Dundee marathon 2014

Time: 5:42:00

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140721_231710Several years ago (a few months ago), I signed up for the Glenmore 12, as did my running chum, Elaine.  The difference between the two of us is that I had run a marathon before, but she had not.  Somewhere between signing up and now, Elaine decided that running a marathon might be a good idea, if only for a confidence boost, before she submitted herself to her first ultra.  The timing of the Dundee marathon was ideal for a long (ie. 26.2 mile) run, so we both signed up, agreeing to run together, as a training run, as we had a time limit of 6 hours.

Having run the half marathon in 2013 and 2012, I knew the first half of the course started uphill through trails, but then meandered downhill pretty much all the way to the finish.  This, of course, meant that the second half, as it finishes in the same place as the start, would involve some uphill.  That was about the extent of my course knowledge before we begun.

Dundee marathon elevation profile

Dundee marathon elevation profile

With a forecast for sunshine and some warmth, I was thrilled.  Elaine – not so much.  She picked me up at 7:00 am before our flawless drive to Camperdown Park, where we registered, chatting with a few fellow runners, used the toilets (the fancy ones, not the porta loos), and headed back to the car to slather on sun cream and relax before the briefing.

During the briefing, there was mention of a ‘staggered start’, which basically meant we should arrange ourselves in the swarm of runners based on expected finishing time.  Elaine and I made our way to the back, where I spotted (and briefly chatted to) a hungover Daniel, who was running the half.  We must have been fairly distracted by each other, as I remember looking ahead and seeing the lead runners bounding up the hill on the business end of the start tunnel.  I guess it was time to get going!

Elaine and I settled into a comfortable pace, and enjoyed the first two miles that took runners uphill through the park’s trails before spitting us out onto a residential street, marking our downhill cruise to the finish.  Kind of.

At mile 4, the now-familiar boulder heralded the entrance to the path that would carry us along for a few miles.  Unfortunately this is where we saw a couple of friends at the side, one of whom looked to be nursing a sore calf.  They wished us luck and told us to keep going, and so we did.  Spirits were high.

About a mile later, a cyclist made himself known, and Elaine and I moved to one side to let him through.

“It’s OK, I’m with you,” said the marshal in the high-viz jacket.


“We’re not last, are we?” I joked, expecting a jovial reply about how there were hundreds of people (or even, you know, 20) behind us.


“Yep, the last full marathon runners.  That couple in luminous orange that just passed you were last,” was the answer we got.

Spirits were no longer high.

Despite being very friendly, knowing that 5 miles into Elaine’s first marathon we were dead last was a bit of a morale killer, and though she tried not to let it show, I think it annoyed Elaine.  I tried to lift the mood with conversation, terrible dad jokes, sharing gossip, etc., but the sun was on a mission and Elaine made it clear that she was struggling in the heat.  We pressed on.

Soon we were on the long roadside stretch that continues (mostly) downhill towards the beach.  Passing another residential area, a couple of kind souls had their hoses out for the toasty runners, and Elaine was visibly thrilled about it.  We passed the 11 mile marker, and the sweeper cyclist pulled up to point out a pair of full marathon runners up ahead.  I made it our goal to pick them off so we didn’t feel ‘sweeper pressure’ as we ran, and Elaine was game.  We passed them around a mile later, and tried to create a little bit of distance between ourselves as we approached the soul-destroying halfway point, when all the half marathoners veered right, under a finisher’s arch, and full marathoners stuck to the lonely, lonely left, running through a grassy field towards the marshal in the distance.

Thankfully, a cool breeze and some cloud cover had made the weather a bit more bearable for Elaine, and we adopted a walk/run strategy for the stretch along the coast.  A couple of miles later, we approached Broughty Ferry castle, where we stopped for a photo:

Elaine, parked cars, and Broughty Ferry castle

Elaine, parked cars, and Broughty Ferry castle

At about mile 16, the first energy drink station was a welcome sight (for me, mostly).  Having taken on no fuel, and suffered a dodgy belly for the past few days, I was glad to actually be craving something at this point.  Sadly, this is where the nice views ended, and the industrial estate began, which might have been unmemorable had it not been for two memorable things:

  1.  We spotted a neon green speck in the distance – another runner!
  2.  A man wearing only leopard print boxers and clearly not sober started running alongside us, making very little sense.

The underwear-clad man stuck with us for a while.  We tried slowing down.  So did he.  We tried speeding up.  So did he.  Then he went ahead a bit (when I snapped a photo), and we eventually caught him up again.  We managed to shirk him off on one of the marshals (sorry!!), and have since realized that he gatecrashed a Commonwealth Games event, and forced police to contact his parents to come and pick him up.  Still, it made another mile tick by relatively quickly.

Underwear guy.

Underwear guy.

The next couple of miles were dedicated to catching the man in green, which we succeeded in doing at the next aid station (mile 19).  We had a couple of salted pringles and some fluids before setting off just ahead of him.  After about a mile, however, he overtook us again, and by the next aid station (mile 22), Elaine was feeling pretty fatigued, so the three of us kind of formed a power-walking group, moving forward and chatting.  It turned out that green shirt and I have a lot of friends in common, and he is one of the people trying to get an Aberdeen marathon up and running.  Wilson, your chat was much appreciated!

At the final aid station (mile 25), we spotted the two runners behind us, dangerously close, so we picked up the pace a little as we entered the park.  We continued uphill until we spotted the finish in the distance, and Elaine picked up to a run.  I joined her, and Wilson was hot on our heels.  We heard Elaine’s name being shouted out, and realized some of our half-runner-friends had stayed back to cheer her in, so we turned the final corner and finished with smiles on our faces.

10423705_10152366423483248_2131091828101172132_nElaine was overjoyed.  To be finished.

Ambulance thankfully not necessary.

Ambulance thankfully not necessary.

Once she had stretched and changed into some less disgusting clothes, we headed off, stopping for my annual dirty McDonald’s (delicious and wrong), after which I rudely fell asleep as she drove us home.

Although I have escaped any muscle pain today (in fact, I’ve managed a kettlebell class and 45 minute spin class), I have experienced a bit of pain thanks to the most crap-tastic “factor 50″ sun cream on the planet.

Not attractive.

Not attractive.

Still.  It could be worse.  I could be Ian, who crashed his bike while I was waiting to cook him dinner.

