Stonehaven Midsummer Beer Happening Inaugural Sportive

Time: 6:33:56 [Results]

Medal: No, but all finishers received free entry to the beer festival, a commemorative glass, one beer token, a t-shirt, and a goody bag.

The sun even came out at the end!

The sun even came out at the end!

About a month ago, an event popped up on Facebook that piqued my interest, but I soon forgot about it because I didn’t want to enter another event that I wouldn’t make.  I have DNS’s every single race I was entered in for in 2015 so far, and apart from the colossal waste of money, it feels like you’re missing out on something even more if you’d actually planned to take part.  I’ve stopped scrolling through pages of event listings late at night because there’s just no point.  I’ve basically become normal.

However.

Last week, somebody posted a link to the entry page, and a group of girls I know from Fleet Feet were talking about entering and riding as a group.  The event?  A 72 mile cycle sportive starting and ending in Stonehaven, taking in the ominous Cairn o’Mount – twice.

midsummer beer happening routeBefore anything had been confirmed, I thought I’d get the ball rolling and signed up.  Having never tackled Cairn o’Mount before, I thought what better way to do so than doing it twice in a row?  Unfortunately, it soon became clear that everyone who had been talking about it was busy, so I bullied coerced Claudia into signing up, as she’s training for Ride the North and I thought it would appeal to her.  Also, she’s one of the few people crazy enough to sign up to a 72 mile sportive on a whim.

Fast forward to Saturday morning, and it was clear from the deadpan greeting, the heavy sighs, and cold, hateful glares that Claudia was ecstatic that I had convinced her this was a good idea.  This and the heavy rain lashing down around us as we secured the bikes to the rack on the back of her car couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  I wasn’t going to DNS today!!

We arrived in Stonehaven just after 9, and registered amongst very professional looking male cyclists in club gear with tan lines that told of tough days out on the bikes.  And then we saw Phil Mann, armed with whiskey miniatures, and knew that all was right in the world again.  He asked us if we’d ridden over Cairn o’Mount many times before, and we both said ‘Never’.  He just laughed at us, because he understands our kind.  This is a man who ran Amsterdam marathon last year, stopping for a pint every 10k or so.  He finished drunk.

Just before 10, we met at the start point.  Phil had some whiskey.  Claudia accepted some whiskey.  I declined the whiskey because I do not share drinking receptacles, and whiskey tastes about as good as nail polish remover smells like it would taste. I was comforted when the marshal confirmed that the sweep vehicle was not of the ‘pull-slow-riders-off-the-course’ variety, but more the ‘we-are-here-if-things-go-badly-wrong’ type.

There was a low-key countdown before our wave set off.  And up.  I think now is a relatively good time to include the elevation profile:

midsummer beer sportive elevationClaudia and I got off to a steady start, but I was already in my lowest gear leaving Stonehaven, which did not bode well.  Curse you, compact chainset!  Cresting the top of the first hill was delightful, as was the subsequent downhill section.  The second hill was fine as well, as I’ve cycled it several times before and knew what to expect.  It’s a steady, but not steep, climb to the stone circle at the top, and then a smooth descent past Knockburn Loch.  After this, however, it was into the unknown.

The roads were undulating for a while here and soon we were upon the Glen Dye AA box, where Claudia and I decided we should have a quick stop to eat something.  I had half a chia charge bar, a swig of my water, and was set to go.  It was about this time some of the faster wave riders had started to overtake us, with sickening ease.  Before long, Claudia and I were paddling in their wake.

Shortly after reaching the snow gates, Claudia told me to go on ahead as she was having issues with her gears.  I told her I would meet her at the top.  And so it began – the long, arduous task of climbing Cairn o’Mount.  There were two or three fairly steep sections requiring some out-of-the-saddle action, but overall, it was just a steady slog uphill, and I reached the summit without having to push my bike.

As it was windy and cold, and I couldn’t see Claudia on the road below anywhere, I decided to press on to the aid station and wait for her there.  The downhill section was a mixture of excitement and butt-clenching terror, reaching a top speed of 42.9mph despite liberal brake application throughout.  At one point, I squeezed on the brakes to no apparent effect, but the slop was vertical at this point, so I’m not really surprised.  Despite my life being in grave danger at this point, all I could think was Holy shit, I’m going to have to cycle back up this thing soon.

Thankfully, I survived to the bottom, only to be met by a very sharp left hand turn, and a very steep (12% I think) short hill to wake the legs up after their brief vacation.  The road continued to undulate as I looked expectantly for the aid station.  After about 10 miles, a white tent came into view.  It was surrounded by lycra-clad men and road bikes lying in the grass.  I texted Claudia to ask how she was getting on and let her know where I was, then gave myself about ten minutes to have the other half of my chia charge bar and half a banana, as well as re-fill one of my water bottles and chuck in an electrolyte tab.  There was a restaurant with facilities to use, but with no sign from Claudia, I opted to just get on with it.  I had one last big stretch, and hopped onto the bike for round 2.

From the base of Cairn o’Mount we took a circular route via Auchenblae, and the section after the refreshment stop was much flatter in the approach to the base of the climb.  It was a gentle way to re-heat the legs in preparation for the task ahead.  And then it was upon me.

From the start you are met with some fairly steep inclines, and my butt was out of the seat from the word go.  I was struggling so much I had to dismount and start walking for the few seconds it took me to realize I wasn’t actually in my lowest gear.  Dumbass.  I saddled up, clipped in, and set off again, at a crushing speed of about 4mph.  This was definitely the steeper side and even the riders in club gear looked like they were cycling through molasses.

The only saving grace was the fact that you could see the parking section near the summit, so you had a visual idea of how much farther you had to go.  There was also someone paragliding, which provided approximately 3 seconds worth of distraction from the heavy legwork.

WHY IS THERE NO LOWER GEAR?!?!

I’m not even ashamed to admit that just before I reached the Parking area near the top I was in danger of going so slowly I would topple over, so I dismounted again and pushed the final steep section.  Thankfully, I was not alone.  At the top, I decided to take a quick photo since there was no wind, and it was actually kind of warm.

IMG_20150620_174046

The view!

The view!

I also noticed that Claudia had replied with: On my way to Stonehaven.  I interpreted this as: I have passed the refreshment area and am on the return leg.  I gave an enthusiastic reply, and said I’d see her at the finish.  And then I enjoyed the lovely, lovely downhill section of the not-so-steep side of Cairn o’Mount.  Bliss.

The section up until Knockburn Loch is a bit of a blur, and for a moment I thought I had zoned out and missed a turn-off as I hadn’t seen any riders in ages.  But then I saw a poppy that I had noticed on the outward journey, and knew I was on track.  I stopped for a photo, and a few riders went by, so I felt a bit better.

IMG_20150620_212646The penultimate hill felt tougher than it should have.  By this point I had cycled 50+ miles, and my shoulders were starting to ache (of all things).  The penultimate descent was bittersweet; I was grateful for a bit of a rest, but also fully aware that I had the Slug road left to conquer before I could really relax.

