Weeks and Days

A month ago I was recovering from a disappointing D33, and counting down the days ’til our wedding…

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Three weeks ago I was on a plane somewhere over the Middle East heading for our honeymoon destination.

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Two weeks ago I had lost track of time and was lying in a wine-soaked haze with my feet in the Indian Ocean.

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One week ago I was preparing to return to work…

…and in seven days I’ll be preparing to leave for the Highland Fling, for another ultra adventure. It’s safe to say it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind…

Since the D33 a month ago I’ve ran a grand total of 49 miles, 7 of which were sweated out over three sessions on a treadmill in a resort gym with no air conditioning. My valiant attempts to keep active whilst marooned on a desert island were futile against the tremendous amount of fabulous food and wine available, and the other 23 hours of the day being spent flat out relaxing. After the last few months we surely needed that rest, but I can tell you that I’ve certainly felt better prepared for a race and would not recommend this between-race maintenance strategy to anyone.

I can confirm however, that our wedding was the most delightful success and the honeymoon was utter heaven. All damage done to Winter and Spring training by this slothful hiatus has been extremely worth it and united as one, Mr and Mrs RedWineRunner are ready to tackle the next stage of life’s adventures together.

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I’m currently trying to get my head around the fact that in 10 days time I’ll be embarking on a second attempt at the 53 mile challenge which dominated my Spring last year. With everything else that’s been going on I feel that it’s passed me by somewhat and that I now need to give it serious thought. Pacing, clothes, drop bags? Goals? At least last year as a Fling virgin I could leave a lot of it to chance, but unfortunately this year I know better. I know that I need to make a difficult decision about my footwear, I know that the clothes I pick could make or break my race, and I remember with a sudden clarity exactly how much it hurt at times; memories which I seem to have conveniently pushed right out of my mind until now.

20130427_16575053 miles is still a really, really long way.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve been really struggling with running since I came back – my legs seem to have forgotten everything I’ve taught them, and frankly it feels like I’ve never ran double digits before which is very concerning. But I know this is not true, so I am hopeful that regular short runs under 10 miles will help wake them back up again. I just feel so heavy – like I’m stuck in 2nd gear or like I’m running through water!

Heavy…well, there is that too I suppose. Pre-wedding weight loss had me at my lowest weight since I was a teenager (allow me to note that this was not intentional weight loss at all, but the stress of wedding planning plus ultra training had it falling off me). It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to figure out where this is going, but three all-you-can-eat meals a day, unlimited alcohol and a penchants for Pina Coladas doth not a skinny newlywed make. The weight has piled back on and more, which I don’t particularly care about as it will fall off in time when life gets back to normal, but 53 miles is a reaaallly long way to be carting an extra stone around with you and I could do without that extra burden. I may as well have put a brick in the bottom of my CamelBak.

These things are sent to try us however, and I’m sure it will be alright in the end if I show up at the start with enough fight in me to give the course everything I’ve got. Over the next week I’ll get everything figured out before posting my race plan and my goals for the day. Until then, perhaps you could send some strong words and thoughts to my legs and let them know that they won’t be getting off lightly, so it’s really in their best interests to suck it up and stop complaining…

Here’s one last wedding picture for you – our adorable cake topper with some perhaps some recognisable characters..!

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And finally, just in case any of you out there have yet to sign up for SportPursuit.com yet (online mecca for sporting types, with huge running/tri/cycling/snow/ski/outdoors brands at bargain basement prices) they randomly sent me a 10% off code for family and friends this morning which I thought I’d share with you*. They have a tonne of stock in at the moment so if you decide to buy something, use FWY3GH42 at the check-out to get an extra chunk off. I’ve just ordered myself a swimming costume and some goggles in order to attempt to broaden my skills now that the Aberdeen Aquatics Centre is open and conveniently situated across the road from my office. I haven’t gone swimming in a sporting sense since I was at school, so this could be a bit of an adventure…

*Not an affiliate link or promoted post – I just wanted to share it with you since I love buying kit and know you lot do too. Cheap kit is good kit. If you’re a new customer then as with all referrals I get £5 store credit.

Posted in Life, Races, Running, Ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

RACE REPORT – D33 Ultramarathon 2014

D33 Ultramarathon

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15th March 2014
5hrs 25 minutes
177th of 306 finishers
35th/83 Females
20th/40 Senior Females.

The morning of my third D33 Ultra dawned calm and grey after a very windy night before. I awoke ages before my alarm as has become customary in the last few weeks – sleep has become surplus to requirements when my brain decides it’s time to awake and start thinking about table plans, thank you cards and how loud the music should be when I walk down the aisle. However, on Saturday morning I was able to look forward to a five hour break from the wedding melee and just enjoy a good long run with friends. My training thus far this year has been the (mostly) non-negotiable foundations around which I have built my week outside of work. However many other things had to be sorted out on a weekend, knowing that I had two periods of rest where I’d get to drop everything and go out and run has really kept me sane. Yes, weddings are important and it means a lot to a lot of people; but the wedding is just one day. It’s the marriage that is for life – just like running. That’s been our views on it anyway, much to the despair of some of our family and friends who don’t exactly share our priorities. I say our, because it should not be forgotten that Kynon was running at the D33 Ultra as well, and it was his first Ultra. Spoiler alert: he finished, and with a smile as well! Perhaps I can entice him to write another guest race report, however for now it is time to tell the tale of a race which didn’t exactly go to plan, but by all accounts should be considered a PB success. I’m marking this one down as a ‘learning experience’ and one of those dreadful runs which make you appreciate the good ones even more.

I woke up with not great deal of desire to eat, but choked down a banana and some coffee to get my system on the go. We had a lift arranged from a club member at 7.30am, and arrived in Duthie Park about 8.00am after a journey spent discussing our race strategies. My plan was to go out at a comfortable pace and average somewhere between 9 and 9.30 minute miles for the first half, and then push harder for the second to finish strongly at around 5 hours with nothing left in the tank. I was going to treat it like a marathon and take a gel every 5 miles, and not stop at check points. Having done the race two times before and completed a sub-4 marathon last Autumn I was confident that this was a realistic and achievable goal…

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Before the race there was the usual hubbub of excitement found at all the Scottish Ultras as old friends are reunited, this time after several months given that the D33 Ultra is the first of the ‘season’. I hadn’t seen anyone since Glenmore 24 in September so there was plenty of chat to be had. I was greeted by Sandra and Julie who were on number pick-up duty and had a special surprise for us, with a pair of personalised bibs for Kynon and I decorated with ‘Bride to be’ and ‘Hen run’. I loved this but was grateful I hadn’t been given a tiara and veil to wear!

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In the hour that followed I ate a Clif bar and some Powerade and tried to decide what to wear. It felt like it was getting colder and colder and rain was beginning to fall. I couldn’t shake the memories of last year where I put on some thermal sleeves at the last minute which probably saved my race as the weather turned wet and windy after a few hours. The forecast for Saturday had been a real mix but it wasn’t expected to be cold – hanging around in a chilly Duthie Park at 8.30am wasn’t convincing me however and I decided to put on the t-shirt I had in my bag for after the race as an extra layer, at least for the beginning.

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After the customary short and blunt briefing from George, there was a few minutes before the final countdown and the off.

001StuartMac1002StuartMac2003StuartMac3004StuartMac4Pictures by Stuart MacFarlane

The huge crowd of 300 were raring to go and streamed out of the park to the railway line with a thunderous sound of feet on concrete. Cyclists, dog walkers and other users of the path were forced to stand to one side as the pack streaked up the narrow path as far as the eye could see.

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I very quickly spotted Graeme from our club near me so moved over for a chat. He and I run at a similar pace at these distance and are both training for the Fling so had similar goals. Soon we were joined by John and Mags from the Club and we ran as a little pack for nearly 8 miles, ticking each split easily off between 8:50 and 9:20 minute miles and chatting happily. My Mum was waiting to cheer at Holburn Station and my Grandad was waiting at Auchinyell Bridge at the bottom of his road; I was really pleased to see him and glad he spotted me amongst the crowd. “4:59!!” He shouted at me from above “Yes, Sir!” I hollered back, offering a salute as I passed under the bridge.

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I was running smoothly and painlessly – I felt exactly how I want to feel at the start of a long road race. I took my 1st gel at 5 miles and by then was already regretting wearing gloves and the extra tshirt as I really didn’t need them, and would need to hold on to them til half way. I made the difficult decision to drop from my little group at 7.5 miles to nip behind a fence for a pee – knowing the route well I knew this was my last chance for a while so didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I stopped for less than 30 seconds but my gang was already gone – I would not see them again until the end of the race.

009annette8mile1010annette8mile2Pictures by Annette Raffan, Craftrocks.

The first check point came shortly after at 8 miles where I had a bottle of juice to drink. I was really looking forward to a drink since I didn’t have my Camelbak on but it tasted far too sickly and thick; at this point I only wanted water. I kept hold of it however and pushed on.

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Running was suddenly becoming a chore. The ease with which I covered the first 8 miles had stopped abruptly and I felt a sick and nauseous feeling spreading throughout my gut. Even cruising the down hills towards Drumoak was not comfortable and maintaining a pace under 9.30 as planned was becoming very hard work. I forced myself to eat and took my sleeves and buff off to cool down as the sun had come out and it was warm. I refused to believe my goals were gone as how you feel in an ultra can be so unpredictable…but not usually after 8 or 9 miles.