IMG_20140720_222525Next up:  Callanish Stones marathon on the Isle of Lewis.  T-minus 12 days!

Heart of the Park Challenge 2014


Medal: No

After hearing several positive reports of this ‘race’ from reputable sources, I decided to sign up, as a run through the Scottish wilderness is always a treat.  The challenge starts in Braemar, and follows a 12k loop through river crossings, bogs, swamps, hills, and trails.

Heart of the Park course

Heart of the Park course

Ronnie picked me up at a reasonable time as the race doesn’t start until noon, and we swung by Westhill to pick up Claudia.  Everything was running smoothly until I noticed the distinctive pain in my stomach that heralds the onset of severe period cramps.  Yep, we’ve already reached the ‘overindulging’ section of this post.  Having used the contraceptive pill continuously for over a decade, I recently decided to give my body a bit of a hormone break, but what I had not counted on was the return of my teenage female curse.  After trying to play it cool and make chit-chat in the car, white-knuckling my knees, I was forced to interrupt Claudia with a fairly straightforward request:

Do either of you have any drugs?

This was met with a little surprise, as I normally shun drugs in favour of just dealing with it.  In fact, I think the last time I took painkillers was after my most recent operation in 2011.  However, after wasting an entire weekend day curled up in bed grimacing on more than one occasion over the past few months, I knew drastic action had to be taken if I was going to be running.

We stopped at a gas station just before Braemar, and I basically inhaled painkillers with reckless abandon before curling up into a ball in the front seat and waiting for them to work their magic.  About 11 minutes later, we were parked and Ronnie and Claudia were collecting race numbers.  I remained in the car.  The drugs had not yet worked their magic.

Ten minuted later, I saw Suzy and her boyfriend walking past, and tapped on the window.  She laughed at how crippled I was, and confirmed we would be running together before heading off for a banana while I silently cursed my womb.  Despite a forecast of heavy rain, the sun was out, so I started to change into my running kit and out of my warm layers.  The drugs were starting to work.

There was an announcement that a race briefing would be happening in 10 minutes, so we all started making our way to the grassy area with a very real warmth from the sun beating down.  Runners were quickly counted before the countdown and low key briefing.  Looking around, we were surrounded by hills, and Claudia, who ran last year, confirmed that we would have an uphill start.  Which we did.

Heart of The Park elevation

Heart of The Park elevation

Claudia, Suzy and I followed the stream of runners up the hill and onto the trails, and at the top of the first hill, I was finally starting to feel normal again.  I was so overjoyed at this that I was smiling as everyone else was grimacing uphill.  This is when I started having a blast!

After the downhill, we hit our first river crossing, and the cold water was a welcome sensation on my legs (though not welcome enough to submerge myself fully, as some had chosen to do).  Full submersion was still to come, however not in a river, but in a bog, as we were soon to discover (apart from Claudia, who was a big Cheater McCheaterson and stuck to the grassy banks).  Cloaked in thick mud, it was time for the second main ascent before a semi-treacherous descent onto a very runnable trail that eventually dumped us onto the road for a short while.

After the road, we turned onto another grassy trail, for our second river crossing, bumbling bog crossing, and final river crossing before scrambling up the last hill, and beginning our descent to the finish.

Now, during my last 2 marathons with Naomi, I had wanted to carry her, piggy-back style, across the finish line, just for fun.  At Strathearn, she ran a PB, and understandably wanted to finish under her own steam.  At Giants Head, it was her longest run, and again, didn’t want someone to carry her over the line.  Suzy, however, had no such issues, and was fully on board with finishing in style.

Approaching the finish!

Approaching the finish!

It could have been perfect.  Instead, she launched herself onto my back, head butting me in the process, and the momentum pushed me forwards so that I had to try and jog, not walk over the finish line.  It didn’t work out, and we tumbled onto the grass inches behind the line as Claudia looked down and pretended she didn’t know us.  Still, at least all the spectators got a chuckle out of it, as we literally crawled over the line.

We grabbed some water and snacks, and settled onto the grass amongst familiar faces until the awards ceremony.  Then Ronnie and I headed back to the car, and then back to Aberdeen, where, after a solid 15 minutes of hard scrubbing, I managed to get the remains of the swamp off of my legs.

May Contain Nuts

Trigger Warning: Not about running.

A few weeks ago, I replied to a friend’s post on the soul-vacuum that is Facebook. This person had shared a link to a comic someone had drawn about why rape jokes aren’t cool. The comic was entitled ‘My Comic About Rape Jokes’, and the link contained the title of the comic. I think it’s fairly safe to deduce that clicking on the link would provide content that dealt, in one way or another, with the issue of rape, no? And this is coming from someone who regularly fails to pick up on what I call ‘the subtleties of life’, but others call ‘a 50 foot billboard with clear typography’. Whatever.

The fact that they posted a link to a comic about rape jokes was not my beef. What irked me was the fact that they felt it necessary/appropriate/”considerate” to attach a ‘Trigger Warning’ to it. You know, in case anyone that gets emotional or upset when they are exposed to anything on the subject of rape accidentally clicks through on a link entitled ‘My Comic About Rape Jokes’ without realizing that it might have something to do with, oh, I don’t know, rape. My eyes rolled so far back in my head they hurt.

I know, I went in a bit heavy with the CAPS lock, but I was trying to show my exasperation.

I know, I went in a bit heavy with the CAPS lock, but I was trying to show my exasperation.

I might have had a less intense reaction if this had been an isolated incident, but increasingly I am seeing ‘Trigger Warnings’ attached to articles that don’t really need any kind of explanation about their content. A little online investigation taught me that ‘Trigger Warnings’ were originally used for PTSD in groups where it was extremely common for certain sounds/sights/smells to trigger a severe emotional response that was obviously extremely unpleasant for the person involved.  In a controlled setting where that kind of a response is common, that seems legit, I guess.  But now?

It would appear Universities have bowed to pressure from various student groups (with, perhaps, too much time on their hands) and, to ensure a ‘safe’ environment for all their pupils and avoid the slanderous ‘discrimination’ tag, have started requesting their lecturers to attach Trigger Warnings to course content that may offend/trigger students. At least – they had done so. It’s telling that a large part of Oberlin College’s ‘Support Resources for Staff’ has been removed from their website, but an archived version can be found here.

