The 'A' Race

Decisions, decisions: a procrastinator’s guide to choosing their ‘A’ race.

The ‘A race’ is the race that is your focus of the year/season: the race that that all your training and all your other racing activity should be preparation for. To be honest not a thing that ever really featured in my running until last year. Up to that point it was simple and carefree: sign up for a number of races based on a strategy of ‘I fancy that one’.

I generally got away with it as an approach although the 2010 5 marathons in 5.5 months including an ultra and a multi day was not a glorious triumph and I ended up injured. The best I can say is that I completed the events and reached my charity fundraising target. Treating all races with equal priority and having no real concept of periodising training and events was not the smartest move in the book.

Last year was the first year of the true ‘A’ race and a ‘no brainer’ as they say: the Antarctic races commanded priority and the status.

The Volcano Marathon is my 2014 ‘A’ race: an easy decision. In some respects it may seem odd when the majority of my 2014 races have been ultra-marathons that a standard marathon is my ‘A’ race. I have achieved a couple of massive Personal Best times in the D33 and the Hoka Highland Fling; and I have pushed my endurance and distance significantly completing the Great Glen Ultra (72 miles) and covering 95 miles in the Glenmore 24. You could be excused from assuming that one of the latter two would have been my A race, and indeed, they are more than worthy.

The volcano run, as the name suggests will deliver rather more than a classic marathon. It may be the standard 26.2 miles, but thereafter it is anything but standard. An ‘undulating’ (see rollercoaster) route starting on the Tropic of Capricorn at 14.5k feet; run on dirt tracks and paths in the Atacama Desert; past the Lascar Volcano, Chile’s most active volcano; in temperatures that could rise to over +25 degrees, maybe even as high as +30 and finally finishing at just under 12k feet it is going to feel like a tough ultra-marathon. That combination of location and conditions and the challenge they represent is why it is my ‘A’ race for 2014. It is also why I have focused on pushing my strength and endurance on the ultra-trails and hills.

There have been times when I have started to lose focus on the ‘A’ race: the Glenmore 24 being the perfect example. The temptation to push too hard for a targeted distance and risk injury, but luckily Alasdair was there reminding me that my main aim was to not get injured: the last thing I wanted to do was get an injury and jeopardise my main goal for the year: doing justice to the volcano run and acquitting myself well. My relatively late decision to run the Loch Ness Marathon just 3 weeks after Glenmore; and my entry into the Southside 6 which is just 1.5 weeks before the Volcano Marathon might also be deemed to be questionable decisions. Loch Ness well and truly ‘bit me in the bum’ as I was not rested enough; but the Southside 6 should be a good last long run before the volcano run as long as I remain focused and don’t push it. And, I need it after the train wreck that was Loch Ness.

Now, as my running year draws to a close I am looking to my challenges and my ‘A’ race for 2015. This is something akin to being a child in a sweet shop; so many races, so many choices! Not getting any younger! Argh! The whole process is further complicated by the fact that many races sell out within hours of entries opening. Yes, there are that many nutters out there: quite worrying really.

When the entries opened for the 2015 Hoka Highland Fling a week or so back I was in a real quandary: to fling or not to fling? What about the Kintyre Way Ultra which I have never done? I can’t do both; they are too close together. Which should I do? Flip flop, flip flop. What is your ‘A’ race; let that determine the rest: well, that is easier said than done at the moment.

There is one definite for 2015: I will be doing the Glenmore 24 with the aim of trying to bag that extra 5 miles and hitting the ton, (and I am now hoping that I have not just jinxed it).

This is where I get greedy and risk over-indulging in my favourite sweet. Nothing is confirmed yet, but I have my eye on two events worthy of that ‘A’ race classification: The North Pole Marathon in mid-April and the West Highland Way Race towards the end of June. These are hard events in different ways. The North Pole Marathon is harder than its Antarctic sister, run on constantly shifting ice flows in temperatures that could drop to -40 degrees. The West Highland Way is the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s ultra-marathons, 95 miles on tough trails with over 14k feet of climb. Both require a serious amount of focus, determination, training and preparation.


But are they mutually exclusive? Could I be biting off more than I can chew? Would I be displaying a lack of respect for the events or a cavalier disregard for the effort required and my own well-being?

Why do I need to do them both in the same year? Why not aim for one in 2015 and one in 2016?

You know me, always up for a challenge and always pushing the limits. To conquer the both polar marathons has a certain allure and symmetry to it, and to complete the West Highland Way race would also be a great achievement on my home turf.  Also, having run all of the WHW in stages over the last 12 months, it seems fitting. I have the sense that you cannot truly call yourself a Scottish Ultra-runner until you have that one under your belt.

Can I do both, and can I do them justice? I think so. Over the last 2 years I have become much more attuned to my body, and gained a better understanding of when I need to rest, when to push it and what it is capable of. I also know what it takes in terms of training to prepare for such event. My current thinking: keep up the training over winter; get out onto the trails and hills in the cold, back onto the sand and technical terrain, keep the distances and time on feet up and I should be good for the North Pole. That will provide a good tough foundation in preparation for the WHW. It may not have the climbs but it is technical and hard and will take many hours to complete. Follow this up with a technical, hilly spring ultra and I think I will be in shape to tackle the WHW.

Could this be a plan for a double ‘A’ race year?

At this point I have not entered either. The former is dependent on securing some backing/funding and there being a place still available; the latter will be dependent on me satisfying the qualification criteria and getting through the ballot.

Time, I think, to lay some tentative plans down, start the foundation and see what happens.

Conceive, believe, achieve.