Monday, 23 November 2009

Running in the dark

Well, the dark season is upon us. It's dark as I write these words at just before 7 a.m., and it will be dark tonight by 4 p.m. And the days are still getting shorter.

At some level I like the starkness of November and December. The trees are bare. The leaves are in damp, disentegrating clumps here and there. In the woods, the ground is muddy underfoot from the incessant rain. When the sun is out the light is different - the shadows are long because the sun is lower in the sky even near mid-day. I'm content being inside, in my office at work, writing, or at home, making a stew or baking stuff.

Running in the winter means running in the dark. This began a few weeks ago when I was completing a run after work, and realised that having my torch (flashlight) would really have been useful. I have a bike-light with bright LEDs, and I power it with rechargeable batteries.

On Dec. 1, after work, I set out for a long loop that I do that includes a section of The Road in the final few miles. On map-my-run it's 9.8 miles, but there's a bit extra from my office, so I call it 10.
It was dark, and cold, and raining when I started. As I gained elevation, the path became icy in patches, and the rain turned to snow. The first snow of the year! As I continued running up the road, the rain turned to snow and covered the road. I ran in the middle of the road (it's a farm road with no traffic), and the snow actually provided a little traction.
But it was cold. The wind was blowing hard, and the snow was horizontal. With the darkness and the empty terrain near The Road, it was easy to imagine one was running in Siberia. The side of my face was numb, and my right hand was numb within a soaking wet glove. Stupidly, I'd forgotten my mobile phone. If I turned my ankle, I'd be in trouble.
Finally I arrived at the junction with The Road. From here it was 4 miles back to where I work, and downhill. I sped up a bit to try and keep warm in the strong wind. At one point an SUV over-took me, and the driver stopped and asked whether I needed a lift. It was that kind of weather.
Eventually I made it back to campus. Here I joined friends for a welcome pint of Guinness in the pub.

Monday, 31 August 2009

It's raining again...

Man, this has been a wet summer, even by Scottish standards.

It's raining now, as I write these words, having just put the kids to bed.

It was raining earlier when, after work, I did a short speed work-out at the track, before picking up the kids.

I didn't have a lot of time, but was keen to get some running in. I did a mile on the track as a warm up, at a 7 min pace. I had my rain jacket on, but took it off after this warm-up, as it was mild out, and I would be wet with sweat if I left it on.

Next I tried the work-out suggested to me by an old guy I met at the track several months ago.

I ran 1000 meters, basically as fast as I could, and then walked. The idea is to run the distance and rest all within 5 mins. Then you start again.

I'm not quite capable of this. Basically, I run my 1k in just over 4 mins, and then walk 100 meters further on the track to recover. This takes a bit longer than a minute. I might try a stretch then, and then I'm off again. It's tough. Today I did 4 x 1000 meters. I was soaked by the end.

My hope is that some speed work will help me to run a good race at my local 10k later in September. I've run it for a handful of years now, and my best time was 41 something. However, it turns out that the course was a bit short that year, so I don't know what my best 10k really is. I haven't been able to touch this time since.

On the positive side, this year some of the splits in my longer races haven't been that far off 42 mins for 6 miles. So, perhaps I can run strong.

I've just got to shake off this lethargy that's engulfed me lately...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Running the Appalachian Trail

As I stated in the first post in this blog, one of my obsessions over the past few years has been idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail.

However, my situation (job; small children), precludes taking 4-6 months off to hike in the woods at the moment.

But the obsession still smolders on, and I've become an arm-chair hiker; I read any account of the trail I can find, both published and on a great web-site called Trail Journals.

This is enjoyable, but what I really want to do is to start chipping away at the 2,100 miles of the trail. So, whenever the opportunity arises, I try to get in a few miles on the trail. Last year, in exchange for agreeing to do the dishes for a year, I was able to do a week on the trail.

This year, as part of our family summer vacation, we stayed in a cottage near Rangelely, Maine. Not accidentally, the cottage was about 4 miles from the trail.