Part dosJill Filipovic explains it better (or in a more level-headed way) than I probably could, but the gist of her article is that we are pandering too much to a vast minority of people who may find it uncomfortable to read about something unpleasant. University is a place where students learn life skills, expand their minds, and learn to act as an adult, and, according to Filipovic, all of this molly-coddling is a backwards step:

[Universities are,] hopefully, a space where the student is challenged and sometimes frustrated and sometimes deeply upset, a place where the student’s world expands and pushes them to reach the outer edges – not a place that contracts to meet the student exactly where they are.

She also points out that triggers “are often unpredictable and individually specific”, listing several things people have found ‘triggering’, including holes, discussion of consensual sex, and ‘slimy things’.  Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge and professor at Harvard Law School, agrees, pointing out that there, “are no more trigger warnings the minute [students] graduate.”

Furthermore, research is starting to show that avoidance of ‘triggering’ things is counterproductive, and that, in fact, exposure is a more effective way of dealing with traumatic events.

Richard J McNally touches on this when he outlines some of the reasons he feels Trigger Warnings are problematic. He says:

Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder. According to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD, especially in civilians who have suffered trauma such as sexual assault. For example, prolonged exposure therapy, the cognitive behavioral treatment pioneered by clinical psychologists Edna B. Foa and Barbara O. Rothbaum, entails having clients close their eyes and recount their trauma in the first-person present tense. After repeated imaginal relivings, most clients experience significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as traumatic memories lose their capacity to cause emotional distress. Working with their therapists, clients devise a hierarchy of progressively more challenging trigger situations that they may confront in everyday life. By practicing confronting these triggers, clients learn that fear subsides, enabling them to reclaim their lives and conquer PTSD.

Conquering something would sure be nicer than constantly living with the feeling that you aren’t in control of your life, right? Not relying on other people to mind-read things that trigger a severe emotional and/or physical response would be just swell.  Right?

Nope, turns out I should tiptoe around any potential issues that might upset somebody.

Orange is obviously not my biggest fan.

Orange is obviously not my biggest fan.

Thankfully, me and green manage to overcome our difference in opinion and not sling insults at each other, because we’re grown-ups, which is pleasant, though neither of us is keen to adopt the other’s views.  My view remains that trigger warnings in the public domain are OTT, and, generally, encouraged by people who may have experienced something traumatic but want to milk sympathy from the experience.  His (or her, for the sake of anonymity) views remain unchanged, because he (or she!) is probably a much more sympathetic person.  The world moves on.

Whenever I used to complain about something to my parents, I’d get the same response: Sometimes life isn’t fair, and you don’t always get what you want.  You can’t make people fall in love with you, you can’t have candy for breakfast (“Oh yes you can!” – Adult Me), you can’t be an astronaut if you’re blind in one eye, and you can’t just expect people to look out for your feelings all the time by attaching a trigger warning to a Shakespeare play because it deals with some upsetting themes (suicide, unrequited love, murder – and that’s just ‘Romeo and Juliet’).  Falling down just allows you to teach yourself how to get back up again, and that is a useful skill to have.

After all, how dull would it be if anything that may bring harm to people was banned?  Just in case.  It would drive me nuts.

Or, you know, maybe I am an asshole.  Feedback appreciated.

Giants Head marathon 2014

Time: TBC (In the region of 6:15)

Medal: Yes


This one, for a change, was not my fault! Back in April, Naomi, due to injury, was forced to defer her London marathon place until 2015. She had entered the Giants Head marathon to capitalize on her training, giving her enough time to rest and build back up to a marathon. She had also picked “the UK’s toughest and longest” trail marathon so that there was no pressure on her to achieve a certain time. You may wonder how a standard distance can be longer. Well, that’s because the course is about 27 miles long. But who cares about minor details like that?

Whilst hunting for marathons to use as training runs for some of my upcoming ultras, I asked Naomi is she fancied Helsinki marathon in August. This is when she mentioned that she had already found a marathon to run in the near future, and asked if I wanted to join her. I took one look at the elevation profile (and medal), and signed up.

2014 would be the second running of the Giants Head marathon, a smallish local race emphasizing the ‘fun’ element of running a marathon. It is an off-road race, run on tracks, trails, paths, and fields on private land kindly opened to runners by the landowners and farmers for the race, and boasts over 3000 feet of elevation gain throughout, including cresting the hill that proudly displays the Cerne Abbas Giant, known for his 11 meter tall erection.

cerne giant from above

Naomi and I flew into Bristol, caught a bus to the train station, and then caught a train to Taunton, where I briefly re-lived a moment when I was 16 and had first visited Taunton to see an old school friend. His mother and my mother were friends. They went out together. We did things 16 year olds shouldn’t, like raid the drinks cabinet and smoke cigarettes. I vaguely remember a boob grab as a distraction tactic during a heated game of pool. It was fun.

Waiting for our train at Bristol.

Waiting for our train at Bristol.

Anyway, Taunton is home to a friend of Naomi’s, Linda, who used to be live in Aberdeen and was a regular at some of the local races. Linda and her husband Steve kindly offered us a roof over our heads during our stay. Linda had also signed up to the 10k, and had agreed to help out afterwards until we were finished. It was going to be a swell day out.

According to the forecast, it was also going to be a wet day out.

Let me allow this photo of Charlotte Bronte to give you an idea about how I felt about that.

Fuck that shit.

Fuck that shit.

Saturday morning, at the uncivilized hour of 5am, I awoke to the sound of rain battering down outside. I chose to ignore this, and went back to sleep for an extra 30 minutes, before going downstairs and making myself pancakes. Linda was up, getting ready, and Naomi emerged soon after. We did not need to communicate verbally to express how we felt about the weather.

At 6:30, we piled into Linda’s car, and the rain, miraculously, had gone off. Linda said the updated forecast indicated we would have a dry run, and as long as we finished by 4pm, we would miss the torrential downpour that was expected. We set off in higher spirits, and I fell in and out of consciousness during the hour long journey to Sydling Saint Nicholas, the cute village where the race would start (and finish).

Approaching the village (Photo: Vixx Thompson(

Approaching the village (Photo: Vixx Thompson)

Before the start.

Before the start.

