Ya Fan Dancer – Adventures in the Welsh Mountains

This months update focuses on a training run in Wales and my race report on the Fan Dance. The more I run in Wales, the more deeply I love the country and look forward to running the Dragon’s Back.

New Years Day Run – Conwy Castles High and Low

We spent the New Year with friends in North Wales and I crept out the house early (0830) on New Year’s Day for a run. I had found a route on line that incorporated Conwy Castle and the old Iron Age fort on Conwy Mountain.

I ran across the estuary into Conwy and then through the quay, enjoying the flat route and the views back across to the Orme (I’m definitely running the Orme next time I’m in Conwy). I then entered some forest and began a steep but runnable climb, crossing the road and railway line and climbing higher as I reached the open moorland. The wind and rain started to close in and it became much wetter and windier as I climbed. The views from the summit and the old fort are impressive, but would be so much better on a clearer day. It was good to see the wild Welsh Mountain ponies at the summit.

I quickly dropped down towards a hill farm and a metalled road that I followed back towards Conwy, there was an option to follow a trail over the hills, but I had been out long enough and had left the house without eating so took the short cut. A steep down hill brought me back into Conwy past the ‘new’ castle before crossing the estuary and back to a welcome bath and some breakfast.

The Fan Dance

My second trip to the Welsh Mountains was for the Fan Dance. Run by ex-Special Forces officers over the course used to determine the fitness and mental strength of soldiers attempting Special Forces selection, it takes place the day after SAS recruits run the course. The race starts at the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre, runs to the summit of Pen Y Fan (2907 feet), then down Jacob’s Ladder, a rough stone staircase, before running along a Roman Road to the turn around point at Tal Fechan Forest.

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For me, the event was a true test of mental strength an endurance, starting with a 9 hour drive through Scotland and England before entering Wales and crossing most of the country, arriving at the Storey Arms at 9pm and bunking down for the night.

This race was well and truly out of my comfort zone. I had chosen to do the Load Bearing Race over the Clean Fatigue, so I was running with a 35lb military bergen on my back. Because of this and the weather conditions, I was running with boots, fatigues and a goretex shell jacket.

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After race briefing and a minutes silence for fallen heroes, the race was off, up the path over the first shoulder before the climb up towards Corn Du (2864 ft) and then the final push onto Pen Y Fan. At this point, the wind was behind me, but I knew that the return would be tough in the face of the wind. Dropping down Jacob’s ladder, my lack of experience with boots really told here as I lost my footing and rolled a few times; pride bruise, I dusted the mud off and kept going each time. At the base of Cribyn, I checked in at the tent before heading along the Roman Road. I had planned to run this stage, but a combination of the rough surface and being unused to the pack meant that I quickly embarked on a determined yomp. I wasn’t concerned for time but reaching the end of the Roman Road and the second check point, I was about 2.5 hours so quickly checked in and commenced the return, eating a snickers as I yomped.

I made good progress back to the first check point but as I reached it, there was very distinct change in the weather, the wind picked up and hail/sleet began to fall. As I climbed towards Jacob’s ladder I could feel myself getting colder. I tried to pull my hat and gloves out of my pocket, but my hands had become too cold to operate properly. As I ascended onto the more exposed peak, the wind nearly managed to blow me over a few times and the last steps up Jacob’s Ladder were tough. Reaching the summit again was a milestone and I found new reserves of energy for the yomp down again, managing to overtake a few people on the descent.

I was delighted to reach the red Phone Box and the finish, even more so to discover I had finished in 4.57.40, I won’t be joining the SAS anytime soon, but I’m still grinning.

Official results are here
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December Update – First Steps on the Way

December has been a quiet month training wise, my work life balance tipped the wrong way and running suffered. However, I managed to get New Years Week off  and decided to start my weeks holiday with a long run on the West Highland Way. As luck would have it, Christmas week I was somewhat floored with the cold, but my bloody mindedness meant that I was going to run no matter what.

I took an early train to Glasgow and then changed to Milngavie train. Whist the official West Highland Way starts in Milngavie High Street,

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the race starts at the station underpass, so that was to be my starting point.

