Smokies 10 Mile Road Race 2014

Time:  1:32:09 [Results]

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

Smokies 10 mile shirt + beanie

Smokies 10 mile shirt + beanie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moo.

Moo.

 

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

Deeside railway line.

Deeside railway line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loch Leven half marathon 2013

Time: 1:59:01

Medal: No, but as it was the race’s 30th anniversary, they splashed out on a commemorative tech tee for all finishers.

The back of the t-shirt

The back of the t-shirt

I’ll freely admit that one of the reasons I signed up to this race is because they were offering a tech tee to all finishers for the anniversary, even though it was clear that this would not benefit my medal haul in any way.  But there was a much more significant reason I decided to take part.  And it’s all down to a fridge magnet.

About 2 years ago, Ian, myself, and our friend Liell decided to visit Loch Leven castle, which happens to be on an island in the middle of, you guessed it, Loch Leven.  To get to the castle you need to catch a boat from the visitor’s centre, where we paid for our ticket and got in line behind a young family.

During our wait, a guy came up and started speaking to the young family.  It was one of those ‘Wow, small world, how are you doing?’ conversations.  He was soon joined by a couple of children pulling at his leg/drooling/making annoying noises.  Then came the wife/mother.  A flawless line cut.  I  was onto their game, and made towards them to articulate my unhappiness about the whole situation, but Ian told me it didn’t matter, because there would be enough room on the boat for everyone.  You can see where this is going, I would imagine.

There was not enough room on the boat.

As the two families sailed towards the island, I held my tongue like a responsible and mature adult, and once they were out of earshot, took out my rage on Ian, who was clearly irritated about the situation as well, but tends to be one of those people who silently simmers, whereas I will explode, act like a dick, and feel equal parts embarrassment and satisfaction after an angry episode.

Eventually, we got a boat to the island, and enjoyed the (beautiful, and totally worth going to visit) castle.  When we were ready to head back, we saw the same family boarding  (and filling) the boat that was about to leave, and had to wait, again, because of the size of their group. By the time we finally got back to the gift shop, it had closed.  This pissed me off because:

  1. I wanted to buy ice-cream, and I had been denied this option
  2. Every time I visit a castle, I buy a souvenir fridge magnet from the gift shop, and now my collection would be incomplete.

Number 2 was obviously more emotionally damaging than I first thought it would be, since over 2 years later I felt it was necessary to enter a half marathon on the basis that I could finally complete my fridge magnet collection. I swear to god, I do have social skills, and I have real friends.  I even have two who had agreed to accompany (and drive) me to Loch Leven:

Proof.

Proof.

[The above photo took, like, ten tries to make sure all of our heads were in shot.  We absolutely looked like assholes in the parking lot.]

Once we had registered, I quickly realized that I was under dressed for the weather, especially next to my two cosy companions with their base layers, and their running jackets, and their hats, and long sleeves.  I guess the freakish sunny/warm weather the weekend before had lulled me into a false sense of security, but who can blame a girl for wanting to get rid of her t-shirt tan?

Teri (happy and warm) and myself (the opposite of that)

Teri (happy and warm) and myself (the opposite of that)

I was ordered to 'smile!'

I was ordered to ‘smile!’

Anyway, the race sold out this year (600), so we huddled next to the other runners as we listened to the bagpipes before the start.  We had decided to run as a group, and set off at a very casual pace, especially as it took about half a mile for the crowds to thin out a bit and find a natural rythm.

Mile 1 – 9:11

Could this be the first half that I finish in under two hours this year?  That first mile felt fairly conservative, and Ronnie and Teri seemed comfortable as well, so we pushed on happily.  Of course, we were pushing on more than we had realized:

Mile 2 – 8:33
Mile 3 – 8:33
Mile 4 – 8:32
Mile 5 – 8:30
Mile 6 – 8:20

Now, my PB is 1:53:28, which is an average pace of 8:37.  I’m still not completely over Paris since I didn’t really give myself a break afterwards, and I hadn’t really rested properly, or been training specifically for a half marathon, so I already knew I was being dumb, and that logic would be right when it told me, “Rachel, you will not be able to maintain this pace.  Slow the fuck down.”   Logic is a bummer sometimes, and I opted for a more carefree approach to my new ‘Destroy my PB’ strategy that appeared out of nowhere, around mile 4.

Ronnie was starting to do his steam engine breathing, but I pleaded with him to keep going at this pace for as long as he could.  Teri was not offering much in the way of conversation either, so I knew we were all kind of pushing way harder than we had intended to.