We were ushered into a field to park, and greeted by the smell of slurry as we left the car and headed into the village to register. Even at this time, all the volunteers were chipper and friendly, and we were registered without any problems before using the porta loos and heading back to the car to shed our warmer layers. We returned to the start with everything we needed with enough time for another toilet stop and a photo before the race briefing.

The smallish field of runners, ranging from lithe, club-vested gazelle, to first-time marathoners (who evidently are crazy), lined up on the road for the countdown, and at the sound of a gun/cannon/I’m not quite sure but it was loud, we surged forwards, smiling and listening to the friendly chatter that had already begun. The only hiccup was a guy who came bounding past, launching his mobile phone and energy gels from his pocket, which we promptly returned to him.


Photo: Running Richard

Photo: Running Richard

We sauntered casually along at a steady pace on the small road for about, oh, 800 meters, before turning left up a great big massive hill. Everyone in our sight was walking. We tried our best to blend in. I feel that now is as good a time as any to include the elevation profile:

Giants head marathon: elevation profile

Giants head marathon: elevation profile

At the top of the hill, we continued onto landrover tracks, and it wasn’t long before we heard cheering up ahead. Whatever was there was obscured by the landscape, but the cheering remained steady as we approached, and when we finally rounded a corner we happened upon the now legendary naked farmer in a bath tub, but this year he was accompanied by two (less naked) female acquaintances.


Naked farmer

Naked farmer

Naomi waited while I snapped a photo, and then we continued through grassy fields to yet another hill. The terrain remained varied throughout, and required us to think carefully about our footing, but I suppose that helped the first few miles tick by without us really noticing. The friendly banter with other runners also helped, and the miles and aid stations started flying by.


(Photo: Running Richard)

At roughly mile 8, Naomi and I noticed a couple of runners taking photos, and a marshal pointing to the distance. If it hadn’t been for this, we would have likely missed the Cerne Abbas Giant, a huge chalk figure on the hill, and one of the reasons we were running in the first place. The history of the Giant is varied, some believing it dates back to the Romans, others believing that is has been around since its earliest mention in records (17th Century), but one of the myths surrounding it is that it brings fertility.  We got a couple of photos, and set off through a wooded area uphill, before flying back downhill through crops. I don’t know what crops. But they were definitely crops.

Cerne Abbas Giant

Cerne Abbas Giant

Climbing up the hill (Photo: Running Richard)

Climbing up the hill (Photo: Running Richard)

Crops (Photo: Naomi)

Crops (Photo: Naomi)

We continued on (in dry weather!), running the flats and the runnable downhill sections, power walking the hills, until eventually we arrived at the 13 mile marker, and an aid station shortly afterwards. We saw a few runners that had passed us earlier, and later learnt that several runners chose to pull out at this point. We didn’t hang around, topping up our water supply and enjoying some watermelon before heading onwards. And, inevitably, upwards. Why do they always put photographers at the top of a hill?


(Photo: Running Richard)

Despite leaving me in her dust at the end of Strathearn to secure a new PB, Naomi, who has had little training on trails/hills was starting to suffer at about mile 16. We walked a bit. We chatted to other runners that were around us. We kept moving forwards. It was a dark moment, but thankfully, a kilted man (in Superman underwear, I was promised) at mile 17 encouraged us, and before too long we were approaching the ‘Love Station’, where a compulsory hug from the marshal was dished out to every runner, who was then offered cake, cider, and vodka. Linda, who had finished the 10k, was here, and recommended the cider. I opted to take her recommendation, and it was delicious. I think I also had some ginger cake. Naomi said she’d puke if she consumed alcohol, so we set off again, this time, I believe, with a bit of a spring in my step. It was probably the booze.

Linda, Naomi, and me.  Pleased to see the booze!

Linda, Naomi, and me. I’m trying to get rid of my t-shirt tan. (Photo: Mark Way)

By this point we had formed a little group with a few other runners, one of whom is a race director herself who had been a support runner at the West Highland Way Race the previous weekend. We bumbled along, walking with bursts of running, until we crested the final hill, and then began our short, but kind of steep, descent into Sydling and to the finish, where Naomi and I crossed hand in hand, ending her longest ever run.

(Photo@ Vixx Thompson)

(Photo@ Vixx Thompson)

(Photo: Vixx Thompson)

(Photo: Vixx Thompson)

We were handed our medal, a customized pint glass, and a tech shirt, before finding Linda for an ice-cream in the sun, cheering in the runners as they trickled in.

Overall, this was a fantastic event. The scenery was beautiful, the Giant was a nice focal point, the naked farmer was an enthusiastic supporter (and if I had realized he was serving runners champagne, I would have indulged), and the hills, while numerous, weren’t nearly as steep as the ones encountered last week thankfully!). Though a bit tricky to get to, given the chance, I would be back. I’m not sure Naomi was too enamoured with that idea when she tried to walk down steps the following day, however.

We can both agree that we were very glad when, 5 minutes after getting into Linda’s car, the rain started chucking down violently.  A close call!

Seven Hills of Edinburgh 2014

Time: 3:15:56

Medal: No, although we all got a commemorative coaster


In my haze of fury after news broke of the Rock ‘n’ Roll being canceled, I wasted no time in looking for a replacement race in Edinburgh. Ultimately, I settled on the Seven Hills of Edinburgh, sensibly opting for the ‘Challenge’ as opposed to the ‘Race’. Ronnie also signed up, and while I vaguely remember something about ‘bringing your own map’, and being ‘knowledgeable about Edinburgh’, and it being a ‘challenging course’, I chose to push these things from my mind and forget this event existed for the following 6 weeks or so.

May quickly flew by, and before I knew it, the Seven Hills Challenge was upon us. Ian drove us down to Edinburgh on the Saturday morning, and we caught up with friends, and then spent some time with his sister’s family, before turning in at a semi-reasonable hour.

Roughly 18 seconds later, my alarm went off, and I awoke with ‘beer mouth’, realizing that instead of my usual daily 15 litres of water, I had on Saturday consumed a small glass or orange juice and three beers. I quickly drank a glass of water, and reassured myself that I was now fully hydrated. Ian had been roused, and offered me a lift to the start if it meant an extra 50 minutes sleep, and I gratefully accepted the ‘more sleep’ option, setting about 10 alarms, just in case.

