Crathes half marathon 2014

Time: 2:48:11 (It felt like double that)

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140920_134239OK, so you can maybe guess from my time, but basically, this whole race kind of went to shit, and I had a feeling, much like Romeo before Capulet’s party, that something was going to go very, very wrong.  My reasons for this included:

1.) I was running under someone else’s number.  The only other time I have done this is when I paid for my entry to the Garioch half in 2013, and I was one of the few entries lost when they changed their system for taking entries.  The early bird does not always catch the worm, and I ran as ‘Jon Bell’.  Anyway, I forgot to enter Crathes, but one of Ronnie’s friends could no longer run, and she offered up her entry to me.  I felt shady as hell giving a false name at registration, and convinced myself the karma gods would strike me down with a heart attack.  I pushed this to the back of my mind.

2.) A stolen fork.  The weekend prior to Crathes, I ran Glenmore 12, but in the frenzy of preparation, I forgot to pack any utensils to cook with.  Because of this, when I dined out with Elaine and Rob on Friday night, I slipped the fork I had used into my bag with the intention of returning the fork on the way back to Aberdeen after the race.  Well, I had 4 beers for breakfast on Sunday before we left, so my brain was a little foggy, and I forgot.  That fork is still burning a hole in my conscience, and I plan on sending it back with an apology note.  I’m so badass.

I’m going to keep this brief, because I’m in the middle of moving right now, and because I don’t really want to dwell on this experience for any longer than I have to, but essentially I don’t think I allowed myself enough time to rest after Glenmore.  I started running with Suzy at a comfortable pace.  I got to mile 4 and my knee was hurting quite a lot.  I stopped several times to stretch it off, massage anything around my knee, curse my faulty body, whatever – to no avail.  By mile 7, I urged Suzy to go ahead, and began the long, slow, death march to the finish line.  It hurt.  I was cold.  At the sight of a familiar face along the course I burst into tears, like a little girl.  It sucked.

You guys, looks at my new windows.  I'd be jealous too.

You guys, looks at my new windows. I’d be jealous too.

By the time I crossed the finish line, most people had left, and I could barely bend my leg.

The course hasn’t changed since previous years (2012, 2013), but the medal continues to improve.  This year’s t-shirt was green.

The End.

 

The one positive I can take away from the day is that I ran into an old workmate, Iain, who is now a firefighter.  He and one of his colleagues were running in full uniform as a practice run for November, when they will be running New York marathon for charity.  They remained in high spirits, despite the added bonus of running in a portable sauna, and if you want to donate, you can do so HERE.  They passed me and Suzy a couple of miles in, and finished somewhere around the 2:18 mark.  They will definitely earn a few cold beers after New York, that’s for sure.

I had to steal this picture from Facebook because they had left by the time I finished.

I had to steal this picture from Facebook because they had left by the time I finished.

 

Callanish Stones marathon 2014

Time: 4:47:16

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140804_115817

The Callanish stones marathon is somewhat of a rarity of an event.  Although I initially signed up to it thinking it was a one-off event that I would never have the chance to run again (panic entry), it would appear that this was not entirely accurate.  After speaking to a number of runners on the day, it came to light that the race occurs every 5-6 years, so for anyone interested in taking part, you’ve got a decent amount of time to train!

The main Callanish standing stones are only one of the 40 or so archaeological sites that the marathon route goes by, and we were given a leaflet highlighting some of the main ones to look out for along the run.  I think I remembered about 2, and I remember wishing, especially as I struggled quite a bit during the race, that I had tucked the leaflet into my bag so I could pick out sites of interest as a kind of treasure hunt.  However, the main stones are definitely the most striking, and we caught our first glimpse of them at the top of a hill just over a mile into the race, only to be greeted again by them at the finish.

Photo source:  Stornoway Gazette

Photo source: Stornoway Gazette

Before even starting the run, we had a bit of a marathon journey to conquer.  The marathon is on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.

Rhona picked up myself and Naomi, and we set off from Aberdeen at 9am on Friday, driving to Ullapool with a comfort stop in Inverness.  We opted for a pub lunch as we had a few hours until we had to catch the ferry, which left about 45 minutes late.  What I hadn’t fully considered before this point was the fact that the ferry took nearly 3 hours to cross from mainland Scotland to Stornoway, and it quickly became clear that it would be a late night.

