Monday, 19 July 2010

The Wall

75 days until the Loch Ness Marathon


After the Maddy Moss hill race on Wednesday (last post), I took Thursday off.

On Friday, I did my “town” loop of 5.4 miles after the children were in bed. I was a little tired, but it felt good work out some of the stiffness from the race.

On Saturday, I mowed the lawn, which involves a bit of effort because our yard is on a signficant slope. I also chased the children around the garden, dropped off the hedge clippings at the dump, and did various jobs around the house. So, when I came to run in the late afternoon my legs didn’t feel too fresh. I did a warmout half-mile with my daughter, who rode alongside on her bike. I then did my “hilly” loop of 6 miles or so. I’m calling it 6.5 for the whole thing.

On Sunday, I went for a walk in the morning with my wife and children. We went to a nearby wood where there’s a river and a small cave. The cave is called Wallace’s Cave, as, presumably, William Wallace (Braveheart) hid here at one time. I’m somewhat suspicious of this, as every cave seems to be a place where Wallace hid, but I haven’t looked into it exhaustively.

I build a small fire near the river, which the children enjoyed adding sticks to. All told, the walk might have been 2-3 miles. Suprisingly, I felt a bit tired after this.

After lunch, a rest, a play with the children in the back yard, and their baths, I was o.k.’d to depart for my long run by my wife.


My goal was to do the town loop three times. Each loop is 5.4 miles; the total is
16.2. I’d done this the weekend before – I was hoping I’d feel a bit stronger this week.

The first loop was fine. I had some stiffness, but this seemed to work itself out as I warmed up.

It was warm, for Scotland, about 20c, or 70 degrees. It was also humid, and sweat dripped down the side of my face.

The loop goes through a nearby neighbourhood, around a loch, on the other side of which is the ruins of a castle. My route then follows a road through some countryside, and then goes back through the main street in town.

I hid a running bottle of gatorade in the bushes near the start of the loop. After my first loop, I drank nearly half of this.

The second loop was good. I was loose now, and when I got to the countryside, the tarmac underfoot felt good.

I told my wife I’d stop at the supermarket at the end of the run to pick up some cold-cuts, bread, and fruit for the children’s lunches the next day. The supermarket is near the end of the loop, and closes at 8 p.m. on Sundays. It was 7:11 when I arrived at near the end of the second loop, and I figured that waiting until the end of my third loop might be cutting it close – each loop taking 42-45 minutes.
So I stopped my watch, and picked up some groceries.

I then completed the half-mile of my second loop, running with a plastic grocery bag in one hand, and a bunch of bananas in the other. I dropped these off at my house, had a good drink from my hidden bottle, and began my third loop.

I was slightly stiff to start, but felt o.k. I wondered whether the Galloway run-walk approach to training might have some utility for me - my walk through the grocery store seemed to make the subsequent run easier.

I was fine through the neighbourhood and around the loch.

However, when I hit the road through the farms, I began to tire.


At the back of my mind, particularly on long runs, I think about the wall.

I’m pretty confident that I experienced this complete level of exhaustion in the late miles of the Edinburgh marathon, a few months earlier.

What I wonder about is how the wall happens. I know that it’s due to a lack of glucose in the muscles, but can it be pushed back? One of the views I’ve taken on as motivation for my long runs is that they are efforts to push back the wall – the longer I run in training, the longer I should be able to run (comfortably) on race day. Can the wall be overcome by will-power? It's hard to imagine, when one isn't exhausted, why it's not possible to put in a last sprint to the finish line, no matter what the level of tiredness. However, in Edinburgh, I couldn't do anything but shuffle across the finish line.


So, I'm interested in the experience of fatigue. As I turned onto the high street of my town, on my third loop, I began to feel fatigued. Probably, I’d done about 14 miles to this point. My pace slowed to an easier, "forever" pace. However, I felt that if I had to, I could still push.

The high street has some mild up-and-downs, and on the ups the tiredness was apparent in my legs. On the downs, I felt a bit better.

In the last mile, I was really tired, but kept moving. I knew I was nearly there.

I made it back home. As I entered the house I felt a wave of nausea, but wasn't sick. I drained a glass of orange juice, diluted with water, and then sat on the sofa with my sweaty head in my hands. My wife asked if I was o.k. I told her I just needed a minute.

After a few minutes I was up and about. I took a long shower.


So, from an empirical perspective, I'd estimate that after the onset of fatigue - an involuntary slowing my pace - I probably have a mile or two in me before I get to the wall.

Once there, based on my Edinburgh marathon experience, I can probably shuffle on for five miles or so. But these miles have a cost in terms of long-lasting fatigue afterwards.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Maddy Moss Mash hill race

80 days until my next attempt to qualify for the Boston marathon.


The Maddy Moss hill race begins with a steep, steep climb. It wasn't really runnable; everyone near me walked, placing their feet in the dirt "steps" created from previous foot traffic, or walked on the grass next to the steps.

It was raining. The race was 6 miles, with 2,329 feet of ascent, and I knew I was going to be pretty wet at the end of it no matter what I wore. So, I just wore my running shorts and a running t-shirt, fell running shoes and sox. Around my waist I had a bum bag with water-proof jacket, trousers, and a plastic bag containing a whistle, map page, and compass. Again, runners are required to carry these for a race of distance by the organisers. In the day's conditions, with the cloud covering the top of the hill, this requirement was reasonable.

