Operation Maximize Gluteus: situation critical.

So those shine splints that were plaguing me before the Loch Ness marathon?  Yeah, they never really went away, and despite trying to ignore them like a trooper, they continue to suck any enjoyment out of running for me.  The guy who does my sports massages has put it down to extra-tight calves since they’re doing all of the work.  Which means that one muscle group is on a one-way train to Lazy Town.  The guilty party?  My glutes.

I have been given a number of stretches to ease off the calves, but I have also been told that they’ll never get the break they deserve unless:

  1. I stop running, or;
  2. My butt starts doing its share of the work.

So I have also been given some butt strengthening exercises to do.  I have been told this before, and have made a couple of half-assed (har har) efforts to stick to a regime, but the reality seems to be that if I am threatened with a running hiatus, I will do what is asked of me.

Thursday saw me return from some brutal calf massage and a foam rolling class, only to youtube some butt workouts.  Turns out there are several, and once you sift through the videos that have a target audience of 14 year old boys, there are some helpful, quick tutorials out there (even though you feel like you belong in the 80’s following along in your living room, hoping your neighbours can’t see in).  That night I did 10 minutes with Cindy, followed by another 10 minutes with Stephanie.  Friday I did 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer followed by RPM (Les Mills version of spin).  Saturday I did Body Pump and Body Attack (but I really felt my shins in attack so spent some time stretching on the power plates afterwards), and today I did the “Super Butt Workout”, despite feeling like my ass is about to fall off, and I am foam rolling my quads on the floor as I type.

In other, non-exercise news, I have been extra busy with work.  This weekend I have spent no less than 6 hours marking work, and I have another hour or two to put in before tomorrow morning if I am to be where I want to be to face the week.  My Friday night was not the most rock and roll experience I’ve ever had:

Neither was my Saturday:

You can get some pretty amusing mistakes, though.  A few of the kids had been experimenting with a thesaurus (with somewhat inaccurate results), and another seemed to misspell ‘gentle’:

Tonight (Sunday), Ian and I went to Nando’s for a late lunch/early dinner (we were being pretty lazy), and managed to catch the Christmas parade during which the lights along Union Street are switched on.  Despite the wet, freezing conditions, we stuck around for a peek:

The first set of lights being switched on

Because what parade in Scotland is complete without bagpipes?

Walking Christmas tree

So for now, running and I are not on great terms, but hopefully with some dedicated butt building, we’ll be back on track soon.  Shin splints: I will destroy you (translation: please, please, please go away)!

Ditching Fraserburgh

This Sunday I was supposed to be running the Fraserburgh half marathon with a bunch of people I am slowly getting to know (including two I plan on running with in Paris next April!).  This Sunday, however, I will be at a 3 year old’s birthday party, desperately looking for a non-sticky place to rest my weary legs.

Ian has made no secret of the fact that my running commitments irritate him because it means we “can’t do anything fun” during the weekends.  I knew his niece’s birthday was coming up and mentioned it would be fun to go, but I had assumed it would be the following weekend, as it’s closer to her actual birthday.  I assumed incorrectly.  And so, to stop a little girl crying at her birthday party (she thinks I am so cool I ‘don’t poo’) as she would obviously be upset should I not attend, I’m giving Fraserburgh a miss.

Out of a sense of guilt, I have been trying to schedule in enough runs to rack up 13.1 miles to make up for what I should have been doing.  This has led to some dubious decision making…

Last night I went to spin class for the first time since before I went to Houston.  It was brutal.  Afterwards, I slipped into my brand new swimsuit to do some laps in the pool at the gym, and try to teach Grant how to swim.  It has been probably close to a decade since I was last in a pool, and considering I was a (pretty good) competitive swimmer in my school days, I thought it was a real shame I had neglected swimming for so long.

After messing about in the pool for a while, I attempted some laps of breastroke, front crawl, and butterfly (I have always hated backstroke).  I busted out the old strokes as though I was still a teenager who swam for 2 hours a night and competed on weekends.  And after a few laps?  I was totally out of breath.  I think I’m going to try to keep up some kind of swimming regime once or twice a week, because even though it was hard – it was fun!

When I got home after the gym that night, I was pretty tired and fell asleep easily.  I set my alarm early as I wanted to get a run done before I had to shower in the morning.

