Glenlivet 10k 2014

Time: 55:07 [Results]

Medal: Yes, and a miniature of whisky!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me + Elaine at after the race.

Me + Elaine at after the race.

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

Inside one of the 'small' warehouses...

Inside one of the ‘small’ warehouses…

Different sizes of barrels

Different sizes of barrels

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

Tasting time.

Tasting time.

Elaine tasting her 18 year old Glenlivet.

Elaine tasting her 18 year old Glenlivet.

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

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

D33 Ultramarathon 2014

Time:  6:20:00

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140315_171853The D33 was set up by George Reid as a longer distance race to help build up to the Highland Fling in April.  The same Highland Fling that somehow I am going to attempt to complete in just over a month.  Entries for the D33 opened a little early this time around, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, and as I sat at my parents’ kitchen table in Houston eating pasta and preparing for the Texas marathon, I became the 42nd person to enter this year’s race.

I have done a few training runs with some of the Stonehaven running club runners, and this race was in the schedule as the longest training run before April’s race.  I had a few goals for this, the most important being: don’t get injured, have fun, and finish.  Joining in the pre-race chatter online, I had been invited to run with Kate, Vicki, and Geraldine as our final training run as a group.  The thought of having company throughout the race was appealing, especially the race was on Kate’s birthday, so spirits were bound to be high.

Race morning was overcast and a bit breezy, but nothing that would blow tiles off a roof.  I had been keeping my eye on the forecast all week, and it fluctuated between sunshine and 14 degrees, and rain and 7 degrees.  But relying on the forecast in this country is futile, so I was pleased that it wasn’t too windy, but worried about the heavy cloud.

At about 7:30, I left my apartment and walked about a mile to Duthie Park to register.  Several friends were volunteering and it was nice to see familiar faces ordering me about with instructions on where to put my (pitiful) drop bags for the 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 checkpoints.  Eventually more and more runners descended upon my local park, and I ran into more recognizable faces, some also popping their ultra cherry.

Eventually Kate, Vicki, Geraldine and I all found each other.  They were decked out in club vests and some rather flashy socks in their club colours which attracted a lot of attention during the day, and 3 of us were all wearing the same purple Camelbak.  We also found Tina, from Aberdeen Metro runners, who was cautious because she was running on a dodgy ankle and fancied a steady group to keep her company.

Kate and I missed the race briefing because we were in a queue for the porta loo, but made it back to our group on the start line with a couple of minutes to spare.  Then came a countdown, and we were off!

The railway line that I normally ran along was packed with neon flashes as we churned out the first mile.  Tina and I fell in behind a group of women that were keeping us at a reasonable pace, and were chatting about a training weekend along part of the Fling route in a couple of weeks.  We were soon joined by another woman and Claudia.  I noticed that we were a little ahead of Kate, Geraldine, and Vicki, so when Tina overtook the group after a couple of miles, I fell back and the rest went ahead, looking strong. Unfortunately, a mile or so later, the four of us ran past Tina, Claudia, and +1 off to the side, Tina holding a tissue covered in blood, and blood all over her knee.  I asked if they were ok, and Tina seemed in good enough spirits and said she was fine, so we kept going, assuming she had just scraped her knee and was otherwise alright.  It turns out, she had gone over her ankle (again), and decided to be sensible and pull out.  Photos of her swollen ankle that turned up later on Facebook confirmed that she probably made the best decision, but she was, and is, understandably gutted.

It was around this point that I noticed a host of niggles that I panicked would leave me at the side of the course, writhing in agony later on, but thankfully most of these gradually faded away throughout the day.  The same couldn’t quite be said for birthday girl Kate, however, as she had been suffering from plantar fasciitis, and had even been told by her physio not to run the race.  On her birthday.  With friends.  So obviously she ignored that, and for the start, at least, everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Photo: Ryan Roberts

Photo: Ryan Roberts

Vicki was a strict task master, and we were following her run for 30 minutes/walk for 3 rule.  The walk breaks gave us an opportunity to take in fuel, an assortment of sweet and salty snacks, as well as let our heartrates come down a bit/stretch out any tight areas.  Initially, it felt a bit silly to be walking 30 minutes into a race when we were running at such a conversational pace, but if that’s what it takes to run 33 miles with no ill-effects afterwards, then I’m a believer.