At a slightly more reasonable hour, Ian and I got up and had breakfast before heading towards Calton Hill, where the race starts and finishes. Ronnie had driven up at the ass crack of dawn, and had arrive about an hour early, so I was expecting to see him when I got dropped off, but he had decided to enjoy a Starbucks with a friend instead of sitting by himself on top of a hill. Weirdo. I did get to meet, amongst others, Mock Jogger, and we can be seen (luminous turquoise tights on the right) chatting about the course, and, seemingly, pointing at hills in the distance.


"That hill over there?  Oh, that's a piece of cake!"

“That hill over there? Oh, that’s a piece of cake!”

About ten minutes before the start, Ronnie turned up, and we made our way to the grassy start line with the other ‘Challengers’. When there was a show of hands for first-timers, I was relieved to see we were in the majority! There was a countdown, and then hundreds of runners were jostling through long grass downhill, onto the paved path, down steps, and into the wild streets of Edinburgh.

A few things I should explain about this ‘race’. Firstly, there is no set route. Runners can choose their own way to the hills, but you need to reach the summits in a particular order, stamp your bib, and then head off to the next one. Some of the serious runners (those who enter the ‘Race’) have been known to launch themselves through people’s back gardens as a shortcut, and we were warned/reminded at the start about how painful golf balls are when travelling at high speed (yes, we ran through a golf course). All Ronnie and I knew was that we would be running roughly 14 miles and that there would be roughly 2200 feet of ascent/descent. Our ‘game plan’ was to take it steadily, and follow the person ahead.

The game plan fell apart roughly 17 feet from the start line when Ronnie bounded enthusiastically ahead, as usual. He remained about 5 paces ahead of me, as usual, for a large portion of the first, oh, let’s say 10 miles. This always happens. Always. ARE YOU READING THIS RONNIE?

Ronnie getting carried away.

Ronnie getting carried away.

Anyway, we followed the stampede of runners through side streets before a steady incline to the first hill, The Castle. If you happened to be completely unfamiliar with Edinburgh, you could be forgiven for thinking, based on this first hill, that you were in for an easy ride. This feeling would pass.

Launching ourselves across busy roads and frantically trying to keep an eye on the runners ahead was a decent distraction from the undulating streets that took us towards our second obstacle of the day, Corstorphine Hill, which reduced pretty much everyone around us to a power walk uphill towards the checkpoint.

From the top, it was a steep-ish trail downhill. It was fun seeing random runners pop out of nowhere onto the path you were using having obviously taken a slightly different route.

The distance between Corstorphine Hill and the next hill, Craiglockhart (East), was probably the longest stretch of running on roads/sidewalk. This is where we started to get overtaken by the ‘racers’, who had started 30 minutes behind us. I think this is where we followed runners to a very steep wall of dirt that we had to scramble up using tree roots and rocks, eventually hitting a path leading to the summit.

Photo: Ronnie

Photo: Ronnie

After another descent, we set off towards Braid hill before a particularly enjoyable frolic across a golf course, down a hill, across a burn, and then back up a hill, with varying degrees of success in remaining upright. Before we knew it, we were hauling heavy legs up Blackford Hill for our penultimate check point, and a pretty decent view of our biggest ascent, Arthur’s Seat, looming in the distance.

Knowing we were close to the finish, Ronnie and I pulled slightly ahead of ‘Orange Guy’, who we had been using as a guide for the last few miles, and headed towards Holyrood Park.


Arthur's Seat

Arthur’s Seat (the knobbly bit on the left)

There are numerous paths that take you to the summit of Arthur’s Seat, and Ronnie selected the shittiest one. There were huge steps to clomp up to begin with, followed by scrambling on rock and up muddy paths until we reached what we hoped was the top, but what we realized was not actually Arthur’s Seat. Luckily, it wasn’t too much extra to get to the final checkpoint, where we took a moment to admire the view, and I took a moment to text Ian to let him know we were heading to the finish.

We bombed down Arthur’s Seat, dodging tourists and trying to keep our legs moving quickly enough underneath us to avoid face planting the ground, and spotted ‘Orange Guy’ descending on a slightly different path at considerable speed. While he shot off across the grass at the bottom, Ronnie and I followed a woman in black who was heading for the Parliament Buildings. We eventually caught up with her, and she gave us directions to the finish, which, predictably, included the word ‘uphill’ a few times.

Before we knew it, Calton Hill was nearly conquered, and finishers walking home assured us it wasn’t far to the finish line. They didn’t lie, and moments after, “Less than 100 meters to go!” was called out, we were running up the grassy chute to various shouts of encouragement towards the end. I never noticed a camera, and I have no idea what was so hilarious, but here we are, moments from finishing:

14484527175_eee9557b3f_bWe collected our coaster, and as my race number ended in a ‘4’, I won a spot prize – 3 cornea-busting white socks. Ian, his sister, and his niece found us shortly afterwards, and we chatted for a while, admiring the view, before heading back to his sister’s house for lunch, a shower, and some relaxation in the garden.

Underwear: a versatile fashion accessory.

Underwear: a versatile fashion accessory.

Spot prize: comfy, yet blinding.

Spot prize: comfy, yet blinding.

Ian: Master of bounce.

Ian: Master of bounce.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge, I’d love to be able to come back with a better knowledge of the streets and paths, as I relied, pretty much completely, on following others. It was probably not the smartest way to ‘taper’ for this Saturday’s hilly trail marathon, but whatever, you guys are used to my dumb decisions.

7 hills elevation profile

Strathearn marathon medals

When I bullied persuaded Naomi to sign up for a marathon that was less than a week away, one of the sticking points was that it had no medal (I felt her pain).  To get her firmly on board, I promised her that I would make medals for us once we had finished the race, and told myself I’d figure something out based on our experience.

Well.  Naomi unexpectedly ran a PB, and my gut feeling was that a chocolate coin taped to a shoelace wouldn’t really cut it.  I began to construct a masterpiece.

One of the things I enjoyed about Strathearn was the beautiful scenery in the sunshine.  The course (helped by the weather) really highlighted why Scotland is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world.  There were also pipers at the start, and at two points in the earlier miles of the race.  Add this to the bright purple thistle flowers lining the roads, and you have a very ‘Scottish’ race!  This made choosing the ribbon pretty easy – tartan.

