Houston Half Marathon (relay) 2012

Time: 2:00:48

Position: 17/57

Medal: Yes! (And technical t-shirt)

Despite being super tired from the Huntsville half marathon on Saturday (and getting next to no sleep, and BOTH of us failing to indulge in an afternoon snooze/early night), Nikki and I were totally looking forward to the Houston half marathon relay on Sunday morning.  Why? Well, let’s see:

  1. Even though it started an hour earlier than Huntsville, it was significantly closer and we had already picked up our race packets, so we could sleep in an entire hour later than Saturday.  I rose at the leisurely hour of 5:15 (Nikki was coming from her mom’s, so had to be up a smidge earlier).
  2. It was only half the distance.
  3. We were going to get another medal (Nikki is now firmly a medal whore, as she’s scouting for races we can score some at after she births what I can only imagine will be a super fast and super amazing child).

I was picked up just after 6am and we headed downtown, eventually following the enormous trail of cars trying to score free parking (we were successful). Then we started making our way to the race start, and began voicing our concerns over where to start, what happens with the relay teams, what to do with our stuff (I did not shed clothing as it was freezing), etc.  We figured we would get all the answers we wanted if we followed the people in running gear and race bibs:

We found the start line and heard over the loudspeaker that all second leg runners on relay teams (Nikki) should meet on the grassy section by the start/finish line, where they would await first leg runners (me) after we’d run.  Obviously.  There wasn’t much time and people were already starting to line up, so I peeled my extra layers off, told Nikki I’d see her soon, and wedged myself into the hoard of runners for heat.  The horn went, we edged forwards, and then the hundreds of ‘bleep’s went off, letting us know we should probably pick up the pace.

The sun was starting to come up, and it was pretty cool running through Houston’s downtown streets with zero traffic, weaving in and out of the skyscrapers.  After about 3 miles I found myself passing the start line, beginning the second loop of my leg.  I slowed down a bit to scan the crowd, and just when I’d given up hope of catching sight of her, I saw Nikki and heard her shouting encouragement!  I waved and kept going.

We ran along the Allen Parkway until about mile 4, and that’s where the relay runners became separated from the group.  We turned at a bridge, and started running back to the start line.  It was pretty cool being able to watch the mass of runners going in the other direction while a grand total of about 40 people were on your side of the road.  It did make for some pretty self-conscious photos around mile 5 (3 photographers aiming at you because there’s no one else around is less ‘I’m a Rockstar!’ and more ‘Fuck, where do I look?’.

After the stress of paparazzi, it was back under the overpasses and onto the home stretch.  I started to speed up here because I didn’t want any of the 5 people I had overtaken (yes, I counted) to overtake me, and also, I had a flight to catch that afternoon and all extra packing/showering/relaxing time was appealing.

Here I am coming into the relay changeover area.  For once, my face doesn’t look like it has melted, but this could be the sheer joy of seeing Nikki was there with my stuff mixed with the knowledge that I was done!

The woman organizing the handovers was apparently working alone but doing a kick-ass job, because Nikki was waiting for me and had her sweatpants off already.  I reached her, grabbed our stuff, and yelled ‘Go, go, go!’.  She sped off, and then looped around the start back onto the half marathon path for her lonely section until she met up with the half runners a few miles before the finish.

At this point I knew I’d have about an hour, so I collected my medal and headed to the event village where I had a free toothbrush thrust upon my person, and eventually found the food.  I took a moment to have my first ever ‘official’ finisher photo since I’ve never had the opportunity to without a queue!  Then I grabbed some water and a banana, then went back to the finish line to catch the freaks of nature that can run a half marathon in just over an hour.

Three guys came storming in about 2 minutes after I returned, and then more and more runners trickled in.  There was a little girl who seriously can’t have been more than about 8 who came firing into the finishers chute under 1:30:00, and I felt beyond sorry for the fully grown dude trailing her looking totally used.  Who lets kids do these things anyway?

I started noticing some relay bibs coming in (they were yellow instead of white), and kept my eyes peeled for Nikki, camera phone at the ready.  Just after the 2 hour mark (gun time), I spotted her, and blindly aimed my camera into the sunlight hoping to get her in the picture while shouting ‘Come on Nikki!’ or something similar, and making my way to the finishers’ area.  Here she is coming towards the finish:

After congratulating ourselves for getting a better time than yesterday on tired legs, I ushered her towards the food (bypassing the now heaving photo queue), and then we split (again, I had a flight…).  It was only at the car that I looked at the photo I took of Nikki (I hoped) and we both realized that I had captured the most awesome, flattering, and as much as I hate the word, dynamic (it just sounds like what pricks use to describe themselves on resumes) race photograph I’ve ever seen.  And that includes that ridiculously photogenic runner guy.  Witness the beauty:

I mean, that’s the kind of photo that has motivational crap written over it in Nike posters.  Ridiculously good.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous – I’d love a good race photo!

