Navigating Dublin

Monday, 26 August 2013

How time flies. It seems only yesterday that the disappointment of West Highland Way Race was a very live memory but in fact it's been eight weeks since that 84 mile run. The eight week time frame, although not apparent in casual thought, is proven when I look at the figure '84' and wonder 'could I have pushed it and finished the race?' Like child birth, the pain and suffering of that experiencing is waning with time.

But my intention here is not to torture myself but to examine how one's body and fitness can deteriorate over 8 weeks. Without a real goal to aim for (Glen Ogle, Glenmore 24 and the River Ayr Way are all possibilities, but having taken all my leave at work I'm waiting to see the outcome of the Fire Brigade Union's ballot for industrial action and whether any strike action will coincide with any of those races) I've pretty much been idle for eight weeks.

Enter former professional footballer and ultra runner, Stephen Tennant and a request to make up numbers in his team to tackle the Commando Shuffle in four week's time. The Commando Shuffle is a 30 mile race against the clock on Dartmoor following the route of the Royal Marines recruits' final test while carrying 35lb of kit. It happens that, strike action or not, the date fits with my time off so I needed little encouragement to answer yes.

All I need to do now is get my body ready for such an undertaking. Not too difficult a task, after all it's only 30 miles and I own a body that was pushed through 84 miles of the Scottish Highlands only.......eight weeks ago.

So training session one was a five mile run along Old Father Thames before work. Just to get my limbs, heart and lungs working again. Hmm....the struggle I encountered there was obviously down to my recent back injury and the polluted atmosphere of London.

Training session two was a pliometrics session at the gym of squat jumps, lunges, box jumps and bridges. Hmm....the struggle I encountered there was obviously down to the stuffy air of the gym and tiredness following two night shifts.

Training session three was a speed session of four miles on the treadmill. Hmm....the struggle I encountered there was obviously down to the accumulated effect of training sessions one and two.

As I ponder today's training session number four I've decided to stop kidding myself and accept that eight weeks of sitting on my ever expanding arse has had a detrimental but understandable effect on my fitness and fuck all to do with pollution, tiredness and all that other stuff.

Anyway, I reckon I can execute a reasonable four week training programme to put me on the start line of the race with a more than good chance of finishing. What else have I got going in my favour? Well, in 1996 I did a similar race on Dartmoor with five colleagues and recorded a third place finish from 60 teams; probably my finest achievement in the ultra field ever. I'm also familiar with this type of event having done similar in the army and am a demon map and compass user.

Dartmoor Dash 3rd Place Finishers 15th June 1996
Mrs Mac might take me to task with that final statement and remind me of the time in Dundee when, after leaving a Jake Bugg gig, we disagreed about the route back to the hotel. Cue a spit in the palm, a handshake, and a race back to said hotel along our chosen routes and Mrs Mac was sipping wine in our room while I was lost somewhere down by the docks.

Jake Bugg stage...before the race home
But I scored a return goal in the navigation stakes when we were in Dublin last week. We had eaten an early dinner in a traditional Irish restaurant on Temple Bar and left to make our way to Whelan's, the location for the pub scene in 'PS I Love You' and the gaff where the Los Angeles based indie folk band, Lord Huron were playing that night. I'd checked the place on a map and had a reasonable, alcohol unaffected idea of how to get there: pretty much a dog leg then a straight road would see us in Whelan's in about 15 minutes.

Mrs Mac preferred a more modern approach and decided to follow an electronic arrow on the GPS on her smart phone. Being a modern kind of guy myself I capitulated to the female insistence and followed her as the GPS directed us here and there down alleys and along back roads. It was as we were following this convoluted route that we entered a housing estate and my south London street wisdom sparked some concern. In the distance was a large group of bored looking teenagers hanging all over the pavement and we were headed directly for them. Meanwhile Mrs Mac was lost in the electronic map in front of her completely unaware of her surroundings. Now, I'm not saying this group were particularly nefarious, but if you lived in a rundown manor and were given to relieving clueless travellers of their possessions, a gift was right there in the hand of an approaching tall Scottish burd.

'Put your phone away,' I said.

'No, we're nearly there now, it's just up here and round the corner,' answered Mrs Mac.

'Put your phone away now or you're gonna lose it.'

Mrs Mac looked up and saw the group of kids in front of us who were now quite interested in the pair of foolish tourists who had entered their territory.

There was nothing for it but to confidently bowl straight through the group and hope their desperation hadn't descended to a place where confrontation was an attractive concept.

Laughter and abuse were thrown our way as we passed and an urge to throw my hands about prickled but was kept in check in equal measure by maturity and a desire to avoid the inside of a Garda Siochana station.

Whelan's was indeed just up there and round the corner and we arrived without too much incident. The gig was excellent and the venue everything we'd hoped for but when we left we used my inbuilt compass rather than Mrs Mac's smart phone to get back.


