Loch Ness Marathon 2013

Time: 4:43:32 (personal worst)

Medal: Yes

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I feel it’s necessary to preface this post with a few facts:

  1. I take great offence to weird things.
  2. Once I decide something, no matter how terrible of an idea it is, I am too stubborn not to follow through.
  3. I often have terrible ideas.

I hadn’t planned on running Loch Ness marathon again this year (after my painful début last year). I had already signed up for the Texas marathon on New Year’s Day, 2014, and that seemed like enough of a challenge. However, easily swayed by the fact that the majority of my running friends had signed up, for some their first attempt at the distance, I entered. Because who likes feeling left out? Nobody, that’s who.

The goal for this race, however, was not speed.

 ***

Rewind ten months. I was about to start my training for the Paris marathon after a bit of a running hiatus in December, caused by psychological trauma following my first marathon, naturally. It was an average day – I had gone to work, gone to the gym for a bit, come home, showered, and eaten – and I was relaxing on my sofa browsing the internet when I came across this meme:

Oh-you-ran-a-marathon-How-heavy-was-the-sledNow, I don’t even know why I can’t control my emotions like a rational human being, but seeing this awoke a mighty rage within me, and I wanted nothing more than to punch that smug husky in the face. With a speeding bus. Admittedly, it’s kind of funny, but the pain of my first marathon was fresh enough in my mind to trigger a loathing so all-consuming that it continued to gnaw away at me for the best part of 2013.

You have maybe already guessed where this is going.

Step one was buying a sled. I wanted something pretty (of great importance), and made out of wood. Thank you, Amazon, for this beauty:

sled

It was a bit heavier than I had anticipated, but the highly scientific test of dragging it 6 feet across my living room was enough to convince me that this was still a viable idea. But it would need wheels.

Step two involved searching gumtree for a used pram. I found one a few miles away for £10, and decided to run there, buy it, and then run home to test out the wheels. They were a great success, but pushing an empty pram around a city center acquires many an odd look. It was worth it for the advantage of carrying home a lot of shopping from the supermarket:

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Step three was taken care of by one of the technicians at school who removed the chassis and wheels of the pram from the baby-carrying bit, and then used cable ties to attach the sled, which fit perfectly. That was blind luck, which I took to be a sign that I was not completely idiotic. With some rope attached to the frame, I took it for a test run, which yielded more confused looks from the general public.

From this test run, I established very quickly that the sled was going to be a burden, but also that attached to my rucksack with a bit of rope, its movements were unpredictable and out of control. It veered off the paths on several occasions, and whacked into the backs of my legs on the downhill sections.

This was remedied by attaching telescopic walking sticks to the frame, which would allow me greater control over the sled’s movement, and prevent it from hitting me, whilst also behind handy for storage. These were also attached with cable ties. On Friday night. Trusting my mad engineering skills, I decided I did not need to test out the contraption at all.

The finishing touches for the sled included a cool bag for my lunch, and two stuffed huskies, Mukluk and Storm (they had names when I bought them). Add into the mix a relatively secure harness with a D-ring on the back and I was ready to roll.

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Race weekend had arrived, and on Saturday Ronnie picked me up at about 11:30. When Ian helped me carry the sled and my bags downstairs, Ronnie just shook his head and said, “So you’re still doing this.” With some Tetris-level manoeuvring, we managed to get everything into the car, and then we set off for Inverness, which took about twice as long as it should have done thanks to road works and people who drive on main roads at 40mph.

Once registered, Ronnie dropped me off at my B&B before checking out his swanky hotel. I watched women’s cycling on TV and took a nap before dinner with some Fetch runners, and was tucked up in bed by 9. As I was falling asleep, I remember only being nervous about organisers not letting me run with my sled for health and safety reasons. I don’t think ‘running a marathon the next day’ was even registering.

I was up at the crack of dawn for a shower, and to get dressed and get everything packed for checking out. Breakfast of toast, orange juice and a banana was at 6:30, and 15 minutes later I was hauling the sled along the dark streets of Inverness to where a few of us had arranged to congregate.