Anyway, back at my parents’ house we said our goodbyes and vowed to run again after she has become a mother.  I showered, packed, cried at the thought of leaving sunshine, went to lunch with my parents, and then had a ‘carve-off’ with my dad.  I stuck with the jail theme:

My dad went for a traditional face emoting ‘surprise’, not a festive take on a blow-up doll, as it first appeared:

And then it was time to head to the airport.  We swung by the diner my brother was working in so I could say goodbye (freaking out the customers with my crying weirdness), and then making everyone at the airport come to the conclusion that I had a fatal disease with more OTT crying.  I am really trying to get on top of that.

The flight home seemed to go ‘around’ Hurricane Sandy, but it was one of the most turbulent flights I’ve been on.  The ‘fasten seat belt’ sign went on after about an hour (of a 9 hour flight), and I can honestly say I never saw it off again until we landed.  I’m terrified of flying anyway, so I was white-knuckling it the entire journey home, getting zero sleep.

Upon arrival (late) at Heathrow, I had to pick up my luggage (no checking through to my final destination available – great), and switch terminals, pretty much running to the bag drop with my purse, jacket, very full duffel bag (containing medals) and 47 lb. suitcase, dodging travelers throughout.  I had to clear security by 8:05 to be allowed on the flight.  I cleared security at 8:05.  I was sweating quite a bit.  And then OF COURSE my flight was delayed.

After finally arriving home, and having amassed a ridiculous 8 hours of sleep in three days, all I can remember doing is showering, eating a handful of candy corn, putting my three new medals on my rack, and then collapsing onto my beautiful bed.  I knew work was going to hurt the next day*.

* Spoiler: It did.  We even had an after-school meeting.  Ugh, jet lag.

Huntsville Half Marathon 2012

Time: 2:18:04 (New PW!)

Position: 156/224  Category Position: 10/19

Medal: Yes! (And a technical t shirt)

This was never going to be a PB race.  This was going to be my first ‘international’ half marathon, and it was also going to be the first half marathon I would run with my friend Nikki, an old school chum that I hadn’t seen in years who happens to be 4 months pregnant.  But this wasn’t always the plan.

Initially, Nikki and I signed up to the Huntsville half marathon because it was a relatively small race, and looking at previous results, we had a chance of actually placing!  It was also pretty cheap to enter.  But this was all before she got knocked up (nb. by her husband; she is not some trashy harlot who knows she’s going to have to part with a lot of money on DNA tests to determine paternity).  She let me know about a month beforehand, and secretly I was relieved, because I was:

a.) still broken from the Loch Ness Marathon, and

b.) NOT accustomed to Texas heat and humidity.

Luckily, for me and everyone else running, a freak cold front hit the day before the half marathon.  I stepped outside bracing myself for instant sweat and sweltering heat only to realize I needed a sweater.  Whatever voodoo trickery was at work, I was grateful.

Nikki traveled up to Houston from Lake Jackson on the Friday afternoon, and we went straight out for food at Star Pizza.  Due to the aforementioned bun in the aforementioned oven, we did not have a pre-race beer.  I mean, I’d feel like such an asshole enjoying a cold one while my jealous, pregnant friend looked on, drooling.  After food, we went where any self-respecting runner who is in need of a Halloween costume goes for supplies: Wal-Mart.

Avoiding the indigenous Wal-Marters, we found what we came for: two black t-shirts, and white duct tape.  A pair of mummies?  Bondage fanatics? No chance.  For Huntsville, home of several prisons and dubbed the most well-known ‘gated community’ in Texas, we would be dressing as convicts.

My good self

Nikki (+1)

It seemed only appropriate as the half marathon root was 2 loops taking in sights such as the Huntsville Prison Unit (also known as the Walls Unit), which was the first state prison built in Texas, and the only prison older than 100 years surrounded by a wall.  The course also took in the Death Chamber, where all executions in Texas have taken place since 1924.  Cheery, right?  The full ‘Historical Tour’ of the route can be found here.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  We got to bed at a reasonable hour, and then woke up again at 4:30, which was a bitch.  By about 5am we were on the road to Huntsville, stopping only for gas (and some junk food, which is really hard to choose when you have to ‘browse’ through the bullet proof glass and pay through a reinforced drawer).  We arrived with plenty of time for packet pick-up, a toilet break, and a half hour power nap in Nikki’s kick-ass car (kick-ass rating increased by heated car seats because it was 44 degrees Fahrenheit – normal for me, ice-age by Texas standards).

About 20 minutes before the start, we decided to acclimatize.  We headed to the start area where we realized nobody else was in costume.  We got many appreciative comments, however, and it was pretty sweet being a minor celebrity (‘those chicks dressed as escapees’).  Before we knew it, we were listening to the national anthem (totally not used to this), and then we were off!

