World Champs Selection and Race Plans

Just a quick post with a few updates on the next races. The big news is that I’ve been selected to run for GB at the World Championships in Italy on the 14th of September. This is great and I’m really looking forward to representing the team again, especially after a very successful European Championships last month. The men’s team has three of the same guys from the Europeans plus another three very experienced internationals so the team is looking very strong.

After Sierre Zinal I had a slightly easier week of running and I’m now fully recovered and back to training hard for the world champs. As well as some key training sessions I’ve also planned two races to help get me in top form for the championships. The first of these races is this weekend (24th Aug) the Kitzbuhelerhorn Bergstrassenlauf which I raced at last year. Its just under 13km and climbs over 1200m but the route is entirely on tarmac. Its a good hard workout with no sections where you can ease off at all. I’m also expecting to have to race against the Run2gether team of Kenyans that stay in Austria and have been beating me in all the races! One week after that is another of the WMRA Grand Prix series at Leogang in Austria which will be another top quality race.

Sierre Zinal 2014

This year Sierre Zinal lived up to all expectations and was a fantastic race and weekend. It seemed to be bigger than ever with even more top international runners, perfect organisation and a really friendly atmosphere. In summary the race went well for me and I managed to prove that last year’s unexpected result of 5th place wasn’t just a one-off lucky race. I felt a bit of pressure to perform at that level again and I wasn’t sure I could as last year was the perfect race from start to finish. In the end I paced the race in a very similar way ending up in the same 5th place position and with a very similar time. It didn’t feel as easy and I had to work through a few bad patches and really dig deep to get the same result but I succeeded on improving on last year by running  19 seconds faster.

This year was different as the lead group of runners was small from the start with only five guys, led by Jo Gray from the USA. This group included a lot of the favourites including Kilian, Jono, Cesar Costa and Francois Gonon. On the first half of the initial steep ascent I was happy to stay in the group behind and within a close distance of those guys. The pace felt ideal but the warm humid conditions were uncomfortable in the forest. Halfway up the climb the lead group sped up and climbed out of sight. At this point I didn’t feel so fresh so I had to let them go. I was still in the chasing group with David Schneider, Ionut Zinca and a few others. The group was starting to split and a few guys pulled ahead of me before the top, I was happy to let them go with the hope that I’d catch them on the flatter section. As soon as it flattened out after Ponchet I picked up the pace and passed all the guys in the chasing group to get in to 6th place by the checkpoint at Chandolin.

Coming through Chandolin, maybe looking a bit too cheery
Coming through Chandolin, maybe looking a bit too cheery

Last year the section from Chandolin to Hotel Weisshorn was where I ran the strongest, overtaking someone every 1-2km. I tried to attack this section to reel in some of the lead group but it wasn’t easy. I could see Jono not too far ahead and within 2km I managed to pass him on a bit of single track trail in the forest. Up until then I was feeling really strong but maybe I pushed a bit hard to catch him as when it started going uphill soon after my legs were burning. This was the first of the two bad patches in the race but luckily it didn’t last too long. I focussed on getting to the top of that short ascent without letting Jono catch me then I knew there was some downhill after to recover on. As soon as I started downhill I felt fresh again and could speed up until the final uphill to Weisshorn. I knew there were four guys still ahead but I couldn’t see anyone close in front so there was nobody to chase. From here to the end I tried to convince myself that I was catching the guy ahead and I actually ran quite well on this bit. The second bad patch was a painful stitch in my ribs that came with about 6km to the finish and only lasted for a few minutes then I managed to shake it off. For a short time I was worried it might slow me down enough to get caught but once it disappeared I was able to get back to full speed easily. The last steep descent went well and I managed to run quite fast without hitting in to any trees or falling off the narrow path. One of the best bits of the race is joining the tarmac road for the last 600m to the finish as there are crowds lining the road cheering you on. There seemed to be thousands of people there and it was a real boost. I started getting a few twinges of cramp in my calf but the cheering from the crowd blocked out the pain. Crossing the line to see I had ran another time of 2 hours 35 was really satisfying. I hadn’t looked at my watch in the race and I didn’t feel like it had been that quick a time. Soon after finishing I heard that Jo Gray had been leading until the last kilometres then Kilian managed to run an incredible descent to overtake him and get a lead of one minute by the end.

