Depeche Mode – Global Spirit Tour

Cast your mind back if you are old enough to remember 1982 and think what highlights stick in your mind?

The biggest UK news story of 1982 was the Falklands War however as I was  about to sit my O Levels that Spring I was probably – indeed certainly – oblivious to most of the burning issues of the day. My main concerns were football, music and girls. Not necessarily in that order.

Lets start with the really important stuff. Scotland had as normal – how times change –  qualified for the World Cup Finals in Spain.

Scotland team 1982 – Spain

During the finals on June 18th we had our school Valedictory Dinner but in the hours before we all met up at Thomas “The Panther” Ryan’s house to watch the Scotland v Brazil game and no doubt try and quaff a few cans of lager. With time constraints we left Thomas’ for the school farewell event before the match concluded but in high spirits. The reason for our exuberance I vividly recall wasn’t the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol but rather that we’d watched Scotland have the audacity to take an early lead against Brazil with the famous toe poke goal by David Narey and , we thought, were on our way to a modern day triumph of Scottish football over those latin pretenders.

By the time we actually arrived at the dinner at The Glazertbank Hotel less than an hour later Scotland had been well and truly thumped. But at least I had the consolation of being elegantly attired in my cream suit. Which I think went down a treat with the girls as they sipped their Cider and Babycham cocktails.

Cool Suits ’80’s Style

Musically 1982 was a year that for produced many of the tracks that to this day I still love to listen to. Groups that I enjoyed such as OMD , Duran Duran, ABC and Soft Cell all had chart success although there were other less acceptable tracks out there such as The Goombay Dance Band – extra points if you can remember their hit – or Musical Youth’s “Pass The Duchie” and of course the obligatory World Cup Song by the Scotland squad.

I had though from about about 1980 been allowed ,and funded, by mum and dad to go and see live concerts – which now strikes me as a bit strange as I was only fourteen – and in 1982 somehow got permission to go and see Depeche Mode at Tiffany’s in Glasgow.

Tiffany’s for the uninitiated had been The Locarno Ballroom in Sauchiehall Street and crucially was licensed so strictly only over 18’s were allowed entry. Clearly this was a minor obstacle to entry.

I have no real recollection of who from school went or how we got into the venue as ID would have been non-existent but attitudes were fairly lax then. I do though remember that we got into the venue without any problem and indulged in a few Cointreau and Lemonades.

As for the concert itself Depeche Mode were just emerging from their poppy melody hit period which saw Vince Clark leave and Martin Gore take over composing duties. This ultimately would lead Depeche Mode away from their synth pop origins down a darker musical route but at the time they were still relying heavily on their relatively meager back catalogue .

The internet is a truly fantastic place and I tracked down the set list from that night – 21st February 1982. It included their big hits – “See You” , “New Life” , “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “The Meaning of Love”. There are actually a number of audio recordings from that night online and all are uniformly dreadful. And if you don’t believe me then click on the link below.

That was until 2017 the first and only time I saw Depeche Mode live but they were a group I always kept up to date with. Unlike many ’80’s synth bands they continued to evolve musically and throughout the last 30 odd years have continued to put out some fantastic tracks. Widely derided in the UK in their early days they built a massive following in the USA and in mainland Europe but any opportunity I had to see them just never came about.

However this year they announced an extensive tour to promote their new album – Global Spirit – but with only a single UK date and no Asian dates I did everything in my power to get tickets for their 3rd June date in London. Eventually I managed to get six and then had to see who, if anyone, actually wanted to go with me.

Janet was clearly coming along whether she wanted to or not. Catriona Heppel who I’d been at school with I knew was a fan and along with her husband Andy lived in London so along  with Val and Andy our friends from Singapore – who had relocated home to London – I thought I had willing victims so issued out invites.Pleasantly all came back with positive replies so that was the night all set.

I ticked off another ” things to do” by booking a tour of The Houses of Parliament for both of us. On the way over to Parliament a thunderstorm forced us into a taxi. The cabbie asked how long we were down for but I explained we’d actually come all the way from Singapore not Scotland and were going to see Depeche Mode.

This guy was a bit younger than me but the blank look threw me a bit. Not a clue did he have. He had never heard of Depeche Mode and asked who they were and where they were playing?

When I said at the Olympic Stadium this was met with an incredulous “Are you sure mate? That’s a big place” .

He simply would not believe me that a band he’d never heard of were playing a venue holding 70,000 people. More of that later. Regardless we got the Parliament and did our tour there which I’d recommend to anyone. Not least to see where your tax is squandered if you live in the UK.

The night of the concert we all met up at Westfield at Stratford for a light refreshment beforehand and at this point Val’s Andy was also equally skeptical at the potential crowd size. I was sticking with 70,000 on basis that they were massive and it was a single UK concert date.

In due course we headed over to what is now renamed “The London Stadium” and primarily the home of West Ham FC. This really was much to Andy’s disgust as he’s an Arsenal man. Crowds through security were massive and it was pretty chaotic but we simply walked around the perimeter and found a largely deserted entrance.

Going by the sounds we could hear from outside the concert had already started but we got in quick enough and yes I could finally confirm there was probably 70,000 inside. Possibly more as the pitch was an extensive standing area.

One thing that was obvious from the start was that Depeche Mode having constantly put out new music have developed a fan base that spans the generations. This wasn’t some ’80’s tribute act or greatest hits show rather a band that have grown and developed immeasurably over the best part of forty years and were promoting a new album.

Most of the early tracks at the concert (Going Backwards and Revolution) came off the new list and were fantastic. Dave Gahan,the lead singer, has a presence on stage that allows him to work the audience and he was clearly having a fantastic time. The revelation though for me was Martin Gore who sang a couple of tracks and has the most amazing singing voice.

As the concert progressed and darkness fell the concert – at least for me – just got better and better and the last half hour or so was quite simply one of the best live performances I’ve attended. There are a few YouTube videos out there but they don’t quite capture the impact of the event although I have put one below for you to listen to.

Highlights for me were “Enjoy the Silence” , “Everything Counts” and a brilliant cover version of the Bowie classic “Heroes”.

At the end of the night as we made our way back to the tube station in rather chaotic circumstances rumours soon circulated of a terrorist attack and unfortunately these rumours proved to be true with the injuries and murders around London Bridge and Borough Market. This is an area in London we’d stayed on our last visit when we had attended Shakespeare at The Globe Theatre but this time we’d elected to stay in the West End at Mayfair which I guess was for us a bit of a blessing.

Absolute credit to the people leaving our event. Despite being crammed in like sardines and huge crowds with obvious fears of further attacks everyone stayed perfectly calm and patient and simply looked out for everyone else.

True Global Spirit.

 

Fred Craig – 17th April 1944 – 27th March 2017

Sadly one of the things I didn’t expect to be doing in my 50th year was to be mourning the loss of my father. Unfortunately he passed away quite suddenly on the morning of the 27th of March ’17 while cycling on The Crow Road with a group of friends from The Western Baths. Below I’ve reproduced the eulogy I read to my dad at his funeral and included a few photos too that maybe give a better flavour to the type of man he was.

“Firstly I would like to thank everyone for the messages that the family have received over the past week which have shown us what a well loved and respected man our father was.
It has obviously come as a massive shock to us all his passing but I think it important that we try and celebrate his life quite simply because he was the sort of man to embrace life itself and was never one to sit and wallow in pity.
I’d like to try and give you all a bit of flavour on his life so that those of you who knew him in different circumstances can get a greater understanding of his life as a whole.
My father was born of April 17th 1944 at Rottenrow Maternity Hospital which was in Glasgow City Centre. He was the only son of Fred and Mary Craig. Initially they lived on the Gallowgate but as far as I can gather the family business which was founded in 1937 was doing rather well and within a few years they had moved to Thornwood in Glasgow’s West End.

Dad and Grandad (1945)

My dad attended St. Peter’s primary school in Partick and it was here he met his lifelong and dearest friend Gerry Donahoe who sadly passed away last year.

School photo. Dad middle top?

From what we can gather he had a pretty good childhood and from holiday snaps we can see that traveled around the UK quite a bit as my grandfather was the proud owner of a Rover Car and rumoured to be the only man in his street with a car.

Dad and his parents. Bute around about 1949

For secondary school he went to St. Gerard’s in Govan which would have involved a daily trip across the Clyde on the legendary Govan ferry. While at St. Gerard’s he met my mum and also I understand Rita too.
Leaving school he immediately went into the family business and while we cannot be sure are fairly certain he did his builders apprenticeship .He was throughout his life a bit of a dab hand with a plaster board, could lay bricks with ease and slate roof repairs were always something he enjoyed.

Dad with Granny and Grandad

I don’t know a great deal of my dad’s activities through his youth but he was close to his cousins Arnold and Arthur and enjoyed a night at the dancing particularly the F&F on Dumbarton Road.
Musically he was a big fan of Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was obviously with my mum at this time because he never tired of telling me that his prized Buddy Holly singles were stolen when someone broke into my mum’s house in Knightswood when he’d left them there.
In September 1963 my mum and dad married at St.Ninian’s in Knightwood and they bought their first home in Henrietta Street in Scotstoun.

Wedding Day 1963

My dad said he paid £500 for the house and took the £100 down payment along to the lawyer’s office on the bus all the time terrified he’d either lose the money or get mugged. We have actually found these records and this is all true with him paying off his mortgage at £6 a month.

Mortgage book – Henrietta Street

They had a great time in Henrietta Street and formed lifelong friendships with Nan and George Shearer who were their neighbours and through Nan and George they got very close to John and Betty McCreadie with John being another lifelong and close friend of my dad and always know to us as Uncle John. Amongst other things they were big fans of model car racing and also The Glasgow Tigers Speedway team.

John and Betty’s wedding. Dad as best man. Nan Bridesmaid.

I was born in 1966 and by the time Gerry came along in 1968 the flat was too small and we moved to Thornwood Gardens which was right across from John and Betty in Laurel Place. I have great memories of Thornwood including my dad having to sort out a fight between myself and the current manager of Sunderland as the Moyes family were neighbours.
Upstairs was his good friend Peter McNaughton. Although my dad lost contact with him when he emigrated to Canada through the power of the internet they rekindled that friendship in recent years with my dad visiting Peter in Canada and Peter coming across to Scotland.
Chris arrived in 1970 and we continued to live in Thornwood Gardens. The business was busy and my dad was working many hours and weekends. Although if he was honest he was probably dodging trying to sort out three boys who seemed to be constantly fighting each other leaving that to my mum. Hid did from time to time step in including famously taking a two year old Chris for haircut to Stuperts on Crow Rd. Chris hated this process and my mum had warned my dad so he took John along for support.


Short version is Chris came back without a haircut and was banned for life.
My dad had a few mishaps at this time including the now legendary time he fell off a tenement roof. He recently told Gerry that as he slid off the roof he managed to catch his claw hammer in the gutter thereby stopping his fall. But then the rubber handle slowly slid from the main shaft and he said that his last thought was “I shouldn’t have bought such a cheap hammer”. He survived the fall landing in a back green and was taken home in a state of shock. He told me that as they were carrying him in the house all he could see was my mum in tears and a pile of insurance certificates laid out.