We had decided to aim for anywhere under 2:30:00, and to do this comfortably, we thought 10 minute miles was a good decision.  Unfortunately, we were running sub 9 minute miles for the first few, and Nikki hadn’t been running as much as usual due to, well, carrying around a human parasite and all.  We were also a bit taken aback by all the freaking hills!  Why were there hills?  Texas is supposed to be flat!  In hindsight, the fact that the running club organizing the race is called ‘Seven Hills’ should have tipped me off.  Either way, by mile 5 it was time for our first walk break. Nikki’s back had started to hurt, and she was suffering.  But I didn’t travel 4,000 miles to ditch her next to a prison, right?  Besides, we were nearly done with loop one of two, and we were doing alright!

We kept up with the run some, walk some (the walk breaks becoming longer and more frequent the more Nikki’s back became an asshole), and started to brace ourselves for the hills we knew were coming on our second run around the course.  We sensibly opted to walk the hills and not waste any downhill sections.  As always, the race photos depict the glamour of running:

Gorgeous!

Smouldering!

Erotic.

There is one particular uphill section near the 6/12.5 mile marker where a speed detector (for cars) picked up on the runners.  First time around, Nikki and I hit 7mph.  The second time it didn’t even register.  It was at this point that Nikki was really suffering, and I think I even offered a piggy back over to the finish.  We just kept moving forwards, passing the group of drunk college dudes that called out things like ‘Your hair looks nice!’ and ‘You have beautiful smiles!’.  As soon as we saw the 13 mile marker in the distance, we just went for it.  And for once, my asshole gene did not kick in and have me sprinting full-force across the finish line.  Nikki and I finished together, as a team.  And then hit the pretty sweet post-race spread!

Drunk college boys

Fairly certain that it was unnecessary for us to hang around for the awards ceremony, we decided to get out of the cold and get a couple of ‘tourist’ shots along the course.  We stopped outside the old prison, but a guard in one of the towers yelled ‘No photos!’.  So we crossed the street and pulled the old ‘reverse camera’ trick, capturing a senior runner, still on his second lap, in the background:

We also had to go in search of a t-shirt a girl had mentioned on the run.  A tourist shirt that we eventually found in the prison museum saying ‘I did time in Huntsville’.  It was only right.

And finally?  We did what we had promised ourselves we would do after the half marathon, because, after all, we had a half marathon relay the next day and we needed energy…..

 

Mighty Mud Dash Houston 2012

Time: 43:04

Position: 302/3193  Gender Position: 80/1757

‘Rachel’ position: 1/14

Medal: Yes! (and cotton t-shirt, and wrist band for free beer)

This was race 2 of 2 on Saturday, October 20th, and I had scheduled to run in one of the later start waves to give me time after the West U Halloween Dash earlier.  By the time I arrived, however, most of the participants were gone or drunk, and the organizers didn’t seem to give two shits about when your wave was; when you were ready, you start.  Instead of risking more bitterness that day, I opted to skip the costume contest and start straight away.

Obviously, my Garmin had issues starting, but I didn’t really care about pace, more heart rate in the mid-day Houston heat.  It got going after a few minutes, and by then I was already hyperventilating in a ditch of freezing water.  The course was definitely not congested by this time (it seemed like most people were trying to clean up by this point), and for the first mile I overtook about 5 people, and I was taking it relatively easy.  The obstacles rolled by, but nothing near as horrendous or dread-inducing as what I faced during Tough Mudder Scotland.  In fact, this was pretty much a walk in the park.

And then I reached the ropes that I was supposed to navigate over a pond of muddy water.  I got to chatting to the photographer who was telling me about a half marathon in Dallas next weekend, whilst snapping ultra-unflattering action shots:

This isn’t so bad, I expected to get muddier, I thought, stupidly, to myself, tempting fate.  And then came the mud pits.  Whilst gross, they weren’t too difficult to navigate, and I jogged along in soggy shoes that weighed approximately 50lbs. more than when I started.

Eventually I scraped some mud from my Garmin to realize that I was over 2 miles into the 5k course, and that’s when we swerved around by the spectators.  There was my brother, checking out the scantily clad girls, and my mother taking yet more unflattering photos of me hauling myself over a 6 foot wooden wall.

A couple more pits of mud, another wall, a rope web to climb over, and one final crawl through mud and I was crossing the finish line and accepting my (huge) medal.  I was disgusting, and my brother seemed to want me to clean myself up before getting into his car for the ride home, so I joined the masses in a qiant queue to get hosed down by firemen.  With big ass hoses.  I can confirm that firemen’s hoses have exceptional cleaning power.

Cleaned up (kind of) and soaking wet, I sat on a couple of trash bags and we set off home, via Taco Bell for some (un)healthy refueling.

