Paris Marathon 2013

Time: 4:18:40 (PB!)

Position: 23,843/39,967  

Gender position: 3,107

Category Position: 1,548

Medal: Yes

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Despite the fact that I have been telling literally everyone I run into that I was going to be running Paris marathon, it hadn’t quite registered until race morning, when I hauled myself out of bed at about 5:30am, slathered myself in bodyglide and lycra, and haphazardly stuffed things deemed ‘important’ (race number, garmin, hotel key) into my bag.  I left my hotel and walked the deserted Parisian streets – well, about 3 of them – to Naomi’s parents’ apartment for breakfast.  Everyone was already up, and extremely dozy, as we stuffed breakfast food with as much appeal as cardboard into our mouths, and triple checked that everything was in order.

Once 7:30 arrived, Naomi, Rhona, and I, wrapped in our 5 euro men’s, long-sleeved white shirts, along with Naomi’s parents, set off for the start.  It was quite chilly, and I was glad we had made the effort to buy a throwaway layer to keep us warm in the starting pens, as we were very aware that being non-elite runners, there would be a substantial amount of hanging around before we crossed the start mats.

Thankfully, the skies were blue, and the sun was rising fast – a welcome change to the overcast and breezy weather we had experienced so far in France.  Before we knew it, the Arc de Triomphe was in sight, and the streets burst to life with fellow runners.

Approaching the start area.

Approaching the start area.

The three of us took advantage of the comparatively short toilet queues before taking some obligatory pre-marathon photos.  It is at about this time, it finally sunk in that I actually had to run a marathon – an emotional experience I felt Naomi’s dad managed to capture perfectly while I was lost in my own thoughts:

What. The. Fuck. Have. I. Done.

What. The. Fuck. Have. I. Done.

Maybe the fact that my foot had been screaming the past few days as we had been walking about Paris (thanks to my own stupidity), or the fact that my training (or lack thereof) consisted of only one (as in, less than two) run a week – my long run – was playing on my mind. Spoiler: the answer is ‘YES’, these two things were most definitely at the forefront of my thoughts before the start, and I was not a beacon of supreme confidence at this point.  Nevertheless, I shrugged off my lack of amazing preparation to smile/grimace/photograph badly with Naomi and Rhona:

My outfit, for now, like my thoughts, are more subdued.

My outfit, for now, like my thoughts, are more subdued.

Arc du Triomphe, from the other side.

Arc du Triomphe, from the other side.

After frantically putting our white shirts back on, we headed towards the start pens.  Rhona, who was initially using this as part of her taper for the Highland Fling, had changed her mind and was now going for a PB after a favourable performance at the D33 last month.  Because of the change of heart, she pushed to the front of the 4:15 pen with an aim to follow the 4 hour pacers.  Naomi, on the other hand, was gunning for 4:45 or faster, and was aiming to follow the somewhat pleasant backside of the 4:30 pacer for as long as she could!  In the past few weeks, I have only had a couple of simple goals for this race:

  1. Finish
  2. Run the whole way
  3. Beat my time at Loch Ness (4:30:08 – those 8 bastard seconds!)

Goal 3 wasn’t really all that important to me, and goal 1 was going to happen even if I had to crawl, but I was determined not to walk no matter how much I was hurting.  I hadn’t told anyone at the time, but my grandfather has stomach cancer, and a couple of weeks ago he was told he had anywhere from 1 to 7 weeks left.  The reason for my visit in 2011/2012 was not just a family visit, but a visit to see him while he was still well enough to enjoy our company, and I couldn’t help leaving in floods of tears.  The fact that he can still get up to have a few small meals, or potter around in the garden despite the pain he must be in makes me feel ashamed of complaining about a bit of muscle fatigue, and essentially I wanted to run this race for him.  For me, stopping to walk meant failure, and that was that.

I decided to start with Naomi, so we kept each other company in the pens, which is just as well, because we were stuck there for an awfully long time.  At 8:45 we heard the start for the elites, and then we danced to questionable tunes for the next 40 minutes wondering how long we had left, and trying to stop shivering (mostly, that was me).

Deceptively cold in the pens.

Deceptively cold in the pens.

Several thousand runners.  Ahead of us.

Several thousand runners. Ahead of us.

Suddenly there was a forward surge, and Naomi and I excitedly stripped off our warm shirts and crept forward, only to grind to another halt after about 5 minutes.  Stuck again, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re taking part in the world’s second largest (now official!) marathon.  A French couple, distracted by my chattering teeth, took pity on us and started vigorously rubbing our arms to try and warm us up, but I resorted to picking up an extra layer from a pile of discarded ponchos, which served me well for the next 5 or so minutes.

Finally, we surged forwards again, and when the start line came into view I ditched my outer layer once more, and pressed ‘start’ on my Garmin just before I reached the timing mats.  We were off!

The first thing that I noticed was how un-crowded we were.  I mean, I know that some of the elite runners were already halfway done, and others had been running for nearly an hour already, and yes, the street we were on was pretty wide, but at the start I didn’t feel at all boxed in or as if I had to dodge people.  I also noticed that the low sun was directly in my face, but I was happy to see it!

Naomi and I stuck together for about half a mile, before the adrenaline of actually starting dragged me ahead, faster than the pace I had planned to run.  I was going to stick with the pace I had run my training runs at (especially because I have Edinburgh Rock ‘n’ Roll 1/2 marathon on the 14th), but I got bored of glancing at my watch and slowing myself down after about a mile, so I just ignored my pace and tucked in behind a couple of guys who seemed to be going at a similar speed to me.  They may have thought I was some weirdo stalker, but I don’t understand enough French to know what they were talking about, so I’ll just imagine they were complimenting that chick behind them with effortless grace.

The crowds, from the start, were amazing.  I didn’t think anyone would really be able to read the name on my bib, but I heard “Allez Rochelle!” shouted out regularly, and when you caught the eye of the person cheering, you couldn’t help but smile.  In fact, I think I spent about 90% of the entire marathon with a goofy grin plastered all over my face as I took in the spectators, the landmarks, the costumes, the panoply of languages overheard (Yes, I just did).  I think a special shout out to the pompiers of Paris is more than deserved, as the firemen made regular appearances along the course, even sitting atop a ladder that hung out over the runners like a bridge, cheering and shouting with almost drunken enthusiasm!  The following photo is stolen shamelessly from the Runner’s World website, and shows what I mean, though they were not in this particular location this year:

Allez, allez, allez!

