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…

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.

First ultra distance training run!

OK, so in the end we took a wrong turn, so it wasn’t the planned 28 miles, but it still tipped over the marathon distance into 26.51 miles, which I am totally taking.

I awoke on Saturday morning (some would argue, however, that the time I was stirring could still be classified as Friday night), and got my things together for the day’s long run – my third and final run with the Stonehaven running club’s Saturday long run crew, before attempting to run my first ultra, in just under three weeks time.  Annoyingly, the cold that had been bugging me for the past two weeks hadn’t quite gone away, and the familiar stuffy nose, sore throat, and achey body kept me company during my breakfast.  I questioned whether or not it was wise to attempt such a long run, but figured if it all went wrong, the run would be on roads, and I could hitch a lift back to anywhere that had a train station or bus stop.

And so, at 6:45, I was picked up by Dave, who thankfully did not turn out to be an axe-murderer, but a pleasant Irishman, with Mike (though casually dropping in his name here, I had also never met him in person until this point) in the passenger seat, and we set off on our merry way to Stonehaven, where we met up with the locals at a gas station at 7:20.

Once (nearly) everyone had made it to the start location, we set off through Dunnottar woods, and then onto quiet, undulating back roads.  The skies were blue!  The sun was out!  The temperature was ‘mild’ (for February in Scotland)!  The only gripe I had about the weather was the headwind, which, as we were doing an A to B run, would blast into our faces for, oooooooh, the entire day.  So that was nice.

22.2 long run elevationThe first 5 or 6 miles felt horrendous.  We were slogging uphill, there was wind in my face, there was snot blocking my airways, and I longed for the cosiness of my bed.  But after about an hour I started to feel….. almost good.  After about 11 miles, we waited for everyone to catch up before taking a group shot.  By this point, I felt practically normal (and especially smug for coming along).  Look at the blue sky!

Photo: V Shanks

Photo: V Shanks (as are the rest!)

After the group shot, it was less than two miles (downhill) into Inverbervie, where a number of us made use of the public toilets, before the ascent out of the town.

Approaching Inverbervie

Approaching Inverbervie

Leaving the coast involved a bit of powerwalking uphill, and running the flats and downhill sections, which became more frequent as we approached our finishing point, the Balmakewan cafe.  Some of the guys had gone on ahead, and those of us in the middle section took a different route on the final descent, which caused a bit of confusion when we reached the cafe first.

I had a hot stone massage booked for 15:30, and we made it to the cafe just after 13:00.  Ronnie had kindly agreed to pick me up at the end and drive me back so that I would make my appointment, but it would have also been nice to stay for lunch; it was pretty hard watching juicy, delicious burgers arrive at the table for others knowing I’d have to wait another few hours for a hot meal.  On the plus side, I felt great!  I guess running for 5 hours cures the common cold.

When Ronnie did arrive, he took me, Dave, and Mike back to Dave’s car in Stonehaven to pick up our warm clothes, then Ronnie drove me home using the ‘scenic route’ (translation: he took a few wrong turns), and Dave drove Mike home.

I made it home with enough time to throw myself into the shower, put on clean clothes, and scrape my hair back, before semi-jogging to my massage with 4 minutes to spare (not great fun).

The massage was delightful, but I was horrified to discover, when I got home, that my big toenail on my right foot was missing (it had taken a battering during the Texas marathon, and I honestly thought I’d lose it a lot sooner).  It must have come off during the foot scrub, which means the poor girl pampering me would have had to clean an entire toenail out of the foot-spa-bowl-thing she was using.

You guys knew this was coming.

You guys knew this was coming.

I phoned Ian on the way home and croaked something about, “Oven on…. Food in… On way,” and was delighted to have cajun chicken and rice in front of me half an hour later.  And that’s when the day’s exertion caught up with me, and my symptoms developed into the plague.

I was in bed and sleeping by 20:30.