Me (luminous orange) and Ronnie (black) at around the 6 mile mark.  Photo: Nichola Ritchie

Me (luminous orange) and Ronnie (black) at around the 6 mile mark. Photo: Nichola Ritchie

Ronnie knew I was keeping track of time, and told me to go ahead.  It is around this point that we had started heading back around the other side of the Loch.  Into some pretty strong headwind.  Oh, and up a hill, heralding the start of the course’s ‘undulations’.

Mile 7 – 8:40

This is when things got crappy.  I hadn’t really looked at the elevation profile for the course, and despite a veteran Loch Leven half marathoner warning us in the morning that the first half is relatively flat, and the second half was a mean kick in the teeth, I had chosen to believe that he was completely wrong.  It turns out he wasn’t, much to my chagrin.

Mile 8 – 9:33

Mile 9 – 9:45

Well terrific.  My excitement at running a killer time was killed just as quickly as it appeared.  Today was not going to be a PB day.  But I could still make it to the finish in less than two hours, right?  This became my new goal.  In a race that I started with no goals.

Miles 10 – 13.1 – ???

I stopped looking at my watch close to mile 10 when I got a stitch.  I tried to run through it.  I tried to slow down and keep running.  And then I was forced to walk for a couple of minutes until it went away.  When I started running again, it felt laboured, and somewhere around mile 12, Teri caught up with me.  The two of us ‘encouraged’ each other and we were blasted by gusts of wind from every direction except from behind, and we stuck together until the end, coming in, much to our amazement at that point, in under 2 hours.  For a relatively modest time, we were elated.  But our bodies were trashed.

Ronnie came in about 4 minutes later and was pretty happy with his time as well.  It was his most consistent run since he picked up his injury last year, so hopefully this means he’s back on track to start kicking my ass.  Unfortunately, it also means my running buddy will be too fast for me, so I’ll have to actually start racing properly again.  After today’s performance, that seems like it’s going to hurt a bit.

After the race, we all found a couple of other people we knew who were there for a chat and some orange juice, and then we headed back to the car.

But we weren’t done just yet.  Our final stop for the day was the Loch Leven Castle visitor’s centre, where in exchange for a couple of pounds, I finally got my fridge magnet.

Spring in Scotland

Ian often gets annoyed at how much I complain about the Scottish weather.  He thinks I’m overreacting when I moan about being “freezing”, but the fact that my fingertips are literally blue, and half of my fingers have zero colour in them, and my speech is slurred because my mouth is too cold to talk kind of makes me believe my complaints are justified.  Oh, and this, the weather in SPRING:

IMG_20130314_072048

IMG_20130313_072917I mean, I had to practically ice skate over section on my way home from my sports massage last night.

 

Calling fat people ‘fat’ and a successful 10 miles

I’m not one to follow celebrity gossip (that is a complete lie, I read gossip magazines on the elliptical at the gym cover to cover – don’t judge me), but I occasionally read about celebrity spats, and with all this social media stuff, it’s easy to follow along and watch all these fancy shmantzy people act like complete tools.  Recently?  Lady Gaga (who kind of infuriates me, but who also makes very catchy music) wrote an ‘open letter’ to Kelly Osbourne (who irritates me slightly less, and who has a father that made good music and took way too many drugs) shitting on her for her presenting job on some trashy fashion show, and saying that she’s so bummed that she feels it is “culturally important to note that [she] have chosen a less compassionate path” in life.  Than Lady Gaga.  Who clearly thinks she’s Mother Theresa now.

Anyway, she’s basically saying that as a former fat chick, Kelly should be aware of how hurtful her comments on appearance might be, and by making fun of the appearances of others on a fashion show, she’s saying it’s OK to make fun of people based on their appearance.

Being a former porker, I have been on the receiving end of some pretty vicious comments about my size.  Having my own grandmother tell me I should spend 30 minutes on an exercise bike instead of 30 minutes baking brownies was one that I remember, but amongst the tamer jabs.  I also remember coming across some graffiti on the ‘graffiti wall’ at work one night and feeling pretty bad.  The ‘graffiti wall’ was in a staff only area where spare chairs were kept for functions, and it was usually reserved for graphic drawings of vaginas and tits, and lists of the ‘most shaggable’ staff.  I never featured.  Except for a tiny section in the corner where someone had scribbled Rachel is a fat, ugly goth.  Next to that, there were further comments from more of my colleagues about the various levels of damage they might incur by sleeping with me (crushed to death, lost in the vast sea of fat, flattened, eaten after the act).  They were  extremely creative, so I have to give them some recognition for that, but it did not make for comfortable reading.

