Crathes half marathon 2014

Time: 2:48:11 (It felt like double that)

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140920_134239OK, so you can maybe guess from my time, but basically, this whole race kind of went to shit, and I had a feeling, much like Romeo before Capulet’s party, that something was going to go very, very wrong.  My reasons for this included:

1.) I was running under someone else’s number.  The only other time I have done this is when I paid for my entry to the Garioch half in 2013, and I was one of the few entries lost when they changed their system for taking entries.  The early bird does not always catch the worm, and I ran as ‘Jon Bell’.  Anyway, I forgot to enter Crathes, but one of Ronnie’s friends could no longer run, and she offered up her entry to me.  I felt shady as hell giving a false name at registration, and convinced myself the karma gods would strike me down with a heart attack.  I pushed this to the back of my mind.

2.) A stolen fork.  The weekend prior to Crathes, I ran Glenmore 12, but in the frenzy of preparation, I forgot to pack any utensils to cook with.  Because of this, when I dined out with Elaine and Rob on Friday night, I slipped the fork I had used into my bag with the intention of returning the fork on the way back to Aberdeen after the race.  Well, I had 4 beers for breakfast on Sunday before we left, so my brain was a little foggy, and I forgot.  That fork is still burning a hole in my conscience, and I plan on sending it back with an apology note.  I’m so badass.

I’m going to keep this brief, because I’m in the middle of moving right now, and because I don’t really want to dwell on this experience for any longer than I have to, but essentially I don’t think I allowed myself enough time to rest after Glenmore.  I started running with Suzy at a comfortable pace.  I got to mile 4 and my knee was hurting quite a lot.  I stopped several times to stretch it off, massage anything around my knee, curse my faulty body, whatever – to no avail.  By mile 7, I urged Suzy to go ahead, and began the long, slow, death march to the finish line.  It hurt.  I was cold.  At the sight of a familiar face along the course I burst into tears, like a little girl.  It sucked.

You guys, looks at my new windows.  I'd be jealous too.

You guys, looks at my new windows. I’d be jealous too.

By the time I crossed the finish line, most people had left, and I could barely bend my leg.

The course hasn’t changed since previous years (2012, 2013), but the medal continues to improve.  This year’s t-shirt was green.

The End.

 

The one positive I can take away from the day is that I ran into an old workmate, Iain, who is now a firefighter.  He and one of his colleagues were running in full uniform as a practice run for November, when they will be running New York marathon for charity.  They remained in high spirits, despite the added bonus of running in a portable sauna, and if you want to donate, you can do so HERE.  They passed me and Suzy a couple of miles in, and finished somewhere around the 2:18 mark.  They will definitely earn a few cold beers after New York, that’s for sure.

I had to steal this picture from Facebook because they had left by the time I finished.

I had to steal this picture from Facebook because they had left by the time I finished.

 

Glenmore 12 hour race, 2014

Distance: 52.97 miles

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140908_211634Glenmore 24 is a 12 or 24 hour trail race near Loch Morlich in September. The course consists of a 4 mile loop on forest trails, and runners aim to complete as many laps as possible. In the final hour of each race, a shorter loop around the campsite/field is opened, and runners complete as many of the shorter laps as possible, stopping when the horn sounds, and placing a tent peg with their number on it into the ground where they stop. I opted for the 12 hour race, because I don’t hate myself.

***

My third week back at school breezed by, and after a few frantic, last-minute purchases during my lunch break on Friday (of course I needed 36 glow sticks and an inflatable parrot), I was ready to go. Elaine and her fiancé Rob picked me up at school, and showed me the backseat of their car, where I was free to Tetris in as many of my belongings as I could manage. Thankfully, everything squeezed in, but one of the items mercilessly wedged into place was my body, so it made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride to the Hayfield, which we would soon come to view as a place of comfort, cheers, and, quite importantly, toilets.