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When I got to Drumoak I conceded and walked up the hill and drank some more in an attempt to make myself feel better. Plodding along to Milton of Crathes was tough but I was delighted to see Mike in 2nd place behind Grant Jeans when the leaders began to pass me on their return to Aberdeen. I high-5ed him and shouted ‘Reel him in!’ as we passed, and continued to high-5 all my friends until my hand hurt. There were lots of supporters at Crathes including Kate’s husband Ali and their cheers really lifted me up. The sickness was getting worse and I could only begin to conclude that I was in for a very. long. day.

I reached half way in 2hrs and 33 minutes – only 3 minutes behind schedule. The half way party was in full swing and Sandra announced the arrival of the bride, much to my embarrassment. I was really glad to see my Mum there too – there is nothing like a hug from your Mum when you’re feeling crap.

014halfwaysandra1015halfwaysandra2016halfwaysandra3017halfwaysandra4Pictures by Sandra Macdougall

I got rid of my hot layers and drank some precious water. This time I ditched more than half of my powerade and mixed it with water which was a lot easier to drink.
I filled a sandwich bag with hula hoops and some flapjacks and just got right back out there. I didn’t want to get comfortable as I might never have left.

Kynon was not far behind me and reached half way at 2hr 50 race time so had made excellent progress in his first half. Passing more friends and club-mates certainly gave me a further boost, but as the sun began to beat strongly on my back my expectations began to slip. My guts were in agony – all I wanted to do was vomit but I couldn’t get myself to do it. After only 15 minutes out of half way I slowed to a walk for few minutes and thought about how I could handle the rest of the race. I knew I’d finish, but it would be slow and sore. After 10 more minutes before I had to walk again, I realised my revised plan of run 30/walk 5 was even a bit much. My next tactic was to ram more food in and hope it would pay off – I managed half a flapjack, some hula hoops and a gel and kept my fingers crossed it would either refuel where it was needed, or bounce out of my stomach and take whatever else needed to get out of there with it.

018alirobertsonPicture: Ali Robertson. Smile: a big lie.

For the first time that I can remember in the second half of a race I was being passed, by quite significant amounts of people. Normally this is when I come alive in a race, but in startling contrast to last year I was falling to bits and I was extremely annoyed. I could feel blisters boiling between my toes, my hip flexors were stiffened and waves of fatigue were washing over me. I hit  20 miles at 3hrs 12m and I felt completely rung out – there was no way I could make up the time to hit my goal but if I was able to cruise at a moderate pace there would be no excuse to not get under 5hr 30m.

It was after Drumoak that things began to perk up a little. My stomach no longer felt like I had drunk 10 pints of lager the night before. Perhaps the food had worked? I ran all the way up the long slow hill just before the 3/4 check point and passed at least 20 runners on the way who were walking and had recently passed me. Being somewhat competitive at times this really pleased me and further fuelled my rekindled fire. I refilled my water bottle at 3/4 check point, grumbled a bit with the marshals and set out preparing to work hard again, reeling slower runners in one by one.

019Mum26miles26 miles. Picture by Mum.

I hit marathon point in 4hrs 18m which was 4 minutes faster than last year but about 18 minutes slower than I had intended. I was pleased that I seemed to have been able to pull some of my race back but waves of nausea were still attacking my stomach every so often which forced me to a walk. My feet had become dreadfully sore and I could feel that monster blisters just like last years  had formed between my big toes and my second toes. This annoyed me most of all as last year they took 3 weeks to heal and made wearing shoes extremely uncomfortable – not what you want 7 days before your wedding.

My Grandad surprised me again by waiting on Auchinyell Bridge. “Where the Devil have you been?!” he shouted; this was at 5hrs 15m race time and he had obviously been waiting for a while. This made me feel guilty and it spurred me on even more to get this last mile to the finish over and done with – I was absolutely spent, my guts were in knots and my feet felt like bloodied stumps.

StuartMac8Picture by Stuart Macfarlane

Running into Duthie Park is always a pleasure. You are retracing the footsteps you took so many hours earlier and whilst it looks exactly the same you have accomplished so much in the intervening time. I checked my watch and it said 5:2X so I knew I’d shave a PB so I concentrated on running as hard as I could through the Park and enjoying the finish.

StuartMac9StuartMac10StuartMac11Picture by Stuart Macfarlane

There were plenty of supporters cheering and people calling my name. I flew down the hill to the gantry with a smile and stumbled in to George’s arms for a welcome home hug as he put my medal around my neck.

StuartMac12Picture by Stuart Macfarlane

I stumbled my way into the tent and tried not to be too negative when asked how my race had gone. The fact that I didn’t even stop my garmin until Sandra asked what my time was shows how little I cared for goals by the end. As it happened, I finished at 5hrs and 25 minutes on the nose; a 1 minute 28 second PB. If I had ran a marathon and shaved that much off my time I would have been delighted, but that was not what I came to do on Saturday so I felt a little underwhelmed by my whole race.

I drank over a litre of water whilst waiting for Kynon to come in, but I still felt really grotty and didn’t feel like eating anything. I caught up with various people and was delighted to hear that Mike came second and Noanie was 4th lady and 1st FV40. A lot of people struggled though and found the moderate rise in temperature tough to adjust to.

At just over 6 hours race time I saw Kynon’s red cap bobbing into the park. I was so excited to see him and was delighted to see that he was still running. He galloped down to the finish and walked over the finish-line in style, bowing deeply to the crowds.

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Just like me, he’d found his first Ultra infinitely easier than his first marathon and finished in great spirits, delighted at his achievement.

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After some hearty refuelling and a couple of beers, we made our way home to recover for the after party that evening. Obviously I was glad to have finished but I was sad and frustrated that I hadn’t got the race I wanted. It just proves once more that you can have the best season of training you’ve ever had in the bank, but if your body doesn’t show up on race day then you’re screwed. I’ve been so lucky with races recently and with only one or two exceptions I was very happy with every performance in the last year. They can’t all be brilliant, so I just have to take my teeny PB and be happy I finished another 33 mile race (mostly) healthy and uninjured, and keep my focus on the next race which is the Hoka Highland Fling in a month.

For now it’s time to focus on the wedding though. In less than 48 hours we’ll be married, and after a huge party we’ll be whisked off on honeymoon to return after a fortnight’s adventures a very long way away…

See you on the other side!

~RwR

 

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Scotland, Training, Ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

D33 Ultramarathon 2014 – 14 hours to go

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Once again my blogging schedule has slipped down the khazi. I suppose it was to be expected really; planning a wedding, training for a season of ultras, and balancing a time-intensive day job and community commitments has been just as manic as it sounds, and as usual blogging has slipped to the bottom of the pile.

However; no news is good news, and I have arrived 14 hours from the D33 in great shape and ready to run hard. I did some great 20+ mile long runs in February with the ultra gang from my club, and kept up the back-to-backs with the exception of one Sunday after a monster 7 hour hill run when both Achilles were very tight. This was nothing serious however and I just needed a day off to recover.

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The run was worth it though, and excellent preparation for my longer races later in the year.

I am keen to run a strong race tomorrow and will be aiming to beat my time of 5hr 26m from last year. My goal is to run faster than my first marathon time, which was 5hr 12m, and would require a constant pace of sub-9.30 minute miles to achieve tomorrow. After my sub-4 marathon in September I have every confidence that I can do this tomorrow and plan to run the first half easy at sub-9.30 and then push a little harder on the way back and finish strong.

Bronze goal – A PB
Silver goal – under 5hr 12m
Gold goal – under 5 hours.

If I can pull off a race as steady as last year I’ll be delighted – in my opinion this still remains my strongest long distance race to date. Just look at these steady splits!

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For the first time at this race, I’ll be running without a camelbak and relying on gels and my own bottles at the check-points. I’ll grab some hula hoops at half way, but the goal is to treat this just like a longer marathon where I wouldn’t normally eat actual food. I also plan to be in and out of half-way checkpoint within a minute – no stopping for a chat with my Mum this year.

However – since I will be getting married 7 days later I do need to be sensible – no PB time is worth limping down the aisle for, or wearing flip flops because my blisters are that bad. All in all I’m just delighted that the 2014 ultra season has finally started for me, and for the next 7 months I have a monthly date with the Scottish Ultra crazies and all the associated fun that comes with it.

DSC_9622Finishing last year.

Speaking of which; I’m off to the Station Hotel for some pre-race hydration. Good luck if you’re running tomorrow – especially if it’s your first ultra! I’ll be wearing Stonehaven Running Club kit, including some fantastically rowdy black, purple and gold stripy socks, so do come and say hello if you’re around.