Allez, allez, allez!

Every mile, my Garmin would beep, and on the occasions that I actually heard it, I automatically looked down to see my pace for the mile I had just completed.  Every time I looked down, it started with a 9, although I felt like I was taking an easy jog, and holding conversations with complete strangers whilst not at all out of breath.  Not such a big deal, considering I’d only done about 13 miles.

It was around the halfway point that I spotted an IRN BRU vest up ahead, a sure sign that I was approaching a Scot!  Sure enough, Fiona was a Scot, who happened to be living in France and running the Paris marathon for the 3rd (at least) time!  She mentioned the tunnels/underpasses as being the worst part of the race (at around miles 16-18), but confirmed that there should be no other nasty surprises on the sensationally flat course.  As visual evidence of how relaxed I was feeling at this stage, here is one of my official race photos that just happens to feature the IRN BRU clad expat chatting away with me:

I am actually considering paying for this race photo.

I am actually considering paying for this race photo.

Aside – I am convinced that part of my delirious happiness was due to being bathed in actual sunlight after possibly the shittiest spring I have experienced thus far.

Splits (miles 1-13):
1 – 9:47
2 – 9:47
3 – 9:34
4 – 9:42
5 – 9:46
6 – 9:37
7 – 10:05
8 – 9:44
9 – 9:44
10 – 9:51
11 – 9:24
12 – 9:29
13 – 9:37

Eventually, I lost Fiona, and continued on my way, dorky grin and all.  Water/refreshment stops were every 5k, and apart from the first one, I think I swooped by them all to pick up a bottle of cold water, which I would carry with me until the next stop and then replace (I am a fan of cold liquids).  I also indulged in most of the goods on offer – a couple of banana halves, some (delicious) orange segments, a couple of sugar cubes (because, why not?).  The only negatives about the refreshment stops would be the fact that they were all heaving with runners, so it was more of a sideways dodge towards the tables, and then a sideways dodge back out to continue running, which sucks on stiff hips, as well as the obvious perils of wet orange and banana peels strewn about the ground, especially when the ground happened to be downhill cobbles.  I watched a man completely crash out ahead of me, and I swooped down to retrieve his water bottle as he recovered.  It was rather spectacular (and I can say that because he was OK, and carried on).

At about mile 16, we veered downhill to run alongside the Seine.  It was fantastic running under all of the bridges with crowds of people on them cheering us on.  It is also about this point that my quads started to hurt, just like they did during Loch Ness.  What.  The. Fuck.  Thankfully, I am rather stubborn, and ignored the pain.  Also, as I was looking up at the spectators on one of the bridges, I heard someone shout, “Go Rachel Go!” and spotted Naomi’s family cheering fiercely from above!  I shot them a smile and a wave (and was told later I looked completely relaxed), and carried on, waving at all the boat passengers on tourist cruises that happened to be going past at the time.

We also reached some underpasses, which affected the satellite signal to my Garmin (hence the rather erratic splits for mile 16 and 17).  The inclines coming out of the underpasses actually weren’t that terrible, and I smiled (again – there was a bunch of smiling) when I realized that was the worst of it!  The masses of cheering crowds as you ran up the slight incline might have also helped.  At this point, the quad pain was still pretty bearable, and I continued on at a similar pace.

Splits (miles 14 – 18)
14 – 9:49
15 – 9:45
16 – 14:04 (underpass)
17 – 5: 19 (average pace for miles 16 – 17 would be 9:42)
18 – 9:46

From about mile 18/19, the course started getting narrower, and more and more people decided that stopping suddenly in the middle of the course to walk was a fabulous idea.  This meant a lot of highly painful ninja-esque dodging just to stay upright and facing forwards.  The crowds, whilst still amazing, also started to encroach on the course (to the extent that at one point I spotted spectators on the blue line that measures out the marathon!).  This also meant my split times started to suffer a bit, but in all honesty, they probably would have started to suffer at least a little without the added bonus of navigating a human obstacle course.  Because quads.

Splits (miles 19 – 23)
19 – 10:19
20 – 9:54
21 – 9:53
22 – 10:29 (ouch)
23 – 10:04

As soon as I passed the 23 mile marker, I just kept telling myself that I only had 5k left.  30 minutes, tops.  That’s nothing!  I tried to speed up, but noticed no great change in my pace.  I was really suffering now, but considering I’d come this far, there was absolutely no way that I was going to stop to walk.  At this point, some grunting commenced.

Miles 24 and 25 were a bit of a blur, and we were running through a park where spectator support was thinner than it had been, but that was OK, because I was saving my finale for the final mile (obviously – it would be stupid to bring on a finale at mile 4).  In the spirit of the Breakfast Run the day before, I decided to ‘represent’ one last time during my Paris jaunt, and as soon as I passed the mile marker informing me that I had completed 25 miles, out came the flag-cape for a victory mile!

'Murica.  Fuck Yeah.

‘Murica. Fuck Yeah.

More smiling.

More smiling.

Out of nowhere, we were onto cobbled roads surrounded by swarms of people cheering.  There were some enthusiastic “GO USA!” cheers (and a snub from a group of Canadians I waved to), and the announcer even gave me a shout-out as I crossed the line nearly 12 minutes faster than my first marathon.  As I had my Garmin switched to display pace and heart rate, I had no idea how I had actually done (though I pretty much knew I’d run a PB), so I was absolutely delighted to switch over and see the time:

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Splits (miles 24-26.2)
24 – 9:52
25 – 9:56
26 – 10:11
.2 – 9:30

I stumbled through the finishers’ area, collected my medal, t-shirt, some powerade, and a banana, and headed to our prearranged meeting spot to find Rhona (who finished in 4:05:xx, smashing her PB), and await Naomi (who finished in 4:39:xx, also crushing her PB).  Three finishers and three PB’s made for three happy ladies in need of celebration:

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IMG_20130407_152337And celebrate we did!  I have rarely tasted a cheeseburger as good as the one I inhaled that night, and I anticipate equal or greater pleasure from my cheesburger after the Texas marathon next January!