Leaving Ullapool

Leaving Ullapool

As soon as we disembarked the ferry, we met Jemma, who had very kindly offered up her house as a ‘runner’s retreat’ for the weekend.  We were greeted with a friendly face, and a lift to the Tesco to stock up on frozen pizza, cheesecake, and beer for the post-race ceilidh.  Once back in her car, we began the 45-ish minute journey to her place in Port of Ness, which is basically the Northernmost tip of the island.  I don’t know if we managed to pull off ‘non-grumpy, enthusiastic travellers’ or not.  I’m guessing not.  We were fucking tired.

longassjourney

After destroying 4 pizzas, we thought it would be sensible to turn in for the night, so we said goodnight and set our alarms for the morning, hoping for forgiving weather.

Approximately 6 seconds later, my alarm was a slap in the face, and I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled into my race kit feeling a bit sickly and a lot tired.  I had a bagel and some sports drink, and the four of us got back into Jemma’s car for another wee journey to the start, where we registered and shared our happiness that it wasn’t:

a.) raining, and;

b.) blowing gales that might cause you to involuntarily leave solid ground.

The Callanish stones marathon offers an early start to runners who think they’ll take longer than five and a half hours, and to walkers, and one of our friends, Carol, had chosen the early option for her first marathon.  Since the course begins with an out and back section, we were lucky enough to see her go by, 6+ miles into her race, as we were gearing up for our start.  She was looking happy and running strong, which was good to see.

Just before 10, we all lined up at the start before a countdown from 5, and the usual surge forward.  I pushed ‘start’ on my Garmin, and we all set off.

Jemma took an early lead, pushing on to an eventual PB, while Naomi, Rhona, and myself plodded along at a steady pace.  It was a small field of runners, and we found ourselves near the back of the pack, but there was no strict cut-off, so none of us were particularly concerned.  At about mile 1, my stomach started voicing discomfort.  Despite using the toilet before the start, it also felt like the contents of a swimming pool had been injected into my bladder and I was very eager to pass the school at the 6 mile point to use the actual toilets, as there wasn’t a bush to be seen along the side of the road.

  • 9:27
  • 9:49
  • 10:01
  • 9:43
  • 9:42
  • 9:26

Mile 6 arrived, and I nipped to the toilet for some relief.  Upon exiting, I saw Naomi’s bright Fetch top bobbing off in the distance, so pushed harder than I probably should have to catch her up.  We settled into a reasonable pace, and were eventually passed by Rhona, who had also opted for a pit-stop.  As we watched her fade off into the distance ahead, we took in our suroundings and tried (badly) to pronounce some of the Gaelic place names.

  • 9:53
  • 9:39
  • 10:49
  • 10:23
  • 10:03
  • 11:45

At about mile 12, we started on another out and back section.  It was nice to cheer on the faster runners and see people we knew (Gavin running in full Highland dress for a world record was a particular highlight).  The turnaround was at Blackhouse Village, an old crofting town, which was adorable, and we took a few walk breaks thanks to the more-undulating-than-we-were-led-to-believe terrain.

  • 10:19
  • 12:59
  • 10:58
  • 11:31

Just before mile 16 we began the bleakest part of the race.  We began 5 miles of gradual incline along Pentland Road.  Along isolated moorland.  Into an unforgiving headwind.  It basically looked like the road went on until eternity with no shelter from the wind, and we could see neon dots moving far, far away.  I think Naomi (and everyone who ran) would probably agree that this was the low point of the race.  I was finding it tough going, and Naomi was subjected to a fair amount of grumpy swearing.  Both of us may have shouted obscenities at the wind.  We walked a fair amount.

pentland road

And then, what seemed like several hours later, we noticed runners off to the right.  A turn-off!  We also spotted what looked suspiciously like Carol in the far distance.  We knew that we would probably see her in the later stages of the race, and seeing her, in addition to our new-found tail wind and slight downhill gradient, spurred us on a little bit.

  • 12:31
  • 12:46
  • 13:18
  • 12:55
  • 14:04
  • 11:36

We caught Carol around mile 22 and walked with her for about half a mile, giving her encouragement and support.  She nearly cried, but we convinced her to save her tears for the finish.  With less than 5k to go, we told her we’d see her soon, and went on ahead.