Arriving just after 6:30pm, we started pitching our tents as the sun started to set, being eaten alive by midges as we soldiered on. Though I had enough food to feed a small army, I took Elaine and Rob up on their offer to join them for a meal in Aviemore, a few miles down the road where they would be staying in a luxurious hotel room that night. Despite every warning alarm going off in my head, I ordered the chilli, which was served with approximately a kilogram of jalapeño peppers as garnish. Continuing to ignore good sense, I inhaled the lot of them, along with a couple of beers, before I was dropped off back at the campsite to join in the pirate themed party.

By this point, Vicki and Iain Shanks had arrived, and I chatted to them, Mike Raffan – remarkably fresh after his UTMB debut the weekend before- and George Reid, race director of the D33, among others, before stopping sensibly at 2 beers and heading for my tent. Despite wearing about 3 layers of clothing and zipping into my winter sleeping bag, I was freezing, and had to peel my socks off and rub my feet vigorously to thaw them out enough to stop the pain from keeping me awake.

I awoke at about 7 am on the Saturday to the sound of heavy rain on my tent. I did a quick check to make sure there were no leaks, and then read my Kindle until it stopped. Iain and Vicki eventually stumbled by and offered me a lift to Aviemore for some breakfast, which sounded pretty good to me. We ended up at the Mountain café, and I had a fairly generous serving of French toast with fruit and bacon (it worked, trust me). After picking up a few more essentials in Tesco, we started back for the Hayfield, admiring the bright, clear skies and the views of the hills. It looked like a good day for running.

At around 11:30, everyone gathered near the start for the race briefing. One or two light drops of rain peppered the crowd. The briefing continued. The rain got heavier. People started to shuffle under marquees for shelter. The rain intensified. It looked like a crappy day for running.

After the briefing, I found Elaine, who had mentioned earlier that she had brought 2 running jackets. As I am in the middle of moving, my running jacket is in a box somewhere, and when I had looked at the forecast earlier in the week, I packed for sunshine and maybe a couple of light showers. Elaine lent me one of her jackets. Elaine is my hero.

Taking shelter and looking enthusiastic about running for 12 hours in rain.

Taking shelter and looking enthusiastic about running for 12 hours in rain.

As noon approached, runners made their way to the start line, where I caught up with Rhona, Graeme, and Iain for a quick photo before the horn. I casually hit start on the Garmin, and followed the soggy mass of runners around the grassy field of tents and up the hill before snaking along the trails on the heels of the person in front. This is the only time there was any kind of congestion. Spirits were high.

L-R: Iain, Rhona, Graeme, me (before the start)

L-R: Iain, Rhona, Graeme, me (before the start)

After about a mile or so, I caught up with Rhona and Graeme, and we chatted our way around the first lap, walking any significant inclines (mainly from just before the halfway aid station to the top of the hill), and running the rest. Before we knew it, we were coming down the steps, across the car park, and shouting our numbers at Ada as we crossed the start line again.

At the Stonehaven club tent, Vicki was offering to fetch out any snack we desired from out loot, and I opted for a tattie scone and a swig of Lucozade. Without wasting too much time, we set off for the second lap. It also passed without incident, and so did most of the third. About 11 miles in, however, the jalapeños from last night’s dinner made themselves known, and as we pulled in to complete lap 3, I left Rhona and Graeme to themselves as I headed for the sanctuary of a portaloo.

This is also roughly when we experienced the only 30-ish minutes of sunshine and almost-warmth during the whole race. And I spent 10 minutes of it inside a plastic cubicle. Typical.

I emerged feeling slightly less queasy, and set off on my first lap by myself. I was at half-marathon distance and feeling good. I was a little concerned that I was starting to overtake people as it was so early in the day, but I felt good, and told myself they were probably doing the 24 hour race and conserving energy. Without company, I had no distraction from the views, and kept on truckin’, enjoying the last of the sunshine, and even pulling the hood of Elaine’s jacket down for the first time.