From that day on though he always bought the best hammers.
We moved to Bishopbriggs in 1976 mainly because my mum wanted a bit of privacy and was fed up with tenement life.
Initially we lived in Woodhill but again my mum got fed up with this too and with the birth of Kate in 1978 they were looking for somewhere larger and finally bought the house at Westerhill Road.

Westerhill Road 1978

I know it was a big stretch for mum and dad to buy this because we had to move in with the house having no heating, carpets, functioning kitchen and single pane windows made of wrought iron. The timing of this move wasn’t great as that first winter was brutal and we were literally freezing constantly. However dad being dad lashed out and bought us all hot water bottles to keep warm.
Westerhill Road was eventually transformed through time into a lovely home and it is here that I think my mum and dad were at their happiest. During his time in Bishopbriggs my dad became very active in many community activities. Although not really being much of a footballer he helped run Woodhill Boys Club with Andy Cuddihy and Mike Stevenson amongst others.
He was active in Turnbull High School PTA and was at one point Chairman although his favourite part of that activity was popping out after meetings for a pint with Father John McGinley in his soft top MG.
He formed a close friendship with his Monday Club group at Quinn’s pub where my dad Paul, John, Bill, Jim, Ken and others would put the world to rights. I asked Paul how they got together as a group and Paul just said that my dad came over introduced himself, bought a round and that was that.
In April 1979 my dad and grandad bought Jordanhill Garden Supplies to add onto their business interests. Things were fine until the summer 1985 which was catastrophically wet and as a consequence the business began to struggle. My dad must have been under tremendous strain but kept it hidden from us. I was at an age where I could partially figure that something was wrong and I know he sold his car and remortgaged the house to keep the business going.

JGS dream team

Eventually though as the business recovered and things got busier he sold of the building business and focused solely on the Builder Merchants as he found the strain of running multiple businesses too much.


Myself and all of my brothers and sister had to work every holiday at JGS whether we liked it or not. Each of us at some point had big fall outs with dad – usually over wages. He didn’t really understand why a 14 year old getting paid £28 for a six day week objected to being pulled from bed at 6am every day during summer when friends were out enjoying themselves.
This though instilled in each of us a work ethic and an attitude that I cannot thank my dad enough for. His view was always work hard, do your best and be honest and you’ll be fine. JGS has been a true family business with Linda, Karen and Holly also working there.


At JGS he built many friendships with Danny and Tony being loyal staff for him for an eternity and guys like Dave Brown and JP also being with him for years. He built close friendships with customers and suppliers such as Paul Stokes and Alistair McVitie. I want to thank all of you for the many years of friendship you gave my father.

Danny after 25 years at JGS

During the JGS years there have been too many funny events not to look back and laugh at. My dad held his HGV license so many a time during holidays or weekends would head out on deliveries with Gerry back in the office just waiting for the fall-out.
Amongst other things flatted a car when he mistakenly dropped a pack of slabs on it and also unfortunately broke his back when he ran a truck into a railway bridge in Maryhill. He put the Glasgow train network out of action for the weekend but put himself in a spinal unit flat on his back for 4 months. He did though fully recover through time.
My dad also loved to travel and over past couple of decades has been a frequent visitor out to Canada, USA, Singapore and Australia where he has built up a circle of friends and I know he was particularly fond of meeting up with his cousins in St.Catharines near Toronto.

Dad contemplates some weeding in Sydney

In 2011 myself and my dad went on a 6 week round the world tour which I look back on now with great fondness.
Before we went I was talking to my mum and asked her if she thought it would be a good idea if we shared hotel rooms. Her response was that dad snored so bad I’d be better booking separate hotels.
Our trip though was fantastic. Starting in Singapore we went to South Africa, Turkey, Sweden, USA, Japan, China, and New Zealand and then met up with Janet and the girls at our home in Sydney.

No clues for guessing where this is.

We had some fantastic fun although I did get weary of the fact that at every restaurant we went to for the whole 6 weeks he’d ask to see desert menu, spend an age reading it and without failure ask if they had vanilla ice cream. Basically my dad only did vanilla ice cream.

Dad’s standard food group

In Los Angeles we took a train through South Central and Watts and I honestly think we were lucky to get out alive.

We spent the trip catching up with friends that my dad has all over. It really was a great journey.

Dad and Mika. Ice-cream time in Kyoto

Throughout his life my dad was a very enthusiastic table tennis player. At Christmas after lunch at my parents’ house we’d clear the dining table and put up a table tennis net and there would be hours of games played which invariably my dad won.

Table tennis championships. Christmas Day

As a member of The Western Baths in Hillhead he would play regularly along with attending his spin classes, circuit training and getting out on the bike too. He loved the Western Baths and we recently had his surprise retirement party there.
Work wise he began a process of retiring a few years ago but only really fully retired late in 2015. He had been from 2013 to 2015 the Chairman of the Builders Merchants Federation in Scotland a role he thoroughly enjoyed.
My mum passed away in 2012 and in 2013 he bumped into Rita who he had known from school and they rekindled their friendship which ultimately led to their marriage in July 2015. Rita brought my dad companionship that he enjoyed and they have both done much in a relatively short time.

Dad and Rita’s wedding July 2015

My dad has grown close to Rita’s family spending time in Jersey with James Rita’s brother and other family members coming to Scotland.

Christmas team photo

They traveled a fair bit and went to shows and the like. I really appreciated how much they did for my daughter Holly when she moved to the UK for University always making time to pop through to see her in Edinburgh or making room for her in Glasgow. Only last December Dad and Rita went to Mauritius on holiday and when I was back a few weeks ago they’d been off to see Trainspotting, went to Evita and had a holiday planned and opera tickets booked too.

My dad also liked going to football. On my last visit only in February I had the good fortune to get tickets to see Celtic v Aberdeen so with my good friend Peter and his son Sean we had a lovely meal together at his house then went off to the game.

Celtic Park for the last time. Feb 2017

My dad was a much loved dad and grandfather. All of the grandchildren will miss him terribly as he was a big part of their lives.
He was due to fork out for at least three ponies later this year due to flippant promises he had made years ago. Both Rita and my dad loved having the kids around the house and Marnie doesn’t know who’ll work the telly now that Freddie is gone.

The Grandchildren

As I finish I want to thank Frank and Tom for being with my dad on the day he passed away. He always said he’d like to go quickly doing something he loved so a beautiful spring day on The Campsie’s on his bike with good mates despite being a shock to all of us isn’t so bad. I have found out that he would wear a yellow jersey sometimes when riding which is a complete no-no if you know your etiquette but he just would have thought it funny.

Yellow jersey ride – Western Baths Hillhead

I am very sure I have missed out many people who have touched my dad’s life in some way. It was really difficult to keep up with as he was so active and so social and it is equally difficult to capture his life in a short eulogy.
Finally I want to thank my dad for everything he has done for each of us through his life. Nobody had a bad word to say about him. He was an incredibly hard working man who embraced life in its entirety. He was not someone who passed out lectures he simply led by example and believed that you make your own mistakes and learn from them. He did not have a bad word to say about anyone (except perhaps B&Q) and I know he would want all of us to move on and live our lives like he lived his which was to the full.

Dad and Fiona – Sydney Harbour Bridge 2011

Thanks Dad.

Dubai Marathon 2017

A combination of factors including Christmas, New Year, Dubai, Phuket visits, Chinese New Year, U.K. trips and crucially a crashed hard drive have all contributed to my inability to keep my blog update recently.

In a fit of madness months ago I entered the Narrabeen all-Nighter to close out the year off by running for 12 hours through trails in the woods of Sydney’s Northern Beaches on Hogmanay.

Credit where credit is due despite serious misgivings Janet and Holly volunteered to come along and support me. In fact they even lashed out and bought a pile of camping equipment so that they could enjoy the evening in some comfort.

Fiona though called it smart and elected to go partying in Sydney city centre instead.

In a nutshell I did not have a great day out. My recent racing , a hard tumble a few days prior and multiple long haul flights in December caught up with me and despite my best efforts by about 30 km into the race I knew I was in trouble, felt broken and must have looked it because Janet told me I should not be running at all.

At marathon distance I decided that I’d better listen to her wise words and called it quits. So I rounded off 2016 with a full marathon which although not my original plan was perfectly fine and banked a great training run for my upcoming Dubai Marathon. Plus we got a nice new tent.

Post new year all of the Craig girls headed off to the U.K. leaving me in Singapore.

Holly headed back to University, Fiona off to Aberdeen University for a selection interview and Janet going to celebrate her mum’s 80th.

With parties and interviews over Fiona flew back to Singapore and I headed to Dubai to meet up with Janet, Gerry, Linda and Andrew. Gerry and myself were having our annual assault on the Dubai Marathon. This though was the first time the good ladies (and Andrew) have come to Dubai when we’ve been racing.

Therefore our pre-race rituals were slightly different this year as we had to be a bit more family friendly and at a very minimum visit a few sights. Andrew wanted to see as many super cars as possible. Which in all fairness he did. I did though manage to get my customary marathon haircut at Dubai’s top Algerian barber-shop.

We were staying in different hotels this year as Gerry had to make sure that his lodgings had water-slides and plenty of child friendly activities while my main prerequisite was a hotel that had none of the preceding facilities.

Race day though we met up quite easily at the start area in plenty of time to drop our bags and lighten our loads. This aspect of Dubai I really enjoy over other big city races. You can literally get there twenty minutes before the off and you’ll still have no problem in getting into the holding pen in time.

The atmosphere was building with the massive Ethiopian contingent along to cheer on their compatriots who usually dominate this race. They are what you can only describe as raucous and really do add to the whole spectacle.

We made our way forward to the start area which unfortunately isn’t seeded or graded so you get a fairly large number of clueless runners pushing to the front who have no idea on what they are facing and seem to think that by forcing their way to the front they’ll somehow get to the finish line much faster.

Consequently the start was rather fraught with at least one elite athlete getting tripped in the stampede but by about 800 meters the road started to clear and athletes thinned out as the sprinters suddenly realised they couldn’t hold their ludicrous pace for six hours or more.

Thereafter we both got into our race rhythm which for me involves never looking at my watch and for Gerry an ability to chuck out kilometer after kilometer at an uncannily steady rate.

By the time the sun came up we had covered around 20 kilometers and the field had largely thinned out.

I’ll not bore you with the race details. Between the two of us we’ve probably raced over the marathon distance around 80 times so know exactly how to handle things. Our training was done and our thoughts were that if all went fine we’d be in the 2.55 range.

We both ran at a pretty constant pace and kept together till the 32 km point where Janet had our “this’ll get me to the finish” drinks waiting for us. As you can see from the photo taken by Janet below we were a bit isolated by this point and the sun was definitely up.

Gerry grabbed his bottle of Tailwind and kept running while I elected to drink mine (flat Coke) properly in one go rather than cart it along and as a consequence I lost a bit of time over the wee fella. However once I had forced some fluid in I got going again and set off in pursuit of Gerry. When I say “pursuit”I mean I hoped to gently reel him back in again.

Over the last 10 km I finally caught up with him, then I passed him, he then passed me, I passed him once again, he passed me again, I cramped badly, I passed him as I shook off cramp and finally I cramped again and he got a slight gap that I never closed.

I had nothing in the tank as I got to the finish line.

Gerry – 2.57.31

Michael – 2.57.44

This was much the same time as we had ran Berlin although in fairness we were probably in better shape for Dubai than Berlin.

