Hoka Highland Fling 2014

Time: 14:20:30

Medal: Yes

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Let me just state, before I go on, that I have an irrational fear of death. I pretty much see it as the end of the line, and it terrifies me that I have a shelf life that there’s nothing I can do about it. Because of this, I have grown to be scared of things that I used to be fine about when I was a kid. Like flying. Turbulence is a white-knuckle experience, without fail, and can bring me to tears. And Space, because I can’t deal with not knowing where everything ends. And my health.

I have, on more occasions that I care to admit, worn my heart rate monitor to bed because I had convinced myself that my heartbeat was irregular, and that I would have a heart attack in the middle of the night. It’s reassuring to be able to see that it’s normal (for me), and I can start to relax and go to sleep. I get paranoid whenever my body does weird stuff: heart palpitations, tingles, strange pains that occur anywhere (even if they last less than a second and never appear again), feeling faint – this list continues ad nauseam. It’s a really, really, really annoying thing to deal with sometimes, though I can tolerate it more now that I seem to have stopped getting panic attacks regularly. That made things like going to watch a film pretty much futile, because I’d spend half the time in the bathroom analyzing my pupils with my fingers glued to my neck checking my pulse like a moron.  Basically, irrational freak outs are a thing with me, but I would rather look like a lunatic than worry about my imminent death.

During the Highland Fling, there were moments where I felt I would have welcomed death. My fingers were swollen to the point that they resembled link sausages, my ankle felt like it was being stabbed, the blisters on my feet were getting blisters, and at one point I was shin deep in cow shit asking myself why I thought this was a reasonable idea and stating, clearly and resolutely, “Never again.” But finally crossing that line, totally buzzing despite it being several hours after the fastest runners had come through, was enough to change that, “Never again,” to, “Maybe.”

am_i_stupid

Let’s rewind to Friday. After I finished work, I dragged all of my kit, in the pouring rain, to Aberdeen train station, where I boarded my train to Glasgow. I was soggy, the train was packed, I spent the entire journey worrying about my suitcase falling on my head. It was a less than fabulous experience. My friend, Grant, met me at the station, and we got a taxi back to his (via the shop for some supplies). And then we ordered a colossal amount of pizza, and watched a couple of episodes of ‘Freaks and Geeks’, which I had never heard of before, and probably would never have watched thanks to the title alone had Grant not convinced me that it is, in fact, a fabulous representation of what high school was like in the 90’s. I eventually got to sleep sometime after 11pm, with my alarm set for 3:30. In the morning.

I had arranged to share a taxi to Milgavie, about 10 miles north of Glasgow city centre, with two fellow runners, Belo and Maja, who were running the race while on holiday from Slovakia. The forecast for the day was abysmal, and as I watched the trees get battered by rain and wind outside as I got dressed, my heart sank. Thankfully, the rain had dwindled to a drizzle by the time I got a text from Belo saying they were on their way, and I lugged my belongings downstairs (Grant lives on the 7 millionth floor) to wait. The taxi arrived at about 4:20am, and about 20 minutes later we were at Milgavie train station to register.

To everyone’s relief, the drizzle was as bad as it got, and by about 5:30, the sky was overcast, but the rain had cleared. I had handed over my kit bag for the finish line, and stripped down to what I considered to be suitable layers for the day (gloves that could withstand -30 C temperatures, and my tornado-proof hiking jacket), feeling a tad overdressed next to some of the runners in lycra short shorts and a vest top, but whatever, I’m Texan.

 

I feel ya, Calvin.

I feel ya, Calvin.