The agreement with my wife is that I could peel off for a few hours and do a long run on the AT.

She dropped me off at a place where the AT crosses a road (Maine Route 17). My goal was to run from there to the next road crossing, a distance of 13 miles, where she would pick me up. Optimistically, I estimated that this would take 3 hours.

I didn't have the AT map for this section of trail, as I could only obtain it by buying the entire set of maps and the guidebook for the entire state. Though I was sorely tempted to do so, they would only see one use on this trip, and I couldn't justify this.

The view from my drop-off location, a lay by called "Height of Land", was terrific. You could see the unbroken northern Maine forest, and the impressive Megooselookmeguntic Lake below. Ominously, rain appeared to be sweeping up the lake towards us.

My wife, 6-year-old daughter, and I had a sandwich together at the lay by. My 4-year-old son napped in the back seat of our car. I waved to my wife and daughter, and started trotting towards the trail. Their plan was to go to the beach while I ran, weather permitting.

I carried a new, lightweight pack that I'd purchased at L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine, earlier this week. In it I had a 1/2 liter bottle of water, and a 1/2 liter of Gatorade that I'd made up. I also had a rain jacket, hat, compass, map (covering just the last two miles of the section), and some chocolate doughnuts. I haven't encountered these doughnuts in the UK, and I know they are junk, but I remember them from growing up in the US.

The trail at the start was overgrown, and, typical of the AT, seemed to climb immediately. Within a few minutes it began to rain. I donned my jacket and hat and continued. Soon, the rain intensified, and I took shelter under a hemlock tree. At my feet the forest floor was covered with needles. The trees were mostly hemlock, pine, and birch.

The rain grew louder, and changed to hail. I considered turning back, but I thought that my wife would have left already. There was a rumble of thunder. I looked at my watch. I was 25 mins into the run, but had only run for a few of these minutes. I decided to wait 10 more minutes, and then push on. The rain clouds that I'd seen over the lake seemed to be moving quickly, so hopefully the rain would pass soon.

At about 35 mins into my "run", I moved back to the trail. The heavy rain had made the trail a bit of a stream in places. Large puddles formed in flat spots, and the muddy water in these eventually overflowed and flowed down the trail. Maine, apparently, had experienced a wet summer, and the trail already muddy. In addition, this particular section of the trail crossed many bogs, and the log posts bridging these were not always sufficient.

I ran/walked on. I wanted to keep my feet dry for as long as possible. Where the trail was under water or extremely muddy, I tried to skirt around its side, or pick my way over boulders and tree roots within the mud. This worked, but took time.

Eventually I came to a pond. It was like a post-card; a still body of water surrounded by trees. No moose however.

I tried to run when I could, but this would only be stretches of 100 meters or so. Then it was picking my way through the mud and water.

I came to a shelter (a bothy-like structure occurring every 10 or so miles on the trail). I signed the register, an AT-hiker tradition, and chatted with a couple who had started their hike several weeks ago in Vermont. They were debating about whether to continue today, or stay in this shelter for the evening. They opted to continue. At this point I was 1.5 hours into the run, but had only come about 4 miles. At this rate, I'd be quite late for my pick-up.

All I could do was keep moving. The sun came out occasionally, and I was able to take off my rain jacket. I drank my water, and ate my doughnuts. At one boggy stretch I stepped onto a log that moved, and a splash of cold bog water shot up my shorts. At another, I mis-judged the firmness of the ground and immersed my foot in mud. 3 hours and 20 mins into the run, I came to a campsite. A sign there indicated that it was 4.8 miles to the next road crossing. Could I do this in 40mins and only be an hour late?

Fortunately, the trail now featured longer runnable stretches. It was also somewhat downhill. I was tiring, and a song that I'd heard in the only radio station we could get in our cottage now ran through my head: I am woman, here me roar, in numbers to big to ignore. This wouldn't have been my first choice of songs, but it kept me going. I ran into a women hiker going the opposite direction on the trail, who said they'd seen my fan club a ways up the trail. I was encouraged by this, as it meant they might not just have been waiting for me, but getting in a little hike.