I think we found it a touch warmer this year than usual in Dubai and both suffered a bit over the final few kilometers. The roads are rather exposed with no shade at all and temperatures were easily in the high 20’s. In terms of actual run our splits showed a pretty flawless run with only a slight drop off in speed over the final few kilometers.

Still I cannot be too upset as I squeezed out another sub three marathon which isn’t too bad an outcome.

 

 

 

 

A tunnel and a triumph

From when I was the age of about two through to eight our family lived in an area of Glasgow called Thornwood which was located on the top of a drumlin just to the north of the River Clyde in the Partick area.

What is a Drumlin I hear you ask?

For the non-geologists among you here is a handy guide to what a drumlin is and why they are so prevalent around the Clyde valley.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14702549608554954?journalCode=rsgj19

Folks not from Glasgow also get a bit confused about the area called Partick as they tend to associate it with Partick Thistle FC (colloquially referred to as “Partick Thistle Nil”) However they actually left the Partick area around 1908 and now play in an area called Maryhill.

Anyway as I was saying we grew up with vistas down onto the Clydeside which had two construction features that fascinated me.

First was the Meadowside Granary which was an enormous brick edifice that obscured views of the many shipyards on the south of the river. At that time towards the end of the ’60’s into early ’70’s Glasgow still had a number of functioning shipyards and berthing facilities in the upper reaches of the Clyde.

The Meadowside Granary itself was a fully operational import facility which as the name suggested was used to store and distribute grain. It was at one time the largest brick built building in Europe (5 million bricks) and the UK’s most important grain store through WW1.

It was indeed an imposing collection of buildings and absolutely massive. At least to my young eyes.

The main buildings are captured in the image below and looking at the photo our home was in a tenement just out of shot to the top left maybe half a mile from the river itself.

Indeed every Hogmanay we would decant into the street just before midnight and wait for the sound of the ships horns as they welcomed in the New Year.

Unfortunately the granary has been pulled down now and the whole area redeveloped into what property developers named “Glasgow Harbour”. This image really sums it all up. Gone is the vibrancy of the area replaced with fairly generic high rise apartments and The Riverside Museum with a token tall ship parked outside.

My other fascination was The Clyde Tunnel. This had been constructed not long before my birth and was then a fairly novel travel route from the allegedly cosmopolitan West End of the city through to Govan on the rather less salubrious south side. Long before Lego got cool and trendy I used to build Lego Clyde tunnels and run my toy cars through them.

I also have fairly vivid recollections of going through in my parents car trying desperately to hold my breath while we made the short journey. I am not sure I ever managed this which is strange as it’s fairly short at only just under 800 meters and apparently at 30 mph you only have to hold your breath for 57 seconds to do this.

I wonder if The Queen tried this on the day she opened the tunnel in 1963?

The good news is that the Clyde Tunnel unlike the Meadowside Granary is still in use and on a recent trip back to Glasgow the ultra runner extraordinaire Rob Soutar suggested we do a long Sunday run which would include passing through the Clyde Tunnel at some point.

I’d always wanted to go under the Cyde on foot but tales of how scary it was when I was a kid kept me well away. However in recent years it’s all been upgraded and gentrified, primarily to allow access to the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital so I was up for this plan.

Plus I had safety in numbers to protect me.

Sunday morning myself Gerry , Rob and Alex Potter met at my dad’s house and headed off along the Forth and Clyde canal to the west end and tunnel. After about 6 miles of running and a brief pit stop at Morrisons we finally made our way to the tunnel pedestrian access point.

In doing my research for this write up I found out that the pedestrian and cycle tunnel actually sits below the main tunnel roadway and is part of a single tunnel simply sub-divided. This you can see on the following cross section.

The pedestrian access has security controlled gates  and despite Rob presenting his sweaty and grim features to the control tower CCTV we were allowed in and I must say I got a pretty uplifting feeling to be finally running under the Clyde.

There was a surprisingly steep drop on the first half of the tunnel but somewhat less of a surprise was that we had a fairly arduous uphill grind heading out towards the Govan exit where I took a quick breather and captured this image.

A couple of minutes later we emerged unscathed, if a little out of breath, into the wilds of Govan (technically a place called Linthouse) and Gerry captured our triumph in all it’s glory.

Behind us above the pink sign is the control building and entry from the south side of the river.

Unfortunately after this we still had about 12 miles to run home which is a different story.

But at least at this point we are all happy boys and from my perspective another quite simple “to do” in my 50th year that I enjoyed .

If you ever get a chance to run, cycle or walk through the Clyde Tunnel then please do it and marvel at the wonders of the men and women who dig tunnels.

Next event up was just this past weekend where I had entered the Chiang Mai Half Marathon. This was a great idea for a weekend away for myself and Janet with a race thrown in for good measure.

Through a bit of blind luck I had booked us a hotel close to the race start which turned out to be a bit special.

The hotel is called “137 Pillars House” and the focal point of the hotel is an old colonial house which among other historical facts was the home to Anna Leonowens who is immortalized in the movie “The King and I”. Highly recommended if you are ever planning a visit.

http://137pillarshotels.com/hotels/chiang-mai/

The day before the race we arrived early afternoon so quickly checked in and dumped our bags.

We then walked over so that I could pick up my number from the event village at Thapae Gate which forms part of the old city wall of Chiang Mai.

I decided to have a foot and leg massage at the race expo where we met an engaging gent from Manchester who was traveling around the world running marathons for charity while recovering from being dumped by his 37 year old girl friend (yes he did show me photos).

He was though a genuine bloke and I knew his life story in short time and was doing the full marathon dressed as a British bulldog. He seemed to think this was a good idea.

We also bumped into Ian Goudie who I know from Scottish running scene and he is passing the winter months in Thailand making the trip up from Bangkok to run the half.

Then Janet and myself walked miles around Chiang Mai taking in the many (I mean many) Temples on the way. As you can see this was the most fun. Ever.

On race day itself I had a 5 am flag off time so was up bright and breezy by 3.30 am and made my way to the holding area at the start line.

Again I found Ian, this time resplendent in his “Scottish Veterans” vest. We chatted a bit and I then warmed up before we jogged to the front of the holding area.

I don’t have a 2016 photo but this should give you an idea of the set up.

Right on 5 am off we went with our route consisting of a three quarter lap of the old city around it’s moat, a dog leg out past the airport then a final stretch back into the old city to circle the square.

As is normal it was all a bit hectic for the off and the first kilometer or so but then things settled down. Through to 5 km I passed folks already struggling and only a solitary runner passed me. From 6 km to 13 km the run was to be largely a gentle uphill and at the 10 km point I caught the back marker of the marathon – British bulldog man from Manchester – I gave him a shout of encouragement and headed on.

Onwards to our half marathon planned turn point at 13 km I was passing more and more marathon back marker runners until as I reached 12 km the half marathon leaders came past me heading back towards the finish with their escort bikes and time-keeping truck in front. I counted 9 runners as I passed and tried to pick out if any were in the “old man” category but it was too difficult to ascertain.

Reaching the turn at 13 km I was handed a wrist band (to prove I was there I guess) and as I headed back I could see a runner in front – possibly 500 meters ahead. Then we ran into the outbound half marathon participants which for now wasn’t a major issue given how wide the road was until reaching 18 km where the highway narrowed considerably and the outbound field thickened up.

It got a bit hazardous.

The next kilometer wasn’t great fun at all but I finally got off that portion and headed towards the finish, all the while closing in on the runner in front. I finally caught him just on 19 km but here we now ran headlong into the outbound 10 km runners which was ten deep across the whole road.

This was not good and I decided to be a bit sneaky and tuck in behind the other runner figuring he could clear a path if we crashed into anyone.

Mind you it was me doing all the shouting to try and warn folks we were coming towards them as he seemed to be running out of steam and breathing seemed to be his main limit.

Finally at 20 km we got channeled off this road into the final kilometer or so and could pick the pace back up with no obstacles to dodge. I tried to encourage the guy beside me but he seemed pretty much done.

I got to the last corner and rounded to the finish straight hearing a cheery shout from Janet who had got up extra early to come and support me at the finish. She captured my Bolt like finish too.

Crossing the finish line I checked my actual time – 1.24.17 – and was handed a badge with “1st” on it.

This meant I had won the over 50 race. Nice one.

Not my fastest half this year. But it didn’t need to be and I had run pretty much the whole way isolated from any competition. Factoring in the start time, uphill portion and heat this was a good solid run.

https://www.strava.com/activities/804916200

I had to get my official verification that I hadn’t cheated (I had my wrist band from the turn point as you may recall) and present myself to the winners control area.

Unfortunately without my passport they couldn’t verify my prize but luckily the prize giving ceremony was two hours away so we headed back to the hotel by tuk-tuk where I freshened up before we returned to the presentation area and I finally got confirmation that I was a legitimate winner.

The prize giving seemed a bit chaotic but I guess my lack of Thai language skills let me down making it difficult to follow,  but as you can see I made it to the stage and was presented with a nice trophy and a cash prize of 5000 Baht.

Well actually I got a large board that told me I had won the money.

The actual securing of that money was looking very tricky given the chaos and apparent form filling so we headed off without collecting it assuming that at some point it would reach me in the post or by bank transfer since they had all of my details.

However a couple of hours later we were passing the marathon area in search of coffee just as the officials were packing up to head home and on Janet’s instruction I inquired about my prize money.

After a bit of head scratching by a number of officials and a few calls I was presented with cold hard cash. Brilliant.

That’s my spending money for Phuket in January sorted.

We also saw across the square a slumped bulldog and made our way over to see how the man from Manchester had fared. He had not had a good day. Dressed as a bulldog in multiple layers of clothing in 32 C heat wasn’t his brightest idea and he’d taken eight hours to finish.

But finish he had and despite being a bit of a mess and refusing our help to get him to his hotel he was already thinking towards his next race in Nepal.

I didn’t though see Ian again and found out through his blog he didn’t have a great day out but still had a PB for a Thai half marathon.

So there you go. Two quite different experiences each of which I’d highly recommend although of the two a quick run through a Scottish tunnel is clearly the easiest. And if I am honest was just as much fun as a sweaty half marathon on the equator.

Race day video from Chiang Mai

 

World Masters Athletics

In my imagination I still see myself as a relatively young man but the grim reality is that I’m not.However on the plus side a continued commitment to consistent training allied with good fortune in terms of my ability to stay injury free means that I am a reasonably highly ranked masters athlete in my age group over marathon distance.

Earlier this year my friend Paul Thompson, now resident in New York, dropped me a note saying that he was entering the World Masters in Perth Australia and that I should have a look at it.

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On reading entry criteria I saw that I could qualify to run for Great Britain from the simple reason I was a registered masters athlete back in Scotland. I was though concerned about how I could actually perform having no desire to come last or make a complete fool of myself.

Checking prior event results from Lyon France I figured that running to my absolute peak in the half marathon would at best put me in top thirty but if competing in the marathon I could possibly make between ten and twentieth place.

Figuring that for a marathon a place somewhere around top ten for an international meeting  wasn’t going to be a disgrace I stuck my entry in and after a simple verification process my slot was confirmed .

All I now had to do was get my backside to Perth Australia for 6th November 2016.