Anyway, I got here by speaking about the effect of eight weeks abstinence from exercise and I've just spent another half an hour or so tip-tapping away on this blog and avoiding the gym, so I'm off for a mixed treadmill and pliometrics session.

Running Up Goat Fell

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A comment about running I promised to make and a comment about running I will make here.....well, sort of. If you can define a 'run' as a walk up Goat Fell on Arran, interspersed with periods of running, while wearing running shoes.

Interestingly that particular Corbett is known as both Goat Fell (the undergraduate's bible, Wikipedia terms it such) and Goatfell (the Ordnance Survey and National Trust both mark it as the latter). So I will disambiguate here as the former because Wikipedia and I are both so received a hammering when I was studying for my degree.

One word or two?

This confusion over identification is nothing new to me; I live in a place where the train station had 'Ashtead' on platform one and 'Ashstead' on platform two. The former is correct although my favourite local curry house chose the latter to decorate all their linen and crockery. But being dual named is where any similarity between my home town and the island of Arran ceases so I'll stop wittering on about Surrey and get back to Scotland.

So Mrs Mac and I were on Arran for a week's much needed holiday. We'd gone with the recommendation that you must 'do' Goat Fell, and as the island's skyline is dominated by the hill, 'doing' Goat Fell is something that is probably a consideration for any semi fit visitor. Like Ben Nevis, I suspect the hill is occasioned by both flip flop wearing chavs and loafer wearing businessmen, hence the visibility of the local mountain rescue team, but on the day we chose to go we mainly encountered over-dressed hill walkers with enough gear to summit the Eiger.

We chose to take the path up from Corrie because it looked the most direct route. Also I reckoned the flip flop and loafer clad brigade would be probably on the gentler path from Brodick Castle. Dressed in shorts, tee shirt and off road running shoes, our trip up was never gonna be a casual affair of smelling flowers and admiring views, although at that stage I hadn't informed Mrs Mac.

So we set off up the steep metalled road from the shoreline and before long were on a minor path surrounded by giant ferns. At this stage running would have been hazardous because we couldn't see our footing so we marched upward at a pretty swift lick. Soon the ferns gave way to rock which was being heated nicely by the midday sun. Up and up we went passing a couple of groups laden with bergens, waterproofs and other outdoor paraphernalia. I'm sure I heard the leaders of said groups sniff and criticise us for being under prepared for a day out on the hill, but in the small day sack I had enough gear to get us off the hill safely should the weather change. And in any case, the route up is pretty self explanatory, options for going wrong are few, and all routes eventually lead down.
Mrs Mac strides purposefully up the hill

At one point Mrs Mac pointed down to another, more obvious path and queried whether we were correct. 

'Tell me,' she said. 'When was the last time you looked at that map you insisted we needed?'

'I looked at it in the cottage,' I answered. 'It's all up here now,' I said as I tapped the side of my head, and stormed off up the hill with her in hot pursuit. Right now I'm tempted to make some comment about the male aptitude for navigation compared with the female ability to get lost going to the shops. But I'm reminded of the time in Dundee when Mrs Mac and I disagreed about the route back to the hotel; we decided to race one another on our insisted routes and I ended up down by the docks while she was in the hotel sipping wine.

Anyway, back to Goat Fell: when the going allowed I broke into a run and the feeling of joy and freedom I used to get from running began to return. You see, I came to long distance running from hill walking and as the years have passed and 'must do' races accumulated, any hill walking took a back seat. It never became something I got bored with, merely time and distance presented an unassailable barrier.

We joined the tourist path at the east ridge and immediately appreciated taking the route from Corrie. While there were no flip flops or loafers there were plenty of people who looked as if this was their single, annual period of physical exertion. While sitting on rocks smoking cigarettes, a couple sneered at Mrs Mac and I as we skipped past in our shorts.

As we neared the summit the sun was covered by dark clouds which would prevent a view from the top but we couldn't complain as the weather had been kind on the way up. The summit of Goat Fell is much like many other hill tops: spoilt by a triangulation pillar and one of those metal map things. 

Trig point atop Goat Fell....Goatfell...aahh, whatever...

We hung around and took the obligatory photographs and briefly the clouds parted to allow us a view of the excellent looking ridge line. Then we were off down the hill like Vanessa Feltz chasing an ice cream van. I've always had a bit of down hill ability that outweighs anything else I can do in running shoes so I indulged myself a bit and left Mrs Mac picking her way carefully across the rocks. The stickiness afforded by my Inov-8s out performed her skitty road shoes and I waited for her at the bottom of the hill before congratulating ourselves and jumping back in the motor to go off and do family type stuff.

Elsewhere in another blog post I mentioned Goat Fell reigniting a passion for running. Now, there was a definite possibility that might happen but the flame was well and truly doused a few days later on the last day of our holiday.