At 4 hours and 24 mins I emerged from the woods and entered the road-side parking lot. My family were waiting inside the car, as the rain had returned in earnest. I put my rain jacket on the car seat, to protect the upholstery from my muddy legs, and climbed in.

A tough 13 miles!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Red Moss Revolution hill race

I don't know how I did in this race yet, but I ran hard. It was another glorious, Scottish summer evening for this hill race.
It may look like I'm passing the woman in the picture with authority, however, she wasn't in the race (but just happened to be jogging on the race route), and she was running with a 3-legged dog.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

It felt slow, but...

My strategy for the East Kilbride half-marathon, my third ever, was to go out slow.

My first mile was 7:09. The temperature was cool, and the skies overcast. It was a perfect day for racing. I chatted with a woman who's sister studied where I teach. It felt like I was just jogging, really, but I wanted to stick to my strategy. If I ran 7:15s or better for the race, I'd set a personal best time and break 1:35.

Mile two was slightly downhill, and came in at 13:54. However, I felt that the speed-up was due to the terrain, and not intrinsic.

3 was 21:12. I tried to keep the mental arithmetic of my time straight - on my goal pace, I should have hit mile 3 at 21:45. As long as I was under this, I would achieve my goal time.

Mile 4 was 28:20. The race route was made up of two loops. I wanted to stay in an easy pace for the first half of the race, and then see where I was.

5 was 35:32, but had a steady climb. 6 was 43:02.

I missed the sign for mile 7. Mile 8 seemed to feel very long, and I was thinking that I must, unfortunately, be tiring.

Then I saw the mile mark - 9! 1:03:21. I was feeling a little soreness in my knee, but was fine. I put my head down and concentrated on trying to catch the runner ahead of me. Once I'd real in him or her, I'd go for the next person.

As I passed on guy I asked him how it was going. "Terrible" he said, and he seemed to be struggling.

I didn't check my times at 10 or 11. At 12 I was 1:21:24. All I had to do is run the last 1.1 miles in less than 8:36 and I'd break 1:35. I tried to pick up the pace, although I was tired. However, in this race, unlike my previous two half-marathons, I wasn't shattered in the last miles.

I passed an incredibly thin guy who was stopped and bent over. He passed me and then stopped again. I passed him, and headed into the stadium. As I rounded the turn toward the finish on the track, I could see the clock 1:33:42... 43.. I sprinted, and finished at 1:33:47.

So, I'd beat my previous best time by almost 2 minutes. The conditions were great, and the course was relatively flat, so I don't know how much I can credit the strategy of going out slow... but I did feel much better in the final miles.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A new strategy for my upcoming half-maration

O.K. I've only run two half-marathons in my life, both this year. My first was a 1:35:38 finish; my second was 1:37:10.

My goal is to break 1:35.

In the previous two races I've started a little fast, and then faded a lot at the end.

Now what I'm thinking is going out a lot slower, and seeing if I have more gas in the tank for miles 11 and 12.

To run a 1:35, I need to run a 7:15/mile pace.

What I'm wondering is if I started slow... really, right at my overall pace average, instead of the sub-7 minute miles I typically start with, whether I'd finish a lot stronger.

So my empirical question is: will running 15s or so slower per mile at the start save me considerably more than 15s per mile in the final miles?


This week:

I've been feeling pretty blah during my runs. I didn't get a chance for a long run this weekend, which I really wanted to do before next weekend's half-marathon race. I snuck in about 4 miles Sunday after lunch, on my way to pick up my daughter from one of her many activities. It was warm, I'd eaten too recently, and I didn't feel good.

Monday I wanted to go for my long run, but my wife didn't get home until late, so I just did my regular hill loop. This is about 6 miles with some elevation, and although I didn't feel strong at the start, I was ok at the end. Around 45mins total.

Tuesday I was going to do 10 miles on the track near work, but there was a children's track meet going on. I came home, my motivation dropped as it got later, and I ran 2-3 miles along a river path. My heart wasn't really into it.