Sure enough, the Slug road was a lot tougher than when I’ve cycled it with relatively fresh legs, and at one point I pulled over to check the map on my phone to see just how much farther I had before I reached the finish (about 7 miles, apparently).  It was at this point I noticed a message from Claudia: I’m at Stonehaven.  This wasn’t a good sign.  I let her know I was about to hit the last downhill section on the Slug road, and that I’d see her soon.

FINALLY, I hit the top, and the view of the sea in the distance meant one thing: it was all downhill from here!  I was in my heaviest gear, desperate to get to Stonehaven and enjoy a cold adult beverage.  The war memorial came into view.  I’m not even lying, I shed a tear, I was so happy.  ‘Welcome to Stonehaven’ flashed by on the left, I was in town, there were houses around me, there was the festival, nearly at the finish!  Two left hand turns to go!  One!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, done!

I stayed on my bike and cycled right to the entrance of the beer tent, floating by people queuing to get in.  I ditched my bike, handed in my number, got my glass, and – perhaps most importantly – my beer token, and headed straight for the bar.

There was a colossal range of beer on offer, and I know zero about craft beer other than I generally don’t like it.  It was busy, and one of the guys at the bar started chatting to me while we were waiting.  He asked how far I had cycled, how long it had taken me, and seemed genuinely impressed.  I told him I had just finished and was keen to spend my free beer token on a well earned, and much anticipated drink.  And then, when one of the bartenders came over to us, that son-of-a-bitch ordered himself a drink.  When a bartender finally got round to me, all I could respond with was, “I don’t care, something refreshing and cold,” when asked what I wanted.  Whatever she picked, it was a fabulous choice.  I think it was something fruity, it was definitely cold, and it was very crisp.

I found Claudia, limping, and found out that during a gear change, her chain came off and she had taken a tumble.  She was covered in bruises, swelling, and disappointment.  She told me how she had made it to the aid station, and then opted to bypass Cairn o’Mount a second time, and take a shorter, flatter route back to Stonehaven, eventually getting picked up by one of the marshals and taken to the finish with a couple of others.  She did say that there were a few people who opted to skip Cairn o’Mount for a second time by taking the more direct route back.  Having passed the sign saying ‘Stonehaven – 12′, I’ll admit I understand the temptation!

It’s now the morning after, and, to my surprise, my legs feel fine.  My shoulders and triceps are a bit stiff, and I’m working on some bitchin’ tan lines, but other than that, it looks like, despite no endurance running for months, I can still hack 6+ hours on the go without paying for it the next day, which is encouraging.

IMG_20150620_225753I might just casually peruse some event listings tonight…

Crathes half marathon 2014

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

Medal: Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

 

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

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

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

 

Speyside Way Ultra 2014

Time: 7:10:24
Medal: Yes

10517396_10154447457055234_5699690476967239192_oIn my post-Fling enthusiasm, I entered a couple more ultras as casually as one might order whipped cream with their hot chocolate. They sounded like a good addition to my race calendar, especially as my focus this year has been quality, not quantity. One of these races was the Speyside Way Ultra, and encouraged by fellow runner Tina, who was in the middle of a comeback following injury, I signed up. Jemma, who hosted us for the Callanish Stones marathon a few weeks ago, also took the bait and signed up. It was shaping up to be quite a social, relaxed day out.

A couple of weeks before the race, Tina got in touch to tell me she would have to pull out due to injury. A few days later, Jemma told me she wasn’t feeling it, and had withdrawn. Not only was I now faced with a lonely day out, I was also minus a ride to and from the event. The dark part of my brain that sometimes thinks things like I wonder how much it would hurt if I threw myself in front of that bus? or how fun would it be to really let my frustration out on an expensive car equipped only with a baseball bat? began to doubt whether I would be able to take part (spoiler: I managed).

Thanks to a fabulous (and slightly deranged) online ultra community, my call for help was answered by my knight-in-shiny-lycra-calf-guards, Dave, who I had met once before during a 28 mile winter training run earlier in the year. Despite knowing that he’d be waiting around for a fair amount of time if he was going to give me a lift back, he insisted it wasn’t a problem, and we arranged pick-up details.  Dave, you are my hero.

The week before the race was my first week back at work after the summer holidays. It was also my first week living at Ian’s mum’s after handing in the keys to my flat on my way to work. Obviously, this was not the most relaxing taper week I’ve experienced, but being run off my feet did help distract me from worrying about the race.

Goodbye apartment.

Goodbye apartment.

Saturday morning arrived, and so did my 4:30 alarm. I wish I could say it was music to my ears, and that I had leapt out of bed with boundless enthusiasm, but in truth, hitting snooze and curling up under the duvet was the most appealing thing at the time. I dragged myself up, and blundered around the room throwing ‘possibly useful items’ into a rucksack in between putting on various items of running kit. I also had a look at the information pdf sent out to runners and realized that there were two drop bag locations at roughly 12 and 24 miles. The day got a little brighter, as I knew I didn’t have to carry all of my stuff! I also called myself a few names for being so disorganized.

At 5:30, Dave was outside, and we set off for the coastal town of Buckie. We had some good chat in the car on the way, but seeing him eating globs of porridge at intervals only reminded me that my porridge was still sitting on the kitchen counter. Who needs breakfast though, right?

We arrived just after 7 at the school, and went inside to register, hand over our drop bags, use real toilets, and mingle. I ran into a few familiar faces, one being David (not to be confused with Dave), who I chatted to as we waited for the bus.

Before too long, two bus-loads of runners were grabbing seats and preparing for the hour longish journey to Ballindalloch, where the race would start. At about 8:40, 96 starters were vomited out into the wild, with only the briefest of race briefings and a short queue for the portaloo between us and the beginning of the Speyside Way. After wishing everyone good luck, we all gathered at the start before that familiar forward surge drove home the fact that I was 36.5 miles away from a medal.

I'm there on the left, looking a bit nervous.

I’m there on the left, looking a bit nervous.

Within about half a mile, everyone’s feet were muddy. There had been heavy rainfall recently, and there was no avoiding getting a bit wet. I decided to stick to running for 3 miles and then walking to take on fuel. 6 miles into the race, I decided I should probably start sticking to my plan, so I had a cake bar and took a walk, letting a few people overtake me. Once I started running again, I caught up to two ladies, Beth and Pam, who were running a similar pace and proved to be fantastic company for the next 20+ miles. They were running 4 miles before taking on fuel, and I was happy enough to fall in sync with them.

We made it to the first drop bag stop at Craigellachie, and I was feeling good. I still had plenty of snacks to keep me going, and I was glad I didn’t bother leaving anything for myself here. After we left the checkpoint, we took a left turn and began the long, slow incline up Ben Aigen. We walked most of the steep sections and jogged when it leveled out. My brief look at the elevation profile earlier told me that this would be the main hill on the course, so I was relieved that it wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting as we neared the top.

