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!

Giants Head marathon 2014

Time: TBC (In the region of 6:15)

Medal: Yes

 IMG_20140629_222624

This one, for a change, was not my fault! Back in April, Naomi, due to injury, was forced to defer her London marathon place until 2015. She had entered the Giants Head marathon to capitalize on her training, giving her enough time to rest and build back up to a marathon. She had also picked “the UK’s toughest and longest” trail marathon so that there was no pressure on her to achieve a certain time. You may wonder how a standard distance can be longer. Well, that’s because the course is about 27 miles long. But who cares about minor details like that?

Whilst hunting for marathons to use as training runs for some of my upcoming ultras, I asked Naomi is she fancied Helsinki marathon in August. This is when she mentioned that she had already found a marathon to run in the near future, and asked if I wanted to join her. I took one look at the elevation profile (and medal), and signed up.

2014 would be the second running of the Giants Head marathon, a smallish local race emphasizing the ‘fun’ element of running a marathon. It is an off-road race, run on tracks, trails, paths, and fields on private land kindly opened to runners by the landowners and farmers for the race, and boasts over 3000 feet of elevation gain throughout, including cresting the hill that proudly displays the Cerne Abbas Giant, known for his 11 meter tall erection.

cerne giant from above

Naomi and I flew into Bristol, caught a bus to the train station, and then caught a train to Taunton, where I briefly re-lived a moment when I was 16 and had first visited Taunton to see an old school friend. His mother and my mother were friends. They went out together. We did things 16 year olds shouldn’t, like raid the drinks cabinet and smoke cigarettes. I vaguely remember a boob grab as a distraction tactic during a heated game of pool. It was fun.

Waiting for our train at Bristol.

Waiting for our train at Bristol.

Anyway, Taunton is home to a friend of Naomi’s, Linda, who used to be live in Aberdeen and was a regular at some of the local races. Linda and her husband Steve kindly offered us a roof over our heads during our stay. Linda had also signed up to the 10k, and had agreed to help out afterwards until we were finished. It was going to be a swell day out.

According to the forecast, it was also going to be a wet day out.

Let me allow this photo of Charlotte Bronte to give you an idea about how I felt about that.

Fuck that shit.

Fuck that shit.

Saturday morning, at the uncivilized hour of 5am, I awoke to the sound of rain battering down outside. I chose to ignore this, and went back to sleep for an extra 30 minutes, before going downstairs and making myself pancakes. Linda was up, getting ready, and Naomi emerged soon after. We did not need to communicate verbally to express how we felt about the weather.

At 6:30, we piled into Linda’s car, and the rain, miraculously, had gone off. Linda said the updated forecast indicated we would have a dry run, and as long as we finished by 4pm, we would miss the torrential downpour that was expected. We set off in higher spirits, and I fell in and out of consciousness during the hour long journey to Sydling Saint Nicholas, the cute village where the race would start (and finish).

Approaching the village (Photo: Vixx Thompson(

Approaching the village (Photo: Vixx Thompson)

Before the start.

Before the start.

We were ushered into a field to park, and greeted by the smell of slurry as we left the car and headed into the village to register. Even at this time, all the volunteers were chipper and friendly, and we were registered without any problems before using the porta loos and heading back to the car to shed our warmer layers. We returned to the start with everything we needed with enough time for another toilet stop and a photo before the race briefing.

The smallish field of runners, ranging from lithe, club-vested gazelle, to first-time marathoners (who evidently are crazy), lined up on the road for the countdown, and at the sound of a gun/cannon/I’m not quite sure but it was loud, we surged forwards, smiling and listening to the friendly chatter that had already begun. The only hiccup was a guy who came bounding past, launching his mobile phone and energy gels from his pocket, which we promptly returned to him.

 

Photo: Running Richard

Photo: Running Richard

We sauntered casually along at a steady pace on the small road for about, oh, 800 meters, before turning left up a great big massive hill. Everyone in our sight was walking. We tried our best to blend in. I feel that now is as good a time as any to include the elevation profile:

Giants head marathon: elevation profile

Giants head marathon: elevation profile

At the top of the hill, we continued onto landrover tracks, and it wasn’t long before we heard cheering up ahead. Whatever was there was obscured by the landscape, but the cheering remained steady as we approached, and when we finally rounded a corner we happened upon the now legendary naked farmer in a bath tub, but this year he was accompanied by two (less naked) female acquaintances.

 

Naked farmer

Naked farmer

Naomi waited while I snapped a photo, and then we continued through grassy fields to yet another hill. The terrain remained varied throughout, and required us to think carefully about our footing, but I suppose that helped the first few miles tick by without us really noticing. The friendly banter with other runners also helped, and the miles and aid stations started flying by.