We hit checkpoint one/three (it’s an out and back course), where Naomi and Suzy were waiting to hand us our drop bags (a bag of salted crisps for me), and chatted for a bit before setting off again, hoping that we were still as cheerful on the way back.  After about 14 miles, we hit Milton of Crathes, where Kate’s family were all waiting for her, and we stopped again for a toilet/oatmeal raisin cookie break (to the creator of those, they were amazing!).  I also took this opportunity to text ahead as someone marshalling at the halfway checkpoint wanted to present Kate with a ‘birthday flapjack’ (flapjack with a candle rammed inside it).

At Milton of Crathes.  No idea why it looks like I'm checking out Kate's rack.

At Milton of Crathes. No idea why it looks like I’m checking out Kate’s rack.

By this point, the faster runners had started to pass us on their way back, and we encouraged them as they all flew by.  Eventually, we made the halfway point and stopped for a chat, some snacks, and to refill camelbaks.  I think once we set off, we were all a little bit happier because we knew every step we took took us closer to the finish line instead of farther away.  The sun came out.  I was nearly what I would classify as ‘warm’.  I was happy.

There weren’t too many people behind us, which became apparent on our way back.  Soon we ran past the ‘Grim Sweeper’, looking cheerful at the back.  By this point, Kate’s feet were causing her a lot of pain, and there were murmurings of stopping at the 3/4 checkpoint, but we stuck with the run/walk strategy and pushed on.  We were also picking off a few walkers who were clearly hurting, and we were grateful that on the whole, we were feeling comfortable.

The 3/4 checkpoint arrived, and we took a little while to chat/replenish supplies.  I packed some dried fruit into my camelback and added a little water, as I’d run out.  I also drank half a bottle of lucozade, but chucked the rest, and added the rest of my food to the ‘free-for-all’ pile on the table.

At the 3/4 checkpoint

At the 3/4 checkpoint

1926824_10201508899193102_717979712_nBy this point, Kate reasoned that she couldn’t really do too much more damage to her feet in another 8-ish miles, so the four of us continued as a group.  I phoned Ian to let him know roughly when we’d be finished, but also requested that he bring something to hand over to me before the finish line.

I remember looking down at my Garmin at about 26 miles and thinking how strong I felt for completeing a marathon distance, when normally I’m ready to crumble in a heap and go for a nap.  The next time I looked down, the distance read 27.2 miles, and I was out of known territory!  With about 5 miles to go, we all stopped for a photo with a sign somebody had put out for Kate’s birthday:

1907565_10152314998593792_666196150_nWith less than a 5k to go, I found myself involuntarily speeding up, and then trying to reel myself in.  Then Ian appeared on his bike and cycled beside us.

Now, I wanted to finish my first ultra in style, so obviously I had asked for Ian to bring me a pair of high heels to cross the finish line in.  About a mile from the end, we came across Vicki’s husband, Ian, who was struggling.  Vicki told me to go on ahead and that they would walk with Ian for a bit.  Ian (my Ian) and I went on, and as I turned the corner into Duthie park, he produced my heels from his rucksack, and cycled off to the side. Ronnie had been for his long run already, so was at the finish with his camera in hand:

Appraching the finish line.  Carrying heels.

Appraching the finish line. Carrying heels.

About 10 feet before the finish line, I stopped and stepped to the side.  One of the marshalls told me, “You’re not finished yet, love, you need to go a bit further.”  Then I put my heels on the ground and started untying the laces of my trainers.  She laughed, as did the crowd at the finish line.  I managed to wedge my feet into my heels, and, somehow, stand up unaided, before strutting across the finish line as Kate, Vicki, and Geraldine came in behind me, holding hands.

Because, why not?

Because, why not?

Geraldine, Vicki, and Kate.

Geraldine, Vicki, and Kate.