  • 10:31
  • 12:00

Maybe it was because I was starting to turn blue, maybe it was because my stomach was desperate to be still, maybe it was because I was ready for the race to be over, but with less than two miles to go I hinted to Naomi that I was quite keen to pick up speed.  She told me to go on ahead, and I basically motored all the way to the finish.

  • 9:05
  • 8:37

A lot of mile 25 was uphill.  I clearly wanted to be done.

Callanish stones marathon elevation

Callanish stones marathon elevation

The feeling of relief as I saw the finish in amongst the standing stones was palpable.  I crossed the line (nearly twisting both ankles on the super-uneven ground in the final 50 meters), grabbed my goodie bag, and joined Jemma and Rhona on the grass to wait for Naomi who came in a few minutes later, and Carol, who finished her first marathon in 7:09:xx, to an enthusiastic applause from everyone there.

L-R: Naomi, Rhona, me, Jemma (Photo: Rhona)

L-R: Naomi, Rhona, me, Jemma (Photo: Rhona)

The wind was picking up at this point, and we were all starting to get cold, so we headed back to the school, cheering in the rest of the runners.  We drove back to Jemma’s, being help up for about 10 minutes by a farmer ushering his highland cows along the road, for a shower, some beer, and the cheesecake we were too tired to eat the night before (spectacular!).  We caught the 7:30 bus back to Stornoway for the ceilidh at the Town hall.

Standard.

Standard.

The magical moment we made it around the cows!

The magical moment we made it around the cows!

The ceilidh was fantastic fun.  Beer, Prosecco, and champagne clearly have rejuvenative properties, because we all threw ourselves into ceilidh dancing, and Jemma and I even had a couple of wheelbarrow races with a couple of kids that were there.  It was great to mingle with fellow runners, many of whom will be at the same races as us throughout the year, but by the time our taxi picked us up at 11:30, we were all pretty tired (and merry).

Back at Jemma’s we continued to drink our pre-bought booze, and stayed up until near enough 3am.  Functioning on approximately 6 hours sleep over the past couple of days, I can only apologize for nonsense that must have been generously spewing from my mouth.  Eventually we made our way to our beds.

Sunday morning at about 7:30, I was awoken by the ferocious wind and rain hammering the island outside.  I opened the bedroom window to see what it was like ‘in real life’ and was blasted in the face before quickly shutting the window again.  With morning-after mouth and little sleep, I felt rough as hell.  I decided to take a shower and sand last night’s make-up off my face.

A couple of hours later, everyone else was stirring, and once we’d realized we hadn’t had dinner the night before, and there wasn’t much food in the house, we opted to grab lunch in Stornoway before the ferry at 2:30pm.

As Sunday is the Sabbath, and therefore a day of rest, it seems like there are only two restaurants that were open.  And both of them, fully booked.  At the second we made a desperate plea for food, and managed to secure a table, having to then wait 40 minutes for our food.  Once we paid, we headed for the ferry, said our goodbyes, and found some seats for the beginning of our long journey home.

An announcement came over the tannoy, and we could make out something along the lines of “swells” and “will cause some discomfort”.  For Rhona, who suffers motion-sickness, and myself (hungover), this was not welcome news, but the calm water as we left Stornoway convinced us that it wouldn’t be too bad.

Leaving port.

Leaving port.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.” – Nature

About an hour into the ferry journey, this was looming on the horizon, complete with thunder and lightning.

IMG_20140804_141052We became slightly concerned when the crew started tying down the lifeboats, and we headed inside when the rain started, sitting on the floor and looking out the window during a rocky half hour or so.  Thankfully, it became calmer before we got to Ullapool, but we were all still happy to be off the ferry, and into Rhona’s car for the final leg of the journey.

I stepped into my apartment just after 10pm, bombarded Ian with details of my weekend, and then passed out in bed.  It has been  a long time since I’ve slept quite so well.

Overall, it was a lovely, but challenging course, and the fact that it isn’t a regular event made it seem extra special.  We also lucked out with our very own island host, and had a blast at the ceilidh.  However, 500 miles is a long round trip, and I think it’ll be a while before I spontaneously sign up for a race so remote!