Wednesday I had to pick up the children, but got to the track and tried for 4 miles at a sub-7 min pace. I finished at 27:45.

Now it's Thursday, and I'm not running. My thinking now, inspired by an article on this in the New York Times, is to get a lot of sleep tonight and for the next few nights. This, at some level, has an appeal: I haven't been feeling strong on my runs, and I've had some less-than-full sleep nights recently. I want to show up fo the race rested.

Tomorrow or Saturday I might go out for a jog just to keep loose. The race is Sunday morning.

Friday, 12 June 2009

How to qualify for the Boston Marathon?

I haven't formally started training for my qualifying marathon yet, but it's now less than a year away.

Again, my goal is to qualify for Boston, and to do so I need to run a 3:30:59.

Listening to a an episode of Steve Runner's Phedippdations podcast a little while ago, I felt that my implicit strategy for training was wrong. Steve reviewed the 9 principles of Arthur Newton, an early expert on marathon training.

One of Newton's principles was to focus on the target race, and not do other races.

Hmm. I'm basically doing the opposite.

So, these are my principles:

1) Run as many races as I can. Basically, because I like running races, because they are intermediate training targets, and because an occasional bad race is less of a big deal if its just one of many you are doing. Now, I'm not talking marathons of course, but halfs, 10-Ks, and hill races. For me, no training session ever matches the intensity of a race. My goal is to run as many races as I can.

2) Run hills. Again, simply because I like them. Aside from the physical strength gains, I think running hills makes you mentally tough (in a running sense).

3) Speed work. There's a clarity of purpose about running intervals on the track that I savour. It's just about you, the distance, and the time. It can be hard quarters, or fast miles. After a couple of sessions, you start to feel strong. For my marathon training, I'll probably lean towards running fast mile intervals.

4) Long runs. At least one of these a week - possible two as I get in real training. My goal, as mentioned in a previous post, is to build up mileage on "The Road" near my work. Today, I can run 10 miles reasonably comfortably there. The complete distance, when I can do it, will be 19 miles.

Wise and worldly runners, what advice might you impart for someone aspiring to qualify for Boston?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Cort-ma Law hill race

Wow, I'd forgotten: a hill race is a different animal than a road race.

It was a near-perfect Scottish evening. Some minor, brief showers had cleared, the sun was out, and the hills looked inviting.

After a slightly hectic day, I pushed my Honda Civic through the winding country roads leading to the site of the race.

I arrived in reasonable time, found a parking spot, and collected a number. The Cort-ma Law race was a 10K hill race, not far from Glasgow, and part of a series of such races taking place on Wednesday evenings.

I'd run it once before, 5 years ago, and remember it as being quite boggy and tough.

The crowd was comprised of 99 runners. Most were members of local running teams. 10K in the hills is not 10k on the roads; it is much, much tougher, and you don't get as many casual runners.

I started too fast, and, as in many hill races, the climbing started right away. I have limited ability in running uphill. I quickly reach my oxygen-debt limit. Initially there were only about 10 runners in front of me, but I quickly slowed, and many passed me. On the steepest bits of the climb, I walked. Many others were walking as well. I wanted to preserve my energy a bit. You can't really run once the slope is too great, so walking is just about the same.

Eventually it levelled out, and I started trotting. The sun was out, I was sweating, but it was a glorious evening. In one hand I carried a waterproof jacket, in the other a small zip-loc bag with a map of the route, a compass, and a whistle. These are required for all runners in this type of event.

There were more climbs, but none as steep as the intial one, and we reached the summit of Cort-ma law. The overall route of the race was a backwards P, with the start at the base of the P, the summit of Cort-ma law at the top of the P, and a loop back to the stem of the P with another hill taken in. The path thusfar was mostly been grass and dirt. Sheep grazed on the hill.

From the summit, we descended a bit, and entered a more level stretch of terrain that was punctuated by bogs. With the relatively dry weather, these weren't too wet, but there was certainly some give to the sphagnum moss.