On our way to the bus

On our way to the bus

I was met with laughter and heavy sighs (I hadn’t told everyone what I was planning on doing, and nobody had seen the finished masterpiece). Trying to avoid crippling any of the other runners, we all made our way towards the buses, where I managed to get a wheelchair spot for the sled with no questions asked, other than “How much for a lift to the finish line?”

[side note: a stuffed husky is an adequate replacement for a neck pillow on an hour long bus journey]

The wait at the start was broken up by queuing for the toilet, making last minute adjustments to the sled, and wishing everyone luck. I was glad for the distractions because it was pretty cold.

L-R: Naomi, Sheri, me

L-R: Naomi, Sheri, me

Beginning to reconsider my idea.

Beginning to reconsider my idea.

Ronnie and his stylish foil cape.

Ronnie and his stylish foil cape.

At the start line!

At the start line!

Time seemed to fly, because before we knew it, we were edging forward towards the start line. I just hoped the sled (and my legs) would hold out until the end, and crossing the starting mats, I broke into a run.

The first 6 miles or so of the Loch Ness course are downhill, with much of the middle section being ‘undulating’. I know you’re not meant to go out too quickly at the start, but I also knew that I would struggle pulling a 25 pound sled up hills, so I thought I would take advantage of fast miles while I could, and blazed ahead of my much more sensible friends. Apart from the awkward arm position from holding onto the walking sticks, ‘pulling’ the sled on the downhill sections wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating. And the walking sticks gave me great control over the sled’s direction. As long as the cable ties stayed in one piece, it would all be ok. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

This optimism lasted for about 58 minutes. Then came the first of the undulations. The weight of the sled tugging behind me meant that unless it was a very gradual incline, I would need to walk – at least if I wanted to conserve energy for the later miles. It was around this point that the adrenaline at the start and my positivity about the sled began to dwindle. I recognized parts of the course from last year, and I knew that there were some steeper, longer climbs in the later miles. I had to keep breaking the race into manageable chunks to stop myself from feeling overwhelmed, so after 6 miles, I told myself 1 10k down, 3 to go. At 9 miles, I told myself this is where you were hurting last year, and your legs feel ok. At 13 miles, you’re halfway there!

When that stopped helping, I promised myself treats. At 15 miles, you can pull over, have your lunch, and text Ian. At the start of the hill at 18 miles you’ll get to walk for a mile. At 20 miles you can listen to music.

And then I had less than 10k to go, and crowd support started appearing. I was really struggling, and had to stop to walk a few times just to give my legs a break from the pain, but as soon as I saw the sign saying we had 3k left, I told myself I wouldn’t stop until the end.

I had to take off my rucksack and swing it round so I had a chance of finding a photo.

I had to take off my rucksack and swing it round so I had a chance of finding a photo.  This was somewhere after 15 miles, I think.

The crowd support during this section was amazing, particularly the Macmillan cheer crews (when they see you wearing one of their shirts they make you feel like a rock star), and I was lucky enough to see a few familiar faces cheering me on. I’m not going to lie, overtaking people when you’re hauling a sled is a pretty kick-ass feeling, despite the sub-kick-ass feeling I was experiencing in my legs.

Less than a mile to go!

Less than a mile to go!

At the finish!

At the finish!

Though I wasn’t going for speed, my goal for this race, other than to not collapse at the side of the road, was to finish in less than 5 hours, so when I saw the clock by the finish line started with a 4, I couldn’t help but smile. Except it was probably more of a grimace/smile. I heard my name called out over the loudspeaker, and heard an always enthusiastic Jeananne (who had run the 10k earlier) screaming my name as I came into the finishing chute exhausted, in pain, but most of all, relieved.

After receiving my medal, t-shirt and goody bag, I limped to our meeting point to find Susan had successfully finished her first marathon in a very respectable 4:37, and Naomi had run a new PB! Her boyfriend, Stu, had also managed to destroy his 10k PB earlier by finishing in under 36 minutes, which is just insane, quite frankly.