Dundee marathon 2014

Time: 5:42:00

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140721_231710Several years ago (a few months ago), I signed up for the Glenmore 12, as did my running chum, Elaine.  The difference between the two of us is that I had run a marathon before, but she had not.  Somewhere between signing up and now, Elaine decided that running a marathon might be a good idea, if only for a confidence boost, before she submitted herself to her first ultra.  The timing of the Dundee marathon was ideal for a long (ie. 26.2 mile) run, so we both signed up, agreeing to run together, as a training run, as we had a time limit of 6 hours.

Having run the half marathon in 2013 and 2012, I knew the first half of the course started uphill through trails, but then meandered downhill pretty much all the way to the finish.  This, of course, meant that the second half, as it finishes in the same place as the start, would involve some uphill.  That was about the extent of my course knowledge before we begun.

Dundee marathon elevation profile

Dundee marathon elevation profile

With a forecast for sunshine and some warmth, I was thrilled.  Elaine – not so much.  She picked me up at 7:00 am before our flawless drive to Camperdown Park, where we registered, chatting with a few fellow runners, used the toilets (the fancy ones, not the porta loos), and headed back to the car to slather on sun cream and relax before the briefing.

During the briefing, there was mention of a ‘staggered start’, which basically meant we should arrange ourselves in the swarm of runners based on expected finishing time.  Elaine and I made our way to the back, where I spotted (and briefly chatted to) a hungover Daniel, who was running the half.  We must have been fairly distracted by each other, as I remember looking ahead and seeing the lead runners bounding up the hill on the business end of the start tunnel.  I guess it was time to get going!

Elaine and I settled into a comfortable pace, and enjoyed the first two miles that took runners uphill through the park’s trails before spitting us out onto a residential street, marking our downhill cruise to the finish.  Kind of.

At mile 4, the now-familiar boulder heralded the entrance to the path that would carry us along for a few miles.  Unfortunately this is where we saw a couple of friends at the side, one of whom looked to be nursing a sore calf.  They wished us luck and told us to keep going, and so we did.  Spirits were high.

About a mile later, a cyclist made himself known, and Elaine and I moved to one side to let him through.

“It’s OK, I’m with you,” said the marshal in the high-viz jacket.

 

“We’re not last, are we?” I joked, expecting a jovial reply about how there were hundreds of people (or even, you know, 20) behind us.

 

“Yep, the last full marathon runners.  That couple in luminous orange that just passed you were last,” was the answer we got.

Spirits were no longer high.

Despite being very friendly, knowing that 5 miles into Elaine’s first marathon we were dead last was a bit of a morale killer, and though she tried not to let it show, I think it annoyed Elaine.  I tried to lift the mood with conversation, terrible dad jokes, sharing gossip, etc., but the sun was on a mission and Elaine made it clear that she was struggling in the heat.  We pressed on.

Soon we were on the long roadside stretch that continues (mostly) downhill towards the beach.  Passing another residential area, a couple of kind souls had their hoses out for the toasty runners, and Elaine was visibly thrilled about it.  We passed the 11 mile marker, and the sweeper cyclist pulled up to point out a pair of full marathon runners up ahead.  I made it our goal to pick them off so we didn’t feel ‘sweeper pressure’ as we ran, and Elaine was game.  We passed them around a mile later, and tried to create a little bit of distance between ourselves as we approached the soul-destroying halfway point, when all the half marathoners veered right, under a finisher’s arch, and full marathoners stuck to the lonely, lonely left, running through a grassy field towards the marshal in the distance.

Thankfully, a cool breeze and some cloud cover had made the weather a bit more bearable for Elaine, and we adopted a walk/run strategy for the stretch along the coast.  A couple of miles later, we approached Broughty Ferry castle, where we stopped for a photo:

Elaine, parked cars, and Broughty Ferry castle

Elaine, parked cars, and Broughty Ferry castle

At about mile 16, the first energy drink station was a welcome sight (for me, mostly).  Having taken on no fuel, and suffered a dodgy belly for the past few days, I was glad to actually be craving something at this point.  Sadly, this is where the nice views ended, and the industrial estate began, which might have been unmemorable had it not been for two memorable things:

  1.  We spotted a neon green speck in the distance – another runner!
  2.  A man wearing only leopard print boxers and clearly not sober started running alongside us, making very little sense.

