“It’s OK, it won’t be that tiring, the route is pretty flat.”

Exactly a week from now, I will (hopefully) have finished my third marathon.  Now, I still can’t really claim to be an expert on executing the perfect 26.2 mile race, but there are a few things I have learned from number one and number two.  There is one thing that sticks in my mind more than the rest, however, and that is:

1. Tapering is important

After a gruelling training schedule, it’s apparently a good idea to give your body a break to allow it to rest and heal.  The idea behind this is to leave you refreshed for the race without having lost much in the way of fitness.  The first time I ran Loch Ness marathon, I naively assumed that two days rest was enough.  But then, I also thought a 17.5 and a 20 mile run was sufficient for my long run quote.  Ha!  Let’s all laugh at my foolishness.  We’d all be beacons of success with hindsight, right?  If you have time to kill, you can always go back and read the long version, but the short version is: my first marathon was a pain I’d never experienced before.  With that in mind, you might think I had learned my lesson.

***

On Friday night, Ian and I (and our road bikes) made our way to Forres once again to see Dylan.  After a hearty dinner and a good night’s sleep, we woke up to pretty acceptable weather; there were patches of blue sky to be seen, cats weren’t being hurled horizontally through the air by gales, and opening the living room window did not cause frostbite within seconds.

Ian had planned a 66 mile loop from Forres, to Grantown-on-Spey, and then back.  With the marathon looming on the horizon, I was initially hesitant to agree to such a long cycle, but Ian ASSURED ME THAT THE ROUTE WAS FLAT, and shrugged it off as a relatively leisurely route, so I agreed to go along.

Here is a rough, Google mapping of the route:

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We set off merrily in the sunshine (not to last), and got onto the quiet and scenic back roads as quickly as we could.  From a starting elevation of about 25 feet above sea level, I was not amused to watch this number climb steadily for the first 10 miles or so.  And then dip.  And then climb again.  I was even less amused to see this become a recurring theme on our “FLAT” journey, because my heart rate told me I was absolutely not taking part in a leisurely ride.

Even less thrilling was eventually realizing we were on a long, exposed road with a strong, chilly headwind with no sign of an end for miles.  Oh, and a steady climb, of course.  We got a nice view of some impressive hills in the distance, but overall it seemed pretty barren, and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself since my toes were so cold I couldn’t really feel them any more.

Finally, we turned off the road, and I watched our elevation start to dip.  The trees gave us a bit of shelter from the wind, and it became noticeably warmer the lower we got, until eventually I was enjoying myself again.  After about 34 miles, we had arrived in Grantown-on-Spey, where we had planned to stop for a hot drink and something to eat before the slightly shorter leg home.  A tuna and cheese toastie and a hot chocolate later, I was a bit warmer, and in better spirits.

Knowing the way back was (marginally) shorter than the first section made the ache from pushing uphill on cold muscles easier to bear, and despite a couple of steep sections, the way back seemed like a piece of cake!  The sky had become overcast, and the warmth from the sun had pretty much disappeared, but because we weren’t as exposed, and the wind was behind us, it didn’t seem so bad.

About 8 miles from Forres, we cycled through ‘Dallas’, and the Texan in me felt it was totally necessary to get a photo:

2013-09-21 15.05.43Dylan was obviously feeling left out:

2013-09-21 15.05.40

 

There was also a castle (or the remains of one) just around the corner from here, so Ian, ‘Castle Master’, requested a shot:

2013-09-21 15.11.07

 

For some reason, Dylan and I were not begging for a photo next to this historic pile of bricks, and we set off on the last few miles of our loop.

Back in Forres, I was keen to get into a warm shower while Ian put the bike rack back on the car and loaded up the bikes. My Garmin read 66.35 miles for the journey with a total elevation gain of over 3,000 feet.  Which is over 1,000 meters.  Which is the equivalent of cycling up a munro (Scottish mountain) and then back down again.

Last time I checked, hiking up a mountain was not flat.

 

Crathes 1/2 marathon 2013

Time: 1:57:01 [RESULTS HERE]

Medal: Yes

Crathes 1/2 marathon medal

Crathes 1/2 marathon medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fat people + hot weather = unpleasant

Fat people + hot weather = unpleasant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronnie, modelling this year's fetching turquoise shirt.