SONY DSC

(Photo: Running Richard)

At roughly mile 8, Naomi and I noticed a couple of runners taking photos, and a marshal pointing to the distance. If it hadn’t been for this, we would have likely missed the Cerne Abbas Giant, a huge chalk figure on the hill, and one of the reasons we were running in the first place. The history of the Giant is varied, some believing it dates back to the Romans, others believing that is has been around since its earliest mention in records (17th Century), but one of the myths surrounding it is that it brings fertility.  We got a couple of photos, and set off through a wooded area uphill, before flying back downhill through crops. I don’t know what crops. But they were definitely crops.

Cerne Abbas Giant

Cerne Abbas Giant

Climbing up the hill (Photo: Running Richard)

Climbing up the hill (Photo: Running Richard)

Crops (Photo: Naomi)

Crops (Photo: Naomi)

We continued on (in dry weather!), running the flats and the runnable downhill sections, power walking the hills, until eventually we arrived at the 13 mile marker, and an aid station shortly afterwards. We saw a few runners that had passed us earlier, and later learnt that several runners chose to pull out at this point. We didn’t hang around, topping up our water supply and enjoying some watermelon before heading onwards. And, inevitably, upwards. Why do they always put photographers at the top of a hill?

14355164277_30f54e20a0_o

(Photo: Running Richard)

Despite leaving me in her dust at the end of Strathearn to secure a new PB, Naomi, who has had little training on trails/hills was starting to suffer at about mile 16. We walked a bit. We chatted to other runners that were around us. We kept moving forwards. It was a dark moment, but thankfully, a kilted man (in Superman underwear, I was promised) at mile 17 encouraged us, and before too long we were approaching the ‘Love Station’, where a compulsory hug from the marshal was dished out to every runner, who was then offered cake, cider, and vodka. Linda, who had finished the 10k, was here, and recommended the cider. I opted to take her recommendation, and it was delicious. I think I also had some ginger cake. Naomi said she’d puke if she consumed alcohol, so we set off again, this time, I believe, with a bit of a spring in my step. It was probably the booze.

Linda, Naomi, and me.  Pleased to see the booze!

Linda, Naomi, and me. I’m trying to get rid of my t-shirt tan. (Photo: Mark Way)

By this point we had formed a little group with a few other runners, one of whom is a race director herself who had been a support runner at the West Highland Way Race the previous weekend. We bumbled along, walking with bursts of running, until we crested the final hill, and then began our short, but kind of steep, descent into Sydling and to the finish, where Naomi and I crossed hand in hand, ending her longest ever run.

(Photo@ Vixx Thompson)

(Photo@ Vixx Thompson)

(Photo: Vixx Thompson)

(Photo: Vixx Thompson)

We were handed our medal, a customized pint glass, and a tech shirt, before finding Linda for an ice-cream in the sun, cheering in the runners as they trickled in.

Overall, this was a fantastic event. The scenery was beautiful, the Giant was a nice focal point, the naked farmer was an enthusiastic supporter (and if I had realized he was serving runners champagne, I would have indulged), and the hills, while numerous, weren’t nearly as steep as the ones encountered last week thankfully!). Though a bit tricky to get to, given the chance, I would be back. I’m not sure Naomi was too enamoured with that idea when she tried to walk down steps the following day, however.

We can both agree that we were very glad when, 5 minutes after getting into Linda’s car, the rain started chucking down violently.  A close call!

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.

Stinking Rich Husband on Death Bed: position available

One of the consequences of scrolling through running blogs in your feeder in January is being made aware of a slew of fantastic sounding races that have made it onto 2014 race calendars.  Sadly, my races for the year are nearly all mapped out (I’m opting for more quality, less quantity this year because, well, money), so I don’t really have the option of getting overly excited filling up my schedule with exotic locations.  Instead, I get to create a ‘to-do’ list of races that I would love to one day participate in sometime in the future (or when I win the lottery, though I hear you have to buy a ticket for that, so I’m not holding my breath).

Take a (virtual) trip around the world with me as I investigate some of the races I would to see in my future!  And leave me any suggestions!

E.T. Full Moon Midnight marathon (Rachel, Nevada)

This race takes place in Rachel, Nevada.  My name is Rachel.  Not that I even need to explain any further why I am interested in this one, but it is also takes place at night, and I would imagine fancy dress is encouraged.  Because aliens.

I need a photo standing next to this sign.

I need a photo standing next to this sign.

Caracas marathon (Caracas, Venezuela)

I figure, having ticked Houston off the list, I should try and run a marathon in every city I’ve lived in.  Why not start here?  Besides, I love the idea of carb loading on arepas and queso de mano.  I’m drooling.  It could also turn into a nice extended holiday.  To Aruba.

