Thursday, 27 August 2015

Catching up from a long way behind

Getting back on the blogging horse...

I haven't posted anything to my blog since the days before the West Highland Way Race back in June.  I've been asked several times where's the West Highland Way Race report and well haven't even started it yet...

It's been a busy time at work with getting a major release of the OpenSceneGraph out the door, and with our three girls off on the School holidays time away from the computer has been dedicated to holidays and days out.  I'm only now starting to nearer normal.

For those who aren't familiar with my work the OpenSceneGraph is an open source graphics software, used in scientific visualization, virtual reality, games, flight simulator, marine simulators, etc.  I'm the lead author and project lead so when it comes to making major releases I do much of the heavy lifting, which boils down to lots of full days testing the software, tracking down and bug fixing, merging submissions and trying to shepherd the heard of cats that are contributors to the software.  There's now been 550 contributors to the software over the years the 16 years I've been working on it which is pretty phenomenal, thankfully not all at once.  Major releases like the one I made a few weeks back only come every couple of years so it was quite an intense period in June, July and August. 

With a lot of work at the computer over the last couple of months I'm afraid my enthusiasm for spending evenings and weekends typing up my exploits in training and racing rather faded.  I'm still keen to share my experiences with running the West Highland Way Race as I feel there is a lot I and others can potentially learn from what I got right and got wrong in this years race.  Last weekend I also ran the Speyside Way Race for the first time, so I have another race to write about too.

This post isn't for covering these races in depth, just really to say that I'm alive and plan more updates over the coming months.

A quick summary of my races:

West Highland Way Race June 20th, 2015.  

Didn't quite go to plan.  Training went fab, was confident of going sub 19hrs, but got a cold two days before race, then 3hrs before race strained my back.  On pain killers right from the start, every step jarred my back all the way to Fort William.  Was 20 minutes up on my 2014 splits by Tyndrum but then was hit by stomach problems after eating an ice-cream at Tyndrum.

Broke through cloud on Conic Hill, errie views in the twilight
Balmaha, calm waters, but plenty of motion and commotion on the tail
Stomach never recovered and was hardly able to eat or drink for the next 42 miles, had to slow drastically but nothing fixed the stomach so had a very slow second half.  Despite problems I was still able to keep moving forward and was able to squeeze under 22hrs, finishing in 21:58.  Far tougher race than my 20:18 time in 20214.  I suspect the cause of the stomach problems was the pain killers I was taking to keep a lid on the back pain.

Training after WHWR

Recovered from the WHWR really quickly, so got back running within 10 days. Then added faster runs too quickly as I was just playing and having fun.  Big mistake as I strained my plantar fascia in my right  foot doing a 5:20 min/mile down a road hill.  This meant I had to drop the mileage and easy slowly back into training.

Then once things started improving I made mistake number 2 - this time a 5:40 min/mile interval on the flat where my right hamstring started to feel tight.   Any faster running since has agrevated it and again required lowering mileage and paces to help recovery/avoid making it worse.

In the two week before the Speyside Way race I was able to get out every day and put some reasonable runs in, topping out at 16 miles the weekend before the race.  Then five days of taper where I ran most of the runs at my target race intensity that roughly mapping to 8 min/mile on the flat so I could try and get a time close to 5hrs at the race.

Speyside Way Race, 22nd August 2015.

My hamstring didn't like 3 1/2hrs drive up to Buckie so it was uncomfortable when trying to sleep at the hotel on the Friday night, and was still a bit tight and tender before the race.  A gentle walk before the race start at the Cragganmore Distillery loosen things off and I felt not too bad.  Race start had us heading off downhill for quarter of mile before we headed off along the old railway line heading towards the coast.
Making our way to the start

The miles ticked by with 7:43 min/mile appearing on the watch with my HR staying comfortably at the bottom of my target HR range of 155 to 160.  I was a minute up on my 5hr splits estimates for the first check point at 12 miles and moving smoothly.  The ascent over Ben Aigen went really quickly and was able to run most of it chatting with fellow runners.  The descent went quickly too but it was clear that my legs were beginning to feel the affects of the quicker than usual ultra pace that I normally manage.  At the bottom of the hill average pace was still 8:10 min/mile pace and on target for 5hrs.
View from Ben Aigen looking down on the Spey and towards the sea

After Ben Aigan there are lots of ups and down along back roads and it started warming up.  I had hopped to start clawing back on the average pace but thanks to all hilly road it stayed stubbornly at 8:10 min/mile pace.  The second check point came and I was still on my splits for 5hrs, but took several cups of water before heading off and by the time I left was a minute down.