Posted in Races, Running, Scotland, Ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 tips for Budding Ultramarathoners

I’ve had this post written in my drafts for nearly a year now; building on it, adjusting it, finally finding the right time to post it. We’re now in the middle of the second month of the year, which means many runners will be knee deep in training for their first ultramarathon and perhaps wondering what on earth they’ve got themselves into. The sheen of starting training has worn off, you’ve got months still to go, and you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Welcome to ultra. I promise it’s worth it in the end, but it’s a hell of a journey to get there.20130202_121217

So, I present to you: Check yourself before you wreck yourself – a very average ultrarunner’s guide to staying happily in the middle of the pack. There are umpteen books and training guides out there which cover everything you might need to become the best ultra runner you can be – but what if you’d just like to finish happily and healthily, and with enough enthusiasm to sign up for another? I can’t tell you how to race tactically to win, to go from a tortoise to a hare, or issue you with plant-based diet plans which will turn you into Scott Jurek v.2.0, but I can offer you some experience on being a normal person trying to happily juggle life and ultra training in a hectic world.

Last year I made some definite mistakes and learned a lot about how to not train for a 50 miler. The same could be applied to training for a 50k ultra or anywhere in-between or beyond those distances. Allow me to share these lessons with you.

[disclaimer: I am not a medical or sports professional, and have no formal training or qualifications to back these thoughts up. This is what works for me, but it may not work for you. I learned the following the hard way, and chances are you're going to have to do the same; but maybe this might help guide you a bit. Don't be a dumbass, don't put yourself in danger and always remember Mike Raffan's rule #1- don't be a dick.]

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1) The biggest challenge is finding the right balance of dedicating yourself to your training, whilst still being able to maintain a shred of a life so that you can let your hair down every now and then and still retain your identity. There is no point in doing this if you don’t want to, or you are not enjoying it. Whilst you will benefit from considering yourself to be an athlete who has to prioritise training above anything else, the crux of the matter is that you aren’t. You are not a professional, no-one is paying you to do this and you’re accountable to no-one but yourself. Ultra marathons and their associated training aren’t for everyone and you really need to want to do it and also know why you want to do it. Why did you sign up? What is your motivation? Beware of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) as described in the book ‘Relentless Forward Progress’; ultras are becoming so popular these days and so many people are doing them that it’s natural to want to do the same amazing events as what your friends are doing – but are you ready? You’ll soon find out.

20120212_112351Training for my first ultra, the 2012 D33

2) Pick your training plan extremely wisely. This is a no-brainer, but I managed to mess this one up a bit last year. I used Relentless Forward Progress’ 50k plan to do my first D33 and it worked perfectly, so I didn’t think twice when filling in my calendar with the mileage for their 50 mile plan last year. That plan was far too much for me – I realised when I had scheduled doing bigger back-to-backs than my friends who were training for the West Highland Way race for no good reason other than it was in the plan. Take advice from other runners who have trained for your race before, ask to see their training, consider whether you are similar runners – are they consistently faster and stronger than you? Maybe their plan will be too much for you and could use a tweak or two. Ask questions and soak up the answers – there is no right answer on how to train for an ultra, you have to figure out what works for you. Some of my club train 6 days a week, others only 3; but everyone has always finished their races.

L - R: Kynon, Vicki, Iain and Me

Kynon, Vikki, Iain and RWR after Vikki’s first WHW race finish in 2012

20130126_085041sD33 training in 2013

3) Sleep is your BIGGEST weapon. When your mileage gets high and you’re training more than you ever have, your body is going to freak out a bit. The best way you can cope with this is sleep and rest; take your recovery after your long runs seriously and try and schedule yourself some proper time resting up if you can. Coming home from 28 miles and eating on the hoof whilst trying to shower and change to go out to meet friends is not the best way to do it. Also, get yourself to bed early as many nights a week as you can – I have a self-imposed curfew of 10.30pm on week nights or else I would just sit and blog/watch TV/read until I fell asleep. I get up at 05.30am and get home at 6.00pm Monday to Friday so I absolutely need to get as much sleep as possible, or else I just can’t function. You have to make rest and recovery as much as a priority as running, and unfortunately that means saying no to some cool stuff sometimes.

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4) Food. Food = fuel. Fuel = food. One of the first things people always ask is ‘What should I eat to fuel myself on runs?’ and no-one can answer that for you. The short answer is take different things that appeal to you and try them on training runs. Some will work, some won’t. Pay attention to what you crave when you come home from a long run and take that with you on your next run.

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That isn’t what this section is about though – of equal importance is what you eat when you’re not running. Last year when I started to get really worn down I examined what I was eating very closely. I kept a detailed food and exercise diary for two weeks using dailyplate.com and was pretty surprised by what it revealed – I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough food to support myself. I’m not one to shy away from carbs and big dinners, but without paying attention to what I was eating I was effectively starving myself. I was easily burning a minimum of 800 kcal a day through exercise, although some days it would be near 2500. With my base metabolic rate being around 1500kcal a day I needed to be eating a lot more than what I was consuming to keep my energy levels high. I visited a nutritionist at Aberdeen Sports Village to get some guidance and soon was back on track. Many gyms have these facilities available to members, or if not they can put you in touch with someone qualified to help you. Don’t try and figure it out yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.

ianrusselstart01The D33 – Do Epic Shit

5) Physical Maintenance: Book a sports massage now. Don’t wait until something starts hurting! If you’re training for your first ultra, you’re probably working your body harder than you ever have and you need to take care of it. I book a sports massage every month towards the end of my ‘cut back’ week regardless if I’m broken or not – the flush out is wonderful for the legs and you can get back in to training hard the next week with a brand new set of legs. Most runners will find that to a certain extent, they are never 100% right whilst training anyway. There’s always something; a niggle, an ache, never-ending DOMS. You just have to learn what’s normal for you and recognise when something isn’t right.

Also, be prepared for your feet to potentially do nasty things that you could never even imagine. You can do everything possible to wear the right shoes and socks to prevent blisters and damaged toenails, but the reality of it is that some people are just more susceptible than others. I’ve lost all my toenails several times and it’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. In the last year they’ve stopped being quite so flimsy though, apart from this time after the 2013 D33…

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Blisters on blisters on blisters which took weeks to heal. I had nothing of the sort after the Fling though…

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That’s all I’ve got for now. I didn’t want to write a book on this – there are already plenty out there, and as you all know I’m no particular expert. But these are things which I wish I had been told (or that I had listened to…) when I first started ultrarunning. Why did I start this nonsense anyway? Partly to move on and distract myself from a break up, partly because the races were there and they weren’t going to run themselves. I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zones to find out the kind of person I could be. Turns out, I like that version of myself best of all.

wpid-20130427_191140.jpgAfter the finish of the 53 mile Highland Fling, in 2013

Ultramarathon training is HARD, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you’re not finding it hard then maybe you’re the next Kilian Jornet or Rory Bosio and you ought to be pushing yourself harder? For the rest of you though – embrace it. Surrender your life to it for a few months and it will give you a lot more in return than you might imagine. Starting with moments like this….

_SM20191this….

DSC_9621…and then this;

IMG_3707IMG_3709…and then you’ll wonder why you ever doubted yourself. It’s all a mental game anyway – forget the physical prowess; the biggest trick you’ll ever learn is to fool yourself that you’re feeling great when you’re really not, closely followed by having the courage to believe that you WILL finish regardless of how you feel. You can go from feeling brilliant to terrible to brilliant in the space of 10 minutes in an ultra, so never lose hope that things could pick up and just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get to the finish. It really is that simple.

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Are you training for your 1st ultra this Spring, or your 50th?
How is your training going?
What do you wish you’d been told when you first ventured into ultras?
Leave your tips for other readers in the comments!

Posted in Running, Training, Ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

RACE REPORT: Forfar Multiterrain Half Marathon 2014

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Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon
2nd February 2014
Time – 2 hours 49 seconds
Place – 122/164 finishers
Gender – 20th/43 females
Category – 11th/20 F Senior

After running this race last year and enjoying it so much, it was never in doubt that I would be making the return trip to Forfar for another go. Entries opened back in November and I was lucky to have set a reminder in my calendar of the race opening date and time as the race sold out in 24 hours.

Before moving on to the detail of the race I feel I have to comment on the fact that there were 250 places sold within 24 hours back in November, but only 164 runners showed up on the day. This is another layer of lunacy which is emerging from the recent soaring popularity of running races – people obviously snapped up their place with the best of intentions, but two months later decided for whatever reason not to show up. Given that the race was such great value (£9 unaffiliated) people obviously didn’t feel too put out by sacrificing their entry fee either. I can’t imagine how frustrated the race committee must have been when they expected around 250 runners to show up and then only had 164 on the start line. What’s an RD to do though? Small races can’t handle transfers, deferrals or waiting lists; if you put the prices up people grumble and then expect more for their money; you could have an ‘on the day’ standby option for people willing to risk it,  but that brings in extra complications and potential accusations of the race being greedy with entry fees if they don’t give refunds to those who DNSd.

The rise in enthusiasm for racing is wonderful, but the problems that come alongside it are starting to piss me off. I believe that the convenience of services such as EntryCentral are contributing to high DNS rates as it is so easy to enter a race 6 months in advance on your phone on the hoof without thinking about how it will fit in your training plan or if anything else might crop up in the intervening time. I hate the fact that you now have to be sitting in front of a computer hitting ‘refresh’ until a race opens to guarantee yourself a place in a popular race, only to show up on the morning to find nearly 100 people have not bothered to do the same. The Highland Fling sold about 80% of its places within 24 hours, and already 50 people have pulled out. Thankfully the organisers are taking the time to do a second wave of entries to fill these vacated places for those who missed out in the initial launch, but who needs that extra administration when you’re already knee deep in planning a race?