At the summit of the next hill, I sped up on the descent and caught a few people. The route was now in the loop of the "P", and was heading back to our initial, outbound path. Usually in a hill race, I make my time on the descent, as it isn't as limited by lung capacity.

I plunged in the first bog shortly after this. I was trying to jump over it, and one of my legs went in pretty deep. I extracted myself, and continued, but lost a few places.

Another descent, along a wire fence, led to a small stream. I was again striding out a bit when I fell into a second bog. Here I scratched my leg on what appeated to be a water pipe running through the bog.

Up again, and there was a climb back to the inbound race route came back on itself, and there was a pleasant, level stretch of running along a sort-of path in the evening sun. Occasionally, one had to jump down a peat "hag" - a slight depression in the peat.

I had exerted myself, and felt occasional cramps in my calfs.

We then began the descent back to the start line, and I tried to speed up.

A woman in front of me was running strong, but I stayed with her.

A motto in hill descending is "brain off, brakes off". You don't try to control your speed too much - you just go.

I caught the woman in front of me a slight rocky bit of the path. I accelerated.

Shortly afterwards my feet went out from under me, and I fell hard. I dropped the jacked I'd been holding in one hand, and rolled several times.

I got up, ran to where my jacket had landed, and sprinted towards the finish line.

Muddy and scraped, I crossed it in 45th place, in a time of 60:40. With the drier conditions than my initial attempt on this race, I'd shaved 6 mins off of my earlier time.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Why I race...

The start of the Dunblane Hydro 7.5 mile road race was abrupt. We'd lined up, and I was chatting Red Head, a woman I'd met at previous races. She, like me, is something of a race junkie. The race could be in the middle of nowhere, it could be snowing, and as likely as not she'd be lining up. Like me, on the surface, she seemed normal. But underneath I suspect that she too was haunted by the same obsessive thought: when can I run another race?

The horn sounded almost as soon as everyone was lined up, and we were off. I wished Red Head well, and then made my own way into the crowd.

My first mile was 6:55. I'd felt a bit trapped by the crowd, but didn't want to go out too hard. 6:55 was a little on the slow side, but the crowd seemed to thin a bit after the mile marker.

Mile 2 was 13:44. Better. It was sunny, but cool. The course headed out along a river on a country road.

3 was 20:25. Still making time. Between mile 3 and 4 the road crossed the river and headed back into Dunblane. We now were running into a strong wind.

In a 10-mile hill race late last year, I toiled away through boggy and cold conditions to the summit of a bald Scottish hill. It was windy, and my arms, exposed in a short-sleeved shirt, felt numb. I eventually reached the summit of the climb, and was pleased to begin the 5 mile descent back to the start/finish line.

As the descent progressed I began to feel, inexplicably, exhuberant. A phrase from the Origin of Species began to drum in my head "There is a grandeur in this view of life".

Legs fully extended on each stride, I stomped through the mud and bog and sprinted towards the finish. In the cold, in the mud, as I passed other runners, I felt terrific.

This, in part, is why I race: for those occasional moments of stepping outside of myself, for elusive day when you just feel great, for those fleeting moment within a race when you feel the joy of running hard.

Doubtless this is just hypoxia.


I began feel good at mile four. It was windy, but perhaps the gradient was slightly downhill, because I felt like running faster.

Mile 5 was 34:23. I was running sub-7 minute miles. Now there were only 2.5 miles left in the race, so there was less of a worry of running out of gas before the end. I was running one of the strongest races of my life.

At mile 6 I was back into town, and was at 41 mins something. I pushed my legs out in front of me, and the road felt great under my feet.

At 7 I was 48:35. There was a steady climb - not as bad as feared - back to the Hydro hotel. There, however, was a steep climb up to the finish.

I crossed the line at 52:22 on my watch. 37th out of 323. For me, one my my best races, in percentile times. I could not have run this faster, and I doubt that I'll be able to beat this time on this course again.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Running and aging

OK, my last run was just a session at the track to run 5 miles at at 7 min pace.

