Petestack Blog

25 April 2015

Last year of running races!

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:12 am

Pretty sure that I’m quitting organised running races (and not just ultras) altogether after this year. A surprise to some, perhaps, but others who’ve read the signs might even be expecting something like this…

While some races (not least the West Highland Way) have played a huge part in my recent life and may well maintain that grip long beyond my competing days, racing’s never been my main motivation to run. As posted to one Facebook group recently:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m not an athlete, I’m not a racer, I don’t even really think of myself as a ‘runner’… I’m just a guy who likes running!

My racing was a by-product of my running (in turn a by-product of my rediscovering fitness), but it’s the running I love, not the racing. While undeniable gritty endurance has brought me some respectable ultra performances belying a fundamental lack of pace, the truth is that I’ve never been quick and am already considerably slower at 51 than I was at 41. While some folk happily go on competing and recording slower and slower times as they get much older and slower than me, I just don’t want to do that. I want to run because that’s what I do and not because targeting one day for half the year means I have to shape my life a particular way. I don’t need organised events to enjoy the freedom of the hills and trails, but rather just my own basic fitness (can’t/won’t ever be a 30-something fat slob again!) and imagination. While I have a genuine interest in FKTs (fastest known times) for the classic hill circuits, still count a merely-good-enough Ramsay’s Round among the greatest days of my life, am responsible for maintaining the SHR Long-Distance Records pages and can only consider the likes of Fin Wild’s Cuillin Ridge record with childlike wonder, I’m turned off rather than inspired by some of the events (eg Glen Coe Skyline™) to my mind now crossing a line in what gets turned into a race track. For sure, I know folk who’re excited by the prospect of racing that one and freely admit to having run everything it takes in myself, but (with Curved Ridge and the Aonach Eagach on the agenda) to me that’s a FKT course and not a track for organised simultaneous racing. Inspiring to some including good friends of mine, but indirectly (?) contributing to my growing disillusionment with the racing game if still fortunately free of the hyperbole (‘the fearsome Devil’s Staircase’) associated with the much less demanding Glencoe Marathon.

So I’m slowing down, increasingly unmotivated by racing and increasingly concerned by its use of and/or potential impact on places I’m not convinced it belongs. While I’ve successfully chased ‘respectable’ targets for some races (sub-10 Cateran and Highland Fling), I’m unlikely now to achieve others (sub-20 WHW, sub-2 Ben Nevis, 1:30 half-marathon and 40 min 10K) I’d probably have had easily had I started running ten or even five years earlier because I just haven’t (physically) got it any more and (mentally) no longer care enough to keep putting myself through that ever-tougher mill. Whether I run a sub-20:44:26 PB or 22:49:09+ PW at WHW 2015 is almost immaterial so long as I get my strategy right and give it my best shot because the one’s a pleasant surprise and the other equally probably confirms what I already know. Running continues because running brings so much to my life, but competing’s just not where it’s at for me. Supporting others (you know who you are!) who’ve come to depend on me for their own competitions and challenges, yes, but measuring myself directly against faster competitors or unattainable targets, no. Racing’s never about the ‘taking part’ for me and I don’t like being increasingly bad at it when I’d prefer just to get out there and move ‘unmeasured’ for the joy of it. I’m tired of having to run ‘for’ races when I just want to run, and tired of constantly being tired. I want to get back to doing more climbing, sailing etc. (maybe even get that nasty bunion fixed at last!) without fretting about their impact on my ‘big race’ form. So, while I’m already entered for a few things (WHW, Coll Half, Ben Race, No Fuss ‘Marathon de Ben Nevis’) in 2015 and still currently intending to see them through, I think that’s it.

Now please comment here where your pearls of wisdom can be disputed in a visibly accessible location instead of getting swallowed by the Facebook black hole. That’s all.


