Inverness 1/2 marathon 2014

Time: 2:07:36

Medal:  Yes

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Ah, Inverness.  How I forget how long it takes in a car to get to you…

Thanks to sick people being around me with their sickness and coughing sick germs all around me, I was, after finally shirking off a two week cold, struck down again with some grim plague.  I took Wednesday night off from the gym.  And then Thursday.  And on Friday I felt so rancid that I had asked to be put down and cried at my desk at morning break had a little pity party for myself.  In fact, when the bell rang at the end of the school day, it took a full 30 minutes before I could muster up the strength to leave my desk and walk to my apartment.

Thankfully, Ian and I have started (and nearly finished) watching ‘Rome’ on Netflix, so I had something to look forward to every day (other than lying in bed in a dark room).  In fact, we have become so engrossed in the show that on Saturday, feeling a bit more human, I bought some spelt flour and baked a traditional ‘Roman Loaf’ (according to the recipe on the back) for us to rip apart with our hands and feast on as we watched.  Accompanied by “traditional” Roman butter, of course.  And bottled Heineken (also 100% traditional, I’m assured).

This guy.

This guy.

Unfortunately, our ‘episode of Rome with dinner’ grew into a Rome-a-thon, and Ian and I didn’t go through to bed until a slightly unreasonable hour.  And so on Sunday I slept in.  Up not quite early enough to allow for a bit of relaxation, and not quite late enough to have to write off the possibility of going to Inverness entirely, I spent the next 20 minutes frantically scrambling around my apartment, throwing on my race kit, trying to find my Garmin/keys/wallet/mp3 player/phone (which somehow had not charged overnight)/running socks (I own like 20 pairs, so why had they all mysteriously vanished?!), and then sat down to demolish a yoghurt and catch up on a bit of work.

Just before 8, I kissed Ian goodbye and headed downstairs and to the meeting point to await my chariot, a Fiat Panda filled with Naomi, her boyfriend Stu, and Ronnie.  Naomi and Stu had both run the Paris half (comically called ‘Le Semi’) the previous weekend, and were both worried about how they would manage just 7 days after a peak performance.  Sniffling and trying not to fall asleep in the warmth of the car, I told Naomi I’d be happy to keep her company if she fancied taking it easy, an offer she may have, at times, wished she hadn’t accepted.

We arrived at Bught Park with literally hours to spare, and since we were such keen beans, found ourselves registered, relieved, and sitting on the floor of the sports hall by about 10:30.  Somehow we managed to convince Ronnie that the start had been delayed by half an hour, which he was very angry about, but eventually came clean when it seemed as though he was going to hunt for an ATM and a shop with all the fictional extra time, and would potentially miss the actual start.

As the start approached, Stu (a serious athlete) dumped his warm layers into the car and went to warm up.  The rest of us dumped our clothes in the car, and then returned to the warmth of the sports hall, meeting up with a few familiar faces along the way.  Eventually, the piper started leading runners to the start line, and we tailed onto the swarm, choosing to stay indoors as long as possible, because: weather.

Naomi, Ronnie and I made a token effort to join in the enthusiastic warm up dancing (Stu was basically at up at the front and needed no such ridiculousness), until we started moving forward, breaking into a jog, and then speeding up to cross the timing mats.

The start.  Stu is the dedicated looking one in the Fife vest.

The start. Stu is the dedicated looking one in the Fife vest.

“I guess we’re running 13 miles then.”

Ronnie stuck with us for less than a mile before Naomi and I persuaded him to go ahead – he has been working hard at losing weight and was keen to get his first sub-2 half marathon since 2012, and we both thought he was capable, unlike the two of us (dead legs and snot face).  The pair of us plodded along, and I despite my heart rate, I felt comfortable.  I thoroughly entertained Naomi with hilarious and enthralling tales (or so I would like to believe), and we kept a pretty even pace (about 9:30 minute miles) for the first half, stopping to walk through the water stations.  Naomi’s legs soon voiced their disapproval, however, and the pace dropped back a bit after this point.  At one point, at a road crossing, the marshal told us we had to stop to let a bus past, which at the time was a welcome 10 second break, but would have been a real offense if we’d been running for time!  Still, he was apologetic, and it’s not like either of us minded.

With about 5k to go, we approached Esther, someone we recognized from the local parkrun.  Her half PB is 2:10, and at the rate she was running she was on track for a PB.  Just when Naomi was really starting to struggle, the role of PB pacer seemed to give her a reason to push on to the end, and we made it our mission to bring Esther in under her goal time.  We stooped to ridiculously unnecessary tactics (trying to become windbreakers, shouting like a drill sergeant, picking up a branch from a nearby grassy area and prodding her forwards with it), but she kept with us, and even managed to outkick us with a sprint finish at the end.  I mean, yeah, Naomi and I were busy with a conversation, but still – excellent effort.

"Yeah, I think a Nando's sounds like a good idea for dinner."

I’m pretty sure I remember smiling, but instead I look pretty vacant.

100% focus.

100% focus.