I opted for the one with greens and blues, and trawled the city to find someone who could embroider ‘Strathearn marathon 2014′ onto them.  It turns out, not many places do this.  After trying a few tailors, and some independent art shops, I was pointed in the direction of ABstitch, handily just down the road from me.  I approached one of the women in the workshop who seemed unconvinced it would work (ribbon is too thin, and they’re used to embroidering logos onto heavy duty boiler suits), but after telling them what it was for, she said she’d give it a try, but wouldn’t guarantee they’d be any good.  I reassured her that my only other option was to hand-stitch them myself, and I could guarantee they would be terrible.

I got a message from her that night telling me the ribbons were ready, and I picked them up the next day.  Although she didn’t think they were fantastic, I was more than pleased.

IMG_20140614_154034And now for the important bit.  I couldn’t shake, for some reason, the idea that I wanted something ‘natural’ for the medal, not a generic, buy-in-bulk bit of metal that you sometimes get for some of the smaller, local races.  I ended up fixated on the idea of glass, partly because there is a local glass workshop also very near where I live.

I popped into Oil and Glass on Friday afternoon and told the woman working there what I was looking for.  As the shop was about to close, she recommended coming by for a drop-in session on Saturday, where I could speak to Shelagh Swanson, the owner, about customization.  So that’s what I did.

I think I lucked out, because when I popped in, there was nobody else there, so I had a quick lesson on how to create glass tiles, and, after showing her my ideas, a cheeky condensed lesson on how to measure and cut glass sheets.  She was really accommodating, and within 10 minutes, I was left to my own devices.  A bit later a kid came in with his grandmother to make a keychain for his dad (Father’s Day is tomorrow), and a couple of women came in to make some glass tiles.  It was really relaxing, and I’m fairly sure I have terrified Ian by informing him that our new place will have customized tiles in the kitchen, by yours truly.

Because I wanted the medal to be personal, I decided to use different coloured pieces of glass to represent the two of us running together, based on what we were wearing, and how we were positioned in this photo (which I love):

Pigtail indicates wind direction.

Pigtail indicates wind direction.

Armed with blue, turquoise, red, and yellow glass, my design, in it’s ‘uncooked’ version, looked like this:

IMG_20140614_151717The orange ‘dust’ is just fine pieces of glass (which will be red – they were out of clear), as I needed to fill in the gaps between the coloured chunks.  I handed over my works of art, and was told they would be fired in the kiln that night, and would be ready to pick up the next day!

On Sunday (the next day), I went for a long run in the morning, and then swung by the shop in my sweaty running gear to pick up the finished medals.  Although one was upside down, I think they turned out really well, and took them straight home to put on the embroidered ribbon.

IMG_20140615_141431They also look pretty cool with natural light behind them:

IMG_20140615_141338Deciding that the medal handover required some kind of ‘ceremony’, we opted to meet in the pub for a drink.  I brought both and told Naomi to choose the one she wanted, and she seemed pleased enough with her new PB memento.  Next time, however, she’s getting a doorknob on a piece of string.  :)


Strathearn marathon 2014

Time: 4:36:38

Medal: No (although we did get a technical shirt)

I entered this race on Tuesday after convincing my friend, Naomi, to enter as well, insisting that it would be a fantastic training run for the Giants Head marathon in 3 weeks. It would have hills, we could take it easy, and there would be fantastic scenery. We were both supposed to be running 23 miles, but hey, what’s an extra 5k?

In the days leading up to the race, however, I had already started to think about what this post might read like. And it always started with the same line:

This whole thing was my fault.

You see, Scotland does have a ‘summer’, and we are technically experiencing it at the moment. In fact, I became a little bit cocky last weekend when I shunned sunblock on my arms during a cycle, and was shown by mother nature that Scotland can deliver legitimate sunshine.


Wear sun cream, kids.

Wear sun cream, kids.

But Scottish weather has a tendency to be rather erratic, and so the forecast for torrential rain all day on Sunday was unsurprising, if a little disheartening. What was rather alarming, however, was the addition of the rarely seen lightning bolt on the weather symbol. Naomi sent me a screenshot of the forecast at one point, commenting only “…”. I could tell she was seriously pumped about this event:


Saturday night, Ian and I went ‘round to a friend’s for some board games (and beer), and I remember explicitly saying, “I want to be in bed by 11 at the latest.” I also remember Ian saying, “OK.” Sometime after midnight I climbed the stairs to my flat, and I finally got to sleep around 1:30 am. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that my alarm was set for 4:15, but I think now is a good time to bring that up.

4:15 was fairly painful, but because we’re only weeks away from the longest day, it was already completely light outside, so it was easy enough to get myself motivated. I had some almond pancakes I had made the afternoon before, drank an energy drink, and got dressed. I then check the forecast approximately 834 times, before deciding to pack sun cream. Just in case. I thought I was being wildly optimistic.


I have learned my lesson.

I have learned my lesson.

Naomi picked me up at 5:30, and we began our nearly 2 hour journey to Cultybraggan Camp, a prisoner of war camp from WW2 that has had many uses, but it now used for various sporting activities. We arrived just as registration opened, and picked up our numbers and tech shirt, before taking advantage of the absence of queues at the portaloos. We also had a little wander about the camp, and noticed a couple of things: it was reasonably warm and the sun was starting to make an appearance, and we were surrounded by a lot of hills. And mountains.

2014-06-08 07.40.51


At the start

At the start

Naomi and I both covered ourselves in sun cream, opting to leave our waterproof jackets and gloves in the car. At about 8:30, we hit up the portaloo queue one last time, briefly chatting to Iona, before making our way to the start for the race briefing, which was quick and straightforward. There was a countdown from three, and then a very casual surge forwards as a piper started up. Naomi and I chatted happily during our lap around the camp, before turning onto the finishing straight in reverse, and heading instantly uphill to the right.


(photo: Sandra McDougall)


(photo: Sandra McDougall)

We had been told that the first few miles are the toughest, and while we were happy enough to run the gentle incline, we reverted to a power walk for the steeper sections. This was, after all, just a training run. By the first mile, we had settled comfortably near the back of the pack, and viewed the uphill slog as an ‘easier version’ of what we would be facing at the end of the month. Oh, how we chuckled…

Strathearn marathon 14

(Photo: fishygordon)


After about 5 miles, the course flattened out, but while the sun was still out, we were pressing on through a bit of a headwind, which was obviously delightful. Naomi did mention that without it, a lot of people would probably be too hot. I wasn’t so sure.