Jakarta marathon (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Continuing the ‘cities I’ve lived in’ tour, Jakarta would be my next stop.  I would be equally excited about the food options available for pre- and post-race nutrition.  Many of my childhood favourites (chicken satay, sambal olek, nasi goring, beef rending… Oh. My. God. Yes.) would feature prominently, and I would top it all off with a trip to Sambolo beach to relax and watch anak Krakatoa simmer in the distance at night.

Puncak.  Late 80's/early 90's.

Puncak. Late 80’s/early 90’s.

Giulietta e Romeo ½ marathon (Verona, Italy)

I’m a high school English teacher, so this totally appeals.  I’m also Italian, and Verona is like a 2 hour drive from my Great Aunt’s house, so I could make it a family affair.  I had this in mind for my 30th next month, but the timing for flights was super awkward, so I’ll have to wait until flights are more regular from Scotland.  Or until I can afford the better flights.  Or a private jet.  Whatever comes first.

I have even illustrated the whole play for my senior class.  I love Romeo and Juliet.

I have even illustrated the whole play for my senior class. I love Romeo and Juliet.

London marathon (London, England)

One of the most famous marathons in the world, London would be great to run for fun, and for the experience.  I’m not really willing to get an entry via a charity place, because you need to commit to raising, like, 4.8billion pounds, and I pretty much maxed out friends (and strangers – thank you again!) generosity with the whole sled-pulling trick in September.  However, I’ve entered the ballot 5 times and lost out, so we’ll see.  I’d also be ticking off a ‘cities  I’ve lived in’ marathon, so there’s that.

Great Wall marathon (Great Wall, China)

Because who WOULDN’T want to run this?  And I’m using the term loosely – it would be a challenge with all the steps.  But steeped in history, and with beautiful views, who cares how long it takes to finish?

Williams Route 66 marathon (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

This is where I hit a brick wall with trying to run a marathon in every city I’ve lived in.  Ponca City, Oklahoma – population 24,974 – does not have a marathon*.  I have decided to get around this by picking another race in the same state (totally legit), and have chosen, easily, the Route 66 marathon in Tulsa.  The medal is meant to be fantastic, which is a bonus, and I’ve only ever read good reviews, so in all honesty, I need no elaborate reason to want to run this.

Berlin marathon (Berlin, Germany)

Another marathon with a ballot entry, which means my biggest challenge for ticking this off the list is getting a spot in the first place.  A couple I know both entered the ballot for this year.  He got in.  She did not.  For the sake of their marriage, he turned down his place.

Any marathon in Australia.

Australia is a weird place.  Summer and winter are backwards, and the majority of the island is a barren death-trap.  But I’m already starting to save for an Australian trip in summer 2015 with my friend Grant.  We’ll check out Melbourne/Sydney and catch up with old friends for a few days, then I’ll journey solo to visit my grandmother.  If I can time the trip to include a marathon that is within reasonable train distance, I’m in.  There’s also a fantastic cycle trip from where she lives, to the top of Mount Beauty, then back.  A challenge I am keen to complete after visiting a couple of years ago and seeing the huge number of cyclists puffing to the top.  Also, my old sports massage therapist lives in the same town my gran does, so I’d be looked after.  Small world.

New Year, 2012, Australia

New Year, 2012, Australia

 

*Currently, Aberdeen does not have a marathon either.  But I have run several 5 and 10ks here, and – if all goes well – will be running my first ultramarathon here in about 8 weeks.

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:

IMG_20140102_021831

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.

IMG_20140102_023421

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!

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

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

Loch Ness Marathon 2013

Time: 4:43:32 (personal worst)

Medal: Yes

IMG_20130929_204518

I feel it’s necessary to preface this post with a few facts:

  1. I take great offence to weird things.
  2. Once I decide something, no matter how terrible of an idea it is, I am too stubborn not to follow through.
  3. I often have terrible ideas.

I hadn’t planned on running Loch Ness marathon again this year (after my painful début last year). I had already signed up for the Texas marathon on New Year’s Day, 2014, and that seemed like enough of a challenge. However, easily swayed by the fact that the majority of my running friends had signed up, for some their first attempt at the distance, I entered. Because who likes feeling left out? Nobody, that’s who.

The goal for this race, however, was not speed.

 ***

Rewind ten months. I was about to start my training for the Paris marathon after a bit of a running hiatus in December, caused by psychological trauma following my first marathon, naturally. It was an average day – I had gone to work, gone to the gym for a bit, come home, showered, and eaten – and I was relaxing on my sofa browsing the internet when I came across this meme:

Oh-you-ran-a-marathon-How-heavy-was-the-sledNow, I don’t even know why I can’t control my emotions like a rational human being, but seeing this awoke a mighty rage within me, and I wanted nothing more than to punch that smug husky in the face. With a speeding bus. Admittedly, it’s kind of funny, but the pain of my first marathon was fresh enough in my mind to trigger a loathing so all-consuming that it continued to gnaw away at me for the best part of 2013.