Even Ronnie shouting at us with less than a mile to go, exclaiming that Claudia (someone we know) was only about a minute ahead (Ronnie knows I get competitive at the end) wasn’t enough to make me leave our little pacing group.  Especially since this half marathon was technically my ‘cut back’ for the D33 in, ohhhhhhhhhh, two days.  Which I am starting to panic a bit about.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to be so busy at work, because at least it has kept my mind off of that little gem of information.

Anyway, Ronnie managed his sub-2.  He ran just over 1:51, in fact, and he was ecstatic.  Sadly, this means Naomi and I have lost a race buddy because he will once again start leaving us in his dust.  Stu, a freak of nature, ran less than half a minute slower than his Paris PB and crossed the line in 1:17:52.  Quite frankly, disgusting.

Once we had all gathered in the sports hall and chatted with other runners for a bit, we decided to head back to Aberdeen, singing along to some quality tunes (‘We Built this City’ and ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ come to mind).

Overall, a good, but long, day out.  Here’s hoping I’m this cheerful in 48 hours.  And that I can still walk.

Smokies 10 Mile Road Race 2014

Time:  1:32:09 [Results]

Medal: No, but this year we got a t-shirt and, ‘scandalously’ (according to several) a beanie in place of the traditional bottle of wine.

Smokies 10 mile shirt + beanie

Smokies 10 mile shirt + beanie

This is the third year in a row I’ve run Smokies, and each year I get slower.  But I have an excuse!

Less than 2 weeks away from my first ultra (I feel like I’m mentioning that a lot recently…), I haven’t quite hit the ‘taper’.  Though my idea of tapering is vastly different from most (it usually involves me just swapping to any exercise other than running, and maybe taking off the day before), it will be pitiful for the D33.  Mostly because I’m using it as my longest training run for the Highland Fling, and as I have Milano City marathon 3 weeks afterwards, there will be no racing heroics on the day; I’ll walk when I need to, I’ll slow down if I have to – my aim is not to break myself.  What this all means is that I am still logging big miles during my weekends, and this weekend was no exception.

Saturday morning’s wake up call (my ridiculously annoying alarm on my phone that will one day drive Ian to homocide, I’m sure) was at 5:30am.  Breakfast, getting dressed, and curling up in a ball on the floor next to my radiator consumed the next 30 minutes, and then I left for Aberdeen train station, where I would meet a lovely lady from the metro running club (who shall for mysterious reasons remain nameless) and Ronnie.

Stonehaven bound, we made a point of using the bathroom on the train before arriving at Stonehaven train station.  Though it was beginning to get light, there was mist on the horizon, and a deep chill in the air.  We set off along the Slug Road, and up towards the Elsick Mounth trail – aiming for the reverse version of one of the group long runs in February.

It was slow going in places, as the trampled mud had frozen, and there was a lot of slipping about, but eventually we made it to the top of the hill, by which time the sun had come out and skies were blue.  It was still freezing, but sunshine is my crack, so I was happy:

I'm standing on a tree trunk, surveying my kingdom.

I’m standing on a tree trunk, surveying my kingdom.

After this we were on trails and country roads for a bit, until reaching the Deeside railway line, which is what the D33 will be run along.  We stopped for a photo with a cow, because I thought it was cute:

Moo.

Moo.

 

The railway line is boring, at best, especially if you’ve live near it and use it frequently, but at least we had good company for the run back towards Aberdeen.

Deeside railway line.

Deeside railway line.

Roughly 8 miles from Aberdeen, I enjoyed my first al fresco piss in years.  I forgot how liberating urinating amongst nature could be, and it’s good to know that there are some relatively secluded areas behind bushes if I get hit with an un-ignorable urge to pee come race day.

After nearly 21 miles, we called it a day, hopped off the railway line, and walked home, via the supermarket (at least in my case) for food (fajitas, in case you’re wondering, and yes, they were delicious).  There were a lot of tight places in my legs, so I make a token effort to use the foam roller before turning in.

Now, Sunday is usually the single day a week where I don’t set an alarm, so I was mildly disgruntled pissed off that I had to wake up early again.  Still, I’m thankful to Claudia for giving me a lift, because Ian might have dumped me if I woke him up early on BOTH weekend days in addition to begging for a lift.

With my stellar navigation skills, we managed to arrive at the Arbroath Sports Centre with 46 days to spare until the race start, so we enjoyed using the toilet with minimal queueing, picking up our race numbers instantly, and chatting to familiar faces before returning to Claudia’s car for warmth.  Again, it was sunny, but it was cold.

About 20 minutes before the race start, we went back to the hall to wait for the migration to the start line, and I met Kate and her friend Elaine, who were both planning on sticking to a nice easy pace and getting through the race in one piece (Kate is also running the D33 and the Highland Fling, and we’re both suffering a bit from training).

Despite the race results being your gun time, we stayed at the back for the start, and only realized the race had started when the bodies in front of us started moving.  My calf was sore.  My hip was sore.  My hamstring was sore.  I was very glad I had company that had agreed to stick with 10 minute miles…

smokiesfbBut after a couple of miles, everything started to loosen up, and even though we were busy chatting the course away, our pace kept creeping up, and we made a (rather pathetic) attempt to reign it in a bit.  Eventually, we gave up because we all felt decent, and just ran at the pace that felt comfortable.  Clearly, I was feeling alright about half a mile from the end:

Me (looking demented), Kate, and Elaine - half a mile or so from the end.