Sunday Night Blues

Reasons why I am not in a particularly happy mood:

  • My shins are still not letting me run very much.  Or maybe it’s my calf?  Either way, my lower leg has been experiencing a ridiculous amount of pain, so I have not run regularly since, like, November.  Rest appears to have done nothing.  My training for the Paris Marathon should have started this week. Awesome.  On the plus side, my back, triceps, biceps, and shoulders are looking kind of buff (to me).
  • I go back to work tomorrow.  I have been off since the 22nd of December (a perk of being a teacher).  I have grown accustomed to doing whatever the hell I want to.  And daytime drinking.
  • The scratch cards Ian bought tonight?  Yeah, we didn’t win.  And yes, I know how tacky scratch cards are.

In other news, my search term results never fail to bring a smile to my face:

searchtermwtfJust in case anyone happens to stumble across this site using this search again, may I direct you here, here, or, though not necessarily ‘cycling’ lycra, here.  You’re welcome.*

*Regular readers: do not click on the links if you are at work/with your parents/not into seeing the outline of a dude’s junk in lycra.

EDIT:  You’re all a bunch of perverts:

In less than an hour!

In less than an hour!

Five years, No cigarettes.

Five years ago today I decided to quit smoking.  Again.  The difference between this time and any previous attempts is that I knew this time would be for good.  Why?  Because I’m stubborn, and competitive, and I was really annoyed at my ex.

Me and my friend Jeremy at the after prom party, ten years ago (gross), holding a cigarette (also gross).

Me and my friend Jeremy at the after prom party, ten years ago (gross), holding a cigarette (also gross).

You see, 5 years and one week ago, I split up with my ex-boyfriend of 5 years.  When we met, we were sort of compatible (I was obese and nobody else was interested), but as the years went by, we both realized we had pretty much nothing in common.  I liked being active, he would moan that his knee hurt after ten minutes of walking.  I wanted to eat well, he lived on (incinerated) oven pizzas and packets of Doritos.  I hated coffee (still do), he could not function without about a gallon of it.  He wanted to have sex with me (and ended up finding it elsewhere, it seems), I wanted to have sex with hot strangers on the subway, hot strangers at the gym, hot strangers at the supermarket, hot strangers on TV, etc (but like a decent human being, did not indulge).  He smoked, I wanted to quit – again.  It is very hard to not smoke when you are living with/dating a heavy smoker.

My ex was also extremely annoying when he got drunk.

My ex was also extremely annoying when he got drunk.

The split was immediate – I think we exchanged one paltry text message before ceasing contact altogether.  I was so happy to be rid of him, and I was also pretty disgusted with him.  When I quit smoking, my disgust for him fueled my willpower, and I can honestly say I haven’t had a single cigarette since the day I quit, although there have been a couple of dark moments when I have walked behind a smoker and inhaled deeply, for old time’s sake, and no, I am not proud of myself.

Since I have quit, I am apparently 13% less likely to die of all smoking related causes, and if I stick with it, in another 15 years all my risks will be that of a non-smoker.  So I’m a quarter of the way through.  I have also, apparently, saved a whole bunch of money, but my bank balance would disagree with that.  But the best thing about remaining a non-smoker (or ex-smoker if you want to get picky) is that smug feeling whenever I speak to a mutual friend who has spoken to my ex and can confirm that he still smokes.  It makes me smile.  And that might make me sounds like an asshole.  And I’m fine with that.

More Festivity, or Festive Cheer Part 2! (working title)

Megan recently posted a ’25 Days of Christmas’ thing, which is essentially one of those e-mail surveys that everyone loves filling out in the hopes that other people will read their answers and think ‘what a cool/hilarious/kindhearted/badass/quirky [delete as applicable] person s/he is, gosh darn it!’, except people just delete your answers and waste 30 minutes thinking of their own super meaningful responses.  Yeah, it’s like those.  Except it comes in picture form.  And has a Christmas theme, would you believe it?

Anyway, because I’m not out drinking with workmates I hardly know in gale force winds and horizontal rain, I’m looking for something rock n’ roll to do on my Friday night, so whilst I haven’t answered every question (you’re welcome), I have chosen to indulge myself a bit.  Enjoy.

Favourite Christmas movie

Being a teacher, my answer at this precise moment in time is: None at all, I would not be upset at all if every Christmas film ever made went up in flames right this minute.  But, if you asked my 9-year-old self this question, the answer would have been ‘Home Alone’, because I had a major crush on Macauley Culkin (I know).  I even rented ‘The Pagemaster’ from Blockbuster when it came out.  I’d like to think my taste in men has improved, but you can be the judge:

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2012 Christmas wish list:

These tights.  Because who doesn’t love rainbows?!
A Kindle Paperwhite.
A lap counter for my rekindled love of swimming.
An all-inclusive vacation to Hawaii/anywhere hot and with beaches.
Nothing that has to be used in a bathtub (I only have a shower).

Favourite Christmas song:

It’s a toss up between ‘Fairytale of New York’ and whatever The Darkness’s festive tune was. (I’m obviously not a Christmas song buff).

Best gift:

Easily the Sony Dream Machine Radio/Alarm/Cassette player that I received when I was about 11 and lived in Ponca City, OK.  So futuristic.  I loved that thing.

Sony Dream Machine

Sony Dream Machine

Favourite Christmas decoration:

Could it be any other?  I bought this baby the day before I ran the Loch Ness Marathon:

IMG_20120930_230247 A Picture of Christmas décor:

Well, I’ve already posted a picture of my tree (3 feet tall as my apartment is miniscule and cannot accommodate anything larger), so I’ll post my ‘card window’.  I don’t have enough surfaces to leave cars about on (and I find it too cluttery), so I slot my Christmas cards into my wooden blinds in my living room.  It’s not like having them closed blocks out any light, since I’m in Scotland, and I literally cannot remember how many days ago I last saw the sun.  Maybe Sunday?