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The run started in excellent weather and the run through Mugdock Park and and onto the old railway line was lovely. Underfoot conditions were pretty awful in places, especially the gates on the old railway line, where paddling was the only option. The views over to Dumgoyne more than made up for it.

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I was listening to a ‘Talk Ultra’ pod cast and as I climbed the hill after Gartness they introduces a Talk Training segment with an Audiofuel interval session. It was difficult not to follow the music and do sprint intervals up the hill. The field just before Drymen turned out to be somewhat soft underfoot and I nearly lost a shoe as my foot and ankle disappeared a couple of time.

Entering Drymen, the weather began to change and cold heavy rain, with a touch of sleet began to fall relentlessly. I stopped to put my jacket on and to quickly eat something. I intend to eat about here on race day and the plan for this training is to mimic my race day as much as possible. I had a smoothie and some pineapple while I put my jacket on and stored my phone in a dry bag, so there was no more pictures.

I left Drymen and went through the Garadhban Forest, this section had been closed when I ran the Fling so was new ground to me. I enjoyed the forest roads and quickly came out at the road crossing. I’m not sure what happened here but, despite seeing the car park across the road and knowing this was the route of the Way, I followed the “Rob Roy Way” sign and ended up running about a mile up the road to Aberfoyle.  After running about a mile up the steep hill I realised my mistake and returned to the car park and the actual route. Not a mistake to make on the race. As I exited the forest Conic Hill was visible through the mist, I had run the hill’s up till now, but hiked up Conic , cresting it and then running the final downhill section.  Entering the car park, I was please to see my wife and family waiting to collect me. Fiona will be crewing my race and this was an opportunity to find this checkpoint and support me. She was waiting with food, coffee and dry clothes, to any innocent users of the act park, I apologise for publicly stripping off to change.

It was an enjoyable run and despite my cold I ran it comfortably at race pace.

I learned a valuable lesson on the run back up the road, my stomach doesn’t like coffee and bananas, having gratefully drunk the coffee and eaten a banana, I very quickly felt ill before vomiting in the car. Luckily, Fiona had a basin with her (a good support crew covers all possible outcomes).

I have been using RunKeeper to track my runs since my return to running in 2008 and I have ran 5988 miles since I started using it. My competitive nature makes me want to run 6000 before the end of the year, so I’ll be out for a long run on Monday.

January Plans

I have entered the Fan Dance Winter Edition, which is a replica of the SAS Selection run up to the summit of Pen Y Fan,  down the other side and then up and over again, whilst carrying a 35lb Bergen. I’m looking forward with some trepidation to this and hoping the weather is kind.

Before that, I’m off to North Wales for the New Year and plan to get some hill/mountain runs in whilst there.

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West Highland Way Race

Just a quick post with links to my profile on the West Highland Way Race website.

The photo was taken at the start of the Snowdon Race this year.

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November Update – Tragedy and the West Highland Way

I’m writing this with a bizarre mix of emotions; It’s a third of the way through December, but I’ve only just managed to pick up the metaphorical pen. The events of last weekend at the Clutha Vaults when three colleagues from Police Scotland and six civilians lost their lives was a sad reminder to myself and colleagues of the most important rule of Police work ‘when your shifts over, go home alive’.

Behind the scenes the volunteers and survivors from COPS will offer support and comfort to the survivors. I have written before about the help they give a friend and how I was inspired to fund raise for them. Please visit my Just Giving page to support the charity. My thoughts also go to the emergency services who responded to the incident; during my career I’ve been involved in the search and victim recovery from a helicopter crash, a harrowing, traumatic experience. When the victims are colleagues and friends, it must be much much more so. The emergency services have come along way in recognising the trauma and suffering that dealing with such incidents brings. It’s important that those involved are offered and seek long term support.

I started by saying that there was a mix of emotions, last weekend was also the last day for entries into the West Highland Way race and during the last week the committee have been assessing the suitability of applicants. There was 265 spaces available and 304 applicants, with a draw to be held to decide starters. Each entrant was assessed against the entry criteria and while I was sure I had sufficient races and experience on the course, doubts crept in. On Sunday, Facebook chatter began to build and on Monday the Race Director posted that the draw had been made and e-mails were getting sent out. I checked my email constantly and then, with a thud, my acceptance email and the realisation that I would be ‘running’ 95 miles in June next year. I was like a kid at Christmas, my A race was on, the race that will underpin my Dragons Back application. Even better, a couple of friends were also successful and it’ll be good to see them on the course, or at least at the award ceremony. I’ve set a target of sub 30 hours, which should be achievable.