Me (looking demented), Kate, and Elaine – half a mile or so from the end.

The three of us crossed the line together (despite what the results might reflect), and we were all handed our goody bags before making our way to the sidelines to watch the other runners come in.  Shortly after, Claudia finished, bagging a PR, and we headed back to her car to pick up some warm clothes, passing Carolyn (also flying in with a new PR), Amy (what’s up lady who said hello!), and Danielle (again….PR) on the way.

Armed with warm things, Claudia went for a shower, and I headed for the amazingly quiet massage table, managing to get on pretty much straight away for a donation.  Whoever the lady was there was fantastic, and did not hold back working into my calves.  Covered in menthol oil, I headed back to a group of friends, and chatted until the awards ceremony and raffle.  I wasn’t as lucky as last year, when I won an Arbroath smokie, but Claudia managed to win a foot roller/massager thing, which she seemed pretty pleased with.

Raffle over, and clouds looming, we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed back to Aberdeen, where I had a well deserved nap on my sofa, and then watched Robocop for the first time in my life, because Ian said that I needed to, and that it was a solid 10/10.  I can’t believe Dr. Robert Romano and Red Forman played bad guys!  I’d also maybe give it a 7/10.

“24” mile long run

Waking up Saturday morning at 5:00 am to the sound of what could be a freight train passing my window, but what I knew was more likely the wind, led me to the conclusion that, for a change, the Scottish weather forecast was correct.  I had planned to join a group for a 24 mile, hilly route, and my ride (Claudia) was due to arrive at 6:15.  I ate what I could stomach, got dressed, packed my rucksack with food and water, and thought more and more how much I wanted to go back to my warm, dry, cozy bed.

My calf was still not right – it felt tight when I bounded across my living room during a ‘test’, and I was worried about doing real damage by demanding so much of it during a training run.  I was also particularly cautious, because I didn’t want to hurt my chances of actually taking part in the St Valentine’s 30k the following weekend.  Defeated, I picked up my phone and dialled Claudia’s number to tell her to head straight to the meeting point, and that I was not going to make it.

Claudia’s phone went straight to voicemail.  This meant that I had to at least go to where she had arranged to pick me up to let her know, so I didn’t bother changing out of my kit.  About 10 minutes before I was due to be picked up, I told Ian I’d probably see him in 15 minutes, and headed out into the cold, wind, and rain.  I took my rucksack with me.  Just in case.

When Claudia arrived, I got in the car and said nothing.  By the time we had picked up the second person, it was too late to go back.  I sent Ian a text to let him know I was just going to go for it.

About an hour later, after dropping some cars of in Banchory, 15 of us were heading towards the start point of our run – a parking lot somewhere within some woods.  Somewhere.  It was early, I didn’t really have much of a clue where we were, I just knew I had to follow the people that did.  Here we are at the start:

I'm the one wearing the light green jacket checking my watch for signal.

I’m the one wearing the light green jacket checking my watch for signal.

Although the rain had been bad earlier, and for basically the entire week before, it had stopped by the time we started running.  This cheered everyone up for about 100 meters, by which point everyone had wet feet.  We ran along the trail from the car park for about a mile or so before we got to our first hill.  Veering off the path, we headed strraight up, battling our way through soggy ground and heather. I had assumed this whole run would be on some kind of trail, so my heart sank as we plodded further up, becomming more exposed to the wind, and being shrouded in cloud.  We hadn’t even reached mile 3.  Nearer the top of the first hill, Mount Shade, the terrain became a bit more forgiving, and we picked up a bit of speed.

At the top, we decided it would be best to crack on back down the other side before stopping for something to eat, as we’d have more shelter lower down.  After a brief rest, and narrowly being the first person to fall on their ass thanks to lightning-quick reactions that I am amazed didn’t break both my wrists, we started up the second hill of the day, Clachnaben, which I’ve been up countless times in the past, and would have known exactly where we were.  Had we not been enveloped by cloud.  Only near the top did the prominent tors become visible, heralding the end of our second climb.

Approaching the summit of Clachnaben.

Approaching the summit of Clachnaben.

After another comfort break to eat/wait for everyone to gather, we started off down the other side, where snow, ice, and slush came into the mix.  During this section, the sun briefly came out, and everything looked beautiful.  Rhona managed to snap a great photo of some of us running along, bundled up:

The summit of Clachnaben in the background.

The summit of Clachnaben in the background.

Sadly, the sunshine was not to last, and we took solace in the fact that, despite the wet conditions underfoot, it wasn’t raining that much as we headed along to the summit of Edendocher.

1560720_10153823873045377_1706291727_nOnce down a bit, and out of the snow and cloud, and after about 11 miles, we came to our next rest stop, Charr bothy, where a few group photos were snapped, and more than a few snacks were consumed.