My renegade solution for small races is to bring back paper entries. If you want to do a race you should have to go to the bother to physically print off a form and send in a cheque or your bank details, and then await your confirmation. This is a pain in the arse for racers, but it means you have to be at least a little bit serious about entering an event and would cut down on frivolous entries submitted on a whim because you get a text from a clubmate saying “OMG the X race is open and half the entries are gone already – sign up b4 u miss out :( ” and then when you look at your calendar 3 months later you realise you actually need to do a 28 mile hill run that day/you get invited to a party the night before/you’re mid-training cycle and exhausted, and because it was only a tenner you nix it for a different option and yet another entry goes to waste.

Naturally there will always be a small percentage of drops outs due to injuries or illness, that’s unpreventable, but I think we need to review how modern race entry works because I don’t think we’re heading down the right path.

Are you an RD or on a race committee? What do you think? How does it feel when a tonne of folk don’t show up? How would you solve these issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Anyway; with that hand grenade out of the way I can move on to the tale of the actual race. After a week of horrid weather Sunday dawned bright but breezy and Ronnie picked me up from Stonehaven to head down at around 9.15am. In light of the above rant, ironically our carload was two runners down (Kynon had food poisoning and Rachel had a strained calf), but Ronnie and I enjoyed a good catch up on the way down and tried to ignore the fading sunlight and looming clouds.

We got into Forfar around 10am and were directed to an industrial estate to park. We managed to find our way back to the Rugby Club to register and picked up our numbers quickly and enjoyed the warmth of the room whilst saying hello to others we knew. We went back to the car to get our kit bags and left them in the changing rooms, safe in the knowledge that whatever happened out on the course there would be a hot shower waiting for us.

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At 10:55 am we were called up and stood on a rugby pitch in a cold and strong wind. The RD gave a detailed briefing which I attempted to listen to carefully until the noise of runners around me chattering consumed his voice completely. A huge roar of “QUUUIIIIIIEEEETTTTT!!! SHOW HIM SOME RESPECT!” suddenly came from the mouth of a young Hash House Harrier on my right which shut everyone right up and was appreciated by many. It was disgraceful how noisy it had got with people completely ignoring the safety directions – given that there were plenty of opportunities to get lost or fall foul of the course they were really doing themselves a disfavour by being so rude.

The start was a mass stampede across the rugby pitch and onto a gravel trail which followed around the Loch. As soon as we came out of the sheltered tree-lined rugby pitches we were buffeted by some stiff wind and I decided that I would not be hanging around on this course and wanted to get back in the warm s soon as possible. I hadn’t set out with a goal in mind, but wanted to do the course faster than last year’s 2:07 and give my legs a good blast on the nice downhill heading back to Forfar.

Mile 1 – 8:51
Mile 2 – 8:46
Mile 3 – 9:07

I ran behind Claudia for a while as I settled into my pace and the field spread out. The first four miles are on road before you turn on to a mile on farm track with deep puddles all the way. Many runners attempted to run around the puddles or along the raised edges of the tracks but just like last year I charged straight down the path as the crow flies and climbed several places in the field by not caring if my feet got wet. At least the puddles weren’t coated with an inch thick crust of ice like last year.

Mile 4 – 9:02
Mile 5 – 9:26
Mile 6 – 9:37

Mile 5 had a long muddy hill, where I was very grateful to be wearing trail shoes (my Salomon Speedcross 3s) and mile 6 took us back on road to the one water stop and another turn off to another muddy trail which lead us past the fragrant landfill site to the second water obstacle of the day. It presented itself as the ideal opportunity to rinse off your shoes and mud-splattered race, either that or it was an ice bath about an hour too early; but once again we waded through 400m of very cold water which got progressively deeper up to just above the knee on me. Last year it was to the upper thigh and the water was full of sharp, shattered ice; so it wasn’t obvious, but it was a pleasant improvement.

Mile 7 – 9:07
Mile 8 – 10:15
Mile 9 – 10:32

The route continues to skirt around the outside of town until it went through to the back of an unassuming housing estate til we reached the foot of the Balmashanner hill. The path was gravelly and steep, and it got steeper until I slowed to a powerwalk and pushed myself to the top, where there were beautiful views right across to the lower Cairngorms which were covered in snow. Mysteriously it was raining at the top of the hill, so as I crested it and began the fast decent I caught quite a refreshing shower right in the face from the wind.

Mile 10 – 12.26
Mile 11 – 8.39
Mile 12 – 9.11
last 0.68mi – 5.50 (course was short)

It was downhill all the way to the bottom of the hill and on back to the town. I started to push at about 10.5 miles and began overtaking those up ahead who had lost pace. I had one satisfying moment when I overtook a guy and about 20 seconds later he decided he wasn’t going to have any of that, and sped up to re-take his place in front of me. He couldn’t hold the pace though and as I drew level with him I pushed a touch harder and he kept up for a bit until I burned him out and dropped him.

The most unpleasant part of the race was running along the bottom of a freshly ploughed field. The ground was so unstable that it felt very treacherous on the ankles and my legs were all over the place. We finally reached the industrial park next to the rugby club and I knew the finish was near; I wasn’t sure if they would have extended the course to make it a true 13.1 miles though so I didn’t get my hopes up. The nearer I got to the rugby pitches I more I realised it was going to be quite short of 13.1 miles again, but I couldn’t have cared less. I worked hard right to the finish line and cruised in happy with my race, and very happy to have taken 7 minutes off last year’s time.

The finish was the most low key ever, with one or two spectators and some officials. The only people I knew at the race were still out on the course so I didn’t hang around and just went straight to the changing rooms to clean up, excitedly thinking of the spread of food which awaited. If I could have changed one thing about the race it would be to have water available at the finish line. It’s not a huge deal, but being able to have a drink when you’ve just emptied yourself on two hours of running is lovely – I was very glad to have had the presence of mind to pack some Powerade in my bag to chug.

Cleaned and changed I hit the bar and was faced with trestle tables groaning with every type of sandwich and cake imaginable, and nine, yes; NINE different types of soup. I take it back Forfar Road Runners – I don’t care about water, I’ll rehydrate with your Broccoli and Stilton soup and a pint of lager any day of the week.

So yet again another stellar day out in Forfar. It was lovely to speak to some readers over the course of the day, and most people I knew seemed to have great runs. In the end the weather was perfect and a rare dry day in the ocean of torrential rain we’ve had lately. This weekend sees a 24 mile 5-peak hill run out at Banchory with a gang of Stonehaven runners and some Aberdeen friends and the forecast is absolutely abhorrent. Between rain, snow and swollen rivers; forget the trail shoes – I’m packing my flippers.

Posted in Half Marathon, Race Reports, Races, Running, Scotland, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

January Training

…And all of a sudden, it was February! Who else is baffled that a month of the year is gone already?! I’ve been so busy at work, at home, and in training that the weeks have slipped by at an alarming pace.

Training is going very well and I was pleased to only miss one run in the whole month of my plan. This was the day after Kynon’s birthday on the 26th, where whilst my head was a little tender, my excuse was that the weather was utterly catastrophic and the wind coming off the sea was so bad you could barely stand up. There was a dry window in the day when I could have done the run but by then I was busy doing other things so just wrote it off as a casualty of a busy lifestyle.

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Other than that I have been consistently knocking out my sessions during the week and enjoying long runs on the weekends. I would love to have some beautiful wintery photographs from Scotland to share with you like last year, but the weather has been so bad that my phone camera has stayed safe in a ziplock bag in my rucksack away from the rain. This winter has been unusually mild, so unlike last year when we were spending Saturday mornings skating around on ice, instead we’ve been battling pouring rain and harsh winds which has made things less than pleasant at times.

I ran 186 miles in the month which is the highest I’ve ran since July 2012, when I hit 202 miles when training for my second marathon. If I continue to be consistent and do all my sessions, this February will be my biggest month ever. It was around this time last year that the wheels started to come off my training and I was getting exhausted, so I am remembering how awful I felt then and if necessary will deploy the patented Mike Raffan ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ tactic and veto some sessions if I end up running myself in to the ground again (literally).

The other good news is that by sensible diet and hard training I managed to gently shift the spare half stone which was lingering around after an easy end to 2013 and a fortnight of Christmas indulgence. My goal now is to actually maintain my body shape as if I lose any more fat weight I will be in danger of having a wedding dress which does not fit. With increasing effort and mileage on the cards until the D33 this may actually be somewhat of a challenge. I’ve already been warned by my seamstress that most brides lose some weight whether they mean to or not in the weeks before the wedding – usually due to stress. Add 50 – 60 mile weeks, hill running and circuit training on to that and it could be interesting. Doughnut, anyone?!

Tomorrow is my first race of the year – the Forfar Multiterrain half marathon. I did 17 miles this morning so it will be a great back to back. The weather looks dry enough but it’s forecast to be very windy; my memories of last year’s race include a very exposed hill so I will be taking a lot of layers. Kynon is supposed to be running too, but he’s managed to pick up a very nasty tummy bug/food poisoning so I doubt he’ll be joining me judged on how he looks currently but you never know.

