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.
Posted by Subversive Runner at 09:21
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.
Posted by Subversive Runner at 07:00
If you're a user of social networking sites like Facebook you would have seen it today.
Every single person who acknowledges being brought into the world through a woman's birth canal wishing their mother, aunt, gran, wife, neighbour and, in one case I saw, some Z-list celebrity, a happy Mothering Sunday.
I avoid such frippery, preferring to look on from afar with snooty, snobbish disdain. Mainly because much of it is just stomach-churning, chintzy nonsense.
But also because my old ma died 21 years ago.
I used to get a bit upset at this time of year because my mum, Val checked out shortly after Mother's Day 1994. But they say time's a healer and it's true that the feelings of loss and sadness fade as the years pass. She's never forgotten, of course but memories of seaside trips to Southend and fishing with a net for sticklebacks in Keston ponds kinda replace the reminiscence of that night 21 years ago.
I'd been to see my mum during the day. It was an 18 mile trip from my house in Surrey to my parents' gaff in Camberwell made easy by journeying on my motorbike. When I walked into the sitting room my brother, John followed in behind me.
Mum was lying on the sofa, her 54 year old body ravaged by chemotherapy and looking like she'd been the victim of a concentration camp. She never carried too much weight anyway...I remember as kids we'd sit down to a meal on Sunday and she'd have a bowl of Brussels sprouts because there wasn't enough to go round.
'Hello, David,' she said (I was always called by my birth name rather than the more common, Dave).
She looked at my brother John and said, 'Who's your friend? Tell him to sit down and go and make him a cup of tea.'
We knew then that things weren't looking good but the quacks reckoned we had another couple of months with her.
We spent a nice day together watching the telly and chatting, my other siblings popping in through the afternoon. When I left I made mum promise me that she'd drink this highly calorific meal replacement shake that she'd been prescribed.
'David,' she said. 'I promise that if I can take it I will.'
I left, jumped on my motorbike and fucked off home. No kiss for mum, no 'I love you', no nothing. We'd been raised to not indulge in such endearing behaviour...I can't recall ever being kissed by my dad in 48 years.
I got home and slammed into a bottle of Scotch. Mum hadn't even recognised my brother, there was no way she was gonna be here in a couple of months. As I sat in my chair pouring drink after drink I promised myself that next time I saw my mum I would kiss her and tell her I love her.
It was 02:30 when the landline next to my bed rang. I picked the receiver up and groggily croaked, 'Hello?'
'David, it's Dad,' came the reply. 'I think your mum's dead. She's lying next to me not moving. I don't know what to do.'
Immediately everything came into focus.
'Dad, what's her temperature like? Have you checked for a pulse?'
'She's cold, son. I don't know how to check her pulse...' then he started sobbing.
'I'm on my way, Dad,' I said and jumped out of bed.
I made my way toward the pile of clothes on the dressing table and stumbled, almost falling over. 'Shit!' I thought. 'That bottle of whisky has properly fucked me up.'
Never mind, it was 02:30 and adrenalin was driving me on. Clothes on, boots on, jacket and crash helmet on and I'm roaring through the streets on my motorbike heading into town.
I got as far as Clapham before a police car pulled up alongside me at the traffic lights that control the junction into Brixton.
I stared ahead, not looking at the car; a sure sign that the motorist in question is panicking. In my peripheral vision I saw the police car's passenger window open.
'Oi,' I heard. 'Look at me.'
I turned my head to see two uniformed coppers in their motor. The one in the passenger seat was young with an Elvis type quiff.
'Pull up the other side of these lights, son,' ordered Elvis.
I did as instructed and waited for the inevitable. There was absolutely no chance of passing a breath test and any romantic notion of outrunning the Old Bill in a haze of burning rubber and a flipped middle finger was dashed by my motorbike being registered to Yours Truly.
Elvis made his way toward me and instructed: 'Take your helmet off.'
