Runner’s Knees Virtual 10 Miler

Time: 1:51:52

Medal: Yes (to be delivered)

It's the personal touch that makes them.

It’s the personal touch that makes them.

A quick word of advice: If you plan on running 10 miles at 9:30 in the morning with a friend, going to another friend’s birthday/leaving do, staying out until the wee hours, drinking, and karaoke are not a good idea.  Especially if you have been sick for the last two weeks.

I was rudely awoken on Saturday morning by light coming through the gap in the curtains (and an impending sense of bowel discomfort) at about 6 am.  Despite having brushed my teeth thoroughly a mere few hours before, my mouth felt as though it was stuffed with cotton balls.  I attempted to get some more sleep, but the grim reality was that I lay in bed dozing on and off for another hour an a half, before my alarm informed me it was time to start getting ready.

I hauled myself to the bathroom to realize that, as usual, I had failed to remove my ‘drinking’ make-up before going to bed.  I would like to clarify that I rarely drink, but while I try and be sensible (I only had 3 pints last night), I am a super cheap drunk, and small amounts of alcohol have profound effects on me (willingly performing a duet of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with a virtual stranger).  Anyway, as you may be able to tell, I was not enthusiastic about the prospect of doing exercise this morning:

And yes, I am sitting on my toilet in my underwear.

And yes, I am sitting on my toilet in my underwear.

Still, at least I would have some wonderful company for this ‘race‘ in the form of Danielle, who had agreed to drive to Aberdeen and set a new distance PR as she works on increasing her distance runs for the Aviemore half marathon in October.  She told me after our run that she was worried that she would slow me down. Ha. Hahaha.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  (Spoiler: she was wrong)

I had planned a course on my limited knowledge of a secret trail leading to Hazelhead Park, based on my enormous experience of walking along it.  Once.  While in my head, I knew the general direction I was going, the reality included a lot of backtracking in the first few miles, and educated guesswork (sorry Danielle!).  My heart rate was sky-rocketing, my legs felt like led, I was dizzy, and I felt like I was going to throw up.  By mile 1.

Danielle had mentioned that after about ten minutes she likes to stop and stretch.  I pushed us just that little bit further so we could enjoy the surroundings of Johnston Gardens while we had our break – and I attempted to breathe at a normal rate for a minute.

IMG_20130629_100622After what I felt was a painfully short rest stop, we set off again, continuing uphill (the first half of this ten mile route was on a gentle – but steady – incline) and eventually along the secret trail paths (evidently not actually so secret, as we passed several runners), and finally to Duthie Park.  By mile 3, I was done, and even keeping a pitiful 11:30/mile pace was a real struggle.  I told Danielle I needed to drink something, and ended up at the pavilion in Hazlehead Park, more thrilled than is socially acceptable to find cold cans of 7up.

I had to take a break here, and actually sit on a wall to let my heart rate come back down to a number that didn’t make me think I was suffering from a heart attack, and had my 7up.  Hopeful, we set off again.

Although I was struggling, I knew that the 7up would kick in soon, and the second half was going to be all downhill.  This made me ignore the severe discomfort I was in, as did concentrating on the trails we had found ourselves on that went through the golf course. After 4.5 miles, we turned back, and everything started feeling a bit less horrendous.  Just a bit.

Danielle at the half way point, full of energy and enthusiasm.

Danielle at the half way point, full of energy and enthusiasm.

Me at the halfway point, ready to collapse/cry/vomit.

Me at the halfway point, ready to collapse/cry/vomit.

I thought, for Danielle’s benefit, we should take in not one, not two, but THREE of Aberdeen’s parks during today’s run, so we went back to our starting point, and then further downhill to Duthie Park for a final mile around the grounds there, including a brief jog through the Winter Gardens.

And then, glory be, the entire ordeal was over!  Danielle had set a new distance PR, and I was still breathing (heavily).

We walked back up to town to buy a can of root beer (essential), and then Danielle was off, because she had only paid for 3 hours of parking, and my pathetic state had meant we used the entire 3 hours.

