In myself I do know that one of my weaknesses is that I don’t really have a sprint finish so that is something I need to work on. Chris headed up the road to finish with a new PB of 1:27:30 and in 87th position. I came in not far behind in 92nd position and also a new PB by over 5 minutes with a time of 1:27:44!

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So in my first half marathon of the year I achieved one of the 3 goals I set myself at the start of the year. I am now officially a member of the Sub 90 minute half marathon club. This has given me a massive confidence boost in my training for the London Marathon and it’s thanks to all at Kilbarchan AAC for their help and support and a little bit of hard work from myself!

Strava Balloch to Clydebank 2016

Cross Country 2015-16

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For lots of people the mention of Cross Country running brings back bad memories of high school and muddy fields that makes them not even want to contemplate doing it ever again. However I was really looking forward to giving cross country a go in adulthood this winter. A problem I have had most winters since I started running has been keeping up motivation to train during the dark, wet and windy months so having some races in the diary was the perfect excuse to keep me going. So I bought myself some Cross Country spikes and looked forward to getting wet and muddy!

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West District Relay, Hamilton Park Racecourse 11th October 2015

The cross country season for me started in mid October with the West District relays at Hamilton Park racecourse. For the senior men this was for teams of 4 running a leg each of a 4km lap. I was in the Kilbarchan C team which was made up of only 3 runners with me on the 3rd leg, it’s a pity we couldn’t make another full team but it was good for me to not have the pressure of a 4th leg runner waiting for me to come in! For my Cross Country debut I got off lightly and the weather was warm and sunny with the underfoot conditions dry and well maintained grass, but although it was a ‘flat’ racecourse it was anything but with a long drawn out hill covering about 1km before a up and down twisty part round the football pitches before the long run back down the straight to the finish, but there was a sting in the tail with a 400m loop round past the finish before you were done. I completed my 4km leg in 16:50 and really enjoyed my cross country debut.

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Renfrewshire XC Relay, Pollok Park 18th October 2015

For the second of the relays I was ‘promoted’ in to our B team running the 4th leg, the route was 2.5 miles and made up of a short lap followed by two long laps of the course. Again the weather was warm, dry and sunny which was nice conditions to run in, the course was relatively flat, mostly grass with a wee muddy trail section through trees and a couple of short, sharp hills toward the end of each lap. My leg was completed in a time of 18:02.

The final of the Relays was the National XC Relay Championships which I was unable to make it to. After the Relays it was on to the individual events.

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National Short Course Championships, Bellahouston Park 7th November 2015

My first true taste of Cross Country running. It was wet, windy, muddy and raining at Bellahouston Park for the 4km National Short Course championship. The course is two laps round the rugby pitches at the back end of Bellahouston park. It starts with a mass long charge downhill splashing through puddles and mud before heading through mud and the rugby pitches to the flats at the far end of the park and making your way back along past the tents and back  up the hill to go out and do it all over again. I came 269th in a time of 16.44.

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Renfrewshire Cross Country Championships, Tower Hill Gourock 14th November 2015

The wind and rain continued all week so it was a very wet and muddy 5.5 mile race at Gourock. This was 5 laps of a course which was really challenging with hills, rocky trails, mud, mud and more mud. It was a step up in distance with a more technical course and this might have contributed to my first fall when I hit the deck coming round a sharp corner so I ended the day especially muddy but still with a smile on my face. This one was tough and I came home in a time of 41:30 for 53rd position.

I missed the West District Cross Country championship at Bellahouston Park as I couldn’t make it. By all accounts this was the muddiest of all races for quite a while and I am sad I missed it!

Kilbarchan AAC Club Cross Country Championship, Linwood On-X 14th February 2016

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For the club Cross country championships we had 3 senior men running in a mass start with all age groups. The seniors completing 4 laps of the course to run a total of 8.6km. It was a day where the weather had a bit of everything in store for us, it was bright and sunny but cold with a bit of wind and towards the end of the senior race we were treated to a snow shower.  The course had a bit of everything a few hills, some short and sharp, long grass, short grass, wild overgrown grass and shrubs with a few jumps on to and off paths. It was Donald, Robert and myself who were battling it out for the title. Donald took the lead from us on the first lap and just kept getting further and further away to take the deserved win. Robert was ahead of me for most of the first couple of laps with the gap growing and decreasing at various point on the lap. At the start of the third lap I had closed the gap and was trying to work out when to attack when Robert had a footwear malfunction and had to pull to the side to deal with that, which meant I had taken second place. I kept expecting him to come back and overtake me but he never did. For the first time ever I came home from a race with a trophy for my second place finish. I completed my 4 laps in a time of 37.07.