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And with that, I was an ultramarathoner.  And I felt OK!  I got my medal, goody bag, and swapped my heels for flip flops, and spoke to some of the other finishers, and some of my friends who had come down to watch the finish and cheer in runners.  Not long after, Ian and I walked back to my flat, where I showered and threw on compression socks, and had a failed nap attempt before heading to the train station en route to the after party in Stonehaven.  Many a beer were enjoyed (although I’m pretty sure I owe a few people a round), and I clumsily made it back to my own bed via the second to last train home.

This morning I am suffering no more than I would had I gone out for a 15 mile run, which gives me a bit more confidence for the Fling.  However, despite getting through an ultra marathon with no hassle, I did end up bleeding and in tears after thwacking myself in the face with my mobile phone this morning, which is swelling up a treat, and will no doubt look terrific for work tomorrow.

For now though?  A burger I think.

D33 route

D33 route

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.

Texas Marathon 2014

Time: 4:22:30 [RESULTS]

Position: 83/301

Medal: Hell yes.

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I feel that it is necessary to mention that the photo above means absolutely nothing without something to give you an accurate sense of scale.  Something like my entire head.  So behold, in all its 3.3lbs of neck-breaking glory, the Texas marathon medal, as modelled by myself:

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I guess everything really is bigger in Texas.

Ridiculous medal aside, this race was not all happiness and glory.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I had a restless night, and awoke to some serious stomach cramping (again – I had been plagued by tummy troubles for a few days).  After the early morning drive to Kingwood for registration, I offloaded my belongings onto my parents to gain a little respite in the porta loo, somewhat grateful that the sun had yet to rise, as nobody would be able to see my face if they had the misfortune of entering the cubicle after me.  The UNFLUSHING cubicle, might I add.  I have no idea if this is normal for US races, but the UK porta loos all have a sort of flush mechanism.  I appreciate it more now.

After evacuating all of my breakfast and any fluids I had tried to take in, I met my parents, grabbed everything I needed for the race, and told them to aim to pick me up about 4.5 hours after the start.  Then I walked over to the growing crowd of runners and made casual chit chat with some of the locals (and not so locals – I met a guy with parents from Aberdeen!), trying to ignore how crappy (ha ha ha) I felt.

At 7:45 the race medal was unveiled.  Not normally a fan of seeing what the medal will look like until the finish, I genuinely feel I have to attribute feasting my eyes on this magnificent specimen to helping me finish the race.  Several times I almost talked myself into dropping down to the half, especially since there was no hope of getting a PB (in my mind) feeling the way I did, but I knew I’d be annoyed at myself for giving up.

After the national anthem and a welcome from the super friendly race organizers, Steve and Paula Boone, the marathoners set off at 8am (followed by the half marathoners at 8:15).  The course consists of four 6.55 mile loops on greenbelts in Kingwood, and although there were a couple of nice sections by lakes (during which I could watch herons flying low for snacks), the majority reminded me a lot of running along the Deeside railway line in Aberdeen – not very inspiring after the first mile of running between trees and other plants.

I completed the first loop in 1:02:08 and wanting to quit.  My breathing was heavy, my heart rate was high, and although my legs felt great, I was fatigued and out of fuel.  Bonking after 5 miles is not a great feeling.  Still, with a race cut-off of ‘sundown’, I thought at the very worst, I could walk the damn thing.

Lap 2 was a bit slower at 1:04:10, and just before I finished the lap, I ran past Raquel, who I met after she got in touch after reading my blog, and we stopped for a photo together.  I won’t lie, I was relieved for the short rest!

Rachel and Raquel

Rachel and Raquel

I had set myself the arbitrary goal of getting to the halfway point before I allowed myself to listen to music.  About a mile before the turnaround, however, I pushed this back to 15 miles.  Then the next water station (every 1.5 miles or so, and thankfully all stocked with porta loos).  Until, before I knew it, I had completed lap 3 (in 1:07:40 – body slowly failing), and decided to ‘treat myself’ to some tunes I had downloaded during the previously mentioned restless night.