Last 100m before the finish line
Last 100m before the finish line

I was really happy to be in the top five again in such a world class field of runners. The guys at the front ran an amazing race with the four of them staying really strong until the end. I can’t see the race becoming any less competitive in the future so if I want to improve on this position I have a lot more hard work to do to challenge the very best in the sport. This year I was focussing more on the European and World championships and shorter races so it was quite a challenge to have four weeks to recover then prepare for a 31km race. I think I ran a pretty safe race without taking many risks and if I want to finish higher up the field I might need to start off faster and try and hang with the leaders until the end, instead of relying on moving through the field in the second half. I enjoy the race and the whole event so much that I hope to come back every year if possible. Another great thing about the race is catching up with friends from all over the world including Scotland. Since I haven’t been home for a few months it’s the first time I’ve seen many Scottish runners. Some of the guys were pretty disappointed with their runs but Stewart Whitlie had a solid run to finish 2nd V50 again this year.

Now I’m having some easier days to recover fully from the race before building up to the next major races of the summer.

Next Race- Sierre Zinal

This weekend is the Sierre Zinal race, one of Europe’s most legendary mountain races between the town of Sierre and the small village of Zinal in Switzerland. It gets the world’s best runners every year and everyone dreams of winning it, making it one of the hardest ones to win. The race is addictive as it’s such a satisfying run and the whole event is just a huge celebration of mountain running with thousands of people taking part. This will be my third time competing in the race and I’m more eager than ever to line up against the world’s best. In 2012 I had a disastrous run, finishing around 35th place, whilst last year was my best ever result in any mountain race when coming 5th. It’s certainly been a race of highs and lows for me so far and this year I want to go back and prove that last year wasn’t just a lucky day. The course is varied and has a very tough uphill section followed by some fast running for over 15km then a short steep descent. It suits my strengths although getting the pacing right is key to finishing high up the field.

Sierre-Zinal Course Profile.
Sierre-Zinal Course Profile.

A few guys I’ll be racing against include past race winners Jonathon Wyatt, Marco De Gasperi and Kilian Jornet. It’s rarely that these three legends of the sport all race against each other so it will be a very special race and amazing to watch. Apart from these guys there’s at least ten other brilliant runners including past winners, top-3 finishers from recent years and guys that could make it in to the top five if they run very well.

The main thing this weekend will be just to focus on pacing the race right and not getting too distracted by the amazing line up of runners. Last year I saved some energy on the main climb then had the strength to move through the field in the later stages. If I want to improve on last year I might need to start quicker to be closer to the leaders, there is the risk of going too quick and running out of steam before the end as many runners do. The whole pacing strategy is a balance between running the uphill well and saving enough energy for the 20km of fast running afterwards. However the race develops I plan to give it everything and make sure I finish knowing that I did everything possible to challenge these top guys. Mountain running is unpredictable at times so you need to put yourself in the best position possible and believe you can challenge the best.

Last years race near the top of the first ascent
Last years race near the top of the first ascent

Race Update- Germany and Slovenia

 

After a few weeks of technical difficulties Mountainrunningman is back up and running. It turns out I’m much worse at running a website and working with computers than I am at running up mountains!

Since the blog has been down I’ve taken part in two mountain races and put in some hard training in Austria before the next few big races of the summer. One of those is this coming weekend; the famous Sierre Zinal race in Switzerland where I had one of my best performances ever last year when finishing 5th. I’ll summarise the last two races and hopefully have time to put in pre race blog before Sierre Zinal.

One week after coming 2nd at the European championships I ran at the Karwendel Berglauf in Mittenwald, Germany. It’s one of the best known mountain races in Germany and its known for being really tough. The total climb is just under 1500m in 11km and what you don’t realise looking at the course profile is the last half of the race is on very difficult terrain. It’s similar to running on loose scree or gravel which gives way slightly with every step. It is strength sapping and even though it isn’t especially steep it is very hard to actually run on. This is good news if that sort of terrain suits you and you’re racing against guys that don’t like it!

