Loch Ness Marathon 2013

Time: 4:43:32 (personal worst)

Medal: Yes

IMG_20130929_204518

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:

IMG_20130903_193946

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.

IMG_20130927_205050

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.

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.

IMG_20130616_144552

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:

981282_10152892472275234_132270630_o

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.

Ronhill Vizionteering at Run4it, Aberdeen

Ronnie, who sends me information and virtually every single running event in Northeast Scotland, sent me a link about an event at a local shop that was on the day after I arrived back in Aberdeen.  I wasn’t really planning on doing it, because I wanted to do weights at the gym, but as Grant completely failed (way to go, buddy) to book me in for the class, I was open to other exercise opportunities.

My first day back at work was brutal.  I slept from nearly as soon as I got home around lunchtime on Monday until about 8pm, which was heavenly.  I then could not return to the land of nod until after 2am.  I had to be up to shower for work before 6am.  I was a pretty grumpy customer when I trudged into the school, and any trace of sunshine was slapped off my face by the thunderstorm of news that was a whole-school meeting after school.  Whoever picked out the dates for these meetings has a heart of black tar, if indeed they have a heart at all.  I failed to disguise my horror at prolonging my suffering for the day and received looks that said ‘We know…. We know….’ from my colleagues.

I somehow soldiered through all of my classes, possibly exaggerating the intensity of periphery Sandy-related turbulence, forgetting several times mid-sentence what I was saying, looking at kids and realizing that in two weeks I had forgotten their name…  I also managed to keep my eyes open (mostly) throughout the staff meeting at the end.  Then I dragged myself home in the dark (screw you clocks going back and stealing an hour of my daylight).

*Related: Scottish ‘summers’ are amazing in the fact that you have, like, 22 hours of daylight every day, but Scottish winters are horrific.  You go to work in the dark, see some weak ass sunshine through a window, despair when twilight appeared, and then go home in the dark.  It sucks*

Once home I realized that I had texted Ronnie in a moment of insanity to tell him I’d be there.  After getting changed into running gear and bracing myself for the cold, and then waiting for Ian to get changed out of his work clothes so he could cycle to his mum’s for dinner, I made my way to Run4it, one of Aberdeen’s specialist running shops.  There were several people there who I had met before, either at races, at parkrun, or online, and I was given a card to write my details on and then fitted with a (blindingly) bright Ronhill running jacket.  It was (blindingly) pink, and had a light attached to the back.

There was a pretty decent turnout (it WAS a free event), and in the end I think about 24 people showed up.  We arranged ourselves into teams of two (I teamed up with Ronnie), and were given a map of Aberdeen and 5 clues (totally unnecessary since the points were already labelled on the map).  We were told that it was a round trip of approximately 4 miles, if done right.  We had to reach as many of the checkpoints as possible, have our team card stamped at each one, and then make it back to the shop within 45 minutes.  For every minute we were late, we would have 150 points deducted (there was a possible 1500 points to earn, so late minutes were not appealing).  Ronnie asked me what I wanted to do.  I replied, “Win.”

Pre-event photo (a bit blurry) courtesy of the Blackberry belonging to one of Run4it’s members of staff.

All of the teams gathered outside, the timer was started, and we stampeded off along Union Street (Aberdeen’s main street), dodging pedestrians, prams, traffic, bikes, bus stops, and rubbish bins with the elegance of a drunk antelope.  My Garmin, not quite alert to the fact that I was thousands of miles away from where it thought it was when I turned it on, was taking its sweet fucking time to find a satellite, so I have no idea what pace we were going or how far we had travelled.  The only thing we had to go on was time and feel.

We huffed and puffed our way to the 1st checkpoint at the Castlegate, surrounded by two other teams (team one comprised of two dudes, team two comprised of two chicks.  The rest had all gone for different checkpoints to begin with, so we had no idea how fast they were going.  Our group of 6 seemed to have the same idea, so we kept running in the direction of our second checkpoint at the Beach Ballroom.  One team (dudes) tore themselves away, and we kept a steady pace (I imagine) behind them, taking a slightly different route.  We hit checkpoint 2 just before the team of two ladies, and then shifted our direction for checkpoint 3, Pittodrie Stadium.  We took what Ronnie assured me was a ‘shorter route’ on some track with no lighting and lots of uneven ground (treacherous), and the team of ladies was hot on our tails.  Eventually we came to the checkpoint (the furthest away from the shop, therefore the most valuable points-wise), had our card stamped, and started racing uphill towards checkpoint 4 – Marischal College.