Overall, I felt that the volunteers had had enough by the time my wave time came around.  The majority of water stations were unmanned and out of water by the time I ran, which was disappointing and would have mattered had the course been longer than just 5k.  I also the feeling we were being ushered along like cattle, but whatever, I entered early so I got cheap rates.  I doubt I would do the Mighty Mud Dash again because it didn’t really feel like much of a challenge, and I have discovered (for the second time) that it is a complete pain in the ass to clean muddy shoes and clothes thoroughly.  And mud in your ears sucks.

West U Halloween Dash 5k

Time: 26:10

Gender position: 45/135, Age Group position: 7/19

Medal: No, but we did get a t-shirt

 

I’d like to say straight away that I am still not acclimatized to Houston’s heat and humidity issues.  And I ran this 5k dressed as a Native American warrior chief because the website ‘encouraged’ fancy dress, and specified there would be a costume contest after the race.

I had signed myself and my unsuspecting mother up for this race as a ‘bonding’ experiencing during my visit.  Whilst not entirely impressed, especially given the 8am start, she did not outright refuse, nor did she completely hate the idea of dressing up (though recycling an old 80’s chick costume was, in my opinion, just lazy).

This was a community event, and there were several families there.  The local supermarket, H.E.B., provided fresh bananas, water, and coffee to everyone there.  Loads of parents made baked goods to sell.  There was music.  It was sunny.  A cool front had hit Houston (still skin melting temperatures for someone used to running in Scotland).  My mother and I arrived with about 10 minutes to spare, but most of that was used up by everyone moving to the revised start line (2 guys wanted to break a 15 minute 5k, and so they needed it to be an accurate distance.  Spoiler: they demolished the race).

This was a no-frills start, and a horn went off out of nowhere, signaling the start.  So we were off!  I didn’t bother taking music with me as it was just a local 5k, but I immediately regretted this decision when I realized that I would be listening to my beaded necklace smash against my chest every time a foot hit the ground until I was done. At least it was only a 5k.

The route was through residential streets, and plenty of the locals were out cheering on the runners.  I had lots of ‘Come on Chief’ and several ululations from the supporters, and that helped me soldier on even though my faux leather fringed calf guards were practically sodden with my sweat.  I managed to keep a steady, but average, pace throughout, and I had a mini-kick at the end, though nothing spectacular.

Approaching the finish line

After grabbing a bottle of water, I found a spot by the finish and cheered on fellow runners, but I was definitely more enthusiastic for the 5% of people who were also in fancy dress.  Eventually my mother came walking towards the end.  I was shouting for her to “Finish Strong, don’t walk!” but she had apparently hurt her calf and didn’t want to jeopardize her important tennis match on the Monday.  She walked to the end.

She came through in just over 30 minutes, but for some reason her chip didn’t work, so she isn’t listed in the results – which is a bit of a bummer for her first official 5k.  There was a girl dressed as a cat who she said she was in front of the whole time, so we looked up her time (after stalking her to take a note of her number) to give us a rough idea of what time my mom could have finished in.  It turns out if she kept running she’d have won the prize for the fastest female coffin dodger!

Walking to the finish

Speaking of missing out on prizes that should have been yours, the costume contest was bullshit.  I had scoped out my competition throughout the run, and during the kid’s fun run afterwards, and I knew I was pretty much the only decent female contender.  Once the contest started, I was waiting in the adult section along with Captain Underpants (a dude in tighty whities and a cape), a dude dressed as Snow White, and a dude in a full gorilla costume.  We looked at each other and all agreed that two of us were going home winners.

They had the kid’s costume contest first.  We all clapped like we cared when Princess Fiona and a whoopie cushion paraded before the judges.  Next category was ‘best couple/group’, so the four of us hung back.  But then we overheard the judge award a prize to best couple, then best female group, then best male group.  And then he moved on to the running awards.  What the actual fuck, man?  The gorilla took his mask off and looked super pissed.  The guy in his underwear looked at us and asked, “Is that it?”.  We had all run a 5k and hung about a children’s event to win a costume contest, and we were totally blown off.  Even my mother exclaimed, “What?  This is bullshit!”.  I should mention that competitiveness runs in the family.  Monopoly games can become violent.

The four of us, jaded and deflated, decided we weren’t hanging around for ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.  I still had the Mighty Mud Dash to get ready for, and I’m certain the three men had better things to do on a sunny Saturday, so off we went.

It’s Tuesday and I’m still bitter.

 

I’m 80% sure I saved a hooker’s life last night.

Unintentionally.

Yesterday I went for a 10k run (my longest, and first ‘proper’ run since Loch Ness).  Afterwards, I decided to stop at the bottom of my stairwell to give my legs a complete stretch out, since my left hip has been giving me problems (though it thankfully seems to be improving).  Less than a minute into my stretching, I heard the buzzer go in the brothel flat [side note: one of the flats in my building is a brothel.  This has been touched on previously].