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National Cross Country Championship, Callender Park Falkirk 27th February 2016

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The final Cross Country race of the season was the big one, the National Cross Country Championships at Callender Park in Falkirk at the end of February. With the club we had a winter training programme building up to and targeting this race and it what a difference it has made to my fitness and running. I was going in to this one feeling faster and stronger than I ever had in terms of my running. For the senior men it was 3 laps of the course making a total distance of 12km. The course again had a bit of everything to throw at us, grass, hills, mud, river crossing, rocks, stones etc. Going in to the race I had two targets, firstly to get around in under an hour and secondly not to get lapped by the leaders. The start to this race is quite unlike anything I had experienced before, it was an all out charge to the first corner where a bottle neck effect caused a real compression. Once out that it was up the hill and a bit of space to try and find your own pace to run at. Again the weather was exceptionally good for this one. With it being dry, sunny and a nice temperature for running in. It would be quite a different experience on a wet, muddy day! All through the race I felt like I was pushing it, but still under control and I could really feel the benefit of the winter training program. I achieved both my goals by not getting lapped and finishing in a time of 55.26 for 395th place. Setting a nice target to beat next year!

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Overall I really enjoyed my winter cross country season and I am already looking forward to it coming round again now that I have times and places set for the races to try and beat. I feel it really has done me the world of good in terms of training and improving myself as a runner through the winter and I feel really strong coming in to the road season and my spring marathon training.

Also generally about cross country it has a really amazing atmosphere totally different from the road races with the club tents set up all day and with all age groups running on the same courses throughout the day it really does bring the club closer together that we can all watch and support each other.

It also doesn’t have the mental pressure that some road races have of you trying to battle the watch and time with such a focus on pace and splits. That’s not to say that cross country is any less competitive, however it’s more a battle with the course and conditions and runners around you than with the clock which is refreshing.

Bring on October and the muddy fields again!

The List 2016

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The first post on my blog when it started was The List, this was a plan of events that I targeted and planed for the year 2015. Overall I was successful with achieving these and managed to tick off two big bucket list events that I had wanted to do for many years, Cycling Paris Roubaix and running the Berlin Marathon. All the official events and races I planned on I managed to achieve and complete, however the two additional challenges I had also added in for myself I didn’t manage to do so Run up Ben Lomond and Cycle the John Muir way will be added to my plans for 2016!

For 2016’s List I am going to do it a bit differently, instead of a list of events I am setting myself some specific targets. 2016 is all about the running so it’s all running time based goals and these are simply 3 new PB’s!

First up is to achieve a Sub 40 minute 10k, it’s a magical barrier for runners to go sub 40 minutes and I’ve been creeping closer, so hopefully this year is finally the year I join the sub 40 club.

Secondly and similarly a Sub 90 minute Half marathon, like the 10k I’ve been getting closer to this and will get it!

Thirdly and finally it’s a marathon PB, I think 3.20 is realistic and achievable with 3.15 being the dream goal.

I get two chances of going for this one as after over 8 years of ballot rejections I have got a place in the London Marathon through my club Kilbarchan AAC so that is spring’s goal and what has been getting me out running in the dark, windy nights. For the autumn my marathon target is the Yorkshire marathon.

Marcothon 2015

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For the first time since it started I decided to attempt the Marcothon. For those who don’t know what it is this is a December running challenge to run outside every day in December for a minimum of 3 miles or 25 minutes it was started by the Scottish Ultramarathon runner Marco Consani  From the facebook group and website here is how they describe it.

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‘The rules are simply, you must run every day in DECEMBER. Minimum of three miles or 25 minutes – which ever comes first. The challenge starts on December 1 and finishes on December 31. And yes, that includes Christmas Day.

It’s not a competition. Just a personal challenge or an incentive to burn off some beer and turkey dinners.

The history: This all started in 2009, when Marco challenged himself to run every day in November. I decided to follow suit and run every day in December. I posted the challenge – and dubbed it the Marcothon – and before I knew it there was a group of runners equally eager to embrace the winter conditions of December 2009. In 2010, the group was added to Facebook and attracted over 500 runners from across the globe. Last year, we had nearly 3000!’

So with a view of keeping me running over the dark, wet and wild months in the West coast of Scotland and building towards spring marathon training I thought I would give it a go.

At times it’s been tough trying to fit my daily run around family life and festive activities and when I started out I thought I would give it a go and see how I got on not putting too much pressure on myself to complete the challenge. However around half way through my competitive instinct and stubbornness kicked in and I was going to complete the challenge no matter what!

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I won’t bore you all with the details of each individual run as they are all on Strava for anyone who cares but the total mileage for the month was 165 miles which hopefully puts a good base in to my legs for the start of my spring marathon training program hopefully it will be a case of winter miles making summer smiles and some new PB’s in 2016.