I had just enough energy to wash myself, and then Grant came around for a couple of hours before his bus to his new home in Glasgow.  I may have blamed him for moving to Glasgow and having his leaving do the previous night for my pain out loud, or I may have just thought it.  Either way, I got the ten miler done, even though it is probably the last thing I felt like doing when I woke up, and at least Sunday’s plan was ‘just a 10k’…

Ythan Challenge 2013

Time: 1:26:25 [RESULTS]

Medal: Yes (and technical t-shirt)

IMG_20130616_145157I remember entering this race back in January on my lunch break, desperate to get in before the spaces inevitably filled up as they did in 2012.  In record time (I think about 2 and a half hours), entries were closed, and I felt smug that I had managed to secure a space.  And then I thought – why have I entered this race again?  Last year I was still in ‘Tough Mudder training mode’, and excited to be doing my first obstacle course style run.  I thought it would be a good training opportunity, and something different.  This year, the realities of scrubbing dried mud off your skin in the lukewarm, post-race shower and trying to salvage the running kit you wore were at the forefront of my mind.  In the week leading up to today, I still questioned why I had been so enthusiastic about entering.

Ronnie (now a regular feature in my posts) picked me up at 9:30, along with one of his work colleagues, and after a trip to the supermarket for breakfast (and an amazing 3 disc cd full of classic rock songs), we picked up Susan and her fiancée Levi, who was amusingly still under the influence after the night before, and thankfully only coming along as support.  Despite the ominous weather forecast for the weekend, the skies were blue, the sun was out, and it was warm.  As always, this makes me happy.

We arrived in Ellon with about half an hour before registration closed, picked up our bibs, had our numbers drawn onto us, and had a final comfort break.  There were quite a few familiar faces about, and we filled the time in before the start by chatting to everyone in the sun.  One of the familiar faces was Teri, who had fractured her foot when she won the Whole Hog Challenge a few weeks back, but refused to accept that she had to rest.  Interesting fact: She is also planning on running a 10k on Tuesday, and a half marathon the following Sunday.

L-R: Susan, me, Teri, and Ronnie before the race

L-R: Susan, me, Teri, and Ronnie before the race

Before we realized it, the first wave had lined up behind the start line.  There were four waves in all, and we were in the third one.  About ten minutes after the first wave had sped off, we were listening to our starting horn go off, and making our way down the grassy field, towards the deep steps, and finally along the river path.  The majority of the Ythan is along trail paths, with sections through mud and through the river Ythan (which is freezing – without fail).

I started off running with Teri and Susan (Ronnie shot ahead), and a couple of miles in, Susan was struggling, so I stayed with her while Teri shot off, only to be seen again at the finish.  Eventually, the two of us caught up with Ronnie, and then I went ahead after the river, which, and I cannot stress this enough, was dreadful.  This is mainly due to the queue of people stuck in the river waiting their turn for the one exit space.

With heavy, boulder filled shoes, I was finally out of the Ythan, but only to zig-zag up and down a muddy hill before the second (and final) plunge.  With the river behind me, I was all smiles, and enjoyed the more technical trail sections of the race (though I got stuck behind some bottlenecking in areas which was a bit of a let down).  The obstacles barely registered (rope net to crawl under, tubes to crawl through, fence to scale, logs to hurdle, and hay bales to get over) as I happily bounded through the flickers of sunlight slicing through the canopy of leaves above.  My pace wasn’t great, but after a hard 6 days of working out, I was having a grand day out.

I heard my Garmin beep at me, and looked down to realize there were only a couple of miles left of the race.  I was amazed that something that I had been dreading all week had passed by so quickly and that I had enjoyed it (apart from a rather spectacular fall on my ass during a steep downhill section)!  I think a lot of credit goes to the weather, in fairness.

Turning back onto the lower field before the finish, I prepared myself for the shittery that the organizers set up after everyone is over the start line as a ‘treat’ at the end.  Sure enough, we had a staircase to run up that took us by the finishing chute, past it, and then back down the hill.  The final slog was pushing back up the steep hill, over a hay bale, through tires (which I fell face-first into), over a final hay bale, and then over the finish line, high-fiving some kids along the way.

Photo: Victoria Shanks

Photo: Victoria Shanks

I caught up with Teri, and we both went to cheer in Ronnie, and then Susan as they navigated the final section.  After a quick bite to eat, it was back to the car for a post race photo before dragging ourselves to the showers to clean up.

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Cleaning up involved a lot of violent body scrub action, and a lot of stinging where chaffing had occurred (I’ll spare you the details).  In our fresh clothes, we headed to the food tent: there was a BBQ on the go and a fantastic spread of all sorts of cakes for only 50p each.  I indulged in a slice of cake.  Teri inhaled everything in sight.