Ronnie, modelling this year’s fetching turquoise shirt.

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

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

IMG_20130915_072217

Cycling is the new black.

But for some people, cycling is the new black circa 1850’s America.  Something that they are disgusted by as they drive their big, modified, white Subaru. Cyclists mean they can’t drive at 60mph in a 30mph zone with their douchey trance music offending the ears of anyone within a half mile radius, but rather, they have to slow down to nearly within the speed limit which is just such a freaking inconvenience.

In case it wasn’t becoming quite obvious that I have had a bit of an incident recently, I’ll just confirm that during an otherwise pleasant countryside cycle with Ian on Sunday, a fat bag of dicks that only just came into my sight once I had set off from a T-junction (with plenty of time for me to move the 3 meters forwards in order to be out of his lane), decided that he was so affronted by my being on the road that he deliberately sped up, and thought it appropriate to shout out of his window that I was a “fucking idiot” as he sped past me in the opposite direction.

I know I was not in the wrong: I looked both ways before I set off, and when the driver zoomed into view he was going far too fast.  But that doesn’t mean that his thoughtless comment hasn’t annoyed me for the last few days.  I somehow doubt he would be so vocal if he wasn’t in a big metal box that I could never catch up with, especially with Ian there too.  I guess part of it annoys me because no matter how careful and considerate  the majority of cyclists and drivers are, there will always be the few (of both) that think they own the road and have a serious grudge against anyone else using it that they don’t feel is worthy of sharing their space.  As long as they stay in the minority, we’re good.

Taking a break to check out a stone circle in the woods.

Taking a break to check out a stone circle in the woods.

Ian + rocks

Ian + rocks

Falls of Feugh, near Banchory

Falls of Feugh, near Banchory

The Falls of Feugh are pretty popular this time of year as you can stand on the bridge and watch salmon attempt to get upstream.  Ian and I saw a few make a good attempt, but fail to get up the falls successfully.  After a near miss, we decided to head off, which is when I met Mr. White Subaru.

Have any of you had bad experiences cycling?  Or are you a driver that has had a bad encounter with a cyclist?  Why do you think some drivers hate cyclists, and some cyclists hate drivers?

 

All Quiet on the Scottish Front

Note:  I’m an English teacher, I’m allowed to create cheesy titles for my posts.

Now that my spring running schedule is coming to an end, I find I have a lot more free time at the weekends.  I had promised to Ian that I would go light on the summer races, since there is a chance Scotland will get some palatable weather and we can do outdoorsy stuff together, (and there is a greater chance that if I don’t keep to my word I’ll return home one day to find my belongings shredded and burnt) and I have been fairly vigilant at keeping myself in check.  The last two weekends have been race free, and, delightfully, the weather has been amazing.  This has resulted in a couple more outings on the road bikes.

Two weeks ago we were joined by one of Ian’s friends who was riding on his mountain bike (and suffering as Ian and I glided along the road effortlessly).  Once out of Aberdeen, we took the quiet back roads to Banchory, where we each enjoyed an ice-cream before heading back.  It was such a glorious day that I have pretty much ensured my ridiculous lycra tan will be a permanent fixture this year.  Again.

This past Sunday, despite being a bit cooler and cloudier, we took the road bikes out again, this time just me and Ian.  We took a similar route in the beginning, but continued on to Dunecht (where I ran a 5k a few weeks ago), and then on to Castle Fraser, where we stopped for a slice of cake (me), a scone (Ian), and some orange juice.  As I headed to the toilet after our treat, I overheard a human beluga that had also been indulging in the tea room tell her equally corpulent friend that it would be “a long drive back to Aberdeen” and they should maybe use the toilet and get a treat for the journey.  For reference, it is about a 20 mile drive back to Aberdeen along the main roads.  I was speechless.

Outside Castle Fraser

Outside Castle Fraser

Aberdeen to Crathes Castle route

Aberdeen to Castle Fraser route

Aberdeen to Castle Fraser elevation

Aberdeen to Castle Fraser elevation

I have also been pretty quiet recently because I have endured enjoyed a school trip to London for a week with 40 teenagers who appear to be immune to fatigue.  And silence.  Having lived in London a few times, I always find it kind of nice to go back and see familiar places.  It was not kind of nice to spend 12 hours on a bus getting there, and I’m pretty sure ‘butt-cramp’ is a very real affliction.