When the alarm went off at FOUR FOURTY-FIVE IN THE FREAKING MORNING, I gave myself a stern talking to in my head.  My resolve was too strong, however, and I dragged myself out of bed, threw on my running gear, grabbed my ipod shuffle and shoved my keys into my bra.  Bring it, morning.

Morning brought it.  It was freezing, my lungs were burning, my legs (and entire body) were aching from the punishment I gave it less than 10 hours earlier, I didn’t have any breakfast, and I opted for no music since some of the streets I was running down had some wobbly drunks that gave off a bit of a rapey vibe.  Every time I looks down at my Garmin it was showing 10:xx minute miles.  Pathetic.  I was so glad to get home after 6 and a bit miles.  I was more glad to get into my heated apartment.  As evidence of this morning’s cold, check out the frost that accumulated on my headband:

I wasted no time getting into the warm shower (which felt like burning on my calves which had foolishly been exposed in my 3/4 length running tights), and then started beautifying myself in anticipation of work and parents’ evening.  Despite how gross I had felt earlier, I was super stoked that I was now free to come straight home after work, collapse on the sofa, and eat dinner.  Witness the glow of happiness at 6:36 am:

Despite feeling like there would be nothing more wonderful than crawling into a warm bed all day, and blurred vision after about 6pm, I do not regret my extra early run session.  Heading home after work, guilt-free, was amazing.  Probably not amazing enough to repeat the experience tomorrow, however.

Speaking of work – which I don’t often do – I have been looking at WW1 poetry with one of my classes.  They’ve just started writing a critical essay, but they have also written ‘letters from the trenches’ after investigating the horrific conditions the soldiers faced on the front line.  I thought they were so good I decided to devote an entire section on the display board to them, and using only supplies from a recycle bin, went about trying to create a masterpiece.  It could do with a few more touches, but I’m pretty pleased at how it turned out (hint: it’s meant to look a bit like a trench):

I’m particularly proud of my rat silhouettes!

And finally (dudes can tune out now), I went shopping last weekend.  Those of you who follow me on instagram will already be aware of my obsession with my latest purchase, but for everyone else, I bought some kick-ass shoes!

The Quest for a Good Running Photo… continues.

Don’t get too excited, the quest continues.  But I have just found an ‘almost’.  While stalking events online, I came across a man’s photo album from the Huntsville half marathon in Texas a couple of weeks ago (I can’t believe it has only been a couple of weeks since I’ve been back – it feels like months).  I believe this is just before the finish line for the quarter marathon (meaning Nikki and I still had another loop to run).  I have no idea why I’m so far ahead, because we pretty much ran this entire thing side by side, but what I really want to explain is this is MUCH CLOSER to how I imagine I actually look when I’m running than the typical race photos I come across.  If only my eyes were open, this would potentially be my best race photo yet!

In other news, despite feeling like I had immortal feet, I have finally lost a toenail.  Being a 10k junkie for years, I guess this is like a pretty ceremonial thing in terms of long(er) distance running, so it’s great to be part of the cool crowd.  On the other hand, in Texas, I went for a pedicure with my mom (and it was only, like, the 4th pedicure I’ve ever had), and I feel like it was wasted on my now sub-human toes. In fairness, the gross blood blister on the neighboring toe is doing my foot aesthetics few favours:

And finally, in an kind of ‘fuck you!’ to the clocks going back and having a staggering 45 minutes of daylight after I finish work (and I am a school teacher that finishes work at 15:35), I went out for an evening trail run with Ronnie with my new head torch:

No light + blinding flash = goofy expression.

It was an overall failure, as we only managed about 4 miles (we were aiming for 8), and I kept getting weirded out by strange sounds in the woods.  It is also pretty easy to get completely lost in the dark, so there was a bit of stop-starting whilst we tried to work out if we were going where we wanted to go.  Also, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether that pile of leaves you’re about to run on are just sitting on the trail, or disguising a shin-deep freezing puddle of stagnant water.  Spoiler: I got wet.

Good luck to those of you racing this weekend!  I just have some weights and a shortish run planned this weekend before a busy week at work and the Fraserburgh half next weekend.  It looks like the Fraserburgh half could possibly mark the beginning of training for my first ultra, but I’m only about 60% sure I’ll aim to do it this year, so I wont say too much about that now…

The Running Shop Winter X Country Series 1/3 (6 mile)

Time: 56:01

Category Position: 7/10

Medal: No, not until you complete the series.