IMG_20121221_212152 Favourite Christmas tradition:

When I was young my dad would make popcorn and we would use a needle and thread to transform it into tinsel for the tree (and eat the leftovers).  I think that may have been the only ‘tradition’ my family had, considering we never lived in the same country for more than a couple of years.  I have started a new tradition with Ian, though: good food for Christmas.  Last year was fajitas, this year is shaping up to be a spicy mustard chicken dish.

Wrapping paper or gift bags:

Wrapping paper.  Don’t be so fucking lazy.

Hardest person to buy for:

My dad.  Seriously.  This is a conversation we had before Christmas one year:

Me: Dad, what do you want for Christmas?

Dad: Nothing.

Me: Daaa-aaaaaaaaad.  Seriously!

Dad: I wouldn’t mind a Porsche.

Me: [dramatic sigh and eye roll] Dad!!!!

Dad: I don’t know, get me a copy of The Economist.

On Christmas day, under the tree, a few mysterious parcels would appear labelled: To John, From John.

My dad’s name is John, by the way.

Post a picture of an old Christmas card:

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This one is from my grandma (on my dad’s side).  Her birthday was on Christmas day, but she died in 2010.  This card would have been from a few years before her death when she still remembered/was able to write back to me.  I used to write her letters throughout the year, and sometimes I get the urge to write to her, and then remember that I can’t.  Anyway, this makes me glad that I’m a hoarder of personal stuff.

It’s also pretty hilarious to come across a bunch of old love letters from my ex with such gems as “you are the centre of my universe” and “I love you with every fibre of my being”.  Seriously.

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 When do you open gifts?

Christmas morning, after some champagne (or whatever cold, alcoholic fizzy stuff that comes in a green bottle happens to be in my fridge).  When I still lived at home my brother and I could open one gift on Christmas Eve, but these days I don’t really get enough gifts to make that viable.

Do you travel over the holidays?

Yes, if possible.  I’ve managed to escape Scotland’s harsh weather for the last two years, going to Houston for X-mas 2010, and Australia in 2011 (which featured a ‘delightful’ Christmas dinner courtesy of Qantas).  This year, however, I’m stuck here, which is not ideal, but it does mean I get to spend time with Ian and friends while they all have some time off work.  Plans are already underway, however, for a Texas Christmas in 2013.

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New Year’s Day 2012 – Australia

So how about you guys?  What do you want for Christmas?  What traditions do you have?  What has been your favourite present of all time?  Does Christmas music make you angry?  If you receive a gift with ugly wrapping paper, do you hide it behind gifts that you have wrapped for others just so you can’t see its ugliness?  Or is that just me?  Do you always get a shitty secret Santa present?  One year, the person who got my name made a mistake and thought they were buying for someone else.  I can’t say battleships was the best gift I ever got.

Frequently googled questions

I’m sure I’ve come across a post that dealt with questions that cropped up frequently in search terms that led to their blog, and at the time i thought it was a fun idea, but unfortunately the majority of the search terms that led to ‘medalslut’ were filthy.  however, since i’ve been around for nearly a year, there have been a few non-sexual search terms that have cropped up more than once.  today, i endeavor to answer six of them.  enjoy.

 

What do you do with your race bibs?

I stick mine in photo albums from Paperchase, since they are the perfect size for pretty much every race bib I’ve received, although I have seen some pretty sweet ideas online.

One of my favourites is the idea to use old race bibs to wallpaper a room, and I would totally do this if I was living in a house that I thought I’d be living in for several years.  However, I live in a one-bedroom apartment that has a kitchen smaller than a bathroom and literally no free space, so wallpapering half my living room would make it appear tiny and cluttered.  One day…

Another neat way of using your old race bibs is to have them transformed into a sports bag.  Although I’ve never used them, Races R My Bag have some nice looking bags on their site, and if I was ever feeling particularly indulgent, I would consider having a bag custom made!

Midpack Runner also has several (some serious, some not so much) uses for your old race bibs.

Do you get a medal for Tough Mudder?

No.  You DO NOT get a medal for Tough Mudder.  Things you DO get for completing a Tough Mudder:

  • Orange headband.
  • T-shirt.
  • Beer.
  • Bruises/cuts/scrapes.
  • Mud in your ears/nose/mouth/buttcrack.
Tough Mudder headband on the medal rack

Tough Mudder headband on the medal rack

How do I life model in Aberdeen?

First of all, I think it’s important to point out that life modelling isn’t a walk in the park.  The biggest obstacle is not being naked in front of a roomful of people and listening to the instructor (if it’s a taught class) go around and tell people that “the waist should be thicker” or “she has folds (just another word for fat rolls) there, don’t airbrush your drawing”.  The biggest obstacle is pain, followed closely by extreme boredom.  Parts of your body are going to fall asleep and your body’s natural reaction is going to be to want to move it.  Muscles you didn’t know even existed will ache, and you’re going to want to change position.

Unless you luck out and there are mirrored walls in the studio (a la Aberdeen College), the easels will be facing away from you, and once you’ve studied every square inch of the room, you will be alone with your thoughts.  For hoooooouuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrssssssss.  For this, I found it helpful to play games: go through the alphabet and think of a (song name/artist/food/animal/band/celebrity/sport/whatever) that starts with each letter – you cannot advance without coming up with something.

Also – the sheets, chairs, mattresses, pillows, etc. that you perch yourself upon?  Other naked people have been there first.  With their naked bits.  And if these props are in a big studio with several classes?  Probably not washed regularly.  I’m just saying.

So how do you enter this glamorous profession, I hear you shouting at your screen?  Well, I found an ad in the University job center for a local artist wanting models.  I phoned him up and modelled for a Saturday morning class for three hours.  I did that a few times, and modelled for him privately (he has his own studio at home), and then pretty much called every place I thought might need an artists model and gave them my details.  And they pretty much all phoned back.

You see, a lot of people think it’s an easy way to make cash, so they sign up readily, but after one or two sessions the novelty wears off and they quit.  This means that places trying to find models are usually desperate for someone reliable.  I think the only time I never showed up for a modelling job, I had gastroenteritis and was crapping/vomiting so much I didn’t eat/leave my apartment for about 3 days (and had to cancel a supply teaching job which would have also yielded a chunky sum of nice money – disappointing).  What I’m trying to say is, don’t be a flake.