View of the course at Karwendel (lots of rocks)
View of the course at Karwendel (lots of rocks)

On race day it was well over 30 degrees Celsius at the start meaning the first few kilometres on the tarmac road were uncomfortable. Being one week after the European championships where I gave everything and pushed my body to the limit I wasn’t expecting to feel fresh and strong. So I took it quite steady for the first 3km to ease in to the race. At this stage a group of four runners including three of the run2gether Kenyans were well ahead and I was running with Austrian Stefan Paternoster, just ahead of a few German runners. I managed to pull away from him before we started the steep single track after 5km, meaning I was in 5th place. This section was really nice as it was still easy to run on but the trail was interesting and it was shaded from the sun. Soon after we emerged on to the scree and I could see the next few runners struggling on the loose stones. Within 10 minutes I had worked my way in to 2nd place and I was feeling very strong. It was hard going to keep a rhythm on such strength sapping ground but I was pulling away from the other guys and closing in on 1st place, although very slowly. Things didn’t change much after this point although I got within 30 seconds of the leader by the end of the scree. After this we ran through a very dark and cold tunnel which seemed to last ages although it was probably only 400m or so. I didn’t realise this was even in the race and I lost concentration slightly meaning my chance of catching the winner was reduced even more. Once through the tunnel there was on last steep ascent to the finish which was high above us. Coming from the darkness in to full sunlight was blinding and for a few seconds I was tripping up on the rocks on the path. I pushed hard on this section and enjoyed the feeling of running up a very big mountain on such a brilliant day.

Looking down to Mittenwald from the mountain
Looking down to Mittenwald from the mountain

I was really delighted to finish 2nd in another big race with a strong field. Isaac Kosgei who won the race has had some brilliant results this summer and coming 2nd to him is still a good result for me. I didn’t expect to run very well at an uphill only race after spending so much of the year training for the European championships so it’s a good sign for the rest of the year!

 

Finish line at Karwendel

Finish line at Karwendel

One week after racing in Mittenwald I travelled to Slovenia to do the Grintovec race which I did last year and wrote about. It’s a big mountain at a height of 2550m and the race is steep technical and relentless. There aren’t many races as tough as this one with nearly 2000m ascent on rough paths in only 10km! Last year I was 4th in 1 hour 26 minutes (nearly 14 minute/mile pace) and I wanted to improve on this. This year was totally different conditions with cool damp weather instead of last year’s scorching heat. It was more pleasant running weather but the path was muddy and the rocks were very slippery for a lot of the way.

Race start looking towards Grintovec. The summit isn't in view, its even higher!
Race start looking towards Grintovec. The summit isn’t in view, its even higher!

This year three Kenyans from the run2gether Austria team ran in the race, this boosted the quality of the race and made it tough to get on the podium. I tried to learn from last year’s run and start slower on the first section to save some strength for the last part which gets very technical. It meant I was further down the field early in the race but I felt good once the path got steep. Soon enough I caught fellow GB runner Orlando and Slovenian Mitja and we ran together, catching one of the Kenyans. At halfway I was in 3rd with the two guys right on my shoulder. The section just before the mountain hut was easier to run with zigzags through the loose scree. Here I managed to get in to a good running rhythm and pull ahead by 30 seconds or so although 1st and 2nd were well ahead. The last third of the race was where the positions were decided and there were a lot of runners quite close together. I could see last year’s 2nd place runner, Nejc Kuhar, catching me quickly as we reached the steepest roughest part of the course. He is incredibly strong on the steepest uphills and although he walks it all he just powers past. He overtook Orlando and Mitja then me soon after. I tried to follow him and even tried his method of walking with long strides but I couldn’t keep up. He then went on to catch the Kenyan in front and get 2nd place. This meant I was now 4th and I dug deep on the last kilometre to try and catch 3rd but he was too strong. The gaps behind weren’t very big with three guys within just over a minute behind so I was glad I pushed all the way to the end. The winner was Isaac Kosgei who beat me at Karwendel the week before, he’s obviously in great shape! At the summit it was cold and misty with no view so I didn’t hang around long.