As well as my kit bag, I had also handed over my drop bags, which was arguably as big a deal as turning up to the start line for me. Knowing I would not be breaking any course records is nothing new – I’m not the fastest runner, and I’ve only managed to ‘win’ a prize for finishing first female once. During a charity event’s inaugural run. Dressed as Santa. I’m pretty competitive when I know I have a chance of winning something, so when I found out there was a competition for the best drop bag at the first main check point, Balmaha, I basically devoted the week in the lead-up to the Fling to the creation of my drop bag. Because there was an actual chance I could win something! 4 rolls of duct tape, an empty coffee jar, a small cardboard box, 3 toilet roll tubes, and a packet of Sharpies later, I had created my masterpiece:

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2014-04-24 20.27.44

10275296_10154008058380234_302507006197446341_oI gingerly handed over my entry to one of the marshalls, and set about finding some familiar faces, the first being Rhona and Graeme next to their ‘ultravan’. Graeme was marshalling, so he was busy collecting in drop bags, while Rhona and I went in search of some of the other ladies we were planning on running with. We found Iona and Jemma, who were sweeping the first half of the race and wished us good luck, then listened to the race director, ‘Johnny Fling’, brief us from the kit truck.

 

Photo: Stuart McFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Finally, with about 7 minutes before the race start, we stumbled upon Kate, Vicky, Tracey, and some other Stonehaven runners, managing a quick photo.

 

Photo: Rhona (redwinerunner.co.uk)

Photo: Rhona (www.redwinerunner.co.uk)

A few of us, being Fling virgins, had decided to run as a group, and we made nervous/excited chatter until we heard the horn go off signalling the start. We shuffled forwards under a bridge, beeping over the starting mats and heading straight up some stairs, before veering left towards the start of the West Highland Way.

 

Photo: Iona MacKay

Photo: Iona MacKay

I was under the impression that the first 12ish miles to Drymen were flat, but I quickly understood that to mean ‘flat’.  As in, undulating, but no really steep ascents.  That part was nice, and we happily bumbled along as a group, chatting about quitting jobs, weddings, and selling and buying houses.  A couple of miles before Drymen, I realized, to my horror, that I needed the toilet.  In more than a 30-seconds-by-the-side-of-the-road kind of way.  Sadly, the queue for the single porta loo at Drymen was substantial, and I was convinced to hold on until Balmaha for some respite.  And so we continued.

Me - 40 layers.  Everyone else - shorts + shirt.

Me – 40 layers. Everyone else – shorts + shirt.

Rhona and I pulled ahead a little before Balmaha as there was a bathroom break by a couple of our group, and I was getting cold standing around.  Besides – none of us were planning on bombing through the checkpoint, so we intended to meet each other there.  Just after 19 miles, and we turned a corner into the check point.  The atmosphere was amazing (thank you marshalls!), and Graeme handed my my drop bag, telling me, “You’ve won!”  I was confused for a moment until I realized he meant the drop bag competition (my brain was clearly not firing on all cylinders), and that was just the pick-me-up I needed after 7 miles of churning bowels.  Vicky, Tracey, and Kate were only a couple of minutes behind us, and once we had all refilled our camelbaks and taken on the food we wanted, we set off towards Rowardennan.

Thankfully, a little after the Balmaha checkpoint there are some fancy public toilets.  As Rhona and I were a little ahead of the others, I took the necessary decision to seek sweet relief in the luxurious cubicle (plumbing, toilet seat, loo roll, AND a hook for my camelbak), and though an incomplete evacuation, it was enough to help me feel like I wasn’t going to soil myself.  I vocalized my pleasure to the group as I returned, and we set off again.

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

This part of the course was a little bit more technical than the start, and it was a nice distraction having to concentrate on where your feet were going.  Before I knew it, we were coming into Inversnaid.

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

As Rhona and I had been a little ahead for the last while, I had forgotten, in the absense of task master Vicky, to take on food at regular intervals, and I had started to feel dizzy, nauseous, and tired.  I started cranking up the food intake, and thankfully after about half an hour I started to feel a bit more human, but I felt like I’d gone from feeling fine, to struggling in the space of a couple of miles.