I did as ordered and then decided to throw myself at the feet of human kindness and understanding.
'Listen, officer,' I said. 'My mum's just died and I need to get to her house. Do me a favour and let me go.'
I remember the following exchange like it was spoken yesterday.
'No, I'm not.'
'How far have you come and where are you going?'
'I left Ashtead about 30 minutes ago and I'm going to Camberwell.'
'Right, if you've got this far in your state I think you'll make it. Tuck in behind us and we'll take you there.'
Ten minutes later I was outside my mum's house shaking Elvis's hand.
'Next time you'll get nicked,' he said as he climbed back into the police car.
I climbed the steps to the first floor landing of the block of flats where my parents lived. I walked along the landing and knocked the door.
My old man answered and just said: 'She's upstairs.'
My youngest brother who still lived at home was sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea. As I made my way up the stairs I looked at him and saw his eyes red and raw.
For some ridiculous reason that I'm fucked if I understand now, I knocked on my mum's bedroom door.
I walked in.
Mum was lying there with her mouth agape. She was nothing more than a husk.
I knew she was dead.
'Mum,' I said. not expecting a response, although I've always been an unwavering optimist.
I left the room and closed the door.
Too fucking late to tell her I loved her.
Too fucking late to kiss her.
If you take one thing from this story let it be that you indulge in endearing behaviour...
I saw my mum two years later.
Posted by Subversive Runner at 20:47
It seems planning, buying and cooking my next meal has taken precedent over everything else in my life, recently. Feeding myself seems to have become something of an obsession and other stuff is suffering as a result.
Take training, for instance; I can't face any of that fasted cardio nonsense in the morning. I've got to load up on breakfast before I consider ever raising my heart rate. Then the gap between breakfast going down and lunch prep beginning leaves little time for the gym, regardless of the attraction of the mid-morning MILFs that proliferate David Lloyd Epsom at that time of the day. The afternoon is probably the time most likely to see me pull on a pair of trainers but a post lunch snooze always seems more appealing than a beasting on the treadmill.
I realise all of this kinda suggests I don't work but nothing could be further from the truth. Regular readers of this blog will know my paid employment is as a fire-fighter in the sunny streets of Battersea, South London. But that's a feast or famine type of job (interesting description given my reference to food....maybe it is an obsession). Being a fire-fighter involves four days of blue, flashing lights; hot, red flames and black, choking smoke followed by four days of stand down that ought to result in the perfect time for exercise.
In an attempt to kick start my training I decided to buy a road bike. I imagined myself streaking along the roads of Surrey, heading for the nearby zig-zag route up Box Hill that inspired so many two-wheeled lunatics during the Olympics. I acquired said bike but in actual fact it now sits in my lounge performing the role of an ineffective clothes horse.
'Why is this?' I hear you ask.
Well, yeah...partly that, but also because I'm fucking terrified every time I go on the road and bastard lorries thunder past me. Also, because you get numpty fucking drivers with 50% of their attention fixed to the text message they're sending as they bear down on a totally inept cyclist wobbling along the road like a baby giraffe taking its first steps.
There's a reason for my road-bound terror but I'm not sure the statute of limitation on relating operational incidents I've attended involving dead cyclists would yet allow me. Not that you need to hear this stuff anyway.
But that statute of limitation....I'm not sure it applies to incidents involving animals, does it? I'll let you be the judge of that.
Posted by Subversive Runner at 20:58
Posted by Subversive Runner at 11:33
Like many of those that might read this blog post (oh for the days when I recorded 300 hits a day) I was nominated by a number of friends and family to conduct the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
While I applaud the efforts normal people go to in order to raise charitable donations for deserving causes I can't help but think for some it's an opportunity to make a spectacle of themselves then dress it up as an exercise in courage and compassion.