Me and Teri before the race

The Running Shop Winter Cross Country series is something I signed up to during the period after the marathon when I was experiencing an extended ‘runner’s high’, unbroken due to my inability to actually run.  My thinking was: I’ve just run 26.2 miles, what’s a piddly 6?!  My thinking was also: Scottish winters are fucking freezing, if this is the only thing going on, I want to be a part of it.

And so, on a crisp winter-esque Autumn Sunday, I found myself waiting for Ronnie to pick me up in my flat.  But this time I had company – Teri!  You may remember Teri from such adventures as the Crathes half marathon in September.  She’s the person who, with a grand total of 3 miles training, ran her first half marathon in something like 1:47:xx.  I briefly hated Teri when I was overcome with jealousy of her natural talent at running.  But I’m over that now (nearly).  Anyway, Teri has been on holiday in Australia for 6 weeks and has done zero exercise, unless you count getting shit faced every night and dancing.  She arrived back on Friday, and I saw her at the gym on Saturday.  She asked whether I’d be at the gym Sunday, and I told her I’d be running and invited her along.  She said she’d think about it (this always means ‘yes’).  And so there we were, waiting for our lift.

Ronnie arrived and we set off with what we imagined would be plenty of time to get to the start line.  What should have been a 35 minute journey took closer to an hour, however, as we got totally lost.  At least the scenery was nice:

Eventually we found out where we should be going, and, seeing the crowd in a field in the distance, we all let out a sigh of relief.  We all registered, then we all ambushed tired, muddy kids that had run in the children’s races for safety pins, as the organizers had run out.  I’ll remember not to switch bags last minute for the next one because I normally carry hundreds of the things with me.

Once we had sorted ourselves out, we took a couple of pre-run photos, and realized we were all totally out of our depth, ability wise.  Surrounding us, warming up and doing stretches that revealed a revolting wealth of flexibility, was a field of elite runners proudly wearing their respective club vests and looking extra serious.  It made us look like a group of total amateurs:

Ronnie and Teri squinting into the sunlight

Generous backlighting

A few minutes before the start, everyone (roughly 50 people) gathered at the beginning of the 1.5 mile loop and we were told we would have to complete 4 laps.  I didn’t really have any plan other than ‘don’t stop running’, and when the gun went off (loudly!), I started off at what I felt was a reasonable pace.  A couple of breathless minutes later, I dialed it back, because 8:00 minute miles was not what I was aiming for.  The course started through some muddy forest tracks (with a few precarious moments) and by the time I was out of them, I was already near the back of the pack.  Once the trees cleared, you were faced with a steep uphill climb – the kind that makes your legs feel like rubber at the top – before a very steep drop through slippery mud that I actively slowed down for.  Then you had about half a mile of relatively flat, grassy path before a short climb back to the start.

After the first lap I was regretting my decision to opt for the 6 instead of the 3 mile course.  Cross country running is hard.  But still, there was a girl on my tail and my pride often becomes more important than my body’s ability to take in oxygen, so I pressed into lap 2 without catching my breath.  After a few twists and turns I could see Teri was also hot on my heels.  I pushed uphill on the lung busting section of the course, navigated the horrendous downhill mud pit, then soldiered to the lap point.

Rachel, you fucktard, if you’d entered the 3 mile race you’d be done by now.  With Teri and the other woman still trailing by not-enough-to-allow-me-to-relax, I started lap 3.  It was soon after this that I was lapped by the leader.  Since I didn’t wear earphones, I could hear the panting approach from behind, and I kept to the bumpier sides of the course to allow those lapping me the best route to keep up their speed, because CLEARLY I was no longer competing to place.  I wont lie, it’s pretty demoralizing being lapped, especially when you’re pretty much at the back.

The uphill stretch was pretty dreadful on lap 3, but I kept running until the top, and while I eventually got my breath back, it took a little longer than the first two times.  Passing the finishers’ chute for the third (and final) time, the volunteers gave me one of those pitying looks and shouted ‘Just one more lap!’, as I mumbled something about how amazing road races are and chugged on.