1653780_10153864572280438_771864360_nAfter about 10 minutes, we headed outside again, and pressed on. This is the first section on road we encountered, and there were a couple of 12% inclines to walk up.  Eventually we came upoon a farm house, where we knew there should be a path that veered off to the right before the house.  We found what we assumed was the path, and trudged through very boggy ground to a river.  Which we needed to be on the other side of.

1014111_10153823874355377_1381818480_nAnd of course, the only way was ‘through’.  We found a narrow section, with fast flowing water, but it only came up to around my knees (apart from the bit I was hauled over by helping hands).  Unfortunately, there were one or two slips involving wet crotches.  Having experienced early onset hypothermia from my brief stint in the water, I can only imagine how uncomfortable that was for them.

1896866_10153823872245377_939104960_nLuckily, we had quite an uphill slog ahead of us up Kerloch, so we soon warmed up, though trench foot was starting to take hold on all of us.  We climbed for what seemed like an hour, before finally starting the rocky, and quite technical (in my opinion) descent.  I rolled my ankle a few time here, and it was not comfortable.  Thankfully, the rocky section came to an end, and we were treated to a gentle downhill section on a dirt track, which was heavenly.  For the first time, we could see Banchory in the distance, and our final hill, Scolty, with the tower on top.  Being able to see the end point was uplifting for those beginning to struggle, and we continued downhill onto road, and to the base of the path leading up Scolty.

We made it to the tower at the top and took shelter from the howling wind inside, before taking a group shot once everyone had arrived:

1690417_10152212770239704_476177028_nFrom the top of Scolty, it was pretty much downhil for the final 3 miles, which was good news to hear.  We dodged dog walkers and a few cars on the way back, and the pace noticable picked up the nearer we got to the supermarket parking lot where we had left the remaining cars over 7 hours before.

Upon reaching the end, I looked down and joked that we could add on an extra .7 miles to make it a marathon distance, but nobody was game.  I was grateful for that.  I was also grateful for the supermarket cafe where we all ate a well deserved hot meal, despite having the shittiest service I’ve experiences in such a long time.  I won’t even start…

In the car, heated to Claudia’s Panamanian temperature requirements (perfect!), I nursed my tight calf, but was pleased that it felt no worse than it had throughout the week (though no better, for sure).  My ankles, the only exposed part of my skin other than my face, were no match for the heather and rocks, and were stinging.  My left hamstring was a bit tight.  My right hip was a bit tight.  But overall?  My calf held up, I’d covered 25+ hilly miles, and I had earned a Sunday sleep-in.

Today (the morning after), my calf is extra tight, so I’ve given it a 3 mile walk and a yoga/thai chi style class to help loosen up the legs and give them a stretch.  I’ll foam roll later this evening, and I’m hopefuly that after a few more days of this, it’ll be feeling much better.

Here’s our route from yesterday:

5hillsmapAnd the elevation profile:

5hills* I stole photos from, like, everybody else.  I didn’t take any because it was cold and I didn’t want to take my gloves off.

Hasta la Vista, 2013!

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I am currently gearing up for a raucous New Year’s Eve here in Houston.  I’m planning on whipping up some cinnamon spiced pancakes, courtesy of Chef John’s dulcet voice.  Or plain spaghetti.  It depends on how settled my stomach is … Continue reading

Santa Hustle Half Marathon (Galveston)

Time: 1:58:47

Position: 210/956 

‘Category position’: 7/74 (if my ACTUAL age was considered)

Medal: Yes

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As I was planning to be in Houston for the festive period (potential home invaders: my 6’2″ boyfriend is remaining in Aberdeen), I had scoured Houston Running Calendar for some potential races and discovered that there was a half marathon in Galveston the morning after I was scheduled to arrive.  My friend, Nikki, had signed up as well, and we planned to run it together, just like we did for last year’s Huntsville half marathon.

The UK was being hit by some pretty ferocious winds on the day I left, and I was a little anxious about flying (I am a really shitty flyer).  We were warned by the pilot before we took off for Heathrow from Aberdeen that we were “in for a bumpy ride.”  The dude was not lying.  Upon arrival at Heathrow, I collected my luggage, changed terminal, and checked in for my flight to Houston.  Which was significantly delayed.  It turns out the east side of the US was being hit by a storm system too, so any hopes of experiencing less turbulence was pretty much crapped on about 5 seconds after our (eventual) take-off.  I kid you not, my ass left the seat on more than one occasion during turbulence, and my butt-cheeks were clenched for about 90% of the flight in fear.  I hate flying, have I mentioned that yet?  Add to the mix the guy sitting next to me who kept falling asleep on my shoulder, and the kid in the seat behind me kicking my lower back every few minutes, and you ended up with a bedraggled and exhausted me upon arrival, nearly 4 hours later than anticipated.  And that was before the passport check.  Needless to say, I did not partake in much conversation with my family when we got home, and I finally made it to bed around midnight.