Looking down from Grintovec from halfway
Looking down from Grintovec from halfway

Although I was disappointed with being 4th again this year and ruining my record of four top-3 results in a row this summer I was five minutes quicker than last year which was some consolation. The cooler weather definitely helped the time but some of this must have down to being in better shape. Last year every uphill felt easy after this race so I’m hoping the same happens this time round.

European Mountain Running Championships in Gap, France

This was a weekend to remember for all the right reasons. Sometimes everything comes together on race day and it goes perfectly from start to finish and this was one of those occasions. After a close to perfect build up to the race I knew I’d done everything I could to get in the best shape possible. Even with the best training things can still go wrong but the more major championships you compete in the more you learn and then it’s easier to perform at your best. To compete in this race I had to miss my graduation which was a decision that although was easy for me to make it did let some people down. You have to make the most of the chances you have when it comes to representing Great Britain.

This was my 5th European Mountain Running Championships and 7th time on the GB team. In those previous six races only one went very well and the other five races were below par although I learned important lessons. Four years ago I was close to winning the Junior European Championships on a similar course but I made a bad decision and tried to open up a gap too early in the race and lost a lot of places in the later stages, eventually finishing 6th. This time round I knew exactly how to pace the race to get the best out of myself but I still wasn’t sure how I compared to the top Europeans as I hadn’t really raced them this year. A top ten position was my aim although I really wanted to get close to the top five.

GB team in the sunshine

GB team in the sunshine

The first 1km of the race was flat next to a lake then it climbed steeply on single tracks with some rough and rocky sections. There were a few flatter sections in the first half of the uphill to break it up but the second half was steep and relentless. The descent was less steep and it seemed to go on for ages. Most of it was on a rocky track with some technical sections although it was very fast all the way. After jogging the course two days before I was really looking forward to racing, it’s definitely the best course I’ve seen at a European or World champs with proper mountain paths and some steep gradients.

At the start I went off fast to avoid getting stuck behind people before the single track. The first kilometre was done in under 3 minutes but it didn’t feel too tiring and I was right behind the leaders and next to fellow GB runner Andrew Douglas. Once we started climbing I eased off slightly and got in to a good rhythm, still comfortably in the top 10. Andy was just ahead of me at this point running next to six time European champion Ahmet Arslan from Turkey and looking strong. I moved past him in the later stages of the uphill and joined the group of four of five guys in the chasing pack with only Italy’s Bernard Dematteiss ahead. The effort still felt comfortable and I was confident I could speed up on the 2nd and 3rd laps when it really mattered. Once we started the downhill I stayed at the back of the group and didn’t make the mistake I made four years ago by trying to go too fast.

Chasing pack on the first descent with me at the back. (Photo by Gerry Brady)
Chasing pack on the first descent with me at the back. (Photo by Gerry Brady)

I was still in this group at the start of the second lap but I quickly moved up a gear and sneaked ahead of a few guys. By now I had lost track of my position but knew Bernard was still ahead and maybe one or two others. I climbed strongly and opened a gap on the guys behind me although I couldn’t see anyone else ahead. It was a great feeling as I had dropped some of the top runners and now I was battling it out for the medals. People were cheering for me and telling me I was close to Bernard but I wondered how far ahead the other guys were though. It soon occurred to me that it was only him in front and I was in 2nd! That explained why the British, Irish and many other countries were cheering so loud for me. I got such a boost from this and I started the second descent determined not to let anyone past. By the end of lap two I was tiring but I knew I only had to dig deep one more time to get to the top of the hill then gravity would take care of the downhill. The cheers were getting louder from the team and I knew I was catching Bernard slightly, he also knew this and seemed to push even harder. On the last part of the uphill I was giving it everything to close the gap and keep ahead of the other two guys who weren’t as far behind me as I’d wanted.