You have maybe already guessed where this is going.

Step one was buying a sled. I wanted something pretty (of great importance), and made out of wood. Thank you, Amazon, for this beauty:

sled

It was a bit heavier than I had anticipated, but the highly scientific test of dragging it 6 feet across my living room was enough to convince me that this was still a viable idea. But it would need wheels.

Step two involved searching gumtree for a used pram. I found one a few miles away for £10, and decided to run there, buy it, and then run home to test out the wheels. They were a great success, but pushing an empty pram around a city center acquires many an odd look. It was worth it for the advantage of carrying home a lot of shopping from the supermarket:

IMG_20130903_193946

Step three was taken care of by one of the technicians at school who removed the chassis and wheels of the pram from the baby-carrying bit, and then used cable ties to attach the sled, which fit perfectly. That was blind luck, which I took to be a sign that I was not completely idiotic. With some rope attached to the frame, I took it for a test run, which yielded more confused looks from the general public.

From this test run, I established very quickly that the sled was going to be a burden, but also that attached to my rucksack with a bit of rope, its movements were unpredictable and out of control. It veered off the paths on several occasions, and whacked into the backs of my legs on the downhill sections.

This was remedied by attaching telescopic walking sticks to the frame, which would allow me greater control over the sled’s movement, and prevent it from hitting me, whilst also behind handy for storage. These were also attached with cable ties. On Friday night. Trusting my mad engineering skills, I decided I did not need to test out the contraption at all.

The finishing touches for the sled included a cool bag for my lunch, and two stuffed huskies, Mukluk and Storm (they had names when I bought them). Add into the mix a relatively secure harness with a D-ring on the back and I was ready to roll.

IMG_20130927_205050

Race weekend had arrived, and on Saturday Ronnie picked me up at about 11:30. When Ian helped me carry the sled and my bags downstairs, Ronnie just shook his head and said, “So you’re still doing this.” With some Tetris-level manoeuvring, we managed to get everything into the car, and then we set off for Inverness, which took about twice as long as it should have done thanks to road works and people who drive on main roads at 40mph.

Once registered, Ronnie dropped me off at my B&B before checking out his swanky hotel. I watched women’s cycling on TV and took a nap before dinner with some Fetch runners, and was tucked up in bed by 9. As I was falling asleep, I remember only being nervous about organisers not letting me run with my sled for health and safety reasons. I don’t think ‘running a marathon the next day’ was even registering.

I was up at the crack of dawn for a shower, and to get dressed and get everything packed for checking out. Breakfast of toast, orange juice and a banana was at 6:30, and 15 minutes later I was hauling the sled along the dark streets of Inverness to where a few of us had arranged to congregate.

On our way to the bus

On our way to the bus

I was met with laughter and heavy sighs (I hadn’t told everyone what I was planning on doing, and nobody had seen the finished masterpiece). Trying to avoid crippling any of the other runners, we all made our way towards the buses, where I managed to get a wheelchair spot for the sled with no questions asked, other than “How much for a lift to the finish line?”

[side note: a stuffed husky is an adequate replacement for a neck pillow on an hour long bus journey]

The wait at the start was broken up by queuing for the toilet, making last minute adjustments to the sled, and wishing everyone luck. I was glad for the distractions because it was pretty cold.

L-R: Naomi, Sheri, me

L-R: Naomi, Sheri, me

Beginning to reconsider my idea.

Beginning to reconsider my idea.

Ronnie and his stylish foil cape.

Ronnie and his stylish foil cape.

At the start line!

At the start line!

Time seemed to fly, because before we knew it, we were edging forward towards the start line. I just hoped the sled (and my legs) would hold out until the end, and crossing the starting mats, I broke into a run.

The first 6 miles or so of the Loch Ness course are downhill, with much of the middle section being ‘undulating’. I know you’re not meant to go out too quickly at the start, but I also knew that I would struggle pulling a 25 pound sled up hills, so I thought I would take advantage of fast miles while I could, and blazed ahead of my much more sensible friends. Apart from the awkward arm position from holding onto the walking sticks, ‘pulling’ the sled on the downhill sections wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating. And the walking sticks gave me great control over the sled’s direction. As long as the cable ties stayed in one piece, it would all be ok. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

This optimism lasted for about 58 minutes. Then came the first of the undulations. The weight of the sled tugging behind me meant that unless it was a very gradual incline, I would need to walk – at least if I wanted to conserve energy for the later miles. It was around this point that the adrenaline at the start and my positivity about the sled began to dwindle. I recognized parts of the course from last year, and I knew that there were some steeper, longer climbs in the later miles. I had to keep breaking the race into manageable chunks to stop myself from feeling overwhelmed, so after 6 miles, I told myself 1 10k down, 3 to go. At 9 miles, I told myself this is where you were hurting last year, and your legs feel ok. At 13 miles, you’re halfway there!