Lap 4 was sheer agony.  I wanted to walk the entire thing.  I wanted to stop.  I wanted to be in a soundproof toilet.  After necking my body weight in Powerade at the aid stations in an attempt to put any kind of fuel into my body, I was sloshing around so much that at first I was getting annoyed at the person behind me for having such a loud bottle of water.  Until I realized there was nobody there.  And the sound was coming from inside me.  It must have made a slight difference though, because, despite more frequent walk breaks, my pace when I was running was pretty much constantly 9:30/mile.  I staggered to the end of the 4th lap in 1:09:38 to cheers of “Come on Rachel!”, only to realize my parents had arrived early and were both taking (numerous, it would seem) photos.  I was so, so happy to finish in under 4:30, and my second fastest marathon to date (fine – out of 4).

photo

Crossing the finish line, I was handed (and nearly floored by) my medal, and given a squeezy elephant with my finisher’s number on it.  While the official results say I was 83rd, I got handed the squeezy elephant for 82nd place, but since my chip time is faster (marginally) than the guy in 82nd place, I feel no guilt in sticking with it.

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There was also post race pizza, cookies, soda, and all sorts, but after a stretch and a few minutes to just stay still, all I could manage was half a slice of cheese pizza and a small cup of sprite.

While this wasn’t the race I wanted it to be, it did reiterate to me how important it is to get proper fuel for longer distances.  With ultras on the horizon, fuelling is something everyone says makes or breaks your race, so I’m definitely keen to start practicing with different foods on my longer runs now.  However, as much as I do believe that getting enough calories down my throat is important, it’s good to know that I can claw through 26.2 miles on next to nothing, even if it was less than pleasant.

It’s also good to know that I have 26 miles clocked up for 2014 already.  And that tomorrow is a rest day.

Aviemore half marathon 2013

Time: 2:02:57 [RESULTS HERE]

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

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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.

Crathes 1/2 marathon 2013

Time: 1:57:01 [RESULTS HERE]

Medal: Yes

Crathes 1/2 marathon medal

Crathes 1/2 marathon medal

Crathes half marathon was earmarked in my diary as my last longish training run before Loch Ness, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about my time.  In fact, I was aiming for around 2:05 as I had coerced Ronnie into cycling from Aberdeen to the start line, running the half, and then cycling back – roughly a 35 mile round trip on the bikes.  And because some people are scum, I didn’t really fancy leaving my belongings (change of clothes, wallet, phone, keys, food, water, random crap) hanging off my bike, so opted to wear my rucksack during the run.  So basically, I have no idea how I managed to run my fastest half marathon of the year.

I woke up at about 6:30 for a shower, and noticed that walking was painful.  Having stopped doing my regular weights workouts about three months ago because I’ve been having issues with my abs (long, annoying story I won’t subject you to because I get really frustrated when I think about it), it was maybe not the wisest idea to partake in a weights class on the Thursday, opting for the weights I regularly would have because I cannot handle having less weight than somebody in a weights class (at least if it’s an after school activity, and half the class are teenage girls).  Even before I was squatting and lunging like my life depended on it, I was thinking this is dumb, Rachel.  Why do you keep doing dumb things?  I hate you.  My more competitive voice was just shouting MORE WEIGHT WEAK HUMAN!  I guess we know who won that argument.

After my shower, I confirmed with Ronnie that cycling was still on, because the forecast was good, and I felt that with winter looming we needed to take advantage of clear skies while we still could.  We met at Ian’s at about 9, and set off about 15 minutes later into a chilly headwind.  Taking the back roads from Peterculter meant no annoying traffic, but it did mean a few slight undulations to warm up the legs.  I was surprised at how fine my legs felt on the bike, and I had hoped that I would feel fabulous after my warm up.  Ha.

I mainly took this photo for the police, should someone steal our bikes.

I mainly took this photo for the police, should someone steal our bikes.

Once we arrived at Crathes, we locked up our bikes and Ian sped off back home to do some yard work and weights.  Sadly, when I stepped off my bike I still felt like a cripple, so I just tried to remind myself that I got through the Forfar 1/2 marathon, and the Dundee 1/2 marathon this year in a similar level of pain.  I was not anticipating an easy couple of hours when I registered and collected my t-shirt.