Lap 4.  One more lap.  By this point I was pretty beat.  I’d started wheezing (‘m not asthmatic but for some reason – perhaps several years of heavy smoking – after a run I wheeze for a bit) which was a sign I was nearing my limit, and tried to put the uphill section to the back of my mind as I weaved through the trees.  I could hear the cheers for the freakishly fast runners finishing. And then the uphill section was upon me.  I pushed up and was horrified to experience that despite maximum effort output, I was moving at about the same speed as an undead snail who had been snacking on some magic brownies.  Regardless, I didn’t stop, and at the top of the hill I begged my lungs to ‘please not collapse’ as I gave every last bit of energy to the task of finishing.  The girl who was hot on my heels for most of the race was obviously starting to suffer as well, and I’d created a bit of distance, but afraid of a burst of crazy speed on her part, I kept going.  Ronnie, who had already finished by this point, was at the sidelines cheering.  He did not get a very polite greeting as I passed by.  I finally pulled into the finishers’ chute in 56:01, and then proceeded to feel sick for the next 15 minutes, eyeballing the ambulance crew,  just in case.

Teri, despite her lack of physical activity in the last month and I half, came in not long after me, and wasted no time in telling me how little she appreciated me talking her into coming along.  I went to buy some water, and then we all piled back into Ronnie’s car for the more direct journey home:

Glad to be done!

Once home, I peeled my clothing off of me, threw it in the wash, and then had to vacuum the spot where I got undressed, because of this:

And that’s pretty much where healthiness was thrown out of the window.  Later on, Ian, Dylan and I enjoyed some extra rich mushroom, chicken and onion risotto, chased by Jamaica Ginger cake and ice-cream.  And then the last episode of Downton Abbey of season 3, which I am bummed I don’t have to look forward to on Sundays anymore.
Also included in this race report, photos from tonight’s fireworks display at Aberdeen Beach for Guy Fawke’s night, because I didn’t get enough good photos to warrant an individual post:


Pow, pow, pow!


Man, I am so glad I don’t have a race this weekend.



Ronhill Vizionteering at Run4it, Aberdeen

Ronnie, who sends me information and virtually every single running event in Northeast Scotland, sent me a link about an event at a local shop that was on the day after I arrived back in Aberdeen.  I wasn’t really planning on doing it, because I wanted to do weights at the gym, but as Grant completely failed (way to go, buddy) to book me in for the class, I was open to other exercise opportunities.

My first day back at work was brutal.  I slept from nearly as soon as I got home around lunchtime on Monday until about 8pm, which was heavenly.  I then could not return to the land of nod until after 2am.  I had to be up to shower for work before 6am.  I was a pretty grumpy customer when I trudged into the school, and any trace of sunshine was slapped off my face by the thunderstorm of news that was a whole-school meeting after school.  Whoever picked out the dates for these meetings has a heart of black tar, if indeed they have a heart at all.  I failed to disguise my horror at prolonging my suffering for the day and received looks that said ‘We know…. We know….’ from my colleagues.

I somehow soldiered through all of my classes, possibly exaggerating the intensity of periphery Sandy-related turbulence, forgetting several times mid-sentence what I was saying, looking at kids and realizing that in two weeks I had forgotten their name…  I also managed to keep my eyes open (mostly) throughout the staff meeting at the end.  Then I dragged myself home in the dark (screw you clocks going back and stealing an hour of my daylight).

*Related: Scottish ‘summers’ are amazing in the fact that you have, like, 22 hours of daylight every day, but Scottish winters are horrific.  You go to work in the dark, see some weak ass sunshine through a window, despair when twilight appeared, and then go home in the dark.  It sucks*

Once home I realized that I had texted Ronnie in a moment of insanity to tell him I’d be there.  After getting changed into running gear and bracing myself for the cold, and then waiting for Ian to get changed out of his work clothes so he could cycle to his mum’s for dinner, I made my way to Run4it, one of Aberdeen’s specialist running shops.  There were several people there who I had met before, either at races, at parkrun, or online, and I was given a card to write my details on and then fitted with a (blindingly) bright Ronhill running jacket.  It was (blindingly) pink, and had a light attached to the back.