Me and Susan

Me and Susan

Sheri, me, and Susan

Sheri, me, and Susan

I found a better use for the sled.

I found a better use for the sled.

After a banana, some water, and some catching up, Susan and I decided to take advantage of being charity runners and qualifying for our free massage, which was a good, satisfying kind of pain.

While most of the people had today off work, I was not quite as lucky, so after hobbling back to the B&B (stopping once to give a very nice man the link to my fundraising page) to make use of the spare shower room, trekked with Suzy, who had come all the way to Inverness to cheer us on, to her car AT THE TOP OF A HILL, and we drove back to Aberdeen, where dinner and a strong, sled-carrying boyfriend was waiting for me.

I still can’t quite get over what I did yesterday, or how dumb an idea it was in the first place. I’m also amazed that nothing went horribly wrong, and that I can walk (awkwardly) today. Even Ian told me he thought I would go through with it, but that I would ditch the sled along the way (sorely tempting at times). But am I glad I did it? Yes. Partly because it means I’ll never have to do it again, partly because I can now look at the picture of the smug husky and feel smug myself, but, most importantly, I’ve managed to raise over £400 so far for Macmillan Cancer Support, who have been great this entire weekend.

Now, it’s no coincidence that I’m posting this on payday. If you’re been slightly entertained by my stupidity, and are willing, any donations are gratefully received. If you think I should get a grip – because why would total strangers donate money to someone who did something so that an internet meme would stop giving her high blood pressure? – then you don’t have to. It’s totally up to you. But I’ll just put the link right here. Just in case.

CLICK HERE! 🙂

Oh, and Mr. Husky?  25 pounds, bitch.

“It’s OK, it won’t be that tiring, the route is pretty flat.”

Exactly a week from now, I will (hopefully) have finished my third marathon.  Now, I still can’t really claim to be an expert on executing the perfect 26.2 mile race, but there are a few things I have learned from number one and number two.  There is one thing that sticks in my mind more than the rest, however, and that is:

1. Tapering is important

After a gruelling training schedule, it’s apparently a good idea to give your body a break to allow it to rest and heal.  The idea behind this is to leave you refreshed for the race without having lost much in the way of fitness.  The first time I ran Loch Ness marathon, I naively assumed that two days rest was enough.  But then, I also thought a 17.5 and a 20 mile run was sufficient for my long run quote.  Ha!  Let’s all laugh at my foolishness.  We’d all be beacons of success with hindsight, right?  If you have time to kill, you can always go back and read the long version, but the short version is: my first marathon was a pain I’d never experienced before.  With that in mind, you might think I had learned my lesson.

***

On Friday night, Ian and I (and our road bikes) made our way to Forres once again to see Dylan.  After a hearty dinner and a good night’s sleep, we woke up to pretty acceptable weather; there were patches of blue sky to be seen, cats weren’t being hurled horizontally through the air by gales, and opening the living room window did not cause frostbite within seconds.

Ian had planned a 66 mile loop from Forres, to Grantown-on-Spey, and then back.  With the marathon looming on the horizon, I was initially hesitant to agree to such a long cycle, but Ian ASSURED ME THAT THE ROUTE WAS FLAT, and shrugged it off as a relatively leisurely route, so I agreed to go along.

Here is a rough, Google mapping of the route:

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We set off merrily in the sunshine (not to last), and got onto the quiet and scenic back roads as quickly as we could.  From a starting elevation of about 25 feet above sea level, I was not amused to watch this number climb steadily for the first 10 miles or so.  And then dip.  And then climb again.  I was even less amused to see this become a recurring theme on our “FLAT” journey, because my heart rate told me I was absolutely not taking part in a leisurely ride.

Even less thrilling was eventually realizing we were on a long, exposed road with a strong, chilly headwind with no sign of an end for miles.  Oh, and a steady climb, of course.  We got a nice view of some impressive hills in the distance, but overall it seemed pretty barren, and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself since my toes were so cold I couldn’t really feel them any more.