In the lengthy period since I entered though I had rather foolishly gone overboard in racing. By October this year I had completed four marathons, two ultra marathons, one half marathon, a ten kilometer, multiple 5 k Parkruns and only two weeks prior to Perth a 14 km cross country race in Sydney. All in all this was my biggest year of racing ever and I was certainly feeling it.

The 14 km in Sydney however gave me a reasonable pointer to my form. Coming only three weeks after The Berlin Marathon I was not too sharp but I managed to place second master runner in a time of just about 57 minutes on a windy day on a tricky course.

My friend Andrew who I see on my Sydney visits came third in the7 km race on the day. And don’t we look chuffed.

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Sydney 14 k and 7 k trophies

While on reflection I didn’t think I’d be super fast in Perth as a total recovery from all of the prior exertions would be impossible I felt that I would be capable of finishing in a time that wouldn’t disgrace me or more crucially the GB vest.

Friday morning of 4th and I flew down to Perth. From Singapore this is a simple five hour flight with no time zone changes. Arriving mid afternoon on a typical Western Australian clear sunny day I ditched my bags at my hotel and headed off to athlete registration. Given that we were at the tail end of a major two week event it was fairly quiet and I was in and done in ten minutes flat.

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This then gave me time to get out for an evening stroll along the Swan River which cuts through central Perth then grab a coffee and enjoy the scenery which would form the backdrop to our race. And very nice it is too as you can see from the photo.

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After an early night I was up sharp the next morning for a light run to stretch the legs and ease any pre-race anxiety. A couple of things became apparent while I was running in that it was going to be windy on the course and that I needed a hat to cover my advancing forehead or I would finish with severe sunburn.

The hat seemed the easier of the two to accommodate.

I spent the bulk of the day having a walk round central Perth (and buying that hat) then relaxing back at my hotel as the temperature climbed to a 37 C peak in the afternoon.

I was thinking that actually this may play to my strengths as I train in typical 35 C temperatures in Singapore. However race day forecast was a drop to mid twenties and become even more windy.

Late afternoon I caught up with Paul for a coffee and a chat about respective race strategies. Paul felt he had very realistic chances of winning the half marathon. He had already won Gold in 8 k cross country about ten days prior and had spent a bit of time out in Singapore with Sham, his good lady, visiting family and friends. These races were the focus of his year and he was determined to give his all.

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From my perspective based on qualifying time there were multiple Australians, Dutch and Nepalese runners showing times as fast as 2.45 which put my year best of 2.53 to shame so a win wasn’t going to happen for me.

I thought I’d be lucky to hit 2.55 to 2.57 so was discounting an individual medal. My teammates were both around three hours so while that individual medal was out a team medal was a possibility.

Ultimately though I simply wanted to do the best I could on the day.

Race morning I woke far too early but given it takes me many hours to loosen up now this in itself wasn’t a bad thing. Although the start was only a short distance from the hotel after getting my race kit together , which involved far too many pins, I jumped a cab for a short ride over to conserve energy.

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For some obscure reason despite already being registered we had to repeat the process. Despite having embedded chips on the back of our numbers we were also required to get a pre-race check and repeat number scan.

The actual re-registration was a bit of a shambles and frankly made no sense and was causing a fair bit of confusion.

By 5.30 am it was total chaos and fairly apparent that we’d be late in starting. In fairness the organizers they quickly took a couple of executive decisions to shorten the process and by about 6.15 am we were all finally lined up and good to go which was only a 15 minute delay.

I caught up briefly with Paul and Sham as Paul was getting set to start his race 30 minutes after ours.

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Words of wisdom for Paul

It is handy in an event of this type that everyone is numbered front and rear so you can see your competitors.Scanning the numbers at the start line I got chatting to a team GB runner in my age group and he said he was looking for just over three hours if he ran well.

An Aussie athlete beside us also sporting a M50 tag thought he would be around the 2.55 mark so I had a couple of markers to pace with.

The course itself was to be one I was very familiar with. I’ve been visiting Perth off and on for nearly thirty years and have run many times along and around the Swan River.

The map below shows our route. We would head west from our start at Burswood Casino along the south side of Perth along the river edge, cross the Narrows Bridge at the 6 km point then loop around onto the north side of the bank and head further west past the old Swan Brewery to Nedlands which would be about 10.5km before doing a U-turn and heading back to the start at Burswood and then repeating the process.

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Marathon Course

Overall the course would be described as flat (bridge excepted) with outstanding views. I rarely have any inclination to take in the views but I do like “flat”.

My strategy for what it was worth was to go out steady and if in decent shape after coming off the bridge for the final time would try and push hard all the way to the finish. More of that later.

Soon enough off we went with the usual hectic start which was made double tricky by the narrow path and a fair bit of jostling for position. However after about three kilometers things started to settle down.

There was already a fairly stiff headwind so I tried to tuck in behind other athletes where practical and try to conserve energy.

It was difficult though as the Spanish runners were running very erratically and constantly raising and lowering pace and moving position. I simply could not figure their strategy or motivation at all despite it being obvious they were trying to run as a team.

This had the effect of constantly breaking up our pack where we would have been smarter working together.

Just shy of 6 km there was a climb up over the bridge and then about 200 meters later a steep drop down the other side. Not an issue of any concern on this leg but one I felt would have an impact on final return.

Narrow's Bridge over the Swan River with Perth in the Background
Narrows Bridge with Perth CBD behind

Once on the north side the head wind picked up on the more exposed expanse of the Swan River. I was working a bit harder than I wanted and drafting was proving difficult but I just kept my focus. Once we got towards the turn point the race leader – M35/Australia – came past followed by a steady stream of runners. I was trying to count M50 runners and thought I was maybe sitting 5th or 6th which seemed a fairly reasonable position to be placed.

On the return leg we now had the benefit of a good tail wind. On downside the temperature felt much higher and I could sense a few runners were struggling in the heat. As we passed about 13 km the lead pack of the half marathon came roaring towards us. It was a posse of Kenyans but not even 100 meters behind in the chase pack Paul was going like a steam train and I gave him a shout of encouragement.

The journey back to half way was largely straightforward apart from re-crossing the bridge. With a tailwind though once I came off it there was nothing to do but keep things steady and run with the pack. Or as you can see at the back of the pack.

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I don’t check my watch in races but as we finally hit the half I couldn’t avoid the sight of the digital clock with showed a time just over 1.26 .While that was OK I felt that I would lose time on back half working into the wind again and realistically thought I was going to be fortunate to run around 2.57.

However as any experienced marathon runner knows there are many variables and you cannot take anything for granted. Back into the wind we went and although it wasn’t too bad for the first 5 km once we crossed the bridge and headed out to Nedlands and the final turn it got brutal.

I felt as if I was going backwards at times and was unfortunately totally isolated. With a still lengthy 4 km stretch to get to the turn and I knew I was in trouble. There was nothing I could do but try and balance effort and speed but unfortunately I knew that I was putting too much effort in for too little speed out and likely to pay a penalty at some point.

After an eternity I got to the turn and looped back. Finally I had a tail wind and I immediately felt my speed improve for same perceived effort. However I definitely had expended more energy than I had anticipated and in an effort to replace some of the calorie deficit I tried to force a gel in.

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Old Swan Brewery with CBD

This didn’t work out at all well and simply made me gag so I binned that idea and just pushed on back to the narrows. The bridge on the final time as I anticipated was a killer.The sharp climb upwards took it’s toll but worse was the drop down where we got back into the south side. Here I felt first twinges of cramp.

I could though see the finish in the distance (long distance I hasten to add) and simply kept my mind focused on getting there. Nobody though was passing me and I had a couple of runners in my sight.

Over the next 4 km I kept pace with them but couldn’t close them down. On the plus side though the gap wasn’t getting bigger.

Then at 41 km despite my best efforts disaster struck and I had a massive cramp in my right hamstring. This brought me to a halt and I was feeling pretty frustrated.

Every time I got going again it kept coming back in spasms.

Getting a bit desperate and breaking with my own tradition I looked at my watch and saw that I was losing time rapidly and in danger of going over the three hour barrier.

Faced with a choice of finishing badly outside my target I decided to try a radical alternate approach and run hard into my cramp to see if it cleared and for some reason that worked and the spasms lifted.

I got going at a decent rate and somehow caught (I think) a South African runner and kept forcing myself to the end.

The finish finally came into view and I ultimately crossed the line in 2.59.36. breaking the 3 hour barrier with a little bit of wiggle room.

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I hobbled out of the finish area and caught up with Sham and Paul and exchanged race tales. Paul had triumphed in the M50 Half Marathon running just over 1.12 and given his own injury difficulties earlier this year was a truly fantastic effort.

With the half marathon results coming in already we learned that Paul had also picked up a silver in the M50 with team GB. And a cuddly Quokka toy into the bargain.

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Team GB Silver M50 – Half Marathon

On my part it was a bit of a wait to get results and eventually I found I’d come 5th in my age group and first Brit across the line so although a bit disappointed with my overall run I was fairly happy not to have disgraced myself.

Team wise our hopes of a medal evaporated as my team mates had not had great days out and we ultimately came 5th behind Australia, Spain, Poland and Germany.

While this is my second slowest marathon time this year (Lake District was slower but mountainous so we’ll exclude that one) I felt that given the strong headwinds I had actually ran pretty well and given it my best effort on the day.

Lack of recovery post Berlin and my ongoing back issues had also had an effect so in short while nowhere near my original  plan it was an acceptable result.

In a quirk of fate in the M60 half marathon the winner was also a British runner called Paul Thompson and in fact from Glasgow (Cambuslang) and we had a few common friends to chat about.

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Paul Thompson, Paul Thompson, Not Paul Thompson

So all in all not a bad weekend a while I am truthfully a bit disappointed about my timing I did give it my all on the day and frankly that’s about all you can do.

===============================================================
    Name                     Age Team                    Finals
===============================================================
  1 Schmitt, Clemens         M51 Australia           2:47:22.00
  2 Wareham, Raymond         M50 Australia           2:48:22.00
  3 Barnes, Robbie           M53 New Zealand         2:54:28.00
  4 Broin, Emmanuel          M53 France              2:57:04.00
  5 Craig, Michael           M50 Great Britain       2:59:40.00
  6 Grey, Jeffrey            M52 Australia           3:00:14.00
  7 Kowal, Michael           M54 Australia           3:12:32.00
  8 Tomasi, David            M50 Australia           3:15:57.00
  9 Foulkes-Taylor, Geoff    M52 Australia           3:19:32.00
 10 Roy, Alan                M54 Hong Kong, China    3:23:38.00
 11 O'Halloran, Steven       M51 Australia           3:24:29.00
 12 Schmidt-Schoormann, Kars M51 Germany             3:24:51.00
 13 Maj, Tadeusz             M53 Poland              3:25:03.00
 14 Garcia de Paz, Bernardo  M50 Spain               3:26:25.00
 15 Falagán, Pedro Luis      M51 Spain               3:26:31.00
 16 Saavedra, José Antonio   M50 Spain               3:39:03.00
 17 Newsham, William         M51 United State        3:42:47.00
 18 Turner, Kenneth          M52 Australia           3:44:33.00
 19 Rohregger, Robert        M52 Germany             3:45:13.00
 20 Dyer, George             M52 Australia           3:53:09.00
 21 Aitken-Fox, Robert       M51 Australia           3:53:10.00
 22 Parrotte, Michael        M53 Australia           3:53:40.00
 23 Le Quesne, Ian           M52 Australia           3:55:15.00
 24 Muzalevskyi, Oleksandr   M52 Ukraine             3:56:54.00
 25 Hoffmann, Mark           M50 Australia           3:58:37.00
 26 Thomas, Greg             M52 Australia           4:04:32.00
 27 Bremner, Jeffrey         M54 Australia           4:08:59.00
 28 Stubberup, Hans          M53 Denmark             4:25:25.00
 29 Van Poecke, Reindert     M54 Australia           4:26:44.00
 30 Daly, Frank              M51 Australia           4:28:33.00
 31 Roberts, Alan            M52 Great Britai        4:39:17.00
 32 Adams, Terry             M53 Great Britai        5:09:30.00
 33 Stewart, Ken             M51 Australia           5:33:30.00

Berlin Marathon 2016

Berlin has long held a fascination for me as I grew during the Cold War and it was always a city that got plenty of press particularly on account of it being divided by The Wall.