The underwear-clad man stuck with us for a while.  We tried slowing down.  So did he.  We tried speeding up.  So did he.  Then he went ahead a bit (when I snapped a photo), and we eventually caught him up again.  We managed to shirk him off on one of the marshals (sorry!!), and have since realized that he gatecrashed a Commonwealth Games event, and forced police to contact his parents to come and pick him up.  Still, it made another mile tick by relatively quickly.

Underwear guy.

Underwear guy.

The next couple of miles were dedicated to catching the man in green, which we succeeded in doing at the next aid station (mile 19).  We had a couple of salted pringles and some fluids before setting off just ahead of him.  After about a mile, however, he overtook us again, and by the next aid station (mile 22), Elaine was feeling pretty fatigued, so the three of us kind of formed a power-walking group, moving forward and chatting.  It turned out that green shirt and I have a lot of friends in common, and he is one of the people trying to get an Aberdeen marathon up and running.  Wilson, your chat was much appreciated!

At the final aid station (mile 25), we spotted the two runners behind us, dangerously close, so we picked up the pace a little as we entered the park.  We continued uphill until we spotted the finish in the distance, and Elaine picked up to a run.  I joined her, and Wilson was hot on our heels.  We heard Elaine’s name being shouted out, and realized some of our half-runner-friends had stayed back to cheer her in, so we turned the final corner and finished with smiles on our faces.

10423705_10152366423483248_2131091828101172132_nElaine was overjoyed.  To be finished.

Ambulance thankfully not necessary.

Ambulance thankfully not necessary.

Once she had stretched and changed into some less disgusting clothes, we headed off, stopping for my annual dirty McDonald’s (delicious and wrong), after which I rudely fell asleep as she drove us home.

Although I have escaped any muscle pain today (in fact, I’ve managed a kettlebell class and 45 minute spin class), I have experienced a bit of pain thanks to the most crap-tastic “factor 50” sun cream on the planet.

Not attractive.

Not attractive.

Still.  It could be worse.  I could be Ian, who crashed his bike while I was waiting to cook him dinner.

IMG_20140720_222525Next up:  Callanish Stones marathon on the Isle of Lewis.  T-minus 12 days!

Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k 2014

Time: 52:35 [Results]

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140518_200922This was the 6th time I have run the Baker Hughes 10k, and there isn’t an awful lot I can say about it, other than:

  • It is flat
  • It is fast
  • It is one of the most uninspiring routes I have had the pleasure of running

Aberdeen has some lovely areas, but sadly, along the beach and through some of the industrial areas are not them.  However, is is apparently easier and cheaper to close the roads down by the beach than the city centre, and the event attracts thousands of runners every year, so why change, right?  I mean, it’s not like I can really complain since I sign up every year, knowing that I’ll wake up on race morning dreading the long stretch along the beach, exposed to the North Sea winds.  How can I resist a race on my doorstep?  Hint: I can’t.

The race has had some particular low points: Race Timing System a couple of year’s ago made a shit hot mess of timing, the aforementioned dull course, the introduction of an ‘e-goody bag’ with offers nobody cared about.  This year, I’m glad to say the timing issue had been resolved, and I had received a text message telling me my chip result before I had managed to retrieve my belongings.  All results were also online within a few hours of the last finisher crossing the line.  And despite a pretty breezy second half, for yet another year, it DID NOT RAIN during the Baker Hughes.  Next year, plan a barbeque on race day – it really is uncanny.  Oh, and we were handed physical goody bags after we crossed the line, with stuff I might actually use (or eat):

IMG_20140518_201034On a personal level, I did not expect much from this race this year, being 3 weeks after the Highland Fling (which has left me with a lot of sore/tight bits in my left leg – like everywhere).  In fact, I hadn’t intended running any races all month, instead slotting in a bit of a running break so I could enjoy some time on my bike and check out the shiny new aquatics centre with a 50m pool (it is fabulous; I am already a dedicated fan).  But seeing advertizing for the ‘big’ local race is basically like cracking open an ice-cold beer, seductively pouring it into a tall glass, and letting the outside of the glass crystalize with sexy, sexy condensation, and then putting the glass in front of a recovering alcoholic and whispering, sensually, “Drink it.”  So I entered, knowing if I was still crippled, I could at least walk the course.