Nobody wanted to have sex with this.

Nobody wanted to have sex with this.

Still, seeing and hearing things like this was good for me.  Sure, I’d feel pretty unhappy about my appearance, and frustrated that at what I had allowed myself to become, but it also made me determined to do something about it, and realize that I was not ‘cute-chubby’, but ‘full-on-fat-ass’.  One day I woke up, found some ‘work out clothes’, and walked to the nearest gym.  It took about 20 minutes, and several patronizing ‘I’m sure this will change your life’ smiles to join, and then I used the elliptical machine for 45 minutes.  I went back the next day.  And the next.  And then kept going.

About a year, and 80lbs. later, I could honestly say that I was glad I was bullied when I was overweight.  Yes, at the time it was hurtful, but if I hadn’t been, then I could have gone through the rest of my 20’s without being concerned about my weight, and if I hadn’t turned things around, who knows where I could have ended up?

"It's OK, I'm drinking Diet Coke."

“It’s OK, I’m drinking Diet Coke.”

Now I want to make it clear that I am no more a Kelly fan than I am a Lady Gaga fan, although I would like to say ‘Bravo!’ to Kelly for turning into a functioning human with two bat-shit (ha) crazy parents, but I guess I don’t really see the big deal about poking fun of people, especially in a cheesy fashion show that probably has less significance in the world than my last shit.

I also do not live in Gaga’s crazy world of sparkles, and unicorns, and raining candy, and frilly dresses, and ‘art’ (this subject alone is enough to prompt a 10,000 word rant from me, so I’m just going to move along quickly), and rainbows, and calling a hand a paw, and supporting LGBT issues because it’s apparently edgy just now, and apparel made of meat, etc.  The idea that ‘everyone should just be nice to each other’ is achievable, MAYBE, in a nursery with like 5 kids who get along, but I just cannot believe all people are capable of being nice all the time.  Unless they fake it.  But that’s even creepier and doesn’t really count.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I agree with Lady Gaga in as much as I think any TV show on E! is trash, I think she’s being completely unrealistic about her hopes for a super happy future for mankind, and I also think it’s kind of ‘LOOKATME’ for picking on someone for such a non-issue.  She also comes across as a bit of a douche for being all preachy and shit.

I’m also saying that sometimes bullying sparks positive change – it all depends on how you react to it.  If you have a friend/relative/colleague who is unhealthily fat, tell them.  To me, that’s nicer than telling them they look fabulous while Type 2 diabetes destroys their insides, and their arteries clog up with each extra doughnut they shovel down their throat.  Oh, and never tell them that mini skirts are for everyone.  They’re just not.

In other, less chunky news, I managed my 10.5 mile ‘long’ run today, followed by an hour of Body Balance, which is a class that is a mixture of yoga, thai chi, and pilates.  It’s a good way to stretch after running, so my plan is to try and time my long runs to end just before the class on Sundays I’m not racing.  While the weather was not ‘partly sunny’ this morning, but spitting cold rain, and windy, but I’m happy to report no tornadoes.  Also, no severe calf pain!  I can’t say I was too enthused at giving up my long lie though:

Ready to head outside.

Ready to head outside.

Ways to annoy me: #1

1. Bring your gross disease anywhere near me.

People generally go to gyms to become more healthy.  Just in case that isn’t clear enough, allow me to demonstrate what I mean in a more visual way:

PEOPLE + GOING TO THE GYM = HEALTHY

Obviously this will not be the case if you go to the gym and walk on a treadmill for ten minutes before treating yourself to a muffin for your hard word, but I’m willing to give most gym-goers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to effort versus laziness.
If you get into the habit of going to the gym regularly, it’s safe to assume that you will notice other regulars.  At my gym, there are several: some who use the gym, some who attend the classes, and some who happen to work there.

There’s this one chick who spends more time in the changing room applying make-up and checking that her ass looks good (it does, annoyingly) from literally every angle than in the actual gym working out.  She does not sweat.  Ever.  And she can regularly be found doing bicep curls with 1kg weights near a mirror whilst making pouty faces at herself.  It’s hilarious.

There are also several men who hang out in ‘Testosterone Corner’, lifting, squatting, and grunting at various stages throughout their visit.  They’re the type whose arms, when fully relaxed, do not hang by their sides.  They also have necks as thick as tree trunks.  Or my thighs, if you needed another size comparison.