Having run a sub 2.55 marathon in 2015 I was in the fortunate position of being able to secure a guaranteed slot in The Berlin Marathon and as my brother Gerry had similarly dipped below 2.55 he could do so too so late last year we both entered and secured our places.

Although a perfect excuse for another running weekend away when we broke the news of our plans to our respective good ladies they immediately invited themselves along.

We convinced ourselves that wasn’t a problem as long as the golden rules of marathon weekends were respected:

  • Sightseeing shall be kept to a minimum.
  • There shall not be much walking at all.
  • This is not a shopping trip.

While the ladies readily accepted these restrictions they still wanted to come along as did Andrew. Plus it was a holiday weekend in Scotland so all worked out nicely.

Janet had been in the UK the week before settling Holly back into University and catching up with her family so had a nice easy flight across from Glasgow with Gerry,Linda and Andrew on the Thursday morning.

I unfortunately had to do the long haul from Singapore.

Straight off the flights after checking into our hotels  we elected to collect our numbers from the expo which unfortunately resulted in us blowing all three rules out of the water pretty much straight away.

Luckily though Berlin is fairly compact with lots of historical sights close to each other.Indeed Checkpoint Charlie was on the way to the expo a short walk from our hotel.

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Expos are expos for all the big marathons and honestly in this day and age nothing more than a drag to make you buy shit you don’t need. In saying that this one was actually quite good and didn’t have that over-bearing corporate feel that you get in say London. I even bought some shit I didn’t need and posed for the obligatory pre-race shot.

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Gerry for his part kept up his tradition of finding free samples of the local beer although this one had a strange twist. See if you can translate the German into English to figure out what?

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While there we found out there was a children’s mini-marathon on the Saturday so after a bit of gentle persuasion Andrew agreed to sign up. It then took Linda about an hour to get that sorted on account of her German language skills being rusty.

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Despite my best efforts the next two days included a lot of sightseeing. I would say though that it was all worthwhile.

On Friday and Saturday I had a couple of short early morning runs with Gerry and then myself and Janet really did much more walking about than I really should have.

However with such iconic sights such as The Berlin Wall, Holocaust Museum, Brandenburg Gate and Hitlers Bunker then there are some things you simply have to do.

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Saturday morning Gerry, Linda and Andrew headed for the zoo and at lunchtime we all met up to cheer Andrew on in his race.He really ran fantastically well I think coming in 5th overall and earning his first international race medal.

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He also in theory earned the right to his first post race beer but barely had the strength to pick a beer up.

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Race morning after breakfast I met Gerry downstairs and after he dumped his bags in our room we simply walked over to the marathon start at The Tiergarten – the main central park in Berlin – which was about 1 km from our hotel on what was a cool but bright autumnal morning.

We negotiated the security to get into the runners area and then after the obligatory toilet stop we dropped our bags before heading to our holding pen behind the elite and super fast runners at the start line. If you look carefully at the photo below you might be able to see us.

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It was all very relaxed waiting and as our group was 2.50-3.00 hour runners we knew that everyone around us would in theory be running at roughly the same pace from the off.

Going into Berlin I’d torn my back muscles and Gerry has some Achilles issues (caused strangely by his dodgy shoulder) so we had both ditched the original sub 2.50 target and both were simply thinking of getting round. Times would be of secondary consideration.

I was a bit apprehensive about my back given I’d just come off a long haul flight and was definitely feeling a bit sore but I was fairly confident I would finish if I didn’t push myself to my limit and ran a contained race.

From the start Berlin just felt a bit “different” as it became fairly obvious that everyone around us knew their pace and we didn’t have sprinters , minor celebrities , glory hunters or novice runners dodging about.

I don’t normally check my watch but I wanted to try and control my pace so I had a quick glance at 1 km which showed the first one in 4.14 which both felt easy and something that wouldn’t cause me too much strain as a sustained run.

That though was to be my last time check till we reached 40 km.

Progressively we got into our race pace and everything felt good for me with by about 3 km my back had loosened off. Gerry said he was feeling fine too with only a couple of twinges early that cleared off.

The course itself is flat, the roads wide and lacking the pot holes and street furniture which are hazards in London and New York Marathons. Roughly 4 km in and we passed Kelvin who we’d had the stag weekend in Windermere with respendant in his Union Jack racing vest , shoes and Mohican hair-do doing his bit for post Brexit Britain.

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We continued onwards at our steady pace in what at this point was still a fairly congested field although it was starting to thin out and Janet caught this photo of us together at about 7 km although we singularly failed to spot her in the cheering crowds.

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We kept together till halfway where Gerry pulled a bit ahead of me and gradually built up a small lead. I elected to keep at my existing pace for the time being.

I am not sure what happened after this but I do now know from my splits that I did speed up a bit from 24 km through to about 35 km.

https://www.strava.com/activities/724298685

We had asked the girls to wait for us at just after 40 km outside the hotel at Gendarmenmarket with bottles of Coke to fuel us over the last mile so that point in the race became my sole focus.

At 40 km the race passed under a timing gate and it showed a rather surprising time of around 2.48 so I knew at that point that I was tracking to a sub 3 hour provided I didn’t have any disasters.

However what was a bigger surprise was that as we rounded the corner I could see the girls and Andrew at the roadside (I declined the Coke as you can see) but heard Gerry shouting out for his bottle.

I have no idea how or where I got in front of him but I did and there he was right beside me again.

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With hindsight I maybe should have grabbed a bottle as it worked wonders on the wee fella. He guzzled it down, sparked into life and caught me up asking if I was “Ready for a push?”.

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“Push?”. I was quite happy with my pace and not convinced that upping the ante would make any difference except possibly inducing cramp so declined and while once again Gerry raised his speed I just rolled along at my own constant pace.

I could always see him just a bit in front as we headed onward to the finish.

We then rounded a final ninety degree corner on Unter Den Linden and there in front of us a short way off was Brandenburg Gate. We passed under this iconic point but unfortunately the finish line is about another 400 rather cruel meters beyond.

However as it’s straight, flat and surrounded by cheering crowds all I had to do was put one leg in front of the other and not cramp up. I managed this successfully and finished crossing the line in 2.57.40 roughly 20 seconds behind Gerry.

I think it fair to say we were both pretty happy with the outcome given our respective fragility beforehand. Our times weren’t as fast as we have run already this year but still perfectly acceptable.

After a collecting our medals, bags and returning our race chip timers we had the relatively easy task of hobbling back to Gendarmenmarket where our support team were enjoying the warm sunny weather and still cheering the runners on.

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Post race Gerry and family had to get packed and head off for a flight back to Glasgow while Janet and myself had another day of Berlin before we flew back to Singapore. Needless to say I walked a lot more. But I needed to do that.

We had a fantastic weekend and I now have to say that Berlin wins for me in terms of big city marathons. Provided you stay fairly central there is much less complexity in collecting race numbers and getting to the start line.

Along with this a far better organised seeding , starting and finishing process makes the experience fairly painless (apart from the actual race itself) .

I’ll certainly be back in Berlin.

As a city to visit it really was quite special. I definitely walked far too much in advance of the race by there was simply too much to see and do not too.

Janet even enjoyed the whole weekend. Which is a big bonus given she had sworn off marathon trips years ago. In fact she enjoyed it so much she’s coming to Dubai in January. I’ll drink to that.

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The Taming of the Shrew

 

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As cliches go “school years are the best years of your life” may not be strictly true as , for many, it involves being force fed a diet of classical literature including but not exclusively Shakespeare.

In common with most schools my Alma Mater, Turnbull High School,  had , as a constituent part of it’s English curriculum, plenty of compulsory texts including Shakespeare thrown in to “challenge” us.

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Oor Wullie

I guess though that we were fortunate in that we had an English teacher – Tony McNamara- who along with being a certifiable headcase had a passion for his subject that was quite simply infectious.

Mr.McNamara (no way we’d call him Tony) was obviously of Irish stock , loved not only Shakespeare but Irish playwright and Nationalist Sean O’Casey plus he had a worrying devotion to Glasgow Celtic.

Each of these passions he shared liberally with his classes.

He could be a tyrant too and forgetting homework or flunking an assignment usually brought out the worst in him. AS did a Celtic defeat.

After corporal punishment was abolished (which he was a dab hand at) six of the belt was replaced by ritual humiliation.

This usually involved having to lie prostrate in front of his rather large Glasgow Rangers Ibrox Stadium poster begging for his forgiveness.

All while being mercilessly mocked and ridiculed by the rest of the class.

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The Big House – Replacement for Corporal Punishment

Setting aside Mr.McNamara’s character traits there is one thing that he did and that was to stimulate our imaginations for what can be a rather tedious subject.

Spouting a sonnet or soliloquy in Tudor English really could be hard going and I don’t think I was alone in wondering what all the fuss was about or why we even had to study this stuff.

Glasgow though has a fantastic selection of theaters none more famous than The Citizens and in October 1981 ( I know this because I checked the theater archives) Mr.McNamara played a trump card and got us a field trip to “The Citz” to see Hamlet.

It was as I vividly recall a fantastic night and simply brought Shakespeare to life and given how indelibly it’s etched on my memory it must have been something special.

Or maybe it was sneaking into the bar for a pint of Tenents at the interval? Both maybe.

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Citizens Theatre – Gorbals Glasgow 1973

Occasionally in the intervening years I’ve seen other Shakespeare plays live but since the rebuild of The Globe Theater in London in 1997 I’ve always had a desire to go there and experience a play as it was originally intended.

Luck was on my side and while checking schedules I noticed that during our planned  summer trip to the UK there was a season of The Taming of the Shrew.

I couldn’t pass this opportunity up and got everything booked. Then sought permission to go.

A week or so after my birthday myself and Janet flew to London  and after a quick hotel stop we had a wander over to St.Paul’s Cathedral. I even went up to the top of the dome despite my extreme unease with heights. This wasn’t on my 50 list but I’ll throw it in anyway.

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After a couple of hours at St.Paul’s we simply strolled back across The Millennium Bridge and along The Thames to our hotel for a bit of a break before we then headed back to The Globe.

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The Globe sits I am reliably told on a site on or about 250 meters from the original one which closed in 1642. From the outside it certainly looks like how I’d imagine a 17th Century theatre to look. Or maybe not as it had a wine bar and WiFi too.

