Medal: No, though if you ran as a ‘Valentine’s Pair’, you got a ‘special prize’.
WARNING: Excessively long – if you’re only here for the race report, head down to the picture of a window.
Being a teacher means I can’t pick and choose my holidays, which – for races – can be a real deal-breaker. With a birthday the day before Valentine’s Day, however, I’m lucky in that my birthday falls on, or near, mid-term, when we usually have a long weekend, and a couple of in-service days (where it is totally acceptably for me to turn up to work in tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie).
This year was one of those mythical ‘milestone’ birthdays. I turned 30. Or, as my dad liked to point out on my birthday card, I entered my fourth decade of life (let that horrifying thought sink in), and am now 47% of his age. WHAT KIND OF A PERSON TELLS YOU THAT SHIT?!?!? My dad – that’s who.
Most of my friends are a few years older than me, so they’re all over the whole ’30 is a big deal’ thing, and to be honest, so was I. But I still wanted to do something special to mark the occasion, so looked for some ‘special’ races. My heart was set on the Romeo e Giulietta half marathon in Verona (for reasons explained here), but even with the extra day off work, there were no flights that were feasible. After asking for suggestions, someone pointed me in the direction of the Stamford Striders event, the St. Valentine’s 30k. 30k for 30 years? Who could argue with that?! And when I read that it was Valentine’s themed, and that you got a special present if you ran as a couple, I
convinced bullied Ian into joining me.
Ian – who is not a runner – trained sporadically for this. I think he came on a couple of my 6-8 mile recovery runs before the Texas marathon, an 11 mile run as part of one of my longer runs, and a few runs by himself between 5-10 miles. Over the course of about 3 months. Every time I brought up the weekend, he looked pained, and hinted strongly that he didn’t want to do it. Every time he complained, I reminded him that it was my birthday present, and that he had agreed.
Thursday (my birthday) came and went. Some of my work colleagues bought me a cake and some gifts (girly stuff and a really nice scarf). I bought myself some gifts – because I haven’t been shopping in ages, and I forgot how fun it is. Ian bought me some champagne and a card. I went to the gym after work and had scrambled eggs made with out-of-date milk when I got home because I was too tired to make/go out and buy anything else. Then I had a shower and went to bed. It was pretty unremarkable.
Valentine’s Day was an in-service day, and work went fairly quickly once we knew what our tasks were, thankfully, though I remember looking outside at the sunshine wishing I had the day off. After work I went home and packed before Ian picked me up after his work and drove us to his mum’s for Valentine’s Day fajitas. By this point the weather had turned, and the rain had started.
After dinner, we set off for Ian’s sister’s in Edinburgh (we planned on breaking up the 300+ mile journey by stopping there for the night), and after about 15 minutes it was uncertain if we would make it to the race. A series of storms had been battering the UK, and we were driving in the middle of one. I took a screenshot of the interactive weather map, but my phone is misbehaving so instead I’ll show you a satellite image from google of that night:
Warnings for flooding, snow, ice, and high winds were everywhere, and soon we understood that they meant business. We were crawling along at about 20 mph desperately trying to stay within sight of the lights on the car in front to help guide us, because there were sections when we couldn’t even see the road. I felt genuinely unsafe, and an icicle had formed on one of the side-mirrors. I took a photo when we finally came to a lit area of the road, but it didn’t turn out too well. The street lights in the photo did all go out about 5 seconds after I took this, which was extra comforting:
“I really want to turn back,” was uttered a few times, but by this point we had been travelling for over an hour, so we decided to press on. Luckily, after Dundee, it wasn’t quite as horrific, but we were both very glad when we arrived in Edinburgh.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early for a quick breakfast with Ian’s sister’s family, before setting off. One of the compromises I had made in order to get Ian to agree to this weekend was that we would stop off in York to go to the National Rail Museum, as he wanted to see two historical trains: The Mallard (which holds the record for being the fastest train, ever), and The Flying Scotsman (which is also, apparently, impressive for some reason).
We arrived in York at around 1pm, and found the museum easily enough. While entry is free, you do need to buy a token to leave the parking area (£9!). We also discovered that neither The Mallard nor The Flying Scotsman were at the museum, but at the sister museum somewhere else in the UK. We were basically just in a massive warehouse with a bunch of old trains. I was not overly impressed, and despite Ian’s best efforts, neither was he. In fact, we got more amusement trying to spot the die-hard train fanatics (6 in total, one carrying a camcorder, filming every nook and cranny of an engine, touching it too affectionately). It was interesting looking inside the old Royal Carriages, but I had reached train saturation after about 20 minutes. We had a sandwich in the cafe, and then hit the road again.
We arrived in the very quaint Stamford at around 5pm, and found our Bed and Breakfast, Rutland Terrace, without too much trouble. I had booked it on Friday morning, and lucked out because the owner had just had a cancellation, so we were getting the best room! It was only after I booked it that I noticed it had been in the Channel 4 show, ‘4 in a Bed’, so obviously I had watched the episode to see if we were going to be staying at the home of someone relatively normal, or one of those freaks who appears on reality shows and you wonder how they could have possibly survived as long as they have. Thankfully, she seemed nice, (on the show and in real life) and our room was lovely as well.
