Racing

At last weeks Armagh 5km, 94 men ran under 15 minutes. This astounding depth is part of the reason the race is one of the most talked about races on the early season calendar. I can attest that it is a crazy race to take part of. I have only run in the race once, but my experience tallies with that of those who have run it many times. It is run with your foot to the floor the whole way as there is always someone there to push the pace on the front. With the race taking in five short laps of the mall, the encouragement from the crowd is always there pushing you onwards. I had a great time there last year and I had been looking forward to lining up on that start line again this year but a sore hamstring meant that I made the call to sit this one out.

Despite sitting out more races than I would have liked already this winter, I know this was the right call. I’m already back running, feeling good and everything seems to be back to normal (touch wood). There are always more races on the horizon and I hope to put some of the frustration of missing out on Armagh towards good performances in the months ahead.

As an athlete, I train to race. I enjoy the training, sure. But I wouldn’t put half the effort in if it weren’t for the carrot of racing. Regardless of the result, there is something liberating about racing – you have to put your neck on the line and test yourself. This is also one of the reasons I enjoy running different disciplines wherever possible, I get to test myself against different distance, terrain and competitors. Every race requires something different and I think this helps me overall. Over the next couple of weeks I will compete on the mud (Scottish National XC) and then the road (The Big Half) before putting in a solid block of orienteering training for the highlight of the domestic orienteering season (The JK). I’m feeling fit and hungry to race.

Forfar Multi Terrain Half Marathon – Photo: John Mill

2017 in numbers

Training hours
Total
-> 543 hours 30 minutes 51 seconds
-> 5559.8km (3454.7mi)
-> 69662m gained
Running
-> 441 hours 25 minutes 42 seconds
-> 5321.0km (3306.4mi)
-> 66135m gained
Orienteering
-> 19 hours 30 minutes 18 second
-> 238.8km (148.4 mi)
-> 3527m gained
(Training log)

Days trained
-> 342 days
-> 15 rest days
-> 1 illness days
-> 7 injury days
-> 54 days cross trained due to injury

Training camps
-> 16 days on training camps

Races
-> 2 Parkruns
-> 7 Track races
-> 9 Road races
-> 6 XC races
-> 4 Hill races
-> 19 Orienteering races

->  44 Individual Races
->  3 Relays

->  18 Victories

-> Longest race = Ring of Steall SkyRace – 2:57:05 – 28.1km
-> Shortest race = MOC Camp Chase Final – 8.00 – 2.1km

Personal bests
3km – 8.07 (Glasgow BMC – 4th January)
5km – 14.03 (Armagh 5km Road Race – 16th February)
10km – 29.05 (Highgate Night of the 10,000m PB’s – 20th May)
Half Marathon – 66.11 (Great Scottish Run – 1st October)

Race records
White Tops Hill Race – 40.28
Swansea Bay Parkrun – 14.27

Countries visited
-> UK (Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland)
-> Italy
-> Belarus (Also Ukraine but only Kiev airport)
-> Latvia
-> Estonia
-> Australia (Also Netherlands and China but only Amsterdam Airport and China Airport hotel)
-> Iceland
-> Norway

Number of times run over the Tay Road Bridge
-> 6 (down from 72)

Happy new year and lets see what 2018 brings!

Downtime and into the new season

The World Orienteering Championships didn’t go to plan for me but getting injured before a big competition is nothing new. I hope that I have learnt something from this experience, but in the immediate aftermath I needed some time off. I worked really hard to get to the start line in one piece but the most difficult part was managing my thoughts in the run up to the race. I went from being full of confidence to doubting whether I could even race and this was quite draining mentally.

In the weeks after I gave myself the break I felt I needed. I had five weeks without structured training, running whenever I felt like it and eating whatever I felt like. This was awesome – especially the last part. However, as the weeks passed I started to get itchy feet. Training is hard, but it gives a structure and routine to life which I actually started to miss. I knew when this happened that it was time to get stuck in again.

I’ve now built back up to a decent weekly mileage (85, 85, 87 for the last three weeks) and I’ve started to feel like some shape might be returning. My plan for the winter is to race XC and road races but keep the training at a consistent level as much as possible as I think this is the most important part of training for me.

This weekend, I will race at the Glencoe Ring of Steall Skyrace (29km, 2500m climb). This will be outside my current comfort zone but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I will follow this up with the Inverness 10km and the Glasgow Half Marathon which, in all honesty, excite me more than the rough and tough mountain race of this weekend. I truly am becoming a wimp.