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The Globe

The dimensions and layout are all open to debate but it’s widely assumed to be a close approximation to the original based on existing plans and historical records and research. Evidence suggests that it was a three-story, open-air amphitheater approximately 100 feet in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators.

At the base of the stage, there was an area called the pit where, for a penny, people (the “groundlings”) would stand to watch the performance. Vertically around the yard were three levels of seats, which were more expensive than standing room.

A rectangular stage thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard.

And this is what it looks like.

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We had managed to get box seats off to the right of the stage and although not the best view as you can see from the panoramic shot above above the intimacy of the place and the atmosphere created (despite the groundlings getting a bit wet early on) was fantastic.

After a pre-play refreshment we simply settled in and enjoyed the night. I even lashed out an extra couple of quid for cushions.

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I’ll not bore you with a scholarly review of The Taming of The Shrew. Lets say it’s a bit controversial in these modern times but in a strange synchronicity the adaption was set against the backdrop of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and performed by a Dublin based theater group.

An event I’m sure that Tony McNamara would have held in the highest regard.

 

Clydestride Ultra 2016

In 2006 a group of my friends from Singapore and beyond ran the length of the West Highland Way with me on what was my 40th birthday year so I had hoped to try and to do something equally memorable for my 50th.

Having looked at a number of possibilities including cycling across the USA, running across the breadth of England , cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats or even London to Istanbul it became fairly obvious that a lethal combination of logistics, holidays , travel and most crucially age was hampering each of these in turn.

However through good luck rather than planning my favourite ultra – Clyde Stride – got scheduled for 16th July 2016, the eve of my 50th birthday, and a cunning plan was hatched.

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Selling the concept of running Clyde Stride to my friends wasn’t particularly hard. It’s a super friendly race, supremely organised and directed by Lee Maclean, jam-packed with friendly volunteers, isn’t overly long at 40 miles and covers a course that is very scenic but equally runable.

Plus when they visited in 2006 the weather was positively Mediterranean so why not just visit for some sunshine?

However the single most important consideration is that the race starts slap bang in the middle of the area where I was born and brought up. This was a sign from above that this was the event I was looking for.

General invites were issued early in 2016 and to my amazement the responses were swift and positive. Some folks wanted to do the relay race , some who had done ultras already were up for a new event and a few foolhardy folks who had ran marathons believed my observation that running 40 miles was a fairly easy progression and decided to ultra debut at Clydestride.

Others just wanted to come along and support us while basking in the warmth of a Scottish summer.

I then spent the next few months sorting entries and logistics and encouraging folks on their training and so it came to pass that by the start of July we had a muster of a team from our club – MR25 Singapore – and five willing souls doing the full race all ably supported by partners and families.

In the run up to the event of the five running the full distance only two, myself and Mika were injury free and Mark,Francois and Graham were all injured to varying degrees. I met Mark the Saturday before we left Singapore and his hobbling about had me really worried but he assured me he was willing to give the race his best shot.

We did though hit a major snag in that our leg one runner – JJ – got seriously injured in England while on holiday days before the race.Luckily my brother Chris, an honorary member of MR25, agreed to step in. Only snag was that he would be in Ibiza and only back in Scotland five hours before race start. Plan B was put in place.

I had asked everyone to try and fly in no later than the Thursday before the race and, as I was having a few concerns over navigation, a short route recce of Leg 2 was planned. However with people coming from France, USA, Singapore, Japan,Hong Kong and England it all got a bit messy and by the recce night only Mika (Japan) was free.

Through the Clyde Stride chat page we set up the run and myself, Mika, my brother Gerry, Davie Mooney and Alan Cox all met at Cambuslang and had a very pleasant evening running through to Strathclyde Park while marking off the course.

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Leg 2 pre-race recce. With sub-titles for Mika

Mika I hoped had grasped not only the nuances of the course but the nuances of the Weegie dialect and as a reward for her run and linguistic skills we treated her to some Glasgow recovery drinks post run.

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Through Thursday evening and Friday morning everyone finally got into town and I shuttled backwards and forwards to Glasgow Airport. Friday was set aside mainly for being tourists but with a bit of time for race preparation. This involved force feeding everyone on a full Scottish Breakfast.

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We convened at night for a further bit of food and chat with race tips being handed out while also catching up with those more sensible folks having nothing to do with the running at all.

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And so to race morning. My dad had kindly been volunteered to be mini-bus driver and chief navigator for the team (and to bring everyone back post race). Chris had managed to get back from Ibiza in time too and we picked the squad up at the flats I’d rented in Glasgow West End.

Thankfully the morning was dry if a little cool for our tastes. With the exception of Chris in this photo most of us tend to train in temperatures of around +35C and 100% humidity so conditions were certainly a bit different.

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Then it was mini-bus and cars in convoy to Partick Train Station. The registration area behind Morrisons was already bustling and we all set about getting numbers and making ourselves ready. I caught up with folks I knew from the UK and searched out industrial strength caffeine and a toilet.

Our guys were also super chuffed to see a familiar face in Neil Anderson another former MR25 runner who had moved back to Linlithgow and had entered. All in all there didn’t seem too many nerves and everyone was super positive.

My main worry was losing someone but I just had to hope it all worked out.Plus we had sorted Mika out on Thursday so there was nothing to worry about on that front. My own plan was simple and two fold.

First stage is to finish. That’s a given. Sometimes this plan doesn’t work out in ultras.

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I did though have a second plan to run a sub 5.30 race as I felt I was in decent shape and had no fears of getting lost like I did last year.

Soon enough we were all lined up at the start line and after a few inspirational words from local hero and all round top ultra boy James Stewart we were set on our merry way. Oh and Lee did mention something about not going off too fast.

Right from the off the speed merchants took off contrary to the words of wisdom. Davie Mooney too decided that he was going for it big time.

I had my sensible hat on and trotted along with Mark Ashby (a friend from Southport and Glasgow who knows his shit and my occasional training partner) and Graham Merfield (my Singapore friend now living in Atlanta USA who knows his shit and my occasional training partner).

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We got into our groove and just chatted as we ran along the side of the Clyde towards Glasgow Green before we finally caught rocket man Davie around mile four where he conceded he “might have gone off a bit fast”.

We were going faster than we planned too but things felt comfortable so we just meandered on laying bets as to when the sprinters would come apart and more pertinently when we’d disintegrate too.

Checkpoint 1 finally came up after about 16 km and I did my usual routine of not bothering to stop (which in hindsight was probably my first mistake) while the other two guys took some refreshments as you can see clearly in this photo. My dad told me I was five minutes behind my brother at this stage which given the rate of knots he’d shot off at the start wasn’t a major surprise.”Only five?” I think was my question.

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Then it was onto Leg 2 where I got lost last year. No such fears this year having done the recce run the Thursday beforehand and having watched Davie faithfully mark the route I was confident that I’d not get lost. And I didn’t. Those markings were exceptionally good.

Before I knew it I had navigated the fields of jaggy nettles,grass as high as a triffid , followed the Clyde along to the Bothwell Castle climb and the through the jakey railway bridge before heading from Blantyre downhill to Strathclyde Park via Raith Interchange.

All fine and dandy and at this point I was simply cruising along. This ultra thing would be a lark if it was only about 30km long.

I hit the checkpoint at the park itself in a little over two and a half hours and at this point felt that my target time was well within grasp. So what did I do? I had a chocolate milk to fortify myself (mistake number two) before starting the second half of the race. Gerry it seemed now had a ten minute lead on me so he was continuing to motor along assuming I was going pretty steady. Which in hindsight I was. As he was too.

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Chocolate Milk. Not my best idea.

I do usually enjoy leg 3 of Clydestride. After the pretty boring first couple of miles through Strathclyde Park you hit the Baron’s Haugh Nature Reserve which is rather pretty. Just before I got to the start of the reserve I heard a shout and it was Rob Soutar who had dropped out just after the end of Strathclyde Park.

I guessed he had back problems as he’d been suffering a bit in the weeks beforehand.

Then it’s fairly flat riverside trails through the reserve as you head south towards the legendary Coo Field.

The Coo Field proved to be a coo free zone which was a bonus this year as they do scare me a bit. A big bit. I don’t mind admitting that and I think the coos sense it too. But anyway they weren’t there and I could meander along dodging the cowpats and enjoying the countryside.

After clearing the coo field and reaching the metal gate there is a steep climb at Highmainshead Wood before it levels off and you cross the main Garrion Bridge to Overtown road before the wooded stretch leading into Maudslie Bridge and CP3.

I passed another broken rocket man here walking towards the checkpoint and carried onwards. I was though starting to feel decidedly shonky myself for some reason and the urge to throw up was coming on in waves.

Approaching checkpoint three I was feeling pretty nauseous and deteriorating at a rapid rate of knots.By the time I stopped all I wanted to do was throw up. But these things take their own sweet time. Someone told me Gerry wasn’t too far ahead but I now knew my main objectives were two fold. Be sick then finish. Hopefully in reverse of that order.

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I grabbed water and a couple of snacks along with Lucozade and walked a while trying to get the food and drink down. After a couple of minutes all my hard work getting nutrition in came to an end and I puked everywhere. It looked pretty much mainly like the chocolate milk too.

From then on it was a combination of running and throwing up for mile after mile. As you can see from my splits the last 8 km took me well over an hour and my target time just slipped away. There was nothing I could do as waves of sickness got me every couple of miles.

At Crossford when I reached the road crossing Sarah Self told me that I was “only” six minutes behind Gerry but I knew by then that survival was the name of the game and that holding on to finish would be a result for me. I think when I told her I didn’t care she didn’t believe me but honestly all I cared about was getting to the end.

By Kirkfieldbank I was in deep trouble after the miles of systematic barfing and staggered into the 7-11 at the far end of the village and used my emergency fiver for water and Coke.

Finally I managed to keep something down and although I wasn’t jumping for joy I knew I had a chance to finish if I held some liquids in my body for a while.

As I exited the shop my brother Chris came running along at full gallop as he was leg four of the MR25 relay team. He suggested we run together but I couldn’t keep going at his pace and as we hit the steep hill leading towards Lanark he disappeared.

In hindsight he should have stuck with me as he totally disappeared the wrong way and ended up somewhere in Lanark itself. And he says I’m a numpty for getting lost. Numpty.

Then Mark Ashby who I’d not seen since CP1 caught me. Again a kind offer to go in to the finish together but I simply couldn’t. My focus was simply getting to the finish line.

After the long steep climb we hit the path at “Jookers Johnnie” and Mark trotted off but for me things went really shit shaped.

If you’ve ran leg 4 you’ll know that at this point you go down what seems like a few hundred steps to The River Clyde. Then you have to go back up again in a rather cruel twist.

The downwards steps though induced cramps in me like I have never known. I think my testicles and eyeballs actually cramped at one point.

After an eternity of squealing, cramps and every massage technique in the book was exhausted I got to the bottom and started the climb back up. This was marginally easier than down and somehow I kept cramp at bay. At long last I emerged onto the road that drops into New Lanark and knew that apart from the last sadistic dog-leg and final few steps I was nearly there. Only a mile. How hard can a mile be?

I hobbled downhill and passed through New Lanark and back up the trail. It was murder to say the least. Just before the final downhill to the river Gavin Harvie caught me and I got another offer of a jog in together. Jog? Aye right , crack on Charlie Brown.