The sun came in and out of the clouds, the wind was present but light, and I felt o.k.

The only other people on the track were a rugby-looking dude, and an old guy who seemed to be coaching him. The rugby guy was running hard for a half lap, then walking the remainder. The old guy would chat with him during the walk breaks


Lately, I've been getting more interested in aging. In part, of course, this is self-interest. I'm 43, so I guess I'm middle-aged. I don't feel middle-aged - in my head I'm the same as when I was 21. That said, I now think that at 21 I didn't know anything. At some level, with aging, I feel that at least I know my personality. At 21, I wasn't sure who I was.

Just read an interesting book entitled "Survival of the Fittest". In it, Mike Stroud, the author, gives some really vivid example of "old guys" doing incredible endurance events. As we age, of course, we slow a bit. But, it's quite impressive how much physical capacity there is even after 60 or 70.


So, I finish my run in 34:46. I'm pleased - I was able to maintain a 7 min mile pace for 5 miles. The old guy, who happened to be standing near where I finished, as me how I was doing. We chatted, and it turns out that this guy is a pretty accomplished runner. In the race I'm doing this weekend, he finished 8th - overall - last year.

I ask him how his times have changed over the years. He said when he first began running - in his 40s - he was running 32 minute 10ks, and winning them. Now he runs them in 38 minutes.

Crikey. That's fast. My best 10k is 41 something, and that was 5 years ago.

So, as always, there's always someone who's faster than you. But I'm ok with that. The encouraging thing is just how little this guy's times have slipped over the decades.

The thing that I guess I haven't entirely accepted yet is that my best running times are behind me. I still think that I can run personal bests (PBs) in different races. In the last 9 years, since I've gradually gotten into doing races, my times haven't changed a great deal. 5 years ago, when I was 38, I set PBs in the three races I did that year. I haven't been able to beat these times yet, but I feel like I'm training harder now. So, we'll see.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Road

O.K., my road isn't quite a route to uncertain destination in a post-apocalyptic world. It's a narrow road, just behind where I work, leading up into the hills. When I can run it in its entirety, I beleive, I'll be ready to run the marathon.

The Road is 9.5 miles long. It starts with a steep climb, and on this climb the road appears to have been carved out of the hillside long ago. On each side a rock face rises about 20 feet or so, and drip with wet, green moss. Above these rock faces are woods, and their overhaning branch create a green tunnel for the road. If you encounter a car at this point, you have to press against the rock face until it passes. Often the road itself is wet, and after heavy rain it's a nearly a stream.

After this initial climb, the road forks, and the fork to the right takes you into another climb. This one is a touch less steep, but by now you are breathing hard. After 100 meters or so, the road flattens, and a pastures appear on the left and right. Usually there are sheep in the field to the left.

Next there is another sharp climb, but you are rewarded at the top with a brief descent, and an open view to the hills. From here on it's rolling hills for several miles, and then a gradual descent to the road's end.


On Sunday my wife took the children to their swimming lessons, and I was free to go in to work and to get in a long run. Long-distance running takes time, and it's a challenge to carve out a chunk of this - especially with small children. Some get up extra early in the morning, but I've never been a morning runner. Still, this is a thought, as the sun rises just before 4 am here in the summer. I listened to Steve Runner's Phedippdations podcast on the drive in, dropped off some necessary work in a colleague's mail tray, and then mapped my run. I wanted to do 12 miles.

The hybrid maps on "map-my-run" were most useful. 6 miles along The Road would take me to a large stretch of woodland beyond a large hill. 5 miles would take me to a farmhouse. A familiar training route, 4 miles, takes me to the sole pub on the road. As I was going to do an out-and-back run, these would give me 8, 10, or 12 miles. To do the whole thing, which I've never done, would be 19. If I can build up my endurance to run to that point, I'd be a long way towards marathon fitness.