When that stopped helping, I promised myself treats. At 15 miles, you can pull over, have your lunch, and text Ian. At the start of the hill at 18 miles you’ll get to walk for a mile. At 20 miles you can listen to music.

And then I had less than 10k to go, and crowd support started appearing. I was really struggling, and had to stop to walk a few times just to give my legs a break from the pain, but as soon as I saw the sign saying we had 3k left, I told myself I wouldn’t stop until the end.

I had to take off my rucksack and swing it round so I had a chance of finding a photo.

I had to take off my rucksack and swing it round so I had a chance of finding a photo.  This was somewhere after 15 miles, I think.

The crowd support during this section was amazing, particularly the Macmillan cheer crews (when they see you wearing one of their shirts they make you feel like a rock star), and I was lucky enough to see a few familiar faces cheering me on. I’m not going to lie, overtaking people when you’re hauling a sled is a pretty kick-ass feeling, despite the sub-kick-ass feeling I was experiencing in my legs.

Less than a mile to go!

Less than a mile to go!

At the finish!

At the finish!

Though I wasn’t going for speed, my goal for this race, other than to not collapse at the side of the road, was to finish in less than 5 hours, so when I saw the clock by the finish line started with a 4, I couldn’t help but smile. Except it was probably more of a grimace/smile. I heard my name called out over the loudspeaker, and heard an always enthusiastic Jeananne (who had run the 10k earlier) screaming my name as I came into the finishing chute exhausted, in pain, but most of all, relieved.

After receiving my medal, t-shirt and goody bag, I limped to our meeting point to find Susan had successfully finished her first marathon in a very respectable 4:37, and Naomi had run a new PB! Her boyfriend, Stu, had also managed to destroy his 10k PB earlier by finishing in under 36 minutes, which is just insane, quite frankly.

Me and Susan

Me and Susan

Sheri, me, and Susan

Sheri, me, and Susan

I found a better use for the sled.

I found a better use for the sled.

After a banana, some water, and some catching up, Susan and I decided to take advantage of being charity runners and qualifying for our free massage, which was a good, satisfying kind of pain.

While most of the people had today off work, I was not quite as lucky, so after hobbling back to the B&B (stopping once to give a very nice man the link to my fundraising page) to make use of the spare shower room, trekked with Suzy, who had come all the way to Inverness to cheer us on, to her car AT THE TOP OF A HILL, and we drove back to Aberdeen, where dinner and a strong, sled-carrying boyfriend was waiting for me.

I still can’t quite get over what I did yesterday, or how dumb an idea it was in the first place. I’m also amazed that nothing went horribly wrong, and that I can walk (awkwardly) today. Even Ian told me he thought I would go through with it, but that I would ditch the sled along the way (sorely tempting at times). But am I glad I did it? Yes. Partly because it means I’ll never have to do it again, partly because I can now look at the picture of the smug husky and feel smug myself, but, most importantly, I’ve managed to raise over £400 so far for Macmillan Cancer Support, who have been great this entire weekend.

Now, it’s no coincidence that I’m posting this on payday. If you’re been slightly entertained by my stupidity, and are willing, any donations are gratefully received. If you think I should get a grip – because why would total strangers donate money to someone who did something so that an internet meme would stop giving her high blood pressure? – then you don’t have to. It’s totally up to you. But I’ll just put the link right here. Just in case.

CLICK HERE! 🙂

Oh, and Mr. Husky?  25 pounds, bitch.

The Worst Kept Secret

No, I’m not pregnant.  Or engaged.

Since before Paris I’ve been struggling with a sharp pain on the right side of my abs that, over various points of the year so far, I worried was a hernia.  While on the waiting list for a scan at the hospital, I was reluctant to enter any new races, especially ones that required a significant commitment, in case I was going to be sidelined by a month of recovery after an operation, but thankfully, that has been ruled out.  I’m still experiencing pain, which is thought to be scar tissue (fabulous), but I have been assured I can keep doing everything apart from weights for the time being.  The super sleuths among you may have worked out that my list of ‘things I can still get on with’ includes running, which I am obviously pleased about.

Before I got my results back, I became increasingly jealous of all my running friends who were excitedly planning (and getting on with) their training for the Loch Ness marathon, the first marathon I ever ran.  For a lot of my friends, it will be their first.  For others, it’s a return to form, or an attempt to slay the beast that got the better of them last year.  I watched the deadline for guaranteed entries creep closer, and hours before they closed, I entered.  And booked the same room I had at a B&B last year.  And didn’t tell anyone.