Somehow I kept going and then just when I was despairing of ever finishing I could hear the cheers of the finish line and then suddenly I was on an uphill stretch and finally came through the stone arch and hobbled gingerly down the last set of steps to the finish.

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No glory here just relief and a cracking big hug from Lee.

Done.

Strava feed of my run is shown below. See if you can spot where I was sick.

https://www.strava.com/activities/642792603

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With my race over I could swap tales with the folks already in while enjoying multiple cups of tea and tablet to try and pull myself together. Gerry opted for a few beers as per normal and I caught up with the rest of my family and our various guests.

There was then a big surprise for us at prize giving when Lee announced that the team relay trophy was going to be named “The Craig Cup” as a thank you for the help we’ve given over the years to the race. We were really touched by this. Doubly so as it’s not a “Memorial” cup. Yet.

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Our MR25 runners started to finish in different states of disrepair but I can proudly say that all completed and the three guys pushed their boundaries beyond limits I guess they never knew they had given the injuries they were carrying.

Mika in her usual super positive way ran with a big cheesy smile and despite all our best efforts to prevent it from happening got lost on Leg 2. But that really didn’t matter. If you can read her race review. It is truly brilliant.

Unfortunately though before everyone finished I had to head back to Glasgow in advance to organise my birthday party that night. Which is a different story.

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Final results though for our squad:

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Gerry Craig – 5:12:48 (3rd Male)

 

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Michael Craig – 05:50:35 (15th)

 

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Graham Merfield – Atlanta USA – 06:29:46 (35th)

 

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Mark Dyson – Singapore – 08:01:01 (73rd)

 

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Francois Rameau – Paris, France – 08:02:09 (76th)

 

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Mika Kume – Tokyo , Japan – 08:14:22 (82nd)

TEAM MR25 SINGAPORE – 05:47:07 – 5th. 

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Chris Flanagan – Hong Kong. Gavin Harvie in front
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Kenneth Ng – Wisconsin USA
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Chris Craig – Ibiza
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Pauline Mulroy – Singapore. With The Boss.

So without getting too introspective I have to be honest and say that I was a bit disappointed with my time but have only myself to blame. I still need to figure a race nutrition strategy that doesn’t wreck my system. If I do I know I can lop many minutes off my times.

I was so chuffed though for everyone that came over to finish and have such a great day out. That I think is mainly due to the winning combination of a cracking route, a truly special race director, marvelous volunteers and my dad the bus driver who made it all happen and all the competitors who embrace the spirit of the day.

Thanks all and see you again next year.

http://www.clydestride.co.uk/

  

The Isle of Skye

One my fifty things to do on my list is a trip to Skye in Scotland.For those interested in geography Skye is he largest and most northerly major island in the Inner Hebrides. It has a land area of about twice that of Singapore but whereas our little Island has about 6 million folks crammed on it Skye is home to a little over 10,000 souls. And a lot of sheep.

Skye location map
Skye location map

Being in Scotland in July I had a chance to do this. Initially I thought we’d visit for one night but the drive to Skye from Central Scotland is, I found out thanks to the power of Google Maps, at least five and a half hours.

With so much to see and do common sense dictated that at least two nights were going to be required.

So on July 19th after a hectic birthday weekend we headed off early on the day that summer finally arrived in Scotland. It was a truly spectacular morning which I just knew would make the drive somewhat special.

From Glasgow the conventional route to the Western Isles takes you initially up the west side of Loch Lomond. This is a familiar journey having been the route of not only my 40th birthday run but also various training runs and race crew support days along the West Highland Way.

Our first planned stop was to be on Rannoch Moor at The Kingshouse Inn. Rannoch Moor is,as some of you may not know, the legendary home of the Disney character Scrooge McDuck. It is. Go check it out.

However more crucially my brother Gerry had said that on his runs through there the deer just wandered through and were rather tame. And you know what? I thought he would have been hallucinating on his ultra races but he was absolutely correct.

Buachaille Etive Mòr. Deer but no Scrooge McDuck

A short drive later we passed into Glencoe and I have to say that this is just one of the most special places that you are ever likely to lay your eyes on and on a day like this doubly so. We pulled over at a lay-by and Janet had a chat with a piper persuading him to pose for a photo (or crossing his palm with silver) before he headed off to serenade a bus full of French tourists.

Lone Piper in Glencoe
Lone Piper in Glencoe

We then continued north and westwards stopping briefly at Glen Nevis for a coffee and a chat with some of the locals . This all took place under the shadow of Ben Nevis itself which unfortunately had a bit of cloud cover in our photo. Ben Nevis is on my “to do” list and while it would have been a cunning plan to go up time was against us so that will have to wait.

Friendly sheep with Ben Nevis looming large
Friendly sheep with Ben Nevis looming large

Then after a short scenic drive along the southern section of The Great Glen we headed westwards at Glengarry towards Skye. We were immediately greeted by the majestic, and on this day, pancake flat and calm Loch Garry.

Onwards we drove through Glen Shiel before passing along Loch Duich and finally rounding a bend in the road to be greeted by the rather splendid sight of Eilean Donan Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle

Being smart as Carl Pilkington tourist types we drove past this avoiding the masses and pulled in at what turned out to be a most exceptional cafe called “All the Goodness” and simply enjoyed the free views along with fine tea, coffee and Scottish snacks that melt your teeth.

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http://www.allthegoodness.co.uk/

Fuelled by caffeine and sugar we headed off again and within a short period we passed The Kyles of Lochalsh and there in front of us was the Skye Bridge. I have to be honest I thought this was a toll bridge but to my surprise it was not (I did read up about this later and it was a rather sore point locally). Result.

Once on Skye we had a fairly lengthy drive to our B&B which was at Milovaig near Glendale on the far west of the island. However the drive itself was just stunning and we got crystal clear views of The Cuillin Mountains on the way while passing through some impressive landscapes.

The Cuillin Mountains
The Cuillin Mountains

Eventually we got to our B&B – Sgarbh Lodge – and after checking in with the host Mairi were treated to this view from our bedroom on the upper floor with bay windows looking out over Loch Pooltiel.

http://www.sgarbhlodge.co.uk/

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Sgarbh Lodge looking out over Loch Pooltiel

While I went for a customary run around the area to loosen up after the long drive Janet and Fiona went for a walk to the local harbour and enjoyed the evening sun while dodging the free range sheep. They had hoped to see seals but it was too early and after I got back we headed out for an evening bite to eat before getting our heads down.

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Fiona out walking at Milovaig with Lewis and Harris in the distance

During the night though there was an epic thunderstorm which reminded us of the ones we get in Singapore it was so intense.When we woke in the morning while it was still warm the weather had turned a bit misty and there was a hint of light rain. Summer was over but we knew this was a certainty so it wasn’t a problem. There was the added bonus though that the waterfalls in the harbour had sprung into life overnight.

Pooltiel Harbour waterfalls
Pooltiel Harbour waterfalls

Mairi then gave us a few ideas of things to try and see on a tour of Skye and we set of to do a circuit of the north of the island as she had suggested.

First stop was Flora MacDonald Monument at Kilmuir. Flora MacDonald is seen as a Jacobite heroine and famously helped smuggle Bonnie Prince Charlie to the mainland to escape the English Government troops in 1746.

Flora MacDonald
Flora MacDonald

I have to confess that the weather here was a bit blowy and rough so we made the visit a bit shorter than it probably should be and also only had a quick look at The Museum of Island life. We left Flora’s rather impressive monument to the gathering buses loaded with tourists all wondering where summer had gone.

Museum of Island Life
Museum of Island Life

We were then driving south when Janet got all excited seeing a building that she was sure she had seen on “Grand Designs”. Flora MacDonald to Grand Designs is a bizarre juxtaposition but we turned back and stopped at another cafe with stunning views called “Single Track Art”.

https://www.facebook.com/SingleTrackSkye/

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Janet got chatting to the ladies running the place and it turns out she was correct that the building work had been featured on “Grand Designs” although the lady in charge was a bit embarrassed by being on TV and said she never actually watched the program she featured in. And no we did not ask for autographs.

If you want to have a good look at what was built then here is the link. It’ll save you a long trip but if you do make the journey it is worth the effort.

After this I had hoped we could have a short drive to the Quiraing and onwards to see The Old Man of Storr and ideally get a hike up for the views but the weather had become too misty and although the scenery was still pretty special we simply couldn’t see any of the peaks. These things though you simply expect as being normal in Scotland in summer. I was really disappointed about The Old Man of Storr as its been used extensively in movie shoots most recently in Prometheus starring amongst others Charlize Theron and Idris Elba.

http://www.scotlandthemovie.com/movies/prometheus1.html

This is what I missed seeing.

Old Man of Storr
Old Man of Storr

Late afternoon we got to Portree which is the largest town on Skye and although the harbour area is quite pretty it’s actually not that attractive a place overall and more of a stopping point for boats and coachloads of tourists. Still it looks not too bad in this photo. Maybe we were being spoiled elsewhere.

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Portree Harbour

Then we drove back across to the west coast and to the town of Dunvegan. We had hoped to visit the castle but lucked out and could only find a Vegan Castle. Holly would have been really chuffed with that.

Vegan Castle
Vegan Castle

For an evening treat Janet had managed to book us a table at “The Three Chimneys” which is rather impressively one of two Michelin starred restaurants on Skye and a very difficult place to get a booking at particularly in summer.

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The Three Chimneys

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/25/skye-scottish-island-restaurant-awarded-michelin-stars

I’ll not bore you with a review of the food but lets just say if you can go to Skye then make a booking and eat here. You will not regret it at all. Even Fiona thought it very good. Or maybe that was just the white chocolate dish she had for desert.

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By the time we left stuffed to the gunnels the weather was clearing and as it was only 10pm and still daylight we thought we would take a trip up to Neist Point for a stroll and see if it was as spectacular as the guide books said. It is.

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Sunset on cliff face at Neist Point

The photos we took do not capture the scale of the cliff drops or the beauty of Waterstein Head with the sun setting over Lewis and Harris.

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Waterstein Head with Lewis in the distance across The Minch

The following morning after being fortified with another full Scottish Breakfast made with local free-range eggs, black pudding and haggis we set off on the long journey home. We left Skye with some quite amazing memories and I am so happy we made the trip. For sure we’ll be back as we barely saw a fraction of what we could and we really want to get up some of those peaks that we couldn’t see.

 

Hills and Podiums

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a “Podium” the dictionary definition that applies to sport is neatly stated as :
podium (noun)
  1. (of a competitor in a sporting event) finish first, second, or third, so as to appear on a podium to receive an award.
    podium

    Earlier this year our friends Gavin and Kirsty announced their wedding this summer but more crucially (sorry Kirsty) there was to be a stag weekend with a bit of a difference beforehand. Being a keen marathon and ultra runner Gavin sought to combine his stag plans with a marathon. That’s a bit different from the usual jolly boys outing to Prague. But not necessarily in a good way.

    His race of choice was to be The Windermere Brathay Marathon on 22nd May.

Through good luck rather than planning I was due in the UK from 9th May for a couple of weeks so happily entered this race and then thought that I’d look for other events in preceding weeks.