And now, a list of places that I know of that offer life drawing sessions that might be worth contacting if you are still interested in life modelling:

Aberdeen College: you will need to fill in a full disclosure (takes 2-3 weeks) since you’ll be working with ‘young people’ (16+, apart from the evening class that has seniors from a local school – that was a bit awkward during my teacher training).  They have work throughout the day as well as an evening class (last I worked in was a Tuesday from 7-9pm).

White Space: Informal evening class (usually a Monday or Tuesday evening) for members of the local community.  The room gets cold in the winter (even though there are always heater in life modelling classes), but I am extra sensitive to the cold.  If you’re fat, you’ll be grand!

Gray’s School of Art: As an art school, they offer life drawing, obviously.  I’ve never worked there though – they offered the lowest rates at the time, I don’t know if that’s changed!

Limosine Bull: This was probably one of my favourite places to work.  Informal evening classes, and if you went regularly the same faces would appear (and bring you sweets!).  It looks like their venue is changing, but they still offer life drawing classes.

Peacock Visual Arts: I worked there once or twice, years ago.  A brief scan of their website doesn’t show any life drawing classes just now, but maybe worth a try.

Once you can show you’re reliable, you’ll probably start getting asked by people in the class about other classes/projects.  I’ve danced to music for a class in Stonehaven that liked short drawings, and modelled privately for several people.  The classes are where you start out, but the informal groups are way more fun (and let you choose your own poses, sometimes).

How do I avoid weird tan lines when running?

Well, the way I see it you have three options for this:

  1. Run at night
  2. Wear a zentai suit
  3. Run naked.

Is my physiotherapist a slut?

To answer simply, I don’t know.  Ask them out for a drink after work and if balls are being cupped under the table, then maybe.

How do I prevent logo cracking on my 2XU tights?

As far as I’m aware, you don’t, unfortunately.  But it shows they’re being used, which shows you’re not lazy.  So wear your crack with pride! (And if anyone actually finds a way to prevent cracking, let me know)

How not to attempt to reach the summit of Ben Avon.

The weather forecast for Saturday was amazing.  Warmth, sunshine, no rain, no cloud, no snow, no hail (we’re in Scotland, so you need to check ALL of these things).  And what better way to get some exercise than a delightful trip into the Cairngorm mountain range for some mountain biking and cycling to break up the monotony of running.  Am I right?

Ian, Dylan, and myself set off early Saturday morning with big plans.  We were going to park just before Braemar at the Keiloch car park, cycle 7-ish miles, ditch our bikes, and then hike to the summit of two munros (Scottish for mountain with a height of over 3,000 feet), then cycle 7 miles back, making it back to Aberdeen with plenty of time to drop Dylan off at 6:30pm to babysit his nephews, and even more time for Ian and I to shower and make it to dinner at a friends.  We estimated that all of this (cycling and hiking) could be done in about 5 hours, seemingly a reserved estimate.

We arrived, a bit late, just after 9:30 am.  The sun was blazing, the skies were blue, and spirits were high.  We indulged in a light snack while we took the bikes off the bike rack, checked the map, and estimated that the cycle portion of the journey would take roughly 45 minutes, possibly an hour.  We were expecting good trails, beautiful views, and happiness.  This was our first miscalculation.

When we set off, we were cycling on paved roads.  Lovely.  Our laughter echoed through the trees, mingling with birdsong and delight.  The road turned into a dirt road.  How quaint/pleasant/charming/blah.  The dirt road turned into dirt tracks.  What a bunch of adventurers we were!  Although the pace had slowed (the entire cycle there was slightly uphill), we knew we’d be flying on our way back.  At this point there was little concern.  Then the dirt track turned into a dirt track cloaked by miniature boulders.  A tad on the bumpy side, and holy shitI nearly went face first into the ground but my ninja-esque reflexes meant I somehow remained on my bike.  Bastard rocks and the instability they cause.  Then…. what the hell is this?!  A steep incline on a narrow, bumpy path which forces us to push our bikes uphill through heather, rocks, and whatever else grows in hell.  This went on for, oh, say, 30 minutes.  It was unpleasant.  But FINALLY, we reached the place that the internet had assured us became ‘really good to cycle on’.

The internet is a douchebag liar.

While the path COULD have been pleasant, and time-saving, to cycle on, there were approximately 17 trillion drainage ditches that did not feel safe to try and jump/cycle over.  Some were shallow, some were deep.  All sucked.  We soldiered on until I heard a ‘Woooooah!’ from behind.  Dylan had a puncture.  Ian had to turn back as he was the one carrying the ‘bike emergency kit’.  Turns out there were two punctures on Dylan’s inner tube.  Here are the boys fixing this problem:

Ian demonstrating tire repair skills whilst showing off our group uniform of profuse back sweat.

It was a bonding experience for the two boys:

Proof here.

As you can see in the video, at this point, we were all still relatively chipper, though I had voiced one or two (thousand) opinions regarding being unhappy with the cycle path.  All ignored by Ian.

Proof that I am still smiling.

Once the puncture was hastily repaired, we set off again.  No more than 5 minutes later, however, we hit another delay when I tried to cycle over one of the drainage ditches, hit one of the rocks hard, and went flying over my handlebars in a spectacular fashion.  I had sense enough in mid-air to hold up my arms to save my face, and also to make sure that the face of my (not cheap) Garmin was facing away from the ground!  Unfortunately, this did not bode well for every other part of my body, as I hit the ground with force, and my bike landed on top of me.  Dylan kindly untangled it from my legs and I inspected the damage while Ian, who was ahead, came back to see what was taking so long.  I landed hard on my knee, and knew that I would be sporting a kick ass bruise for a while:

Bruise on the outside of my left knee, as pictured on Sunday night. Please ignore ridiculous tan line.

I also grazed my right forearm and my left hand, and parts of my leg.  It stung quite a bit.

Blurry photo of forearm

I also managed to fall in such a way that my vagina padding (I don’t really know how else to describe that particular area) landed hard on a stray rock.  It was sore, and remains tender.  No photo attached.

