Several years ago (a few months ago), I signed up for the Glenmore 12, as did my running chum, Elaine. The difference between the two of us is that I had run a marathon before, but she had not. Somewhere between signing up and now, Elaine decided that running a marathon might be a good idea, if only for a confidence boost, before she submitted herself to her first ultra. The timing of the Dundee marathon was ideal for a long (ie. 26.2 mile) run, so we both signed up, agreeing to run together, as a training run, as we had a time limit of 6 hours.
Having run the half marathon in 2013 and 2012, I knew the first half of the course started uphill through trails, but then meandered downhill pretty much all the way to the finish. This, of course, meant that the second half, as it finishes in the same place as the start, would involve some uphill. That was about the extent of my course knowledge before we begun.
With a forecast for sunshine and some warmth, I was thrilled. Elaine – not so much. She picked me up at 7:00 am before our flawless drive to Camperdown Park, where we registered, chatting with a few fellow runners, used the toilets (the fancy ones, not the porta loos), and headed back to the car to slather on sun cream and relax before the briefing.
During the briefing, there was mention of a ‘staggered start’, which basically meant we should arrange ourselves in the swarm of runners based on expected finishing time. Elaine and I made our way to the back, where I spotted (and briefly chatted to) a hungover Daniel, who was running the half. We must have been fairly distracted by each other, as I remember looking ahead and seeing the lead runners bounding up the hill on the business end of the start tunnel. I guess it was time to get going!
Elaine and I settled into a comfortable pace, and enjoyed the first two miles that took runners uphill through the park’s trails before spitting us out onto a residential street, marking our downhill cruise to the finish. Kind of.
At mile 4, the now-familiar boulder heralded the entrance to the path that would carry us along for a few miles. Unfortunately this is where we saw a couple of friends at the side, one of whom looked to be nursing a sore calf. They wished us luck and told us to keep going, and so we did. Spirits were high.
About a mile later, a cyclist made himself known, and Elaine and I moved to one side to let him through.
“It’s OK, I’m with you,” said the marshal in the high-viz jacket.
“We’re not last, are we?” I joked, expecting a jovial reply about how there were hundreds of people (or even, you know, 20) behind us.
“Yep, the last full marathon runners. That couple in luminous orange that just passed you were last,” was the answer we got.
Spirits were no longer high.
Despite being very friendly, knowing that 5 miles into Elaine’s first marathon we were dead last was a bit of a morale killer, and though she tried not to let it show, I think it annoyed Elaine. I tried to lift the mood with conversation, terrible dad jokes, sharing gossip, etc., but the sun was on a mission and Elaine made it clear that she was struggling in the heat. We pressed on.
Soon we were on the long roadside stretch that continues (mostly) downhill towards the beach. Passing another residential area, a couple of kind souls had their hoses out for the toasty runners, and Elaine was visibly thrilled about it. We passed the 11 mile marker, and the sweeper cyclist pulled up to point out a pair of full marathon runners up ahead. I made it our goal to pick them off so we didn’t feel ‘sweeper pressure’ as we ran, and Elaine was game. We passed them around a mile later, and tried to create a little bit of distance between ourselves as we approached the soul-destroying halfway point, when all the half marathoners veered right, under a finisher’s arch, and full marathoners stuck to the lonely, lonely left, running through a grassy field towards the marshal in the distance.
Thankfully, a cool breeze and some cloud cover had made the weather a bit more bearable for Elaine, and we adopted a walk/run strategy for the stretch along the coast. A couple of miles later, we approached Broughty Ferry castle, where we stopped for a photo:
At about mile 16, the first energy drink station was a welcome sight (for me, mostly). Having taken on no fuel, and suffered a dodgy belly for the past few days, I was glad to actually be craving something at this point. Sadly, this is where the nice views ended, and the industrial estate began, which might have been unmemorable had it not been for two memorable things:
The underwear-clad man stuck with us for a while. We tried slowing down. So did he. We tried speeding up. So did he. Then he went ahead a bit (when I snapped a photo), and we eventually caught him up again. We managed to shirk him off on one of the marshals (sorry!!), and have since realized that he gatecrashed a Commonwealth Games event, and forced police to contact his parents to come and pick him up. Still, it made another mile tick by relatively quickly.
The next couple of miles were dedicated to catching the man in green, which we succeeded in doing at the next aid station (mile 19). We had a couple of salted pringles and some fluids before setting off just ahead of him. After about a mile, however, he overtook us again, and by the next aid station (mile 22), Elaine was feeling pretty fatigued, so the three of us kind of formed a power-walking group, moving forward and chatting. It turned out that green shirt and I have a lot of friends in common, and he is one of the people trying to get an Aberdeen marathon up and running. Wilson, your chat was much appreciated!