Pigtail indicates wind direction.

Pigtail indicates wind direction. (photo: fishygordon)

Strathearn marathon 14 3

(photo: fishygordon)

We finally caught a break at 8 miles, with about 2 miles of gentle downhill, only to be greeted by another uphill slog just before mile 11. By this point, however, we had passed one of the ‘personalized drink stations’ (the other being somewhere around mile 19). I picked up my bottle of Lucozade (pink lemonade, is any other flavour even worth it?) and we continued on, uphill.  And yes, I know my legs are Chris-Hoy-Huge, and no, I’m not fishing for people to tell me they’re not, and yes, I know snazzy colours do nothing for them.  I don’t care, I like the capris.  They make me smile.  Evidence: every photo in this post.  They’re also really comfortable.


(Photo: Clark Hamilton)


There were only a couple more noticeable climbs on the course, and before we knew it, we were cruising past mile 19, feeling alright, although this is also roughly when I realized I was hungry, which has never happened during a race before. I glanced down at my Garmin and did some quick maths. At least, in any normal circumstance it should have been quick, but at this point it took about 17 minutes.

“Hey, Naomi?”


“What’s your PB again?”


“I see…… What do you want to do about this?”

“I don’t know.”

Naomi said she’d see how she felt in a couple of miles, but I think both of us were thinking that the remainder of the course was pretty much downhill, and that even if there were hills, we could come in under 4:38. We may have started going just a teensy bit faster at this point. Our conversational skills turned to shit.

We made it to 23 miles at 4:02-ish. Naomi mentioned that someone had told her the final 3 miles rolled gently downhill. Someone lied. I’ll just leave the elevation profile here, shall I?

Strathearn marathon elevation profile

Strathearn marathon elevation profile

Now I realize it isn’t exactly Everest we were climbing in the last few miles, but when you’ve been banking on downhill, it sure as hell feels like it. We hit mile 25 with a shade over 13 minutes to make it to the finish. Naomi could smell her PB. I fancied a more relaxing jaunt to the finish.

“Do you mind if I…..”

“Go for it.”


I watched Naomi go on ahead, while I cooled the jets, and followed her luminous top as the rain came on. I could see the yellow mile marker up ahead. I could hear the ridiculously enthusiastic marshals cheering the runners in. I could see the turning into the campsite. And, once I’d bounded over the cattle grid, I was on the home straight, running into this view with fellow runners and volunteers cheering me on!


The finishing straight!

The finishing straight! (photo: Sandra McDougall)

Strathearn marathon 14 finNaomi got her PB of 4:34:xx, and I came in a couple of minutes later, to be greeted by her unnecessary apologies for leaving me. Iona had also managed a PB, which is fantastic for someone who was aiming to “just finish comfortably”, and I’m sure she’ll be cruising in under the 4 hour mark soon.

Naomi and I had already agreed that we should wait a bit before getting straight back in the care, so we put our names down for a massage, and waited in the ‘queue’ (a clump of runners sunbathing on the grass). We got to chatting, and met a couple of fellow Highland Fling runners, as well as some runners who would be taking part in some of our upcoming races. A group even gave me one of their ice cold beers, which was honestly one of the most beautiful things on this planet (obviously, not including David Bowie in Labyrinth).

America's Next Top Model: get in touch.

America’s Next Top Model: get in touch.

If you’re reading kind strangers – and I know I thanked you, like, 18 times already – but seriously, thank you.  I was chatting to Naomi throughout the race about how a cold beer would be the cherry on top.  You made my day!

After our rub down, we set off for home, and Naomi was treated to my highly arousing ‘asleep in the car with my mouth open’ look.  I think I was out for about 30 minutes or so, but after barely any sleep the night before, not really enough food, and a bit of a buzz going on, I was cooked.  We got home before 7, and after being dropped off, Ian and I ordered a pizza and did little else (he had been on a hilly cycle with a friend).

For a race neither of us had ever really planned to do, I think I can safely say that Naomi and I both had a fantastic experience.  The marshals were helpful and enthusiastic throughout, the course was beautiful, but challenging, everything ran like clockwork, and it was pretty affordable for a marathon – £25.  The only thing I could possibly criticize the race for is the lack of a medal – especially as it’s a marathon, but I get that’s a personal preference.  I did promise Naomi before we entered that I would make us each a medal to commemorate our run, but seeing as it’s now her PB course, the pressure is on to make it extra snazzy!

The day after?  I feel great!  My legs were a little stiff getting out of bed, but no worse than a normal long run.  I even wore heels to work for the first time this year (I had avoided them while training for the Fling because it would be wildly ambitious to assume I would not fall and break an ankle).  I even managed a kettlebell session and a spin class with nothing more than a bit of fatigue!  Marathon number 6 and I’m finally getting used to the distance.  Bring on the Giants Head!

Fishygordon’s Flickr Album: CLICK HERE

Cut-back month

After the Baker Hughes 10k on Sunday, I did some tidying, watched a couple of crappy movies on TV with Ian, and packed for my week away with 44 teenagers in London.  After midnight, I decided I should probably get some sleep for the long day ahead.  The day that started with getting on a coach at 4:30. In.  The.  Morning.

After a 90 minute power nap, I dragged myself into the shower, before packing last minute things and remembering a pillow for the 74 month (OK, 14 hour) journey ahead.  On a bus, in case I had neglected to mention that charming detail.  With teenagers that still think farting is hilarious.

Roughly 17 years later, we were all shuffling off of the bus and breathing in slightly warmer air in front of the London Eye, which we took a ride on before heading to the hotel for dinner and room checks.  At 11:13 I crawled into bed.  At 11:13:05, I was asleep.

The week was pretty similar to last year, with a morning shopping in Camden (at least the parts not affected by the fire the night before), the London Dungeons, a few musicals (Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Covent Garden, Thorpe Park, the London Zoo….

Giraffe, clearly.

Giraffe, clearly.

It also involved getting up before 6:00 am every morning for a run.  I managed a single run on last year’s trip, and while May was supposed to be my month off running to give myself a break after the Fling, the weather was nice, and I managed to crack out at least a 5k every morning we were there.