These kinds of people I observe, but tend to avoid starting a conversation with.  We clearly do not have the same end goals as each other.  Others, like those who are usually at the classes I attend, I do interact with.  Some of these people have already featured in this blog (Teri, Ronnie, Ishbel – to name a few), but others have not – mainly because they don’t run.  While this doesn’t make me think any less of them, other things do.

Like when they turn up at the gym with the intention of taking part in a group exercise class (think enclosed, sweaty, humid environment) and they are clearly suffering from some form of the plague.  I’m not talking about a couple of sniffles and a runny nose here, I’m talking full-on coughing fits, teary eyes, a deathly complexion, and with a body composition of roughly 3% human, 14% snot, and 83% contagious germs.  This kind of sickness is so bad people visibly recoil in horror when an afflicted person enters the vicinity.

For the past few days, ONE OF THESE PEOPLE has been coming to the gym.  Despite friends telling her where she should go (home, to bed, immediately), she laughed off the very suggestion that she should miss an exercise class, and coughed/spluttered/wheezed her way through the hour.  Everyone else edged towards the walls in an attempt to steer clear of the infection zone.

She has continued her reign of terror, threatening widespread disease and suffering mere days before New Year’s Eve – a time when people typically like to enjoy celebrating with friends and you know, not being stuck in bed and feeling like shit.  I’m not even one of those people (I’ll probably just stay in – forget overpaying for warm beer in plastic cups that I had to wait 30 minutes to be served), but I would still appreciate spending my last week of holiday sans infection, thank you very much.

Thankfully, most of the classes I go to are off for the ‘festive timetable’, and by the time they start back Mistress Mucus should have recovered, but it doesn’t make me any less annoyed that people rock up to the gym without considering other people.  In fact, it usually has the effect of making me forget any positive qualities you might possess  and rate you right around the level of Ian Brady or, say, Gary Glitter.  And you don’t want to be in his gang.

West U Halloween Dash 5k

Time: 26:10

Gender position: 45/135, Age Group position: 7/19

Medal: No, but we did get a t-shirt

 

I’d like to say straight away that I am still not acclimatized to Houston’s heat and humidity issues.  And I ran this 5k dressed as a Native American warrior chief because the website ‘encouraged’ fancy dress, and specified there would be a costume contest after the race.

I had signed myself and my unsuspecting mother up for this race as a ‘bonding’ experiencing during my visit.  Whilst not entirely impressed, especially given the 8am start, she did not outright refuse, nor did she completely hate the idea of dressing up (though recycling an old 80’s chick costume was, in my opinion, just lazy).

This was a community event, and there were several families there.  The local supermarket, H.E.B., provided fresh bananas, water, and coffee to everyone there.  Loads of parents made baked goods to sell.  There was music.  It was sunny.  A cool front had hit Houston (still skin melting temperatures for someone used to running in Scotland).  My mother and I arrived with about 10 minutes to spare, but most of that was used up by everyone moving to the revised start line (2 guys wanted to break a 15 minute 5k, and so they needed it to be an accurate distance.  Spoiler: they demolished the race).

This was a no-frills start, and a horn went off out of nowhere, signaling the start.  So we were off!  I didn’t bother taking music with me as it was just a local 5k, but I immediately regretted this decision when I realized that I would be listening to my beaded necklace smash against my chest every time a foot hit the ground until I was done. At least it was only a 5k.

The route was through residential streets, and plenty of the locals were out cheering on the runners.  I had lots of ‘Come on Chief’ and several ululations from the supporters, and that helped me soldier on even though my faux leather fringed calf guards were practically sodden with my sweat.  I managed to keep a steady, but average, pace throughout, and I had a mini-kick at the end, though nothing spectacular.

Approaching the finish line

After grabbing a bottle of water, I found a spot by the finish and cheered on fellow runners, but I was definitely more enthusiastic for the 5% of people who were also in fancy dress.  Eventually my mother came walking towards the end.  I was shouting for her to “Finish Strong, don’t walk!” but she had apparently hurt her calf and didn’t want to jeopardize her important tennis match on the Monday.  She walked to the end.

She came through in just over 30 minutes, but for some reason her chip didn’t work, so she isn’t listed in the results – which is a bit of a bummer for her first official 5k.  There was a girl dressed as a cat who she said she was in front of the whole time, so we looked up her time (after stalking her to take a note of her number) to give us a rough idea of what time my mom could have finished in.  It turns out if she kept running she’d have won the prize for the fastest female coffin dodger!