Bingo I thought.  I am in the perfect opportunity to spy on the goings on without looking like I’m intentionally spying! I positioned myself in a quad stretch facing the front door and heard the door to the brothel flat crack open.  The main door opened and a ‘gentleman’ entered carrying an umbrella.  I thought it only appropriate that I lock eyes with him so I could give him a disapproving I-know-what-you’re-doing-here-you-creep look (success, by the way, I’m pretty good at looking disgusted after years of practice on my ex (who, let’s remind ourselves, had ‘sleepovers’ with female colleagues – but I digress)).

Anyway, the door closed and I shuffled closer to have a listen in.  What I was hoping for was something along the lines of:

Hooker: So, do you want me to dress like a nun again, or shall I get out the adult nappies?

Guy: Goo-goo, ga-ga.

Hooker (sighing): Who’s a pretty baby then?

I was disappointed by the reality of what I was was hearing.  Parts of the conversation were inaudible, but from what I did hear during my stretching (yes, I did actually keep that up) I gathered the following information:

  • The hooker was sobbing.
  • The guy was in a relationship with someone else but had been also seeing the hooker.
  • The hooker was upset because she felt she was being used by the guy.
  • The hooker was upset because the guy wouldn’t leave his other partner.
  • There was no distinct smell of gas, whatsoever.

You might be thinking that one of these things is not like the other, but I promise it becomes relevant when I morph into Columbo later on.

After I decided that I would hear nothing else of interest, I went upstairs, showered, and then Ian and I went out for lunch (Subway, we’re not millionaires).  From the time I first got back from my run to the time we got back in from Subway, maybe 2 hours had passed.  Heading up to my flat I noticed a weird smell.  I told Ian I thought it smelled like gas, but he said he thought it was a smell from the drainage pipes (we’ve had a lot of rain, and sometimes there’s an ‘odor’ issue).  Over the course of the next couple of hours I annoyed Ian by getting increasingly annoyed/paranoid about the smell.  I sniffed every drain in my flat.  Nothing.  I sniffed by all the gas pipes.  Nothing.  I went back into the hallway.  Gas.

Eventually Ian got so annoyed that he went to ask the other flats if they could smell gas.  He returned saying that the hooker told him she had her stove replaced today, and that it strongly smelled like gas, but that she was told it would clear.  She also said she’d been smoking all day and everything was fine.

This satisfied me for the next hour, especially as the smell seemed to be getting less noticeable, but when friends started arriving for board games, they hallway was stinking again.  So I called the emergency gas line to say I suspected a gas leak because, well, I suspected a gas leak.  My hallway smelled like Sylvia Plath’s kitchen, for fuck’s sake.

About 45 minutes later, the emergency gas man arrived.  I let him in and was mildly disappointed that the stench of gas had vanished from the hallway.  I told him it had come and gone all afternoon, and that the woman in the (hooker) flat had done something to her cooker today.  Before we could even knock on her door, she opened it up as though she had been expecting us and said, ‘Hi, are you here about the gas?’  Within less than a second a wave of gas hit us, and the gas man started  getting all doors and windows open.

The story that the hooker gave us was that she was cleaning the night before and had moved the stove.  She suspects that she somehow disconnected the gas pipe in doing so, creating a leak.  She had then gone out all evening, and returned in the morning to a gassy smelling apartment.  She called a gas engineer who fixed the leak and said that everything was safe, but she needed to vent the place to get rid of the smell.

What we (me, Ian, the gas dude) couldn’t understand was that if that was the case, why had all of her windows been closed all day?  And why would she be sitting in a stinking flat (and not feel sick)?  It seems retarded.

To add to the mystery, if there had been gas leaking all night, surely I would have detected at least a faint whiff when she was taking in her guest earlier on in the day, because it was way noticeable when she opened the door in the evening.  And why would she tell Ian that she was getting her cooker (stove) replaced with an electric one when it was a blatant lie (the gas man said her gas cooker in her kitchen was at least 15 years old)?

My detective skills established that there was no gas leak, but that she intentionally turned her stove on without lighting it, filling the flat with gas.  Her motive?  She was upset because this dude wouldn’t leave his wife, or whatever.  My conclusion?  I saved her life by calling the gas dude and foiling her suicide plans.*

That brings my saved lives tally up to 2:

  1. When I threw a ball in the swimming pool for my little brother to catch, despite knowing he didn’t have his water-wings on.  He jumped in enthusiastically, but didn’t resurface.  After admiring the jelly-fish appearance of his bowl cut underwater for a few moments, I jumped in and pulled him out.
  2. Suicidal hooker.

*May not be accurate.