Anyway, we got to go on the London Eye and scope out several of London’s landmarks, we went shopping in Camden Town (my old haunt) and Covent Garden, took in a few shows (Billy Elliot was amazing), visited the zoo, survived the London Dungeons, and had a day trip to Thorpe Park, where I remembered how much rickety roller coaster hurt your head.

Tiger having a snooze at London zoo

Tiger having a snooze at London zoo

Jellyfish

Jellyfish

Big ass moth

Big ass moth

Penguins

Penguins

Caricature from Covent Garden

Caricature from Covent Garden

We also accidentally stumbled upon the premier for The Hangover 3 which was extremely exciting for many of the teenage girls since apparently Bradley Cooper is a “total babe!” and “OMG so hot!”.  I tried to convince them that he wouldn’t be there yet, but they asked me to look over the crowds, so I wedged myself between a couple of hysterical fans at the barrier and, sure enough, Mr. Cooper was about 6 feet away.  I told the girls he was pretty much within spitting distance, and then took turns ushering kids towards the barrier and holding them up under their armpits so they could get a look.  I snapped a photo to show the kids that had missed out, and then made my way back to the rest of the group, as we were kind of meant to be heading to the theatre.

Bradley Cooper at the Hangover 3 premier in London

Bradley Cooper at the Hangover 3 premier in London

Bradley Cooper - still at the premier for the Hangover 3 in London

Bradley Cooper – still at the premier for the Hangover 3 in London

Although I did take my running stuff to London, I was still pretty miserable and ill for the first couple of days, and only managed to get out once for an enjoyable 8 miles along the Thames.  Early starts, chaperoning kids, walking around the city/theme park, and late nights after the theatre kind of take it out of you, and by the end, I was pretty glad to be back in my own bed.

The Shard

The Shard

Big Ben

Big Ben

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Red phone box and the London Eye in the background

Red phone box and the London Eye in the background

Scottish summer arrives, road bike (and shoulders) sees daylight!

For the first time this year (and possibly for the first time in the last 5 years), we had a glorious weekend in Scotland.  It was warm enough for me to address my t-shirt tan situation in an unflattering green tank top, and when I looked towards the sky I saw the colour blue, instead of the familiar grey!  I had already agreed with Ian that I would accompany him on a drive into the countryside on the Sunday for a few hours, but I took full advantage of the sunlight, and met a friend for ten glorious, sunny miles at 6:30am.  I can absolutely get on board with being a morning person in weather that doesn’t suck.

After a quick shower, and bundled up, Ian picked me up in his 1954 MG TF, and we set off into the Scottish countryside with the top down.  It was pretty windy, especially when we started climbing up some of the hills, but it was too sunny to care.  We saw all of the lambs basking in the daylight, and even came across an escapee on the road, who thankfully wandered off to the side:

Keep moo-ving

Keep moo-ving

We stopped for lunch in Dufftown and started to head back soon afterwards, getting back to Aberdeen at about half past 3.  Considering one of the few perks of living so far North is the fact that we get longer days as summer approaches (estimated sunset time was just after 9pm), we both decided to take advantage of this freak weather, and go for a proper ride on our road bikes.  14.5 miles later, we were back for dinner and an early night.

I was lucky enough to have the Monday off (Ian was not), so I went for a 5 mile run and did some weights at the gym in between spring cleaning my apartment (with the windows open!), and again, the day was beautiful.  Instead of going to spin class in the evening, I ditched the indoor workout and joined Ian for another go on the road bikes.  This time we managed about 25 miles on the rolling hills outside of Aberdeen, making it back just before sunset, at which point Ian devoured everything edible in sight.

Water break

Water break

Losing daylight

Losing daylight

IMG_20130508_164505Despite the silent protest of my undercarriage at the amount of time it has been in an unfamiliar saddle, the rest of me is now even more excited about the 40 mile Granite Cycle challenge next month.  At least, I was excited until I got home after work to an e-mail regrettably informing me that the event has been called off due to poor participation numbers (I think there were only 37 sign ups, and as it’s a charity event, the financial loss they would make is too big to allow it to go ahead).  Unfortunately, normal weather service has resumed, and I can report that it is currently raining, and I had to turn my heating on all day at work.