I’d like to interact more with you guys this year, so allow me to launch some questions at you:

- How is your training going so far this year? Did you hit your goals for January?- Married ladies; did you accidentally lose weight before your wedding? I’m not sure my seamstress is telling the truth…
- Are you racing tomorrow? What are you doing?

 

Posted in Life, Running, Scotland, Training, Ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Red Wine Runner and 2014

We are now two weeks into 2014, so I reckon it’s about time I announced my goals for the year and the races that I have signed up for. Each year, like most runners, I have a think about what I want to accomplish in the next 12 months and consider how I am going to go about it. In 2013 I set out with the primary goals of completing the Highland Fling and achieving a sub-4 marathon. I achieved both and became a much stronger runner along the way, so I hope to continue this forward momentum in the months to come.

My long-term goal is to complete the West Highland Way race in 2015 (if I’m lucky enough to get a place in the ballot), so 2014 is going to be year of further preparation for this greatest of challenges on the distant horizon. It will be a year of ultramarathons and pushing myself to my limits again, all while not forgetting that whatever happens, I’ll still be closer to Milngavie than I was before.

I’m two weeks and 89 miles into this training and I’m really enjoying having proper focus again. My first race is in two weeks time:

2nd February – Forfar Multi Terrain Half Marathon

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I did this race last year with Rachel, Ronnie and Kate; it was great fun and very challenging. I have no time goal for this race – it fits perfectly into my schedule as the tough part of a back-to-back so I’ll be treating myself to 17 miles the day before to make sure my legs are good and tired.

15th March – D33 Ultra

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This will be my third race to Banchory and back and I’m really looking forward to it. Again, it is part of the SRC Club Championships so there will be lots of club friends running, as well as ultra chums from all over the country that I haven’t seen since Glenmore 24 last September. Last year I really had the perfect race – I wonder if I can better it? I’d love to finish in less than the time I finished my first marathon, so under 5 hours 12 minutes.

26th April – Hoka Highland Fling

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Feel free to quote me, link back to my posts, and outright laugh at my hypocrisy…but I’m going back for round two! In the immediate days after the race last year I couldn’t imagine putting myself through the pain of this race again, but it didn’t take long until I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it. Naturally I’ve forgotten all of the agony – surely it can’t have been that bad?! I would like to aim to finish in 12 hours or less, but this year I’ve been advised to take it easy for a couple of reasons so I’m just going to set out to complete it regardless and not chase a time. After all, three weeks afterwards it will be time for…

17th May – Cateran Trail 55 mile Ultramarathon

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I think this is the race which scares me the most of the year. I will need to race the Fling so smartly and recover so carefully to run this well, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. This will be my last big run before the race which all these miles and 6 months of training are in aid of, which is…

5th July – The Great Glen Ultra

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This is the inaugural running of the 72 mile Great Glen Ultra. It will start at 1am in Fort William and we’ll have 24 hours to complete the course and arrive in Inverness, by Bught park (where, incidentally, I finished my first marathon in 2011). It seems so far away I can hardly grasp the reality of it yet – there is a lot of water and miles to go under and over the bridge until then, so I’m taking it one race at a time. Completing this will be remarkable, and I can’t think of better preparation for the West Highland Way race.

As for the rest of the summer? I’ll be having a well earned rest. There are some Club Championship races to do, but I’ll be happier to watch sport rather than take part for a while, and am looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. We have tickets for the Rugby 7s in the Party Stand – I can’t wait!

Later in the summer however…

6th September – Glenmore 12hr Trail Race

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I am one of the lucky ones to get a place in this hugely popular race which sold out in something like 48 hours. I decided on the 12 hour rather than the 24 hour as I think I’ll enjoy it more and will get to indulge in some end-of-season ultra partying with the crew and the other 12 hour slackers.

That’s all I’ve planned for now – no marathons, no halfs and no road races. Well; one or two might sneak in, but this year once again I want to race less and train more. The big ultra weekends soak up quite a lot of cash flow so my race funds need to be spent wisely if I’m to get the most from my money. I am also valuing ‘free’ weekend more and more these days – I’m done with doing races just because they’re there when the alternative is spending some quality time with Kynon or catching up with non-running friends.

There’s also the small, minor, detail of a marriage to celebrate in March. Our own, that is. After the wedding we are heading off on honeymoon for 2 weeks to a beautiful place where there are no hills or even roads, but they do have an open air, over-water yoga pavilion… There is no doubt that this will have an impact on my training, but you know what; I think it will probably be worth it. I’m going to work extremely hard before the D33, race it hard, and then concentrate on recovery and the wedding celebrations. By the time the Fling comes around I’ll have been back for 2 weeks so I can do some fine-tuning before arriving in Milngavie ready to run long again, and get my athletic focus back.

So that’s the plan for now. Unlike last year I’m keeping a very short-sighted view of my training as I learned the hard way last year that if you think about all the miles you have to do too much then it can be quite overwhelming. One week at a time – and hoping the next few go nice and slowly as I have so much to do before the wedding!!

Posted in Races, Running, Scotland, Training, Ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Stonehaven Fireballs 2014

Last Tuesday, on the last night of 2013, I was honoured to take part in one of the oldest, if not THE oldest traditions of the town which I now call home. The Stonehaven Fireballs is a ceremony which begins after the clock strikes midnight on the 1st of January each year, and 40 residents of Stonehaven march up and down the High St whirling wire cage balls around their heads, which have been filled with flammable material and set alight. The ceremony possibly has its roots in pagan traditions, but recent research indicates that the ceremony in its ‘modern’ format reaches back around 150 years.

After marshalling and volunteering at other events for the Fireballs, I was pleased to hear that I had earned my place and that a space was available for me last year. When I accepted it I was immediately struck with nerves and excitement; I hate crowds and don’t really like being the centre of attention, so how was I going to handle this one? I was also scared that I might not be strong enough to complete the task and do the traditions justice – I might have the cardiovascular fitness, but I run with my legs, not my arms!

The swinging movement is not a particularly challenging one, but everyone I spoke to about it said that I’d be drinking my pints with a straw for days after as my arms would be wrecked. I really didn’t want that to happen. In preparation I started training my upper body in new ways by attending circuit classes, Metafit classes, and diligently doing free weights and body weight exercises at home.

I attended the fireball making workshops at the start of December as required, and learned the secrets of building a good fireball. I’d tell you more about that, but then I’d have to kill you ;) What I will say however, is that the wire cage, filling and 2ft handle weighed 4.5kg and I think the weight was just right for me. Kynon’s was about 5kg, and ours averaged somewhere in the middle in size out of the 40 swingers.

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By the time the afternoon of the 31st of December came around I was finding it hard to conceal my nerves. I was very nervous that I wouldn’t be strong enough, that I’d do a bad job, that I’d let everybody down. Most of all I found it frustrating that I couldn’t fully practice what it would feel like to do the swinging of a fireball until the clock struck midnight. Kynon found it amusing and as a third-time swinger was 100% confident that I would be fine; after all if the septuagenarian swingers amongst us successfully swung every year, there was no reason why I wouldn’t be the same. I was just counting on adrenaline pulling me through in the same way it does in the last few painful miles of a race and you find yourself capable of things you never thought were possible.

I went for a walk to clear my head in the afternoon and the atmosphere in the town was incredible. As well as the usual Fireballs ceremony there was the huge Open Air In The Square event which Simple Minds were headlining. There were tourists standing around with maps, people milling about the High St pointing up and down in anticipation of the spectacle to come, yellow-jacketed officials bustling around, and the strains of mic checks drifting across the town in the wind. When I realised again how lucky I was to be a part of it all, my nerves gave way to excitement and I was ready to take my place in the show.

The Fireballers themselves do the set-up in the High St, and at 6pm an army of us descended on the piles of barriers and worked together like ants to get everything ready in an hour. Barriers are erected on both sides and ends of the street from the Cannon all the way down to the harbour and around the piers, effectively sealing off the road itself for our use. At 8.30pm the barriers are manned by the first shift of swingers who collect donations from the crowds and monitor the numbers entering the High St.

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At 10pm it was time for us to take our turn at the gates. We’d watched the crowds trickle in from our living room window and then increase to a steady flow. When we opened our door and stepped out with our fireballs, we were greeted by points and delighted stares; “Look! They’ve got fireballs”, “Hey guys – a pair of swingers!” (no, the joke never gets old, and yes; we’ve heard them all before!). On the gates we greeted visitors from all over the world – I was astounded by the amount of different languages I heard and felt proud that so many people had decided to come and see our town. As the clock ticked on, the flow of people increased to a deluge who had come from far and wide. There were the tiniest, frailest of old ladies who were wrapped up and gripping their friends for warmth, herds of completely wasted yet amiable teenagers, groups of people with their carers, familiar faces from the running and rugby clubs, and complete strangers who just wanted a friendly chat and some tips on where to get the best views.