Just after prize giving, we went back to the final stretch of the run to wait for the final finishers, Shona, Carol, and Jeananne, to come into sight.  When they did, they were full of cheer, helping each other over the penultimate hay bale, but less cheerful when they realized they had one more in store:

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Although I did enjoy today, I am firmly over mud runs and obstacle courses.  Will I try and get a place next year?  Who knows.  There’s something that makes me want to enter a race if there’s such a limit on availability, and I have a feeling that, like in January, my panic at missing out will override my sanity.

Isle of Skye half marathon 2013

Time: 2:00:18

Position: 233/377

Medal: No.  But we did get an engraved shot glass, a Talisker miniature, a canvas bag (from Skye Batiks), a cotton t-shirt, a mars bar, and a tray bake from a local company!

Isle of Skye half marathon shot glass

Isle of Skye half marathon shot glass

I had originally signed up to this race because Ian has told me several times that we need to go to the Isle of Skye together because it is one of the prettiest places in Scotland (and has a fair number of munros to climb!).  Grand plans unfolded about what we would do, where we would stay, when to leave, but all of them failed to materialize, as last Wednesday, Ian was anticipating his staff BBQ on the Friday afternoon when I was planning to have left for Skye.

Thankfully, Ronnie had also signed up to this race after some gentle persuasion, and had managed to get a half day at work.  When the bell sounded the end of the school day, I hauled my stuff out of a cupboard in my classroom and dumped it into Ronnie’s awaiting chariot.  And thus began a near 5 hour journey through the Scottish countryside in the glorious sun!

En route to Skye

En route to Skye

Stretching our legs near Loch Carron

Stretching our legs near Loch Carron

Setting sun over Loch Carron (at about 8pm)

Setting sun over Loch Carron (at about 8pm)

Sidenote: the sun makes me extremely happy.

Through twisty, single lane roads that cut through trees, we came to an opening and saw the impressive mountains on Skye beyond the also impressive bridge to the island.  Any excuse to stretch our legs again:

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As we had left it a bit late, Ronnie and I had managed to book a bed each at a hostel in Broadford, about 30 minutes drive away from the half marathon start in Portree, and we arrived at the hostel just before 9, quickly going to our respective rooms to make our beds and dump our belongings before descending upon the self-catered kitchen where I whipped up some delicious pesto pasta (and Ronnie cremated a garlic bread).  As usual, I overestimated my hunger, and made way too much, though Ronnie fought the good fight and put away three helpings. And two donuts.  Ridiculous.

After dinner, we decided to take advantage of the board games, and settled down to a game of Scrabble.  After the game was under way, Ronnie realized he was playing an English teacher, and I proceeded to kick his ass.  While midges dined on any exposed flesh.  For those not familiar with midges, imagine mosquitoes that are the size of a few grains of sand, but just as hungry and annoying.

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Sidenote: ‘pee’ is one of Ronnie’s words.

The game ended around midnight, so we thought it would probably be a good idea to go to bed.  I tried to get into bed as quietly as possible for the benefit of the sleeping women in my room, but navigating onto a creaky top bunk with no ladder did not endear me to them, I would imagine.  Nevertheless, I eventually got settled, and fell asleep pretty quickly.

I feel it is important to mention at this point that there is a hospital to the rear of the hostel.  With a helipad.

I felt my phone vibrate, and since I am so in tune with my alarm going off, since I have an unnatural fear of being late for work, I was up.  But the room was still dark.  I looked at my phone to discover it was 3:14am, and the vibration was a message from Ronnie saying, simply:

wtf?!

Which mirrored my thoughts exactly.  Why was Ronnie messaging me this at ridiculous o’ clock?  He continued to explain that there was a Sea King helicopter and an ambulance outside his window, and did I not hear the ungodly noise outside?  Well I did now, and I also noticed the curtains billowing in what I imagine was the draft of some monster propellers, but I found it a bit galling that I was sleeping peacefully through that until my phone vibrated twice.  I made this clear to Ronnie later in the day, but he was amazed I’d managed to sleep through the noise and the fact that the hostel was practically shaking.  Twice.  Apparently another chopper landed and took off a couple of hours later.  I have zero recollection.