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At the end of lap 4, I saw Graeme at the Stonehaven tent sorting out something to eat. He was beginning to struggle, which is unsurprising as his longest run since March has been 15 miles (!!!!), and I joined him for the start of lap 5. Before the halfway station, however, I had pulled ahead, and it was back to my own thoughts (or, more realistically, ‘Reach for the Stars’ on a loop inside my head). I caught up with Fiona Rennie, and as we turned left for the downhill run we both commented on a rather ominous looking cloud looming on the horizon. Sure enough, within about 5 minutes I felt a heavy drop on my head, and put the hood back up. Then I saw something fall from the sky a few feet ahead of me – and bounce. You have got to be fucking kidding me. The final mile of lap 5 involved squinting through a hail storm and trying to ignore the fact that I (and everyone else) was being pelted with sleet and hailstones the size of my fingernails. When I finally got back to the marquee for shelter, Vicki told me that Iain had made it back just before the onslaught, and would be up for some company once it had eased off.

Just fabulous...

Just fabulous…

After about 10 minutes, we both set off on lap 6. Again, it was good to have company, but again, I pulled ahead before the aid station, stuck in a rhythm I felt comfortable with. It crossed my mind that I should maybe ease back, but this was the first time I had intentionally not worn my heart rate monitor, so I didn’t have my usual way of monitoring how much effort I was using. As the kids say – yolo.

By the time I had completed lap 6, the hail on the course had melted.  I was confident everyone was suffering from trench foot.

Photo:  Jenny Cochran

Photo: Jenny Cochran

Laps 7-9 were a bit of a blur, apart from running into Elaine at the halfway station at one point and running with her as she ran into ultra distance for the very first time! I also continued to feel good running the flats and downhills, but was starting to fatigue, and the cold was really getting to me. I took 20 minutes or so after this lap to go to my tent and change into dry clothes, a hoody, and my hiking jacket. I put my head torch in my pocket as it was starting to get darker, and chatted to a few people, before heading off on lap 10. I thought I was going to start walking by this point, but every time I hit a flat or downhill, I broke into a jog and felt fine.   This meant that I was perhaps a tad overdressed for running, but I’d much rather be too hot than too cold (and wet), so I wasn’t too bothered.

This is normal running attire, yes?

This is normal running attire, yes?

I managed to get away with finishing my 10th lap without putting on my head torch, but by the time I made it back to the Hayfield it was time to switch it on. At this point Geraldine, who had come to support, joined me for a lap in the dark, and I was glad for the company. I would have hated to be out there alone, with only thoughts of bears, werewolves, and other evil creatures lurking in the shadows. Although we walked a great deal, we did break into a jog on some sections, but with about half a mile to go before the campsite, the jalapeños struck again, and I was reduced to a walk. At the end of lap 11, I paid another lengthy visit to the portaloo, taking my phone in and switching it off flight mode so that I could send and receive updates from Ian and friends.

12 minutes later (yes, I timed myself), I was gearing up for what I had decided would be my final lap, which I power-walked most of. Thankfully I had some delightful company from Karen, and we were happy to take our time reaching 48 miles before the short laps opened. We made it ‘round with a little over 10 minutes to wait for the short lap to open, and took the time to have a snack and chat.

With a minute to go before the lap opened, George shouted on us to get a move on, as by the time we made it to the top of the hill, the lap would be open for us, so off we shuffled. I had intended to walk most of this, but since the lap goes around the campsite, the crowds were out in force shouting as us to “Run!” and “Don’t stop moving now!” That last hour saw me cover just over 4 miles on a quarter mile loop, and it felt just like a cross-country race. I felt strong, and the minutes kept on ticking by until finally, the sound of the horn saw all the 12 hour runners shuffle to a stop, before placing our tent pegs in the ground, and making our way to shelter.