It was kind of cold, so I threw on my old favourite hoodie.  The one I used to wear practically every day.  When I looked more like this, and it was ‘fitted’:

Fat people + hot weather = unpleasant

Fat people + hot weather = unpleasant

Apparently wearing clothing that sits on you like a tent isn’t very flattering, so you’ll just have to take my word that I don’t look this fat in real life, but that my legs are indeed my worst feature.  So I’m extra excited that they are accentuated in this group shot:

Back row (l-r): Naomi, me, Shona, Susan, Ann, Maz.  Front row (l-r): Suzy, June, Lesley

Back row (l-r): Naomi, me, Shona, Susan, Ann, Maz. Front row (l-r): Suzy, June, Lesley

We had our obligatory bathroom breaks, before settling into the crowd at the start line.  The countdown happened, and we started pretty much on time, before shuffling over the starting line.  Ronnie and I were running together, and we remarked on our rather admirable pace in the first mile and a half.  Expecting to burn out early, we restrained ourself to a more conservative pace until just after 2 miles, when Ronnie started experiencing pain and cramping in his calf.  After it worsened for another minute, I told him to walk and stretch it out, which we did.  After about a minute, I asked if he was ready to run again, but he did not look happy, and told me a couple of times to just go on.  Once he said he was sure, I took off, and that’s the last time I saw him until he finished.

The course was undulating, but there are no shocker hills to attack, so it’s just a case of pushing on until you get a little downhill break.  My pack felt kind of heavy, and the sun had come out, so I had definitely warmed up.  I still looked down at my garmin to see a pace that I thought would last until maybe 7 or 8 miles before I began to struggle, but though to hell with it and kept going.  I think the fact that the route is along back roads as well as country tracks kept it interesting enough for me not to obsess over checking my pace too often, but was pleasantly surprised every time I looked down.

At about ten miles, we were directed onto a second off road track, and it’s here that I remember starting to overtake quite a few people, but I was feeling fine.  In fact, it wasn’t until just before mile 12 that I started to hurt.  My bag straps were digging into my neck, and my legs started to feel heavy, but by this point I knew that all I’d need to do to get a sub 2 time is stay under 10 minute miles.  Just to be safe, I pushed on a bit.  Exactly what I should be doing two weeks before a marathon, I’m sure.  I passed Kate (who seemed to be full of energy and encouraging a couple of club members to the finish), and made it my mission to catch up to whoever was in front of me.  Then whoever was in front of them.  Ad nauseum.

I remembered a long and punishing uphill section from about mile 12 last year, but I didn’t really notice too much of a hill this year (that’s got to be a good sign – thank you trail workouts).  Before I knew it, I was turning left onto the service entrance for Crathes Castle and knew this race was as good as done.  Elated, I sped down the grassy finish chute and across the line, stopping my Garmin (I remembered!) and hobbling over the the people cutting off the chips from our laces.  Hobbling is pretty accurate.  My legs hated me.

I waited for Ronnie to come in, and then waited for some of our other friends, most notably Suzy who was running her first half marathon and came in just over 2 and a half hours.  I also met a Claire, a girl I’ve interacted a bit with online, and who is also running Loch Ness in two weeks.  Apparently she spent the whole race using me as a pacer without knowing who I was.  I also had a very pretty lady come up and ask if I was ‘medal slut’ and I’m sure I was completely awkward, so if you’re reading then I am very flattered and felt like a rock star, but I am also kind of crap when I’m put on the spot, so I hope I didn’t come across as a creep!

After everyone had come in, Ronnie and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we now had to cycle back home, so we packed up, unlocked our bikes, and set off, passing some of the final finishers and shouting encouragement as we cycled past.  Luckily, our route home took in parts of the course, and we happened upon an unmanned water station.  Ronnie took full advantage of the already opened bottles and filled up his own stash:

Ronnie, modelling this year's fetching turquoise shirt.

Ronnie, modelling this year’s fetching turquoise shirt.

Despite a few angry moments as we came back into town – there were road works going on and a few of the drivers didn’t seem to understand the significance of a cycle lane – we made it home unscathed, and I was glad to get cleaned up and out of sweaty clothes.

I wouldn’t hesitate to run this again next year, as the course is pretty fast and varied, it’s close enough to cycle to (Ronnie will hate me again next year), and I love the t-shirt:

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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!