On the steep ascent, lap 3
On the steep ascent, lap 3

When I turned at the top I felt dizzy from the effort and I took a few seconds to regain focus for the descent. This time round I didn’t hold back anything and I committed everything to going quickly over the roughest sections. It’s a long time since I’ve had to push so hard on a descent but everything was at stake until I was safely over the line. I could see Bernard on the long straights and he looked tired. On the flatter sections I still felt quite strong and clawed back one or two more seconds. By now I was about 10 seconds behind 1st and I was about 10 seconds ahead of 3rd which was Bernard’s twin brother Martin. The last 600m of the race had a few steep sections where I had to concentrate but once that was over and I was on the last 200m I knew I had a medal in the bag. The job was done. Not long after Andy came through the line after a really strong run in 10th place, followed by Tom in 15th. Both guys were making their senior GB debut so to get such strong results against a top field was brilliant and it meant our team were 2nd, only beaten by Italy! The only negative from the race was our 4th GB man, Shaun Dixon, had a bad fall at the start and didn’t manage to complete the course. He will be back though!

On the finish straight, 60m to go
On the finish straight, 60m to go

To begin with it felt just like doing well at any other race then once my brain recovered I realised that I probably had my best ever race and far better than I’d hoped for. It was one of those races where you’re running harder that you’ve done before and it feels so comfortable. Having such great support all round the course gave me a huge boost and it made me run even harder. Being part of such a successful team was a privilege with GB being the second most successful nation behind Italy. Three of the four teams won medals and as well as my 2nd place, Georgia Malir won gold in the junior women’s race. It looks like our team is on the way up and I think it’s possible for us to win a lot of medals at the World Championships in Wales next year.

One day I hoped to win an individual medal at a European championship but I didn’t expect it to come for a long time and I thought it would be the highlight of my career. Now it’s been done it’s a huge achievement ticked off the list but it makes it possible to set even higher aims now. I’ve sacrificed a lot over the last few years, especially this year so this result was a great reward. After a few easy days to recover I’ll be ready to work hard towards the next target.

Top three men with myself in 2nd, Bernard Dematteis 1st and Martin Dematteis 3rd

Seefeld Mountain Run

This was my first race since moving out to the Austrian Alps and it’s right on the doorstep. You could probably see the mountain from the apartment I’m staying in if it had proper windows! The race start was just over 5km away in the town of Seefeld, at the ski lift. The course meandered through the forest and ski slopes on a mixture of wide tracks and single track before going on to rougher mountain paths for the last 2km. In total it’s just over 6km with 1000m of ascent so it’s pretty steep. The very last section of the race is along a narrow ridge with some amazing views of the Austrian Tirol before finishing at the Seefelder Spitze at 2220m altitude.

Looking at past results from the race I expected there to be some good Austrian runners from the Innsbruck area but not many top internationals so it could have been a good chance to win a local race. As we arrived at the race registration I noticed two Eritreans had decided to enter last minute including Petro Mamu who beat me by miles in quite a few races last year. My chance of winning reduced dramatically but I wasn’t ready to give up.

View over the lower part of the race course

View over the middle part of the race course

At the start the two Eritreans were happy to sit behind me and the Austrian, Stefan Paternosten, for a few hundred metres then they just sprinted up the hill and left us. I tried to go with them and after a while they eased off and I caught up with them. They sped up again and Petro got in to the lead with Tsige, the other Eritrean, not able to stay with him. We got on a rougher section of single track and I managed to pass the 2nd runner but it was probably a bad idea. I was working very hard and the heat was getting to me, it was too early in the race for pushing so hard and I started to struggle a lot. Tsige and Stefan both passed me and I was losing ground as we moved on to a wide gravel track. This wasn’t my favourite bit of the race as it was not great to run on and the finish looked miles away. After having a drink at halfway I felt a bit better and managed to regain focus a bit and concentrate on closing the gap to 3rd place. Once we started on the rougher mountain path I noticed Tsige was now in 3rd and he was struggling. On the rocky sections I was closing the gap so I kept pushing to try and catch him before the flatter ridge run to the finish. I passed him on some steep steps then got a few seconds ahead before we turned on to the ridge. The ridge looked flatter and easier running so I thought he might catch me again before the end. I didn’t look back and concentrated on running as hard as possible. Although it looked flatter it was quite rocky and there were very steep sections broken up with some flat bits and even a short descent. This running suited me well and I kept pulling away from him. The view from the ridge was amazing although it felt like it went on for so long before the finish line appeared. I noticed I was closing the gap to 2nd place slightly but there was not enough time to catch him before the end and I finished in 3rd, about 1min ahead of 4th.