Photo: Clark Hamilton

Photo: Clark Hamilton

Muddy, cold, sweaty, tired, but elated, I met up with everyone I knew running to give them a hug. The beers were opened (though I felt a bit funny, so ended up having my four for breakfast before prize-giving on Sunday), and Elaine and I used a cooking pan to pour hot water over each other’s’ heads after one of the most satisfying shampoos I’ve ever experienced. Elaine headed to her tent with Rob, and I gave myself a baby wipe ‘shower’, before changing into clean, dry clothes and heading to one of the event marquees to chat with some of the other finishers, and cheer on the 24 hour runners in yet more disgusting rain.

Photo: Rhona

Photo: Rhona

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Me and Elaine – elated to be finished!

After a chilly sleeping experience I was up and dressed for my breakfast beers, and we all gathered under the marquee yet again to watch the last couple of hours of the 24 hour race. There were groggy but enthusiastic cheers every time a runner hit 100 miles and Ada tooted the horn for them, and even more cheers during the last hour, and the short laps, and then it was all over, save the BBQ and prize giving before Rhona and Graeme gave me a lift back to Aberdeen.

I call this look "tent hair"

I call this look “tent hair”

If I can still walk after next year’s Ironman, I’d love to come back for another bash, but I think, just in case the weather is anything like it was, I’ll stick to the 12.

Speyside Way Ultra 2014

Time: 7:10:24
Medal: Yes

10517396_10154447457055234_5699690476967239192_oIn my post-Fling enthusiasm, I entered a couple more ultras as casually as one might order whipped cream with their hot chocolate. They sounded like a good addition to my race calendar, especially as my focus this year has been quality, not quantity. One of these races was the Speyside Way Ultra, and encouraged by fellow runner Tina, who was in the middle of a comeback following injury, I signed up. Jemma, who hosted us for the Callanish Stones marathon a few weeks ago, also took the bait and signed up. It was shaping up to be quite a social, relaxed day out.

A couple of weeks before the race, Tina got in touch to tell me she would have to pull out due to injury. A few days later, Jemma told me she wasn’t feeling it, and had withdrawn. Not only was I now faced with a lonely day out, I was also minus a ride to and from the event. The dark part of my brain that sometimes thinks things like I wonder how much it would hurt if I threw myself in front of that bus? or how fun would it be to really let my frustration out on an expensive car equipped only with a baseball bat? began to doubt whether I would be able to take part (spoiler: I managed).

Thanks to a fabulous (and slightly deranged) online ultra community, my call for help was answered by my knight-in-shiny-lycra-calf-guards, Dave, who I had met once before during a 28 mile winter training run earlier in the year. Despite knowing that he’d be waiting around for a fair amount of time if he was going to give me a lift back, he insisted it wasn’t a problem, and we arranged pick-up details.  Dave, you are my hero.

The week before the race was my first week back at work after the summer holidays. It was also my first week living at Ian’s mum’s after handing in the keys to my flat on my way to work. Obviously, this was not the most relaxing taper week I’ve experienced, but being run off my feet did help distract me from worrying about the race.

Goodbye apartment.

Goodbye apartment.

Saturday morning arrived, and so did my 4:30 alarm. I wish I could say it was music to my ears, and that I had leapt out of bed with boundless enthusiasm, but in truth, hitting snooze and curling up under the duvet was the most appealing thing at the time. I dragged myself up, and blundered around the room throwing ‘possibly useful items’ into a rucksack in between putting on various items of running kit. I also had a look at the information pdf sent out to runners and realized that there were two drop bag locations at roughly 12 and 24 miles. The day got a little brighter, as I knew I didn’t have to carry all of my stuff! I also called myself a few names for being so disorganized.

At 5:30, Dave was outside, and we set off for the coastal town of Buckie. We had some good chat in the car on the way, but seeing him eating globs of porridge at intervals only reminded me that my porridge was still sitting on the kitchen counter. Who needs breakfast though, right?