  1. Hi Pete – really well written piece here. I think sometimes the race is the motivation people need to keep fit – the goal they aspire to, but I agree it’s not all about racing, some of the best memories I’ve had involve just being at one with nature and losing myself in the moment. I think a lot of excellent routes lose their “wonder” when the individual is distracted by the “time” issue or find they’re lost in the moment – only to have to bring themselves out of their daydream to remember they’re actually meant to be racing. There’s more to life and it’s important not to get bogged down in the numbers game.

    A big year for you – coming out of the racing scene – finishing your munros, tops, deleted tops and all that. But the sea is a huge magnet – and it will be great to get your boat back where she belongs on the water… there’s something really special about being out sailing on a beautiful day with no crowds, no pressures and no unrealistic expectations.

    I’m really grateful that you’re still going to be my buddy-runner for Celtman and Norseman… I appreciate these events allow me to do the things I love doing, taking me to places I wouldn’t otherwise go and it’s all about the moment to me… I love the “excuse” to indulge in the sports I love doing for hours on end, with the support I need to get me through.

    I’m still at the point where I’m wondering whether to do a “road marathon” or a “qualifying events” to “tick the box” so I can get to do some races I really want to do… it all seems such a waste though – to spend moments of my life doing things I don’t enjoy doing – just to tick a box or to prove I can do it… think you’ve convinced me not to take that route now.

    If you need any crew to sail with – let me know!

    Comment by Marie Meldrum — 26 April 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  2. Very interesting comments, Pete; and very frank. I guess that different things motivate different people. For some it might be collecting marathon medals, or ticking off the big city marathons. For others it will be time on the clock that matters. Sub 24 WHW, sub 10 hours H Fling, or whatever. Or, for the likes of Ramsay Round, it “has” to be sub 24 or it doesn’t really count. Maybe the battle is simply to finish ahead of a particular rival, the time on the clock being immaterial.
    So, usually, there’s some kind of goal being aimed for. But can the goal at the end of the tunnel kind of pollute the journey involved in getting there? A goal may be WHW race 2016 in 14 months time. Say 400 days, and you run 3 days out of 4; that’s 300 runs between now and race day. If you’re super organised you can build up a long range training plan which you stick to rigidly and religiously, to the extent that you “have” to do an 18 mile training run next Saturday because that’s what’s on the agenda. You may not actually want to do that run, and you may not enjoy it. So the journey becomes a chore. The journey is a millstone, and is ruling you, rather than you being in charge and saying ‘The weather’s foul, I’m feeling rotten, I’ll just have a day off, and do nothing’. Or, conversely, it’s a fantastic day, I feel great, I’ll go and run 25 miles to make the most of it.
    In both these cases it is you that is charge of what you do. You’re calling the shots. It sounds like you don’t need the motivator of a big race (or an exam) to get out there and run, or sail, or climb, or whatever. Maybe you’ll find it easier and more pleasure able to be a free spirit; and not be beholden to some event or commitment that you don’t actually want to do that much.
    But if you didn’t have the target to go for in the diary at some future date, how would you structure your activities? Would it need to be structured? Or would you take each day on a kind of whim of what you fancy as you eat your breakfast? If you’re footloose and fancy free and just thinking of a solo outing, you can just go and do it. Or not do it. But if there’s other folk involved there’s got to be a bit of planning, timing, rendezvous arrangements etc.
    I guess you need to have the mental strength to say “I don’t need an objective to motivate me; I’m just going to enjoy the journey that I chose to take, albeit that there’s no particular destination”. I myself can live with that; and try to get the satisfaction that I seek from each outing in itself. Not that it is necessarily enjoyable as such whilst doing it. Maybe it is a kind of play on words like enjoy and satisfaction and self fulfilment, which may mean different things to different people.
    You’re a free agent, with no need for organised events as a motivator or target. But it is good to remain involved, either by supporting individuals on their particular quests, or marshalling events where you aren’t supporting a particular individual, but all those doing the event ( and the guy organising it).
    Sorry I’m rambling a bit, but hope you follow my drift! M

    Comment by Murdo MtM — 26 April 2015 @ 10:12 pm

  3. Aye, thought you’d get it, Murdo! As I said to Marie earlier this evening:

    ‘It’s funny, I’ve lost a whole day (and a long run) today to implementing some deer protection measures for my plants, feel guilty about that but shouldn’t have to. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that drives me nuts about *having* to be right for racing and why I want out! For sure racing’s been good for me up to a point, but I’ve had enough and don’t want it driving my life even when I don’t compete that much!’