From here, things get a bit blurry.  I know the lochside leg was slow and there was quite a bit of clambering over slippery rocks.  Though I did crack my bad ankle on a rock, and Kate had a nasty looking fall, thankfully none of us suffered the same fate as one poor woman who fell and smashed her jaw in five places and had to be taken to hospital for surgery (though I hear she still ran the 5 miles to the next checkpoint after her extreme tumble).  Rhona went ahead on her own, and that’s the last we saw of her until the end.

The four of us kept each other going, our main mission to get to Bein Glas before the 5:30 pm cut-off, which we managed with plenty of time to spare.  From there, we consoled ourselves that there were ‘only’ 12 miles left.  I’m so glad I didn’t extensively study the course elevation profile before, because if I knew what was to come I might have cried. From about 45 miles, every time I tried to run, my ankle was screaming at me, and eventually I told Vicky that I was pretty sure I’d have to walk my way in.

Highland Fling elevation profile

Highland Fling elevation profile

I think Vicky was suffering a bit as well, so Kate and Tracey went on ahead, and Vicky and I resorted to speed-walking.  We went through the infamous Cow Poo Alley (which was ripe thanks to all the recent rain), and at one point I was shin deep in muck.  We met an impass in the trail at one point due to a herd of unfriendly looking cows, and opted to climb up the hill and around them as a detour.  And about 4 miles from the end, my bowels felt as though they would erupt, so I sent Vicky ahead a few paces, and went scurrying into the woods for my first ever al fresco crap.  It was definitely a low point in my life.

Looking back at the bastard cows.

Looking back at the bastard cows.

At this stage I had thrown all my toys out of the pram and was sulkily wading through the streams instead of nimbly prancing over the rocks to keep my feet dry.  After all, I had a thick, creamy layer of cow shit to wash off.  My Garmin, which is a dirty fucking liar, beeped for mile 53, but there was no end in sight.  Despite my inner tantrums, Vicky and I managed to stay cheerful by chatting all the way to Tyndnrum, finally being encouraged by the marshalls shouting, “only 600 metres to go!”.  Vicky and I had made a pact to run across the line, and as soon as we saw the red carpet laid out for us, we picked up to a trot, and finished as we’d started – chatting and smiling:

858697_1472344089648928_2818653848334701613_oAfter having the chip cut off from my ankle, getting my medal, tech shirt, and goody bag (complete with bottle of fizz!), I made my way into a heated marquee and had a seat with some amazing lentil soup.

Before long, I was being presented with my prize for the winning drop bag, which is WAY more than I was expecting, and I did wonder how I would manage to cart everything upstairs to my apartment when I got home the next day (thankfully Ian was in).  I didn’t really get a chance to explore the Scottish hamper until I got back to Aberdeen, and it was better than Christmas.  Everything on that table?  Currently on my living room floor.  Apart from wee Nessie – that’s in bed with the stuffed huskies I couldn’t bear to part with after pulling them behind me at Loch Ness last year.

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Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

After hobbling off the podium, Graeme and Vicky’s husband, Ian, helped collect my bags, and Jemma and Iona helped me take my stuff to the bed and breakfast (Oh my god, thank you so much!), where I showered and put on some clean clothes, before heading with Kate and her husband, Ali, up to the hall for some food.

After nearly falling asleep into our dinner, we said goodnight, and I slept like a baby.  Until my work alarm, which I had forgotten to disable, woke me up.  Thanks, idiot me.

Despite the pain of the last 7-8 miles, I can honestly say I had a great experience.  The course was more challenging than I was expecting, and it’s always nerve-wracking running in unknown territory (for me, anything over 33 miles), but the whole event was so well organized, and all the helpers and runners were on top form.  Free booze at the end also helps soften the blow.  Commiserations to any of the runners who had to DNF, despite putting in a tough slog, but there’s always next year.

Considering on Saturday I probably would have been willing to break my own legs to have a legitimate reason not to run this ever again, I’m rather disconcerted that I am genuinely considering returning in 2015.*

Photo: Lorna McMillan

Photo: Lorna McMillan

 

 

*To defend my title, obviously.