We arrived just after 7 at the school, and went inside to register, hand over our drop bags, use real toilets, and mingle. I ran into a few familiar faces, one being David (not to be confused with Dave), who I chatted to as we waited for the bus.

Before too long, two bus-loads of runners were grabbing seats and preparing for the hour longish journey to Ballindalloch, where the race would start. At about 8:40, 96 starters were vomited out into the wild, with only the briefest of race briefings and a short queue for the portaloo between us and the beginning of the Speyside Way. After wishing everyone good luck, we all gathered at the start before that familiar forward surge drove home the fact that I was 36.5 miles away from a medal.

I'm there on the left, looking a bit nervous.

I’m there on the left, looking a bit nervous.

Within about half a mile, everyone’s feet were muddy. There had been heavy rainfall recently, and there was no avoiding getting a bit wet. I decided to stick to running for 3 miles and then walking to take on fuel. 6 miles into the race, I decided I should probably start sticking to my plan, so I had a cake bar and took a walk, letting a few people overtake me. Once I started running again, I caught up to two ladies, Beth and Pam, who were running a similar pace and proved to be fantastic company for the next 20+ miles. They were running 4 miles before taking on fuel, and I was happy enough to fall in sync with them.

We made it to the first drop bag stop at Craigellachie, and I was feeling good. I still had plenty of snacks to keep me going, and I was glad I didn’t bother leaving anything for myself here. After we left the checkpoint, we took a left turn and began the long, slow incline up Ben Aigen. We walked most of the steep sections and jogged when it leveled out. My brief look at the elevation profile earlier told me that this would be the main hill on the course, so I was relieved that it wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting as we neared the top.

Me, Beth, and Pam's arm

Me, Beth, and Pam’s arm/leg/fringe – I’m looking at the sharp left hand turn we’re about to make. Photo: Jenni Coelho

After the slippery descent, we were on our way to Fochabers, and this is where I began to struggle a little. I was out of water and I had eaten all of my snacks, so I was eager to get to 24 miles to refuel and take a walk break. When it finally arrived, we were on road for a few undulations, and I remember this being the hardest part of the course, mentally. I was dying for a walk break, but I was also keen for company, as we were still over 10 miles from the finish, so I knuckled down and pushed on until mile 28, and the penultimate (planned) walk/fuel break.

I had intended to fall back here, but decided to keep running for as long as possible. Unfortunately my lapse in snacking had ill-effects and I was out of breath after less than a quarter of a mile, so when my Garmin beeped at 30 miles, I waved on Beth and Pam, who sailed away into the distance, and chatted briefly to Katie, who had a fling buff on, before she too left me in her dust. The next 3 miles were a dark period. I wallowed in my pain. I winced every time a rock in my shoe pressed against a hot spot. I took a pitiful selfie.

I. Am. Stoked.

I. Am. Stoked.

Looking ahead.

Looking ahead.

I also took some time to eat something and text Ian, who was away for the weekend, to let him know I was getting close to the finish. Soon I began to feel a bit perkier, and I took out my music for some motivation. I walked for .15 miles and ran for .35 or for the length of a song, whichever was longer (apart from O’Malley’s Bar by Nick Cave because it’s like 15 minutes long).

About 4 miles from the end I saw Katie in the distance and made it my goal to catch up to her, which I eventually did, though we leapfrogged until the end, with her eventually coming in ahead. About 3 miles from the end I started chatting with Ally, who was running his first ultra, and had some quality in-race chat. He used to be a teacher, and we bonded over funny stories and rudeness as we struggled towards the end. With about 500m to go, Ally convinced me to pick up the pace, UP A SHITTING HILL, towards the flags that signaled the finish, passing his dad on the way, and even after I clocked Dave taking a photo of my finish with his phone, I didn’t realize I could stop running until a marshal told me, “that’s it, no more!” The confusion yielded possibly one of the most confused/ridiculous finishers’ photos I’ve ever seen.