At the final aid station (mile 25), we spotted the two runners behind us, dangerously close, so we picked up the pace a little as we entered the park. We continued uphill until we spotted the finish in the distance, and Elaine picked up to a run. I joined her, and Wilson was hot on our heels. We heard Elaine’s name being shouted out, and realized some of our half-runner-friends had stayed back to cheer her in, so we turned the final corner and finished with smiles on our faces.
Once she had stretched and changed into some less disgusting clothes, we headed off, stopping for my annual dirty McDonald’s (delicious and wrong), after which I rudely fell asleep as she drove us home.
Although I have escaped any muscle pain today (in fact, I’ve managed a kettlebell class and 45 minute spin class), I have experienced a bit of pain thanks to the most crap-tastic “factor 50” sun cream on the planet.
Still. It could be worse. I could be Ian, who crashed his bike while I was waiting to cook him dinner.
After hearing several positive reports of this ‘race’ from reputable sources, I decided to sign up, as a run through the Scottish wilderness is always a treat. The challenge starts in Braemar, and follows a 12k loop through river crossings, bogs, swamps, hills, and trails.
Ronnie picked me up at a reasonable time as the race doesn’t start until noon, and we swung by Westhill to pick up Claudia. Everything was running smoothly until I noticed the distinctive pain in my stomach that heralds the onset of severe period cramps. Yep, we’ve already reached the ‘overindulging’ section of this post. Having used the contraceptive pill continuously for over a decade, I recently decided to give my body a bit of a hormone break, but what I had not counted on was the return of my teenage female curse. After trying to play it cool and make chit-chat in the car, white-knuckling my knees, I was forced to interrupt Claudia with a fairly straightforward request:
Do either of you have any drugs?
This was met with a little surprise, as I normally shun drugs in favour of just dealing with it. In fact, I think the last time I took painkillers was after my most recent operation in 2011. However, after wasting an entire weekend day curled up in bed grimacing on more than one occasion over the past few months, I knew drastic action had to be taken if I was going to be running.
We stopped at a gas station just before Braemar, and I basically inhaled painkillers with reckless abandon before curling up into a ball in the front seat and waiting for them to work their magic. About 11 minutes later, we were parked and Ronnie and Claudia were collecting race numbers. I remained in the car. The drugs had not yet worked their magic.
Ten minuted later, I saw Suzy and her boyfriend walking past, and tapped on the window. She laughed at how crippled I was, and confirmed we would be running together before heading off for a banana while I silently cursed my womb. Despite a forecast of heavy rain, the sun was out, so I started to change into my running kit and out of my warm layers. The drugs were starting to work.
There was an announcement that a race briefing would be happening in 10 minutes, so we all started making our way to the grassy area with a very real warmth from the sun beating down. Runners were quickly counted before the countdown and low key briefing. Looking around, we were surrounded by hills, and Claudia, who ran last year, confirmed that we would have an uphill start. Which we did.
Claudia, Suzy and I followed the stream of runners up the hill and onto the trails, and at the top of the first hill, I was finally starting to feel normal again. I was so overjoyed at this that I was smiling as everyone else was grimacing uphill. This is when I started having a blast!
After the downhill, we hit our first river crossing, and the cold water was a welcome sensation on my legs (though not welcome enough to submerge myself fully, as some had chosen to do). Full submersion was still to come, however not in a river, but in a bog, as we were soon to discover (apart from Claudia, who was a big Cheater McCheaterson and stuck to the grassy banks). Cloaked in thick mud, it was time for the second main ascent before a semi-treacherous descent onto a very runnable trail that eventually dumped us onto the road for a short while.
After the road, we turned onto another grassy trail, for our second river crossing, bumbling bog crossing, and final river crossing before scrambling up the last hill, and beginning our descent to the finish.
Now, during my last 2 marathons with Naomi, I had wanted to carry her, piggy-back style, across the finish line, just for fun. At Strathearn, she ran a PB, and understandably wanted to finish under her own steam. At Giants Head, it was her longest run, and again, didn’t want someone to carry her over the line. Suzy, however, had no such issues, and was fully on board with finishing in style.
It could have been perfect. Instead, she launched herself onto my back, head butting me in the process, and the momentum pushed me forwards so that I had to try and jog, not walk over the finish line. It didn’t work out, and we tumbled onto the grass inches behind the line as Claudia looked down and pretended she didn’t know us. Still, at least all the spectators got a chuckle out of it, as we literally crawled over the line.
We grabbed some water and snacks, and settled onto the grass amongst familiar faces until the awards ceremony. Then Ronnie and I headed back to the car, and then back to Aberdeen, where, after a solid 15 minutes of hard scrubbing, I managed to get the remains of the swamp off of my legs.
Trigger Warning: Not about running.