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Glenlivet 10k 2014

Time: 55:07 [Results]

Medal: Yes, and a miniature of whisky!

IMG_20140413_183019 Sometimes I wish Scotland was famous for something other than whisky and shortbread, because they seem to be popular goody bag items at local races, and I hate both.  It does mean my friend Grant, a whisky drinker, is going to luck out when I see him in a couple of weeks, as he did after I ran the Isle of Skye half marathon last year.

However, I suppose that Scotland is also famous for some beautiful scenery, and the Glenlivet 10k boasts proudly that it is the “most beautiful run in Scotland”.  Today, apart from seemingly hurricane-force winds, the weather played ball, and we were greeted with sunshine and blue skies, which allowed all of the runners to appreciate just how stunning the race is.

The race is set in the Cairngorms National Park, on the Glenlivet Estate, home of the Glenlivet distillery.  It’s a bit of a drive, so although the race started at 11, Elaine picked me up at 8am to head out from Aberdeen.

We arrived shortly before 10, and made prompt use of the swanky toilets (not a porta loo in sight!), before collecting our numbers and timing chips.  We had something to eat, and then dumped our clothes in the car, being battered by the winds as we did so.  Still, this was our view (it’s hillier than it looks):

IMG_20140413_183259 I had DNS’d this race in 2012 after falling ill (and yes, I was avenging my loss), but Elaine had run it last year.  She let me know that the first couple of miles are a steady incline, and then you get to enjoy the view and cruise through a few undulations, and a mainly downhill final few miles.  She also helpfully told me that the race finished short of the start, and not to panic when I saw neon specks climbing the hill back to the distillery, because they would have already finished and started walking back to collect their goody bags.

At 10:30 we had the humorous race briefing, and at 10:45 we headed outside and huddled with other runners at the start, which was prompt.  I had decided that I would listen to music for a change, and had downloaded Hole’s ‘Live Through This’ to revisit my angry teenage years after I was reminded about the album’s existence after a friend had mentioned it was the 20th anniversary of its release a few days ago.

The race starts with a short, gentle uphill, before a longer, less gentle downhill.  What a tease that section is!  I was full of energy, blasting classic tunes, and flying downhill in the sunshine with a smile on my face.  And then you get to 1k, and the ‘steady incline’ begins.  This isn’t so bad I thought to myself, keeping steady and following a  girl in a green top in front of me.  OK, this is starting to feel quite horrendous I thought, after 5 minutes of slog.  Yep, I’m having a heart attack I thought, as I resigned myself to a power walk.

Once my heart rate had come down again, I picked up to a jog, and refused to walk again (apart from the two water stops) for the rest of the race.  Thankfully, I only had one more hill of any great importance to crest before a sign informed us all that we had conquered the worst of the uphill sections.  This is where water stop one was located, and after a few sips, I was flying downhill again.  This is also where the best vistas of the race were, and I threw caution to the substantial wind as I craned my neck to admire the scenery floating by, trusting my feet not to land in a pothole.  I remember smiling here as well.

Before I knew it, we were taking a left turn back towards the distillery, and I noticed, as Elaine had warned, those neon specks cresting a hill in the distance.  If I hadn’t been warned, I probably would have felt pretty defeated, but knowing the finish line was close, I pushed on, even managing a cheeky sprint finish.

I waited for Elaine to finish, and then we began the walk back, picking up some water and our medals on the way.  Back at the hall, we collected our goody bags, and then took advantage of the free distillery tour.

Me + Elaine at after the race.

Me + Elaine at after the race.

I learned that whisky making is a fairly simple process (if you have all the expensive machinery) thanks to our knowledgable and amusing guide, Sandy.  You need barley, yeast, and pure spring water, which is in abundance on the estate.  I also learned that whickey is clear, just like vodka and gin, but that it gets it’s colour from the wooden barrels it is stored in, as well as remains of sherry or bourbon that the barrels were used for before.  Oh, and apparently whisky loses .5% alcohol each year it matures.  Obviously there was more that we were told during the tour, but it’s worth a visit if you get the chance.  I mean, I don’t even like the stuff, but I still found it pretty interesting.