Our fireballs resting against the barriers attracted a lot of attention as well. People wanted to pick them up and examine them, and ask us how they were made. They asked for pictures of them, pictures of themselves with the balls, and pictures of us with our balls as well!_EL18446

At 11.20pm, Stonehaven Pipe Band started marching up and down the High St which signalled that there wasn’t long to go ’til we would close the gates. At 11.40 we handed over to the marshals, picked up our fireballs, and joined a handful of other fireballers in making our way through the huge crowds which parted for us with whoops and applause. When we reached the barrier, a marshal let us through and we stepped into the wide open High St. As the crowd began to notice us when we made our way up the street, the applause and cheering grew deafening which made my heart thump so hard in my chest – I couldn’t believe what I was about to do! I looked at Kynon and we grinned widely at each other whilst walking in step and waving to the crowds.

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When we reached the harbour there were TV cameras and photographers to add to the melee. We stripped off our outer layers to reveal a Mackie Rugby shirt for Kynon and a Stonehaven Running Club vest for me, and greeted our fellow swingers which included Vikki and Iain Shanks and George Reid from the running club. My head was spinning as I was guided towards a pile of sawdust to get my fireball doused in paraffin. I took my place in the first set of swingers waiting to ‘light up’ and at 11.50pm the ‘sausage’ (a big, long fireball) was lit up and our balls placed upon it to ignite. Mine took a little longer than I thought and I was worried it might fail, but soon enough flames were licking through it and I was able to walk around to take my place in the procession, which was now 9th.

Picture by Iain McDonagh - http://www.iainmcdonagh.com/

Picture by Iain McDonagh – http://www.iainmcdonagh.com/

It was disconcerting to see the flames flicker so close to me as the fireball sat near my feet, but I was soon distracted by the crowd suddenly shouting FIVE…FOUR…THREE…TWO…ONE…HAPPY NEW YEAAAAAAAR!!! The strains of a lone piper reached over the noise of the ecstatic crowd as the procession, lead by Jean Houghton, began to move. One by one the figures in front of me took one or two steps before hoisting their flaming ball into the air, and then it was my turn and everything went blurry.

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Words can’t really do this experience justice, nor can they give you the smell of paraffin in the air or the whooooosh of fire as it swings in front of you, behind you, and on either side of you. I can’t truly describe the burning in your triceps and shoulders, but I can tell you that hearing your name being called by friends and family across the crowds lifts you up beyond the pain. The disorientation of camera flashes, sparks, dizziness, exhaustion and exhilaration may make your steps wobble from side to side, but the shrieks of delight from the crowd will let you know when you get too close. When you turn at the bottom of the High St and return into the wind once more, your eyes squint from the heat and sparks fly around you like wasps but you don’t notice them stinging your skin as you’re just hoping you can make it back to the harbour with enough life left in your fireball to give a good throw into the harbour for the crowds. When it comes to your turn on the slipway, you wind it up good and strong and let go…only for it to make it 6 ft before scudding into the waves, but it’s ok because you resolve to do much better next year.

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With a shriek and a cheer you turn and raise your knackered arms to the crowd and applaud them for their part in the festivities, shouting ‘Happy New Year!!’ to them all, which they shout right back at you. You take a few steps back to allow the next swinger to take his turn, and it’s your fiancé who grabs you for an embrace after launching his fireball into the water, and the crowd love it. You retreat to cheer the rest of the swingers whilst swinging from hip flasks and hugging friends with your trembling arms. As the last balls are extinguished, fireworks explode overhead and adrenaline still coarses through your veins. By walking in the footsteps of those who came before, you have played your part in keeping this ancient tradition alive and making a memorable start to 2014 for a crowd of 8,000.

With Iain, Vikki and Kynon

Afterwards, with Iain, Vikki and Kynon

I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face for days – the buzz and the rush from taking part in this was absolutely insane, and it’s clear why there are swingers who are approaching 40 years and more of participation. I’m already thinking about how I can make my ball bigger and brighter for next year and how to be fit to swing for longer. I’m not one to wish my life away, but I really can’t wait!

www.stonehavenfireballs.co.uk

All pictures used with grateful permission from Stewart Mitchell of Earthly Light Photography  - www.earthlylight.co.uk 

Posted in Life, Scotland, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

2013 – A Year in Review

With 2013 coming to an end, like many of you I am looking back at the calendar and trying to work out where the time went. The last 12 months feels like it has flown by quicker than ever before but thankfully in hindsight I can see I’ve achieved a lot.

This year has been a total monster – it has felt like I’ve been away more than I’ve been at home. Kynon and I keep a shared Google calendar to keep track of our plans and for a while every weekend was booked up months in advance with races, trips, work commitments, holidays, rugby things, wedding planning …and as well as all of that, little numbers in the corner of each box indicating how far I had to run that day. Fitting my training around my life has been harder than ever this year, but I put the work in and reaped the rewards with PBs in every distance that I raced.

I’m already looking ahead to 2014 with a lot of excitement; new distances, new goals, and the small matter of a wedding which is now in less than 3 months time. I’ll talk about that in the New Year however – for now, a brief look back at the last 12 months.

January

2013 started off with us still recovering from the flooding which struck Stonehaven in the early hours of the 23rd of December. Despite this being a running blog, the post I wrote about our experiences remains the most popular I’ve written to date.

Our street, alternative view

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My training for my third ultra, the Hoka Highland Fling, began in earnest and I began consistently knocking out high mileage weeks and back-to-back long runs once again. Having joined Stonehaven Running Club, I was going out each weekend with a great group of ultra-running friends who made the training a lot more enjoyable despite the tough weather we endured week after week.

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February

I ran my first race of the year, the Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon, with Kate, Ronnie, and Rachel and had a blast. After running through snow, ice, mud and thigh-deep icy water we finished in 2hrs 10m 9s.

20130203_132200fh…and there was some great running done in the Cairngorms, which was just the pick-up I needed when I was finding Fling training tough.

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March

In March I completed my second ultra, the D33. The weather was grim and it was a very cold day, but I still managed to knock nearly half an hour off my 2012 time and finish in 5hr 26m 29s.

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I entered as part of a mixed team with my friend Kate and her brother – to our surprise and delight we finished as the fastest mixed team!

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I also ran the RunGarioch Half Marathon a week later where the weather was even worse. The wind-chill was horrific and the course had to be altered due to deep snow; I ran like I stole something just to get it over with and came in very close to my PB with a time of 1hr 56m 52s. I was very encouraged by that time, which for me, a week after thrashing out a PB on a flat, road ultra, was excellent.

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April

Next up was a big one, and my last ‘long run’ before the Fling – the Paris Marathon!

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I flew over with Rachel and Naomi and spent the weekend staying with Naomi’s parents who have a flat within spitting distance of the start. It was an amazing trip – taking part in such a huge, international race was a mind-blowing experience and I would highly recommend it to everyone!

wpid-20130406_083024.jpgWe did the International Breakfast Run 5k the day before, and the next day I somehow managed to pull a 14 minute PB out of the bag, and cruised home in 4hr 5m 18s.

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20130407_08122420130407_112249ian4Finish1Finish1Before and after Paris I had a flare up of Bursitis in my left knee which looked set to threaten my performance at the Fling, but after following strict Physio orders of 100% rest and some rather crazy kinesio-tape strapping I made it to the start of my Spring 2013 A Race – the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling.

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Not only that, but I made it to the finish, in 13 hours, 6 minutes and 19 amazing seconds.

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Those last 19 seconds were the best, but that day changed my life. Afterwards I wrote “I have seen within myself and I am stronger, tougher and more capable than I ever imagined.”  and it’s true, and it’s why I’m doing it all over again and more in 2014.

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May

May was an extremely easy month as I recovered from the battering I gave myself on the West Highland Way. Recovery was easy in Mallorca:

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But less so when I picked up a nasty case of food poisoning which really knocked me down, and also when we ended up severely delayed coming home and sent to Magaluf for a night…

Kynon went to Bournemouth to play in a Rugby 7s tournament, so I went to the Cairngorms to go running with friends. I met Jemma and Iona for the first time and we met up with Kate and Ali to camp at Glenmore and run up and down some hills.

20130525_14552020130525_15111020130525_15283420130525_15295220130525_16030620130525_153749The original point of the adventure was to take part in ‘Race the Steam Train‘, which was a madcap 4.5 mile race against the Strathspey Steam Railway train. Despite our aching limbs from our hill running the previous day, we had a wonderful day out and I can’t wait ’til next year’s event!

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June

June saw the start of Marathon training once more, with my sights being set at achieving a sub-4 time at the Moray marathon in September.

20130609_121915I went to Derry with work, and had to fit my training around City of Culture events and their associated hangovers.

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I had another fun day out at the Xodus Ythan Challenge with lots of friends from my club.

runningshop10k4And fought hard for a 10k PB (50m 44s) at a very windy Running Shop 10k. Will 2014 be the year I finally crack 50 minutes for 10k? All I know is that I truly hate that distance, but I’ll be giving it another shot at this race next year.

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At the end of June I had the privilege to be part of the sweep team for the West Highland Way Race with 5 other members of Stonehaven Running Club. It was another amazing 48 hours with my nutbag ultrarunning family and yet another amazing experience on the Way.

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The month finished off with a trip to Peterhead to take part in the Half Marathon there, which was supposed to be a test run for me at goal marathon pace. Unfortunately heat got the better of me and I totally blew up, limping home with a massive positive split in a season’s worst of 2:06.

