I wasn’t always a runner. My main sport as a teenager and student was kayaking – both whitewater and slalom. Edinburgh University Canoe Club was actually where Julie and I originally met! However, through my late 20s I gradually drifted away from paddling and by the time I turned thirty I was fighting the ‘battle of the bulge’ against good home cooking and a mostly sedentary lifestyle, commuting an hour each way in the car to work in Edinburgh, while being convinced that I was still young, fit and healthy! One night in early 2014 I got a wake-up call… Our dog got out and I ended up running about a mile until she was eventually cornered and apprehended. I wheezed my way home, woke up the next day with a chest infection and spent a week in bed on steroids and antibiotics – and decided I really needed to do some serious exercise again!
Getting in to running: zero to half-marathon
I needed something that would fit in to the daily routine, so I packed some shorts, an old cotton singlet and a pair of trainers and went out in my lunch hour for a couple of laps of the King’s Buildings campus in Edinburgh. Next day I could barely get down the stairs! I managed to stick it out and by the summer was stretching my distance enough to enter the monthly work handicap “KB Dash” 4.1 mile race. It’s a great event – really friendly bunch of people and as a handicap caters for everyone from plodders to bone-fide superstars. Over the next 3 years I gradually improved my times from 32:55 mins down to 26:26. I also entered a series of local off-road winter duathlon (MTB + run) races, which were great fun, despite (or perhaps because of) the snow! In April 2016 I ran my first ‘proper running’ race – the 10 mile Great Edinburgh Run. It was a freezing cold day, especially for Julie and the kids who came along to watch, but I remember really enjoying getting to run around the city centre of Edinburgh on closed roads, suffering through the 8-9 mile mark around Duddingston, but still having a little bit left for a fast(ish) finish. I’d even discovered a bit of runner’s tech, and recorded the race on my phone. I think I was originally using MapMyRun, but I’ve since switched over to Strava:
By this time the bug had well and truly bitten – I think my not-so-hidden inner competitive side had realised that running wasn’t just to get and stay fit, but I could actually be competitive (at least with myself). I ran several more races, setting a 42:09 10k and 1:36:00 half-marathon times – the time for the half I still haven’t improved upon!. Don’t let it ever be said that you need lots of expensive gear to run in – at this point I was running in a pair of Slazenger tennis shoes, cotton socks and shorts 😮
Next steps: first ultra distance!
Quite early on in my running journey I’d realised I preferred running off-road and up hills much more than running on roads. I’d always enjoyed walking in mountains, and I think something about going a bit off the (literally) beaten track appeals to me. I ran several local trail races and at some point I started to find out about ultra-running. Then for no apparent reason decided to skip the marathon and just go straight to running hilly trail ultras… As things turned out, my first ‘Ultra’ turned out to be only 25.5 miles, and my second – the awesome Lakes Mountain 42 – was cut short due to extreme snowy weather, but ended up just over the marathon distance, at least according to my GP! I did eventually finish a couple of genuine, complete ultra races in 2018 – the Keswick Mountain Festival 50k (part 1 and part 2) and the Warrington Way 40 miler – so I was officially now an ultra-runner, without ever completing a marathon.
It would be impossible to talk about this period of my running story without a mention of Run Sandymoor. For the couple of years that we lived in Runcorn, I was a member of the club. Whether you’re just starting out with a couch-to-5k programme, love Parkrun, or want to push your abilities with the weekly “Killer Hills” or the annual Warrington Way and Sandstone Trail ultra races you’ll not find a better bunch of people to go running with!
Pushing the distance: 100 miles
In 2019, I set out with the goal of pushing my distance further and completing a 100 mile race. With that in mind I entered a series of increasingly longer distances, starting with The Fellsman (61 miles) in April, The High Life (80 miles) in July and culminating with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Race 130 miler in August. I really enjoyed the Fellsman, despite some pretty grim weather for the first half of the race – it was the first time I had run through into the night, finishing around 1.15am, and ended up grouped with a great gang of four other runners. The High Life went really well and to my surprise I ended up winning! Perhaps starting with a bit of overconfidence I ended up with a hard reality check at LLCR. Went out too fast (especially given the hot August conditions), started to struggle from 40 miles in, eventually hobbled my final 10 miles and registered my first ever DNF (Did Not Finish). On the positive side, I did make it past the 100 mile mark (just!).
One final race at the end of 2019 that deserves a mention was “The Drop” – two days after Christmas. I really love races which have a navigation element, in this case the race involved being driven blindfold to an unknown location 30 miles from the finish and being left to make your own way back – no GPS allowed! Apart from a couple of mile detour near the start, I managed a fairly direct route and finished first overall. A great end to a good year… the less said about 2020 the better!
As well as my own races, as Julie started getting in to running we arranged to run a few races together. So far this has meant me “pacing” her, but as we have done longer and longer races her endurance really starts to kick in, so when we eventually run a hundred miler together – it may be the other way around! The highlight so far was the Edinburgh Marathon 2019. Not only did we arrange a child-free weekend, we stayed at the Peebles Hydro hotel before and after the race so had a swimming pool and sauna to relax in. I promised Julie that if we could finish the race in under 5 hours I would pay for a hot stone massage at the spa. While we were touch-and-go for a bit around miles 17-18, we managed to pull through and had an emotional finish together in 4:53:41. Running together definitely makes the race experience that little bit more special!
Goals for 2021
With racing (and running anywhere further afield than the local area) out of the question for most of 2020, I’m looking forward to what 2021 has in store. Although my first race of the year (Ultra Scotland 100) ended up being cancelled at the last minute, we’ve got quite a few events booked up already. At the end of May we’ll be running the Northumberland Ultra together, and the following week have a family weekend of camping and running at the Blair Atholl Trail Weekender. Another event that was postponed from last year will be the OMM in October – 2 days together of navigation and camping out in the wilds of Argyll. I’m also looking forward to crewing Julie through her first 100k and 100 mile races! Finally, I’ve got unfinished (literally) business at the LLCR130 – hopefully I can learn the lessons from 2019 and complete the whole distance.