Me, Beth, and Pam's arm

Me, Beth, and Pam’s arm/leg/fringe – I’m looking at the sharp left hand turn we’re about to make. Photo: Jenni Coelho

After the slippery descent, we were on our way to Fochabers, and this is where I began to struggle a little. I was out of water and I had eaten all of my snacks, so I was eager to get to 24 miles to refuel and take a walk break. When it finally arrived, we were on road for a few undulations, and I remember this being the hardest part of the course, mentally. I was dying for a walk break, but I was also keen for company, as we were still over 10 miles from the finish, so I knuckled down and pushed on until mile 28, and the penultimate (planned) walk/fuel break.

I had intended to fall back here, but decided to keep running for as long as possible. Unfortunately my lapse in snacking had ill-effects and I was out of breath after less than a quarter of a mile, so when my Garmin beeped at 30 miles, I waved on Beth and Pam, who sailed away into the distance, and chatted briefly to Katie, who had a fling buff on, before she too left me in her dust. The next 3 miles were a dark period. I wallowed in my pain. I winced every time a rock in my shoe pressed against a hot spot. I took a pitiful selfie.

I. Am. Stoked.

I. Am. Stoked.

Looking ahead.

Looking ahead.

I also took some time to eat something and text Ian, who was away for the weekend, to let him know I was getting close to the finish. Soon I began to feel a bit perkier, and I took out my music for some motivation. I walked for .15 miles and ran for .35 or for the length of a song, whichever was longer (apart from O’Malley’s Bar by Nick Cave because it’s like 15 minutes long).

About 4 miles from the end I saw Katie in the distance and made it my goal to catch up to her, which I eventually did, though we leapfrogged until the end, with her eventually coming in ahead. About 3 miles from the end I started chatting with Ally, who was running his first ultra, and had some quality in-race chat. He used to be a teacher, and we bonded over funny stories and rudeness as we struggled towards the end. With about 500m to go, Ally convinced me to pick up the pace, UP A SHITTING HILL, towards the flags that signaled the finish, passing his dad on the way, and even after I clocked Dave taking a photo of my finish with his phone, I didn’t realize I could stop running until a marshal told me, “that’s it, no more!” The confusion yielded possibly one of the most confused/ridiculous finishers’ photos I’ve ever seen.

10413291_706073209446931_5412200930325614820_nI shook Ally’s hand and asked Dave how his race went (very well), and another marshal came over with my medal, which I had completely forgotten about, and my goody bag, which Dave collected for me.  It had some soup, some shortbread (which Ian’s mum got later), a whisky miniature, and some water in a canvas bag.

Although he offered to wait for me to get a massage/shower/have something to eat, I felt guilty that Dave had been forced to hang about for in the region of two hours for me to finish, so I collected my hoodie from the school (I’d left it with a marshal after the bus ride) and we set off for Aberdeen, managing to have one of the first conversations about the independence referendum I’ve had with no fear of temper tantrums or hurt feelings. Remarkable.

We got back to Aberdeen at around 6, and after I was dropped off I jumped in the shower to begin a pretty lethargic attempt to make myself presentable for Naomi’s birthday drinks.  Having not had anything to eat since the race, I was grateful for Ronnie’s offer of a lift to the pub, and even more grateful that they were still serving food after 8pm.  I did miss out on ordering my desert before the cut-off, but I managed to bribe a bartender to ‘whip something up’ for me.  I was delighted:

10628590_10152474324177638_2055620091763705753_nI was less delighted with the 30 minute wait for a taxi next to a drunk guy trying to offer me half-eaten McDonald’s chips on my way home.

Overall, I really enjoyed my day.  The race was well-organized, friendly, and challenging, but the company I encountered was great and the weather was kind to us all.

Heart of the Park Challenge 2014

Time:1:47:15

Medal: No

After hearing several positive reports of this ‘race’ from reputable sources, I decided to sign up, as a run through the Scottish wilderness is always a treat.  The challenge starts in Braemar, and follows a 12k loop through river crossings, bogs, swamps, hills, and trails.

Heart of the Park course

Heart of the Park course

Ronnie picked me up at a reasonable time as the race doesn’t start until noon, and we swung by Westhill to pick up Claudia.  Everything was running smoothly until I noticed the distinctive pain in my stomach that heralds the onset of severe period cramps.  Yep, we’ve already reached the ‘overindulging’ section of this post.  Having used the contraceptive pill continuously for over a decade, I recently decided to give my body a bit of a hormone break, but what I had not counted on was the return of my teenage female curse.  After trying to play it cool and make chit-chat in the car, white-knuckling my knees, I was forced to interrupt Claudia with a fairly straightforward request:

Do either of you have any drugs?

This was met with a little surprise, as I normally shun drugs in favour of just dealing with it.  In fact, I think the last time I took painkillers was after my most recent operation in 2011.  However, after wasting an entire weekend day curled up in bed grimacing on more than one occasion over the past few months, I knew drastic action had to be taken if I was going to be running.

We stopped at a gas station just before Braemar, and I basically inhaled painkillers with reckless abandon before curling up into a ball in the front seat and waiting for them to work their magic.  About 11 minutes later, we were parked and Ronnie and Claudia were collecting race numbers.  I remained in the car.  The drugs had not yet worked their magic.

Ten minuted later, I saw Suzy and her boyfriend walking past, and tapped on the window.  She laughed at how crippled I was, and confirmed we would be running together before heading off for a banana while I silently cursed my womb.  Despite a forecast of heavy rain, the sun was out, so I started to change into my running kit and out of my warm layers.  The drugs were starting to work.

There was an announcement that a race briefing would be happening in 10 minutes, so we all started making our way to the grassy area with a very real warmth from the sun beating down.  Runners were quickly counted before the countdown and low key briefing.  Looking around, we were surrounded by hills, and Claudia, who ran last year, confirmed that we would have an uphill start.  Which we did.

Heart of The Park elevation

Heart of The Park elevation

Claudia, Suzy and I followed the stream of runners up the hill and onto the trails, and at the top of the first hill, I was finally starting to feel normal again.  I was so overjoyed at this that I was smiling as everyone else was grimacing uphill.  This is when I started having a blast!

After the downhill, we hit our first river crossing, and the cold water was a welcome sensation on my legs (though not welcome enough to submerge myself fully, as some had chosen to do).  Full submersion was still to come, however not in a river, but in a bog, as we were soon to discover (apart from Claudia, who was a big Cheater McCheaterson and stuck to the grassy banks).  Cloaked in thick mud, it was time for the second main ascent before a semi-treacherous descent onto a very runnable trail that eventually dumped us onto the road for a short while.

After the road, we turned onto another grassy trail, for our second river crossing, bumbling bog crossing, and final river crossing before scrambling up the last hill, and beginning our descent to the finish.

Now, during my last 2 marathons with Naomi, I had wanted to carry her, piggy-back style, across the finish line, just for fun.  At Strathearn, she ran a PB, and understandably wanted to finish under her own steam.  At Giants Head, it was her longest run, and again, didn’t want someone to carry her over the line.  Suzy, however, had no such issues, and was fully on board with finishing in style.

Approaching the finish!

Approaching the finish!