During our journey there, we remained within spitting distance of the team of females. There were several road crossings we had to navigate, and Ronnie got into a bit of an argument with a bus driver, but neither of us was struck by traffic, so everything was still good.  I was starting to get pretty out of breath by this point, and began to think these two chicks might get in before us.  After all, they seemed slightly faster and we all had the same final checkpoint – His Majesty’s Theatre – to get to, before returning.

Despite being bummed about this, Ronnie and I stuck with them, getting stamped seconds after them at the theatre.  They headed back towards Union Street, but Ronnie and I decided our only hope of winning was to take a shortcut.  Now it was game on!  We ran up one of the side streets, and despite better judgement I allowed Ronnie to lead us through what can only be described as a grassy dumping ground behind some blocks of flats (in the dark – again), before we emerged onto one of the little streets than runs perpendicular to Union Street.  As we approached the end, I was amazed we hadn’t seen two hi-viz, hot pink blurs fly by before us, and I was even more amazed that when we turned onto Union Street and looked back, we saw the two women behind us!  I shouted at Ronnie to speed up, too afraid to look behind, and we made it back, panting, in 36:45!  About a minute later the two women turned up.  And of course the all male team we ran with at the start had already made it back to the shop and were relaxing and enjoying nibbles.

Once I had my breath back, I looked around and my heart sunk.  About half the runners that were taking part were already back in the shop, and the rest were trickling in steadily.  Luckily, not all of the teams had made it to every checkpoint, however, and Ronnie and I found out we had made it back in time to snag second place!

Once everyone had returned, we had a little ‘awards ceremony’ where the three top finishing teams got a certificate/gift voucher and their photo taken, and then the spot prizes were handed out to those who could correctly answer questions from the Ronhill representative (who had since removed our pricey jackets).  After a bit of a chinwag with everyone, Ronnie and I decided to put in a few slightly more relaxed miles, which we did, and then we parted ways.

Jet-lagged, exhausted, and content with ‘winning’ something for the first time in ages, I had a shower, got into pyjamas, and curled into Ian for a very cosy sleep.

Tonight?  Out to Hazelhead for some trail running, then on Sunday a 6 mile cross-country race!  I don’t think I’ll dominate, but it should be fun.

NVA Speed of Light, Edinburgh

Distance: Just under 5 miles

Medal: No.  But we did get a goody bag with a nice long-sleeved tech shirt!

This is the event that I signed up to after having a few drinks to drown my sorrow at having not been allocated a space in the 2012 London Marathon after the ballot.  And then forgot about.  So when I received an e-mail a couple of months later thanking me for signing up, it took a little bit of digging through my inbox and searching online to confirm what exactly I had signed up for.

Speed of Light is part of Edinburgh’s International Festival, and is seen as, among other things, a fusion of performance and endurance.  It involves runners (a whole bunch of them) suiting up in LED light suits and running around Arthur’s Seat in the dark for an audience.  It started on Thursday, and will be running until the beginning of September, so plenty of time to catch a (late-ish) show if you’re in Edinburgh.

On Saturday afternoon (after a day of walking around Edinburgh in the sun), I headed to Holyrood Park, aiming to arrive at the tents at 6pm.  We had already been through the park on Saturday, so I knew where to go, which always makes things less stressful, but it’s pretty hard to miss!  There were a number of runners milling about waiting to be let through the gates, all clad in black lycra.

Approaching Arthur’s Seat

Speed of Light tents

After a short wait, the security guys called for all the runners to go through.  I was one of the first to get to the registration tent, and after giving my name and telling them I was in the early group, I had two wrist bands put on; one to say I was part of the event, the other allocating me to the yellow group.

NVA wristbands

I headed through to the runners tent, where there were sets of tables for the different groups, found myself a spot, and watched other runners trickling in.  It was quite good fun spotting people wearing event t-shirts from throughout the year, and I spotted quite a few that I own!  There was a guy wearing a Perth Kilt Run shirt, an emf half marathon finisher, and a Tough Mudder shirt.

Eventually, some other early session yellow folk appeared, and we got to talking.  I met a fellow American called Leah, and her friend Morag.  We spoke of GPS, running, food, and what we were expecting from the night.  Before I knew it, the organizer was getting our attention to go through a few safety instructions, give us some information about what we were doing, and thank us for taking part.  Then it was time to get on the hill and go through some basics!