There was a pretty decent turnout (it WAS a free event), and in the end I think about 24 people showed up.  We arranged ourselves into teams of two (I teamed up with Ronnie), and were given a map of Aberdeen and 5 clues (totally unnecessary since the points were already labelled on the map).  We were told that it was a round trip of approximately 4 miles, if done right.  We had to reach as many of the checkpoints as possible, have our team card stamped at each one, and then make it back to the shop within 45 minutes.  For every minute we were late, we would have 150 points deducted (there was a possible 1500 points to earn, so late minutes were not appealing).  Ronnie asked me what I wanted to do.  I replied, “Win.”

Pre-event photo (a bit blurry) courtesy of the Blackberry belonging to one of Run4it’s members of staff.

All of the teams gathered outside, the timer was started, and we stampeded off along Union Street (Aberdeen’s main street), dodging pedestrians, prams, traffic, bikes, bus stops, and rubbish bins with the elegance of a drunk antelope.  My Garmin, not quite alert to the fact that I was thousands of miles away from where it thought it was when I turned it on, was taking its sweet fucking time to find a satellite, so I have no idea what pace we were going or how far we had travelled.  The only thing we had to go on was time and feel.

We huffed and puffed our way to the 1st checkpoint at the Castlegate, surrounded by two other teams (team one comprised of two dudes, team two comprised of two chicks.  The rest had all gone for different checkpoints to begin with, so we had no idea how fast they were going.  Our group of 6 seemed to have the same idea, so we kept running in the direction of our second checkpoint at the Beach Ballroom.  One team (dudes) tore themselves away, and we kept a steady pace (I imagine) behind them, taking a slightly different route.  We hit checkpoint 2 just before the team of two ladies, and then shifted our direction for checkpoint 3, Pittodrie Stadium.  We took what Ronnie assured me was a ‘shorter route’ on some track with no lighting and lots of uneven ground (treacherous), and the team of ladies was hot on our tails.  Eventually we came to the checkpoint (the furthest away from the shop, therefore the most valuable points-wise), had our card stamped, and started racing uphill towards checkpoint 4 – Marischal College.

During our journey there, we remained within spitting distance of the team of females. There were several road crossings we had to navigate, and Ronnie got into a bit of an argument with a bus driver, but neither of us was struck by traffic, so everything was still good.  I was starting to get pretty out of breath by this point, and began to think these two chicks might get in before us.  After all, they seemed slightly faster and we all had the same final checkpoint – His Majesty’s Theatre – to get to, before returning.

Despite being bummed about this, Ronnie and I stuck with them, getting stamped seconds after them at the theatre.  They headed back towards Union Street, but Ronnie and I decided our only hope of winning was to take a shortcut.  Now it was game on!  We ran up one of the side streets, and despite better judgement I allowed Ronnie to lead us through what can only be described as a grassy dumping ground behind some blocks of flats (in the dark – again), before we emerged onto one of the little streets than runs perpendicular to Union Street.  As we approached the end, I was amazed we hadn’t seen two hi-viz, hot pink blurs fly by before us, and I was even more amazed that when we turned onto Union Street and looked back, we saw the two women behind us!  I shouted at Ronnie to speed up, too afraid to look behind, and we made it back, panting, in 36:45!  About a minute later the two women turned up.  And of course the all male team we ran with at the start had already made it back to the shop and were relaxing and enjoying nibbles.

Once I had my breath back, I looked around and my heart sunk.  About half the runners that were taking part were already back in the shop, and the rest were trickling in steadily.  Luckily, not all of the teams had made it to every checkpoint, however, and Ronnie and I found out we had made it back in time to snag second place!

Once everyone had returned, we had a little ‘awards ceremony’ where the three top finishing teams got a certificate/gift voucher and their photo taken, and then the spot prizes were handed out to those who could correctly answer questions from the Ronhill representative (who had since removed our pricey jackets).  After a bit of a chinwag with everyone, Ronnie and I decided to put in a few slightly more relaxed miles, which we did, and then we parted ways.

Jet-lagged, exhausted, and content with ‘winning’ something for the first time in ages, I had a shower, got into pyjamas, and curled into Ian for a very cosy sleep.

Tonight?  Out to Hazelhead for some trail running, then on Sunday a 6 mile cross-country race!  I don’t think I’ll dominate, but it should be fun.