So while being someone who likes to refuse to follow a trend I also explained that to accept a nomination for 'David and his entire fire crew' to use fire brigade equipment to soak ourselves on duty, in fire brigade time and then post it on YouTube or Facebook might result in me and my colleagues tapping the boards in a smart outfit to collect our P45s.
And that close involvement of my employer in any comment made regarding activities done in their name is one of the reasons why this blog became somewhat redundant (the fact that it was always supposed to be about running and I've run as many steps as Vanessa Feltz and Alex Salmond put together...a comment about Scottish independence on its way...is of course another).
But here I am, dipping my toe into the water of workplace story telling, because having conducted a robust risk assessment, believe I can get away with this, here goes:
So there we were, 04:55hrs on a random night duty at Battersea Fire Station. Now you have to be aware that due to the dynamic nature of our job we're allowed to 'rest' during the night time in order top be physically and mentally prepared to deal with any given situation. So it's fair to say we were 'resting.'
Rest is disturbed by the trumpeting of the alarm indicating that someone, somewhere is in trouble.
I jump up from my resting platform (you might no this by it's more common name of a bed), chuck on my trousers and shoes and make my way down three flights of stairs to the fire engine. There is a traditional pole to transport the user from the upper floors to ground in a matter of seconds but I find the stair descent provides time to engage ones brain and consider the information regarding the incident that's sent to my pager.
We're on the fire engine and out the doors in a flash of light and sound, barrelling through the streets of SW11 en route to a fire alarm in an old folks' home. The guys in the back of the fire engine are preparing breathing apparatus, the driver is negotiating his way through the virtually empty roads and I'm considering the various scenario permutations that we might encounter.
We arrive at the address to discover an old folks' home in darkness and silence with no apparent distressing occurrence unfolding. Of course that doesn't mean it isn't so a full on approach is adopted ie crashing through the security door armed with breathing apparatus, breaking in gear and mean intentions.
Once inside we stand there, wide-eyed, dressed in the latest personal protective equipment, armed with enough gear to extinguish the fires of hell to be met by a silent alarm panel and a little old lady sitting on a chair. She's dressed in an overcoat, carrying an umbrella and has a rolled up shopping bag in her hand.
'Who are you?' she asks. 'Have you brought the mobility shopping bus?'
'No, my love,' I reply. 'We're from the London Fire Brigade and we're here to respond to a fire.'
'There's no fire here,' I'm told'. 'I'm waiting for my bus. I've got some shopping to do.'
Once I've ascertained the old burd is right, there is no fire, I stand my guys down and continue our discussion.
'So this mobility shopping bus....it's picking you up here, at this time?' I ask.
'Yes,' the old girl replies. 'I've been waiting an hour.'
'What time is it due to arrive, love?' I ask.
'Ten, ten,' she replies.
'Ten past ten!' I exclaim. 'But it's only ten past five! You've got another five hours to wait!'
'Really?' the old burd asks.
'Really' I reply.
'Well fuck that, I'm going back to bed.' she says, and shuffles off down the corridor.
And this event demonstrates the joy of human interaction that my job provides.
We get back on the fire engine a little bit disappointed there was no opportunity to throw loads of wet stuff at hot stuff, a little bit glad that the lack of hot stuff means an absence of sorrow, but laughing our socks off at the Anglo Saxon comment demonstrated by the old burd before hot footing it back to her bed.
One day all of these stories will appear in a book. It'll make me rich and famous and I'll but you all a drink. But only if you comment below :-)
Posted by Subversive Runner at 15:05
During my nine-year dalliance with ultra running I often heard fellow athletes discussing their optimum race weight. They would argue that achieving anything but a physical comparison with Skeletor might cost them two minutes and 35 seconds in a 100 mile race. In fact it's a good thing that race registration at the West Highland Way is over in a matter of a few hours or some local Samaritan might establish a soup kitchen in Milngavie car park to feed the poor, malnourished souls that gather there one night every June.
Posted by Subversive Runner at 16:51