Our run leaders were Cat and Gordon, and after being introduced we set off to learn some of the arm signals we’d be using later on some of the trails we’d be running.  Each movement had been given a name, and some their own arm signal.  Names of the moves included: sparkle, heartbeat, lighthouse, and firefly.  All suitably ridiculous when not wearing a light suit and standing in broad daylight with a group of near strangers on a hill.

Cat, our enthusiastic run leader!

After the orientation, we were set free until about 9.  Leah, Morag, and I hit the cafe, Urban Angels, for some energy to carry us through the night.  I had a brownie (delicious) and some elderflower juice.  It cost me £4.50, so if you’re planning on filling up, bring notes, not coins.  The tables in the cafe were all adorned with tablecloths that had quotes printed on them.  Turns out the quotes were responses to ‘Why do you run?’ that everyone had a chance to fill in when they signed up!

Dinner

By 9pm, we had already made our way back to the runners’ tent, where a small group was huddled around a television showing live Olympic athletics events.  I managed to watch Jamaica beat the U.S.A (and set a new world record!) just before the yellow group got called away to get into our light suits!  The colours were pretty amazing, and they were less cumbersome than I had imagined them to be.

Hanging light suits!

We all helped each other get into the suits and then posed for a last minute group photo.  Unfortunately my camera was on the wrong setting, so a lot of my photos turned out blurry.  This is why the group photo below looks like a point of view shot from someone who had hit the Christmas brandy a little too early.  And a little too hard:

I know I’m in the front row….. somewhere…

Ian texted at about this point to let me know we was somewhere on the hill, and to look out for his phone light flashing when I left the tent.  It was twilight, so I saw his silhouette as soon as we started heading up the hill, and I started covering and uncovering my head torch to try and catch his attention, but he told me afterwards that he couldn’t see me.  Oh well.

The yellow group positioned ourselves in a line, keeping about 10 meters apart, and were told that from the start, we just had to stay still for the first couple of minutes.  I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Edinburgh at twilight from a pretty decent vantage point:

Edinburgh at about 9:30 pm

Once it started, everything was kind of a blue – albeit a very colourful one.  We were going up, we were going down, we were sparkling, we were lighthousing, we were turning around, going past other runners, going through the audience, inhaling flying beasties, navigating rocks and bogs – there was a lot of concentration required!  There were a few moments here and there when we had the opportunity to look across at some of the other runners and saw shapes and patterns being created out of lights on the hill.  It did look pretty impressive, but then it was time to move again!

There were also occasional surprises when your head torch suddenly illuminated a camera man/woman perched in the dark filming you (the BBC were filming that night), and there were one or two members of the public, at various stages of sober, along the trails as well.  If you want to have a look at some of the photos that were taken on the night, there’s a really nice set here.  There is also a short video and some more information about the event here.  Aaaaaand BBC In Pictures.

When we were finished, the late yellow group met us on the hill and we swapped our light suits for their high-viz vests and waited until the path was clear before heading down the hill to the tent.  Once back down, we had goodie bags hanging on the hooks where we had found our light suits, which we grabbed, before getting our personal belongings from the runners’ tent, and saying our goobyes/goodnights.

Ian was waiting for me outside the tent, and we wearily walked back to his sister’s, where I had a quick shower and then enjoyed the comfort of a warm bed.  I didn’t expect him to have stayed up the hill for the whole time I was out running – he must have been freezing!

I’m glad I signed up to this, as it was a one-off experience, and a pretty cool thing to be a part of.  It was also good to get some hill work in, since it has been pretty much non-existent so far (oops).  For anyone in Edinburgh, there are spots for reserve runners, since things happen and people can’t make it, so I’d definitely recommend going along.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the BBC footage, which I heard will be on BBC 2 on August 30th.

Tough Mudder Scotland 2012

Medal: No.  But we did each get a headband, t-shirt, and beer.

Tough Mudder headband on the medal rack

Team Apache had signed up for Scotland’s first Tough Mudder, and we had decided to camp the night before (with the exception of Liell, who, as mentioned, had opted for a luxury B&B, and Paul J., who was driving up with his girlfriend from Glasgow on Saturday morning).  We all enjoyed some pasta, scrabble and backgammon (and a couple of beers) before turning in at a sensible hour.  We were not the only people signed up for Tough Mudder at the site!

Dylan adjusting his goggles for the water events.

Ian bringing the back-up lantern into the Spartan tent.

Keeping warm at the scrabble ‘table’. (Substitute ‘box of beer’ for ‘table’)

Pete lighting up the scrabble board

Grant looking cheerful, as usual. I think he was bummed that he got DESTROYED at Scrabble.