10413291_706073209446931_5412200930325614820_nI shook Ally’s hand and asked Dave how his race went (very well), and another marshal came over with my medal, which I had completely forgotten about, and my goody bag, which Dave collected for me.  It had some soup, some shortbread (which Ian’s mum got later), a whisky miniature, and some water in a canvas bag.

Although he offered to wait for me to get a massage/shower/have something to eat, I felt guilty that Dave had been forced to hang about for in the region of two hours for me to finish, so I collected my hoodie from the school (I’d left it with a marshal after the bus ride) and we set off for Aberdeen, managing to have one of the first conversations about the independence referendum I’ve had with no fear of temper tantrums or hurt feelings. Remarkable.

We got back to Aberdeen at around 6, and after I was dropped off I jumped in the shower to begin a pretty lethargic attempt to make myself presentable for Naomi’s birthday drinks.  Having not had anything to eat since the race, I was grateful for Ronnie’s offer of a lift to the pub, and even more grateful that they were still serving food after 8pm.  I did miss out on ordering my desert before the cut-off, but I managed to bribe a bartender to ‘whip something up’ for me.  I was delighted:

10628590_10152474324177638_2055620091763705753_nI was less delighted with the 30 minute wait for a taxi next to a drunk guy trying to offer me half-eaten McDonald’s chips on my way home.

Overall, I really enjoyed my day.  The race was well-organized, friendly, and challenging, but the company I encountered was great and the weather was kind to us all.

Callanish Stones marathon 2014

Time: 4:47:16

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140804_115817

The Callanish stones marathon is somewhat of a rarity of an event.  Although I initially signed up to it thinking it was a one-off event that I would never have the chance to run again (panic entry), it would appear that this was not entirely accurate.  After speaking to a number of runners on the day, it came to light that the race occurs every 5-6 years, so for anyone interested in taking part, you’ve got a decent amount of time to train!

The main Callanish standing stones are only one of the 40 or so archaeological sites that the marathon route goes by, and we were given a leaflet highlighting some of the main ones to look out for along the run.  I think I remembered about 2, and I remember wishing, especially as I struggled quite a bit during the race, that I had tucked the leaflet into my bag so I could pick out sites of interest as a kind of treasure hunt.  However, the main stones are definitely the most striking, and we caught our first glimpse of them at the top of a hill just over a mile into the race, only to be greeted again by them at the finish.

Photo source:  Stornoway Gazette

Photo source: Stornoway Gazette

Before even starting the run, we had a bit of a marathon journey to conquer.  The marathon is on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.

Rhona picked up myself and Naomi, and we set off from Aberdeen at 9am on Friday, driving to Ullapool with a comfort stop in Inverness.  We opted for a pub lunch as we had a few hours until we had to catch the ferry, which left about 45 minutes late.  What I hadn’t fully considered before this point was the fact that the ferry took nearly 3 hours to cross from mainland Scotland to Stornoway, and it quickly became clear that it would be a late night.

Leaving Ullapool

Leaving Ullapool

As soon as we disembarked the ferry, we met Jemma, who had very kindly offered up her house as a ‘runner’s retreat’ for the weekend.  We were greeted with a friendly face, and a lift to the Tesco to stock up on frozen pizza, cheesecake, and beer for the post-race ceilidh.  Once back in her car, we began the 45-ish minute journey to her place in Port of Ness, which is basically the Northernmost tip of the island.  I don’t know if we managed to pull off ‘non-grumpy, enthusiastic travellers’ or not.  I’m guessing not.  We were fucking tired.

longassjourney

After destroying 4 pizzas, we thought it would be sensible to turn in for the night, so we said goodnight and set our alarms for the morning, hoping for forgiving weather.