The route

The route

Review: Brooks Cascadia 9

I pretty much don’t do reviews, because I throw serious side-eye when others do, as it’s usually to shill crap that they are an ‘ambassador’ for.  I get it; they want to earn a little money from their hobby, with the hopes of one day giving up the day job.  But zero percent of my brain is going to trust a review of something you didn’t spend your hard-earned money on.

Last week, in an attempt to cheer myself up because I couldn’t work out, I went shopping.  I knew that I would need to buy a pair of trail shoes that didn’t massacre my feet after 10 miles for the Highland Fling in April, and I had heard good things about the Saucony Peregrines.  Without even having tried on a pair (I’m impulsive like that), I had made up my mind that I was going to walk into the running shop, try a pair on, and buy the shit out of them.

It was unusually busy in the shop when I went in, so I had to wait to be seen.  I decided that I might as well scope out the competition as I waited, and my eyes were drawn to a pair of bright purple shoes.  They.  Were.  Beautiful.

Transfixed, I almost didn’t notice the store guy come over.  When he asked how he could help I told him I was looking for “the least trail-y trail shoes.”

I have a pair of Solomon trail shoes (which I bought because they were purple, and looked pretty, and despite my outwardly unfeminine persona, sometimes my X chromosomes dominate my brain functions), but they are uncomfortable to run in after a few short miles.  I am pretty much a sucker for cushioning.  I mentioned to the sales guy that I’d heard good things about the Peregrines, which he nodded at, but to my delight he picked up the purple shoes and told me they would likely be my best bet, because they were like a cross between a road and a trail shoe.

“Excellent, because I think they’re the prettiest!”  Dude looked a bit confused, but got my size.  I never even tried on the Peregrines.

In the store, the Brooks Cascadias (HEADS UP: affiliate link) felt nearly as comfortable as my road shoes (also Brooks, but I alternate between the Ghosts and Vapours).  Usually you’re expected to go up a size for trail shoes, but the 7’s fit me fine and left plenty of room in the toe box.  They weren’t suffocatingly narrow for my increasingly wide feet.  They felt bouncy.  They matched my dress.  I was sold.

A Brooks orgy.  And some beautiful sequined ankle boots.

A Brooks orgy. And some beautiful sequined ankle boots.

Now, I know it’s widely accepted that you’re meant to gradually break in new shoes, but they were so comfortable that I opted to wear them for Saturday’s long run.  Within the first 30 seconds of running, I was horrified that the back of my socks seemed to be pulled down underneath the lip of the heel part, and I anticipated blisters aplenty, but happily that was the last I noticed my heels, my socks stayed put, and – most importantly – no blisters!

We covered over 25 miles, and my feet were drenched (thank you boggy conditions and river crossings) for about 95% of the run, but I still walked home without any pain in my feet whatsoever.  Even the brief sections on roads, which I was dreading, because in my Solomons road running is highly unpleasant, were run comfortably thanks to the bounciness.

Basically, I love these shoes.  They were comfortable for 7+ hours on my (wet) feet, they were comfortable enough to run on the road in, they had enough room so as not to crush my toes and batter my toenails, and I only slipped once (downhill, in a mudslide – I’d have needed crampons to avoid that).  Oh, and they’re beautiful.  Or at least they were, before I took them out for a test run.

Brooks Cascadia 9's

Brooks Cascadia 9’s

“24” mile long run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching the summit of Clachnaben.

Approaching the summit of Clachnaben.

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

The summit of Clachnaben in the background.

The summit of Clachnaben in the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s our route from yesterday:

5hillsmapAnd the elevation profile:

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

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).

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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.

Hasta la Vista, 2013!

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

Templeton 10 Mile Road Race 2013

Time: 1:36:42 [RESULTS HERE]

Medal: No, but I was pleasantly surprised when we got a technical shirt at the finish.

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After my DNS last weekend, I was determined to get back on track, especially since I have really struggled since Loch Ness with being sick, and being under strict instruction from my physio to do no exercise for over a week to let my swollen, angry hip calm down.