Perth Kilt Run 2013

Time (chip): 27:51 [Results here]

Category Position: 36/183

Medal: Yes

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Short version: You are now in the presence of a World Record holder!

Long version:  After missing out on the World Record to Perth, Canada last year for the number of kilted runners by less than 20 people, I was keen to return to the Perth Kilt run for another shot this year, and, rather amazingly, I had managed to persuade (translation: forced) Ian to sign up last week.  We planned on running around together, but being unenthusiastic about running, Ian wanted to add a couple of items to our Saturday itinerary, including visiting Elcho Castle and exploring a tower that sits precariously at the edge of some cliffs, both within about 5 miles from Perth city center.

Despite setting off early, we ran into one or two navigational issues, and would be cutting it pretty fine for registration if we visited the castle first, so we opted to register before sightseeing, which actually worked out because it meant we could rock up half an hour before the race prepared.  After winding in between farmhouses, we eventually reached Elcho Castle, which is pretty well maintained (as in, it has a roof, and (some) floors, and even some glass in the windows).

Elcho Castle from the front

Elcho Castle from the front

It’s described as a 4-storey mansion, and Ian and I both marvelled at the amount of spiral staircases (and latrines) this place had in comparison to other castles.  After exploring inside, we found that we could even walk along the roof, where there were rooms for people to guard the castle (complete with arrow slits), but with the luxury of their own toilet and fireplace; these people were living the dream!  Being up on the roof also meant excellent views:

View from the guard room on the top floor.

View from the guard room on the top floor.

IMG_20130810_195655From our vantage point, we could see the tower we planned on visiting later in the day above the cliffs in the distance.  If you squint extra hard, you can maybe see the tower on top of the cliffs that kind of look like a shark fin swimming through trees:

IMG_20130810_195624Once we had looked around (and I had embarrassed Ian by playing around with the kid’s fancy dress selection – no photo), we decided to head back into Perth to find a parking spot and ready ourselves for the main event.  We lucked out, scoring what I would imagine was the last free spot at the sports center, and kilted up.  Ian decided on the ‘extra patriotic’ look, perhaps inspired by my Paris ensemble:

Before the Perth Kilt Run

Before the Perth Kilt Run

I swung into the ladies at the sports center for a final bathroom call, and then we ambled towards the start line, marvelling at some of the costumes.  There was even a team of 10 carrying a Chinese dragon:

IMG_20130810_195209Ian and I stood in the starting pen and were just aware of the countdown to the start over the noise of people, and started shuffling forward before settling into a steady pace.  As this was a fun run, there were people pushing strollers, people with dogs, handfuls of small children dotted about the course, so it wasn’t unusual to have to do a bit of weaving, but we were just enjoying the atmosphere.  I even ran into a fellow dailymiler, Gavin, who shot past after saying hello.  Just when we were starting to get warmed up, the finish line came into sight.  I had joked earlier with Ian that we should cross the finish line holding hands like vomit-inducing couples sometimes feel the need to do, but instead he challenged me to a friendly sprint that I couldn’t say no to.  We both sped up, and we could hear Gavin shout, “Go Rachel! Go Ian!” from the crowds.  For the record, I won, although he claims he was “stuck behind someone who darted in front.”

The plan was to set off for the tower, but as we were leaving, Ian’s mind turned to his stomach, so he had a gourmet burger from one of the (several) stalls, while I had some juice and the banana I picked up at the finish.  And a bite of his burger, which was delicious.

Finally, we set off towards Kinnoull Tower, which, believe it or not, sits on top of Kinnoull hill.  Because the tower is at the edge of some pretty steep cliffs, it is unfortunately a popular suicide spot, which we were reminded of as we set off on the woodland walk to the top:

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It was about a mile or so to the top of the hill, but the views from the top were great, and we could even spot the Elcho Castle:

Elcho Castle - in that clump of trees Ian is pointing to

Elcho Castle – in that clump of trees Ian is pointing to

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Dangerous cliffs

Dangerous cliffs

Once back in the car and en route to Aberdeen, I fell asleep, and upon my return enjoyed a warm shower and something tasty to eat.  Another early night (hopefully) for a relay tomorrow!