Given the time of year there are many events to choose from and one stood out for me. The Monklands Half Marathon on 15th May so I quickly stuck and entry into that too as I knew that my brother Gerry and sister Kate would be doing this.

This particular race holds a bit of affection for me as it was my first ever half marathon which I ran in I think maybe in 1992 in the early stages of my running “career”.

My memory of this , admittedly dimmed through time, was that it was hilly and Gerry readily confirmed that point. He said that it was a short loop of about three miles and a double long loop of five miles each roughly running around the perimeter of Drumpellier Country Park.

There was an steep uphill we’d encounter at miles 3, 8 and 13 but I also knew there was a big climb at mile 5 and 10 too so in short being a guy who likes it flat I wasn’t expecting to bang out a PB on this one. The link below shows the route.

Race Route2012

Sunday 15th I headed over to Gerry’s early on a bright and sunny morning and picked him up then went to the registration and number pick up. Along with Gerry our sister Kate was running as was her Springburn Harrier pal Collette. The two of them have been training well so I think we  expected good results from the two ladies.

Gerry and myself both felt we were in reasonable shape with a month having passed since London Marathon giving us some recovery but that we’d not be super fast.

Following a quick number pick up and multiple toilet breaks the start was called and we all lined up as you can see below. All fairly low key with nobody apparently stressing or pushing to the front. We all knew who’d win anyway (which as if by magic Robert Gilroy managed for the 12th year on the bounce).

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Start of The Monklands Half Marathon

After the off the first mile was steeply uphill and in truth I was feeling it already. Not a great way to get into any race but as ever an up is followed by a down and I began to recover then and find my pace. This would be a recurring theme though.

At three miles I passed Gerry for some reason that I cannot fathom but again a hard climb caused me to slip back. I then drifted off the back of Gerry and settled into my own rhythm.

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Getting ahead of myself at mile 3

After that first long climb I had two runners between myself and Gerry who was maybe 400 meters ahead but I was feeling not too bad and over the next five miles reeled in and passed those guys and as we got to final mile I think I had reduced the gap on him to about 200 meters.

I knew though that prospects of catching the wee fella were slim with a final hill to come with Gerry being a fairly resilient finisher. In short he’d rather kill himself than be caught near the end.

Clearing the brow of the last hill we then did a short dog leg through some houses before hitting the downhill into the finish. I am sure Gerry by this time was beginning to sense my presence. As I entered the final straight though Gerry was just ahead of me going through the finish.

Finally I crossed the line shortly behind him stopping my watch as I did. As is normal for me this was my first time check and it was a pleasant surprise to see that I’d run a time of 1.21.56. Not too shabby.

Gerry it turns out had managed 1.21.36 and as an added bonus Gerry was 2nd Male Vet 40 and I was 3rd so we managed a podium.

Two happy boys as captured below.

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Male V40 second and third place

We then walked over to the 12 mile point to catch Kate coming in and give her a bit of encouragement. She passed soon enough and seemed to be tracking for a good time with Collette not far behind.

After they had passed we quickly doubled back to the finish area and minutes later both finished in quick succession with Kate securing 1.56.50 and Collette 1.57.19.

They were both chuffed to bits with their runs particularly coming in well below the two hour mark.

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Kate and Collette happy at sub two hours

The following Saturday lunchtime I picked up Gerry and Duncan for our drive down to Gavin’s Stag. The main party had departed on Friday but with work commitments Gerry couldn’t go till Saturday.

On the ride down we listened to The Scottish Cup Final but unfortunately lost the signal somewhere around Lockerbie. When it came back though there was much happiness as Gerry was getting a stream of texts telling him he’d got the score right and his mammoth pre-match bet had paid out.

Well it would have if he’d put more than two pounds on a 3-2 win for Hibs.

Our hotel was in Ambleside close to the race start and finish point but the guys had elected for a more rustic experience staying at the YHA at Coniston so after a quick bag drop we drove over there.

By the time we got there they were firmly camped in ringside seats a local pub watching the FA Cup Final but enthusing mightily about the Scottish Final and the post match riot. I think Lee described it as “handbags” and not a patch on Wembley ’77 or the Old Firm riot of 1980. You could sense the anguish.

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FA Cup Final. Riot free

After the football was finished it was agreed that the best nutrition for a marathon would be a curry washed down with beer and we all piled into Coniston’s premier and only curry house – Sara’s.

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Excitement before the curry while Lee is away buying the beer

It was a great philosophical night with many topical subject covered including the EU Referendum, Glasgow descriptive vocabulary and how to train better but I knew we’d have to call it quits when the debate turned from drug cheats (no names but we KNOW who they are) to the FACT that Parkrun isn’t free.

At least in Gerry’s mind it’s not.

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Just saying

Race day we were up bright and early. Probably too early as breakfast wasn’t till eight. It was a massive spread but we were both suffering from curry bottom and Gerry seemed to be slightly off colour on account of one pakora too many so we did not do it any justice.

Still we forced in some porridge and toast and industrial strength coffee to clear the tubes.

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What hangover?

Duncan came by and after dumping his bag with us we all walked over to the race start. My guts were not in great shape and I was forced into multiple pit stops. We then hooked up with everyone else with myself, Gerry, Gavin,Lee, Kelvin and Cris doing the full marathon and Dave running the half.

John , Ken and Duncan were in supporting roles mainly due to each carrying a sick note for injuries.Real or imagined.

Cris had driven down from Glasgow that morning and having raced the route before gave us the benefit of his experience and the unfortunate (although we suspected this) news that the course was both very hilly and challenging. It think the technical term was “F*&%ing brutal”.

The course as Cris vividly described it was hilly mostly till we hit 20 miles and at this point – Ice Cream Hill – it was fairly flat to the finish. So that was my strategy sorted. Get to 20 miles and hang on. The overall route is shown below which is an extended loop of Lake Windermere.

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Race course

Cris though was in it to win it! I like a man with ambition. To help him along we all gave his perceived competition (a young guy in a yellow vest) loads of Evil Eye treatment. That worked out well.

Myself and Gerry fell into the “We’ll give it our best shot” camp which was ambitious enough for us and the rest just thought “Bugger it we are stopping for beer somewhere”.

Lee instead of a target time schedule written on his wrist had the bus schedules from Bowness back to Ambleside just in case. And an emergency 20 quid note tucked away.

The marathon runners all got marched down to the start line by a drum ensemble which was technically meant to get you all fired up but all I could think about was how it sounded like my dodgy stomach. Felt like it too.

After the off it became apparent straight away that this wasn’t going to be a conventional day out and indeed the first three miles were simply uphill. Followed by more uphill.

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Marathon start

We had a small pack by about one mile in as you can see from the photo below but this largely thinned out as the hill progressed for a further two unrelenting upwards miles. As a side note I think every runner in this photo except the two Craig boys crashed and burned on the course somewhere.

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I can see a hill from here

By what appeared to be the top of our first hill I knew if I even attempted to keep my pace going I’d be in trouble and I eased back a bit letting Gerry open up a decent sized gap.I’m polite like that.

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Gavin, Lee and Kelvin post start

Finally though we dropped downhill at last and had a bit of fairly flat (or rather undulating) running which included a stretch right through the center of the very pretty village of Hawkshead.

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Hawkshead Village. Proudly in the EU.England and Britain.

From there through to six miles it was up and down but then we hit an absolute monster climb. I thought I was hallucinating as I could hear Pipers and the clear sound of “Scotland the Brave” but as I neared the peak of the hill there were indeed two Pipers banging out a tune. I have no idea why they were there or indeed how they go there as it was technically the middle of nowhere. In England.

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Heading uphill together

Onwards we pressed and over the next five or so miles I gradually caught Gerry up. There was a minor setback when I swallowed a massive fly that decided to lodge itself firmly in my throat but other than that I was moving OK.

We hit halfway around Newby Bridge and then started the long slog north along Windermere to the finish. Through the next seven miles if I wasn’t going up I was going down. My back and my hammies were screaming at me but I had it in my mind that after Ice Cream Hill I’d be fine. I tried my best to take in some of the views which on rare occasion when I did look up from my feet were rather splendid. Not my feet , the views.

Twenty miles in we again went over a hill but I couldn’t figure why it was named Ice Cream Hill. Never mind. However it didn’t get flat thereafter as promised which was a bit of a worry. In fact it got hillier and I slowed up to get a “magic” gel down and try and stave off any potential cramp.

This let Gerry extend his gap on me further and by the time I got going again he was a good half a kilometer ahead. His little grey head was a mere dot in the distance.

At 22 miles came a really nasty climb. I was truly toiling and couldn’t believe that as I got to the top I passed a queue of tourists waiting for ice-cream. So this was the legendary hill. Probably I should have stopped for a Mr. Whippy but if I did there would be no going on.

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Ice Cream Hill. Does what is says on the tin

Thereafter I hoped that as Cris said it would be fairly flat so I kept my focus on trying to prevent a blow out and hopefully reel in some runners. Over the next three miles I passed two more runners and entering the final mile on the outskirts of Ambleside was definitely closer to Gerry but as he took a turn to cross the final bridge I lost sight of him and assumed the next time I’d see him would be at the finish line.

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John and Duncan awaiting runners at top of the final climb “Col De Brathay”.

As I finally made the entrance to Brathay Hall and the final , rather cruel , climb that you can see above I got a surprise to see Gerry was only about 150 meters ahead. I wasn’t though going to catch him but I couldn’t quite figure out how I had closed the gap.

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Final sprint to the finish

Then it was a final stretch avoiding a stray ambulance and into the finish chute and across the line while stopping my watch and checking my time. Again my first and only check.

Gerry was standing having just finished and I asked what had happened and it turns out the last bridge had finally done him in and he’d thrown up as he crossed it losing a bit of time. But feeling a lot better for it.

Our respective times though were actually quite good. Gerry with 3.02.59 and myself 3.03.15.

We had the added bonus of coming in as 1st and 2nd V45 category. Second podium in a week.

http://tdleventservices.co.uk/race-results.php?event=2240

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Victorious old men

We both reckoned that given the course profile that we had run a pretty strong race and indeed running on a flat course we’d reckoned we’d knock a big lump off our times which bodes well for our planned sub 2.50 in Berlin later this year.

My Strava upload shows just how hilly the course was.

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Strava feed of marathon course

In the finish area we caught up with Cris enjoying a well earned pint having come in second place overall in a stunning time of 2.39.51 .

Then we had a chat with Dave who had run the half in 2.10.20 (a course he did not enjoy as you can see).

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Dave on the final climb

Along with the non-runners John, Ken and Duncan we then awaited the arrival of the three amigos who finally turned up in a not too shabby time of 3.34 having indeed stopped for beer and having an overall laugh on the run. Lee also managed to avoid catching a bus.

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I’m a stag

Unfortunately myself,Gerry and Duncan had to quickly make an exit and head back up north again leaving behind the rest of the guys to continue with the weekend in the manner in which they had become accustomed.

A big thanks to Gavin for the invite and Kelvin for the overall organisation. A top weekend away even if a bit short. Great bunch of lads and it’s pity I won’t make the actual wedding.

So that capped out a two week period of racing where I ticked off a couple of things on my to do list namely getting a podium (twice). Mind you I hadn’t expected to do this till I actually crossed the fifty threshold so hopefully I have a couple more in me. Might even get a win.

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My winnings from Windermere