It was cool but sunny when I started. On the initial climb I just plodded along, running slow, but getting it behind me. After this, I relaxed a bit, and enjoyed the open views. Occasionally, there were sheep on the road. I also saw three deer crossing the road, and startled one pheasant. It was a quiet Sunday morning though, and most of the traffic was from cyclists.

As I approached mile 4 I felt that I wasn't running too strong. I checked my watch: 37:27. This was a surprise - it was faster that I typically run to this point. After the pub at mile four there's a 1/2 mile climb to a patch of trees, and then a gradual descent. I'd never run beyond 4.5 miles from work.

The view from the pub is impressive. There's open moorland and all sides, and rounded hills. I had my eye out for potential spots to camp with the children someday.

Beyond 4.5 I felt o.k. At 5 or so I started feeling pain in the side of my left knee. This was familiar, and what I've self-diagnosed as illiotibial band syndrome. I hadn't reached the 6 mile mark yet, but at 56 mins I decided to turn around. I was a good distance away from my car, starting to feel sore, and I'd already been out nearly an hour. The 6 mile marker would have to wait for another day.

My runner's knee didn't get worse on the return journey, though later in the afternoon, at the playground with my children, it reminded me of its presence.

So, I called it 11 miles in 1:48.

This is about as much as I can do, on this route, with my current endurance level.


In my mind, I'm not actively training for a marathon yet. I'm keeping in some long runs, as the marathon is a distant aspiration, but for now I'm doing road or trail runs for upcoming shorter-distance routes.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Dunfermline Half Marathon

Well, it didn't quite feel like I was picking them up and laying them down today.

The weather was good. Sunny. Little wind. Temps in the low 60s. After a rainy, windy week here in Scotland, it was something to be thankful for.

There were 662 runners for the Dunfermline Half Marathon. It was the first time that I've done this race, and my second half-marathon ever.

With the runners line up, there was quite a bit of speech giving before the start. As we sweated a bit in the sun, most appeared eager to just start the race. What was interesting in what the speakers said was the repeated reference to the "current economic situation". The race was fortunate, I think one of the speakers said, to go ahead in these conditions. The withdrawl of sponsors had caused another upcoming half marathon, the Dundee Half, to be cancelled.

So, I was thinking to myself, it's interesting how the economic situation has permeated our everyday life. Who would have thought a few years ago that there would be references to the bad economy in the opening remarks before a race?

The race began and ended in a Dunfermline park, and was comprised of a loop that was done twice. After the start, I felt like I was trapped behind slower runners. I wanted to pace myself during the run, hoping to break 1:35 overall.

I passed people in the park, and eventually got to those who were running more my pace. I didn't want to go out too hard - I wanted to run a good pace, but comfortably.

My first mile was 6:42. Too fast. I deliberatly slowed up a bit. I wanted to run a bit over 7 mins per mile.

At mile two I was at 14:11 total. This was better, if not a trifle slow. The course wound through the town center of Dunfermline.

Mile three was 21:26. This was about right. There was a bit of up-and-down on the route.

Mile four: 28:55. OK, now I was slowing. The sun was out. I thought about an acquaintance who had a tough time in the London Marathon recently. It was hot, and she suffered. Here, I was ok, but would likely have to take on water.

Somewhere between miles four and five I took water. I always feel a twinge of guilt drinking just a bit of water from a bottle and leaving it at the side of the road. At home, I routinely save plastic bottles - it seems a shame to pitch something that is perfectly useful.

I don't remember my split at mile 5. The route was descending a bit, and I made a mental note that this would be good for the second lap. I was looking forward to miles 6 and 7, where my wife and children, with some friends, would be waiting to see me.

Mile 6 was at 43 mins something. This was slight slower than my mile 6 split in the previous half marathon I did 2 months earlier (the Alloa Half; I was 42 ish then). So, I was starting to think that beating my previous time might not be on the cards today.

Still, I felt good. I stopped keeping track of my split times after mile 6. Near mile 7 I started having twinges in my right illiotibial band, a problem that appears when I run beyond what I am apparently ready for, but it wasn't significant. I was hoping that the longer runs I'd done in the aftermath of the Alloa race would pay dividends in this respect. There I'd had significant pain after mile 11.