Great Scottish Run Weekend

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The weekend of the Great Scottish Run is always one of the highlights in the running year for me. This is for a few different reasons, firstly the 10k in 2008 was my first ever running event so it will always have special memories of the path it set me on. It gives me a chance to look back on how far I have come and appreciate what I have achieved since then, which is something I don’t do often enough. Secondly it comes at the end of the summer so it is usually on the back of a good period of training so I go in to the race with a bit of confidence and form. Thirdly it’s in Glasgow which is the best city in the world and the people of the city really get behind the event and embrace it giving the race a special atmosphere which is not matched by other races. My fourth and final reason is the best and most special reasons of all. Since the introduction of the family events on the Saturday it is one of the few events I do that I can run with Hannah (age 4) and Robbie (almost 2 at the time) and that is just incredible.

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The plan for this year was that Hannah and I would do the family mile together then Nadine and Robbie would join us and the four of us would all do the Toddler Dash. Hannah is a veteran of two previous toddler dashes and this was her first year stepping up in distance. She had been so excited in the week leading up to here ‘races’ and every day was asking if it was the day she would be running. As part of doing the family mile this was the first year she had got a t-shirt in her race pack and she was really so proud of it, looking at it every day and trying it on, but not for too long as in her words she was ‘keeping it good for her race’. She was also explaining to her bewildered brother what his race would be like and telling him that she would hold his hand and show him what to do.

When we got to George Square on the Saturday morning it was a beautiful sunny autumnal morning, perfect running conditions. The size of the crowds and atmosphere with music playing and bustle of people with balloons, banners and flags meant Robbie had a look of awe on his face as he took in this happy assault on the senses. I don’t think he had ever seen or experienced anything like this. Hannah was beyond excited and was ready to go, she kept worrying that we were going to miss her race as she could see people running and finishing. I tried to explain to her we were in the second, pink (her favourite colour) wave and we had to wait till it was our turn. Before long we were called to the assembly area and as Hannah and I got ready to leave Robbie decided he did not want to miss out and insistently showed us he wanted to come with us, so the decision was made, we would be doing the family mile as a family.

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Once we were in to the start pen the warm up started and we had two children excitedly following the instructions from Roy Gayle on the platform next to us. It’s so great that all of this is included for the family races to give the children the true big race experience. Once the warm up had finished and we were waiting to file across the start line Hannah and Robbie were waving and smiling at Roy on his platform and he returned this with enthusiasm and smiles, he could easily have a side line in Children’s entertainment.

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Then it was time to go, and by go, I mean Hannah went! She took off. It was her race and she was running it. I was pushing the pram while Nadine was walking with Robbie and I had to leave them and run after Hannah. I caught her and explained it was a long way she was going and she had to let her brother catch up and make sure she had enough energy for the whole mile. Nadine put Robbie in his pram and ran to catch up with us. Hannah’s pace slowed down from the sprint she started with, but it was still a good jogging pace she was going at.

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She had a beaming smile across her face for the whole mile and was really loving every part of it, she was waving to the crowd like they were there only for her. As we came back on to Ingram Street close to returning to George Square for the finish we took Robbie back out of his pram thinking Hannah might want to cross the line with her brother, but she took off again with a finishing sprint showing a competitive side she has not shown before. She did it, she ran a mile all by herself. I had expected her to stop at some point during it or ask to be carried for a bit. Hannah still goes to nursery most of the way on my shoulders as she says her legs are tired, yet she ran a mile by herself, obviously she had Daddy wrapped around her little finger.

I was so proud of them both, Hannah for the enthusiasm she had shown and joy that she got from the run and the effort she put in, for a four year old to run a mile is some achievement. Robbie for the way he insisted he got involved in his own way, he is still of the age where at times he doesn’t fully understand what is going on. However he thinks things look fun and wants to get involved particularly if his sister is doing it. Next year he will probably want to do the mile all by himself.

Once across the line Hannah was awarded with her medal which she had more than earned, she was also given water a banana and a goodie bag, just like she sees Daddy getting at all of his races. Again hats off to the organisers, they really have thought about everything to give the children the same experience as adult races and this is what plants the seeds and memories for them. Hannah took her medal to nursery on the Monday morning to show her friends and tell them all about her race, the medal was even put on the proud wall for all to see!

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After a picnic in George Square to replenish energy stores it was time to make our way in to the assembly area for the toddler dash. We were in the last wave to go, so I had to hold back two eager bodies who just wanted to set off running again. A good distraction while waiting was the Children in Need Pudsey ears they were given, although Robbie was a bit bewildered by them as the picture shows, but I somehow managed to get him to keep them on. Soon enough it was time for us to go for the Toddler dash.

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It was really the grandstand experience for the children as they dashed along the Southside of George Square with crowds lining the route on both sides cheering the little ones on. Hannah and Robbie managed to run it right next to each other with big sister encouraging her little brother along. Like the family mile it was run with joy and enthusiasm and big smile on the children and Daddy. Across the line and it was another medal for Hannah’s collection and Robbie’s first ever race medal. With more water and bananas for the little runners. It really was a perfect way to spend a family Saturday.