Forward Thinking

Despite booking a train, a youth hostel, and entering the BUPA 10k in Edinburgh that takes place tomorrow, my mashed left quad has made it pretty clear that it has not sufficiently recovered from the marathon.  Considering I’m heading off for warmer climes (nb: This is worded significantly better than my brain fart this morning when I declared happily that I would be “in heat” in less than two weeks), and in these warmer climes I shall be running with my mother and an old school chum, I’m being sensible and ditching the 10k to give myself a bit more time to recover and avoid injury.

I’m also still caressing my Loch Ness medal, and have been sending photos to everyone I’m related to that has an e-mail address (about 6 people).  Photos like this:

And taking photos like this has made me realize I could take much more creative (translation: trashy) photos if I had two circular metal trinkets to pose with (marathon size only – because they would expose less).

Finishing the marathon has also got me thinking about possibilities for next year, and I’ve spent the last few days trawling the internet for races in Scotland and beyond that I can sign up to.  You can stalk my potential whereabouts here.
Featuring on my list is an international destination – the Paris Marathon.  A couple of running girls I know have planned to make a long weekend of it and have invited me to tag along. 
Despite swearing that I would never run another bastard marathon from approximately mile 9 onwards last weekend, I’m getting excited at the idea of running not only another marathon, but potentially an ultra.  While many of my non-running pals will undoubtedly throw an eye-roll in my direction when I share these plans with them, they are unaware of the benefits of burning a days worth of calories in the morning, and then heading for beers and burgers (I’m aware this is plural) later. 
If anyone in/near Texas (specifically Houston) or in/near either Sydney or Melbourne knows of any sweet races worth checking out in July, let me know.  And I realize these destinations are a couple of miles apart, and I also haven’t committed to traveling outside of Scotland in the summer (the only chance you’ll feel warmth in this country), but they’re locations there is at least a slight possibility I’ll be at.

The Day Before the Marathon

Gallery

This gallery contains 16 photos.

I guess sitting in my flat, still suffering in the leg department from Loch Ness, provides me with a perfect opportunity to update the site with an account of the Saturday before the marathon. Saturday morning I was up, bright … Continue reading

Baxter’s Loch Ness Marathon 2012

Time: 4:30:08

Position: 1663/2551

Medal: Yes

As I type this, my legs are still in agony.  In fact, my legs have been in agony from around the 9 mile point yesterday, and have become progressively worse.  But I’m skipping ahead.

I woke up on Saturday morning at 3:15am when Ian sent me a text message (under the influence) detailing some events of his night out in Edinburgh where he was attending a wedding that I had chosen to skip for the marathon.  I then slept on and off until my alarm went off at 5, forcing me to drag myself into the shower, and then get dressed.  Grant (because in a tiny room there really isn’t much choice) got up with me and we headed down to breakfast.

I had porridge (not appetizing at that time) and some toast and OJ.  Grant, who was only running the 10k, tortured me by having a full Scottish breakfast.  It looked delicious.  It smelled delicious.  I wanted to punch him hard in the face.  Especially as he laughed in between mouthfuls and kept talking about how delicious it was.

After breakfast, I packed everything I needed and we set off for the buses to the start of the marathon.  The Bed and Breakfast was pretty close to Bught Park, so it was only about a 10 minute walk.  At dawn:

Walking along River Ness, following all of the runner-looking types.

Ronnie, ever the keen bean, texted while we were on our way saying he was there and next to the buses.  When we eventually caught up to him he was nursing a coffee and chatting to someone he knew (he seems to know about 90% of the population in Scotland).  I decided that, since there was time, I’d use one of the toilets before the 90 minute bus journey.

The bus journey was uneventful.  I’d like to be able to say something about nerves, or feeling like it was the start of something magical, but it was just a cramped, long bus journey that I tried to sleep through (partially successfully).

In hindsight, the choice to urinate (further details removed) before the bus trip was a wise one, as the first thought upon hitting the ground and fresh air was ‘I need a slash’.  Cursing my lack of penis as I gazed at the colourful sea of dudes pissing into the bushes, I took my place at the back of a mammoth queue and steeled myself against the freezing wind.  Thank god it was going to be a tailwind!

I dumped what I needed (high 5 gels, crappy old phone with my sim card, a tenner, and my ipod shuffle) into my fanny pack, strapped it on, and ditched my backpack at the luggage drop before scooting to the start with a mere few minutes to spare.  Before I knew it, we were shuffling our way forwards and crossing the start!

That start line looking forward (Ronnie’s photo)

This was such a crappy idea.  I could be hungover in Edinburgh in a comfortable bed with my boyfriend, is what I wish I could tell you I wasn’t thinking.  But it was.  The thought of 26 miles was not appealing, and I tried to make the most of the sunshine, downhill start, and fresh feeling in my legs that was sadly not to last beyond 9 miles.