And then my alarm when off at 5:30 in the morning.  My mom, dad, and grandma came with me to Galveston, and I stifled yawns the entire way there.  I met Nikki under a giant inflatable snowman about 15 minutes before the start of the race and she handed over my race pack.  At least, we thought it was my race pack until I realized that I had entered as ‘Rachel Pidutti Williams’, and Nikki had been given the race pack for ‘Rachel Williams’, a 38 year old.  So Rachel, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!  Once changed into our Santa shirt and hat (screw the beard), we headed to the start line:

(Photo stolen from Nikki)

(Photo stolen from Nikki)

This was Nikki’s first half marathon since she had her (adorable) kid, and she was aiming for sub-2, which kind of worried me because this was meant to be part of my taper, but she was determined, so I was happy to bust a gut at her side.  We had unknowingly lined up in the ‘walking’ corral – probably because we shuffled up to the back of the crowd close to the start – and admired the effort some of the runners had put into their festive look:

Apparently he had a brother who was dressed the same.

Apparently he had a brother who was dressed the same.

About 5 minutes after the first group had left, we were running, and I was huffing and puffing pretty quickly only to realize we were charging out at an 8:00/mile pace.  To risk burning out completely, we slowed down a bit, though it seemed pretty comfortable maintaining an 8:30-8:50/mile pace for the first half of the race.

The course heads towards the beach, and to my dismay, you started with an out and back along the beachfront which wasn’t too dissimilar to Aberdeen beach – the most uninspiring place to run in the world.  Nikki and I both told ourselves that we were lucky this bit was near the beginning because it would be pretty soul sucking if it were to appear at the end.  Ha.

After the first out and back we continued onto another out and back in the opposite direction along – you guessed it – the coast.  It was warm and muggy (95% humidity – delightful), and the Santa hat had by this point fused to my soggy head.  We stopped to walk through every water station, but ignored the cookie/candy stops because neither of us were really interested in eating anything.

Somewhere between mile 8 and 9, Nikki was starting to struggle.  She felt like she was going to throw up, and running was not helping her situation.  Since we had made good time in the first half of the race, we had a little time to take back and still finish sub-2, but as we went further, she was feeling more and more sick.  She kept telling me to go ahead, but I refused to leave her until eventually she went off to the side because she thought she was going to throw up just after the 12 mile marker, and told me to go.

Seeing as it wouldn’t be long for her to finish, I went ahead, making it my mission for at least one of us to get a sub-2 finish.  I ran my fastest mile of the day – and saw my HR elevate significantly – in 8:21, and crossed the line in 1:58:47, feeling a bit like I was going to puke myself.  The humidity, the exertion in that last mile, the lack of sleep, and the jet lag all seemed to hit me at once, and I walked off to the side to drink some water and let my heart rate come down.  Nikki came in soon after in 2:01:25, and we celebrated the finish with a beer at 10:30 am (the bars had opened early for the occasion).

There was also a Santa and a snowman.

There was also a Santa and a snowman.

There was talk of an official after party, but we couldn’t find it, and we both had to get back to our respective homes, so we snapped a couple of photos of the ‘scenery’, and had a quick chat with my family before heading our separate ways.  After a Taco Bell stop (don’t judge me), I got home and showered, and managed to last until about 6pm, when I ‘power napped’ for 3 and a half hours before meeting an old school friend and his girlfriend for a beer and salted pretzel.

I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep as quickly as I did when my head hit the pillow on Sunday night.  I didn’t even feel guilty when I blew off my run this morning to relax for an extra hour in bed.  Bliss.

Aviemore half marathon 2013

Time: 2:02:57 [RESULTS HERE]

Medal: Yes (though I’m told it’s the same as last year’s)

IMG_20131013_174643

Not every race can be a good one.

I spent all of last week feeling disgusting, and full of a nasty cold.  Kids were dropping like flies at work, and all I wanted to do was have some alone time with my bed, but I can’t help but worry that people will think I’m just being lazy by phoning in sick during the last week of term, right before a 2 week break, so I went to work, and felt like crying.

I had considered DNSing this race.  Despite laying off the gym/running during the week, and resting when I could, I was nowhere near 100% when I woke up on Saturday, but had blind faith that the marginal improvement I felt after the first good night’s sleep in days was a sign that I’d be feeling fabulous on Sunday (I did not actually believe this, but I hoped).  Also, I had told nearly ten people who were also staying in the youth hostel that I would cook for them, so I kind of felt obligated to go.  So I did.

Saturday morning, Ronnie picked up myself and Suzy, who was running the 10k, and off we went to Aviemore, arriving mid-afternoon.  When we arrived at the hostel there was no record of my booking, but the guy on reception gave me a key and said we’d work it out.  Eventually, Ronnie found his booking confirmation e-mail (he had booked for me), and everything was fine.  Apart from the fact that I was in the male wing of the hostel (since that was the only place where there were free rooms), and my room was situated right next to the men’s bathroom.  Nice.  The silver lining here is that I had the entire dorm (4 beds) to myself.

Before heading to registration, I whipped up some banana bread dough (I had 3 beyond-eating bananas at home, so brought them with me), and dumped it in the oven with a note saying I’d be back to take it out in an hour or so.  Ronnie, Suzy, Shona +1, and I walked the 5 minutes down the road to the hotel where registration was.   We got our numbers (I was 5, obviously very keen to enter), and then queued for the shirts, which were £6 each.  It was pretty busy, and they had a few things to keep people busy (a quiz, a couple of charity stalls, whiskey tasting, a pop-up sale, free pasta), but before we knew it, our hour was up, and we went back to the hostel for the banana bread.