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It’s a difficult balancing act of being an active parent who enjoys running and cycling so much that I naturally want my children to love activities like these also. However I am very aware of not wanting to become a competitive Dad or forceful parent pushing my children to activities that I want them to do and not what they want to do. The family events at the Great Scottish Run are the perfect balance of giving the children a taste of how incredible running and organised events can be, but in a fun, accessible and memorable way. Hannah, Robbie, Nadine and I can’t wait to take part again next year.

On to the Sunday and it was time for my race. I was doing the half marathon this year and with it falling the week after the Berlin Marathon I was unsure how my body would react to trying to race again so soon after a marathon. I only had one run to wake the legs up between the marathon and the half marathon that was a 4 mile run on the Friday and I seemed ok, but I was still unsure what the Sunday would bring.

Heading in to George Square on the Underground and the train was full of runners and supporters making their way to the start area. The organisation at the Great Scottish Run really is of a very high standard. The start area is well signed and logical, it was easy to find the baggage busses to drop my bag off at then head in to the white start pen. In the moment before starting I thought to myself not to put any pressure on myself by aiming for a specific time and just to run and see what happens. A few of my Kilbarchan club mates were running also and in the start area I had a look around to see if I could meet up with any of them but I couldn’t see any of them.

Once the gun went off it felt good to start running, the start of the race up St Vincent Street is famously uphill, it’s always impossible to run it at the sensible pace you aim to do the race at as you get carried along by the other runners and the crown and I went off up it a bit faster than I liked with a 6.30 for the first mile. The advantage of this was that I could see Cat from my running club about 20-30 metres in front of me. I knew if I could keep her in sight at around this distance I would be on for a good time as she is faster than me.

This plan worked well up until Pollock Park and the 6 mile point where my legs and body started to rebel at me for trying to race again so soon after the marathon. My pace which had been pretty consistent in the 6.30-6.40 per mile range suddenly slowed to 7.15-7.20 for the next few miles and I watched Cat run away off in to the distance. I am not going to lie, physically and mentally I was in a bad way. As much as I was trying I just couldn’t get any pace back in to my legs and the journey through Pollock Park and on to Bellahouston Park and through there was completed in a whole world of physical and mental suffering. A few shouts from club mates and friends in Bellahouston Park raised my spirits, but the legs were still not cooperating.

Coming out of Bellahouston I decided to forget my watch as the chances of a PB had disappeared when my legs gave up and just get through the remaining miles as best as I could and try and enjoy it. So along Paisley Road West I started high fiving kids at the side of the road and just tried to look up and enjoy my run watching how a street I knew so well had been transformed by the race mile 10-11 was the worst of the whole race for time with a 7.30 but amazingly incredible for me mentally, you can never underestimate the power of a few high fives!

I started to look at my watch again and decided all was not lost, if I could raise the pace for the last two and a bit miles, I might just be able to come in close to my PB. With this new found hope and optimism I managed to get my legs moving a bit quicker, I didn’t reach anything near the pace of the first 6 miles but I was now closer to 7 minute miles than 7.30 which gave me a chance. Why is it that at this point in races does mental arithmetic become so difficult? I was trying to work out if I would be close to my PB and I couldn’t do it, my brain had simply stopped functioning and all I could focus on was moving forward at as fast a pace as I could.

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In to the last mile and I received the best and most welcome boost, Hannah and Robbie with a little bit of help from Nadine had put in a message for me which was displayed on the Wall of Support as I ran past, it said ‘Come on Daddy Grant, so proud of you. Love Hannah & Robbie x’. This had exactly the desired effect and gave me the boost I needed to put everything in to the remainder of the race. In to Glasgow Green I even managed to do something resembling a finishing sprint. At times it seemed like the line would never come, but when it did I crossed it in a time of 1.32.49 which was an improvement of over a minute on last years’ time and was a brand new half marathon personal best for me. The perfect end to a perfect weekend!

Great Scottish Run 2015 Half Marathon Strava

Berlin Marathon 2015

Ich bin ein Berliner

John F. Kennedy

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After quite a good night’s sleep the alarm went off and it was the morning of the marathon. I got up and out of bed, it’s always surprisingly easy to get out of bed when it’s race morning any other day of the year it’s a real struggle to get me out of my bed. I got up and opened the curtains to look out on to a glorious sunny autumnal morning, I had the normal pre marathon feelings of excitement mixed with nervousness. The hotel had put on breakfast early for the marathon however I didn’t want to risk eating anything untried on the morning of a marathon so I had packed some good old tried and tested Stoats instant porridge and a Chia charge flapjack for breakfast to fuel me up for the day ahead. As I was having breakfast and getting ready I was making sure I was drinking water, it’s the balancing act that all runners are aware of drinking enough to ensure hydration while not overloading and needing unnecessary trips to the toilet. After I was showered and dressed I put on suncream as it looked like I would be needing it today and this proved to be a wise decision and the sun was out all day and it got a bit hotter than I would have liked later in the day. Then it was a final idiot check to make sure I had all I would be needing for the day ahead Garmin, Gel’s, Timing Chip, Race number etc. and I was ready to hit the road.