    So, yes, it has been good for me, but it’s increasingly not now. And I’m pretty sure I can enjoy a more varied, less stressed, but just as ‘active’ life without it while remaining plenty fit enough for that.

    Comment by admin — 26 April 2015 @ 10:29 pm

  4. Re. targets and structure, much the same as always (not rigidly diary- or spreadsheet-driven but looking flexibly at desired overall load with day-by-day or week-by-week adjustments to make what I want). But cut down a notch or two with more emphasis on ‘flexibly’ and less immediate concern about ‘essential’ mileage or good intentions getting squeezed! :-)

    Comment by admin — 26 April 2015 @ 10:44 pm

  5. Strangely enough, looking forward to getting back to some more yacht racing despite also wanting to cruise more where racing had latterly virtually taken over my sailing. Hence my careful title ‘Last year of *running* races’!

    Comment by admin — 26 April 2015 @ 10:53 pm

  6. Pete- I don’t think I have ever raced you but we have been in some races together .. Seeing you last year at Kinlochleven and having a beer with you in Fort Wiliam a year before is the reason I go out there.. It’s to meet like minded people and enjoy the running, whatever happens..
    Whatever floats your boat mate – enjoy it
    Cheers Keith
    ps – Your Ramsay Round was the stuff of bloody legend: to quote one Richard Cunningham “I could stick with him on the flats but up those hills he is a bloody machine !”

    Comment by Keith — 26 April 2015 @ 11:59 pm

  7. Hi Pete, I understand and agree with much of what you say, particulary against the background of the explosion of the ultra scene over the past few years. I have a concern about the impact it is having on our hills in some areas – the Lakeland 100 course and the Bob Graham ground for example now have good tracks in places where there was barely a trace five years ago. I also wonder about the style of some events; I was initially intrigued by the Glencoe Skyline because like you I’ve covered the ground numerous times, but the idea of a marked course in such surroundings doesn’t make sense – if you can’t be trusted to navigate your way around the route then whether you have the technical competence to overcome the obstacles or not is not relevant.

    But the idea that you have to focus on one event and commit a big part of your year training specifically for it doesn’t really work for me. We run in the hills because we enjoy the freedom of being able to move quickly and competently over the terrain. I don’t think you have to train for events, you can just go out and enjoy it each time you set foot outside the door, and if that gets you fit enough for events then that’s a bonus.

    Of course that begs the question “why do we race?”. I guess the athletes compete, and the rest of us like to see how well we can do, and if we can do better than last time. But when your physical ability is in decline (as mine has been for years, and as I detect you suspect from your post that you may be on the cusp of (but I’m not convinced)), then these reasons clearly don’t make sense any more. I have two reasons for continuing to participate in races. The first is that some are genuine adventures – I loved the Tor des Geants and I’m looking forward to both the Dragon’s Back and the Spine, but sometimes smaller events can give you surprisingly satisfying challenges; one for me was a navigational ultra in the Brecon Beacons, an area I’d not set foot in until I turned up on the start line. The other reason is that some races are really just parties with your friends with a bit of running thrown in – sorry I’ll miss your “last” WHW (clashes with the DB) but I’ll be back next year for my ninth trip up the course, wouldn’t miss it. It’s not about “just taking part”, it’s about taking part and enjoying everything about it; of course you try your best on the day, but the result is not the main point, it’s about being part of something a bit special.