From the first check point I had running quite a bit with Roger Greenway and we both passed through the marathon point around 3:34. Roger was stronger on the roads and up hills while I was stronger on the narrow trails and downhills.  We worked hard together through most the woodland that takes you out to Speybay but once we hit the wider trails my legs had started to really complain.  In particular my groin and hip flexors were painful, and my HR for a given pace was also heading upwards, and was now in mid 160's and above.  I either had to keep the pace up and accept the high heart rate and risk crashing and burning or ease off on the pace and keep within my target HR zone.

After Speybay I really started to struggle to get anywhere close to the required 8 min/miles for a 5hrs time.  Roger had moved ahead and was able to keep moving well right to finish, finishing in 5:02.  My own story was rather more sorry - in the woodland right after Speybay I tripped on a tree root and very nearly crashed to the ground.  The stumble shook me up a bit and my smoothness in my running in particular seemed to take a knock.  As the route headed to Portnockie my hip flexors and groin muscles progressive became tighter and more painful, and with it my stride length deteriorated to little more than a shuffle.  First it was a struggle 8:30 pace, then 9:00, then 9:30.  By the time I had passed through Portnockie my pace was the wrong side of 10 min/mile pace, maintaining this pace and not walking for the last two miles was a real struggle.

In the last mile I was passed by two runners, something that doesn't normally happen to me in ultra - normally I'm the one doing the over taking.  There was nothing I could do to respond.  The energy levels were there but no amount of will power could open up my stride.  I hobbled across the line in 5:11:08.

The average pace for the 36.9 mile run was 8:25 min/mile pace which is over half a minute a mile faster than any ultra I've done before.  I'm most chuffed with getting to the 50k mark in 4:14 though, this averages out around 8:10 min/mile pace and is a PB for 50k by around half an hour.

5hrs was out of reach though, had I been in the shape I was in before the West Highland Way Race it would have been possible, but through July and August have only managed 30 miles most week due to various injury niggles.  One 50 mile week just before the race isn't quite enough to get me into peak condition.  Had I not pushed on so hard between the marathon and 50km mark to try and maintain my pace I suspect I wouldn't have crashed and burned in the last four miles, a time nearer 5:05 was probably on the cards if only I had listen to my HR monitor rather than my ego.


This week I've tried to do a couple of recovery runs but ended up cutting yesterday short as it now looks like I have groin strain.  Not sure why these muscles are complaining now as I've never had any problem with them in previous training or ultras.  I felt more trashed after the Speyside than I did after the WHWR, perhaps the sustained pace was the problem... or lack of training at race...

The next race I'm signed up for is the Jedburgh Three Peaks in October, but if my injury calms down quickly I'll sign up for the River Ayr Way too.


  1. Great to read you back in the blogoshere, looks like you have had a tricky few months business wise and running wise.
    Have to confess, have really missed your blogs, analytical but made interesting. However, delighted to await when you are able to produce them, and look forward to your WHW musings in more depth.Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on Strava. Cheers.

  2. As you know I thought I had a groin strain 2 months ago and it was that hip injury that kept me sidelined for most of the summer. I think you should get to the bottom of those niggles first before you make any further race plans.

    1. Your own experience over the last two months has been very sobering. Fingers crossed I've caught this injury earlier enough that I can get it healed quickly.

      Thankfully the River Ayr Way is unlikely to fill up so I should be able to wait a little longer about making a decision. My plan for the next week is to just keep things very easy.

      I was tempted to go do a short run today but decided to go out for a walk instead as walking feels reasonably comfortable. When I do try out running I'll choose a route where I can bail out early. Then slowly ramp up the mileage and pace.

  3. Sorry to hear about the difficulties you encountered in the WHWR, though you performed creditably despite the problems. Similarly you performance in Speyside Way race was very creditable despite being sub-optimal.
    Your experiences with stomach problem adds to my distrust of anti-inflammatories during long races – though I am aware that a vey large number of ultra runners appear to consider the benefits outweigh the risks

    1. I believe my experiences with the WHWR and Speside show two different sides to how ultra's are so difficult to get right as it tests so many different aspects of body function or some many hours.

      The pain killers that I took during the WHWR were not specifically anti-inflammatory, I was alternating between co-codamol and cold/flu tablets. I was taking half the quantity of a standard dose and by alternating provided a a considerably greater than minimum time between doses. This plan killer approach was to take the edge off the cold and the back problems but to avoid problems with my stomach or over dosing. Which appeared to be working OK till Tyndrum, then my stomach gave up co-operating.

      My stomach problems felt like I had seriously compromised the lining to my stomach, when I had a quick swig of coke at Kinlochleven it really burnt right away, something I have very rarely experienced. I suspect the pain killers were the main cause of this, however, had I taken the some amount of pain killers without running 95 miles I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have noticed this side effect. The lesson I've taken away is that when you are pushing you body close to it's limit you have to avoid putting extra pressure on any part of your body. In the case of pain killers there is big chance of helping with one problem but introducing their own problems, which can in the end be much more severe than the ones that attempted to help with.