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My journey to the start was a short walk from my hotel to Zoo station and then take the S-Bahn a few stops to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. As I walked to Zoo station it seemed like everyone out on the street was a runner going to the marathon. I crossed over Kurfürstendamm which is one of the streets I would be running along in a few hours’ time towards the end of the marathon at around 21 miles, I looked at the 3 blue stripes which marked the marathon route and I contemplated, wondering to myself how would I be feeling and what time I would be on as I reached this point. Both a positive image of running strongly, feeling good at a PB pace and a more realistic going slower, really suffering toughing it out image went through my mind. It was like some sort of strange flash mob of runners being drawn to the Tiergarten, it started off with one or two heading in the same direction as me, with us picking up a few more from surrounding streets, growing in numbers as we got closer to the station, in to the station and the crowds grew even more. It was the strange scenario marathons bring of it being really busy but also strangely quiet as everyone was contemplating the challenge that lay ahead of them.

After a few stops we arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof which is my favourite train station that I have ever visited. It’s a stunning place, so modern and well-designed, spacious and futuristic it really is incredible. Off the train and out the exit the flash mob was growing and growing, all heading towards the Tiergarten and the start area which was a short walk away.

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The whole start area covered such a vast area it had the potential to be quite chaotic, but with stereotypical German efficiency it was clear and well thought out and all ran like clockwork. It is a secure runner’s only area so there was gates and security checking bags and that it was only authorised runners accessing the area. This had the potential to be a massive bottleneck, however all runners were branded with a wristband at the expo (which I still can’t bring myself to remove!) that was shown to get in to this area so that only took a few seconds and then the bag searches which could have taken ages to get through, however the only bags you were allowed to take in was a clear drawstring bag with your own race number on it which again was issued at the expo so again the bag searches were quick and trouble free.

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Once in to the fenced off start area there was lots of room to find a quiet corner to take my tracksuit bottoms and hoody off and get prepared to run, making sure I had all my gel’s and everything I would need to carry for the marathon. I packed everything I would need for after the run back in to my bag and took it to my baggage drop off tent. One thing I had forgotten to pack was a bin bag to put on over my vest to keep me warm once I had dropped my bag with clothes off. Again though this had been thought off, as when I dropped my bag off to one of the army of volunteers I was handed an Adidas branded yellow polythene top to wear until the start from another volunteer. They really had thought of everything!

It was then time for a final toilet stop and then to head to my start pen. I was starting from pen F, which was for runners in the 3.30-3.50 marathon times going on a previous race PB. My Edinburgh PB from May could have got me in to starting pen E but my application to run this race was submitted in December and I never update the information and after my injury in the lead up I felt it was the right place for me to be starting from.

Heading in to the start pen area I started to realise just how big this event was, I have never in my life seen so many runners in the one place before. Which creates its own challenges when people are all trying to get to an allocated start pen for the start time. It’s always interesting in situations like this, particularly when there are people from all corners of the world as part of the crowd to watch the different national and cultural stereotypes of dealing with queuing and other forms of social etiquette, it’s even better watching the reactions of people when someone around them does something which they find unacceptable. So my walk to my start pen took a bit longer than expected but it was always interesting and amusing along the way.

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Once in to my start pen I could relax a bit and focus on putting my mind to the task ahead. It was then the usual pre big race routine of counting down the final minutes leading up to the start, the start of the wheelchair race, followed by the introduction of the elite field then the countdown music that seems to get used for all things in Germany, the gun was fired and the yellow balloons were released and they were off. Well the fast folk were off, I still had another 16 minutes to wait till it was my turn to cross the start line and begin the Berlin Marathon.

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After the waiting around it felt good to actual start running, the weather was glorious, I was running with thousands of other people around one of my favourite cities in the world. During the first few miles it really was a case of sensory overload with the combination of the crowds lining the streets cheering on the runners, waving flags from all over the world and homemade signs in support of their family and friends and the sheer crowd of runners I was part of. It was a really incredible feeling to be part of this, the only negative part of this I found was that it was really hard to settle in and run at the pace I wanted to go at. I was either getting pulled along faster than I wanted to be going or in many cases getting slowed down by the wall of runners in front of me and running slower and going at the pace they were. So the first few miles were run a bit erratically at a slow, fast, slow, slow, fast, fast pace which was not ideal. My bruised foot was also feeling ok, it was not any sorer and it seemed to be holding up ok running at a faster pace than I had tried since the injury. I assumed that after a few miles the crowds at the side would get smaller but they didn’t, it seemed that nearly every part of the full 26 mile route was filled with cheering crowds which was simply an incredible feeling to be running through.