WOC 2017

Injuring my calf three weeks before the World Orienteering Championships (WOC) wasn’t ideal, but given the nature of the injury I was still confident of performing on the day. I threw myself into the routine of an injured runner – stretching, strengthening and cross training – and initially things progressed really well. I built up to 40 minutes of easy running and was feeling good. Unfortunately, with just over a week to go things took a backwards step.

I had to reassess and go back to square one. It was only at this point that doubts began to creep in. I cut back from running again and after some days without running I adopted a new plan which would see me limit myself to 20 minutes of continuous running complemented by running drills and strides. This routine got me through the last week and onto the start-line of the Sprint qualifier race.

The schedule at WOC for a sprint orienteer is always tough and the three races in three days which I was facing was actually an easy year – normally, it is done over two days. It is with this in mind that I made the decision to use the qualifier as more of a test race. If things went well, I would focus on the sprint relay, where I was part of an exciting team and would get an extra day of recovery. If things didn’t go well, then maybe I wouldn’t be in that sprint relay team.

The qualifier went well. My body felt awful, it had been almost four weeks since I had pushed it for that long, but the speed seemed ok and I made it through unscathed. The next day, I was glad of my decision to give myself extra time to recover. My calf was fine, but my left glut was giving me problems. I was relieved that I could recover and still get my chance in the sprint relay.

We had an exciting team – Cat Taylor, Ralph Street, Myself and Tessa Strain. We would be an outside shot for a medal, but would need things to go our way on the day. I felt like this was the race I had prepared for the most, and had spent a lot of time making a map of the area, measuring route choices and lurking on google street view. When we arrived at the quarantine, I felt relaxed and ready to go.

Cat and Ralph did their jobs to perfection and I started my race in second place, just behind the lead but still in a group of strong teams (SUI, AUT, CZE, SWE). I started assertively, running at the front so that I could make my own decisions and after two thirds of the race I was still at the front and the group had stretched out.

I was working hard, but with the lack of hard running in the weeks leading to the race I expected it to feel like hard work. Unfortunately I was working too hard. The 14th control was my downfall and, despite knowing it was a decisive point in the race, I contrived to make a big mistake. I had been pushing too hard and ran onto the wrong hill. My oxygen starved brain had been distracted by the other runners around me and I took my eye off the ball. It is something that every orienteer has done at some stage, but to do it on the big stage was tough to take. I pushed hard to the finish, but knew I had lost a lot of time as I had been caught by the Russian and Danish teams. I finished in 6th, just seconds behind 3rd place but kicking myself. I had messed up.

Tessa fought through the last leg but we finished in 6th, not what we had hoped for. It is always more difficult when your mistakes affect others, and I was gutted that I couldn’t match the standards of my teammates on the day. In truth, my difficult preparation showed on the day. I didn’t keep a cool head when it mattered, and the confidence lost from a few weeks of fighting to get on the start-line would have been invaluable here.

Thus completed my World Championships. It was short, difficult and disappointing – not words I’d like to be using –  but I gave it my best shot and I live to fight another day. The thing with sport is that things don’t go to plan. I wasn’t the only one dealing with difficulties at WOC and I won’t be the last. This doesn’t make things any easier, but in the long run I hope it will make me a better athlete.

I’d like to finish this blog on a happier note. I am always grateful of the support I receive as an athlete, but this year in particular, I have to thank the Orienteering Foundation (and everyone involved). Not only did I receive a grant so that I could get a map made in Dundee to help my preparations, but the foundation also spearheaded a crowd funding campaign to help fund the British Team at the World Championships. I feel incredibly humbled by the generosity to those who have supported this fundraising campaign and am incredibly grateful to all.

A debut to forget

Selection to the British team for the 10,000m European Cup in Minsk was a dream come true and was just another way I surpassed my own expectations in what could be considered my first real ‘season’ of track running. 

Unfortunately, whilst the selection was a dream, the race was anything but.

Not even 4 laps into the 25, my calf tightened to the point that each step sent a jolt of pain through my lower leg. I tried to give it a chance to ease off, but there isn’t much that can be done when you are running in spikes on a hard track. You need your calves, no getting around it. A lap later, each step a little worse than the last, I stopped and walked off the track. 