It could have been perfect.  Instead, she launched herself onto my back, head butting me in the process, and the momentum pushed me forwards so that I had to try and jog, not walk over the finish line.  It didn’t work out, and we tumbled onto the grass inches behind the line as Claudia looked down and pretended she didn’t know us.  Still, at least all the spectators got a chuckle out of it, as we literally crawled over the line.

We grabbed some water and snacks, and settled onto the grass amongst familiar faces until the awards ceremony.  Then Ronnie and I headed back to the car, and then back to Aberdeen, where, after a solid 15 minutes of hard scrubbing, I managed to get the remains of the swamp off of my legs.

Cut-back month

After the Baker Hughes 10k on Sunday, I did some tidying, watched a couple of crappy movies on TV with Ian, and packed for my week away with 44 teenagers in London.  After midnight, I decided I should probably get some sleep for the long day ahead.  The day that started with getting on a coach at 4:30. In.  The.  Morning.

After a 90 minute power nap, I dragged myself into the shower, before packing last minute things and remembering a pillow for the 74 month (OK, 14 hour) journey ahead.  On a bus, in case I had neglected to mention that charming detail.  With teenagers that still think farting is hilarious.

Roughly 17 years later, we were all shuffling off of the bus and breathing in slightly warmer air in front of the London Eye, which we took a ride on before heading to the hotel for dinner and room checks.  At 11:13 I crawled into bed.  At 11:13:05, I was asleep.

The week was pretty similar to last year, with a morning shopping in Camden (at least the parts not affected by the fire the night before), the London Dungeons, a few musicals (Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Covent Garden, Thorpe Park, the London Zoo….

Giraffe, clearly.

Giraffe, clearly.

It also involved getting up before 6:00 am every morning for a run.  I managed a single run on last year’s trip, and while May was supposed to be my month off running to give myself a break after the Fling, the weather was nice, and I managed to crack out at least a 5k every morning we were there.

Morning 1 - 8.5 miles

Morning 1 – 8.5 miles along the Thames

 

Morning 4 - 5k to Trafalgar Square and  back

Morning 4 – 5k to Trafalgar Square and back

Friday was the long coach trip back to Aberdeen, Saturday was weights and a 4 mile run, and Sunday, today, was meant to be my first ‘long run’ to get me back into gear before the Giants Head marathon at the end of June.  I set off expecting about 14 miles, but arrived home 20 miles later thanks to the mid-run company of some friends: Maz, Elaine (who is running Dundee and Glenmore 12 as well), and Carol (who is training for her first marathon).  And possibly fueled by the sheer happiness I got from looking down at my colourful new tights (thank you free time in London to shop).  Even the rain wasn’t enough to dampen (I crack myself up) my mood.

10 miles in

10 miles in

Last night was also the much-anticipated opening of entries for the Glen Ogle 33 mile ultra held on November 1st.  Knowing a few people who planned on entering, I booked my hotel room in the 15 minutes before entries opened (after insider information pointing me in the direction of one of the last rooms at the inn where the after party is), and spent the next 20 minutes anxiously brushing off any of Ian’s attempts to speak to me, explaining I was dealing with some time-sensitive stuff and must not be disturbed.  Oh, and entering the race.  Which means I might as well try to make the most of my ‘cut back month’, since the second half of 2014 seems to be planned and packed!

  • June: Seven Hills of Edinburgh Challenge, Giants Head marathon
  • July: Heart of the Park Challenge, Dundee marathon
  • August: Speyside Way Ultra
  • September: Glenmore 12, Loch Ness marathon
  • October: Amsterdam marathon
  • November: Glen Ogle 33
  • December: Pisa marathon

I’m also in the middle of selling my apartment, so somewhere in there will be moving out (and staying with Ian’s mum), and flat/house-hunting with Ian!  And hopefully, you know, moving into a new, slightly bigger place.  Goodbye free time…

2014-05-15 13.21.35

Hoka Highland Fling 2014

Time: 14:20:30

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140428_185108

Let me just state, before I go on, that I have an irrational fear of death. I pretty much see it as the end of the line, and it terrifies me that I have a shelf life that there’s nothing I can do about it. Because of this, I have grown to be scared of things that I used to be fine about when I was a kid. Like flying. Turbulence is a white-knuckle experience, without fail, and can bring me to tears. And Space, because I can’t deal with not knowing where everything ends. And my health.

I have, on more occasions that I care to admit, worn my heart rate monitor to bed because I had convinced myself that my heartbeat was irregular, and that I would have a heart attack in the middle of the night. It’s reassuring to be able to see that it’s normal (for me), and I can start to relax and go to sleep. I get paranoid whenever my body does weird stuff: heart palpitations, tingles, strange pains that occur anywhere (even if they last less than a second and never appear again), feeling faint – this list continues ad nauseam. It’s a really, really, really annoying thing to deal with sometimes, though I can tolerate it more now that I seem to have stopped getting panic attacks regularly. That made things like going to watch a film pretty much futile, because I’d spend half the time in the bathroom analyzing my pupils with my fingers glued to my neck checking my pulse like a moron.  Basically, irrational freak outs are a thing with me, but I would rather look like a lunatic than worry about my imminent death.

During the Highland Fling, there were moments where I felt I would have welcomed death. My fingers were swollen to the point that they resembled link sausages, my ankle felt like it was being stabbed, the blisters on my feet were getting blisters, and at one point I was shin deep in cow shit asking myself why I thought this was a reasonable idea and stating, clearly and resolutely, “Never again.” But finally crossing that line, totally buzzing despite it being several hours after the fastest runners had come through, was enough to change that, “Never again,” to, “Maybe.”

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Let’s rewind to Friday. After I finished work, I dragged all of my kit, in the pouring rain, to Aberdeen train station, where I boarded my train to Glasgow. I was soggy, the train was packed, I spent the entire journey worrying about my suitcase falling on my head. It was a less than fabulous experience. My friend, Grant, met me at the station, and we got a taxi back to his (via the shop for some supplies). And then we ordered a colossal amount of pizza, and watched a couple of episodes of ‘Freaks and Geeks’, which I had never heard of before, and probably would never have watched thanks to the title alone had Grant not convinced me that it is, in fact, a fabulous representation of what high school was like in the 90’s. I eventually got to sleep sometime after 11pm, with my alarm set for 3:30. In the morning.

I had arranged to share a taxi to Milgavie, about 10 miles north of Glasgow city centre, with two fellow runners, Belo and Maja, who were running the race while on holiday from Slovakia. The forecast for the day was abysmal, and as I watched the trees get battered by rain and wind outside as I got dressed, my heart sank. Thankfully, the rain had dwindled to a drizzle by the time I got a text from Belo saying they were on their way, and I lugged my belongings downstairs (Grant lives on the 7 millionth floor) to wait. The taxi arrived at about 4:20am, and about 20 minutes later we were at Milgavie train station to register.

To everyone’s relief, the drizzle was as bad as it got, and by about 5:30, the sky was overcast, but the rain had cleared. I had handed over my kit bag for the finish line, and stripped down to what I considered to be suitable layers for the day (gloves that could withstand -30 C temperatures, and my tornado-proof hiking jacket), feeling a tad overdressed next to some of the runners in lycra short shorts and a vest top, but whatever, I’m Texan.