Morning 1 - 8.5 miles

Morning 1 – 8.5 miles along the Thames


Morning 4 - 5k to Trafalgar Square and  back

Morning 4 – 5k to Trafalgar Square and back

Friday was the long coach trip back to Aberdeen, Saturday was weights and a 4 mile run, and Sunday, today, was meant to be my first ‘long run’ to get me back into gear before the Giants Head marathon at the end of June.  I set off expecting about 14 miles, but arrived home 20 miles later thanks to the mid-run company of some friends: Maz, Elaine (who is running Dundee and Glenmore 12 as well), and Carol (who is training for her first marathon).  And possibly fueled by the sheer happiness I got from looking down at my colourful new tights (thank you free time in London to shop).  Even the rain wasn’t enough to dampen (I crack myself up) my mood.

10 miles in

10 miles in

Last night was also the much-anticipated opening of entries for the Glen Ogle 33 mile ultra held on November 1st.  Knowing a few people who planned on entering, I booked my hotel room in the 15 minutes before entries opened (after insider information pointing me in the direction of one of the last rooms at the inn where the after party is), and spent the next 20 minutes anxiously brushing off any of Ian’s attempts to speak to me, explaining I was dealing with some time-sensitive stuff and must not be disturbed.  Oh, and entering the race.  Which means I might as well try to make the most of my ‘cut back month’, since the second half of 2014 seems to be planned and packed!

  • June: Seven Hills of Edinburgh Challenge, Giants Head marathon
  • July: Heart of the Park Challenge, Dundee marathon
  • August: Speyside Way Ultra
  • September: Glenmore 12, Loch Ness marathon
  • October: Amsterdam marathon
  • November: Glen Ogle 33
  • December: Pisa marathon

I’m also in the middle of selling my apartment, so somewhere in there will be moving out (and staying with Ian’s mum), and flat/house-hunting with Ian!  And hopefully, you know, moving into a new, slightly bigger place.  Goodbye free time…

2014-05-15 13.21.35

Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k 2014

Time: 52:35 [Results]

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140518_200922This was the 6th time I have run the Baker Hughes 10k, and there isn’t an awful lot I can say about it, other than:

  • It is flat
  • It is fast
  • It is one of the most uninspiring routes I have had the pleasure of running

Aberdeen has some lovely areas, but sadly, along the beach and through some of the industrial areas are not them.  However, is is apparently easier and cheaper to close the roads down by the beach than the city centre, and the event attracts thousands of runners every year, so why change, right?  I mean, it’s not like I can really complain since I sign up every year, knowing that I’ll wake up on race morning dreading the long stretch along the beach, exposed to the North Sea winds.  How can I resist a race on my doorstep?  Hint: I can’t.

The race has had some particular low points: Race Timing System a couple of year’s ago made a shit hot mess of timing, the aforementioned dull course, the introduction of an ‘e-goody bag’ with offers nobody cared about.  This year, I’m glad to say the timing issue had been resolved, and I had received a text message telling me my chip result before I had managed to retrieve my belongings.  All results were also online within a few hours of the last finisher crossing the line.  And despite a pretty breezy second half, for yet another year, it DID NOT RAIN during the Baker Hughes.  Next year, plan a barbeque on race day – it really is uncanny.  Oh, and we were handed physical goody bags after we crossed the line, with stuff I might actually use (or eat):

IMG_20140518_201034On a personal level, I did not expect much from this race this year, being 3 weeks after the Highland Fling (which has left me with a lot of sore/tight bits in my left leg – like everywhere).  In fact, I hadn’t intended running any races all month, instead slotting in a bit of a running break so I could enjoy some time on my bike and check out the shiny new aquatics centre with a 50m pool (it is fabulous; I am already a dedicated fan).  But seeing advertizing for the ‘big’ local race is basically like cracking open an ice-cold beer, seductively pouring it into a tall glass, and letting the outside of the glass crystalize with sexy, sexy condensation, and then putting the glass in front of a recovering alcoholic and whispering, sensually, “Drink it.”  So I entered, knowing if I was still crippled, I could at least walk the course.

I turned up with just enough time to dump my belongings and extra layers in a locker at my gym (handily close to the start), and find Ronnie and his friend enthusiastically taking part in the warm up.  We were called to our pens, and I shuffled into the 55-60 minute corral.  I had low expectation, and planned to just jog the thing.

Crossing the start line, I realized my Garmin had switched off (thanks a bunch power save), so I had to wait about 30 seconds for it to locate satellites and get started, eventually reading that I was running a 9:30/mile pace.  Good enough I thought, shuffling up to someone else wearing a Highland Fling shirt for a quick hello.  After the first km, I felt OK, and looked down to read an 8:30/mile pace, which was a bit of a shock, as I felt pretty comfortable.  I put it down to my Garmin acting up, and ignored it for the next couple of miles.  At 5k, I looked down again.  8:22/mile.  I kept picking off runners ahead at a steady pace, but wasn’t trying to push myself, because I could still feel my hamstring and calf complaining, and I have a week of chaperoning teenagers around London ahead of me.

It wasn’t until I passed the sign for 9km that my competitive rage was unearthed when I zoned in on a familiar, silver ponytail, bobbing in the distance.  This ponytail belonged to a woman who drafted me during the Christmas Canter 10k (my first ever race report on this blog which I am intentionally not linking to, because I’ll probably cringe if I re-read something I wrote that long ago).  This woman has become known amongst a number of different running groups as a bit of a poor sports-woman.  This woman was going to finish behind me.

I turned the corner at the ’400m’ sign and floored it.  I looked down once at my pace and read 6:xx.  I kicked silver ponytail’s ass.

Though crowded, I couldn’t spot anyone I knew after I had collected my medal, so I went to get my stuff, and then walked home.  Because of my impending 14 hour coach trip (with 40 teenagers, in case I hadn’t mentioned that yet), I thought I would try and wear myself out a bit in the hope that I’ll manage to sleep for a couple of hours on the bus tomorrow to help break up the journey, so Ian and I set off for Mill Stone hill a few hours later.

Though only about a 3 mile loop, it’s a relatively steep climb, and because the wind had died down, it was sweaty work.

Ian heading up.  Jacket off.

Ian heading up. Jacket off.

At the top, with Mither Tap in the background.

At the top, with Mither Tap in the background.

And now to sit back, relax, and enjoy a beer with some peri-peri chicken, sweet potato wedges, and later, something sweet.  And then packing.  And then a 3am alarm call (I know – gross).