Paul M relaxing in the Spartan while Dylan enjoys the wildnerness… on his phone.

On Saturday, at 9:20 am, our team of 8, made up of myself, Ian, Dylan, Grant, Liell, Paul M, Paul J, and Pete, began our Tough Mudder Journey.  We had ignored the instructions to leave 2 hours before our start wave as we were camping less than 4 miles away from the start and had a relatively early start time, and we set off at about 7:45 am.  We should not have ignored the 2 hour suggestion.  The roads were deceivingly deserted as we approached Drumlanrig Estate, where the event was being held, but we soon ended up on the tail of a fellow Tough Mudder participant.  And another thousand or so in an enormous queue for the parking.

After 20 minutes of watching a few fellow mudders walking by (one wearing only Under Armour gear and what we all agreed must be stuffing or a protective cup, because he gave Henry VIII a run for his package money), we paid our £10 for parking (this event knows how to fleece the folk taking part), and then haphazardly grabbed ID/spare clothes/consent forms and made our way to registration.  Regrettably, we neglected to bring the face paint, so Liell was the only team member that looked like he had made an effort (I had sponged his entire head blue, and he had taken care of the rest of his body).  We had just enough time to register, get bibs pinned on, get our numbers drawn on our heads and other body parts, take a tactical toilet break, and dump our bags before our wave was being called to the start line.  All of my carefully planned pre fueling and decorative war paint flew out pf the window as we helped each other over a ‘berlin wall’ just to get to the start line.

There was a pep talk and a pledge, and some safety info.  Looking around, there were a lot of buff looking dudes.  Not many fat ones.  This did not bode well, because it’s nice to be able to see people who you know are going to struggle more than you.  There was a definite majority of penis on the penis:vagina ratio as well.  Oh, and then the announcer mentioned that the course would be 12, not 10 miles.  Cue a few people making ‘What the fuck?’ faces and looking around to make sure they weren’t the only ones.  They were not.

Everyone looking cheerful at the start line!

Before we knew it, we had finished the countdown and we were moving forward.  The first part seemed to be an uphill stretch through fields and mud.  There were a lot of good costumes on show: the frog prince, a rabbit, some guys wearing only a jock strap and trainers with their butts painted bright orange (I thought of them during several of the obstacles and I’m sure they’re feeling tender today), guys in full suits, a bride, etc.

As soon as we hit the first major obstacle, it was clear that they weren’t going to be in the order we had expected.  Numero uno?  The Arctic Enema.  A plunge into an ice bath with a barrier that forces you to be completely submerged in order to swim under.  My idea of hell.  I had been toying with the idea of skipping this, especially after my experience in the Ythan Challenge during the river dip, but decided to give it a try.  Luckily Ian was right behind me and helped push me through the water when I was under, because if I was solo I’d probably have frozen (har har) and been unable to propel myself forward.  Once on the other side, it took me a good minute or two of hyperventilating like a sissy before I could get moving again.

Yellow arrow points to me, Yellow box shows Ian and Grant.  Blue head in the background belongs to Liell.  The girl who I’ve put a smiley face over was ACTUALLY smiling.  Clearly she’s nuts.

And a sweet action shot of Liell emerging from under the ice!

As the course went on we conquered obstacles such as crawling under barbed wire through mud, running through mud varying from ankle to thigh deep, and crawling up muddy hills.  During one of these hills I began sliding backwards. I felt two hands grab my ass cheeks, before hastily being removed, before I heard the guy behind me apologize and put his hands right back on my ass cheeks to push me to the top of the hill while his friend giggled.  No need to apologize, my friend, I thank you.  Hell, even my boyfriend thanks you.

Unfortunately (for me) there were several more water obstacles incorporating freezing water (because Scotland does not experience a season called ‘summer’), and while I managed to swim under barrels (after taking a few moments to acclimatize to the temperature, and taking a few more moments afterwards to get over my hyperventilating routine), I opted out of the plank, where you jump into a lake from a height.  Be aware, readers, that had the water been warm or had I been wearing a wetsuit, I would have loved the jump, but the thought of inhaling gallons of bog water and requiring the assistance of the lifeguard was too unappealing. Besides, I had to keep Grant company (he can’t swim).  Don’t judge.

I vaguely remember ‘squatting’ into this photo…

About 2/3 the way through there was an aid station with water and bananas.  There were also a fair amount of spectators about, and Paul J.’s girlfriend, Louise, appeared, armed with her camera.  Here’s a shot of the whole team, and just so you know, my ultra beautiful face isn’t swollen, I have just deep-throated half a banana:

L-R: Ian, me, Paul M, Paul J, Liell (blue head), Grant, Pete, Dylan (with goggles, and also, I would say, banana in mouth).