Inside one of the 'small' warehouses...

Inside one of the ‘small’ warehouses…

Different sizes of barrels

Different sizes of barrels

After the tour, you are invited to try a dram of either 12, 15, or 18 year old Glenlivet whisky.  I had hoped that my newfound appreciation of how it is made would help me enjoy the tast of some of Scotland’s finest, but tasting it had the same effect any other whisky has had on me: it made my tongue and lips burn, and tasted far too similar to what I imagine paint stripper to taste like, tickling my gag reflex.  I couldn’t finish my measure.

Tasting time.

Tasting time.

Elaine tasting her 18 year old Glenlivet.

Elaine tasting her 18 year old Glenlivet.

Elaine and I both stopped at the guest centre for a baked potato before we left, partly to get the taste of whisky out of my mouth, and then we drove home along the winding roads, admiring a bit more of the scenery.

I’m glad I finally got to tick this race of my list, and it is certainly a contender for one of the prettiest races I’ve taken part in.  I also wasn’t expecting a medal, so that was a nice suprise.  I woud like to give a couple of shorter races a go after the Fling to try and gauge how terrible my ‘speed’ has become, and maybe do something about it.  But’s that’s on the other side of a very big obstacle…

Northern Italy by Train: Monday

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This gallery contains 15 photos.

After the Milan marathon, the Milan Furniture Fair moved into town.  Apparently this is a thing, and it’s big enough to cause the majority of hostels and hotels in Milan to become fully booked.  So I guess we weren’t hanging … Continue reading

Milano City Marathon 2014

Time: 4:24:19

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140406_152655First of all, I know I’m late in posting this race report, but I’ve been enjoying food, drink, and sunshine in Italy for a week, and a race report was not especially high up on my list of priorites, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Drinks outside our hotel in Venice.

Drinks outside our hotel in Venice.

I entered the Milan marathon last year, as I wanted to tackle another international marathon after my fantastic experience in Paris last year.  As Milan was being held during the start of my Easter holidays, and was offering a discounted entry fee to Italian citizens, I signed up without too much consideration.  And then I bullied Ronnie into entering, because I’m helpful like that.

As Ronnie has the luzury of choosing his days off, he set off for Milan on the Friday, while I was still at work.  Ian and I flew to Heathrow, where we stayed in a ‘Yotel’, which is basically a pod hotel room in the airport.  It was compact, but clean and quiet, and we got a few hours sleep before waking up at 5am to shower before our early flight to Milan.

I was pretty casual about booking, like, anything other than flights and a hostel room in Milan for two nights, so when Ronnie told me we were flying into the airport further out of the city, I kind of panicked for a few seconds before shrugging and deciding we’d just kind of ‘work it out’ once we arrived.  Which we did.  Ian and I collected our bags, caught a train into Stazione Centrale, and then jumped on the metro to the stop nearest the hostel, where Ronnie met us, and guided us to where we would be staying (and where he was staying as well).  The only slight cock-up was not ‘validating’ our train ticket before we hopped on, which can apparently carry a hefty fine, but thankfully the conductor just kind of looked a bit annoyed, wrote something on our ticket, and walked away.  Success!  Well, apart from the view from our room…

Could have been better...

Could have been better…

Once we had dumped our belongings into our room, Ian and I joined Ronnie again, and we all headed towards the expo, armed with medical certificates and registration letters.  It was a short enough walk, and we collected our race packs and (luminous) race shirts without incident.  We also had a quick look at the stalls, but I wasn’t really in the mood for buying anything, and Ronnie made do with grabbing as many freebies as he could, pointless or not.