Finally, we turned off the road, and I watched our elevation start to dip.  The trees gave us a bit of shelter from the wind, and it became noticeably warmer the lower we got, until eventually I was enjoying myself again.  After about 34 miles, we had arrived in Grantown-on-Spey, where we had planned to stop for a hot drink and something to eat before the slightly shorter leg home.  A tuna and cheese toastie and a hot chocolate later, I was a bit warmer, and in better spirits.

Knowing the way back was (marginally) shorter than the first section made the ache from pushing uphill on cold muscles easier to bear, and despite a couple of steep sections, the way back seemed like a piece of cake!  The sky had become overcast, and the warmth from the sun had pretty much disappeared, but because we weren’t as exposed, and the wind was behind us, it didn’t seem so bad.

About 8 miles from Forres, we cycled through ‘Dallas’, and the Texan in me felt it was totally necessary to get a photo:

2013-09-21 15.05.43Dylan was obviously feeling left out:

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There was also a castle (or the remains of one) just around the corner from here, so Ian, ‘Castle Master’, requested a shot:

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For some reason, Dylan and I were not begging for a photo next to this historic pile of bricks, and we set off on the last few miles of our loop.

Back in Forres, I was keen to get into a warm shower while Ian put the bike rack back on the car and loaded up the bikes. My Garmin read 66.35 miles for the journey with a total elevation gain of over 3,000 feet.  Which is over 1,000 meters.  Which is the equivalent of cycling up a munro (Scottish mountain) and then back down again.

Last time I checked, hiking up a mountain was not flat.

 

Crathes 1/2 marathon 2013

Time: 1:57:01 [RESULTS HERE]

Medal: Yes

Crathes 1/2 marathon medal

Crathes 1/2 marathon medal

Crathes half marathon was earmarked in my diary as my last longish training run before Loch Ness, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about my time.  In fact, I was aiming for around 2:05 as I had coerced Ronnie into cycling from Aberdeen to the start line, running the half, and then cycling back – roughly a 35 mile round trip on the bikes.  And because some people are scum, I didn’t really fancy leaving my belongings (change of clothes, wallet, phone, keys, food, water, random crap) hanging off my bike, so opted to wear my rucksack during the run.  So basically, I have no idea how I managed to run my fastest half marathon of the year.

I woke up at about 6:30 for a shower, and noticed that walking was painful.  Having stopped doing my regular weights workouts about three months ago because I’ve been having issues with my abs (long, annoying story I won’t subject you to because I get really frustrated when I think about it), it was maybe not the wisest idea to partake in a weights class on the Thursday, opting for the weights I regularly would have because I cannot handle having less weight than somebody in a weights class (at least if it’s an after school activity, and half the class are teenage girls).  Even before I was squatting and lunging like my life depended on it, I was thinking this is dumb, Rachel.  Why do you keep doing dumb things?  I hate you.  My more competitive voice was just shouting MORE WEIGHT WEAK HUMAN!  I guess we know who won that argument.

After my shower, I confirmed with Ronnie that cycling was still on, because the forecast was good, and I felt that with winter looming we needed to take advantage of clear skies while we still could.  We met at Ian’s at about 9, and set off about 15 minutes later into a chilly headwind.  Taking the back roads from Peterculter meant no annoying traffic, but it did mean a few slight undulations to warm up the legs.  I was surprised at how fine my legs felt on the bike, and I had hoped that I would feel fabulous after my warm up.  Ha.

I mainly took this photo for the police, should someone steal our bikes.

I mainly took this photo for the police, should someone steal our bikes.

Once we arrived at Crathes, we locked up our bikes and Ian sped off back home to do some yard work and weights.  Sadly, when I stepped off my bike I still felt like a cripple, so I just tried to remind myself that I got through the Forfar 1/2 marathon, and the Dundee 1/2 marathon this year in a similar level of pain.  I was not anticipating an easy couple of hours when I registered and collected my t-shirt.

