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…

First ultra distance training run!

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: V Shanks

Photo: V Shanks (as are the rest!)

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

Approaching Inverbervie

Approaching Inverbervie

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

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

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

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

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

You guys knew this was coming.

You guys knew this was coming.

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

I was in bed and sleeping by 20:30.

The route

The route

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2012

Gun Time: 1:56:33

Chip Time: 1:56:00

Position: 180/266

Gender Position: 26/75 (Category Position: 19/46)

Medal:  Yes (+ goody bag!)

It’s all about the …. buh-bling, buh-bling..

I was not looking forward to this race, which means it is exactly the kind of race I should be doing more of.  After foolishly entering without even glancing at the elevation profile, I discovered that this course was rather unpleasant, hill-wise.  Oh, and I suck hard at hills.

On a brighter note, my friend Ronnie (from the gym, where I spent roughly 83% of my free time, much to my boyfriend’s irritation, as he would prefer I spent 83% of my free time dressed in a maid’s outfit ‘servicing his room’) had entered the Stoney half on Friday night, just shy of entries closing.  On a whim.  His longest ever run, before today, was just over 8 miles.  He’s sensible that way.  Anyway, this meant I had a lift there and back, which is always good news for me!

I was picked up at 9:45 and we headed to Stonehaven.  Once there, we ran into Caroline (a spin instructor at the gym) +1, Rhona and Kynon, a few runners from Twitter, and I was introduced to some of the Aberdeen(shire) Fetch crew, which was nice as it’s always good to be able to put a face to a name (even if that name is merely a screen name).  After registering, Ronnie and I had to trek back to the car park to dump any unnecessary belongings, I shoved my mp3 player and 2 gels into my bra (because I’m classy like that), and then we headed back for pre-race mulling.  Just after 11, the runners began to assemble at the start line, and we were (I believe) briefed on the race, but the only thing I could make out was ‘Keep to the left!’

Me and Ronnie at the start line, gels and mp3 player giving the illusion of weird growths on my chest.

When the horn sounded, I was not totally prepared to run a half marathon, but off we went!  My goal, other than ‘finish it’, was to try to maintain the pace I’d love to run my debut marathon at.  I was actively slowing myself down during the first mile, and it was annoying.  Thankfully (ha!) the ENORMOUSLY DICKISH HILLS did a fine job of keeping my pace way down for the first 4 miles.  Thank you hills, you had my back.  As I kept my music off until mile 8, I was able to have little chats with a few of the people struggling alongside me as we trudged forth.  This was particularly useful during a walking break (I know), when I spotted a photographer up ahead.  I instructed my companion to ‘look alive’, and we bounded past the snapper, before breathlessly continuing up Cheyne Hill (at least that’s what my new BFF said it was called).  FYI: Cheyne Hill is a strict mistress.  And I don’t like her.

Me + BFF (Photo: Stonehaven Half Marathon website)

Once the downhill bits began (and after angels sang Hallelujah in my mind), I left my buddy in my wake, chugging along at a respectable pace.  The downhill bits were sweet.   I don’t really know how I can put into words how much I appreciated them, but know that if they were a person, I’d consider naming my firstborn after them.  It was around mile 6 when Rhona came zooming past me.  She had spotted Kynon up ahead and was determined to catch him.  After all, she couldn’t let her boyfriend beat her during his first half marathon, right?  I considered following her, but looked down at my pace and thought ‘fuck that.’  She was making some good progress when another ma-hoo-sive hill decided to just turn up out of nowhere and shit on everyone’s parade.

Gross

Thankfully, near the top of the hill (I thought these were meant to be over and done with!) there was a water station, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I walked a bit more.  It was the nicest 30 seconds of the race up until that point.  Hands down.  After sucking down a gel (and getting sticky gel crap all over my hands, which annoyed me for the rest of the race) I picked up the pace again, and started to enjoy some more downhill sections.

After another mile or so I passed Rhona again.  She had her earphones in (and I might have as well) so didn’t bother with any chit chat (which would have consisted of me panting and repeating ‘I hate hills’), and I also spotted Caroline +1 up ahead.  I caught up to them, and they both seemed to be struggling a little.  I mentioned that they were over halfway there and it was all downhill from there (I didn’t know if that was the truth or not, but that’s what I would have wanted to hear).  Then I took my second gel and marched onwards.

The next 4 miles or so were along a busy-ish road, and I felt pretty strong as I slowly picked off runners.  I caught up to Kynon and gave him the heads up that Rhona was coming for him, and then continued on my sweaty way.  It was about here that my heart rate monitor strap starting really digging in under my bra (this always happens when I run over 10 miles), and I knew that I’d be stinging badly in the shower later on.  Up until this point, I was pretty sure I was putting in a dismal performance, but my pace was good, and I realized that as long as I kept it up, I’d manage to finish in under 2 hours, something that seemed near impossible during the first 6 miles.  Awesome.

More uphill before the final stretch (Photo from SHM website)

The last couple of miles flew by, and I was amazed I wasn’t feeling more worn out.  I kept picking off a couple of runners here and there, and before I knew it I was back on the field staring ahead at the finish!  For maybe the first time in my life, I held back and did not sprint the last 400 meters like a douche.  This meant that when I crossed the finish line, I didn’t feel like I needed to blow chunks; result!

Don’t be fooled by the placement of this photo – I only look this fresh BEFORE a race!

I fully took advantage of the drinks section in the finishers’ area, and re-hydrated like a beast.  I got my medal and my goody bag, then went to meet Ronnie, who sickeningly managed to run his first ever half marathon in 1:46:35.  I was also approached by a guy who asked ‘Are you medal slut?’  A fan!  Hello, reader!  Rhona came in soon afterwards, smashing her PB and managing her first half in under 2 hours (and her 7th half marathon ever), followed by Kynon, who she had clearly managed to hunt down!

Pre-race nerves (unfounded, it turned out)

After the race, there was a selection of sandwiches and cakes on offer, which looked delicious, but I couldn’t stomach.  I had a couple of bananas, and all the high5 fluid I could get my hands on.  Originally, the pub had been planned, but the rain had started coming down and I really wanted a shower and my sofa, so Ronnie and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the car.

The finish! (Photos, again, from SHM website)

So that’s half marathon number 3 in the bag.  Next up?  Tough Mudder Scotland (unless I have another impulsive moment) in two weeks time.  And now, time to get intimate with my foam roller, because I’m really into self-harm today.