 

I feel ya, Calvin.

I feel ya, Calvin.

As well as my kit bag, I had also handed over my drop bags, which was arguably as big a deal as turning up to the start line for me. Knowing I would not be breaking any course records is nothing new – I’m not the fastest runner, and I’ve only managed to ‘win’ a prize for finishing first female once. During a charity event’s inaugural run. Dressed as Santa. I’m pretty competitive when I know I have a chance of winning something, so when I found out there was a competition for the best drop bag at the first main check point, Balmaha, I basically devoted the week in the lead-up to the Fling to the creation of my drop bag. Because there was an actual chance I could win something! 4 rolls of duct tape, an empty coffee jar, a small cardboard box, 3 toilet roll tubes, and a packet of Sharpies later, I had created my masterpiece:

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10275296_10154008058380234_302507006197446341_oI gingerly handed over my entry to one of the marshalls, and set about finding some familiar faces, the first being Rhona and Graeme next to their ‘ultravan’. Graeme was marshalling, so he was busy collecting in drop bags, while Rhona and I went in search of some of the other ladies we were planning on running with. We found Iona and Jemma, who were sweeping the first half of the race and wished us good luck, then listened to the race director, ‘Johnny Fling’, brief us from the kit truck.

 

Photo: Stuart McFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Finally, with about 7 minutes before the race start, we stumbled upon Kate, Vicky, Tracey, and some other Stonehaven runners, managing a quick photo.

 

Photo: Rhona (redwinerunner.co.uk)

Photo: Rhona (www.redwinerunner.co.uk)

A few of us, being Fling virgins, had decided to run as a group, and we made nervous/excited chatter until we heard the horn go off signalling the start. We shuffled forwards under a bridge, beeping over the starting mats and heading straight up some stairs, before veering left towards the start of the West Highland Way.

 

Photo: Iona MacKay

Photo: Iona MacKay

I was under the impression that the first 12ish miles to Drymen were flat, but I quickly understood that to mean ‘flat’.  As in, undulating, but no really steep ascents.  That part was nice, and we happily bumbled along as a group, chatting about quitting jobs, weddings, and selling and buying houses.  A couple of miles before Drymen, I realized, to my horror, that I needed the toilet.  In more than a 30-seconds-by-the-side-of-the-road kind of way.  Sadly, the queue for the single porta loo at Drymen was substantial, and I was convinced to hold on until Balmaha for some respite.  And so we continued.

Me - 40 layers.  Everyone else - shorts + shirt.

Me – 40 layers. Everyone else – shorts + shirt.

Rhona and I pulled ahead a little before Balmaha as there was a bathroom break by a couple of our group, and I was getting cold standing around.  Besides – none of us were planning on bombing through the checkpoint, so we intended to meet each other there.  Just after 19 miles, and we turned a corner into the check point.  The atmosphere was amazing (thank you marshalls!), and Graeme handed my my drop bag, telling me, “You’ve won!”  I was confused for a moment until I realized he meant the drop bag competition (my brain was clearly not firing on all cylinders), and that was just the pick-me-up I needed after 7 miles of churning bowels.  Vicky, Tracey, and Kate were only a couple of minutes behind us, and once we had all refilled our camelbaks and taken on the food we wanted, we set off towards Rowardennan.

Thankfully, a little after the Balmaha checkpoint there are some fancy public toilets.  As Rhona and I were a little ahead of the others, I took the necessary decision to seek sweet relief in the luxurious cubicle (plumbing, toilet seat, loo roll, AND a hook for my camelbak), and though an incomplete evacuation, it was enough to help me feel like I wasn’t going to soil myself.  I vocalized my pleasure to the group as I returned, and we set off again.

Photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Ian Russell

This part of the course was a little bit more technical than the start, and it was a nice distraction having to concentrate on where your feet were going.  Before I knew it, we were coming into Inversnaid.

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

As Rhona and I had been a little ahead for the last while, I had forgotten, in the absense of task master Vicky, to take on food at regular intervals, and I had started to feel dizzy, nauseous, and tired.  I started cranking up the food intake, and thankfully after about half an hour I started to feel a bit more human, but I felt like I’d gone from feeling fine, to struggling in the space of a couple of miles.

From here, things get a bit blurry.  I know the lochside leg was slow and there was quite a bit of clambering over slippery rocks.  Though I did crack my bad ankle on a rock, and Kate had a nasty looking fall, thankfully none of us suffered the same fate as one poor woman who fell and smashed her jaw in five places and had to be taken to hospital for surgery (though I hear she still ran the 5 miles to the next checkpoint after her extreme tumble).  Rhona went ahead on her own, and that’s the last we saw of her until the end.

The four of us kept each other going, our main mission to get to Bein Glas before the 5:30 pm cut-off, which we managed with plenty of time to spare.  From there, we consoled ourselves that there were ‘only’ 12 miles left.  I’m so glad I didn’t extensively study the course elevation profile before, because if I knew what was to come I might have cried. From about 45 miles, every time I tried to run, my ankle was screaming at me, and eventually I told Vicky that I was pretty sure I’d have to walk my way in.

Highland Fling elevation profile

Highland Fling elevation profile

I think Vicky was suffering a bit as well, so Kate and Tracey went on ahead, and Vicky and I resorted to speed-walking.  We went through the infamous Cow Poo Alley (which was ripe thanks to all the recent rain), and at one point I was shin deep in muck.  We met an impass in the trail at one point due to a herd of unfriendly looking cows, and opted to climb up the hill and around them as a detour.  And about 4 miles from the end, my bowels felt as though they would erupt, so I sent Vicky ahead a few paces, and went scurrying into the woods for my first ever al fresco crap.  It was definitely a low point in my life.

Looking back at the bastard cows.

Looking back at the bastard cows.

At this stage I had thrown all my toys out of the pram and was sulkily wading through the streams instead of nimbly prancing over the rocks to keep my feet dry.  After all, I had a thick, creamy layer of cow shit to wash off.  My Garmin, which is a dirty fucking liar, beeped for mile 53, but there was no end in sight.  Despite my inner tantrums, Vicky and I managed to stay cheerful by chatting all the way to Tyndnrum, finally being encouraged by the marshalls shouting, “only 600 metres to go!”.  Vicky and I had made a pact to run across the line, and as soon as we saw the red carpet laid out for us, we picked up to a trot, and finished as we’d started – chatting and smiling:

858697_1472344089648928_2818653848334701613_oAfter having the chip cut off from my ankle, getting my medal, tech shirt, and goody bag (complete with bottle of fizz!), I made my way into a heated marquee and had a seat with some amazing lentil soup.

Before long, I was being presented with my prize for the winning drop bag, which is WAY more than I was expecting, and I did wonder how I would manage to cart everything upstairs to my apartment when I got home the next day (thankfully Ian was in).  I didn’t really get a chance to explore the Scottish hamper until I got back to Aberdeen, and it was better than Christmas.  Everything on that table?  Currently on my living room floor.  Apart from wee Nessie – that’s in bed with the stuffed huskies I couldn’t bear to part with after pulling them behind me at Loch Ness last year.