Mile 8 was a challenge. It seemed to be largely uphill. I just wanted to get it in the bag.

9 was better - the route levelled out. I thought it would be good to start picking people off, but I didn't feel quite that strong.

I was starting to get in my own world a bit as I looked for the mile 10 marker. Never saw it. The song "Hallelujah" kept playing in my head. I tried for something different, as the song wasn't really energising me, but I couldn't make anything stick. "All I've really learned from love, was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you...". Well, this was the mental song for today, no point in fighting it.

In the only full marathon I have done, the New York, 12 years ago, Alana Morrisette's "Thank You" seemed to power me through the miles. 3:54 there, in case you are wondering.

Somewhere after 10 I saw the familiar thin legs of an acquaintance from the local running club in my town. I'm not actually a member of this club, but I've run with them a good bit last fall and winter. I speeded up and confirmed that it was my acquaintance, and we chatted for a bit. He informed me that I'd passed 10 already.

I passed him temporarily. I was ok. My knee was fine, so the longer runs may well have helped.

After mile 11 I started flagging. 12 was a real challenge. The slight climbs through the town were really difficult - my legs seemed to have nothing left. My acquaintance had passed me, but he was still in view.

I was shattered when I re-entered the park. I just wanted to see the finish line. Finally, I rounded the last turn. I could feel someone on my tail, so I went all out. He didn't pass me.

1:37:17. A slight disappointment. This put me in 133rd place in a field of 662. So, from a percentile view, this was a bit better than my usual races (which are often hill races).

But, this was all I had. How can I run double this distance? I felt like I had nothing after mile 12.

Is qualifying a realistic goal?

Friday, 8 May 2009

Four miles

OK, just a short run yesterday after work.

I went to the track, and started with an easy-ish mile of 7:16. When I say mile, I mean 1600 meters.

I stopped and caught my breath, and then went for a fast mile. This came in at 6:36.


When I was in high school, I think my best time ever for a mile was 5:15. I find that a bit hard to fathom now... maybe I'm mis-remembering it. Wonder if it would be possible to track down high school track meet results from 25 years ago.

I was a slow runner in high school. I never won, or placed, in any race. I usually didn't finish last, but I was usually not too far from last. I also ran cross-country, and was dreadfully slow.

But I liked running. I liked training. I would run all winter, on my own. In northern Ohio, this isn't a trivial effort.


I was initially thinking of running a fast 3rd mile. However, I was tired after my 2nd mile, and decided to go for another easy one. This came in at 7:36.

This workout was intended to be easy. I'd run a 5-mile hill race two days previously, so this run was just to loosen up the legs a bit. I also have a half-marathon tomorrow, so I didn't want tired legs.

After my third mile, I rested for a few seconds, and then went for a fast final mile. I wanted to get home and see my children before they went to bed. So, I tried to run hard, particularly on the last lap-and-a-half. The sun came out on my last quarter, I pushed my feet out in front of me, and I came in at 6:26.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


O.K. Here's my story. I'm a 43-year old male, married, with two small children. My goal in life is to hike the Appalachian Trail, but, given the constraints inherent the circumstances mentioned above, my interim goal is to run the Boston Marathon. Just once. By qualifying.

This blog will be the diary of my efforts to do so.

Am I fast? Not exactly. On any given race I usually finish in the 66th percentile. That is, I'm usually ahead of 2/3 of the crowd, and behind the other 1/3. So, I guess, you could describe me as a middle-of-the-pack runner.

To qualify for Boston, I need to run a 3:30:59 time in another marathon. But, I hear you say, don't you need a 3:20 time as a 43-year-old to qualify? Yes. But that's to run next year's Boston. I want to shoot for a marathon that will occur next year, when I am 44, to have a qualifying time for Boston the year after, when I'm 45. So, I'm starting now.

But I don't just want to qualify and complete Boston. I want to run strong.

I want to pick up the miles and lay them down