Saturday, 21 August 2010

Milton Keynes, it's just like the alps

Today I ran from the gloomy valleys to the lofty jagged spires of Milton Keynes. Repeatedly. As the chart belows shows. Hill training in Buckinghamhire at its most glorious on the Col du Brickhill (near Bow Brickhill for anyone from nearby).

Disregard the fact that the y-axis scale is in feet, meaning I scaled an impressive 80 vertical feet or so every rep, totalling around 930' in all, and you have some idea of what the Family members doing the UTMB / TDS / CCC will be tackling next weekend. Texts have confirmed the random Scottish punters have arrived in Chamonix although I understand George Reid's plane was 2 hours late so he'd used the time sensibly to carbo load via beer.

For the UTMB'ers there will essentially be 10 munros to climb and descend in a row spread over 103 miles of the most spectacular mountain scenery one could imagine. Half of them in the dark (unless you are really fast). The CCC'ers and TDS'ers will have essentially half the climbing and descending and about two thirds of the distance.

How I wish I could be there. Emigration to Australia has taken its toll financially and time wise so I wisely pulled out about 4 weeks ago, but the memories of the race last year still stir within me. What an event. Come on the Family, you'll have a ball. :-)))

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The return, and the exit

Time to end the record (even for blog tardy me) post free stint. My blog has successfully received no postings since late April. Months of endurance, one might even say ultra, non-posting. Well all good things have to come to an end and I'm going to tell you what has been going on in the land of Doc McIntosh. Read on or stop here, you have been warned. :-)

Highland Fling (53 miles, April)

The race was going great. A bit hot and sweaty but good conditions. 10 minutes ahead of my sub-9:40 time when I hit Beinn Glas farm, feeling a little odd. I'd passed a few folk I knew near the top of the Loch including Ian B and had mentioned I was feeling a bit off but I was running well. I drank a can of coke and ate something at Beinn Glas then headed off, feeling increasingly rough. A mile out my legs seized up in a double spasm forcing me to clutch them in serious pain.. The spasm lasted for 10 minutes, me unable to move. Salt! SALT! DOH! I b****y forgotten to take any salt pills so far in the race. What a school boy error. My legs eased as I stuffed 3 tablets down with water but they spasmed again for 5 minutes then again for a further 5 minutes. I toyed with giving up but settled myself into just finishing. People overtook me as I went as fast as I could without incurring more cramping spasms. DOH! I came in rather slower than desired at 10:26. Oh well lesson learned. Other than that I had a great time.

Coming over Conic Hill

Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles, May)

My next ultra racing outing was the GUCR at the end of May. This has to be the hardest race in the UK - mentally it is draining and physically the homogeneous flat terrain really batter your calves and feet to bits. I learned a lot from doing it. Or rather DNF'ing at ~94 miles (Leighton Buzzard) despite the best efforts of Drew Sheffield to convince me otherwise (thanks Drew). I struggled with motivation from 6 hours in and knew I'd be running within 0.5 miles of my house at 87 miles into the race. I pushed on beyond this but at ~1am after 94 miles and 19 hours of flat canal running I decided I didn't want to finish enough to do the further 13 odd hours that it would take me to finish. Physically I was fine and could have gone further but mentally I just didn't want to. Why? I've mulled this over lots both during the race and afterwards and have come to 3 conclusions:

(1) I am not interested in running ultras simply for the distance challenge. There have to be mountains or some kind rugged landscape for me to run across. I found canal running just drained my motivation. It was tough.
(2) Don't run a very long, mentally hard race that goes within 0.5 miles of your house. It has to be easier to finish than to simply stop, call your wife and go home to bed.
(3) I got into ultra running to do the UTMB. Now that I've done this race I think my motivation for the very long (100 mile or so) races has waned a bit. I need to refresh my mojo. I just didn't have the necessary desire to complete as I found out.

No regrets though. It's all a learning experience. Maybe I'll come back another year, don't know.

Me somewhere north of Milton Keynes on the GUCR, I think around mile 60


I've been on holiday in France camping with our daughter near Marennes, just south of La Rochelle. It was great. She stayed up late and we all went to bed together in the same tent. Given that she sleeps for 10-12 hours a night we ended up with more sleep than we've had since she was born. I'd do it again at a drop of a hat.


And our big news is that we are emigrating as a family to Australia, to Brisbane more specifically. It wasn't on our plan but Kirstin's folks need some support so we've moved quickly and I've got a good job sorted out (at We're waiting for my visa to come through ad our house to sell but it looks like the start of November will be our leaving date. I'll be sad to leave the UK ultra running scene behind but there's a decent enough ultra and trail running scene in Queensland and northern New South Wales so I'll be OK. Thinking of taking up triathlon for a bit to spice things up as well ... :-)

If any Family members find themselves in that bit of the world then make sure you give me a shout.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Looking forward to the Fling

Well not long to go now to the Highland Fling, a cracker of a race from Milngavie to Tyndrum. I'm going to try to beat my PB of 9:56 by as much as I can manage. Quite how much will, as ever in an ultra, depend partly on training so far (I'm feeling strong) and partly on the day (for how long can I push myself to continue at 09:30 pace or thereabouts?). Let's see. I'll employ the strategy of going out reasonably fast and trying not to slow down, and will be interested to see how my pace changes over the course of the race.

I've got a 10 mile hilly trail run today, a hill repeat session tomorrow, a 13 mile canal / trail run on Friday and an 8 mile 6:45 pace tempo run on Sunday left to do this week. I'll then taper next week with a speed session on Monday and a 7 mile trail run on Wednesday.