On the ridge run to the finish
The ridge run to the finish

It was good to start the season with a podium position and my race fitness felt good. Being back out in the mountains is brilliant and especially on such a nice day. The heat and altitude were quite challenging as I haven’t had much time to acclimatise but that should come soon. I don’t think there is such a thing as an easy race here with guys like Petro running. I’m fairly confident he could have run a minute faster but he was already so far inside the course record so didn’t need to. The first three or four of us were inside the old record so it shows that the field was strong. I’m looking forward to the next race anyway.

View from the finish

Finish view

UK Home International Mountain Race

 

The UK Home International was the selection race for the Great Britain team for the European mountain running championships this year. Teams from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland took part as well as lots of other runners hoping to challenge for a selection place. We had a strong team from Scotland although it was a very young team with three of us aged 22 or younger.

Since the start of the year I’ve been focussing training around the European mountain running championships but I couldn’t guarantee I’d be on the team until the trial was done. So much is at stake with these trial races so you can never be certain of anything until you finish. Although confident I was in pretty good shape it was hard to know how things would go against strong opposition. To be guaranteed selection I had to finish 1st or 2nd although they often take the first four.

The first time I saw the trial course at Whinlatter was the evening before the race and it was quite different to the other up/downhill trials I’ve done. The trails were very smooth and the gradient wasn’t too steep meaning that it would be very fast. With three laps pacing is key to having a good result, it is very easy to get excited and run the first lap too quick and end up slowing down later in the race.

My race plan was to go off steady on the first lap and sit in behind whoever was leading then work harder on the second lap before giving it 100% effort on lap 3, by doing this its more likely the lap times will be consistent even though the effort increases each lap. Andi Jones was there to push the pace at the start so me and Andrew Douglas from Scotland sat in behind him on the climb. It was quite a comfortable effort and we were pulling ahead of the chasing pack. On the first downhill I tried to ease back a bit to save my legs as the pace was very fast and it was easy to get carried away. On the steeper second half of the descent Andrew and myself passed Andi and got a few seconds ahead going in to lap two. Both of us worked together on the climb to increase the gap we had on the rest of the field. By the top we were about a minute ahead which was a confidence boost although I was hoping that we hadn’t pushed too hard too soon. After another fast but relaxed descent we went in to the last lap side by side once again. By this point I was working very hard and didn’t know how much more I had left in the tank. Andrew was very strong and it wasn’t easy for either of us to get away. I thought if I could get to the top in front I could probably hammer the last descent to get a few seconds ahead and stay in the lead. For the last few minutes of uphill I increased the tempo again and just focussed on getting to the top, forgetting about the 2km descent to the finish. As the steep ascent levelled off to a more gradual forest track I increased my speed and slowly started moving ahead. At the top I had a few seconds on Andrew and knew it was possible to win if I didn’t have any problems on the way down. I ran as fast as I could on the gradual downhill track then hit the steep section still in the lead. From there I knew it would be difficult for him to close the gap and I won by about 12 seconds. We were two minutes ahead of the next runner so we were both glad to have worked together to run so strongly. The average pace for the race was 3’44/km and the fastest kilometre was 2’30 which gives some idea how fast the course was!