It wasn’t a decision I took lightly but I think that it was the right decision for the time. There was no way I was going to finish when less than a quarter of the race had left me hobbling. With any luck, I stopped before I did myself any real harm but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. What had gone wrong? 

Looking back, there were warning signs. A Friday night 3000m followed by a tough weekend of sprint orienteering and   had left my legs shot. I had planned for this but didn’t recover as well as I’d expected and had more fatigue than I would have liked on starting my journey out to Belarus. The journey left my lower back and hip tight and this impacted on my running on arrival – my calf in particular seemed to be bearing much of the load when running the day before the race. Everything wasn’t flowing quite the way it should have been. I thought that I had this all managed with the help of our physio Graeme and I was feeling good when the race arrived. Even so, a smarter athlete might not have risked spikes and the non-existent margin for error that they give but I stuck to what I’d planned.

It is inescapable that the events in that race were ultimately my own fault. This might sound like I’m beating myself up but I’m not. Whilst I seek advice as much as I can, I look after my own training and preparation so the buck stops with me. This time I got it wrong. I have got a lot right over the past year but I got this wrong and learnt the hard way. That said, now is not the time to beat myself up, I need to focus on getting the next few weeks right. It’s early days but in terms of recovery the signs have all been positive thus far – it shouldn’t affect my performance in races to come.

Those that know me know that I’m relaxed about most things and will deal with this in the same way. I don’t tend to shout from the rooftops after a good performance and I’ll not wallow after this bad one. For there to be ups, there must also be downs, it’s part of the ride.

It wouldn’t be right of me to write this without mentioning the support staff (David, Maddy and Graeme), who did a great job of looking after me, and the other athletes (Kat, Claire, Louise, Matt and Graham), who all put in a hard shift in difficult, hot, conditions. The atmosphere throughout the trip was relaxed and friendly, which certainly makes things easier.

If I’m lucky enough to get another chance to pull on the vest, I hope I can do it proud..

Highgate

Firstly, and this cannot be understated; what an amazing event!

Video
Highgate Harriers, Ben Pochee and everyone involved in the organisation deserve huge kudos. I haven’t experienced atmosphere quite like it and doing my last few strides before the start (through the beer tent with the live band) I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I was paranoid the week before the race, I was struggling to shift the cold that I had picked up before going to Estonia (For the World Championships test races – they went pretty well and it was nice to visit the area where the races will take place). The cold wasn’t bad enough to make me feel ill through the day but running brought out a nasty cough and I wasn’t able to train exactly as I’d have liked the week before the race. That said, I was getting a good rest and feeling better every day.

I flew down to London the morning of the event (A 4am alarm call) and spent the afternoon napping in my hotel room. I felt OK, but didn’t know how I’d respond when the race started. I arrived early enough to soak up some of the atmosphere and whilst this was inspiring, the stiff wind at the track was not. 

I’m making lots of excuses here but these were just the things that added to my paranoia before the race. The race itself went well. I didn’t rush off with the front group, rather I settled into a pace that felt comfortable and tried to run my own race. I did some good turns setting the pace and the group I was in cooperated well. Going through half way in 14.31 I felt good, but there was still a lot of running to do at that point! I waited and waited before pushing on but, when the time came, my legs refused to cooperate. It was all I could do to hang in from there to the finish, sticking in and trying my hardest not to get dropped.

I finished in 29.05, a new PB but not quite what I thought myself capable of. I set myself tiered goals before the race (because I genuinly had no idea what was realistic):

  • Minimum: 29.15, a new PB
  • What I want: 28.59, a magical sub-29
  • If the stars aligned: 28.49, the commonwealth B standard

I achieved what I set out to do, but on the day didn’t quite have the legs to push on and go after it in the second 5km. Slightly disappointing as I managed this very well in Glasgow a few weeks ago, off a slower first 5km. This makes me think there is a little more performance to squeeze out in perfect conditions, but I’m still over the moon. 

It hasn’t passed me by just how far I have come in a year. This time last year my PB’s were: 3k – 8.29, 5k – 15.19, 10k – 31.47. They were a bit out of date and I suspected I had a little more in the tank but I never would have thought I’d have run the times I’ve run over the last year: 3k – 8.07, 5k – 14.03, 10k – 29.05. In total, that is 4 minutes and 20 seconds difference..