We headed back to the hostel for something to drink, and then went in search of some Italian carbs for our pre-race meal!  Sadly, we were not staying in an area with an abundance of eateries, and every place we passed in the first 20 minutes of searching was ruled out because if we had been allowed through the door, I would have felt extremely uncomfortable in a hoodie, skirt, and trainers.  Eventually, we ended up settling for a tourist trap restaurant with disappointingly average pasta dishes, but it was cheap enough, and we werern’t wanting to waste time trying to find somewhere else.  Afterwards, I pretty much forced everyone to help me track down the nearest gelato shop, ignoring completely the advice in the marathon booklet to ‘avoid dairy’ the night before the race.  What rebels we were!

The first of many.

The first of many.

We also checked out the the Duomo at night, and made plans to re-visit it the following afternoon.

Outside Il Duomo, Milan

Outside Il Duomo, Milan

Once back at the hostel, we said our goodnights and I went to sleep without preparing anything for the next day, because I am confident enough now in my ability to dress myself and collect anything I need within about 5 minutes of waking up.  Thank you college and my crappy alarm.  Unfortunately it was stuffy and hot in our room (apparently Ronnie’s was cool and breezy), and I later discovered that we must have been above a bunch of pipes or something directly underneath us, because the tiles on our floor were actually hot.  Not ideal, but I eventually got to sleep.

Race Day

My alarm failed to wake me up the next morning, but thankfully a police siren did, about 25 minutes before Ronnie and I had agreed to leave.  I scrambled into my race kit, packed anything I might need into my Camelbak, and said goodbye to Ian before heading down for the complimentary breakfast (a croissant).  There were a couple of other runners staying at the hostel, and Italian who had run Rome a couple of weeks before, and an American girl called Amira, who had picked Milan as her debut marathon.  As a small group, we headed to the metro station and towards the start!

From the city centre to Rho Fiera, it was about 20 minutes on the metro.  From there, it was another 10-15 minutes of walking through what looked like a giant conference centre until we found the bag drop/porta loos and queue/etc. near the start.

After all of the typical pre-race rituals, we made our way to the start line.  I was in the 4:00-4:30 pen, whereas Ronnie and Amira were in the pen behind.  Both failed to sneak into mine, but the guy policing the runners’ entrance called them back as they were walking away and let them in.  Ronnie’s aim was to finish in about 4:30 or less, and Amira seemed happy to try and maintain 10 minute miles for as long as she could, so we agreed to run together.

We chatted in the 15 minutes leading up to the start, and it only then started to sink in that I was about to run a marathon.  Up until the morning, I was still genuinely unsure about whether I would run at all after my mystery foot/ankle crisis a week before.  I hadn’t run in over a week, my ankle was heavily taped up to avoid rolling, and I felt kind of unfit and lazy, but there I was, watching the helicopter filming us all the the start line, about to attempt a 26.2 mile run on a questionable ankle.  I remember trying to recall what the time limit for finishing was, and also wondering how long it would take to hop 10k.  I was perhaps a little bit concerned, but I told myself if I couldn’t run 26 miles today, I shouldn’t even attempt 53 in less than 3 weeks time.  Today was a (slightly faster than average) training run with Ronnie, and that’s what I kept telling myself to take the pressure off a little.

2014-04-06 07.55.25The sun was rising, the skies were clear, and I was happy.  But I was already starting to regret my Camelbak, because I was feeling comfortably warm standing still.  It was, however, too late to do anything about that, as we were edging forward, already out of sight of the elite runners.

Ronnie, Amira, and I managed to stick together for the first mile or two, and, as usual, I kept having to remind Ronnie to reign in his pace – we were still a long way from the end.  After about 10 minutes I was sweating profusely, and a quick reach around revealed that my back was drenched.  My ankle was sore, but not excruciating, and though the tape was digging painfully into my skin, I figured I could always stop to rip it all off if it didn’t slacken up in time (which it did, a little, thankfully).