Training

November was a good month for training, lots of back to back long runs, with some 60 miles plus weeks. I’ve done some of these runs with a heavy bergen on as training for the Fan Dance next month, but I’m needing to do more hills with the pack.

I was invited to run the first Perth Parkrun by a friend involved in organising it, so ran 12 miles into Perth to the start before ‘racing.’ It was a good flat course, I started at the back and made my way through the field, finishing in 27.17. My intention is to use it as a time trial and aim for a sub 24 time.

I’ve no races scheduled for December so I’ll continue to build my training volume along with some specific training for the Fan Dance and, hopefully, a leg if the West Highland Way.

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October Update: halves, peaks and rest

October was a month of ups and downs, lots of hills.

I started with the Neil McCover half marathon and immediately got back into training for the Jedburgh 3 Peaks 38 mile ultra at the end of the month. I’m not great at tapering, but a combination of work, injuries and family circumstances meant that I managed good rest periods before both.

Between the two races I spent a lot of time running in the hills, time off from work giving the opportunity to get out into the hills around Perth. I attempted a route I’d fancied trying for a while, which incorporated 5 hills around Perth and included a return to sea level in between, I could have started at sea level too adding an extra mile and 500 feet of climb, but it was convenient to start where I did.

Another route, adapted from a friend’s route gave a climb of 1100 feet and saw me running from an angry dog and disgruntled cattle (why appearing docile, cattle kill roughly one person a year). Despite these blips a good training run.

My ankles however took a beating due to some poorly fitting socks that slipped inside the shoe, meaning I got abrasive sores. Keen for these to heal, I avoided running in the week preceding the ultra, however, my work boots prevented them healing properly.

    JEDBURGH 3 PEAKS RACE REPORT

Many years ago, I travelled to Jedburgh to take part in the half marathon and found it an enjoyable race with some good hills. In the intervening years, the race has grown into a festival of running, with 10k, half marathon, wheel chair, cani-cross and an ultra.

I’ll start by praising the organisers, marshals and other helpers whose enthusiasm made the race seem easier despite the climbs, the mud and the weather, gale force winds and hail on the peaks.

The race is on the first day of winter, after the clocks went back, meaning I got an extra hour in bed and it wasn’t really 4 o’clock when I got up. After the long drive down, registration was sleek and I handed in my drop bags for the check points with plenty of time to contemplate what lay ahead and liberally cover my feet with epaderm. A short race briefing before walking to the start line, where the ever changing weather changed again, leading to the (correct) decision to lose the jacket and carry it in my pack.

The race has an out and back stretch of roughly 14 miles with a 10 mile loop at the end. The first couple of miles adjacent to the A68 before joining the network of paths that cris-cross the area, mostly those forming the St Cuthberts Way long distance path. These paths were at times interesting, with deep mud in places and a stretch along the river where I found it impossible to run due to the mud and lack of traction, I’m told one of the runners took a swim at this point, but I managed with nothing more than a sore head, focussing so much on my feet that I failed to see the low bough that I rattled my head off. The route was fantastically marked and the few times where I worried I’d lost the route I quickly saw an arrow confirming I was heading in the right direction.

Check point one, near to Maxton Church arrived at a convenient time as I was looking forward to my yoghurt drink and Snickers bar. I felt that my drop bags for the Fling were to full and that I ate to much to early in that race, so was trying to be smarter about nutrition. I usually eat very little when training, but in the past when racing I’ve tried to eat every half hour, even when I couldn’t face it, leading to nausea and, conversely a loss of energy, this race, I determined to drink a yoghurt at check points and collect some food to rat when necessary. This seemed to work much better and I’ll try and continue this in the future.