To put things into perspective, I usually work out 6 days a week, with a total time between 8-12 hours.  This is a mix of running, cycling, weights, cross trainer, etc.  The week after Loch Ness I managed a single 4 mile jog.  The following week I managed a couple of spin classes, a weights class, and a painful half marathon.  The week after that? Two spin classes and a weights class.  And after that? A 6 mile run, a weights class, a spin class, and a DNS.  Not great.

So Monday, all guns blazing, I began my comeback week.  It looked a little something like this, and it probably isn’t a smart way to gently dip back into work outs:

Monday: 45 minute spin class, 30 minute HIIT class, 1 hour pilates class.
Tuesday: 3 mile run, 30 minute HIIT class, 1 hour weights class
Wednesday: Rest day (parents’ evening at school and sports massage)
Thursday: 45 minute weights class
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 15 mile trail run
Sunday: Templeton 10 mile road race

Why yes, I did decide to try out a back-to-back long run weekend with a ten mile race as my recovery run.  I may not have been so cocky about my planning skills if I had actually taken 30 seconds to look up the elevation profile for this race.  Behold, pain:

Yes.  It did feel as bad as it looks.

Yes. It did feel as bad as it looks.

With storm level winds forecast, and with rain hammering against my bedroom window, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when my alarm went off at 6 am on Sunday morning.  On stiff legs, I went about gathering everything I would need (but forgetting half of it in a morning fug), and before I knew it, Ronnie was outside, raring to go (this could be a slight exaggeration – he seemed less than enthusiastic).

Ronnie doesn’t have a small car by UK standards, but even I was aware of it’s bulk being pushed around on the dual carriageway as we headed towards Dundee.  Upon our approach, we drove under a “WARNING!  STRONG WINDS” sign, and chuckled.  We.  Were.  Pumped.

We arrived at the start after the main (and overflow) parking had been filled, so had to park up on the sidewalk with other late(ish)comers.  Then we left the comfort and warmth of the car to head towards registration, which was quick and painless.  We had about 50 minutes until the 10:30 start, so decided to take shelter back in the car, like everyone else was doing, before heading down to registration at about 10:05.

A quick pit-stop in the toilets, and we began the roughly 1 mile trek to the start line, half jogging, half walking.  We had been told that the hill we ran down at the start would be the hill we would be running up at the end.  Dick move, race organizers.

I ran into Danielle and Sally, who I had met during the Dundee 1/2 last year, and we also found Claudia at the start.  Before we knew it, we were off, Claudia surging ahead and out of sight, and after a couple of minutes, during which I felt like I had been hit by a bus, we were horrified that we were pretty much bringing up the rear.  There were a lot of club vests on show, so I knew there would be a lot of fast runners, but I guess I was expecting (hoping) to see a few more people behind me.

The hill we were enjoying for the first half mile or so was the hill we would be running up to get back to the finish area, or so we had been told.  Considering I was panting doing a 9:30 minute/mile pace, I did not have high hopes for my time, but kept reminding myself that this was a recovery run, and that I had run 15 miles the day before after a prolonged hiatus.  I was also paying very close to my ankle (which I had rolled 4 times the day before and felt a little shonky), and my hip (that had forced me to rest due to inflammation, and that had been playing up after about 9 miles of the trails).  Thankfully, there were no noticeable protests from them.  Just my burning lungs, and the skin on my face being completely violated by the icy wind.

We hit some pretty serious incline quite early on, and through gritted teeth, powered our way up the first one.  A few undulations later and a rather uninviting hill loomed on the horizon.  Around this point, Ronnie seemed to be struggling, and slowed to a walk.  I called back and asked if he wanted me to wait for him, and I honestly can’t decide if I was happy that he said, “No, go on.”  I was hurting, and would have welcomed the break, but at the same time, it was freezing, and I quite fancied not having to amputate frostbitten limbs at the finish.

Sally and I grunted up the second long incline together, and although my heart felt like it would vault out of my chest, I was pretty impressed with myself for not giving up.  We were rewarded with a bit of a flat section, but this was to be short-lived.  After a couple of twists and turns around farm land, we saw the third ‘step’ on the course profile.