But I started upping my distance, and joining friends who were out and proud about training on some of their longer runs “for fun”.  I started making plans to just turn up at the start line and casually ask my friends if they were in the mood for a run, while also happy that if I needed surgery, I could just slink away from the training plan without having to tell anyone that I had pulled out.  Then I got my results.

My plan to keep my entry a secret and surprise my friends became more elaborate (and ridiculous, because how am I going to fit into a cake that I can also fit onto a single bus seat?) and after LESS THAN 7 DAYS, I cracked and told everyone.

So yeah, I guess the Loch Ness marathon is the main hurdle I need to get over before the Texas marathon in January, but I’m looking forward to seeing how pacing myself a little more wisely can affect my experience of a race.  And running with a bunch of my friends.  And eating afterwards, obviously.

Training has been going well so far, and unlike Paris, I have actually been able to run more than once a week, which has been reassuring. The last three weeks of training are below.  Anything that has no mileage is likely a spin class.  Any ridiculous mileage (30+) is on a road bike.

July 8-14

July 8-14

July 15-21

July 15-21

July 16-28

July 16-28 (Tuesday’s 13 miles were climbing two mountains, not running)

You might also notice that my long runs have been on a Thursday, and the simple reason for that is, I am a teacher, and the word ‘weekday’ does not register on my summer holidays.  Leaving Saturday and Sunday free means that I have time to cycle with Ian, be lazy, and not worry that any races I have entered don’t match up with my long run distance.

Of course, in three weeks I won’t be so smug when term starts…

Paris Marathon 2013

Time: 4:18:40 (PB!)

Position: 23,843/39,967  

Gender position: 3,107

Category Position: 1,548

Medal: Yes

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Despite the fact that I have been telling literally everyone I run into that I was going to be running Paris marathon, it hadn’t quite registered until race morning, when I hauled myself out of bed at about 5:30am, slathered myself in bodyglide and lycra, and haphazardly stuffed things deemed ‘important’ (race number, garmin, hotel key) into my bag.  I left my hotel and walked the deserted Parisian streets – well, about 3 of them – to Naomi’s parents’ apartment for breakfast.  Everyone was already up, and extremely dozy, as we stuffed breakfast food with as much appeal as cardboard into our mouths, and triple checked that everything was in order.

Once 7:30 arrived, Naomi, Rhona, and I, wrapped in our 5 euro men’s, long-sleeved white shirts, along with Naomi’s parents, set off for the start.  It was quite chilly, and I was glad we had made the effort to buy a throwaway layer to keep us warm in the starting pens, as we were very aware that being non-elite runners, there would be a substantial amount of hanging around before we crossed the start mats.

Thankfully, the skies were blue, and the sun was rising fast – a welcome change to the overcast and breezy weather we had experienced so far in France.  Before we knew it, the Arc de Triomphe was in sight, and the streets burst to life with fellow runners.

Approaching the start area.

Approaching the start area.

The three of us took advantage of the comparatively short toilet queues before taking some obligatory pre-marathon photos.  It is at about this time, it finally sunk in that I actually had to run a marathon – an emotional experience I felt Naomi’s dad managed to capture perfectly while I was lost in my own thoughts:

What. The. Fuck. Have. I. Done.

What. The. Fuck. Have. I. Done.

Maybe the fact that my foot had been screaming the past few days as we had been walking about Paris (thanks to my own stupidity), or the fact that my training (or lack thereof) consisted of only one (as in, less than two) run a week – my long run – was playing on my mind. Spoiler: the answer is ‘YES’, these two things were most definitely at the forefront of my thoughts before the start, and I was not a beacon of supreme confidence at this point.  Nevertheless, I shrugged off my lack of amazing preparation to smile/grimace/photograph badly with Naomi and Rhona:

My outfit, for now, like my thoughts, are more subdued.

My outfit, for now, like my thoughts, are more subdued.

Arc du Triomphe, from the other side.

Arc du Triomphe, from the other side.