At a more civilized hour (6:50), I got up for a shower, got dressed, stripped my bedding, and took everything downstairs for breakfast.  Ronnie joined me later and we set off for Portree.  I was unenthusiastic about the low, hanging cloud that obscured the summits of the mountains we had seen as we drove in last night.  Thankfully, as we neared Portree, the cloud began to give way to blue sky and beautiful views like this:

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Once at the community center, we registered and picked up our t-shirt before heading to where we had parked to get ready.  I was horrified when I realized what my race number was – I was obviously extremely keen when entries opened…

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Just before the start at 10:30, the runners were assembled and piped to the start line.  The rare Scottish sun was actually creating quite a pleasant heat, which delighted me, but apparently nobody else.  Ronnie and I had bumped into David and Lesley earlier, and we all started together.

Ronnie and I had decided to run the race together, since he is still getting his speed back.  David ran alongside us, waiting for some of the runners to spread out before shooting off (he is considerably faster than me), and we told him we’d see him at the finish.  However, from an already uphill start, we took a sharp left turn to be faced with a very steep incline.  David looked down at his watch and declared, “.13 miles in and I no longer care about time.”  Looks like we would have company.

Skye half marathon elevation.  Source: http://www.skyehalfmarathon.org.uk/map.shtml

Skye half marathon elevation. Source: http://www.skyehalfmarathon.org.uk/map.shtml 

Ronnie, who had pretty much memorized the course elevation, told us what to expect every step of the way, much to our horror.  David and I were both firmly in the ‘I don’t want to know’ camp when it came to upcoming inclines.  Lesley, David’s other half, caught up to us as we walked through the first water station.  As David’s revised goal was to ‘finish ahead of Lesley’, we took off again over the rolling roads in the sunshine.  Lesley passed us as we walked through the second water stop at mile 5, and we ran with her for about half a mile before pulling away again.  That was the last time we saw her until the finish.

Apparently this was taken at the 1 mile marker.  We look pretty relaxed.

Apparently this was taken at the 1 mile marker. We look pretty relaxed.

The third water stop was at mile 7, and we took a right turn marking our journey towards the finish line as well as the beginning of a significantly long climb.  After nearly a mile, David and I had started to pull away from Ronnie, but I was feeling uncharacteristically strong, especially for having covered such a hilly 8 miles, and David said that despite our leisurely run so far, it was not entirely unseasonable to think we could finish in under two hours.

“Well, if Ronnie is right,” I said, “then we have another 3 miles of this hill to go before starting our descent into Portree.”
“Nah,” said David, “that can’t be right.”
“It is,” came a woman’s voice up ahead.  “It is.”

We charged on, becoming slightly more aggressive with our pace, and every time we reached what looked like the top of the hill, higher hills loomed on the horizon.  Finally, we reached the top, and a very enthusiastic woman had parked her car at the side of the road to blare out bagpipe music, and we were greeted with a spectacular view of the Cuillin Mountains poking above one of the few clouds in the sky. And the arguably more spectacular view of two miles of downhill towards Portree!

David, who had by this point starting referring to himself as my new pacer, started picking up the pace, and I tried my best to stick to his luminous shirt.  We had been passing quite a few people in the last few miles, and we continued to pick off runners as we flew downhill (I saw 7:07 as my pace at one point) passing mile 12.  As I saw the 13 mile marker up ahead, David shot off, and I started pulling highly humorous faces I’m sure, as I made it my goal to pass the three people ahead before the finish line.  I was only deterred by the very enthusiastic kids lining the final 200 meters wanting high fives, before pushing up the final uphill section over the finish line.

Looking slightly less relaxed than at mile 1.

Looking slightly less relaxed than at mile 1.

I came in 18 seconds over the 2 hour mark, but considering this is touted as one of Scotland’s toughest half marathons, I’m pretty pleased with that.  Ronnie came in a couple of minutes after I did, followed by Lesley a couple of minutes later.

IMG_20130609_121241We all enjoyed plenty of water and our pretty impressive (canvas) goody bags!

Canvas goody bag from the Isle of Skye half marathon

Canvas goody bag from the Isle of Skye half marathon

IMG_20130608_133147Ronnie and I grabbed our stuff from the car and took advantage of the showers at the center (because a 5 hour journey back to Aberdeen would not have been pleasant in our current state), and then made a donation for a 10 minute sports massage, where I learned that we had been exceptionally lucky with the weather.