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July

July kicked off with more travelling, with a summer vacation in Brighton and London for Kynon and I. We did some running, did some Hot Yoga and Bikram, and generally enjoyed the hot summer weather down South.

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Unfortunately I got sick with a bladder infection when we were in London and a couple of weeks later was struck down by food poisoning AGAIN. This derailed my marathon training a bit but I managed to have a great race at the Dundee Half and finished in 1hr 55m 18s, which was a new PB and bang on target for my sub-4 goal.

Picture by Rachel

Picture by Rachel

Kynon also ran (by now he was in marathon training for Kielder) and we both suffered dreadfully in the heat, but he also scored a PB of 1hr 53m. The organisation of race itself was dreadful and we will not be going back to any events by that company, but you can read more about that in the race report.

Another weekend and another race saw a gang of SRC runners head up to Ballater for the Deeside Runners 10 miler. It was a very, very wet day but we all did well and brought home lots of PBs – 1hr 25m and 3rd Stonehaven Lady.

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August

August kicked off with an epic run in Glen Doll and Loch Muick with club friends.

wpid-20130803_093039.jpgwpid-20130803_101813.jpgvs-lochmuickLater that day I was on a train to Edinburgh to fly to Budapest the next morning for work – my legs did not thank me one bit!

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Budapest was beautiful but ludicrously hot. The air temperature hit 40C every day we spent in the city and I’ve never experienced anything like the heat coming off the pavements. Needless to say, despite packing my trainers they did not get used.

Before I knew it it was taper time once more and the final countdown to the Moray Marathon began. Due to travel and my various illnesses over the summer I opted to do one more week of peak mileage training and do a two week taper instead; a risky move perhaps but I felt it was the right thing for me this time.

September

The Moray Marathon was on the 1st of September and I was delighted to smash my goal. I got my sub 4 (despite a small wobble at 20 miles) and felt that I could put my road marathoning to bed for a while. I know I will bring that PB down in future but for now I’m sticking to ultras.

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Next up was supporting my friend Vikki in her 100 mile attempt at the Glenmore 24 trail race. I didn’t blog about this for a multitude of reasons, but the weekend was another amazing ultra experience with some absolutely remarkable performances. My pal Noanie who I met at the D33 when we both completed our first ultra last year? She ran 126.21 miles, came second overall and totally burst the female course record. The people you get to meet at these events bring new meaning to the word ‘inspirational’.

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Vikki got her 100 miles and celebrated her 40th birthday in style with friends.

The rest of the month was a quiet one outside of work, which was completely insane. I ran the odd club session and chummed Kynon along for his final long run of marathon training but that was as exciting as it got.

October

October’s race was the Kielder Trail Marathon with Kynon, who was making his first attempt at 26.2. It was a HARD race to pick for your first marathon and he suffered for it but eventually came out the other side feeling accomplished. We finished together in 4hrs 56m 4s.

20131006_09520920131006_132808kielder620131006_164600…and then got marooned on a broken down bus for 3 hours afterwards…

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Kynon also wrote his own race report, which was entitled From Back Row to Back Roads.

November/December

Kielder was my last race of the year and since then I have dialled down the mileage but incorporated circuits classes, Metafit and more weights. I’ve kept up a moderate amount of runs each week but some weeks, I’ve done nothing. My personal life became very busy as well which is why I decided to take a break from blogging and start again in 2014. I am not very good at finding motivation when I don’t have a specific training plan to stick to so I’m looking forward to the new year and a new start.

In the Stonehaven Club Championships I finished 7th Lady, and was awarded Bronze standard, for achieving a minimum of 2 events at 55% WAVA, with a minimum distance of 10k. I was very close to silver, so that’s next year’s target – 3 events of half marathon or greater, at 60% WAVA.

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There is one exciting thing to finish the year off with. About a month ago I was asked if I might like a place in the Stonehaven Fireballs procession as a swinger. This felt like a huge honour that I could not turn down, but oh my word am I nervous. Physically it will be a challenge as whilst I am fit I run with my legs not my arms, and this is 20 minutes of walking up and down a street hurling a 9lb ball attached to a wire around my head. Oh, and it’s on fire too obviously. At least I know I’ve got the cardio endurance, and if my friends 78 year old Grannie can do it, I can too.

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I’m nervous that I don’t do a good job of it and let down all the people who’ve come from all over the world to see us; this pride and tradition is certainly not trusted to the weak or the timid though, so I need to HTFU and stride out with confidence.

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In hindsight it really has been an amazing year, and I am proud of the leaps forward in my running that I have made. There is still so much room for improvement though so I hope you’ll join me in going forward to 2014 with ambition and a return to regular blogging.

Happy New Year!

Posted in Life, Race Reports, Races, Running, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From back row to back roads: Kynon and the Kielder Marathon

Good morning all! Today I’m breaking my Autumn posting hiatus to bring you a guest post from the lovely Kynon; my partner in crime, life, and most recently; running. He ran his first marathon at Kielder last month, and found it as tough as expected and more. Read on for his side of the story of our experience at ‘Britain’s most beautiful’…
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Hello dear readers. Brace yourself for a flurry of sarcasm, odd ramblings, chronic overuse of ellipsis…and some terrible terrible puns; for this is a guest post from Kynon – occasional blog commenter and full-time partner of your usual host here, the Red Wine Runner.

Salomon Kielder Marathon 2013

kielderFinal Score: Kielder Marathon 1 Kynon 0…wait, that’s not how these things work…
Gun Time: 04:57:34
Chip Time: 04:56:04
Place: 655th/825
Gender: 502nd/601
Age category (Male Senior): 233rd/274
Halfway split: 02:19:14
Medal – oh yes. Plus a t-shirt, a pair of socks, water, banana, cereal & protein bars, and ALL OF THE CAKE.
Right, now that I have the stats out of the way (plus a suitably hyperbolic mention of cakes…they were fantastic!), I suppose I had better get on with the proper writing. So, to begin, a little bit about me: When I haven’t been broken by having a fat bloke land on me, or by pulling a muscle tying my shoelaces; I would normally class myself as a rugby player, not a runner. Over the years I’ve played football, volleyball, hockey, squash, badminton & golf, so I think I have a reasonably solid base fitness/athleticism level.

So, one day, having been inspired by a certain ultrarunner & her ultra friends, and somewhat on a whim (after all, these people run 50, 100+ miles at a time, how hard could a tiddly 26.2 miles be?) – I decided that I would enter a marathon. Following a heap of discussions about running, and a bit of practice over the summer of last year and the early part of this year, I decided that I actually quite like this trail-running malarkey. It’s certainly more aesthetically appealing than bashing out mile after mile on tarmac. Small problem – compared to road races there’s not that many trail marathons about. Big road races – generally big costs, and big numbers of people. Small road races – cheaper, but frequently full of machine-like individuals & racing snakes. While I don’t mind that I’m not at the front, I didn’t really fancy being right at the back either.

So, a bit of google-fu and oh, what’s this? A trail marathon you say? Around Kielder Water you say? Well, why the devil not…and before my brain could stop me, I had committed myself to taking part in the 2013 Salomon Kielder Marathon. Naturally, one cannot reasonably expect to complete such an undertaking without doing some substantial training, so with the assistance of RWR, a slightly modified version of Hal Higdon’s “Novice 1″  training plan was embarked upon.

But Hal Higdon is the grand-daddy of marathon running, why would you modify his plan?!!?” I hear you cry. Simply – I took the advice of a couple of runners, who both said that the Novice 1 would get me to the finish line but no further, and that breaking the mental barrier of running 20+ miles would be a really good thing to do in training. Also, the nearest half marathon to the midpoint of training was the Half DRAM in Dundee, a week earlier than HH’s plan. So, some tweaks were made, a couple of runs swapped, and what came out was this:

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Since the race I have gone back to look at my Fetch training log, and I think that I did a pretty good job of sticking to the plan & getting my runs in, even when that involved either bashing out 10 miles on a Wednesday evening or dragging myself out of bed at 0500 to get 3-4 miles in before work.
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One of the things that stuck with me was that the long runs are the important ones – so with one exception, any time I missed a run it was a short run, not a long one. As a result, whereas I started out having the fear about going for an 8-mile long run, I quickly found that “Oh hell, an 8 mile run” became “Pfft – I only have to do 8 today”.Keen-eyed readers will note that, once my peak training was complete, I embarked on what may be the least conventional taper ever, where I ran twice in the two weeks before the race – apparently this may not have been the best idea, but you know that thing where real life takes over & laughs in the face of your grand plans? Yeah, well, that happened.

Before I really knew it, October had arrived, and RWR & I were on a train to Newcastle with a suitcase full of running kit. Then it was race day.Alarm at 0550, breakfast at 0600 (good work by the hotel staff), start fighting the pre-race nerves. Kit was donned :

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Linebreak baselayer
Stonehaven Running Club t-shirt
Gilbert undershorts
RonHill shorts
Twinskins
2XU calf guards
Buff
Nike Dri-fit cap
Mizuno Waverider 16 shoes

Through all of the training runs, I had worn my own Camelbak to provide my hydration needs, and had also been “that guy” who ran a half marathon wearing one, as I had heard some negative things about the quality of the drinks stations at the Dundee half, which were sadly proved completely correct when I ran that at the halfway point in my training. Had I not worn it, I would not have finished in the time I did if indeed I had finished at all (1:53, if you’re interested). I digress. We had done our research on Kielder, and found that there would be plenty of drinks stations, providing bottles of water & isotonic drinks, so I decided that I would dispense with my backpack for the race.