After frantically putting our white shirts back on, we headed towards the start pens.  Rhona, who was initially using this as part of her taper for the Highland Fling, had changed her mind and was now going for a PB after a favourable performance at the D33 last month.  Because of the change of heart, she pushed to the front of the 4:15 pen with an aim to follow the 4 hour pacers.  Naomi, on the other hand, was gunning for 4:45 or faster, and was aiming to follow the somewhat pleasant backside of the 4:30 pacer for as long as she could!  In the past few weeks, I have only had a couple of simple goals for this race:

  1. Finish
  2. Run the whole way
  3. Beat my time at Loch Ness (4:30:08 – those 8 bastard seconds!)

Goal 3 wasn’t really all that important to me, and goal 1 was going to happen even if I had to crawl, but I was determined not to walk no matter how much I was hurting.  I hadn’t told anyone at the time, but my grandfather has stomach cancer, and a couple of weeks ago he was told he had anywhere from 1 to 7 weeks left.  The reason for my visit in 2011/2012 was not just a family visit, but a visit to see him while he was still well enough to enjoy our company, and I couldn’t help leaving in floods of tears.  The fact that he can still get up to have a few small meals, or potter around in the garden despite the pain he must be in makes me feel ashamed of complaining about a bit of muscle fatigue, and essentially I wanted to run this race for him.  For me, stopping to walk meant failure, and that was that.

I decided to start with Naomi, so we kept each other company in the pens, which is just as well, because we were stuck there for an awfully long time.  At 8:45 we heard the start for the elites, and then we danced to questionable tunes for the next 40 minutes wondering how long we had left, and trying to stop shivering (mostly, that was me).

Deceptively cold in the pens.

Deceptively cold in the pens.

Several thousand runners.  Ahead of us.

Several thousand runners. Ahead of us.

Suddenly there was a forward surge, and Naomi and I excitedly stripped off our warm shirts and crept forward, only to grind to another halt after about 5 minutes.  Stuck again, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re taking part in the world’s second largest (now official!) marathon.  A French couple, distracted by my chattering teeth, took pity on us and started vigorously rubbing our arms to try and warm us up, but I resorted to picking up an extra layer from a pile of discarded ponchos, which served me well for the next 5 or so minutes.

Finally, we surged forwards again, and when the start line came into view I ditched my outer layer once more, and pressed ‘start’ on my Garmin just before I reached the timing mats.  We were off!

The first thing that I noticed was how un-crowded we were.  I mean, I know that some of the elite runners were already halfway done, and others had been running for nearly an hour already, and yes, the street we were on was pretty wide, but at the start I didn’t feel at all boxed in or as if I had to dodge people.  I also noticed that the low sun was directly in my face, but I was happy to see it!

Naomi and I stuck together for about half a mile, before the adrenaline of actually starting dragged me ahead, faster than the pace I had planned to run.  I was going to stick with the pace I had run my training runs at (especially because I have Edinburgh Rock ‘n’ Roll 1/2 marathon on the 14th), but I got bored of glancing at my watch and slowing myself down after about a mile, so I just ignored my pace and tucked in behind a couple of guys who seemed to be going at a similar speed to me.  They may have thought I was some weirdo stalker, but I don’t understand enough French to know what they were talking about, so I’ll just imagine they were complimenting that chick behind them with effortless grace.

The crowds, from the start, were amazing.  I didn’t think anyone would really be able to read the name on my bib, but I heard “Allez Rochelle!” shouted out regularly, and when you caught the eye of the person cheering, you couldn’t help but smile.  In fact, I think I spent about 90% of the entire marathon with a goofy grin plastered all over my face as I took in the spectators, the landmarks, the costumes, the panoply of languages overheard (Yes, I just did).  I think a special shout out to the pompiers of Paris is more than deserved, as the firemen made regular appearances along the course, even sitting atop a ladder that hung out over the runners like a bridge, cheering and shouting with almost drunken enthusiasm!  The following photo is stolen shamelessly from the Runner’s World website, and shows what I mean, though they were not in this particular location this year:

Allez, allez, allez!

Allez, allez, allez!

Every mile, my Garmin would beep, and on the occasions that I actually heard it, I automatically looked down to see my pace for the mile I had just completed.  Every time I looked down, it started with a 9, although I felt like I was taking an easy jog, and holding conversations with complete strangers whilst not at all out of breath.  Not such a big deal, considering I’d only done about 13 miles.

It was around the halfway point that I spotted an IRN BRU vest up ahead, a sure sign that I was approaching a Scot!  Sure enough, Fiona was a Scot, who happened to be living in France and running the Paris marathon for the 3rd (at least) time!  She mentioned the tunnels/underpasses as being the worst part of the race (at around miles 16-18), but confirmed that there should be no other nasty surprises on the sensationally flat course.  As visual evidence of how relaxed I was feeling at this stage, here is one of my official race photos that just happens to feature the IRN BRU clad expat chatting away with me:

I am actually considering paying for this race photo.

I am actually considering paying for this race photo.

Aside – I am convinced that part of my delirious happiness was due to being bathed in actual sunlight after possibly the shittiest spring I have experienced thus far.