Approximately 6 seconds later, my alarm was a slap in the face, and I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled into my race kit feeling a bit sickly and a lot tired.  I had a bagel and some sports drink, and the four of us got back into Jemma’s car for another wee journey to the start, where we registered and shared our happiness that it wasn’t:

a.) raining, and;

b.) blowing gales that might cause you to involuntarily leave solid ground.

The Callanish stones marathon offers an early start to runners who think they’ll take longer than five and a half hours, and to walkers, and one of our friends, Carol, had chosen the early option for her first marathon.  Since the course begins with an out and back section, we were lucky enough to see her go by, 6+ miles into her race, as we were gearing up for our start.  She was looking happy and running strong, which was good to see.

Just before 10, we all lined up at the start before a countdown from 5, and the usual surge forward.  I pushed ‘start’ on my Garmin, and we all set off.

Jemma took an early lead, pushing on to an eventual PB, while Naomi, Rhona, and myself plodded along at a steady pace.  It was a small field of runners, and we found ourselves near the back of the pack, but there was no strict cut-off, so none of us were particularly concerned.  At about mile 1, my stomach started voicing discomfort.  Despite using the toilet before the start, it also felt like the contents of a swimming pool had been injected into my bladder and I was very eager to pass the school at the 6 mile point to use the actual toilets, as there wasn’t a bush to be seen along the side of the road.

  • 9:27
  • 9:49
  • 10:01
  • 9:43
  • 9:42
  • 9:26

Mile 6 arrived, and I nipped to the toilet for some relief.  Upon exiting, I saw Naomi’s bright Fetch top bobbing off in the distance, so pushed harder than I probably should have to catch her up.  We settled into a reasonable pace, and were eventually passed by Rhona, who had also opted for a pit-stop.  As we watched her fade off into the distance ahead, we took in our suroundings and tried (badly) to pronounce some of the Gaelic place names.

  • 9:53
  • 9:39
  • 10:49
  • 10:23
  • 10:03
  • 11:45

At about mile 12, we started on another out and back section.  It was nice to cheer on the faster runners and see people we knew (Gavin running in full Highland dress for a world record was a particular highlight).  The turnaround was at Blackhouse Village, an old crofting town, which was adorable, and we took a few walk breaks thanks to the more-undulating-than-we-were-led-to-believe terrain.

  • 10:19
  • 12:59
  • 10:58
  • 11:31

Just before mile 16 we began the bleakest part of the race.  We began 5 miles of gradual incline along Pentland Road.  Along isolated moorland.  Into an unforgiving headwind.  It basically looked like the road went on until eternity with no shelter from the wind, and we could see neon dots moving far, far away.  I think Naomi (and everyone who ran) would probably agree that this was the low point of the race.  I was finding it tough going, and Naomi was subjected to a fair amount of grumpy swearing.  Both of us may have shouted obscenities at the wind.  We walked a fair amount.

pentland road

And then, what seemed like several hours later, we noticed runners off to the right.  A turn-off!  We also spotted what looked suspiciously like Carol in the far distance.  We knew that we would probably see her in the later stages of the race, and seeing her, in addition to our new-found tail wind and slight downhill gradient, spurred us on a little bit.

  • 12:31
  • 12:46
  • 13:18
  • 12:55
  • 14:04
  • 11:36

We caught Carol around mile 22 and walked with her for about half a mile, giving her encouragement and support.  She nearly cried, but we convinced her to save her tears for the finish.  With less than 5k to go, we told her we’d see her soon, and went on ahead.

  • 10:31
  • 12:00

Maybe it was because I was starting to turn blue, maybe it was because my stomach was desperate to be still, maybe it was because I was ready for the race to be over, but with less than two miles to go I hinted to Naomi that I was quite keen to pick up speed.  She told me to go on ahead, and I basically motored all the way to the finish.

  • 9:05
  • 8:37

A lot of mile 25 was uphill.  I clearly wanted to be done.

