Raising Lazarus at the River Ayr Way

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

After a Gobi Desert type dry spell in the ultra marathon world; and after a disappointing DNF in the West Highland Way, I thought I'd end this season with a bit of a gimme at the River Ayr Way.

Now let's get this right, RAW is still 40 miles, and anyone equating water only flowing downhill with a coasting from start to finish is in for a bit of a kick in the bollocks, but I've done this race four or five times before (I'm sorry, I can't be precise because I don't keep a log of races I've run. I tried keeping a training diary once but the plethora of blank pages months after its beginning preyed upon my mind like Marley's ghost, so I threw it out), always with minimal training, and always achieved a finish (except the time I couldn't be arsed so went to the pub after 10 miles).

My training for this year's effort included three of four gym sessions a week with a blast on the treadmill and one 13 mile off-roader about a month ago. The gallus, over-confident side of my brain told me the 70 miles of WHW in June was enough to get me the 40 miles from Glenbuck to Ayr; its opposing sensible, cautious side did it's usual and remained as mute as a church mouse. Let's just say I'm gonna give the latter mentioned hemisphere a good slap and tell it to speak up in future.

Anyway, the day of the race arrives and Mrs Mac and I are in the little car park in Glenbuck surrounded by 80 or so others. There's a bit of an air of excitement, this being the 10th anniversary race, and folk are chatting happily. I say hi to a couple of runners I know but the vast majority are strangers- testament to the fact that ultra marathon running in Scotland has widened its appeal...or that's just a really pompous, self important belief simply because nearly 80 people have never encountered an ageing tattooed, Londoner on the start line of a race.

Somewhere in the glove box of the car is my race plan that I scribbled down on a used envelope the night before. I reckon I can comfortably average 10 minute miles for 10 miles, then each 10 mile section add a minute which will get me home for a sub 8 hour PB. Piece of piss.

The race starts and my pacing is perfect. I'm happily tripping along, listening to my music, in my Hokas.

Yes, you read that right....in my Hokas.

Having launched an online campaign a few years ago against the bumper car-like monstrosities, and anyone that wore them, I'd gone and bought a pair in the hope they might be kind to the calf that I tore in April. I wore them briefly in the West Highland Way, coupled with a pair of gaiters, and they gave me blisters on my insteps. I blamed the gaiters.

Seven miles into this race, sans gaiters, the familiar soreness at my insteps indicate the gaiters are not the villain of this piece. It's those ridiculously clumpy, stupid looking breeze-block-cum-trainers. The soreness becomes full on blisters and the blisters burst and weep serum into my socks.

Thankfully Mrs Mac is waiting dutifully for me at the shoogly bridge, just past checkpoint one, so I dump the Frankenstein's monster footwear and don my reliable Inov-8s.

Off again enjoying the extra minute per mile I've allowed myself, I'm cruising along for a few miles when 'PING', my lower back siezes and sends signals of pain to my brain, which wakes up the sensible, cautious side, which then instructs: 'STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING!'

'FUCK OFF!' I reply, and keep going, but my stride is shortened to such an effect that those 11 minute miles are nothing but an unachievable aspiration and that scribbled race plan is catapulted spectacularly out of sight.

Sorn is a lovely little village about 17 miles into the route. The river runs through it, ducks quack and waddle about and there's a beautiful stone bridge where loving couples or families might picnic in the sun. On Saturday, however a dark cloud entered the village, limping along, swearing and cursing and demanding Ibuprofen (yes, I know the dangers of consuming NSAIDs during exercise but they're outweighed by the slagging one might get for another DNF).

Mrs Mac is there with a folding chair set up and feeds me a beef roll and coffee.

'Brufen' is all I can say.

I neck the little, red capsules of relief and set off walking, waiting for them to take effect. I realise that if they fail to improve matters, a DNF might be on the cards, as might a move to Antarctica where I can avoid any claims of blouse ownership and wuss-boy status.

Sometime later the pain subsides and I'm running again. Not exactly Lazarus from the dead, but to me a remarkable turnaround. The rest of the race is really just a hang on for the finish affair, but just to make things a little more difficult, a poorly parked car blocking a gate, a misinterpreted instruction, and an idiotic optimism that the wrong way will metamorphosise into the right way added an extra three miles to my travel.

To make the effort worthwhile, meeting Mrs Mac at Tarholm bridge, where eight years ago a fledgling romance was embarked upon as the River Ayr tumbled beneath our feet, sealed the deal. An encounter with old friends, Tim and Muriel Downie, and Tim's company over those last few miles reminded me of the good people you meet along the way. And my friend and colleague from London, Aldo Diana waiting for me at the finish secured the realisation that, actually it's all worth it.

But some training wouldn't go amiss.

So I got the gimme that so nearly wasn't such a gimme.  I also realised that my days of turning up to races having done minimal, if any,  training are probably over. This, I think, is due to two possibilities, or maybe both playing in tandem. The first is that I've probably drained the well of liberty taking as far as expecting my body to do extreme things without adequate preparation is concerned. The other is that in four months I will be 50 and maybe the  relentless march of time is having a negative effect. Or maybe both are giving me a two handed beat down in these increasingly grey and sparse years. Whatever it is I'll need to be more considerate in the future.