After brushing myself off, and being grateful that I had put long sleeves on during the puncture repairs, we continued for a while, but we were slowed down as Dylan and I decided to dismount every time we came across one of those pesky drainage ditches.  This meant that having a bike at this point was more of a burden than anything, and we convinced Ian that this is where we should ditch them.  Reluctantly (but wisely) he agreed, and changed into his hiking gear.

It was at this point we had our first time check.  What we thought would take us just under an hour had taken us just over two and a half.  Even with the cycle portion being mainly downhill on the way back, the treacherous terrain meant we wouldn’t be much faster.  If we were to get Dylan back in time for his babysitting duties, we had only two hours to hike.  Despite this, we decided to set off and see how far we managed in an hour, and then decide what to do.

I led the way along a path with a slow but steady incline.  I was already tired by this point, especially after a 10 mile trail run on Friday evening after work, but we were making decent progress, so we kept going.  Until we didn’t.  Mr. Map Man (Ian, who had delegated himself as the trek leader because he is just soooooooooooo amazing at map reading and all that) said that we weren’t on the right path, even though I pointed out that we were still heading in the right direction.  He pointed to a spot on the map where we “definitely were”, and said that the path would soon go back down the mountain before going up again, meaning we would lose all the height we had just gained.  Dylan and I looked at the path ahead which clearly climbed steadily before breaking into two paths, BOTH of which only went up.  I said I wanted to continue on the path because it was obvious that the path did not “go down” any time soon.  I was overruled by Map Man.

We went off the path and headed up a steep incline on the side of a mountain.  I was moody, and complained that as it was nearly 2:00 pm and I hadn’t really eaten since breakfast at 8:00 am, I needed food.  Immediately.  The Mapped Master said we could “reward our efforts” by eating at the top of the ascent.  I reminded him that food = fuel, and I was lacking energy, so if he wanted to see the summit, I needed to eat.  The compromise was that we would eat halfway up.  The beginning of this extra shitty experience is indicated by the red arrow on the elevation profile of our ‘adventure’ below.

Attempt to reach the summit of Ben Avon

We had lunch, continued to the top, and then tried to work out where the official ‘top’ was (the highest point – it doesn’t count if you don’t make it there).

Now, surely from atop a freaking mountain, you could see where said freaking mountain looked highest.  I located what I believed to be the top, and point it out to Map Man, adding that the path we were on looked as though it led straight there. He, after carefully assessing his precious map, dismissed my crazy ideas and pointed in the opposite direction.  We walked onwards, heading towards a summit that Map Man believed would yield a view of the official top once we were over it.  What it actually yielded was a sheer drop and about 15 miles of wilderness below.  Another careful study of the increasingly useful map seemed to indicate that the summit I pointed out, that we had actively been distancing ourselves from, was in fact the official top.  However, at this point, we only had enough time to turn back, as we had officially run out of time.  Ian was grumpy about this.

“The most masterful map reader on the planet” – Nobody

Masterful map reader, Ian, told us the ‘path’ (no path existed) he intended to use for the ascent was “this way”, and we would be taking it back down to the bikes.  We passed some cliffs and stuff, which for some reason, were not on the map in the place where Ian said we were.  He brushed many things off saying it was “an old map”.  My confidence in his navigation skills were plummeting, but we had some nice views to keep us sweet.

Loch in the mountains

We got back to the bikes (eventually) and Dylan realized his tire was flat.  We pumped it up, hoping that the speedy job we did earlier would hold up for 8 or so miles.  As we were running so far behind schedule, Dylan and I went ahead while Ian changed back into his cycling stuff.  You could really notice the downhill advantage (in between the crappy drainage ditches), and we were doing relatively well.  I stopped at the drainage ditch I had my fall at to take a ‘survivor’s photo’:

That round rock is the main culprit.  Ian in the distance.

And Ian approaching.

Just as we were about to get going again, Dylan heard a hissing sound from his rear tire (again).  Punctures number 3 and 4 had reared their ugly heads.

Puncture repairs, part 2

We were pretty much not having fun by this point.  The first attempt at repairing the new punctures was unsuccessful, and set us back even longer.  We were overtaken by a pair of cyclists we had overtaken earlier (they had a puncture) and we would overtake them again later (they had another puncture).  We were overtaken by walkers….  The clouds started to roll in.

Clouds. And mountain.

Knowing that we would be late, we tried to get a bit speedier once we got going again.  The OK-but-riddled-with-drainage-ditches section ended, and the spattered-with-miniature-boulders-and-scarily-downhill section began.  After my tumble, I became very friendly with my brakes, and refused to just let go and ‘enjoy’ myself.  Just as the rocky path turned into the dirt track section, Dylan’s tire went flat again.  It was decided that he would run, pushing his bike along, and Ian and I would cycle ahead and get the bikes onto the rack, and get the car ready to go.

When the track turned into country road, and then into paved road (downhill), I began smiling again.  We got back to the car and waited for Dylan, who showed up about 15 minutes later.  We got the bikes onto/into the car, and set off.

To cut a long story short, we didn’t manage to get to either of the tops we had planned to, Dylan was one hour late for babysitting, I am in a significant amount of pain today, and Ian has the navigational skills of a blind, dying goldfish (I may be exaggerating as yesterday is still fresh, but Ian has successfully navigated many times before).  It turns out, if we stuck to the path, it would have taken us directly to the top of Ben Avon.  It also turns out that where he THOUGHT we were for the entire journey was not where we actually were.  He was totally off.  He also, reluctantly, agreed that we should have maybe ditched the bikes earlier.

Ian, reading this: “Rachel!  That’s not fair!  I was only slightly off, and I got us almost to the top!”

Either way, we spent a sunny Saturday cycling and hiking through nearly 22 miles of nature, so it wasn’t a complete failure, unlike my ‘long run’ today.  I had planned 16 miles, but my body vigorously protested to that thought when I woke up this morning.  In the end, I managed 6 slow miles and called it a day.  At this point, finishing the marathon in 3 weeks will be enough.

And since this is a running blog, essentially, and features medals, here is a photo of the medal Ronnie got today at the Braemar half marathon (the colourful one), and the medal he got for the Moray half marathon last weekend (in the middle) along with the BRG Coastal Challenge medal we both got back in August for the 17.5 mile run along the coast:

L-R: BRG Coastal Challenge, Moray Half Marathon, Braemar Half Marathon

+200 points to anyone who actually read that entire post (redeemable in favours (non-sexual) by me upon earning 7,000).  Until next time!