I turned up with just enough time to dump my belongings and extra layers in a locker at my gym (handily close to the start), and find Ronnie and his friend enthusiastically taking part in the warm up.  We were called to our pens, and I shuffled into the 55-60 minute corral.  I had low expectation, and planned to just jog the thing.

Crossing the start line, I realized my Garmin had switched off (thanks a bunch power save), so I had to wait about 30 seconds for it to locate satellites and get started, eventually reading that I was running a 9:30/mile pace.  Good enough I thought, shuffling up to someone else wearing a Highland Fling shirt for a quick hello.  After the first km, I felt OK, and looked down to read an 8:30/mile pace, which was a bit of a shock, as I felt pretty comfortable.  I put it down to my Garmin acting up, and ignored it for the next couple of miles.  At 5k, I looked down again.  8:22/mile.  I kept picking off runners ahead at a steady pace, but wasn’t trying to push myself, because I could still feel my hamstring and calf complaining, and I have a week of chaperoning teenagers around London ahead of me.

It wasn’t until I passed the sign for 9km that my competitive rage was unearthed when I zoned in on a familiar, silver ponytail, bobbing in the distance.  This ponytail belonged to a woman who drafted me during the Christmas Canter 10k (my first ever race report on this blog which I am intentionally not linking to, because I’ll probably cringe if I re-read something I wrote that long ago).  This woman has become known amongst a number of different running groups as a bit of a poor sports-woman.  This woman was going to finish behind me.

I turned the corner at the ‘400m’ sign and floored it.  I looked down once at my pace and read 6:xx.  I kicked silver ponytail’s ass.

Though crowded, I couldn’t spot anyone I knew after I had collected my medal, so I went to get my stuff, and then walked home.  Because of my impending 14 hour coach trip (with 40 teenagers, in case I hadn’t mentioned that yet), I thought I would try and wear myself out a bit in the hope that I’ll manage to sleep for a couple of hours on the bus tomorrow to help break up the journey, so Ian and I set off for Mill Stone hill a few hours later.

Though only about a 3 mile loop, it’s a relatively steep climb, and because the wind had died down, it was sweaty work.

Ian heading up.  Jacket off.

Ian heading up. Jacket off.

At the top, with Mither Tap in the background.

At the top, with Mither Tap in the background.

And now to sit back, relax, and enjoy a beer with some peri-peri chicken, sweet potato wedges, and later, something sweet.  And then packing.  And then a 3am alarm call (I know – gross).

Milano City Marathon 2014

Time: 4:24:19

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140406_152655First of all, I know I’m late in posting this race report, but I’ve been enjoying food, drink, and sunshine in Italy for a week, and a race report was not especially high up on my list of priorites, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Drinks outside our hotel in Venice.

Drinks outside our hotel in Venice.

I entered the Milan marathon last year, as I wanted to tackle another international marathon after my fantastic experience in Paris last year.  As Milan was being held during the start of my Easter holidays, and was offering a discounted entry fee to Italian citizens, I signed up without too much consideration.  And then I bullied Ronnie into entering, because I’m helpful like that.

As Ronnie has the luzury of choosing his days off, he set off for Milan on the Friday, while I was still at work.  Ian and I flew to Heathrow, where we stayed in a ‘Yotel’, which is basically a pod hotel room in the airport.  It was compact, but clean and quiet, and we got a few hours sleep before waking up at 5am to shower before our early flight to Milan.

I was pretty casual about booking, like, anything other than flights and a hostel room in Milan for two nights, so when Ronnie told me we were flying into the airport further out of the city, I kind of panicked for a few seconds before shrugging and deciding we’d just kind of ‘work it out’ once we arrived.  Which we did.  Ian and I collected our bags, caught a train into Stazione Centrale, and then jumped on the metro to the stop nearest the hostel, where Ronnie met us, and guided us to where we would be staying (and where he was staying as well).  The only slight cock-up was not ‘validating’ our train ticket before we hopped on, which can apparently carry a hefty fine, but thankfully the conductor just kind of looked a bit annoyed, wrote something on our ticket, and walked away.  Success!  Well, apart from the view from our room…

Could have been better...