Road Bike Outing: Day 2

Road Bike Outing: Day 2

Still, 55 miles in 2 days ain’t bad.  And at least we got a summer in Scotland this year – here’s to 2014!

40 mile weekend

So it looks like I’m in that painful part of marathon training, guys.  I’m also going back to work tomorrow after 7 (beautiful) weeks of summer holidays, so my mind and body are crushed.

Saturday started off bright and early (for a Saturday) and I left my apartment at about 8 to get some miles in on the (boring) railway line.  At 8:35, I turned back, and continued past my place towards the beach, where I just managed to arrive at parkrun on time!  3.1 miles later (at a faster speed than I’d have liked, but still way slow compared to just a 5k), Ronnie and I set off for some laps of the beach.  We had originally intended to do one massive loop starting with parkrun, but as I’d started early, we settled for the beach, agreeing to hit the gym’s cafe afterwards for some freshly squeezed orange juice.  As the miles ticked by, I was aware that I felt a lot better than I did during the 18 miler a fortnight ago.  My muscles felt as though they could go on and on.  Unfortunately, the chaffing in unmentionable places did a pretty good job making me want to stop.  However, having company with me for that last 9 miles was amazing and really helped me through.  It wasn’t fast, but I ran my first 20 mile training run, and I didn’t collapse.  Result!

At 19.92 miles, ‘Chariots of Fire’ starting playing in my head. No joke.

The freshly squeezed orange juice was amazing.  The shower when I got home was less pleasant (I imagine) than using a dildo made of sandpaper and glued on pieces of broken glass.

Chaffed delicates + hot water and soap = tears and swearing.

Anyway, that night, Ian, myself, Liell and Grant all indulged in a curry.  And beer.  I pretty much inhaled everything that was placed in front of me, and even shared a desert with Liell, using a cocktail umbrella as a utensil (times were desperate).

While I was out running on Saturday, Ian was finishing up my bike, which he has been working on for the last few weeks whenever the weather is nice enough to work outside after he finished work at his day job.  I tell him ALL THE TIME that he needs to wear sun block when there is actual sunshine, but he just says he’s ‘building up a natural immunity to burning’.  Well, it seems to be working really well….

Bad sunburn

Despite his terrible sun care, he’s pretty good at cleaning and fixing up bikes, and because the weather was gorgeous today (the best day of 2012 by miles), we decided to give my bike a test ride.

We chose the railway line because it’s pretty flat (and my legs would shout out a ‘heeeeeeeeell no!’ if hills had been suggested).  We cycled about 10 miles out, and it was amazing how many other cyclists were out today – they were obviously all in the summer spirit today!  We soon realized, however, that life would have been a whole lot easier if we had a bell (like everyone else) to warn people when we wanted to overtake.  Luckily, my front brake squealed when I stopped abruptly, so it became our impromptu bell for the day.

I’ve posted photos of the railway line before from some of my runs along it, but today we went a little farther.  Some of the sections are like country roads, some are like trails, some are totally overgrown and bursting with stinging nettles.  We also passed loads of different animals; horses, sheep, cows, bunnies.  And my insect kill count for today must be through the roof (I’m sorry bumblebee!).

At the point where we turned back, I took a few photos, and stopped to take a few more along the way home:

My fixed up bike! Her name is Juliet.

Ian working on his guns. And sensibly covering up.

Cows. Ian didn’t want to pose with them because he felt guilty that we’d both be eating them later…

This bridge actually shook when cars went over it…

 

So, things I learned this weekend:

  • 20 miles is a long way.
  • Cycling 20 miles is easier than running 20 miles, though chaffing and a saddle do not mix as well as I’d have liked.
  • Wearing heels after a 20 mile run is ill-advised.
  • I am glad that swimming comes first in a half ironman, because holy shit, it would sting after cycling over 50 miles and running a half marathon.

Back to work in T-minus 10 hours.  I am already in a grump!