A History of Panic

The last week has been really tough.  I’m back at work after 7 weeks off for the summer holidays.  My brain has gone from being ‘stretched’ to calculating my finishing time during long runs (and calculating how many scoops of ice-cream I can afford with the change jingling from between my two sports bras), to having to teach teenagers and try to stay on top of witty comebacks to smart asses.  Last Friday I felt like I had been hit by a bag of bricks.  I guess running a 17.5 mile race on the Saturday, and then helping my friend Grant move into his new (bangin’) apartment didn’t really provide me with a restful weekend, either.  This is probably why I have not run as much as I should have since school started back.  This is also why I collapsed into a heap on my sofa yesterday after work and pretty much dozed on and off until this morning, waking only to microwave a baked potato and load it with cheese.  I was wiped out!

Today was just a kick in the balls, though.  I got home, changed for spin, and actually walked the mile and a half to the gym.  I felt dizzy and whacked out, and by the time I got there I was mildly freaked out by my state, and decided to call it a day.  I cancelled my space, bought some new sheets at the superstore next door (comfort shopping bargain bin bedding is comforting sometimes), and headed home, getting progressively more annoyed with my recent lack of discipline, but also mildly concerned that it felt like I was on a ship navigating rough seas.

As soon as I got home I started getting the warning signs of a panic attack.  Wide pupils (I check religiously, and even check reactions to varying levels of light), dizziness, metallic taste in my mouth, numbness and tingling all over, rapid heart beat.  Essentially, a great big ball of ‘fuck you, Rachel!’  On the verge of a complete freak out (envision pacing the flat like a maniac and having emergency services on speed dial – yes, it gets  that bad), I found myself lacing my running shoes, grabbing my music, and power walking down the stairs.

I listened to nothing but Lana Del Ray, who somehow lulled me into a sense of calm (her music makes me think dying would be kind of alright.  Not ideal running music, but it had a decent effect tonight). I ignored my heart rate and pace.  I wore my ‘Running Sucks’ t-shirt, and chugged uphill past a dude wearing a ‘Keep Running’ t-shirt who had given up (ha!). I ran into a friend and her new boyfriend and stopped for a quick hello.  I pushed 8 miles out of legs I thought would scream for mercy before I started (I guess this is what ‘rest’ days are good for!).

But the best bit?  I managed to prevent a panic attack from kicking in, big style.  I haven’t managed to do that very often.  You can stop reading here (probably wise), or you can continue and read my about how panic attacks briefly (if you count nearly a year as ‘brief’) took over my life.

***

I had my first panic attack on New Year’s Eve, 2010.  I was in Houston visiting family, and we had all gone to the gym for a bit of a workout.  I had already been for a run around Rice University a couple of times in the morning, so I kept it light and did 20 minutes on the elliptical machine, and some weights with my mom.  I wasn’t pushing the boat out by any means, I was just putting in a token effort so that Body Pump would hurt slightly less when I flew home.

After I had finished, I read a couple of magazines while the rest of the family got in a bit more.  I remember feeling a bit funny – kind of dizzy and nauseous – but put it down to jet lag and had some water.  By the time we left, I still felt funny, and there was a dull ache in my arms and my fingertips were tingling.

I should take a moment to fill you in on my overactive imagination.  I am a full-blown hypochondriac.  I am totally aware of that.  But when I work myself into a state of panic, rational thought loses the battle for space in my mind.  If there’s a strange outbreak of some fatal disease within flying distance (i.e. Earth), then I start experiencing the symptoms as soon as they’re listed.  And although I convince myself I have somehow found myself as a host for the latest strain of the Black Death, after about 10 minutes I have managed to slap some sense into myself.

New Year’s Eve, 2010 was different.  It was the first time I had physical symptoms at the same time as my mental freak-out. The dizziness, dull ache, and tingling fingers I have already mentioned.  In the car, on the way home, I started getting palpitations, sweating, and my vision blurred.  I had pretty much convinced myself I was having a heart attack, and I started losing my marbles, big style, in the car.  I was

hyperventilating and demanding to be taken to the hospital.  My parents seemed pretty unfazed, which made it worse, and my brother was in hysterics.  The fact that I was too scared to punch him was testament to my fear.

I am ashamed now, but at the time we passed a traffic accident with an ambulance at the scene, and I screamed to, “Stop the f**king car!  That crash looks bad, there’s maybe nothing the ambulance can do! I need help more!”  I was so convinced I was dying that my basic instinct to survive quashed any sympathy for the people in the car accident.  My parents pulled into a parking lot and let me sit outside on the ground, telling me I was having a panic attack and to calm down.   After a few minutes, and not clutching my chest during painful final gasps for air, the rational part of my brain had come back into the office, and I had calmed down a bit.

That night, my parents were going to a party held by an old family friend, but my brother didn’t want to go.  I really didn’t want to risk public humiliation by having another meltdown in front of people I see rarely, but I also definitely did not want to be left alone, so I was glad that my brother was not feeling the party spirit.

We ended up staying at home.  I made pumpkin and cinnamon pancakes and we washed them down with root beer.  We watched back-to-back episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras, but when the 30-minute Brazilian Butt-Lift infomercial came on, it got a bit weird.  Essentially, we were pretty rock and roll that night, and, more importantly, I did not die.  My parents got back some time after one, and then we all went to bed.

When I flew home a few days later, I had put the panic attack to the back of my mind, and kind of assumed it was just a weird, isolated incident brought on by jet-lag/exhaustion.  I really, really wish that had been the case.

Pretty much the next year of my life was wrecked by constant fear.  I felt dizzy all the time – whenever I walked anywhere, it felt like the ground was shifting permanently.  Or like I was on a boat.  It got to the point where I avoided nights out, and often the gym, because when you’re on a stationary spin bike that feels more like a jet ski, things are bad.  I harassed my GP surgery, begging to be checked over several times, by several doctors because I was still convinced something was very wrong.  I had blood tests, urine tests, an ECG, motor skills tests…  They all came to the conclusion that I was suffering from anxiety, and the culprit was stress.  Fabulous.