The mud was relentless, and although the treks through rivers at various stages of the course were freezing and tiring, they were a welcome chance to try and wash some of the mud off of your shoes/face/legs/clothes.  Saturday was also one of the few occasions that I have truly enjoyed the rain.

About a mile from the end of the course, running down a muddy hill, I heard someone shout “Come on Rachel!”.  I followed the voice to what was at first an unrecognizable face (exhaustion had started to affect my lightening quick thinking skills, I think), but I soon realized it was Lynne, I girl I know from the gym (as a pain wielding Body Attack instructor) who was there supporting her boyfriend Andrew, who I sometimes get sports massages from despite his cruel love of inflicting pain.  Seriously, he laughs (actual belly laughs) when I scream in pain.  She told me there were only 3 more obstacles to go: Funky Monkey (monkey bars), Everest, and the Electroshock.  I saw a few photos of his team later.  They all opted for kilts.  I bet they’re all really friendly with the savlon cream this week.  I spoke to Andrew on Monday and it looks like we finished in about the same time as them.  Who needs a six-pack?  Anyway, the pain-inflicting massage therapist is the one on the left:

You’re welcome, ladies.

Back on track, the Funky Monkey saw me reach the second bar before falling into the water and swimming to the other side, and most of our team fared about as well.  Ian was the only member to make it all the way across (Paul M got to the penultimate bar before slipping into a splash of self-hatred).  We could see Everest from where we left the monkey bars, and jogged up to join the queue.

During the (looooooong) wait there we witnessed some pretty painful things.  One guy face planted the wall and stood up with a face full of blood and minus one tooth.  Another guy hit the wall face-first and slowly slid down to the bottom.  At first everyone thought he was taking a moment to compose himself, but after just that bit too much time had passed, the marshals were over with a space blanket to check him out.  They had to stop people from using a portion of the wall as he was seen to, but he didn’t look good.  All of this made me feel pretty apprehensive about taking a shot, but when it was my turn I just went for it.  Unfortunately, I too face planted the wall, bashing my cheekbone and jawbone hard enough to leave me dazed for about 10 seconds before deciding to walk around.  I doubt I would have had a chance to have another go anyway, as it was around that time the marshals told everyone to stop, and an ambulance was making its way towards the guy who had knocked himself out as we headed to the final obstacle.  I’ve searched Google and thankfully there was no sign of anyone dying on Saturday, so I hope the guy is feeling OK.

Dylan getting through the final obstacle with the finish line in sight!

The final obstacle, Electroshock, involves running through a bunch of wires that, wait for it, shock you.  I was not keen, because I have this freakish phobia about my heart that isn’t worth getting into, so I walked around and waited for the rest of the team.  Once they were through, we walked through the finish line together and grabbed our headband, beer, t-shirt, space blanket, and had our team finish photo taken.

At this point I was shivering and exhausted, so I was glad people didn’t want to hang around, and instead wanted to get back to the campsite for a shower.  Before we set off, we had a quick trip to the first aid tent for some antiseptic wipes.  I had bashed my ankle off a rock during one of the many river crossings which had a malteser-sized bump (for the US readers, a Malteser is the UK version of a Whopper), but Ian had a golf ball sized lump on his shin from hitting it off an underwater rock.  It was spectacular, but has since gone down a bit, so unfortunately, no photo.

Team Apache + headbands but -Pete at the end! (Still smiling)

Once back at the campsite, the boys got into the queue for the 2 available male showers, and I grabbed my stuff and sauntered (whilst still shivering) into the empty female shower room.  I switched on the water and walked, clothes, shoes and all, into the shower.  The warmth was one of the best feelings I have experienced, and I spent a beautiful 25 minutes slowly stripping muddy layers off and wringing them out under the nozzle.  I remember being grateful that I had bought a rough sponge, as it came in useful for scrubbing layers of mud from my skin.

Clean, in warm clothes, and carrying a plastic bag full of still-muddy clothes, I headed back to the tent where we all ended up cooking some pasta inside to shelter from the rain.  We decided we’d wait for a dry spell before packing up and heading home, via Dundee for a Tonic Burger stop (we’d earned it).

Getting back to Ian’s and lying down in a real bed on Saturday night was bliss. It did not take long to get to sleep and I slept in until nearly 11, which is the longest lie I have had since my summer holidays began.  My upper body was sore until Tuesday, but my legs were OK (despite cuts/bruises), and I’m looking forward to getting back on track with my marathon training.