Me and Andrew going in to lap 3 (photo: woodentops.org.uk)
Me and Andrew on the final lap (photo: woodentops.org.uk)

It was amazing to win the race after such a tough battle between the two of us and with both of us on team Scotland it made it even better. Once the top four from each country came in we realised we won the team prize with Lachlan Oates and Graham Bee keeping us ahead of England. Andrew is new to mountain running after spending the last few years doing mostly road racing, setting some very quick times. He’s clearly a natural at running up and down hills and he has the flat speed as well so the GB team for the Europeans is looking strong and with some younger runners this year. Scotland had a number of great results with six of the team getting picked for the GB team which is the most ever so far. It’s great to see and I’m sure it will continue.

1st and 2nd place for Scotland (photo: woodentops.org.uk)
1st and 2nd place for Scotland (photo: woodentops.org.uk)

This weekend (1st June) was my last race before the GB trials for the European mountain running championships in Keswick in just under two weeks. The race was at Scolty Hill near Banchory which is the hill I’ve used most for training over the years, until I moved to Finzean a few months ago. For years I was running up Scolty Hill at least seven times per week and occasionally doing six ascents (or more) in one run. This added up to well over 1000 ascents in three years and maybe even 2000 over all the years I’ve trained there. It is a very good hill to run up with about eight different ascent routes and it’s very convenient from Banchory. I don’t usually like doing the same runs regularly!

First ascent of Scolty with Banchory in the background. Photo by Mike Raffan

First ascent of Scolty with Banchory in the background. Photo by Mike Raffan

The race does two ascents/descents of the hill using four of the different paths that go to the summit. It has some pretty steep sections and some of the paths are a bit technical so it’s a good race although its only 7km long and has just under 400m ascent. This year it was the 1st round of the Scottish championship series so it had a bigger and more competitive field. I wanted to get a hard workout so pushed right from the start and opened a gap by the top of the first ascent which is the shorter and steeper one. The first downhill is fast and not very steep so it isn’t great for recovering before the second climb. This climb is probably harder than the first one as its longer, starting off at a gradual gradient then getting steep by the top. It was also quite hot in the sun on the exposed hill so it was tough going. One advantage of knowing the hill so well is I knew exactly when the top of the hill would appear so I could push as hard as possible and know that the pain would soon be over. Once at the top I had a glance at the watch to see I had just under seven minutes to descend the hill and get to the finish if I was going to break the record. The last descent is steep with a few rocks and tree roots so you can’t let go as easily although it only lasts a few minutes. I concentrated on running smoothly down it then picked up the pace again as it flattened out before the finish and crossed the line in 31 minutes 30 seconds which took 95 seconds off the previous record from 2006. 2nd placed Iain Whiteside (Carnethy) was just under three minutes behind so the winning margin was good. Carnethy did end up beating Deeside Runners for the team prize which was slightly disappointing.

It’s great to get a record on a local course, especially when you’ve been up the hill so many times! The race was a perfect test of fitness and confidence boost ahead of the trial race so hopefully I can keep the form going. The European trial is also the Senior Home International mountain race so I’ll be representing Scotland for the first time this year at that event. We have a strong team this year with a few new faces so it will be good to see if we can push England.

Descending off the top. Photo by Mike Raffan
Descending off the top of Scolty. Photo by Mike Raffan

 

Mountain Running Season Almost Here

The last few months have been packed full of exams, assignments and a massive dissertation as I have been finishing my 4th and final year of my degree at SRUC Aberdeen. Now all the hard work is out the way so I can finally get back in to writing blogs and planning the mountain running season. The workload hasn’t stopped me fitting in hard training and races so things have been going well although I have been busy. Having a lighter load of scheduled classes has actually given me the chance to make the most of good weather and get some big sessions in. Up until the end of the Easter holidays I aimed to improve my road PB’s and get quicker before starting a lot of hill work before the mountain season starts properly in June.

Mount Battock on a sunny day

Looking south from Mount Battock (778m)

Plans are well underway for the summer racing season. It looks like it will involve spending many months abroad doing a range of different mountain races in Europe. A few will be ones I did last year but there should be plenty new races to try as well. Currently I’m training for the Great Britain trial race for the European Mountain Running Championships in mid-June. That will be likely be my last race in the UK before going away. Before then I’m planning to fit in another local race at Scolty hill which is a Scottish championship race this year. I’ve ran up the hill between 1000 and 1500 times during the years I stayed in Banchory. I’m looking forward to it although it will be strange racing there.