As we reached the first water stop I was aware that it was going to be a hot day and that I had to make sure I kept taking fluids on board so I lifted a cup of water and tried to drink it while running, the result was most of it went over my face and top and very little went in my mouth. I’m spoiled and only used to bottles at the water stops during races so this was a new experience to run and drink from a plastic cup and one that evidently I didn’t have the ability to do. I knew that I had to drink to complete the race so I decided there and then to walk all future water stops to make sure I took fluid on board. This was the negative side of the water stops but the positive was that at some of them they had tea, anyone that knows me will know how much of a tea addict I am so at the first one which had tea that I reached I took a cup of tea and drank it quickly, expecting it to be of the iced tea variety but much to my shock it was hot tea! It was still good and at all other places on the route that had tea I had a cup, I wish some races in the UK had tea available on the route, it would really help my race times become quicker!

Another truly memorable part of the experience was the soundtrack being put on all along the route. It seemed like every 500m to 1km there was some other form of music or live performance going on. This included most genres of live music, singers, Dj’s, Mc’s, sound systems, choirs, brass bands, samba bands you name it I ran through it. So one minute you would pass a live rock band then along the street there would be an impromptu house party with speakers on the balcony blasting out techno. The city more than embraces the marathon and turns it in to one day long party along the full route. This was a different world from the Edinburgh marathon and lonely sections along the Lothian coast!

The crowd were really great to feed off and it really made such a difference to running which I have never experience before and makes me want to try some of the other bigger races in the world. It was always special seeing a Union Flag or Saltire in the crowds and I even had a few shouts in Scottish accents when people recognised my Kilbarchan vest which really gave me encouragement and I am grateful to the people who did this.

All my early miles were in the region of 7.30-8.00 per mile which was within the pace window I was hoping for. I actually managed to keep this pace range up to about 15-16 miles when the pain in my foot and lack of recent longer training runs started to catch up with me. I managed to lift the pace again for mile 17 but then the wheels started to come off and I knew it was not a day for a PB and it turned into a real suffer fest with the only goal in my mind the target of making it to the Brandenburg gate and crossing the finishing line. I was now covering each mile a minute to 1.30 slower than the early miles and there was no way I was going to be lifting the pace no matter what I tried to do, I just hadn’t done enough longer runs in the lead up and I knew this and this is what happens in the later stages of a marathon when you have not prepared, you suffer.

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All along the route there are interesting sights and Berlin landmarks to keep the interest and at mile 21 is was running along Kurfürstendamm where I had crossed a few hours earlier on my way to the start at least one of my visions of this moment was correct, I was suffering and off the pace. I did know that I was nearing the finish line and knew my geography to the finish quite well so I could mentally tick off landmarks and sights as I got closer to the finish. This didn’t do anything to lift my pace but it did keep my mind occupied and off thinking about just how bad I was feeling.

In to the final couple of miles and the noise and size of the crowds just seemed to get bigger and louder. It was incredible, my legs couldn’t respond or get lifted by it but I did run the final miles, and actually most of the race with a big smile on my face. Then it was the moment I was waiting for, up through the Brandenburg Gate on to the blue mats and across the finish line, stopping the clock in a time of 3 hours 40 minute and 3 seconds. Slower than my PB by around 15 minutes but the whole experience was one that will remain in my memory as one of the best marathon experiences that I have ever had.

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Once across the line I was presented with my medal and given a yellow Adidas branded polythene blanket then walked along the finish area where they water and more tea so I was even happier. It was a slow walk/shuffle in to the main runner’s area where I was given a goody bag and then went to my baggage tent to collect my bag.

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Once I had my bag I was given an alcohol free beer and made my way to the Platz der Republik which is the large open area of grass in front of the Reichstag building still in the secure runner’s only area to sit in the sun, drink my beer and relax and soak in the atmosphere. It was a perfect way to chill out at the end of a marathon. I did some stretches and had some food and another beer and just relaxed. I phoned home to let Nadine and the kids and my Mum and Brother know that I had survived and completed the race and that my foot was sore but I was fine. After a while I knew that I had to get up and make my way back to my hotel for a shower and to go out and get some real food so I wearily and with stiff muscles lifted myself to my feet and began the slow walk to the Hauptbahnhof and the S-Bahn back to Zoo station.