Walking to the finish

Speaking of missing out on prizes that should have been yours, the costume contest was bullshit.  I had scoped out my competition throughout the run, and during the kid’s fun run afterwards, and I knew I was pretty much the only decent female contender.  Once the contest started, I was waiting in the adult section along with Captain Underpants (a dude in tighty whities and a cape), a dude dressed as Snow White, and a dude in a full gorilla costume.  We looked at each other and all agreed that two of us were going home winners.

They had the kid’s costume contest first.  We all clapped like we cared when Princess Fiona and a whoopie cushion paraded before the judges.  Next category was ‘best couple/group’, so the four of us hung back.  But then we overheard the judge award a prize to best couple, then best female group, then best male group.  And then he moved on to the running awards.  What the actual fuck, man?  The gorilla took his mask off and looked super pissed.  The guy in his underwear looked at us and asked, “Is that it?”.  We had all run a 5k and hung about a children’s event to win a costume contest, and we were totally blown off.  Even my mother exclaimed, “What?  This is bullshit!”.  I should mention that competitiveness runs in the family.  Monopoly games can become violent.

The four of us, jaded and deflated, decided we weren’t hanging around for ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.  I still had the Mighty Mud Dash to get ready for, and I’m certain the three men had better things to do on a sunny Saturday, so off we went.

It’s Tuesday and I’m still bitter.

 

3 days and counting.

Paranoia about the marathon (Will I finish?  Will I get an embarrassingly bad time?  Will I shit myself, or fart really audibly in front of a group sans music?  Will I end up in the hospital instead of the pub?) has well and truly set in now.  I can’t remember a Thursday (at least in the last few years) when I have wished to have Monday back so badly.  I feel unprepared.  I feel fat (thanks a bunch, tapering).  I feel terrified.

It is not normal for me to exercise so little during a week.  I have only done a couple of weights classes, one (ONLY ONE) spin class and a yoga-esque class.  And now I’m done until the big day.  Where did my week go?!
At least I have made things slightly easier on myself.  Followers of my posts may remember that I was planning on going to a wedding in Edinburgh on Saturday, ending up in Inverness around midnight, and waking up at about 5am on Sunday to get registered.  Well, that’s off.  There were too many things that could have gone wrong (not least having me wearing heels and enjoying an adult beverage), that I have decided not to attend the wedding.

I’m not a complete bitch, as this is the couple’s second wedding.  Their first (and legally binding) ceremony was last October in Edinburgh, and was attended by about 10 of us in total.  The ceremony was at the registry office, and we all went for a meal and drinks afterwards.  As proof that I don’t just skip people’s weddings on a whim, here is photographic evidence of me (the mature one giving bunny ears) with the bride and groom on their big day!

I’m available to ruin any photos: weddings, anniversaries, christenings…

Even though I now have a bit more time to get organized (and continue to freak out), there doesn’t feel like enough time in between my impending shower (give or take 15 minutes in the future) and the impending marathon (less than 72 hours away – it’s not cool I can count down in hours instead of months).

One Week.

This is what graces the homepage of this site:

And while I am kind of stressing enough about the fact that I actually have to run a marathon, I have now also come down with a cold (occupational hazard – kids = germs).  Aberdeen schools have a long weekend at the end of September, so I should have been enjoying 4 days off with my boyfriend doing fun things, enjoying myself, and trying to resist the urge to do impromptu long runs to counteract all the food I’m eating.  Instead, I’ve spent most of my time this weekend here:

Whilst my boyfriend has come up with one or two fun things we can still do in this particular location, it isn’t quite the hill-climbing, mountain biking, sunshine-filled, non-running stuff we had hoped we would be doing.  And yes, I’m talking about playing minesweeper on my phone and watching clips like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s recent Magic Mike spoof on SNL, obviously.  To make matters worse, it’s Ian’s birthday tomorrow, and it is going to involve me moaning about being ill.

I guess if I’m hunting for the silver lining in all this, I’m getting plenty of rest, which is something I know I wouldn’t be getting if I was 100% right now.  But hopefully I can have a little jog and a weights class tomorrow, if I’m feeling any improvement, just to stop myself from tearing up the carpet in my flat out of frustration.  And also to counteract whatever Ian’s birthday eatery of choice does to me.

I’ll give you three guesses to decide how I’m feeling today:

Clue: it’s not ‘cheerful’ or ‘enthusiastic’.

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.