By this point, more of our informal group had arrived in Aviemore, so we decided to get dinner started.  There were a lot of other runners staying in the hostel, so the kitchen was a hive of activity, but we managed pasta with a choice of sauces, and a massive pot of chicken, broccoli, mushroom, and white wine risotto.  Suzy, Susan and I decided we’d share the leftover white wine, which amounted to approximately 20ml each.  Cheers:

Wild times.

Wild times.

I believe Ronnie was relaxing in the common room while we were slaving away in the kitchen because, as he put it, “I drive, you cook.”  Several people did offer to help, but after prep, there wasn’t too much to do until we served up. Either everyone is very good at lying, or I am a passable cook, because all the food was eaten apart from the extra bread/garlic bread, which was graciously accepted from some of the other runners dining at the same time.  Warm banana loaf and Suzy’s home made rocky road made up the desert, and everyone was pretty satiated. Slowly, people filtered off to their dorms, but Suzy and Susan swung by mine and we ended up sitting and having very rude conversations until about midnight, when we decided it would probably be wise to get some sleep.  And sleep would have been nice, but was interrupted by men using the toilet, and then at about 3 in the morning, by a troupe of drunk gentlemen falling about the hall. Somehow, I managed to haul myself out of bed in the morning, and get myself dressed.  I felt no worse than the day before, but no better.  I met everyone for breakfast, then we made our way to the buses, which took us a short walk away from the start. It.  Was.  Freezing.  We bounced on the spot and huddled with familiar faces since we had a bit of a wait until the start.  I look positively thrilled (and compos mentis) to be there: 1379784_551254847110_944063357_n Thankfully I managed to pull my face together (kind of) for a photo with Danielle, who was running her first half marathon: IMG_20131013_135948 Thankfully there was a bag drop, and the organizers seemed pretty casual about keeping it open up to the last minute, so we huddled around in our extra layers as long as we could before the half marathoners had to begin arranging ourselves by our time predictions. The pre-crossing-the-start-line shuffle commenced, and then we were running.  The course starts out on trails that weave through the forest, so it was very pretty, but we were focusing on putting our feet places where big rocks were not.  I didn’t feel great, and my heart rate was quite high for the speed I was running, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that any hopes I had of getting an impressive (for me) time were pretty much obliterated.  Especially when we reached the first hill where I saw my heart rate creep up to 185.  So less than two miles into the race, I was done.  I bid farewell to Ronnie and Susan, and tucked in behind the walkers.

Going solo.

Going solo.

The first half of the race is a blur of gorgeous scenery (especially when the mist started lifting), and moderate discomfort.  At the halfway point there was an ambulance, and I actually slowed down and considered pulling out, but I remembered Ronnie saying the night before that from 7 miles, it’s all downhill, so chose to chance it. I was overtaken more times than I care to remember, but apart from that initial walk break on the hill, I managed to keep running (I use this term loosely) until the end, bar the water stops for a few seconds, because who can actually drink out of cups when they’re running?!

About a mile from the end.

About a mile from the end.  No idea why it looks like I’m having a wonderful time.

Special thanks goes out to the song ‘House of the Rising Sun’, which I pretty much played on repeat because I wanted a soundtrack to my despair, and I crossed the finish line without a smile on my face, but relieved.  Mostly that I had managed to avoid a heart attack. Not everyone’s race was a disaster.  Suzy got a PB on her 10k.  Susan PB’ed during the half, as did her mum, June, and Shona, and Danielle came in under her time target for her first half.  Though I caught him with 2 miles to go, Ronnie ran the half comfortably, which is one of the first times since his ankle injury nearly a year ago, and though he beats himself up about not getting the times he used to, I’m confident that he’s getting closer.

So basically, this race only sucked ass for me.  Purely for comparison, let’s just take a look at Shona’s post race, and then my own:

Shona: smiling, elated, loving life.

Shona: smiling, elated, loving life.

Me: hating myself.

Me: hating myself.

After the run, we went back to the hostel, because the nice man on reception had told us we could use the showers there when we were done (I may have been a bit forceful with my asking).  Apparently the towels are £2 to hire (I am an idiot and forgot to bring my towel), but the guy must have taken pity on me, because he told me there was no charge.  Suzy and I got to know each other pretty well in the double shower cubicle, and that warm blast of water was bliss.  Then we all waited for everyone else to clean up in the seating area, finishing off the banana bread in the process.

I really loved the course today, but my body let me down.  Originally this was going to be a PB attempt (and after running the course, I wish it had been!), but that was before I decided to run Loch Ness with a sled, and before some child infected me with their gross disease at school (I don’t even care if they’re blameless (they’re not)).  I would love to return next year to do the course justice, but right now I would love for my cajun chicken to finish cooking so I can eat my dinner, and go to bed – where I clearly belong.

Loch Ness Marathon 2013

Time: 4:43:32 (personal worst)

Medal: Yes

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

You have maybe already guessed where this is going.