On the landlady’s recommendation, we went to a local pub called The Toby Norris for our (enormous and delicious) dinner, before heading back for an early night.
On race morning, we awoke to a gorgeous day. There was little wind, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping – ridiculously perfect. My head was still bunged up from a cold that had been attempting to take hold for the last week, but I didn’t come all this way to let a little discomfort get in the way. I mean, look at this weather!
After a full English breakfast (I didn’t even care that I had to run 18 miles a couple of hours later), Ian and I went back up to our room to pack and get ready. Ian still had not come round to the idea that this could be enjoyable. I saw a few cyclists fly by down below as I was looking outside, and Ian said, “I wish I was them.”
We settled the bill, and set off for the school where the race was starting from. Upon registering we were given our shirts (long sleeved tech-tee, I was impressed!), and our race number. We went back to the car to stay warm and get organized, before following the crowd to the start line. The race had a capacity of 750 runners, but I’d say 100 or so didn’t make the start. It was odd being in a crowd of runners where I didn’t recognize a single club vest (and the accents were a bit different, obviously).
At 11 sharp, the group surged forwards, and Ian and I settled into a comfortable 9:30inute/mile pace. We would run the course together, and take as long as we needed – Ian’s only goal was to not finish last.
Although we were pretty cold at the start, we soon warmed up. There was an occasional breeze, but nothing like NE Scotland would deliver. There were ‘undulations’, but, again, nothing as horrific as something like the Templeton 10 miler. This was my ‘cutback’ week for ultra training, so I was just enjoying a casual run somewhere new with GLORIOUS weather (I was way too excited about the weather being nice).
“This isn’t so bad,” said Ian. After the first kilometer.
When Ian had asked me earlier how long I thought we would take, I guessed somewhere around the 3 hour mark. We ran the first 10k in under an hour. Ian complained that, “running is boring.” We hit the 15k mark in under an hour and a half, and Ian complained that, “running is shit.” By 16k, Ian had had enough, and asked to walk. When I asked what hurt, he snapped back, “Everything! This was a shit idea.”
The inspirational quotes did little to motivate him. The marshals only infuriated him. Anyone that ran by trying to give encouragement would be met with a seething scowl. Old people, women, overweight people, and people panting for breath were passing him, and he couldn’t accept that these people were overtaking a man who can cycle 70+ hilly miles on a whim. With no food. And who can bench press his girlfriend.
“Running is gay. Running clothes are gay. Guys should not wear lycra. This whole thing is gay. I hate running.”
“But you wear lycra for cycling.”
“Cycling clothes are gay too, but at least your dick isn’t bouncing around in front of everyone’s eyes. I hate running. When will this end?”
“We have 12k to go.”
“12?! What?! That’s miles away! Why do you like running so much? I hate running.”
About 6k from the end, Ian looked back (to make sure we weren’t last), and saw someone on a motorbike talking to one of the runners. He automatically assumed this was the sweeper vehicle, and disgusted at this, attempted to go faster. By this point we were walking 50% of the time, and he had mentioned more than once that he didn’t think he could run anymore because his legs were in so much pain. I think if he hadn’t seen the motorcycle (which, incidentally, was NOT the sweeper vehicle) we would have walked the rest of the way. Instead, Ian soldiered on, running in short bursts, and then walking to recover.
At about 28k, we started recognizing some of the course from the start, and knew we were close to the school. I remember reading on someone’s recap that there was a lap on the school field at the end, but I chose not to divulge this information to Ian, because we were about 20 seconds behind another couple, and I wanted to beat them. I could see the girl was struggling, and her boyfriend (wearing matching clothes) was trying to push her on to the finish (and looking back to see how much ground we were gaining), but it took everything Ian had not to walk that final lap, which he described as, “fucking horrible.”
We crossed the line holding hands, despite the deep hatred Ian clearly felt towards me at that time, and I was very proud that he had finished, especially without walking during the final lap. After some effort, I convinced him to have a quick massage while I grabbed a shower, because I knew it would help with the long journey back to Edinburgh.
Despite Ian’s scathing review of the run, I found it really enjoyable. The hills were never overly steep or long, the water stops (and jelly baby supplies) every 5k were perfect, the on-course support for such a small local race was great, and for the cost of entry, a tech shirt and chip timing were bonuses! Of course I would have liked a medal, especially as my birthday run, but I can’t fault the organization, the course, or the weather.
The journey back to Edinburgh was indeed long, with congestion on the motorway due to a gas leak (judging by the smell), but at about 8pm we were back in Scotland:
And yes, Ian is still wearing his running kit. He was so desperate to leave the painful memory behind that he didn’t bother showering or changing. Despite this, he is totally comfortable posing for photos in shorts in the snow. We clearly find different things painful.
This morning, after a well-earned lie-in (after 8am!), we had a relaxed breakfast with Ian’s sister and neice, Anna, before checking out the house they’ll be moving into in a few weeks! Anna is one of the cutest children on the planet, and I told her I’d let her have my race banana if she agreed to act like a monkey.
And finally, after hours of driving and hours of running, we have made it home. Although I’m bummed that I am back at work tomorrow, and that I still have this crappy cold, and that after work I have a meeting that will prevent me from having an afternoon nap, at least tonight I will have sushi (my birthday meal that I was too tired to bother with) and my champagne. Here’s to my thirties!