Woohoo, getting excited about stoating down this hill already!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Thoughts on pace at Compton 40

This year I decided back in January that I'd try to run at between 9 and 9:30 min miles except when climbing, and largely I've been successful. I've been toying with running faster at the start of a race for a few years now having noticed that I tended to slow down after about the same time running, so thought, why not run faster at the start. Now that I've been running ultras for 4 years I am noticing that I can keep the faster pace up for longer and so have decided to increase my pace a bit, and run the start of races faster - at somewhere under 9 min miles depending on how I am feeling. This strategy has been put forward by Stuart Mills too in an interesting post. John Kynaston is toying with varying his pace too so it will be interesting to see if a common pattern emerges in terms of successful race strategy.

I thought I'd start logging some graph data to see how my pace is decreasing over the distance of a run, so that I can (i) determine if I get slower in a linear manner or (ii) start to slow after a particular distance or (iii) something else. I'll plot elevation on these graphs too as climbing and descending is an obvious determinant of pace.

Compton 40 pace by distance, and elevation plot
At the Compton 40 my pace gradually and fairly linearly decreased from ~8 min miles to just below 10 min miles, ignoring the various climbs / descends and obvious stops / slow downs for food and navigation. I ran the last 4 or 5 miles easily so they don't represent an accurate picture of the pace I could have achieved if I'd pushed it. But the first 30-35 miles I was going at pretty much my maximum sustainable pace I think (but then again this will be a function of psychology on the day I suspect).
Let's see how my pace in the Fling compares.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Compton 40 race report

I ran my 3rd ultra this year on Saturday, making a total of 16 so far, ranging in distance from 31 to 103 miles, and from fairly flat (2500' +/-) to not flat at all (31,000' +/-). This one was the Compton 40, a local race for me, being in Berkshire just a little bit south of Oxford and only a few miles off the A34. I'd never heard of it before so am thankful to Drew Sheffield for suggesting it as a nice complement to the HM55 and the forthcoming Highland Fling.

My verdict? A superbly well organised race over nice runnable chalky downland terrain. A fair amount of sticky mud in places, quite some potential for navigational errors going into and out of small villages en route, but overall a good, nicely undulating course.

View across Compton Downs (from

Race profile (my Garmin gave 2429' +/- rather than the advertised 3900' +/-)

The race is combined with a 20 mile option so has a fast start and you never quite know who is running what race until the peel off point back at Compton for the 40 milers. I had decided before the race started to stick to my run fast at the start plan, and ended up doing round about 8:30 min / miles at the start. I ran along by myself, chatting to the odd person until somewhere around mile 10ish Drew caught up wth me.

My pace against total elevation change for each mile

Drew, along with Mark Cobain and a lad called Steve from Northampton's Wootton running club had done the 78 mile ~16,000' +/- ONER race along the jurassic coast the weekend before so I assumed they'd all be creaking round together, just getting the miles done. But no, they all gave it a great shot. I ran with Drew until around mile 14 and gradually peeled away as his legs just didn't have anywhere near his normal strength on the ascents. Not suprising really - 16,000' of climbing 1 week previously. Superb effort by all 3 of them, and all finished the race in under 7 hours. Don't think I'd have been capable of that.

Lough Down, one of the hills we climbed and descended in the first half (from

I chatted to a few other folk and gradually fell in around miles 20-25 with a Bob Graham club member called Pete who is running the WHWR this year, and David, a chap who, along with Mark and Steve is running the JOGLE on 30th April - 16 days back to back of ~50 miles each day, what a challenge. David was struggling a bit with a sore back but was relatively easily running alongside me. I kept my pace as near to 9:30 as I could except when climbing, when wading through oozing mud or when reading my map. We stayed together chatting until we reached the top of the last big ascent when I stopped to put on my gloves (yes, memories of the HM55 DNF were fresh) and windproof as the weather coldly closed in. He peeled away and had a good run down into West Ilsley where I caught him after overtaking a few other folk, and we ambled our way out, Pete joining us and helping with the navigation.

I wasn't really fussed about putting in the best time I could, and neither of them seemed to be either so we trotted along chatting at a reasonably relaxed pace up and then down the slope into East Ilsley (where Pete fell back) then up and out of the village, up and down a few last downs and onto the finish. I could have ran the last 4 miles a good bit faster, and I suspect David could have too, but there seemed to be no rush as we ran along sharing stories and views. If you are reading this David then thanks for the company and all the best for the JOGLE (same to you Mark, Steve and Robert).

So, how'd I do? I came in 22nd out of 105 finishers with a time of 6:38:51 so pleased about that. I kept a reasonable average pace of 9:58 min/miles so also pleased about that. My legs were stiff yesterday and a little sore today but not bad. I'll take this week easyish then have a more intense week next week before tapering off a bit for the Fling where I'm out to beat my PB of 9:56, hopefully by a decent 10-15 minutes or so.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The best dressed ultra runner in Britain

Good quality woollen flat caps are not normally associated with the world of ultra running. However a revolution in race wear is about to sweep the community.

Picture this man, the svelte gazelle like Andy Cole:

Wearing this kind of cap as he runs boldly across the North York moors in wet and windy conditions:

What a paragon of athletic sartorial elegance. The best dressed ultra runner in Britain without doubt.

I expect he will up his game as we all seek to emulate. It'll plus fours, tweed and brogues for Andy next. A tough game to follow. :-))))