It was kind of cold, so I threw on my old favourite hoodie.  The one I used to wear practically every day.  When I looked more like this, and it was ‘fitted’:

Fat people + hot weather = unpleasant

Fat people + hot weather = unpleasant

Apparently wearing clothing that sits on you like a tent isn’t very flattering, so you’ll just have to take my word that I don’t look this fat in real life, but that my legs are indeed my worst feature.  So I’m extra excited that they are accentuated in this group shot:

Back row (l-r): Naomi, me, Shona, Susan, Ann, Maz.  Front row (l-r): Suzy, June, Lesley

Back row (l-r): Naomi, me, Shona, Susan, Ann, Maz. Front row (l-r): Suzy, June, Lesley

We had our obligatory bathroom breaks, before settling into the crowd at the start line.  The countdown happened, and we started pretty much on time, before shuffling over the starting line.  Ronnie and I were running together, and we remarked on our rather admirable pace in the first mile and a half.  Expecting to burn out early, we restrained ourself to a more conservative pace until just after 2 miles, when Ronnie started experiencing pain and cramping in his calf.  After it worsened for another minute, I told him to walk and stretch it out, which we did.  After about a minute, I asked if he was ready to run again, but he did not look happy, and told me a couple of times to just go on.  Once he said he was sure, I took off, and that’s the last time I saw him until he finished.

The course was undulating, but there are no shocker hills to attack, so it’s just a case of pushing on until you get a little downhill break.  My pack felt kind of heavy, and the sun had come out, so I had definitely warmed up.  I still looked down at my garmin to see a pace that I thought would last until maybe 7 or 8 miles before I began to struggle, but though to hell with it and kept going.  I think the fact that the route is along back roads as well as country tracks kept it interesting enough for me not to obsess over checking my pace too often, but was pleasantly surprised every time I looked down.

At about ten miles, we were directed onto a second off road track, and it’s here that I remember starting to overtake quite a few people, but I was feeling fine.  In fact, it wasn’t until just before mile 12 that I started to hurt.  My bag straps were digging into my neck, and my legs started to feel heavy, but by this point I knew that all I’d need to do to get a sub 2 time is stay under 10 minute miles.  Just to be safe, I pushed on a bit.  Exactly what I should be doing two weeks before a marathon, I’m sure.  I passed Kate (who seemed to be full of energy and encouraging a couple of club members to the finish), and made it my mission to catch up to whoever was in front of me.  Then whoever was in front of them.  Ad nauseum.

I remembered a long and punishing uphill section from about mile 12 last year, but I didn’t really notice too much of a hill this year (that’s got to be a good sign – thank you trail workouts).  Before I knew it, I was turning left onto the service entrance for Crathes Castle and knew this race was as good as done.  Elated, I sped down the grassy finish chute and across the line, stopping my Garmin (I remembered!) and hobbling over the the people cutting off the chips from our laces.  Hobbling is pretty accurate.  My legs hated me.

I waited for Ronnie to come in, and then waited for some of our other friends, most notably Suzy who was running her first half marathon and came in just over 2 and a half hours.  I also met a Claire, a girl I’ve interacted a bit with online, and who is also running Loch Ness in two weeks.  Apparently she spent the whole race using me as a pacer without knowing who I was.  I also had a very pretty lady come up and ask if I was ‘medal slut’ and I’m sure I was completely awkward, so if you’re reading then I am very flattered and felt like a rock star, but I am also kind of crap when I’m put on the spot, so I hope I didn’t come across as a creep!

After everyone had come in, Ronnie and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we now had to cycle back home, so we packed up, unlocked our bikes, and set off, passing some of the final finishers and shouting encouragement as we cycled past.  Luckily, our route home took in parts of the course, and we happened upon an unmanned water station.  Ronnie took full advantage of the already opened bottles and filled up his own stash:

Ronnie, modelling this year's fetching turquoise shirt.

Ronnie, modelling this year’s fetching turquoise shirt.

Despite a few angry moments as we came back into town – there were road works going on and a few of the drivers didn’t seem to understand the significance of a cycle lane – we made it home unscathed, and I was glad to get cleaned up and out of sweaty clothes.

I wouldn’t hesitate to run this again next year, as the course is pretty fast and varied, it’s close enough to cycle to (Ronnie will hate me again next year), and I love the t-shirt:

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