Tough Mudder was an endurance event, but I think I’d be lying if I agreed that it was the ‘toughest event in the world’.  Parts of it were draining, but honestly, I think if you were in pretty decent shape to start with, you’d make it through, – especially with all the help from the fellow mudders – just not under 2 hours!  I was a little disappointed with some of the ‘obstacles’ as they just seemed like slapping a hardcore label onto sections of the terrain (sneaky organizer types), like dips through the rivers/streams and some of the more technical parts of the path, but it was a good day out with old friends and new, and it’s an item off the bucket list.  I mean, the t-shirt alone has given me some sweet bragging rights at the gym!

Drying the weekend’s clothes after a two cycles in the machine.

Aberdeen Sport Relief Mile (and Craigievar Castle)

Aberdeen Sport Relief Mile

Distance: 6 miles  (5.66 according to my Garmin)

Medal: Yes

Too coordinated?

21 degrees Celsius in Aberdeen today, and the hottest day recorded in March in the UK ever – what can be bad about that?

Despite a heated argument with my phone last night regarding clocks going forward and smartphones being too ‘smart’ to accept manual time changes (really?), I was up early for the Sport Relief mile (or in my case, 6 mile) at Duthie Park, here in Aberdeen.  With staggered start times for the different events (1, 3, or 6 miles), everyone finished at roughly the same time, and the course was clearly marked, but that’s where my praise ends.  The ‘course’ was a ‘half mile’ loop, and the 6 mile fun runners were told we had to do 12 laps to complete our 6 mile run.  Exciting.  Also, according to my Garmin, the laps were slightly under half a mile, and after my 12 laps I had only run 5.56 miles.  Still, it was a gorgeous day, and the run was for a good cause, so it wasn’t too bad – in fact, I got to know the marshals pretty well by then end, and despite the ‘sturdy’ lass in a KISS t-shirt walking the entire 6 miles WHILST SMOKING (!??!?), everyone seemed to be giving it their best effort.

Especially my boyfriend.  He ‘doesn’t run’.

I had managed to convince him to sign up for the 3 mile run, which he reluctantly agreed to, and he looked less than enthused this morning.  Despite that, he actually finished in good time, not stopping once!  He was panting, red, and in ‘some mild pain’ afterwards, but he managed, and bagged his first ever running medal!  My friend Grant also came along (for the 6 mile race) and kept me company running the laps.

Runners in the park

Glad to be done!

With our bottle of water, we walked back to my flat, showered, then grabbed some lunch.  Grant went home (to ‘laugh at [his] hungover sister’) and Ian cycled home to pick up his car, a 1954 MG TF (he is very fond of this car).  The initial plan was to drive to Banchory for an ice-cream, but upon reaching Banchory and eyeballing the queue for the ice-cream shop, we drove on:

As we were in the area, we thought we’d stop by Craigievar Castle.  Surprisingly, the car park was empty when we arrived (we soon realized that it was not yet open season, so you couldn’t go inside), but we headed to the castle and towards the Hill Trail.

The walkway to the castle

2 miles = 1-1.5 hours?

We thought we’d try the Hill Trail, instead of the Bluebell trail because a.) it was a bit early for the bluebells to be out and b.) hills imply views.  Scoffing at the notice telling us it would take us an hour and a half, we hit the incline.  We walked through peaceful wooded areas…

Ian pressing on

More woods

After about 20 minutes we reached a clearing and got some decent views:

Hills, etc.

Before heading back to the castle for a few obligatory snaps before setting off home:

Suck on THIS, Annie Leibovitz!

Doorway of the castle wall

So how was everyone else’s weekend of running (or otherwise)?  I know at least a couple of you were involved in Sport Relief – how did everything go?  I just have one more week to make it through before two beautiful weeks off for school Easter holidays.  There is an hourly countdown in my head!

Garioch 10k 18.4.12

Chip Time: 52:31

Gun Time: 53:34

313th finisher (81st female)

Medal: Yes

Time to redo my nails.

After a semi-disasterous half marathon last weekend, I was a little concerned about how I would perform today, but I also felt relieved that I’d only have to run half the distance, and I was back in my 10k comfort zone!  I had never run Garioch before, so I was glad to pick up some tips at Saturday’s parkrun, when I was volunteering as tail runner.  It looks like I wasn’t the only Garioch runner saving my legs, as several of the volunteers were at the race today, and I got to say a friendly hello.  From some of those who had run the race I established that it was hilly, so not one for PB’s.  I was also told that at around 7k, the route actually passes the finish line at the sports centre and goes off on a 3k loop before ending – VERY handy to know, as I didn’t get too excited when I saw the sports centre come into view , and I ran past at a steady pace knowing I’d be there soon.