I felt good on the climb. There were occasional breaks in the ascent where one could run a few feet, but it was mostly straight up.

Nearing the top of the climb the rain and wind intensified. The rain lashed the side of my face. It was going to be a proper hill race.

As the slope evened out near the top of the climb I started running. We ascended in a thickening mist.

Marshalls pointed us in the right direction towards the top of the of the major hill in the race, Ben Cleuch. I turned toward it, and had the wind at my back.

The lead runners descending from the summit began to pass us. They would appear in the mist individually or in groups of two or three.

Underfood, the partial trail was often underwater. My feet were already soaked, and there was no way of avoiding the puddles, so I ran through them.

I came to the summit cairn behind another runner. We rounded the cairn, and then I passed her as we began descending.

I passed the marhsalls again, who pointed us in the direction of the second summit in the race, Andrew Gannel Hill.

Worringly, I found myself alone in the mist. Usually, navigation in a hill race isn't an issue, as you just follow the line of runners in front of you. Not so today. I couldn't see anyone. I stuck with what looked like a trail, and kept going.

Eventually I caught up with another runner, and then one more. They passed me on the short ascent up to Andrew Gannel, and I stuck behind them.

Then we started the long descent back to the starting point of the race.

The two runners in front of me accelerated. We crossed a wire fence, and I scraped my leg on the top wire that I didn't see.

As we continued the descent, I passed one of the two runners. The rain was heavy, the visibility was poor, and the trail held lots of standing water. Without my glasses on, it was sometimes difficult to see the exactly where I was putting my feet. Despite this, I felt positively invigorated. This was proper hill running - all out, downhill, in a storm.

The trail thinned to a narrow path along the side of the hill.

The runner in front of me seemed to know the trail. Every foot-fall he made was correct - he seemed to know the little curves and drops in the route - and to adjust for these. I was right behind him, and the trail was too narrow to pass. We clipped off the distance.

Eventually, we came to a steep descent leading to the start/finish line. I passed the runner I'd been trailing, and descended gingerly. The rocks and grass were wet and slick - I didn't want to fall.

I slipped anyways, and skidded into some bracken. I got up and dashed to the finish.

My time for the race was 1:09:35. This put me in 47th place, out of 94 runners.

Afterwards, a friend who did the race and I went to a pub near the race start. We changed into dry clothes, but I continued to shiver. However, I warmed up in the pub, and enjoyed a terrific pint of beer.

Friday, 9 July 2010


85 days until my next attempt to qualify for Boston. This is moderately alarming. I know from my last attempt that these days go fast, and you can't train too much in the week before the race. So, training-wise, there isn't a ton of time left until race day.


Part of my alarm may stem from a poor week of training.

After my hill run and mile (see my last post), things slipped a bit.

On the next day, Wednesday, I did my "town" loop - 5.4 miles - after dropping off my wife and children at the airport. They were travelling to my wife's parent's house for the week.

On Thursday morning I woke tired, and noticed that my throat hurt when I drank a morning coffee.

That afternoon I administered a make-up exam for the students where I teach, and afterwards I felt truly grotty. The students' complaints about the exam didn't help, but I was almost too tired to worry about it. Because of how I was feeling, running Thursday evening was out of the question; instead I packed for an upcoming work conference in Amsterdam.

I woke in the middle of the night with a very sore throat. Whenever I swallowed it felt like there was sand-paper in my throat. I took ibuprofen, and a throat lozenge with flurbiprofen, and went back to sleep. These lozenges work really well for sore throats, in my experience. I think they act locally to reduce the inflamation in the throat.

On Friday I graded the exams in the morning, but was unwell. My voice was cracking when I spoke. I left work early, in part to finish packing, in part to rest.

After watching Holland beat Brazil while I packed, I decided to try a run. I did my town loop again, and was feeling a bit better.

On Saturday I had an early flight to Amsterdam. Surprisingly, the airport was full of travellers at 5:20 a.m.

Amsterdam was hot. I was initially hoping to get my long run done in the city, but by the time I took the train and found my hotel, I just didn't feel up to it. I was fatigued from the early morning and my cold. I went to the conference center, registered, and then took a tram into the city centre to explore a bit. Amsterdam was really impressive, but I was so beat that I just wanted to rest.

On Sunday morning I was feeling a little better, and did 2.5 easy miles near the hotel. The hotel was in the middle of a warehouse district, and I had no luck finding a place for breakfast, the goal of the run. I ate at the hotel.

I didn't run on Monday - I was exhausted after the day's meeting at the conference centre, and I went to dinner with work colleagues.

Tuesday was the first time I didn't feel shattered. After the day's meeting, I did around 4 miles through the Vondelpark. It was a perfect summer afternoon, and there was a buzz about the park, as the Dutch prepared for the big World Cup match that evening. On the streets, the cafes were packed with football fans dressed in orange.

No running on Wednesday, when the conference finished. I did go for a long walk in another Amsterdam park, with my luggage.


Now I'm back in Scotland, and getting back to my normal schedule. I did 5 miles on the hill behind where I work on Thursday, and then 10 miles on Friday. I'm still coughing a bit, but hope that the very light week of running won't have been too much of a set-back.