A few weeks ago, I replied to a friend’s post on the soul-vacuum that is Facebook. This person had shared a link to a comic someone had drawn about why rape jokes aren’t cool. The comic was entitled ‘My Comic About Rape Jokes’, and the link contained the title of the comic. I think it’s fairly safe to deduce that clicking on the link would provide content that dealt, in one way or another, with the issue of rape, no? And this is coming from someone who regularly fails to pick up on what I call ‘the subtleties of life’, but others call ‘a 50 foot billboard with clear typography’. Whatever.
The fact that they posted a link to a comic about rape jokes was not my beef. What irked me was the fact that they felt it necessary/appropriate/”considerate” to attach a ‘Trigger Warning’ to it. You know, in case anyone that gets emotional or upset when they are exposed to anything on the subject of rape accidentally clicks through on a link entitled ‘My Comic About Rape Jokes’ without realizing that it might have something to do with, oh, I don’t know, rape. My eyes rolled so far back in my head they hurt.
I might have had a less intense reaction if this had been an isolated incident, but increasingly I am seeing ‘Trigger Warnings’ attached to articles that don’t really need any kind of explanation about their content. A little online investigation taught me that ‘Trigger Warnings’ were originally used for PTSD in groups where it was extremely common for certain sounds/sights/smells to trigger a severe emotional response that was obviously extremely unpleasant for the person involved. In a controlled setting where that kind of a response is common, that seems legit, I guess. But now?
It would appear Universities have bowed to pressure from various student groups (with, perhaps, too much time on their hands) and, to ensure a ‘safe’ environment for all their pupils and avoid the slanderous ‘discrimination’ tag, have started requesting their lecturers to attach Trigger Warnings to course content that may offend/trigger students. At least – they had done so. It’s telling that a large part of Oberlin College’s ‘Support Resources for Staff’ has been removed from their website, but an archived version can be found here.
Jill Filipovic explains it better (or in a more level-headed way) than I probably could, but the gist of her article is that we are pandering too much to a vast minority of people who may find it uncomfortable to read about something unpleasant. University is a place where students learn life skills, expand their minds, and learn to act as an adult, and, according to Filipovic, all of this molly-coddling is a backwards step:
[Universities are,] hopefully, a space where the student is challenged and sometimes frustrated and sometimes deeply upset, a place where the student’s world expands and pushes them to reach the outer edges – not a place that contracts to meet the student exactly where they are.
She also points out that triggers “are often unpredictable and individually specific”, listing several things people have found ‘triggering’, including holes, discussion of consensual sex, and ‘slimy things’. Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge and professor at Harvard Law School, agrees, pointing out that there, “are no more trigger warnings the minute [students] graduate.”
Furthermore, research is starting to show that avoidance of ‘triggering’ things is counterproductive, and that, in fact, exposure is a more effective way of dealing with traumatic events.
Richard J McNally touches on this when he outlines some of the reasons he feels Trigger Warnings are problematic. He says:
Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder. According to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD, especially in civilians who have suffered trauma such as sexual assault. For example, prolonged exposure therapy, the cognitive behavioral treatment pioneered by clinical psychologists Edna B. Foa and Barbara O. Rothbaum, entails having clients close their eyes and recount their trauma in the first-person present tense. After repeated imaginal relivings, most clients experience significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, as traumatic memories lose their capacity to cause emotional distress. Working with their therapists, clients devise a hierarchy of progressively more challenging trigger situations that they may confront in everyday life. By practicing confronting these triggers, clients learn that fear subsides, enabling them to reclaim their lives and conquer PTSD.
Conquering something would sure be nicer than constantly living with the feeling that you aren’t in control of your life, right? Not relying on other people to mind-read things that trigger a severe emotional and/or physical response would be just swell. Right?
Nope, turns out I should tiptoe around any potential issues that might upset somebody.
Thankfully, me and green manage to overcome our difference in opinion and not sling insults at each other, because we’re grown-ups, which is pleasant, though neither of us is keen to adopt the other’s views. My view remains that trigger warnings in the public domain are OTT, and, generally, encouraged by people who may have experienced something traumatic but want to milk sympathy from the experience. His (or her, for the sake of anonymity) views remain unchanged, because he (or she!) is probably a much more sympathetic person. The world moves on.
Whenever I used to complain about something to my parents, I’d get the same response: Sometimes life isn’t fair, and you don’t always get what you want. You can’t make people fall in love with you, you can’t have candy for breakfast (“Oh yes you can!” – Adult Me), you can’t be an astronaut if you’re blind in one eye, and you can’t just expect people to look out for your feelings all the time by attaching a trigger warning to a Shakespeare play because it deals with some upsetting themes (suicide, unrequited love, murder – and that’s just ‘Romeo and Juliet’). Falling down just allows you to teach yourself how to get back up again, and that is a useful skill to have.
After all, how dull would it be if anything that may bring harm to people was banned? Just in case. It would drive me nuts.
Or, you know, maybe I am an asshole. Feedback appreciated.