We woke up on that final day in our very expensive rented cottage.

'What time d'ya reckon we've got to check out?' Mrs Mac enquired.

'This place is so expensive I reckon they'll be pretty relaxed about when we leave,' I answered (naively).

It was 10:45 when the lady knocked on the door.

She was greeted by us in our underwear, a cottage mid tidy up, and two sofa covers drying by the fire.

' do understand that 10:00 was the check out time, right?' The woman asked. The clues were all there to answer her question so I'm hoping it was more of an informative statement, but it prompted us to rush around like blue arsed flies anyway.

The bags got corralled by the front door and I decided that the same bags, corralled outside the door, would send a visual message that the process of leaving was well under way.

It was after loading the fifth bag onto my shoulder, and as I bent down to pick up the sixth and final bag, that I felt the pain in my lower back bite.

I managed to get the bags outside but the damage was done. The 20 year old injury, caused by squatting and dead lifting ridiculously heavy weights, returns with a vengeance if I ever fail to respect it's presence, and attempting to carry a mixture of suitcases, rucksacks and holdalls, is a serious lack of respect.

Cue a week lying on my back considering the contrast of skipping over rocks coming off Goat Fell. All I can say is thank fuck it happened at the end of our holiday and not the start.


A man unaware he's looking forward to a week in bed

A Lesson in How to Adapt and Overcome

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Since my engagement with the West Highland Way Race in June there has been a serious lack of training from Yours Truly.

Was I injured? No.
Was I ill? No.

Quite surprisingly I was fit enough to run within days of my withdrawal from the race after 83 miles. Despite failing to finish the race I think my swift recovery is testament to the six months of solid, hardcore training I'd committed to since December last year. The reason for me not actually lacing on a pair of running shoes has been purely a lack of motivation.

Without a race planned, without a boxing match to prepare for, without any kind of sporting event in the pipeline, training feels like nothing more than going out the door for going out the door's sake or going to the gym for going to the gym's sake. Even the attraction of the early day MILFs that proliferate David Lloyd Epsom, with their spray tans and expensive, matching gym wear has not been enough to make me a regular attendee in the bear pit.

On top of this lack of motivation was a brutally chaotic domestic situation that I won't air publicly here. But on the horizon was a planned holiday on the Isle of Arran with Mrs Mac. For me that was the golden prize, the pound coin stuck in the pile of dog shit you just stepped in, missing the last train to discover the only other stranded passenger is Kelly get the idea, huh?

So the day came, Saturday, 27th July. The car was loaded to the brim with bags, the dog was fed and watered and crammed into the back seat, Mrs Mac had even created an itinerary that had a built in fail safe in the event of traffic congestion en route to Ardrossan where we were to catch the ferry to Brodick.

We jump in the motor, sunglasses on, the words of Cliff Richards 'Summer Holiday' being sung from the back seat by Wee Hannah and her pal, Laura, and we're off on our holiday.

Ten miles or so later we're cruising along a country road heading westward and there's a slight hiss, the engine dies, the car slows to a halt and Mrs Mac says:

'I've lost power.'

No shit, Sherlock.

Thank fuck for fail safe itineraries.

Mrs Mac suggests that I have a look under the bonnet and rectify the problem. That's about as much use as presenting me with a patient with a brain injury and asking me to carry out sub cranial surgery.

Quick as a flash she's out of the motor, instructing me to unload the car and on the phone to her brother who is sat at home ten miles away. At this point he was unaware he was about to drive two adults, two young girls, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and a shit load of luggage to Ardrossan ferry terminal.

'What are we gonna do about your motor?' I ask Mrs Mac.

'Bollocks to it,' she says. 'It can stay here til we get back, I'm going on my holiday.'

Fast forward a couple of hours and we're in Brodick on Arran having arrived as foot passengers. 

'What the fuck are we gonna do now?' I ask. 'We've got enough luggage to open a fuckin' suitcase shop and no wheels.'

'Wait here you lemon,' she says, and scoots off into the distance like Vanessa Feltz on her way to an eat all you can lunch deal.

20 minutes later a cab pulls up with Mrs Mac is in the passenger seat. 'Chuck the bags in the boot and get in,' she says. 'I've got us a taxi to the cottage and I've  hired a motor that we're picking up on Monday.'

And that, Dear Reader, is an example of how to adapt and overcome, how to make the best of a rapidly deteriorating situation, how to extract the pound coin from the pile of shit you just stepped in.

But I started this blog post off with a sorry tale of a lack of motivation and no training....what the fuck has that got to do with a holiday on Arran?

Return soon, Dear Reader and I'll explain how Goat Fell on a sunny day can reignite one's passion for running and how being on the Isle of Arran, with enough luggage to open a suitcase shop, and having returned your hire car can result in you being in bed for a week with an injured back.

At least I've had a decent reason for not training.