 

Number on, chip on, outer layers on & it was off to get the bus to the race. I was a bit nervous about the bus journey, knowing RWR’s issues with travel sickness, but fortunately we managed to wangle our way into the “pilot’s seat” – i.e. front row, top deck & I think that may have helped. The earache/tinnitus/deafness induced by the impromptu “Livestock Identification 101″ class conducted by the person behind us has been covered elsewhere, so let us proceed.

We got to the start/finish area at about 0900, and then set about the sensible actions of finding a loo, and then working out where our bags went, having a look around for anyone else we knew, greeting the inevitable blog-readers saying hello to RWR, and getting into the right headspace for the race.  We huddled together trying not to think about the bitingly cold breeze or the drizzle that kept threatening to settle in above us…

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At this point, I was actually becoming a little nervous – “you f*&$ing idiot, you’re about to run a marathon, WTF were you thinking?” – however I naturally maintained a stoic & unflappable exterior, deployed my usual self-deprecating humour, and worked on banishing thoughts of DNFing from my mind. Soon enough – off to the starting scrum, with the usual panic when one’s Garmin (other GPS devices are available) resolutely refuses to find a signal…fortunately a few choice oaths & it opted to behave. Assorted wisecracks with fellow runners (either masking my mounting terror, or being the equivalent of having a flashing neon sign above my head saying “I’m bricking it!” – you decide), then the hooter went & we were off, sticking to our plan of a) not going off like lunatics & b) finishing in 4h 30m. Nice & easy does it lad, and try not to get put off by the three people running beside you with sloshing CamelBaks full of air…

Around the tarmac loop, past the finish line (to much cheering from the spectators), and then off onto the trails…game on. I can definitely say that the billing of this as being Britain’s most beautiful marathon is pretty accurate, and although by this point the drizzle was definitely with us for the long haul, the views were still quite lovely.

I confess, I don’t have a superbly detailed memory of much of the race, but one thing that sticks in my mind is that if you like flat races – don’t do this one. “Undulating” is one way to describe the terrain, and another is “up & down like a harlot’s undergarments“. The only horizontal section was after about 17.5 miles, when we ran across the top of Kielder Dam. More on that in a minute though. As we were passing mile 10-ish, we passed two notable landmarks – the Janus Chairs (three large, rotating seats that offer shelter & views across Kielder Water), and the unmistakeable (and highly apposite) features of the former England & British Lions rugby player Roger Uttley who was marshaling, and shouting encouragement to the runners. An excellent player in his time, even if he did play for the wrong team. ;-)

As we approached halfway, the rain got a little heavier, but it was fortunately doing a better job of keeping us cool than of making the race unpleasant. The windier sections were definitely in the latter category though, and we deployed some unconventional running styles inspired by the sounds of some recently-popular K-pop floating across the water from the finish area.

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Earlier, I mentioned that there would be drinks stations – these were provided something like every 3-4 miles around the course, and they provided us with water & ‘Isoconiq’ sports drinks. I can honestly say that those were absolutely lush, and I was always happy to get hold of one.

At some point between halfway & the dam (blessed flat running!), the various pains started to make themselves felt; one along the top of my left foot (1st metatarsal area), my hamstring on the same leg was tightening up which was making my piriformis and my knee hurt, and my right ITB was tightening up & giving me some pain in that knee as well. Crossing the dam helped a bit as it gave us a rest from the previously-incessant uphill/downhill running, but it was also dreadfully exposed to the wind.

When we turned slightly right after crossing the dam, that brought us into the teeth of the wind and being completely honest, that was where my mindset started to go a bit downhill. I’d realised that this lunacy was going to be uncomfortable. I’d realised that it would hurt – I’d done (I thought) the best I could at preparing myself, by breaking through 20 miles twice in training. I’d made sure that all my kit was broken in, I wasn’t wearing anything that I hadn’t done a long run in, and yet… The next 8 miles are a bit of a haze; every step hurt (no exaggeration), my left knee felt like someone was stabbing me through the back of it, my right like someone was jamming a knitting needle through it from right to left; my previously trustworthy Twinskins had raised blisters on both big toes, one of them felt like it had burst. I was cold, and wet through. I knew it was going to hurt, but I’d had no idea that it was going to hurt this much. We walked up every significant hill. I cried, more than once – mostly this was masked by the rain.

Fortunately, by this point RWR had realised that I was not in a good place, and also knew that how I would probably deal with this was by getting angry, and then by getting angry at myself, using the anger to drive myself on & refusing to be beaten by my own body. A side effect of this is that I may become just a teensy bit snappy with anyone within a ten-foot radius, so RWR ran slightly ahead of me & let me follow her footsteps along the course, whilst quietly raging at myself.

From mile 20 to mile 23, I wanted nothing more than to just stop, walk, crawl into the closest bank of shrubbery; give up. That’s not a particularly comfortable or pleasant thing to write (even now I can feel the heat of shame spread across my face), and it’s a downright nasty thing to have to deal with when you are out on a hard marathon course, miles from anything or anywhere. I just kept my eyes focused on RWR’s feet, and concentrated on deploying the simplest instruction about running – start at the start line, put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing that until you get to the finish.

Slowly, very slowly, the distance markers ticked past until finally I saw the signs counting down to the finish, and supporters started to appear, encouraging us on. As has been covered in RWR’s report, I accepted all of this encouragement with good grace & a charming smile…er…hang on. Sorry guys – poor show. :-/

We found ourselves back on some tarmac, up one last incline, round a corner, and finally – the finishing line was in sight. At this point I finally managed to ignore the pain in the lower half of my body and, to borrow a phrase from a rugby friend of mine, “open my legs & show them my class” – deploying a final mystifying burst of speed to cross the line side-by-side with RWR. Just like that – it was over.

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I wasn’t really in the mood for celebrating – I was in too much pain for that, and although I *was* glad that the race was over (bloody hell – I did it!), my immediate focus was on the pain, which most definitely was NOT over. I clearly didn’t leave the best impression of myself at the finish line, so to the ladies working there – I apologise. I can’t remember if I made any apology at the time. :-/ I was *very* glad of the foil space blanket/victory cape, and we then moved at my maximum hirpling speed to the finish tent, where some brave soul hung a medal around my neck. Then I was given a goody bag containing some most excellent race swag; tech tee, bananas, energy/protein bars, water, coconut water, and a pair of socks (never seen that happen before). I hobbled into the baggage tent to get changed out of as much of my decidedly soggy race kit as possible, and then I was hell-bent on getting a post-race massage. I don’t know how, but I trundled up & got the next slot – which was in 10 minutes. I collapsed onto a chair in shock & waited my turn, while RWR took my bag & went to check that none of the cakes were poisoned. ;-)
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The massage did enough to take the edge off the assorted muscular & ligament-y pains that I had collected, and then it was time for tea & cake, and to wait for our bus back to Newcastle. Which conveniently decided to blow up, leaving us stuck on the A69 for two hours. Fortunately the grass bank beside the lay-by was dry, sheltered, and quite comfortable, so I made myself comfortable & engaged in some banter & witty repartee with our fellow stranded passengers (fortunately my sense of humour had come back by this point).
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We eventually made it back to Newcastle, where we proceeded directly to the nearest Wetherspoons, I inhaled the largest burger they could provide me with in 5 minutes flat (much to RWR’s amazement – I am usually a slow eater), and we dropped our excess kit at the hotel & went straight to Brewdog for a couple of beers.Some final thoughts: It took me a few days, but I am finally proud to have managed to complete a marathon. OK I walked in places, but I still made it. Not as fast as I would have liked to have finished it, but then I suppose, with my missing hamstring to even be able to run that far in any time is an achievement. (Ed. note: – Kynon badly tore his left hamstring in a rugby accident in 2003 which took him nearly a year to fully recover from. As a result the hamstring tendons are severely shorter on his left side).

 

Would I have made it had RWR not been there with me? Maybe. Would I have finished in the time I did without her there? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. So I owe her a great deal of thanks for her love, support, tolerance & thick skin throughout the race, and her advice & support during the training phase before it. :-)

 

The future? Well, that’s a bit of a mystery right now. Could I get a better time, on a flatter course? Almost certainly. Could I hit 4h30m? I reckon so. Could I get to sub-4? Maybe, but I’m not sure if I want to try yet. RWR wants to get me to run the D33 Ultra next year…I remain unconvinced. ;-) I’m signed up to be a marshal at the Highland Fling again though. Rugby remains my first sporting love, but as the years pass my body loves it less and less!

Since the marathon I’ve run a 10km trail race on RWR’s birthday, a 4-mile tempo run, and 6 miles along the cinder path that runs alongside the Cleveland Way between Robin Hood’s Bay & Whitby , so at least my legs still work – but as for what they will be doing next… well, that remains to be seen.

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Posted in Running | 9 Comments