Callanish stones marathon elevation

Callanish stones marathon elevation

The feeling of relief as I saw the finish in amongst the standing stones was palpable.  I crossed the line (nearly twisting both ankles on the super-uneven ground in the final 50 meters), grabbed my goodie bag, and joined Jemma and Rhona on the grass to wait for Naomi who came in a few minutes later, and Carol, who finished her first marathon in 7:09:xx, to an enthusiastic applause from everyone there.

L-R: Naomi, Rhona, me, Jemma (Photo: Rhona)

L-R: Naomi, Rhona, me, Jemma (Photo: Rhona)

The wind was picking up at this point, and we were all starting to get cold, so we headed back to the school, cheering in the rest of the runners.  We drove back to Jemma’s, being help up for about 10 minutes by a farmer ushering his highland cows along the road, for a shower, some beer, and the cheesecake we were too tired to eat the night before (spectacular!).  We caught the 7:30 bus back to Stornoway for the ceilidh at the Town hall.

Standard.

Standard.

The magical moment we made it around the cows!

The magical moment we made it around the cows!

The ceilidh was fantastic fun.  Beer, Prosecco, and champagne clearly have rejuvenative properties, because we all threw ourselves into ceilidh dancing, and Jemma and I even had a couple of wheelbarrow races with a couple of kids that were there.  It was great to mingle with fellow runners, many of whom will be at the same races as us throughout the year, but by the time our taxi picked us up at 11:30, we were all pretty tired (and merry).

Back at Jemma’s we continued to drink our pre-bought booze, and stayed up until near enough 3am.  Functioning on approximately 6 hours sleep over the past couple of days, I can only apologize for nonsense that must have been generously spewing from my mouth.  Eventually we made our way to our beds.

Sunday morning at about 7:30, I was awoken by the ferocious wind and rain hammering the island outside.  I opened the bedroom window to see what it was like ‘in real life’ and was blasted in the face before quickly shutting the window again.  With morning-after mouth and little sleep, I felt rough as hell.  I decided to take a shower and sand last night’s make-up off my face.

A couple of hours later, everyone else was stirring, and once we’d realized we hadn’t had dinner the night before, and there wasn’t much food in the house, we opted to grab lunch in Stornoway before the ferry at 2:30pm.

As Sunday is the Sabbath, and therefore a day of rest, it seems like there are only two restaurants that were open.  And both of them, fully booked.  At the second we made a desperate plea for food, and managed to secure a table, having to then wait 40 minutes for our food.  Once we paid, we headed for the ferry, said our goodbyes, and found some seats for the beginning of our long journey home.

An announcement came over the tannoy, and we could make out something along the lines of “swells” and “will cause some discomfort”.  For Rhona, who suffers motion-sickness, and myself (hungover), this was not welcome news, but the calm water as we left Stornoway convinced us that it wouldn’t be too bad.

Leaving port.

Leaving port.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.” – Nature

About an hour into the ferry journey, this was looming on the horizon, complete with thunder and lightning.

IMG_20140804_141052We became slightly concerned when the crew started tying down the lifeboats, and we headed inside when the rain started, sitting on the floor and looking out the window during a rocky half hour or so.  Thankfully, it became calmer before we got to Ullapool, but we were all still happy to be off the ferry, and into Rhona’s car for the final leg of the journey.

I stepped into my apartment just after 10pm, bombarded Ian with details of my weekend, and then passed out in bed.  It has been  a long time since I’ve slept quite so well.

Overall, it was a lovely, but challenging course, and the fact that it isn’t a regular event made it seem extra special.  We also lucked out with our very own island host, and had a blast at the ceilidh.  However, 500 miles is a long round trip, and I think it’ll be a while before I spontaneously sign up for a race so remote!

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

Time:1:47:15

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

 IMG_20140629_222624

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.

SONY DSC

(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?

14355164277_30f54e20a0_o

(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

 10487563_10154224968190234_4350271716601682465_n

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