Ronnie stuck with me at the start, and soon we got chatting to a guy in the RAF (I feel ashamed that despite finding out about his love life, wedding plans in December, and some of his goals for the future, I never found out his name) wearing a charity vest and a beanie.  It was his first marathon too.  We were soon joined by a veteran marathoner who said he’d stick by us because we had a good pace.

Our group stuck together until about mile 5 when some hills decided to join the party.  We were sticking with 9:00-9:30 minute miles, and I was feeling pretty good.  When the hills hit, I walked up the steep bits, and soon found myself left behind.  I made up lost time on the downhill sections, and soon caught back up to beanie-wearer and marathon-vet (I didn’t get his name either – I’m so terrible).  Ronnie had seemingly sped off ahead, and upon hearing this I had a bad feeling that I’d see him again later on.
Soon, marathon-vet had to take a comfort stop in the woods, so RAF-beanie and I went on ahead.  Things were going smoothly until mile 9, when I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my left quad.  Not even in double figures, I was mildly concerned.  My left calf, shin, and arch were giving me problems from the start, but that I had expected, and as a familiar pain, I knew I could ignore it and soldier on.  But this new pain was unlike anything I’ve felt whilst running.  Like, ever.  I informed RAF-beanie of my pain, and he was very supportive, telling me to blast up the hills ‘like Rocky’, and checking frequently how I felt.  I told him I’d stick with him until mile 13, and then I would take a walk break to stretch, take a gel, and check my phone (which I had unsuccessfully tried to set to ‘silent’ before the race).
True to my word, I left him to continue ahead while I started a walk break.  I sent Grant a message to let him know I was at 13 miles.  I planned to update him so he knew roughly when to expect me at the finish.  He wanted to take a video of me finishing, despite my request for ‘photos only’.

After about 30 seconds, I tried to run again.  The result?  Eye-watering pain and the feeling that my legs no longer belonged to me.  What the fuck, legs?! I went back to walking and thought maybe another 30 seconds would sort out my legs.  Turns out I was wrong about that.  I stopped altogether and stretched for a bit, resumed walking, and then tried to run again.  Agony multiplied by about 43.  Panic was definitely starting to creep in.  And then, out of nowhere, I spotted Ronnie up ahead, walking to one side of the road.  I called out his name and hobbled up to him.

‘How are you doing?’ I asked.

‘Terrible.  Why did we agree to do this, this was a stupid idea, I am in so much pain, you’re the most horrible person on the planet for suggesting this bullshit idea to me, I hate you and I want you to die a slow, painful death, like having to run 1,000 marathons with no break only to be stabbed at the end,’ was the reply.  (NB I may be paraphrasing a bit)

‘Yeah, I’m experiencing pain too.  Want to walk a bit, jog a bit?’

‘OK.’

We struggled on for another couple of miles, but Ronnie’s belly was unhappy, possibly due to trying out new carb gels (Cliff was one of the sponsors, so there were shot block, gels, and electrolyte drinks along the route), and when he saw a couple of port-a-loos, even the queue snaking around them wasn’t enough to keep him going.  When nature calls, she makes you her bitch.  He asked if I was staying or going, as I could have also done with a bathroom break, but I knew if I stopped running, it would take a monumental effort to get started again, plus I knew I’d be walking on the uphill section after Dores, so I told him I couldn’t stop, but I’d probably see him again on the hill, and carried on.

If only he had his phone on him (which he would have if the screen hadn’t recently cracked) then I could have let him know that less than a mile further was a hotel with its toilets open to runners.  No queues AND relative luxury!  Though tempted to go in for a crap and an excuse to sit down, I continued.

And then I passed Dores.  And reached the hill.  I entertained thoughts of powering upwards, but after 20 painful, breathless paces, and with the realization that I still had several miles left, I slowed to a walk to conserve energy for the last 10k.  It was somewhere on this hill, around 19 miles, that I first started involuntarily crying.  I was in so much pain my face was a constant grimace, and I had to fight hard to keep going, and just as hard to fight back sobs of misery.  As my sun block and sweat trickled into my stinging eyes, my Garmin beeped to let me know I had run 20 miles (even though the 20 mile sign wouldn’t appear for another .2 miles due to the whole slight inaccuracy thing), and I thought just 10k to go.  Near the top of the hill, I caught up to a girl who had passed me a few times, and I her, and we gave each other pained smiles.  She was chatting to another girl and I walked the last uphill section with them.  As soon as the downhill part began, we all decided we would start running.

Loch Ness Marathon elevation profile

The pain I experienced when I tried to get going again is something I’m finding difficult to put into words.  It literally took my breath away.  It felt how I would imagine several sharp blades being plunged into your thigh might feel.  And it felt like that every time my foot hit down on the road.  The girls I was with were obviously feeling pain as well.  We all agreed that we should run through the pain until it went numb.  After a couple of horrific minutes, they both fell back to go to the bathroom, and I went ahead.  I was in desperate need of some inspiration, so out came the headphones.