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As I walked back to my hotel from Zoo station and crossed Kurfürstendamm again for the third time that day there was still marathon runners making their way along the route, a few hours behind me and still with 4 miles to go they were still going and that is the incredible thing about the marathon. Everyone is the same, we are all equal in the challenge, it’s a collective event with many thousands of runners but also a deeply personal challenge of an individual against 26.2 miles and the clock. Anyone who has done a marathon understands and respects what it takes and appreciates the efforts of all who do it be it the elites who were done as I was just over half way round to the people who I was seeing still going.

Once I got back to my hotel I had a shower and then went for a mid-afternoon nap. After that I woke up and I was hungry, really hungry, the sort of hunger where it hurts and you just want to eat everything you can see. All I had in my room was a bag of haribo which did not last long and I had a real craving for a pizza. Aided by google maps I had a short walk to stretch my weary legs to an Italian restaurant which sorted me out with pizza and beer to aid recovery. After the short walk back to the hotel I was ready for bed and was out for the night as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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On Monday morning I woke up after a great night’s sleep and went down for breakfast, I was still hungry and got value for money from the breakfast buffet which set me up for a morning and early afternoon of being a tourist before I had to make my way to the airport for my flight back home again travelling via Amsterdam. Berlin is a city I have visited a few times before so I have done most of the main tourist things but it’s always great to wander about on foot and discover new things or re-visit places you’ve been before. My first stop was a trip to the Adidas shop, in the runners pack at the expo there was an Adidas Berlin Marathon wristband and in the shop they were laser engraving your finishing time on to them in the shop for free so I joined the queue to have this done as a nice memento of my trip. After that I headed to the Berlin wall memorial at Bernauer Straße, and spent a few hours walking along the memorial to the wall. It’s a cliché to say it, bur Berlin really is one of these cities that you can feel the history of the place as you are walking around it. I think it’s partly because I am a child of the Cold War era and that I grew up watching the news reports of this divided city and the threat of communism and then watched the wall come down and the Iron curtain fall. It was really nice to spend another glorious sunny autumnal day walking around and reflecting. The final part of my time in Berlin was spend going to the Brandenburg gate to get an obligatory photo and then it was time to head to pick up my bag at the hotel and make my way to the airport.

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It really is a funny sight watching the majority of people in an airport after a big marathon, everyone has a sort of strange slow shuffle of getting around, and the stairs up on to the plane were especially amusing and slow to navigate for the majority. My flight to Amsterdam was full of runners and the majority of the elite marathon runners were on it. Some in first class and others sitting with the common folk like myself, I actually had one of them sitting right next to me and I was surprised to see how tiny these guys were, I suppose though being small and lightweight makes it much easier to run 26 miles super quick than someone like myself who is bigger and carrying a bit too much weight, I’ll need to shift a few pounds and come and try this race again and see if that theory is true!

Berlin Marathon 2015 Strava details

Berlin Marathon Weekend

“Berlin! Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!.”

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Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world, so it had long been on my to do list to go and run the Berlin Marathon and late last year I got the e-mail confirmation of my success in the ballot for a place to go and run the world’s fastest marathon. Following on from my marathon PB in Edinburgh and my successful ultra-marathon debut at Run the blades I was hopefully of carrying this forward in to a good run in Berlin. But sometimes life doesn’t go to plan and other things need to take a priority over running. In the time between getting my place in the ballot and the actual day of the race my family and I have gone through the process of selling our house, buying a new one and moving house. We moved in to the new place at the start of August, so right when I should be putting in my final high mileage runs preparing for the marathon the priority has been the house. So training had not gone to plan, but I was still confident the mileage banked in the earlier part of the year would be sufficient to see me through.

So I was going in to the marathon a bit underprepared and still had another spanner to be thrown in to my marathon plans. 12 days before the marathon I was out for an evening run, it was a nice late summer evening and I was enjoying my run, it was one of those runs that all just felt right and I was going well so I continued a bit further than planned and went the longer way through the village of Kilmacolm. I was reaching the furthest point from home when BANG I found myself lying flat on the pavement wondering what on earth had happened. Following natural instinct whenever you fall, the first thing I did was get back up as quickly as possible and look around hoping no one had seen my fall and that I had got away with it! This was not to be the case as just as I was getting up a passing motorist slowed down to check that I was ok as they had seen the whole thing. I did restore my faith in humanity a bit that someone took the time to stop to make sure I was ok. I told him I was fine and continued with my run feeling a bit of pain in my hip and foot, but initially it was nothing too bad. As I went on a bit more I felt a trickling sensation on my leg and looked down to notice blood running down my leg. I was still to get the biggest and most upsetting part of the whole experience, the next time I looked at my Garmin I noticed the screen was black and there was a big crack right down the middle, it has been a good running partner and served me well over the years so I was sad to see it go.