The only flaw in my ability to accept that as an answer was the fact that I didn’t feel stressed.  I felt fine (all things considered), and didn’t really feel like there was any pressure on me to do anything.  I’m pretty laid back about deadlines and stuff – always have been – so I told myself there was no way I could be stressed.

But then, there had been a lot happening with my family, including my grandmother passing away.  I had struggled to claw my way into a job that was by no means secure.  I had moved into my first apartment.  I was also going to be having an operation.  It seems that even if you don’t I feel stressed out, stress finds a way of infecting your life sometimes.

It has been nearly 2 years since my first panic attack, and I have had ups and downs.  While I am no longer afraid to be left alone for more than a few minutes (especially at night), I still get dizzy and taste a weird metallic taste sometimes.  I try to think more positively when I start to get worked into a panic, and I have only had one rocking-on-my-floor-in-tears panic attack this year that has nearly made me phone home for reassurance.  Hopefully this is just a really crappy phase in my life that is coming to an end.  If not, well, I always tell myself, “It didn’t kill me last time,” and feel marginally more optimistic.

I used to think people who said they suffered from panic attacks were just big sissies, but I can tell you it is no small thing.  I still sometimes fret before a race that I’m not fit enough to compete, especially after reading about seemingly healthy people getting into trouble before the finish line.  But what all of this has taught me is that if something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen.  Wasting time worrying that something might happen is throwing away chunks of your life that could be spent enjoying it.

And yes, I’m totally aware I sound preachy and possibly under the influence of some hippy spell with that closing statement, but I guess we’ll both just have to live with that.

Cold beer tastes good, and other obvious things.

Well I am currently sitting on the sofa after my longest training run to date: 16 miles.  It was slow.  It was painful.  But it is now behind me, and I have inhaled a croissant, a Rice Krispie Square, a Dr. Pepper, a lemonade, and a Sprite.  And shortly I will be cooking chorizo carbonara!  It’s from a cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and it is TO DIE FOR.  This is not a recipe blog, but I warn you, I might stick the details for this up because it is like sex for your mouth.

Anyway, the sun made an appearance today, but the forecast for tomorrow is rain.  My schedule called for 8 miles today and 16 tomorrow, but because I hate rain, I thought I’d get the long run out of the way so I would hate my life less tomorrow.

Background: my gym. Foreground: building being demolished. This photo was taken a couple of days ago, and most of the building was gone when I ran past it today.

My plans to make parkrun and then blast out another 13 miles were scuppered by what I got up to last night (more on that to come), but sometime around 1:30, I made my way outside and headed for the beach, where I had decided to do uninspiring laps.  Upon reaching the promenade, I spotted one of the Fetch girls, Naomi, chugging along and decided to join her, since I knew she was somewhere along in her 20 mile run.  It turns out she had 4 left, so I stayed with her until she finished, and then continued on, glad that the first 6 miles had flown by.  Soon after going solo, my fan from the Stonehaven half marathon ran past me, going in the opposite direction and shouted hello (I really should catch his name one day).  The sun was out, I was smiling, life was good.

And then it wasn’t.  At about mile 8 everything started to hurt.  My shin splints resurfaced.  My calves felt like they were being flogged every time I put weight on them.  Even my neck felt like it was stiffening up.  I took some walk breaks, and soldiered on, knowing that when it was all over and done with, I could relax and stuff my face.  I was toying with the idea of writing about my thoughts during the second half of the run, but they’re all pretty much unpublishable.  I’ll just say I’m glad it’s done.

Anyway, life is not all about running.  It’s also about beer and enjoying yourself.  Last night was a time for both of those things.  Prepare yourself for photos of me that are actually flattering, because as this is primarily a blog about my running endeavors, this does not happen frequently.  It was Ian’s friend’s 30th, and we had decided to make an appearance, since we don’t go out nearly as much as we used to (translation: we’re getting old and boring).  I spent a considerable amount of time making my face look presentable (10 minutes, tops), and Ian may have showered.  Because I spent so much time prepping, I felt I needed to document this with a photo*:

Self shot

I asked Ian to take a couple as well:

I guess he felt the laundry basket added something, so he didn’t crop it out.

But I do sometimes question his photography skills…..

Seriously unskilled, I mean, he totally cut off half my face.

Anyway, we arrived at the party after the band had played, but during the karaoke.  We heard some splendid renditions of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ and ‘Bat out of Hell’.  And then?  Party games, of course!  And what better way to get the party started than by playing ‘Pin the moustache on Nicholas Cage’? Yes, seriously.

The ‘pinner’ had a variety of options…

We have a winner (and a not-so-successful participant)!!

After the party games, I dove right into the food spread and gobbled a few profiteroles (delicious), before settling into a comfortable seat and enjoying some beautiful cold beer.

Delicious.  I even shaved my legs!

Ian found another luxurious seat and reclined with his adult beverage, basking in the glory that can only be felt by a wearer of the 3 wolf moon t-shirt:

Stylishly, and effortlessly, seductive.

It was a later night than planned, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I exercised some self-restraint last night (this morning) and DID NOT eat my two leftover slices of pizza, instead choosing to save them for the morning.  Thank you, slightly beered-up Rachel, you’re a gem.

Anyway, a good night was had, a horrendous, but successful run was had, and very shortly a cream-laden carbonara will have been had.  I’m excited, guys.  It’s the little things.

*Yes, I am totally fishing for compliments.

The fame continues…

Well, after becoming a hit in Serbia (I think – my Croatian is not what you’d call fluent), and after being quoted in a national newspaper, it was only a matter of time before the BBC came after me.  It seems their cheeky paparazzi caught me at the Kilt Run on Saturday and featured my face in their slideshow of Jubilee celebrations in Scotland!

Spotted!

Obviously I have been in touch with my parents to let them know that I will expect nothing less than pure white, 100% Egyptian cotton sheets when I come to visit in October.  They have also been informed that security will need to be beefed up during my stay to avoid being hounded by the Houston press.*

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pre-autograph some photos to save myself time when the masses of fans come knocking at my door.  **

 

* I got the feeling, somehow, that they weren’t really taking me seriously.

** Just in case there is any doubt whatsoever, I’m joking.