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

sled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On our way to the bus

On our way to the bus

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

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

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

L-R: Naomi, Sheri, me

L-R: Naomi, Sheri, me

Beginning to reconsider my idea.

Beginning to reconsider my idea.

Ronnie and his stylish foil cape.

Ronnie and his stylish foil cape.

At the start line!

At the start line!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less than a mile to go!

Less than a mile to go!

At the finish!

At the finish!

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

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

Me and Susan

Me and Susan

Sheri, me, and Susan

Sheri, me, and Susan

I found a better use for the sled.

I found a better use for the sled.

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE! 🙂

Oh, and Mr. Husky?  25 pounds, bitch.

BRG Challenge 2013

Time: 3:02 ish

Medal: Yes (same as last year’s)

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And yes, that is what my nail looks like currently after it lost a fight with a closing door back in April.

Having been back at work for a full week, I feel like I’ve aged 20 years, and the suggestion that I’ve just had 6 weeks off seems laughable.  Throw into the mix a disgusting head cold, and I present you with a girl who has run once this week, and has done a grand total of zero other workouts.  Waking up this morning, shuffling to the bathroom to cough up a night’s worth of grossness so I could breathe properly, looking outside at the rain pelting down – I was so, so unenthusiastic about running 17+ miles today.

But when does that get in the way of running a race?  Pretty much never.  So I threw myself into the shower (running fresh is important), lubed up generously (I learned my lesson after 1st degree chafe during a 12 mile run whilst the heaven’s opened last month, and did not care to repeat that experience), threw on my kit, and had a bowl of cereal.  And then did a load of washing.  And then washed the dishes that had piled up during the week (let me remind you I was sick).  And then I vacuumed.  Oh, sorry, did I not mention that I woke up at 4:37 am and could not, despite feeling exhausted, get back to sleep?  Because that happened.

At about 9:30, I reluctantly left my warm, dry apartment with everything I needed, and made my way to the pick up point, where Naomi was waiting for me.  She had already picked up Sheri, so it was a quick trip to pick up Susan, and then we were off to Fraserburgh, which I have had a hate-hate relationship with since the 10k there last year.  I was uplifted when we drove past the sign to ‘Gash’, because sometimes I have the maturity of a 13 year old boy.  The sky was overcast and grey, and rain continued to fall, but it could have been much worse, as we discovered upon arrival that there was no discernible wind – a miracle along the Scottish coast!

This place exists.

This place exists.

Ronnie had driven to Fraserburgh the night before and registered us all, which involved picking up our numbers and t-shirts, which were a step up from last year’s white, I must say.  He had also been up early to drive his car to Gardenstown (the finish), so that we could all be driven back to Naomi’s car at the start.  Luckily we arrived early, as this took longer than anticipated, and we had to navigate to Ronnie’s mum’s to pick him up, nearly driving the wrong way down a one way street!

Back of the technical shirt

Back of the technical shirt

Once back at the start, we had a quick toilet break before congregating in the rain with the decent turnout of runners for a safety briefing.  We were all told that the clock had started 2 hours ago with the walkers, and at 11:00 we were off along the relatively flat first 5/6 miles along the coast that lulls you into a false sense of security.

L-R: Sheri, Me, Ronnie, Susan, Naomi

L-R: Sheri, Me, Ronnie, Susan, Naomi

The five of us set out together at a steady pace, walking through the water stations because we knew there were a lot of relay teams, and as we were treating this as a training run for Loch Ness, weren’t keen on competing with fresh legs.  Despite how I felt earlier this morning, I was feeling pretty strong, possibly down to the fact that my body got a bit of a rest this week (apart from a 12.5 mile run on Thursday evening).  Susan and I fell in behind a youngish boy who was running as part of a relay team, and Naomi and Sheri were treated to a history of Ronnie’s childhood a little further back.

After about 6 miles, ‘flat’ was no longer an option.  If you weren’t going up, you were going down, and there was no let up until the end.  Ronnie, myself, and Susan powered up the hills, and Sheri and Naomi fell back.  It stayed like this for another mile or so, and then Ronnie fell back as well, as Susan and I aimed to catch ‘man in yellow’, the gentleman running the second leg of the relay with the young boy from earlier that had been tagged just as the hills started.

Knowing this was some great hill training for Loch Ness, Susan and I kept going, and eventually passed ‘man in yellow’, but we could see him, as well as Ronnie and Naomi close behind every time we stopped for water.  Having run this last year, I knew what was coming, so Susan (and the rest) had been warned in particular about the 17% incline at about 14 miles.  Possibly inspired by my photo from last year, Naomi made her feelings about the hill quite clear when she reached it:

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Photo: Ronnie Mutch

I will say, this photo does not do the steepness of the hill justice.  You’ll just have to take my word for that.

Susan and I battled up the hill next to cyclists that had come off their bikes to push them up the hill (they had set off an hour after the runners), and were eventually rewarded with some downhill running that didn’t make us fear for our lives (ie, not the 20% incline we had to run down earlier). At this point I still felt strong, which I was thrilled about, because at this point last year I was nearly a broken woman.  Susan, however, was starting to feel fatigued, and when my Mr. Motivator chat wasn’t helping, she told me to go ahead for the last couple of miles.