This particular hill turned left and right, so we couldn’t see what was coming next.  I tried my best to stick with Sally, and when we hit what I thought was the top (it had started flattening out a bit), we turned a corner to face another steep stretch.  Sally still felt strong, so she went ahead while I opted to power walk uphill.  As she left, she told me she’d probably see me soon, but I wasn’t so sure!

Annoyingly, the short, sharp part of this hill didn’t go on for too long, and at the top a seasoned Templeton runner assured my that, apart from the end, this was the worst of the hills done with, and we were about to be treated to a nice stretch of downhill.  Angels sang, I kid you not.

Shortly after the downhill began was the course’s only water stop, and despite seeing Sally’s bright pink shirt up ahead, I walked through it to drink and catch my breath.  After another couple of miles I caught up to her and another woman chatting, and stuck with them until we turned into a vicious headwind and started our final few uphill miles.  Here, Sally and I pulled away as we made our way through a more residential part of the course.

Look how much we are enjoying ourselves!

Look how much we are enjoying ourselves!

At about 8 miles, I could see Claudia up ahead, and while Sally was happy to chug on, I was wrecked, so told her I’d be slowing down a bit.  I was in that desperate place where you count down every .05 mile you have left, and when I saw the 9 mile marker (in the middle of the hill we were climbing) I kept telling myself to just not stop, because it would be over in ten minutes.

The final section took us through a section of the forest on trails (uphill, because that seems to be the theme here), until we burst out onto the road with a steep downhill on the grass to the finishing chute, a few places behind Sally.  I grabbed some of the water on offer, watched Claudia come in, and then saw Danielle coming down the hill in luminescent orange.  With no sign of Ronnie just yet, I knew his calf must still be giving him hassle, so I raided the home baking in the tent on his behalf and took a (highly unflattering) photo with Sally.

Me and my quarterback neck - so alluring.

Me and my quarterback neck – so alluring.

Ronnie did come in after another 5 minutes or so, and looked in pain.  His calf was swollen and obviously sore, so he stretched and gave himself a once over before we all decided that despite the sunshine, it was way too cold to be standing around, and we should probably all go home.

After the race and in the car, I was feeling smug that my ankle and hip had behaved, and that I seemed to be suffering no ill effects from such a heavy training week.  Unfortunately, after a shower at home, Ian and I went for a walk, only for it to end with me limping home.

Although there’s no obvious swelling or bruising, it hurts to walk on my right foot, and there is clearly something wrong with it, but I’m hoping that it’s just inflammation that will go down after a couple of days.  Nevertheless, this means I’m not doing spin or the HIIT class tonight, opting instead to just do my hour of pilates, and hope there’s an improvement tomorrow.

Oh no! The race is almost full!

Despite walking about like a cripple for a week after my idiotic Loch Ness adventure, and running Aviemore feeling horrendous, I must have felt like I hadn’t quite made enough dumb decisions to fill my annual quota.  Hopelessly drawn in Inspired by these guys, I’ve bitten the metaphorical bullet and signed myself up for an ultra.  I have also been shamelessly hounded into thinking it’s a sane-person thing to do by several local (ish) runners of unsound mind (you know who you are).

So what’s on the menu for 2014?  Apart from kicking off the year with the Texas marathon on New Year’s Day, I have entered the Milano City marathon in April, followed by the Highland Fling, a 53 mile trail race through the Scottish Highlands, made all the more appealing by reading about friends’ adventures there earlier this year.  Yes, once again I was suckered into a race by watching the available places dwindle on an online entry site.  So yeah, kill me*.

2014 is also peppered with a few other (shorter, mercifully) races, and I anticipate a mild breakdown/relapse into heavy drinking and McDonald’s binges around the beginning of May.  Yee-to-the-motherfucking-haw!

Basically the universal reaction I am getting from people I know when I tell them my plans.  This is not limited to the ultramarathon.

Basically the universal reaction I get from people I know when I tell them my plans. This is not limited to running.

*Don’t literally kill me, I actually really enjoy being alive.

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.