Could have been better…

Once we had dumped our belongings into our room, Ian and I joined Ronnie again, and we all headed towards the expo, armed with medical certificates and registration letters.  It was a short enough walk, and we collected our race packs and (luminous) race shirts without incident.  We also had a quick look at the stalls, but I wasn’t really in the mood for buying anything, and Ronnie made do with grabbing as many freebies as he could, pointless or not.

We headed back to the hostel for something to drink, and then went in search of some Italian carbs for our pre-race meal!  Sadly, we were not staying in an area with an abundance of eateries, and every place we passed in the first 20 minutes of searching was ruled out because if we had been allowed through the door, I would have felt extremely uncomfortable in a hoodie, skirt, and trainers.  Eventually, we ended up settling for a tourist trap restaurant with disappointingly average pasta dishes, but it was cheap enough, and we werern’t wanting to waste time trying to find somewhere else.  Afterwards, I pretty much forced everyone to help me track down the nearest gelato shop, ignoring completely the advice in the marathon booklet to ‘avoid dairy’ the night before the race.  What rebels we were!

The first of many.

The first of many.

We also checked out the the Duomo at night, and made plans to re-visit it the following afternoon.

Outside Il Duomo, Milan

Outside Il Duomo, Milan

Once back at the hostel, we said our goodnights and I went to sleep without preparing anything for the next day, because I am confident enough now in my ability to dress myself and collect anything I need within about 5 minutes of waking up.  Thank you college and my crappy alarm.  Unfortunately it was stuffy and hot in our room (apparently Ronnie’s was cool and breezy), and I later discovered that we must have been above a bunch of pipes or something directly underneath us, because the tiles on our floor were actually hot.  Not ideal, but I eventually got to sleep.

Race Day

My alarm failed to wake me up the next morning, but thankfully a police siren did, about 25 minutes before Ronnie and I had agreed to leave.  I scrambled into my race kit, packed anything I might need into my Camelbak, and said goodbye to Ian before heading down for the complimentary breakfast (a croissant).  There were a couple of other runners staying at the hostel, and Italian who had run Rome a couple of weeks before, and an American girl called Amira, who had picked Milan as her debut marathon.  As a small group, we headed to the metro station and towards the start!

From the city centre to Rho Fiera, it was about 20 minutes on the metro.  From there, it was another 10-15 minutes of walking through what looked like a giant conference centre until we found the bag drop/porta loos and queue/etc. near the start.

After all of the typical pre-race rituals, we made our way to the start line.  I was in the 4:00-4:30 pen, whereas Ronnie and Amira were in the pen behind.  Both failed to sneak into mine, but the guy policing the runners’ entrance called them back as they were walking away and let them in.  Ronnie’s aim was to finish in about 4:30 or less, and Amira seemed happy to try and maintain 10 minute miles for as long as she could, so we agreed to run together.

We chatted in the 15 minutes leading up to the start, and it only then started to sink in that I was about to run a marathon.  Up until the morning, I was still genuinely unsure about whether I would run at all after my mystery foot/ankle crisis a week before.  I hadn’t run in over a week, my ankle was heavily taped up to avoid rolling, and I felt kind of unfit and lazy, but there I was, watching the helicopter filming us all the the start line, about to attempt a 26.2 mile run on a questionable ankle.  I remember trying to recall what the time limit for finishing was, and also wondering how long it would take to hop 10k.  I was perhaps a little bit concerned, but I told myself if I couldn’t run 26 miles today, I shouldn’t even attempt 53 in less than 3 weeks time.  Today was a (slightly faster than average) training run with Ronnie, and that’s what I kept telling myself to take the pressure off a little.

2014-04-06 07.55.25The sun was rising, the skies were clear, and I was happy.  But I was already starting to regret my Camelbak, because I was feeling comfortably warm standing still.  It was, however, too late to do anything about that, as we were edging forward, already out of sight of the elite runners.

Ronnie, Amira, and I managed to stick together for the first mile or two, and, as usual, I kept having to remind Ronnie to reign in his pace – we were still a long way from the end.  After about 10 minutes I was sweating profusely, and a quick reach around revealed that my back was drenched.  My ankle was sore, but not excruciating, and though the tape was digging painfully into my skin, I figured I could always stop to rip it all off if it didn’t slacken up in time (which it did, a little, thankfully).