There was a woman up ahead who was running the last 3 miles or so as the final leg of her relay team, and I made it my mission to pass her.  I grunted hello as I overtook her, and continued on the mostly downhill path until I saw the town sign up ahead – nearly done!

I kept at a steady pace for the final mile or so, but had to try and slow myself down during the steep and slippery descent towards to harbour!  During my final few strides of the race, I overtook a couple of walkers (an added bonus), and clocked my time as being just over 3 hours, which is only a couple of minutes slower than last year.

A couple of minutes later, Susan appeared, followed shortly by Ronnie and Naomi, and then Sheri.  Adorned with medals and shivering, we made our way to Ronnie’s car to warm up (and hopefully dry off), stopping to take a couple of shots of the finish/harbour.  The blurriness of Ronnie’s phone’s camera should indicate the levels of precipitation:

Soggy and cold.

Soggy and cold.

Very excited about boats, it would appear.

Very excited about boats, it would appear.

My goal for this run was to run at a steady pace instead of shooting off fast and burning out like I did last year.  Despite being slightly slower, I count it as a success.  I was also curious to see how much more successfully I handled the hills since I’ve been including quite a bit of trail running during this training cycle, and was pleased that I didn’t feel the need to walk quite as often.  The real test, however, will be how I feel tomorrow.  Or, more specifically, how my legs feel tomorrow.

Hare and Hounds relay

Time (Garmin): 19:21

Medal: Surprisingly, yes!

L-R: Ishbel (pink), me (&), Teri (brown).

I had originally earmarked this weekend as that of the Dyce half marathon, as I have yet to run it (and haven’t been put off by Ronnie’s description of it as a dull, never-ending stretch on an old railway line).  However, due to essential railway line maintenance, the event was called off this year.  In its place, Aberdeen Metro Running Club set up a Hare and Hounds relay race.

Each relay team was to consist of three runners, and Ishbel, Teri, and myself quickly agreed we’d run as a team.  We ‘creatively’ went by the team name ‘Pink and Brown’ because Teri’s surname is ‘Brown’, and combining bits of my surname (the letter ‘P’), and Ishbel’s surname (‘ink’) created ‘pink’.  And yes, I am aware this sounds a bit rude.  There was a fancy dress element to this race, and we had kind of hoped that:

a.) nobody else would bother, or
b.) people would really get behind our creativity.

Sadly, there was a fabulous team of cockatoos (feathered limbs and everything), as well as kilted and wigged runners, so despite our monumental effort, we didn’t take away the fancy dress prize with this (sidenote: Teri did not own anything brown, so we improvized):

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L-R: Ishbel (pink), me (&), Teri (brown)

Although the relay was originally advertised as a 3k loop through trails in Hazelhead park, we were warned the distance would be closer to 4k, and that although it would start on road, we would soon be galivanting around the trails.  I was the first leg of our team, so I lined up with all of the (ridiculously tall, lean, and athletic looking) club runners, and a few other people that had been suckered into this run like me.  After a, “Ready – go!” we were off, and for about 10 seconds I was trailing the back of the gazelle-esque (totally a legitimate word) pack of runners before my lungs and legs begged for forgiveness, and I settled into a more reasonable pace.

I kept telling myself it would be over soon, just don’t slow down, and being on Ronnie’s tail gave me the motivation to stop myself from slacking (and he was also an exceedingly useful navigational tool).  Being familiar with the trails in and around the park meant that I knew when I was close to the finish, and I picked up before closing in on Teri.  We were told that one part or another of our body must ‘make contact’ with our team mate’s during the handover (as there were no batons), so with a literal run-up, I gave Teri a very spirited slap on the right butt cheek, and she went flying off!  I would just like to mention that I got excellent purchase on her backside with the palm of my hand, and it was a truly satisfying slap.  In fact, I believe that added propulsion is what helped her overtake one of the other team’s runners!

Once Teri was in sight, Ishbel geared up for the final leg, during which Teri and I enjoyed the crisps and water on offer to finishers.  At one point we had entertained the idea of being the first all female team to finish, but as Ishbel came gliding into the finish, we settled with second.  Still, there were no ill-feelings towards any of the winning teams:

L-R: Naomi, Teri, Ishbel, me (squatting so Ishbel's head would be in view), Ronnie, Stu

L-R: Naomi, Teri, Ishbel, me (squatting so Ishbel’s head would be in view, which in hindsight was unnecessary), Ronnie, Stu

After the relay, Ishbel and Teri headed off, and I joined Ronnie and our friend Susan for a ‘long run’, which consisted of an additional 13.3 miles through the outskirts of Aberdeen.

We saw a lot of livestock.

We saw a lot of livestock.

When we made it back to Ronnie’s car, Susan opted to run the 3 extra miles home, and I opted for a lift to the supermarket for key ingredients to the snack I had been craving all day:

Sweet potato fries (except they're baked).

Sweet potato fries (except they’re baked).

And now?  Another voyage to the grovery store for a couple of ingredients for some tuna patties for dinner, and hopefully a cold root beer (or two).  Seven weeks until Loch Ness marathon, which means 5 weeks until blissful taper time!