Splits (miles 1-13):
1 – 9:47
2 – 9:47
3 – 9:34
4 – 9:42
5 – 9:46
6 – 9:37
7 – 10:05
8 – 9:44
9 – 9:44
10 – 9:51
11 – 9:24
12 – 9:29
13 – 9:37

Eventually, I lost Fiona, and continued on my way, dorky grin and all.  Water/refreshment stops were every 5k, and apart from the first one, I think I swooped by them all to pick up a bottle of cold water, which I would carry with me until the next stop and then replace (I am a fan of cold liquids).  I also indulged in most of the goods on offer – a couple of banana halves, some (delicious) orange segments, a couple of sugar cubes (because, why not?).  The only negatives about the refreshment stops would be the fact that they were all heaving with runners, so it was more of a sideways dodge towards the tables, and then a sideways dodge back out to continue running, which sucks on stiff hips, as well as the obvious perils of wet orange and banana peels strewn about the ground, especially when the ground happened to be downhill cobbles.  I watched a man completely crash out ahead of me, and I swooped down to retrieve his water bottle as he recovered.  It was rather spectacular (and I can say that because he was OK, and carried on).

At about mile 16, we veered downhill to run alongside the Seine.  It was fantastic running under all of the bridges with crowds of people on them cheering us on.  It is also about this point that my quads started to hurt, just like they did during Loch Ness.  What.  The. Fuck.  Thankfully, I am rather stubborn, and ignored the pain.  Also, as I was looking up at the spectators on one of the bridges, I heard someone shout, “Go Rachel Go!” and spotted Naomi’s family cheering fiercely from above!  I shot them a smile and a wave (and was told later I looked completely relaxed), and carried on, waving at all the boat passengers on tourist cruises that happened to be going past at the time.

We also reached some underpasses, which affected the satellite signal to my Garmin (hence the rather erratic splits for mile 16 and 17).  The inclines coming out of the underpasses actually weren’t that terrible, and I smiled (again – there was a bunch of smiling) when I realized that was the worst of it!  The masses of cheering crowds as you ran up the slight incline might have also helped.  At this point, the quad pain was still pretty bearable, and I continued on at a similar pace.

Splits (miles 14 – 18)
14 – 9:49
15 – 9:45
16 – 14:04 (underpass)
17 – 5: 19 (average pace for miles 16 – 17 would be 9:42)
18 – 9:46

From about mile 18/19, the course started getting narrower, and more and more people decided that stopping suddenly in the middle of the course to walk was a fabulous idea.  This meant a lot of highly painful ninja-esque dodging just to stay upright and facing forwards.  The crowds, whilst still amazing, also started to encroach on the course (to the extent that at one point I spotted spectators on the blue line that measures out the marathon!).  This also meant my split times started to suffer a bit, but in all honesty, they probably would have started to suffer at least a little without the added bonus of navigating a human obstacle course.  Because quads.

Splits (miles 19 – 23)
19 – 10:19
20 – 9:54
21 – 9:53
22 – 10:29 (ouch)
23 – 10:04

As soon as I passed the 23 mile marker, I just kept telling myself that I only had 5k left.  30 minutes, tops.  That’s nothing!  I tried to speed up, but noticed no great change in my pace.  I was really suffering now, but considering I’d come this far, there was absolutely no way that I was going to stop to walk.  At this point, some grunting commenced.

Miles 24 and 25 were a bit of a blur, and we were running through a park where spectator support was thinner than it had been, but that was OK, because I was saving my finale for the final mile (obviously – it would be stupid to bring on a finale at mile 4).  In the spirit of the Breakfast Run the day before, I decided to ‘represent’ one last time during my Paris jaunt, and as soon as I passed the mile marker informing me that I had completed 25 miles, out came the flag-cape for a victory mile!

'Murica.  Fuck Yeah.

‘Murica. Fuck Yeah.

More smiling.

More smiling.

Out of nowhere, we were onto cobbled roads surrounded by swarms of people cheering.  There were some enthusiastic “GO USA!” cheers (and a snub from a group of Canadians I waved to), and the announcer even gave me a shout-out as I crossed the line nearly 12 minutes faster than my first marathon.  As I had my Garmin switched to display pace and heart rate, I had no idea how I had actually done (though I pretty much knew I’d run a PB), so I was absolutely delighted to switch over and see the time:

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Splits (miles 24-26.2)
24 – 9:52
25 – 9:56
26 – 10:11
.2 – 9:30

I stumbled through the finishers’ area, collected my medal, t-shirt, some powerade, and a banana, and headed to our prearranged meeting spot to find Rhona (who finished in 4:05:xx, smashing her PB), and await Naomi (who finished in 4:39:xx, also crushing her PB).  Three finishers and three PB’s made for three happy ladies in need of celebration:

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IMG_20130407_152337And celebrate we did!  I have rarely tasted a cheeseburger as good as the one I inhaled that night, and I anticipate equal or greater pleasure from my cheesburger after the Texas marathon next January!