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Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

Photo: Stuart MacFarlane

After hobbling off the podium, Graeme and Vicky’s husband, Ian, helped collect my bags, and Jemma and Iona helped me take my stuff to the bed and breakfast (Oh my god, thank you so much!), where I showered and put on some clean clothes, before heading with Kate and her husband, Ali, up to the hall for some food.

After nearly falling asleep into our dinner, we said goodnight, and I slept like a baby.  Until my work alarm, which I had forgotten to disable, woke me up.  Thanks, idiot me.

Despite the pain of the last 7-8 miles, I can honestly say I had a great experience.  The course was more challenging than I was expecting, and it’s always nerve-wracking running in unknown territory (for me, anything over 33 miles), but the whole event was so well organized, and all the helpers and runners were on top form.  Free booze at the end also helps soften the blow.  Commiserations to any of the runners who had to DNF, despite putting in a tough slog, but there’s always next year.

Considering on Saturday I probably would have been willing to break my own legs to have a legitimate reason not to run this ever again, I’m rather disconcerted that I am genuinely considering returning in 2015.*

Photo: Lorna McMillan

Photo: Lorna McMillan

 

 

*To defend my title, obviously.

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Glenlivet 10k 2014

Time: 55:07 [Results]

Medal: Yes, and a miniature of whisky!

IMG_20140413_183019 Sometimes I wish Scotland was famous for something other than whisky and shortbread, because they seem to be popular goody bag items at local races, and I hate both.  It does mean my friend Grant, a whisky drinker, is going to luck out when I see him in a couple of weeks, as he did after I ran the Isle of Skye half marathon last year.

However, I suppose that Scotland is also famous for some beautiful scenery, and the Glenlivet 10k boasts proudly that it is the “most beautiful run in Scotland”.  Today, apart from seemingly hurricane-force winds, the weather played ball, and we were greeted with sunshine and blue skies, which allowed all of the runners to appreciate just how stunning the race is.

The race is set in the Cairngorms National Park, on the Glenlivet Estate, home of the Glenlivet distillery.  It’s a bit of a drive, so although the race started at 11, Elaine picked me up at 8am to head out from Aberdeen.

We arrived shortly before 10, and made prompt use of the swanky toilets (not a porta loo in sight!), before collecting our numbers and timing chips.  We had something to eat, and then dumped our clothes in the car, being battered by the winds as we did so.  Still, this was our view (it’s hillier than it looks):

IMG_20140413_183259 I had DNS’d this race in 2012 after falling ill (and yes, I was avenging my loss), but Elaine had run it last year.  She let me know that the first couple of miles are a steady incline, and then you get to enjoy the view and cruise through a few undulations, and a mainly downhill final few miles.  She also helpfully told me that the race finished short of the start, and not to panic when I saw neon specks climbing the hill back to the distillery, because they would have already finished and started walking back to collect their goody bags.

At 10:30 we had the humorous race briefing, and at 10:45 we headed outside and huddled with other runners at the start, which was prompt.  I had decided that I would listen to music for a change, and had downloaded Hole’s ‘Live Through This’ to revisit my angry teenage years after I was reminded about the album’s existence after a friend had mentioned it was the 20th anniversary of its release a few days ago.

The race starts with a short, gentle uphill, before a longer, less gentle downhill.  What a tease that section is!  I was full of energy, blasting classic tunes, and flying downhill in the sunshine with a smile on my face.  And then you get to 1k, and the ‘steady incline’ begins.  This isn’t so bad I thought to myself, keeping steady and following a  girl in a green top in front of me.  OK, this is starting to feel quite horrendous I thought, after 5 minutes of slog.  Yep, I’m having a heart attack I thought, as I resigned myself to a power walk.

Once my heart rate had come down again, I picked up to a jog, and refused to walk again (apart from the two water stops) for the rest of the race.  Thankfully, I only had one more hill of any great importance to crest before a sign informed us all that we had conquered the worst of the uphill sections.  This is where water stop one was located, and after a few sips, I was flying downhill again.  This is also where the best vistas of the race were, and I threw caution to the substantial wind as I craned my neck to admire the scenery floating by, trusting my feet not to land in a pothole.  I remember smiling here as well.

Before I knew it, we were taking a left turn back towards the distillery, and I noticed, as Elaine had warned, those neon specks cresting a hill in the distance.  If I hadn’t been warned, I probably would have felt pretty defeated, but knowing the finish line was close, I pushed on, even managing a cheeky sprint finish.

I waited for Elaine to finish, and then we began the walk back, picking up some water and our medals on the way.  Back at the hall, we collected our goody bags, and then took advantage of the free distillery tour.

Me + Elaine at after the race.

Me + Elaine at after the race.

I learned that whisky making is a fairly simple process (if you have all the expensive machinery) thanks to our knowledgable and amusing guide, Sandy.  You need barley, yeast, and pure spring water, which is in abundance on the estate.  I also learned that whickey is clear, just like vodka and gin, but that it gets it’s colour from the wooden barrels it is stored in, as well as remains of sherry or bourbon that the barrels were used for before.  Oh, and apparently whisky loses .5% alcohol each year it matures.  Obviously there was more that we were told during the tour, but it’s worth a visit if you get the chance.  I mean, I don’t even like the stuff, but I still found it pretty interesting.

Inside one of the 'small' warehouses...

Inside one of the ‘small’ warehouses…

Different sizes of barrels

Different sizes of barrels

After the tour, you are invited to try a dram of either 12, 15, or 18 year old Glenlivet whisky.  I had hoped that my newfound appreciation of how it is made would help me enjoy the tast of some of Scotland’s finest, but tasting it had the same effect any other whisky has had on me: it made my tongue and lips burn, and tasted far too similar to what I imagine paint stripper to taste like, tickling my gag reflex.  I couldn’t finish my measure.

Tasting time.

Tasting time.

Elaine tasting her 18 year old Glenlivet.

Elaine tasting her 18 year old Glenlivet.

Elaine and I both stopped at the guest centre for a baked potato before we left, partly to get the taste of whisky out of my mouth, and then we drove home along the winding roads, admiring a bit more of the scenery.

I’m glad I finally got to tick this race of my list, and it is certainly a contender for one of the prettiest races I’ve taken part in.  I also wasn’t expecting a medal, so that was a nice suprise.  I woud like to give a couple of shorter races a go after the Fling to try and gauge how terrible my ‘speed’ has become, and maybe do something about it.  But’s that’s on the other side of a very big obstacle…

D33 Ultramarathon 2014

Time:  6:20:00

Medal: Yes

IMG_20140315_171853The D33 was set up by George Reid as a longer distance race to help build up to the Highland Fling in April.  The same Highland Fling that somehow I am going to attempt to complete in just over a month.  Entries for the D33 opened a little early this time around, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, and as I sat at my parents’ kitchen table in Houston eating pasta and preparing for the Texas marathon, I became the 42nd person to enter this year’s race.