Cleaned, pummelled, and happy, we set off for Aberdeen, where we stumbled upon Eilean Donan castle (which was used in the film ‘Highlander’), and an RAF Mountain Rescue chopper (of a similar size to the beast that woke up everyone but me a mere 12 hours earlier, Ronnie tells me) getting ready to take off:

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

RAF Mountain Rescue chopper

RAF Mountain Rescue chopper

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Overall, the Skye half marathon was excellent value for money, everyone was friendly, the weather was fantastic (for me, David and Ronnie did not seem so keen on the heat), the views were stunning, and I obviously have to come back next year to break 2 hours. This was easily one of my favourite Scottish races.

All Quiet on the Scottish Front

Note:  I’m an English teacher, I’m allowed to create cheesy titles for my posts.

Now that my spring running schedule is coming to an end, I find I have a lot more free time at the weekends.  I had promised to Ian that I would go light on the summer races, since there is a chance Scotland will get some palatable weather and we can do outdoorsy stuff together, (and there is a greater chance that if I don’t keep to my word I’ll return home one day to find my belongings shredded and burnt) and I have been fairly vigilant at keeping myself in check.  The last two weekends have been race free, and, delightfully, the weather has been amazing.  This has resulted in a couple more outings on the road bikes.

Two weeks ago we were joined by one of Ian’s friends who was riding on his mountain bike (and suffering as Ian and I glided along the road effortlessly).  Once out of Aberdeen, we took the quiet back roads to Banchory, where we each enjoyed an ice-cream before heading back.  It was such a glorious day that I have pretty much ensured my ridiculous lycra tan will be a permanent fixture this year.  Again.

This past Sunday, despite being a bit cooler and cloudier, we took the road bikes out again, this time just me and Ian.  We took a similar route in the beginning, but continued on to Dunecht (where I ran a 5k a few weeks ago), and then on to Castle Fraser, where we stopped for a slice of cake (me), a scone (Ian), and some orange juice.  As I headed to the toilet after our treat, I overheard a human beluga that had also been indulging in the tea room tell her equally corpulent friend that it would be “a long drive back to Aberdeen” and they should maybe use the toilet and get a treat for the journey.  For reference, it is about a 20 mile drive back to Aberdeen along the main roads.  I was speechless.

Outside Castle Fraser

Outside Castle Fraser

Aberdeen to Crathes Castle route

Aberdeen to Castle Fraser route

Aberdeen to Castle Fraser elevation

Aberdeen to Castle Fraser elevation

I have also been pretty quiet recently because I have endured enjoyed a school trip to London for a week with 40 teenagers who appear to be immune to fatigue.  And silence.  Having lived in London a few times, I always find it kind of nice to go back and see familiar places.  It was not kind of nice to spend 12 hours on a bus getting there, and I’m pretty sure ‘butt-cramp’ is a very real affliction.

Anyway, we got to go on the London Eye and scope out several of London’s landmarks, we went shopping in Camden Town (my old haunt) and Covent Garden, took in a few shows (Billy Elliot was amazing), visited the zoo, survived the London Dungeons, and had a day trip to Thorpe Park, where I remembered how much rickety roller coaster hurt your head.

Tiger having a snooze at London zoo

Tiger having a snooze at London zoo

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

Big ass moth

Big ass moth

Penguins

Penguins

Caricature from Covent Garden

Caricature from Covent Garden

We also accidentally stumbled upon the premier for The Hangover 3 which was extremely exciting for many of the teenage girls since apparently Bradley Cooper is a “total babe!” and “OMG so hot!”.  I tried to convince them that he wouldn’t be there yet, but they asked me to look over the crowds, so I wedged myself between a couple of hysterical fans at the barrier and, sure enough, Mr. Cooper was about 6 feet away.  I told the girls he was pretty much within spitting distance, and then took turns ushering kids towards the barrier and holding them up under their armpits so they could get a look.  I snapped a photo to show the kids that had missed out, and then made my way back to the rest of the group, as we were kind of meant to be heading to the theatre.

Bradley Cooper at the Hangover 3 premier in London

Bradley Cooper at the Hangover 3 premier in London

Bradley Cooper - still at the premier for the Hangover 3 in London

Bradley Cooper – still at the premier for the Hangover 3 in London

Although I did take my running stuff to London, I was still pretty miserable and ill for the first couple of days, and only managed to get out once for an enjoyable 8 miles along the Thames.  Early starts, chaperoning kids, walking around the city/theme park, and late nights after the theatre kind of take it out of you, and by the end, I was pretty glad to be back in my own bed.

The Shard

The Shard

Big Ben

Big Ben

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Red phone box and the London Eye in the background

Red phone box and the London Eye in the background