Before parkrun yesterday morning. The weather today was just as nice!

I got a lift to the race from my friend Grant, who was also running – his first 10k!  It was obviously a momentous event as he actually obliged when I told him to pose for photos!  We got there in plenty of time, registered, and spent some time enjoying the rays before the rush of runners arrived.

Fueling up, bitches!

The race was well-organized, despite a couple of hiccups involving flooding toilets and late registrations holding the start back by about 10-15 minutes.  The weather was glorious, just like the previous day at parkrun.  Unusually (to me), the half marathoners and the 10k’ers started in the same pens and took off together, splitting onto separate courses just before 4k.  I thought it was a bit of a shame for the halfers, as they’d have people zooming by at the start and they’d feel like they were just plodding along!  Just before the horn there was a speech and a minute of silence to remember the 34-year-old runner who died near the end of last year’s race, Mark Sharp.

Once the run had started (uphill from the word ‘go’), everyone shuffled along, dodging in and out of pockets of space between other runners for the first kilometer or so, until everyone found their pace.  The sun was shining and for the first time this year, I felt warm running in Scotland!  There were a lot of undulations throughout the run, and a couple particularly brutal bits, but with that came a few downhill sprints where you could catch your breath.  I ran with a pretty steady pace throughout, and never felt like I was overexerting myself…… until the sprint at the end.  I can’t help breaking into any energy reserve I have left when that finish line comes into view.  And it’s even more sweet when you overtake guys in that final stretch!  Despite having my earphones in and blasting ‘Promises’ by Nero, I heard the announcer call out my name when I crossed the finish line, and I felt like a rock star picking up some water, my technical t-shirt, and, of course, my medal.  So much of a rock star, that I forgot to hit ‘stop’ on my Garmin.  Every freaking time!

Done!

This race was also good fun because of the amount of people I knew that were there.  A few folk from the gym made it along, some volunteers from parkrun that I’d met the previous day, and even a new twitter friend.  Running is quite the social activity!

So how was everyone else’s racing weekends?  The weather is picking up, and so are the events!

Inverness Half Marathon 11.3.12

Official Time:  2:04:46 (PB)

1118th finisher (That sounds pretty rubbish!)

Medal: Yes

Pinky was not intentionally positioned to hide ‘1/2’, honest!

First half marathon, and I was gunning for a time under 2 hours, since I know I’m capable of it.  Unfortunately, everything seemed to go wrong.

I woke up with a pretty ropey belly, and to avoid totally grossing anyone out, I’ll avoid any graphic description and simply say that what my body was churning out at 6 am in the bathroom did not set my spirits high, as hydration is pretty important for a race.

The drive to Inverness was stressful.  I wasn’t driving, but Ian was becoming more and more pissed off with shit drivers along the way.  We also got stuck behind a ridiculously slow caravan, and then a tractor.  Stress mounted as it became clear that we would be cutting it close to make it to registration on time.  To rehydrate, I was guzzling water and realized very suddenly that if I didn’t get to a toilet, STAT, there was going to be a Paula Radcliffe moment in the passenger seat.  This did not help stress levels.  Luckily we found a gas station with a toilet, and normal (ish) activity could resume.

Once we had made it to the sports centre in Inverness, there wasn’t much time left, and I still had to get changed and find somewhere to put my stuff.  The parking looked crazy, so I ran out, leaving Ian to it.

Much stress ensued, but I eventually registered, got changed, sorted out a locker and met Ian.  It was around this point I realized I had eaten nothing since breakfast (it was about 12:15), and thought I should maybe try and fuel up.  This did not happen because I felt sick just thinking about food.  At this point, Ian left, and I realized that I was exhausted from the stress of getting there on time.  Shortly after, the bagpipes started up, indicating the walk to the start line.  I felt so rotten I wanted to cry.  You know those days were you feel like even walking is an effort?  This was one of those days, and I knew this run was going to hurt.