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I knew that I had to get home and if I stopped I would really feel the pain kicking in so my only option was to soldier on and run the last 4 miles home as best I could. No matter what running style I adopted I couldn’t find any relief from the pain in my foot, I knew at this point that it was not good and the marathon was in serious jeopardy. The next morning the pain was worse and I ached all over, the next day was even worse so after a few days of this I took myself off to the RAH to make sure that I hadn’t broken anything in my foot. I was told there was no break but it was badly bruised and it would improve itself over time. So I had just over a week to the marathon and was still unsure if I would be able to run and decided I would travel to Berlin and to only make that decision if I would run or not the day before the race.

So on Thursday night I packed up all my stuff for the trip when the kids were in bed and Nadine was having a night in with the girls. As it was such an early flight on the Friday morning for me I was staying at my Mum’s house so I didn’t disturb the kids when I got up to go to the airport. As I had just arrived at my Mum’s Nadine phoned me to say that Robbie who is prone to croup had taken another attack and was having to go to hospital to get checked and get medicine to make him better. So I was away all weekend leaving Nadine with the two kids and one of them was ill, not an ideal set of circumstances but super mum dealt with the situation like a star!

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My route to Berlin was flying from Glasgow to Amsterdam then on to Berlin from there and all went flawless with my travels and I arrived in to Berlin mid-afternoon. First thing was to head to my hotel close to Zoo station, just off Kurfürstendamm and drop my case off before heading down to the marathon expo at the old Tempelhof airport to pick up my race number.

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This airport had been historically significant as the airport used to facilitate the Berlin airlift. The scale of the expo was massive that it filled many aircraft hangers, the purpose of the trip though was not for shopping but to pick up my race number. The first thing I had to do was get a wristband put on as that was required for access to all runner only areas during the race weekend, so was an essential requirement.

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Then going to the next desk and showing my passport I was issued with my race number and timing chip, after that it was to pick up my clear kit bag that was to be used on race day for accessing the runner only areas and dropping my kit off in while I ran the marathon. Such a simple idea but one that saves so much time when searching everyone on the way in to the secure runner’s only areas. Once I had done all I needed to at the expo I headed back to my hotel and then out for some dinner, I went to a traditional German bar restaurant not far from my hotel and had an amazing dinner of farmers schnitzel then it was off to bed as the early start was catching up with me and I was tired.

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On the Saturday morning I had planned on testing out my injured foot by doing the marathon breakfast run. This is a 6km run starting at Schloss Charlottenburg and ending on the track at the Olympiastadion. The weather was glorious on the morning and I made the short underground journey to the start. Waiting in the square for the run to start there was runners from all over the world and a bit of a carnival atmosphere. The organisers had requested runners wear national flags or tops and there was literally runners from all corners of the world.

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The run was nice and easy paced and quite enjoyable. For the first time running since the night of my fall it felt good to get my legs moving. The pain in my foot was dull and manageable but constantly there, however it didn’t seem to get any worse as I ran which I took as a good sign.

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It was a nice experience to end the run getting closer to the stadium and then following the road in to the underbelly of the stadium and through the dark underground tunnels before emerging in to the light and the big bowl of the stadium on to the bright blue track through the marathontor. Again this was a stadium with historical significance from the propaganda of the 1936 Olympics through to more recent history like the 2006 World cup final and this year’s Champions League final so to be running on its track was a nice experience to have.

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After the run the breakfast was of fruit, pastries, doughnuts and yoghurt drinks which I stocked up on some for the S-Bahn ride back to the hotel as I needed to get changed quickly and then across town as I was going to watch a football match that afternoon.

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The second division team from Berlin 1. FC Union Berlin were playing at home against MSV Duisburg. So I travelled across Berlin from West to East to go to the football. Union Berlin are a bit a cult club and the club of the working class in Berlin. There ground is a really nice traditional football stadium with three sides of it standing terraced areas and beer for sale. Football in the UK could really learn a lot from the German clubs at all levels. The atmosphere at the game was great, helped quite a bit by an early goal for Union and a 3-0 lead at half time. In the second half Duisburg came back in it and scored 2 goals and Union missed a penalty so it was quite a dramatic end to the game. All throughout the game whenever the Union fans were doing any songs or chants it sounded to me like they were shouting ‘Onion!’ so I will forever think of them as FC Onion Berlin. One thing that really struck me was the connection between the fans and the players, it is so much different from here in the UK. After the game the players from both teams stayed on the pitch to acknowledge and thank their fans for at least 20 minutes to half an hour, here the players can’t get off the pitch and away quick enough. It was a good experience to go to the game so I am glad I made the effort and took the time to do it.

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After the game I headed back to my hotel and had dinner there. They had put on a special pasta buffet for the marathon so that is where I ate and fuelled up for the following mornings run. Again it had been another long day and an early start for the breakfast run so I was tired and ready for my bed. After laying out and preparing my marathon kit for the early start the following morning it was off to bed to get some sleep even though I was excited about the race.

Part 2 to follow on soon.