I have done a few training runs with some of the Stonehaven running club runners, and this race was in the schedule as the longest training run before April’s race.  I had a few goals for this, the most important being: don’t get injured, have fun, and finish.  Joining in the pre-race chatter online, I had been invited to run with Kate, Vicki, and Geraldine as our final training run as a group.  The thought of having company throughout the race was appealing, especially the race was on Kate’s birthday, so spirits were bound to be high.

Race morning was overcast and a bit breezy, but nothing that would blow tiles off a roof.  I had been keeping my eye on the forecast all week, and it fluctuated between sunshine and 14 degrees, and rain and 7 degrees.  But relying on the forecast in this country is futile, so I was pleased that it wasn’t too windy, but worried about the heavy cloud.

At about 7:30, I left my apartment and walked about a mile to Duthie Park to register.  Several friends were volunteering and it was nice to see familiar faces ordering me about with instructions on where to put my (pitiful) drop bags for the 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 checkpoints.  Eventually more and more runners descended upon my local park, and I ran into more recognizable faces, some also popping their ultra cherry.

Eventually Kate, Vicki, Geraldine and I all found each other.  They were decked out in club vests and some rather flashy socks in their club colours which attracted a lot of attention during the day, and 3 of us were all wearing the same purple Camelbak.  We also found Tina, from Aberdeen Metro runners, who was cautious because she was running on a dodgy ankle and fancied a steady group to keep her company.

Kate and I missed the race briefing because we were in a queue for the porta loo, but made it back to our group on the start line with a couple of minutes to spare.  Then came a countdown, and we were off!

The railway line that I normally ran along was packed with neon flashes as we churned out the first mile.  Tina and I fell in behind a group of women that were keeping us at a reasonable pace, and were chatting about a training weekend along part of the Fling route in a couple of weeks.  We were soon joined by another woman and Claudia.  I noticed that we were a little ahead of Kate, Geraldine, and Vicki, so when Tina overtook the group after a couple of miles, I fell back and the rest went ahead, looking strong. Unfortunately, a mile or so later, the four of us ran past Tina, Claudia, and +1 off to the side, Tina holding a tissue covered in blood, and blood all over her knee.  I asked if they were ok, and Tina seemed in good enough spirits and said she was fine, so we kept going, assuming she had just scraped her knee and was otherwise alright.  It turns out, she had gone over her ankle (again), and decided to be sensible and pull out.  Photos of her swollen ankle that turned up later on Facebook confirmed that she probably made the best decision, but she was, and is, understandably gutted.

It was around this point that I noticed a host of niggles that I panicked would leave me at the side of the course, writhing in agony later on, but thankfully most of these gradually faded away throughout the day.  The same couldn’t quite be said for birthday girl Kate, however, as she had been suffering from plantar fasciitis, and had even been told by her physio not to run the race.  On her birthday.  With friends.  So obviously she ignored that, and for the start, at least, everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Photo: Ryan Roberts

Photo: Ryan Roberts

Vicki was a strict task master, and we were following her run for 30 minutes/walk for 3 rule.  The walk breaks gave us an opportunity to take in fuel, an assortment of sweet and salty snacks, as well as let our heartrates come down a bit/stretch out any tight areas.  Initially, it felt a bit silly to be walking 30 minutes into a race when we were running at such a conversational pace, but if that’s what it takes to run 33 miles with no ill-effects afterwards, then I’m a believer.

We hit checkpoint one/three (it’s an out and back course), where Naomi and Suzy were waiting to hand us our drop bags (a bag of salted crisps for me), and chatted for a bit before setting off again, hoping that we were still as cheerful on the way back.  After about 14 miles, we hit Milton of Crathes, where Kate’s family were all waiting for her, and we stopped again for a toilet/oatmeal raisin cookie break (to the creator of those, they were amazing!).  I also took this opportunity to text ahead as someone marshalling at the halfway checkpoint wanted to present Kate with a ‘birthday flapjack’ (flapjack with a candle rammed inside it).

At Milton of Crathes.  No idea why it looks like I'm checking out Kate's rack.

At Milton of Crathes. No idea why it looks like I’m checking out Kate’s rack.

By this point, the faster runners had started to pass us on their way back, and we encouraged them as they all flew by.  Eventually, we made the halfway point and stopped for a chat, some snacks, and to refill camelbaks.  I think once we set off, we were all a little bit happier because we knew every step we took took us closer to the finish line instead of farther away.  The sun came out.  I was nearly what I would classify as ‘warm’.  I was happy.

There weren’t too many people behind us, which became apparent on our way back.  Soon we ran past the ‘Grim Sweeper’, looking cheerful at the back.  By this point, Kate’s feet were causing her a lot of pain, and there were murmurings of stopping at the 3/4 checkpoint, but we stuck with the run/walk strategy and pushed on.  We were also picking off a few walkers who were clearly hurting, and we were grateful that on the whole, we were feeling comfortable.

The 3/4 checkpoint arrived, and we took a little while to chat/replenish supplies.  I packed some dried fruit into my camelback and added a little water, as I’d run out.  I also drank half a bottle of lucozade, but chucked the rest, and added the rest of my food to the ‘free-for-all’ pile on the table.

At the 3/4 checkpoint

At the 3/4 checkpoint

1926824_10201508899193102_717979712_nBy this point, Kate reasoned that she couldn’t really do too much more damage to her feet in another 8-ish miles, so the four of us continued as a group.  I phoned Ian to let him know roughly when we’d be finished, but also requested that he bring something to hand over to me before the finish line.

I remember looking down at my Garmin at about 26 miles and thinking how strong I felt for completeing a marathon distance, when normally I’m ready to crumble in a heap and go for a nap.  The next time I looked down, the distance read 27.2 miles, and I was out of known territory!  With about 5 miles to go, we all stopped for a photo with a sign somebody had put out for Kate’s birthday:

1907565_10152314998593792_666196150_nWith less than a 5k to go, I found myself involuntarily speeding up, and then trying to reel myself in.  Then Ian appeared on his bike and cycled beside us.

Now, I wanted to finish my first ultra in style, so obviously I had asked for Ian to bring me a pair of high heels to cross the finish line in.  About a mile from the end, we came across Vicki’s husband, Ian, who was struggling.  Vicki told me to go on ahead and that they would walk with Ian for a bit.  Ian (my Ian) and I went on, and as I turned the corner into Duthie park, he produced my heels from his rucksack, and cycled off to the side. Ronnie had been for his long run already, so was at the finish with his camera in hand:

Appraching the finish line.  Carrying heels.

Appraching the finish line. Carrying heels.

About 10 feet before the finish line, I stopped and stepped to the side.  One of the marshalls told me, “You’re not finished yet, love, you need to go a bit further.”  Then I put my heels on the ground and started untying the laces of my trainers.  She laughed, as did the crowd at the finish line.  I managed to wedge my feet into my heels, and, somehow, stand up unaided, before strutting across the finish line as Kate, Vicki, and Geraldine came in behind me, holding hands.

Because, why not?

Because, why not?

Geraldine, Vicki, and Kate.

Geraldine, Vicki, and Kate.