Ten songs.  By the time you listen to ten songs, this hot mess of an experience will be done.  Lana Del Ray’s ‘Born to Die’ made me long for the sweet relief of death.  The Red Hot Chilli Peppers assured me that they liked pleasure spiked with pain, but I doubted they’d felt pain like mine at that moment.  Nero’s ‘Promises’ helped me start building momentum and I was shocked to look down and read 8:xx for my mile pace on my Garmin (not constantly, but at times).

I was delirious by this stage, so I can’t remember exact details.  I do remember passing the 23 mile marker and telling myself not to stop running.  I also remember soon after catching up with RAF-beanie, who was walking – and patting him on the shoulder as I passed, shouting back that if I stopped, I’d be done, and keep going ‘like Rocky!’.  I’m not sure how much of my garbled speech he heard, but he grinned (or grimaced), and set off at a jog.  When I looked back, though, he was walking again.

I remember hitting the 25 mile sign and turning into the city center, along the river, and several enthusiastic, cheering, smiling supporters were cheering everyone along.  I locked eyes with an older woman and she gave me a look of pity.  I realized that my face was still contorted, and I think I was wincing every time I took a step.  Less than ten minutes to go.  This part of the route was like the Inverness half marathon in March, which back then seemed never-ending.  I felt no differently about it at this point, but knew that the finish line was close.  As we crossed the bridge and turned, heading in the opposite direction on the other side of the river towards the end, the tailwind became a strong, unpleasant headwind, and I remember feeling grateful that we’d had the good fortune of having it behind us all day.

Attempting to smile through the pain for the photographer just after mile 25.

My legs were beginning to seize up, and it felt like I was running on peg legs.  My Garmin beeped for 26 miles, but I knew I’d have slightly further to go.  I also knew I might have a shot at making my ‘B’ goal of 4.5 hours, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t speed up.  Salt ‘n Pepa’s ‘Push it’ started at that point, and I continued grimacing and carried on.

When the finish line came into sight I was overcome with emotion.  I smiled.  I winced.  I wanted to cry.  I dread seeing the official finisher’s photo.  I heard my name called out through the speakers and used the cheers of the spectators to give me that last bit of strength to cross the finish line.  Then I cried like a baby.  Slowing to a walk, the pain I’d been ignoring for the last couple of hours suddenly became extremely noticeable.  I hobbled forwards for my medal, shuffled a bit more for my goody bag, and dragged myself far enough for a t-shirt.

I was in such a pitiable state that the woman at the information desk offered to escort me to the baggage pick up (I gladly accepted her help).  Once I had found my bag, I called Grant, who told me he’d seen me finish and would wait for Ronnie to get a photo.  He had managed a PB for his 10k and was feeling pretty smug.  I’m amazed his calorific brekkie didn’t weigh him down!  I headed for the massage tent.  Even the 20 minute estimated wait wasn’t enough to put me off parting with a tenner.  I was stiffer than Charlie Sheen in a whorehouse.  At least I was reassured by the other pathetic creatures around me, as we gave each other knowing looks through weak smiles.

While I was waiting for my number to be called, Ronnie and Grant arrived at the tent.  Ronnie managed to cross the line in 4:56:39 – slower than he had hoped, but he was glad to have the experience behind him at that point!  Plus, it’s decent going for having his longest training run at just over 17 miles!  Ronnie left to sort himself out, and I was called up for my rub down.  Worth every penny.  For sure.

Once I’d hobbled back outside, Grant and I found Ronnie chatting to someone else he knew (of course) and he gave us a lift back to the B&B, where the landlady had promised me a shower.

When we arrived, she looked pretty amused at the state I was in, handed me a towel, and pointed me in the direction of the shower room.  UP A FUCKING FLIGHT OF STAIRS. I grabbed my toiletries, and 15 minutes later, I was locking the bathroom door and switching on the shower for one of the best, but also most painful washing experiences to date.  More crying ensued at this point.

Once I’d managed to get downstairs, we decided to set off for home.  I’m amazed I didn’t fall asleep, and we got in just after 7.  Luckily, Ian had made it back and was waiting at mine, so I had much-needed assistance getting myself and all of my belongings up the stairs.  We went out for a curry (delicious) and beer (also delicious), and then we hobbled back where I did very little, and went to bed.  Considering the pain I was in, I was delighted when I saw my mail:

Rejection magazine for a ballot place in the London Marathon

Today (Monday) at work was ridiculous.  I had to walk up stairs like a geriatric, and I had to walk down them backwards.  I had many a strange look from some of my pupils (and some of the staff), but I made it through the day, and now I’m lounging on my sofa, where I intend to stay for the remainder of the evening.  Caressing my medal.