What has made the difference? I can’t be sure what has made the difference but I’m putting it down to getting the basics right consistently. 

I think I’ve been good at the bread and butter of training consistently, eating well and having a good daily routine and this consistency has been paying dividends. I’m certainly not planning on changing much anytime soon!

I’m aiming to fit in another 10,000m before World Champs if I can, but I don’t think I’ll find one quite like Highgate!

Taking and missing opportunities.

I’m trying to put myself into unfamiliar territory this year. Over the last 6 months I have been in great shape and I have surprised myself with my results on a number of occasions. I have set new 3km, 5km, 10km and half marathon bests and I want to see how far I can push it. In my eyes, the only way I can do this is by putting myself into fast running races on the road and track. Given that this is commonwealth games selection year, I see no better time to see what I can do (regardless of how slim the chances are of me actually running fast enough).
In January, I made the difficult decision to focus on sprint Orienteering and track running. I think that these two aims complement each other and I will be able to do my best while focussing on both. All the same, this decision has meant that I have had to give up some things I would very much like to do. In particular, I had to watch my clubmates in Lillomarka OL from the sidelines as they ran the orienteering relay, Tiomila. Whilst, they smashed it out of the park with two new club record performances, I was running 25 laps in not so sunny Glasgow. It was my choice, and I was very happy for everyone involved but it was still difficult to watch.

The 25 laps were the Scottish 10,000m championships as part of the British Milers Meet in Glasgow and the main goal was to prepare myself to run a fast time at the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PB’s in a couple of weeks time. That is the next big goal and in that regard the Glasgow race was perfectly timed. The race went perfectly to plan: I sat in with the pacer for the first 5km (14.56) and then was able to pick up the pace for a faster second 5km (14.20) – picking up the gold medal in the process. It was great to begin to get my head around the relentless task of running 25 laps; churning out the pace, lap after lap.

The next weekend I managed to add to my tally of Scottish Championships medals with another gold in the road 5km Championships in Edinburgh. It was a very windy race and fast times were off the table, but I went out to make it an honest race and managed to pull away after the halfway point to take the win in 14.31. The next day, I climbed part way up Stuc A Chroin to spectate the British Championships hill race. It is a brute of a race, in hot conditions, so part of me was happy to sit this one out from the side-lines, but the other part of me was jealous of those racing.
I’d love to do everything, but hopefully by sitting some races out I can better prepare for those that I really want to do well at. Next week I will head out to Estonia to prepare for the World Orienteering Championships and I will try to use the time saved by not training in the forest to get the best preparation for the Sprint and Sprint relay. Racing season is starting and I am excited!

JK 2017

So it has been a week since the British orienteering season opened with the JK. This year, the JK was pretty simple for me given that my focus is on the sprint and this race would be the first race of the weekend. Of course I also wanted to run well in the relay, so as to not let my team mates down, but I didn’t have any ambition in the middle or long distance.

Relaxed before the sprint race

I was focussed fully on the sprint and it went as well as I could have hoped. I managed to take the win and seal my spot on the plane to the world championships later in the year. It was a case of job done, and a nice confidence boost, but it wasn’t the most difficult of sprint races and I am not fooling myself that I still have plenty of work to do in the next few months.

Finishing the sprint race

I had little ambition for the other races, but this could have been an advantage – no pressure. I still wanted to go out, race and give my best and so I was pleasantly surprised to take third place in both the middle and the long distance and this was good enough for third overall. Kudos to Ralph and Graham who were in a different class in these races.

The weekend finished with the relay and I was quietly confident given I was in a team with Forth Valley teammates Chris Smithard and Graham Gristwood – 5th and 1st in the overall! I ran the last leg but Chris and Graham had done such a good job that the race had almost been won before I even started running. It was awesome to finish the weekend by winning the relay – especially as it was a year after I had to pull out of the team with a sprained ankle. I was very glad I didn’t have a repeat of that this year!

Victory in the relay

Over the next month, I will be heading to Estonia to prepare for the World Championships and I will also be running a couple of 10,000m races on the track. Hopefully I can beat my track PB of 32.28! Finally, I’m not the only one writing about last weekend, make sure to check out the blogs of teammates Cat Taylor and Tessa Strain.

All photos by Rob Lines.