    Finally, I would just say “never say never” – you may feel differently in a few years time. I’ve been kicking around the hills most of my life but I didn’t take up “running” in them until I was 58, and you’ve a way to go to that age yet. It was good to run a few miles with Ian Beattie at the Fling yesterday, clearly enjoying himself again now after losing all his enthusiasm for running in ultras just a few years ago.

    So enjoy your “final” year of racing (if indeed it turns out that way….). Andy

    Comment by Andy Cole — 26 April 2015 @ 11:59 pm

  8. Pete, very open and honest. There are many motivated by the clock and organised races. You are hugely motivated by the outdoor, providing your own’race’ plans. You do not need FB fixes or spreadsheet training programmes. When you chopped up your insoles for me on the first whw race I new you were an ever so slighty motivated interesting chap! I am concerned at the Glencoe Skyline, it’s not appropriate and we’re not Italy. I was hugely motivated by the unstructured outdoors adventure in my youth, reading about pre war and post war climbing and the role of the outdoors. Jock Nimlin, Murray, Herman Bull. Ironically many don’t have time for that but do for being organised and timed in a very process based adventure. An opportunity for many to combine the outdoors with their busy life. I am that middle aged stinger bar (other gunk is available) clown shoe, FB fixer, marketing dream…. for now. Eyes to the hills.

    Comment by chuck — 27 April 2015 @ 6:51 am

  9. Thanks for the continued responses, guys… wasn’t seriously expecting anyone to try changing my mind when I know what I want, but good to see so much general understanding!

    Keith, surprised if Ritchie said that when my own Ramsay’s Round report here acknowledges being just about done after a great Mamores start by the time Ritchie joined us at Fersit and specifically mentions ‘Ritchie and Jon now always that bit in front and waiting at every peak for me to catch up’. But sure, why not ‘the stuff of bloody legend’ (or 59th bloody legend at that time) when I did it and wouldn’t trade it for any other running ‘prize’?

    Andy, who knows? You’ve been right before (about me returning to WHW 2014), but even that was possibly a mistake; the loss of pace (if not ‘gritty endurance’) is real and it’s only really the ‘what if?’ aspect of last year’s post-Rowardennan sickness and vanity of trying not to bow out with my worst run that’s brought me back for a truly final go I’d currently give you evens to go up in smoke again! And who knows how much quicker you’d have been starting at 48… or 38? Quite a lot (and probably a lot quicker than me), I’ll bet! So maybe (just maybe!) I might be tempted sometime to wander up to the start of something you can enter on the day for the fun of it, but my days of committing to races you have to enter months in advance are done.

    Chuck, folk say things like ‘frank’, ‘open’ and ‘honest’, but I’m just telling it how it is. No need for anything else when I don’t have to like racing and I’m not expecting to be sent to Coventry for saying so. Must also stress (since both you and Andy picked this up) that this is *not* about the Glen Coe Skyline™… something I mentioned as an example of where I’m not comfortable (despite having run all the ground and being comfortable with that) seeing racing going but still hope passes successfully and safely. This is about me and what I don’t want to do anymore because it’s simultaneously not doing it for me anymore and preventing me from doing even more!

    Comment by admin — 27 April 2015 @ 8:08 pm

  10. A very honestly written post Pete. I can relate to this after deciding to give the hills a break last year and to go caving instead. It reminded me of the importance of variety, and that it is okay to take a step back from something if it isn’t what it once was to you. I definitely enjoy my life in the outdoors more now that I’m more willing to do whatever takes my fancy on any given day, rather than being focused on one thing all the time. All the best.

    Comment by James Roddie — 28 April 2015 @ 10:07 pm

  11. Thank you, James. Talking about more than ‘a step back’ here when ‘quitting organised running races altogether’ means what it says, but it’s what I want. And why, after this weekend’s unexpected turn of events, I’m actually quite philosophical about the loss of my *last* West Highland Way Race… something I both wanted and didn’t want to do but I can let go of quite easily to save what ultimately matters most to me.

    Comment by admin — 6 May 2015 @ 9:13 pm


    Comment by admin — 17 May 2015 @ 5:34 pm

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