Miles 1-2:

9:52

9:43

It was around here that we lost Amira.  We thought maybe we’d have a chance to see her at the end, but later found out she crossed the line in 6+ hours.  I know she was catching a flight home later in the afternoon, so I really feel for her.  Ronnie and I kept a pretty steady pace, though, again, I kept making him slow down, and tried tucking in behind people running at the pace we should have been trying to maintain in an effort to stay steady, but Ronnie kept overtaking them, against my strict orders.  He did agree to walk the water stops every 5k, though, which is nice, because I might have murdered him if I didn’t have adequate time to drink in everything I could get my hands on.  Did I mention it was warm?  Because it was warm.

After just over 10k, we passed the relay pens, filled with runners eagerly awaiting their teammates.  Although the relay started after the we did, it wasn’t long before the second leg runners came bounding by us, fresh and fast.  Screw them and their bouncy, sweat-free hair.

Look at this guy, floating on air.

Look at this guy, floating on air.

Miles 3-13:

9:20
9:50
9:30
9:41
10:09
9:40
9:43
10:24
9:28
9:51
10:24

At around mile 13, the course goes alongside the finishing straight, and the helicopter overhead let us know that the winner was closeby.  Sure enough, on our right, at, presumably, light speed, the marathon winner, Francis Kiprop, breezed alongside us, passing us with ease, and heading to the finish line.  Ian, who had decided to visit the castle at the course finish, was lucky enough to catch him just before he crossed the line, before taking in some of the historical sights.

P1010564While Kiprop crossed the line, Ronnie and I were only halfway through our race, so we pressed on, beginning to feel the heat, and our quads.  There were a few cobbled sections here, so I didn’t take in any of the impressive architecture, unless you consider paving to be fascinating.

Miles 14-20:

9:45

9:37

10:50

9:46

9:26

11:54

10:21

I realize people are wearing COATS in the background, but trusst me, it was toasty.

I realize people are wearing COATS in the background, but trust me, it was toasty.

At mile 20, Ronnie hit the wall.  His chatting stopped, his breathing picked up, and he finally admitted that he was starting to struggle.  I told him he still had time to play with, and that as long as the 4:30 pacers were behind him, he had nothing to worry about.  I went ahead a little, and kept turning back to check he was on my heels.  He was the first few times I turned back, and then he wasn’t.  I walked through the next sponge station, and the next water stop, walking backwards to see if I could spot Ronnie and his loud Fetch shirt, but no luck, so I kept moving forwards.  I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve with my face here.

milano5

Miles 21-25:

9:44

10:54

9:51

11:10

10:56

At mile 25, a guy dressed as a banana passed me.  I was sweating my balls off, and this guy in a full banana suit was happily jogging past me, smiling.  I later realized he was part of a banana relay team, but I was so affronted at the sight of him that I chased him all the way to the finish (he still beat me).  I did, however, manage to pass a group of guys dressed as an American football team, who had managed to hold Ian’s attention at the finish line so he completely missed catching a photo of me.  In fact, he would have missed me altogether if I hadn’t shouted his name as I ran by!  At least the event photographers managed to catch me…

Mile 26

9:42

milano4milano3Finally, sneaking in under 4:25, I crossed the line and collected my medal.  Secretly, I was the most happy that I could stop running, but secondly that I could legitimately wear my race shirt, since I had finished.  I found Ian at the castle, and we kept an eye out for Ronnie, who came in just after 4:36, crushing his previous marathon PB.  We took a photo at the castle with our medals, and started the slow and aching journey back to the hostel for a shower, and a rest.

P1010602That afternoon, once cleaned up, we made our way to Il Duomo, were we checked out the impressive interior, and saved money by climbing the 230+ steps to the terraces instead of taking the lift.  That was fun.  At least the views were worth it!

During the day this time.

During the day this time.

P1010612P1010610P1010613P1010621P1010622P1010616P1010619That night, we managed to find a good restaurant, where we each wolfed down a pizza, and Ian and I enjoyed a couple of beers before, you guessed it, another gelato.  It was heavenly.

When we got back to the hostel, we wearily said our goodnights again, and went to bed in preparation for journeys the next day.