Miles 1-2:

9:52

9:43

It was around here that we lost Amira.  We thought maybe we’d have a chance to see her at the end, but later found out she crossed the line in 6+ hours.  I know she was catching a flight home later in the afternoon, so I really feel for her.  Ronnie and I kept a pretty steady pace, though, again, I kept making him slow down, and tried tucking in behind people running at the pace we should have been trying to maintain in an effort to stay steady, but Ronnie kept overtaking them, against my strict orders.  He did agree to walk the water stops every 5k, though, which is nice, because I might have murdered him if I didn’t have adequate time to drink in everything I could get my hands on.  Did I mention it was warm?  Because it was warm.

After just over 10k, we passed the relay pens, filled with runners eagerly awaiting their teammates.  Although the relay started after the we did, it wasn’t long before the second leg runners came bounding by us, fresh and fast.  Screw them and their bouncy, sweat-free hair.

Look at this guy, floating on air.

Look at this guy, floating on air.

Miles 3-13:

9:20
9:50
9:30
9:41
10:09
9:40
9:43
10:24
9:28
9:51
10:24

At around mile 13, the course goes alongside the finishing straight, and the helicopter overhead let us know that the winner was closeby.  Sure enough, on our right, at, presumably, light speed, the marathon winner, Francis Kiprop, breezed alongside us, passing us with ease, and heading to the finish line.  Ian, who had decided to visit the castle at the course finish, was lucky enough to catch him just before he crossed the line, before taking in some of the historical sights.

P1010564While Kiprop crossed the line, Ronnie and I were only halfway through our race, so we pressed on, beginning to feel the heat, and our quads.  There were a few cobbled sections here, so I didn’t take in any of the impressive architecture, unless you consider paving to be fascinating.

Miles 14-20:

9:45

9:37

10:50

9:46

9:26

11:54

10:21

I realize people are wearing COATS in the background, but trusst me, it was toasty.

I realize people are wearing COATS in the background, but trust me, it was toasty.

At mile 20, Ronnie hit the wall.  His chatting stopped, his breathing picked up, and he finally admitted that he was starting to struggle.  I told him he still had time to play with, and that as long as the 4:30 pacers were behind him, he had nothing to worry about.  I went ahead a little, and kept turning back to check he was on my heels.  He was the first few times I turned back, and then he wasn’t.  I walked through the next sponge station, and the next water stop, walking backwards to see if I could spot Ronnie and his loud Fetch shirt, but no luck, so I kept moving forwards.  I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve with my face here.

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Miles 21-25:

9:44

10:54

9:51

11:10

10:56

At mile 25, a guy dressed as a banana passed me.  I was sweating my balls off, and this guy in a full banana suit was happily jogging past me, smiling.  I later realized he was part of a banana relay team, but I was so affronted at the sight of him that I chased him all the way to the finish (he still beat me).  I did, however, manage to pass a group of guys dressed as an American football team, who had managed to hold Ian’s attention at the finish line so he completely missed catching a photo of me.  In fact, he would have missed me altogether if I hadn’t shouted his name as I ran by!  At least the event photographers managed to catch me…

Mile 26

9:42

milano4milano3Finally, sneaking in under 4:25, I crossed the line and collected my medal.  Secretly, I was the most happy that I could stop running, but secondly that I could legitimately wear my race shirt, since I had finished.  I found Ian at the castle, and we kept an eye out for Ronnie, who came in just after 4:36, crushing his previous marathon PB.  We took a photo at the castle with our medals, and started the slow and aching journey back to the hostel for a shower, and a rest.

P1010602That afternoon, once cleaned up, we made our way to Il Duomo, were we checked out the impressive interior, and saved money by climbing the 230+ steps to the terraces instead of taking the lift.  That was fun.  At least the views were worth it!

During the day this time.

During the day this time.

P1010612P1010610P1010613P1010621P1010622P1010616P1010619That night, we managed to find a good restaurant, where we each wolfed down a pizza, and Ian and I enjoyed a couple of beers before, you guessed it, another gelato.  It was heavenly.

When we got back to the hostel, we wearily said our goodnights again, and went to bed in preparation for journeys the next day.

Texas Marathon 2014

Time: 4:22:30 [RESULTS]

Position: 83/301

Medal: Hell yes.

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

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I guess everything really is bigger in Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel and Raquel

Rachel and Raquel

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

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

photo

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

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

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

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