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And with that, I was an ultramarathoner.  And I felt OK!  I got my medal, goody bag, and swapped my heels for flip flops, and spoke to some of the other finishers, and some of my friends who had come down to watch the finish and cheer in runners.  Not long after, Ian and I walked back to my flat, where I showered and threw on compression socks, and had a failed nap attempt before heading to the train station en route to the after party in Stonehaven.  Many a beer were enjoyed (although I’m pretty sure I owe a few people a round), and I clumsily made it back to my own bed via the second to last train home.

This morning I am suffering no more than I would had I gone out for a 15 mile run, which gives me a bit more confidence for the Fling.  However, despite getting through an ultra marathon with no hassle, I did end up bleeding and in tears after thwacking myself in the face with my mobile phone this morning, which is swelling up a treat, and will no doubt look terrific for work tomorrow.

For now though?  A burger I think.

D33 route

D33 route

Inverness 1/2 marathon 2014

Time: 2:07:36

Medal:  Yes

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Ah, Inverness.  How I forget how long it takes in a car to get to you…

Thanks to sick people being around me with their sickness and coughing sick germs all around me, I was, after finally shirking off a two week cold, struck down again with some grim plague.  I took Wednesday night off from the gym.  And then Thursday.  And on Friday I felt so rancid that I had asked to be put down and cried at my desk at morning break had a little pity party for myself.  In fact, when the bell rang at the end of the school day, it took a full 30 minutes before I could muster up the strength to leave my desk and walk to my apartment.

Thankfully, Ian and I have started (and nearly finished) watching ‘Rome’ on Netflix, so I had something to look forward to every day (other than lying in bed in a dark room).  In fact, we have become so engrossed in the show that on Saturday, feeling a bit more human, I bought some spelt flour and baked a traditional ‘Roman Loaf’ (according to the recipe on the back) for us to rip apart with our hands and feast on as we watched.  Accompanied by “traditional” Roman butter, of course.  And bottled Heineken (also 100% traditional, I’m assured).

This guy.

This guy.

Unfortunately, our ‘episode of Rome with dinner’ grew into a Rome-a-thon, and Ian and I didn’t go through to bed until a slightly unreasonable hour.  And so on Sunday I slept in.  Up not quite early enough to allow for a bit of relaxation, and not quite late enough to have to write off the possibility of going to Inverness entirely, I spent the next 20 minutes frantically scrambling around my apartment, throwing on my race kit, trying to find my Garmin/keys/wallet/mp3 player/phone (which somehow had not charged overnight)/running socks (I own like 20 pairs, so why had they all mysteriously vanished?!), and then sat down to demolish a yoghurt and catch up on a bit of work.

Just before 8, I kissed Ian goodbye and headed downstairs and to the meeting point to await my chariot, a Fiat Panda filled with Naomi, her boyfriend Stu, and Ronnie.  Naomi and Stu had both run the Paris half (comically called ‘Le Semi’) the previous weekend, and were both worried about how they would manage just 7 days after a peak performance.  Sniffling and trying not to fall asleep in the warmth of the car, I told Naomi I’d be happy to keep her company if she fancied taking it easy, an offer she may have, at times, wished she hadn’t accepted.

We arrived at Bught Park with literally hours to spare, and since we were such keen beans, found ourselves registered, relieved, and sitting on the floor of the sports hall by about 10:30.  Somehow we managed to convince Ronnie that the start had been delayed by half an hour, which he was very angry about, but eventually came clean when it seemed as though he was going to hunt for an ATM and a shop with all the fictional extra time, and would potentially miss the actual start.

As the start approached, Stu (a serious athlete) dumped his warm layers into the car and went to warm up.  The rest of us dumped our clothes in the car, and then returned to the warmth of the sports hall, meeting up with a few familiar faces along the way.  Eventually, the piper started leading runners to the start line, and we tailed onto the swarm, choosing to stay indoors as long as possible, because: weather.

Naomi, Ronnie and I made a token effort to join in the enthusiastic warm up dancing (Stu was basically at up at the front and needed no such ridiculousness), until we started moving forward, breaking into a jog, and then speeding up to cross the timing mats.

The start.  Stu is the dedicated looking one in the Fife vest.

The start. Stu is the dedicated looking one in the Fife vest.

“I guess we’re running 13 miles then.”

Ronnie stuck with us for less than a mile before Naomi and I persuaded him to go ahead – he has been working hard at losing weight and was keen to get his first sub-2 half marathon since 2012, and we both thought he was capable, unlike the two of us (dead legs and snot face).  The pair of us plodded along, and I despite my heart rate, I felt comfortable.  I thoroughly entertained Naomi with hilarious and enthralling tales (or so I would like to believe), and we kept a pretty even pace (about 9:30 minute miles) for the first half, stopping to walk through the water stations.  Naomi’s legs soon voiced their disapproval, however, and the pace dropped back a bit after this point.  At one point, at a road crossing, the marshal told us we had to stop to let a bus past, which at the time was a welcome 10 second break, but would have been a real offense if we’d been running for time!  Still, he was apologetic, and it’s not like either of us minded.

With about 5k to go, we approached Esther, someone we recognized from the local parkrun.  Her half PB is 2:10, and at the rate she was running she was on track for a PB.  Just when Naomi was really starting to struggle, the role of PB pacer seemed to give her a reason to push on to the end, and we made it our mission to bring Esther in under her goal time.  We stooped to ridiculously unnecessary tactics (trying to become windbreakers, shouting like a drill sergeant, picking up a branch from a nearby grassy area and prodding her forwards with it), but she kept with us, and even managed to outkick us with a sprint finish at the end.  I mean, yeah, Naomi and I were busy with a conversation, but still – excellent effort.

"Yeah, I think a Nando's sounds like a good idea for dinner."

I’m pretty sure I remember smiling, but instead I look pretty vacant.

100% focus.

100% focus.

Even Ronnie shouting at us with less than a mile to go, exclaiming that Claudia (someone we know) was only about a minute ahead (Ronnie knows I get competitive at the end) wasn’t enough to make me leave our little pacing group.  Especially since this half marathon was technically my ‘cut back’ for the D33 in, ohhhhhhhhhh, two days.  Which I am starting to panic a bit about.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to be so busy at work, because at least it has kept my mind off of that little gem of information.

Anyway, Ronnie managed his sub-2.  He ran just over 1:51, in fact, and he was ecstatic.  Sadly, this means Naomi and I have lost a race buddy because he will once again start leaving us in his dust.  Stu, a freak of nature, ran less than half a minute slower than his Paris PB and crossed the line in 1:17:52.  Quite frankly, disgusting.

Once we had all gathered in the sports hall and chatted with other runners for a bit, we decided to head back to Aberdeen, singing along to some quality tunes (‘We Built this City’ and ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ come to mind).

Overall, a good, but long, day out.  Here’s hoping I’m this cheerful in 48 hours.  And that I can still walk.

Smokies 10 Mile Road Race 2014

Time:  1:32:09 [Results]

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

Smokies 10 mile shirt + beanie

Smokies 10 mile shirt + beanie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moo.

Moo.

 

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

Deeside railway line.

Deeside railway line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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