When the horn went, everyone slowly made their way to the start line.  Once I passed, I hit ‘start’ on the Garmin and set off, aiming to keep a pace between 8:30 and 9:00.  Even dodging the slower runners, this was going well.  The first 3-4 miles steadily climbed uphill, and I maintained a good pace.  I was hungry, and it was tough, but I started feeling more positive.  This positive feeling skyrocketed when I ran past my ex-boyfriend’s parent’s house, because where there was once a grassy meadow next to the small country path that led to their riverside home there was a GIANT FUCK OFF TESCO.  I remember his mother (who I thought was a patronizing bitch) used to complain that ‘they’ wanted to build a Tesco in the meadow and that it would ruin their views/be horrible/etc.  Man, that Tesco made me smile.

Of course, karma is more of a bitch than my ex-boyfriend’s mother, and for all of my nasty thoughts, I received payback in mile 6 when the mother of all stitches decided to bestow itself upon my person.  Right after the uphill struggle, and right before the sweet, sweet downhill section.  I was super pissed off.  I had to ‘evolve’ several times.  To illustrate:

hunched over walking – upright walking – slow jog – regular jog – attempt to run – EXCRUCIATING PAIN! – repeat

This went on for the next few miles, and checking my Garmin only confirmed that a sub 2 hour half was not on the cards this time.  I was even more pissed off.  I experienced the weirdest emotion-struggle when a woman ran past and shouted back, “Come on, you’re halfway there!”  Half of me was grateful for her encouragement and wanted to smile and say ‘thanks’, and the other half wanted to punch her in the face and scream.  That’s a strange internal struggle to experience, and I’ll be honest and say it’s the first time I’ve felt anything like it.

By mile 10, the pain had finally subsided, and I finished the last 3 miles at a 9:00/mile pace.

At the finish line

I was never happier to see a finish line and I have never run a more painful race.  I felt pretty deflated afterwards, and even getting a sub 2:05 time wasn’t enough to lift my spirits – I actually wanted to cry.  I took my medal (one of the only things that encouraged me to keep on truckin’ during the pain), found Ian, and headed to the car.  It was time to go home and refuel in style: with beer and curry.

There’s nothing quite like running 13.1 miles on a near-empty stomach, and a 2 1/2 hour drive home to build up an appetite.  After a shower at the flat, we headed to the restaurant.  I got shat on by a bird within 5 minutes of heading out the front door, but I was so exhausted, and so hungry, I didn’t care, and I dined out with a crusty patch of bird shit in my hair.

Not a smile, but a grimace that I was too exhausted to execute properly.

On a positive note, the race was well organized, the views were beautiful, and the atmosphere was great.  I’m just bummed I didn’t really get into the spirit, but whatever, medal numero uno in the bank – Boom!

Curry bound!

Putting my feet up after my THIRD shower of the day – thank you anonymous bird.

I look like ass when I run

I came across some photos of the 10 miler on Sunday, and managed to find a couple featuring my sweaty, washed out face.  OF COURSE the photos of me had to be taken after mile 9.  Every other time I saw a camera along the way, I smiled for the photos (of which I am certain 98% portray me as at least slightly demented), but after the 9 mile marker I was oblivious to anything except my desire for it all to end.  Hence, no smile, even though I am looking DIRECTLY at the camera.  I can almost hear myself thinking ‘I don’t even care if a trail of drool is cascading down my face, take your damn photo’.  I’m number 321.  Enjoy:

Photo courtesy of roadrunpics.com - Thanks!

Anyway, in preparation for the abuse I’ll be giving my body this weekend, I am taking Saturday as a rest day.  Those who know me will understand how much of a sacrifice this is, as Saturday is awesome for both parkrun and gym classes, but I have worked out non-stop since last Thursday, so screw it.  I’m going to clean my flat, which would, at this point, make bachelor pads look pristine.  I’m actually ashamed of the state of it.  I am also going to pamper myself.  Brows are being tinted so my face has a slight chance of looking decent in any photos on Sunday, and I’m getting a ‘Rescue Pedicure’, which my poor feet are looking forward to.  Judge for yourself, but I would say they have only become more gross-looking since the last foot-fetishist-boner-killer photo I posted:

I'm sorry for posting this*

Anyway – managed an easy 5 mile run this evening, mainly because it was mild and sunny when I finished work, but also because I had planned on trying out my first ‘carb loading’ session tonight.  I’ve never bothered before, but since it’s a half marathon, might as well fuel up, right?  So what wholesome food choices do I make?

  • KFC boneless chicken 3 piece meal (with chips)
  • pan au chocolat
  • approx half a large loaf of bread with nutella
  • an entire pack of MAOAM sweets

I’m sure that is EXACTLY what I should be filling my body with for Sunday’s race.  At least I managed to resist beer…

*I’m lying.