But finally I have to say that Tarholm Bridge, and the vision upon it, were as magical eight years on as they were in 2008.


The Four Goblet Challenge

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Well, it's true that we haven't been here for some time, folks. I suppose the creative activity of the written blog has been taken over by the soundbite simplicity of the micro-blog. Facebook, with its meandering posts, photo albums and quizzes- the other day, after allowing a Facebook app access to all my photographs, I discovered that the Hollywood actor I most resemble is Charlie Sheen (WINNING!). After smugly posting a self indulgent, soft focus picture of myself taken seven years ago alongside one of Charlie before he really smashed the granny out of cocaine and prostitutes, I discovered that a few of my mates were similarly compared to Charlie. Even my Jamaican pal, Radcliffe, my auntie Joan and my dog, Mason.

Anyway, in this rapidly changing landscape of the blog, Facebook was quickly relegated to second division by its limited-symbol, express-yourself-succinctly, bastard child Twitter. And just as I started to get the hang of that particular medium, and the reasons why perfectly sane individuals would post fuck all except a string of loosely associated words all preceded by a hashtag, along comes Snapchat. If you've yet to encounter this most modern phenomenon of the blog world, allow me to explain: it quite simply allows you to send a photograph from your mobile phone to a selected recipient, which is then viewable by that recipient for up to ten seconds before it disappears from existence like a politician's promise.

So, if you're following my rambling logic here, my blog has been out of action because the once creative art of sitting in front of a PC and developing a considered, word processed account of an important life event, then posting it to Blogger or Wordpress, has been rendered redundant by the ability to send a soon-to-expire picture of your cock to your burd.

But why this revival of Subversive Running? I hear you ask. 

Well, going back to its beginnings, the reason for the birth of Subversive Running was to diarise my 2006 journey toward the West Highland Way Race- a 35 hour, 95 mile expedition on foot from Milngavie to Fort William. It was also meant to be a foil to the plethora of boring, rather-gently-poach- my-testicles-in-simmering-vinegar-than-read -your- time-and-splits-obsessed-bollocks. In fact, my blog very quickly became nothing more than a rambling record of alcohol consumption, fighting with police dogs and of being verbally abused by horse riders on Epsom Downs, with zip about running. But its revival is to enable a return to its raison d'ĂȘtre....yes, that's right, I'm running the West Highland Way Race again.

I had a quick scan back to the blog report I wrote following my failed attempt of the race in 2013 and it's a sorry tale of pain, exhaustion and the violent expulsion of fecal matter in a field in Dumgoyne. Indeed, following that race I went on record to swear I would never run it again. 

If you care to look back at that report, entitled 'Bodily Movements in the West Highland Way Race,' and you access the comments section, some of those that contributed their thoughts said things like: 'Yeah, yeah..whatever. See you in 2015.'

Well, they were a year too early but they were right. I'm back.

I've tried to keep away from public statements of my intention to race, preferring to use Facebook to record pictures of baked goods and fanciful ideas that I have a passing resemblance to Charlie Sheen...viewed through the eyes of a partially sighted drunken geezer in a darkened room fifteen miles away. 

That policy came really good in April when I tore my left calf while running up a hill in a weight vest. It appeared then that the race was off and June would see me supporting my big, numb-skulled pal Martin Antoninus Horatio Hooper instead- and assisting him to acquire his fourth finisher's goblet so that he could Lord it all over me for at least the next twelve months.

But the God of calf repair smiled on me and said 'Son, if you're a good lad and you sit on your arse for five weeks I'll place you on the start line alongside your mate, Hooper.' And so he did.

So, I've managed a clutch of 20+ mile runs with two 70 mile weeks since early May and I've done everything I can to ensure as good a chance I can of a finish. But, Dear Reader, this is about more than just a finish. This is the Four Goblet Challenge.

Both Hooper and I have three finisher's goblets sitting on our shelves at home (well, I have two and a half. One of mine was involved in a red-wine-meets-the-sound-of-breaking-crystal event a couple of years ago) and this is the quest for goblet number four.

Before I go off to stretch my hamstrings, bake some bread and do a quiz that tells me I resemble Brad Pitt (or maybe that should be Brad Pitt's arse) I'll leave you with a discussion Hooper and I had while running together last week:

'Here, Mart, you see if we're running this year's race and we've battled valiantly over Conic Hill, scrambled along Loch Lomond and suffered over Rannoch Moor?'

'Yeah, what about it?'

'And then we've stomped together up the Devil's Staircase, seen the sun rise on the Lairig Mhor and then hit the road into Fort Wiliam?'

'Yeah,' replies Hooper, warming to the romantic notion of shared pain and suffering and impending brotherly glory.

'Well, in instances such as that I've seen athletes join hands over the final yards and finish together in a beautiful, sporting display of togetherness.'

'Lovely idea, Dave, I can picture it now,' says Hooper, dreamily.

'Well, the thing is, I can sprint faster than you so you can fuck right off if you think that's happening.'