2016 in numbers

Training hours
Total
-> 505 hours 2 minutes 51 seconds
-> 5344.1km (3320.7mi)
-> 70619m gained
Running
-> 410 hours 54 minutes 6 seconds
-> 4807.6km (2987.3mi)
-> 61746m gained
Orienteering
-> 51 hours 15 minutes 1 second
-> 536.5km (333.3 mi)
-> 8873m gained
(Training log)

Days trained
-> 337 days
-> 19 rest days
-> 4 illness days
-> 6 injury days
-> 27 days cross trained due to injury

Training camps
-> 20 days on training camps

Races
-> 3 Parkruns
-> 5 Track races (including 3 on a highland games grass track!)
-> 5 Road races
-> 4 XC races
-> 10 Hill races
-> 33 Orienteering races

-> 49 Individual Races
-> 11 Relays

->  23 Victories

-> Longest race = Two Breweries Hill Race – 2:57:05 – 31.28km
-> Shortest race = Braemar Highland Games – 2:12 – Half Mile

Personal bests
5km – 14.11 (Nos Galan Road Race – 31st December)
5 mile – 23.50 (Glynneath 5 – 26th December)
10km – 29.32 (Leeds Abbey Dash – 6th November)

Race records
Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay (Team overall) – 3:34:50
Pentland Skyline – 2:15:51
Glynneath 5 – 23.50
Nos Galan Road Race – 14.11
Camperdown Parkrun – 15.35
Swansea Bay Parkrun – 14.58

Countries visited
-> UK (Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland)
-> Norway
-> Sweden
-> Finland
-> Czech Republic
-> Poland
-> Hungary
-> France
-> Portugal

Number of times run over the Tay Road Bridge
-> 72 (although it feels like a lot more!)

Happy new year and lets see what 2017 brings!

Fell Running Season

After the World Championships I found myself seeking a different sort of challenge. I wanted to push myself but also wanted a few months where the map and compass were left in the kit bag. There is a certain satisfaction about a single minded preparation for a goal race, but equally it can get tiring and boring at times. I wanted to take the opportunity to go out and race and not worry about whether I was prepared or not – just do the best I could.

So I hatched a plan. I lined up four races on four consecutive weekends and dubbed it my mini fell running season. I have done a fair bit of fell running over the past couple of years, but always fitted it around my orienteering schedule. I enjoyed doing the odd race here and there but it was always secondary. All the same there is an attractive simplicity about finding out who is the fastest to the top of a hill and back. At some stage I still want to have a crack at doing a full fell running season but these four races would have to suffice for now.

The races were two long Scottish fell races and two relay races with my club Dark Peak. The long races would be a little out of my usual comfort zone at more than two hours, but they were races that I had always wanted to do. The first of these long races was the Two Breweries race in the Scottish borders and the second was the Pentland Skyline near Edinburgh. They are both classic routes of which I had heard many stories and I wanted to test myself on them.

The first of the relay races was the Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay – a classic in the lake district. This was the one that we as a team wanted to win. For the last nineteen editions of the race it had been won by the same club – Borrowdale. A seriously impressive run, they had proved impossible to defeat over the years. All the same, it had to happen one day and we wanted to put our strongest team together to give ourselves the best chance should that day come.

The second of the Relay races was the British Fell and Hill Relays, also known as the FRA’s. In the last six years, Dark Peak’s record stood at three golds, and three bronzes. I had been a member of the team on two of those occasions, one gold and one bronze. It is one of my favourite races – so much can happen to make it unpredictable.

Both relays are made up of legs with different lengths and characteristics, and some of the legs must be run in a pair – this can make selecting a team tricky and tactical. Before this year I had always run on my own, but this year I would be paired with the new British Champion Rhys Findlay-Robinson for both of the relays.

I’m not going to write detailed race reports here, I’ve already written a lot on my training log which I’ll link to, but I am putting down my Fell Season as a success. It started with my death in a bog at the Two Breweries, but then we broke Borrowdale’s stranglehold at the HBMR, I snuck under a fellow sprint orienteers’ hill race record to add yellow and purple stripes to the brown of the Pentlands and finished off the season with a victory in the clag at the British Relay Champs. It has also been a success as I feel refreshed and ready to go again through the winter. I even picked up a compass last weekend to run for the winning Forth Valley team at the premier British club competition – the Compass Sport Cup. Hopefully it was good training for next weekend where I will pull on a Wales shirt at the Senior Home Internationals.

Compass Sport Cup