Following this checkpoint the race continued along the tweed before climbing towards the Eildons at mile 19 ish, just after the the Rymers Stone checkpoint. The mile climb from this checkpoint was steep, it was followed by a runnable downhill before the second steep climb and peak 2, accompanied by hailstones and gales. My running gait was bizarre, with my body turned at nearly 90′ to my feet to give some protection. A longer downhill run before the last steep climb to the final summit. From there, a long downhill, mainly on Tarmac to the next village then along the river to St Boswells, back on the outward path towards Jedburgh. As I approached the final checkpoint at Maxton Church, a cheery marshal was standing taking pics and encouraging me to smile.

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The last 10 miles seemed to be a steady climb, but I don’t remember the downhill on the way out, and I ran/walked this bit. As I got onto the last few miles, I could see a runner in front of me and set a goal of catching him. As I caught him, I could see he was obviously hurt and run limping towards the end, obviously determined to finish no matter what. The last mile or so into Jedburgh seemed to go on for ever and I looked for the sign I’d seen on the way out which said 200 yards to the finish, I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it, but it just never reappeared and I eventually I saw the finishing funnel. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people at the finish line, as one of the last runners it really cheered me that so many people had stayed to cheer in the back markers.

I was really pleased with my performance, I was still running well at the end and my endurance and fitness is obviously developing well. I felt my nutrition strategy worked well for me.

I’ve no races pencilled in for November or December so plan to clock up about 250 training miles during these months, with a focus on hills and running with a pack as I head towards the Fan Dance in January.

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Thanks go to Gillian MacNicol and Helen Munro from the Jedburgh Three Peaks FaceBook Group for the pictures.

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Loved; Lost; Never Forgotten

Have re-blogged this as it demonstrates far more eloquently than I could the reasons I fund raise for COPS. Should the worst happen, I’ll sleep easier knowing my family have such awesome support.

The Custody Record

I blogged yesterday about National Police Memorial Day. I tried to reinforce that NPMD is about our fallen colleagues, their families and their friends. If you’ve read it and are still in any doubt then I implore you to read the following guest blog by Kate Parker. Kate puts into words what I cannot even begin to imagine. Her strength and determination are inspirational and I am truly honoured to be able to host this for her and her wonderful boys.

Loved; Lost; Never Forgotten

Over the last few days, much has been written, tweeted, Facebooked and blogged about the 10th National Police Memorial Day, this year held in Cardiff. Most of what has been written focusses on another subject, but nearly all of them fail to mention the real issue of the day. Here is my story.

On 23rd September 2005, our world disintegrated. My husband, PC Andy Parker…

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Neil McCover Memorial Half Marathon Review

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Neil McCover Memorial Half Marathon Review

I have two races planned for October, this one and the Borders 3 Peaks Ultra at the end of the month.

This is the third year this race has been run, but the first time I’ve managed to run it. Neil McCover was Chairman of Kirkintilloch Olympians and a Superintendent with Strathclyde Police who was involved in a fatal accident whilst cycling. A short bio is available here. I was fortunate to work with Neil in 2005 when we were both involved in planning the police response to the G8 Conference at Gleneagles.

The race was very well organised and every hint of a junction or bend had a marshal or police officer there to ensure the safety of runners. There was a great turn out, despite the lure of Haile Gebrselassie and the Great Scottish Run taking place a few miles away.

My target was sub 2 hours and I set off at a comfortable pace, trying to maintain a steady pace whereby I could count to 4 between each breath. The first few miles passed easily with my legs feeling strong as we left Kirkintilloch and headed into the countryside running through Milton of Campsie and Torrance before heading back towards the finish in Kirkintilloch. The early miles of the race felt relatively flat, before a long climb towards mile 7 and 8 and then undulations for the next few miles. The last mile or so was nicely downhill before a few twists and turns round the housing estate at the finish.

I finished in 1:54:08, within my target time, but frustratingly forgot to turn RunKeeper on so the time and splits weren’t recorded. I wanted to check the consistency of my pace, I felt that I was running evenly and tailed off towards the end, but would have liked confirmation. I tend to be a bit of an information Junkie when it comes to running (and most other things).

I’m pleased to say that the kids enjoyed the post race goody bag and I’m very pleased with the technical t–shirt.

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The Dragon’s Back
Race DayJune 22nd, 2015
West Highland Way Race
The Big DayJune 21st, 2014
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