Another change this year is being signed by the UK Salomon Trail Team. I’m very excited to be working with them and look forward to competing for them in a lot of races this season.

 

Some of the highlights in the last few months have been;

Winning the Inverness half marathon in a PB of 66.03. I felt very strong in the second half of the race and opened up a decent lead on the way back to the city. It was a bit disappointing to just miss going under 66 minutes but it was still a PB by nearly 2 minutes and it was great to win such a big race.

Inverness half finish (first time racing on a track in years)

Inverness half finish (first time racing on a track in years, even if just for 300m)

Brighton 10k was an opportunity to race some fast guys over a flat course. I was determined to try and break 30 minutes and although I gave it absolutely everything I was 2 seconds short but with a big PB of 30.01. I could see the finish clock ticking down from 600m to go but had nothing left in the legs and every muscle in my body was burning. I managed to get 3rd place which was a big surprise but I didn’t achieve my aim of a sub-30 time so I’ll be going for this target again sometime.

Winning my first hill race of the season at Clachnaben was a good test of the legs after a block of road racing. It was a hot sunny day so perfect for being out in the hills. It’s the closest race to my house and I can see the two hills from my bedroom window so it was good to win it for the first time on the new course after being 3rd last time.

Retaining my title at Balmoral 10k was another highlight. The race was two days before the dissertation deadline but luckily I was far enough through that I could spare the day. I think it was my 10th year in a row competing at one of the Balmoral races and it was enjoyable as always. It’s probably the best 10k course ever although it isn’t great for running a fast time.

Deeside hills from Carnferg on a good day

Lochnagar from Carnferg on a good day

End of Cross Country Season

Last weekend was the National Cross Country Championships in Falkirk. I had hoped to get a medal this year but as it turned out it wasn’t my best day and I had to settle for 7th place, 11 seconds outside of the top 3. I found the soft muddy conditions very tough and lost a lot of time sliding around on the uphills. I never felt comfortable at any point in the race and it was a struggle from 2km in. The only good point was recovering slightly on the last lap to regain four positions, although I ended up losing three of them in the final 500m! After a fairly consistent cross country season with good runs at the east district, inter district and British Uni’s cross country it was a disappointing end to the season.

Cross country mud
Cross country mud

Since then I have been looking forward to my next races with some road events planned before the mountain season kicks off later in the Spring. This weekend was my first road race since the 10k I did in January and it’s traditionally the first fairly big road race of the season. It was the Cupar 5 mile race in Fife. The course is out and back along a quiet country road and usually it gets a good field and fast times. This year the weather was perfect with only a light breeze and dry roads. There was a lot of warning before the race about the potholes on the road but it wasn’t really a problem. After last weekend’s disappointment I was very keen to post a good time and show what sort of form I’m in.

From the start I went off very hard, aiming to keep the split times as many seconds below 5 minutes/mile pace as I could for as long as I could. From past experience I knew that the 2nd half of the race is a bit easier with an overall downhill and usually a following wind. I just focussed on getting to halfway as quickly as possible. After turning at halfway I glanced at my watch to see I was still keeping up a fast pace but I had slower a bit since the first mile. The 2nd and 3rd runners were a good way behind but I tried not to notice and concentrated on pushing even harder. I knew the last mile was downhill so I didn’t need to save any energy for that. I had forgotten how long the flat section was after the short downhill but I was fresh enough to keep pushing all the way to the line, making the last mile my quickest in 4.40. My time was 24 minutes and 2 seconds, over a minute quicker than my previous PB and just inside the course record set by Derek Hawkins two years before, although conditions were slower that year.

Overall it was a really pleasing result and it would be good to keep this form up in the next few road races. The next race is Inverness half marathon in a weeks time which will be my first half marathon for two years. It would be nice to take a chunk off the PB there too!

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Race start at Cupar 5