Monthly Archive: April 2011

Race Report – Cooper Memorial 12k

 

The Graeme Cooper Memorial Hillrace, 24th April 2011

Finished in 1hr 24 min 11secs

“In November 2006 former University of Aberdeen Lairig Club member Graeme Cooper, and fresher Richard Hardy set out to attempt a winter climb in Coire an t’Sneachda in the Northern Cairngorms. Conditions took a turn for the worse in the early afternoon and they were last seen abseiling off their route as a storm picked up. After a long struggle out of the coire in gale force winds and waist deep snow the pair finally succumbed to the cold in some of the worst conditions mountain rescue personnel had ever experienced.

Graeme’s family have donated the ‘Cooper Memorial Quaich’ to the Lairig club and it is presented to the winner of an annual hillrace held by the Lairig club. The course comprises of a 12km run around Loch Muick, (undulating, rocky terrain with minimal height gain) and a final loch side challenge at the boat house, before the final sprint back to the club bothy at Allt-na-Guibhsaich for refreshments. The race is intended to reflect Cooper’s spirit and anyone who has experienced the notorious ‘sting in the tail’ of the race will agree that he will be having a laugh at us all!”

Race description taken from the Lairig club website

Sunday morning dawned bright, sunny and warm with clear blue skies. I cautiously got out of bed and tested my legs – to my relief they felt pretty good. I definitely could feel that I’d ran the day before, but I felt that I still had plenty of miles left in them. After a breakfast of toast and peanut butter I packed a rucksack for the day ahead, trying my best to think of everything I could possibly need at a remote mountain race miles away from civilisation which involved getting wet!

In my bag I packed the following:

– 1.5ltr Camelbak of water

– 2 bottles of Powerade

– Towel

– Spare shoes and socks

– Spare running tights and a tech tee

– Sunglasses and sun cream

– Fuel bag of ShotBloks, Clif Bar, Nutrigrain bar, Sport beans, Protein bars.

– Snack bag of dried apricots, raisens, walnuts, and pecan nuts and some oatcakes.

– iPod, camera, caffeine tabs, ibuprofen pills and gel, knee support.

I left the house at 9.30am to head to the Aberdeen Sports Village to meet Donna, Mike and his fiancée Annette to catch the bus ran by the Lairig club out to the starting line. We introduced ourselves to the Club President and hopped on two mini buses along with around 20 other people. The journey took us out on exactly the same roads as I had traveled on the day before to Balmoral, except we drove only to Ballater before turning in to the mountains and following a winding single track road all the way up to Glen Muick.

This is an breathtakingly beautiful area of Scotland in the highlands, on the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains. I always forget how accessible this area is during the summer and I really ought to take more advantage of it.

The Lairig club have their own bothy on the edge of the Glen at Allt-na-Guibhsaich and when we arrived there were about 15 people already waiting who’d stayed overnight after doing some climbing the day before. We arrived around 12pm and everyone piled out of the buses and started getting ready.

Some more groups and pairs of people turned up and got ready to join in the fun – in the end there were 44 runners and about 10 further people involved in the race. It was very informal – we all lined up at 12.30pm in a rough formation on the landrover tracks by the bothy. Mr Cooper’s father said to go after three and counted down “ONE…TWO…THREE!” and off we scampered.

There was an initial kilometre on rocky landrover tracks downhill to the shores of Loch Muick where I was just trying to find my groove.  A lot of the speedier runners including Mike, shot off like bats out of hell and immediately the field became very spread out. As I continued down the track I realised quite how heavy my legs were feeling and how tight my arm and shoulder muscles were. At the Loch shore we turned left and began to circumnavigate the Loch in a clockwise direction, starting by going right along the sandy, stony shore. Anyone who’s ever run on sand will understand the difficulties of doing this and how much harder you have to work to propel yourself forward, and at this point I really began to feel the burn in my legs from the day before. After only two miles!

It did not fill me with positivity at this point that I could see nearly the entire circumference of the Loch, whilst my legs were already is such a state.

We began climbing the sides of the Glen in which Loch Muick is nestled on an undulating narrow trail pock-marked with puddles and boulders. I continued with the front of my calves in agony and legs like lead as the trail climbed higher and higher – the only thing going through my head was the mantra ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’ in time with my steps. The first few miles were the toughest miles I’ve ever run. Seriously.

I gave up on all hope of maintaining a certain pace or keeping my speed up and just concentrated on putting one sore foot in front of the other. What made up for all this pain was the utterly breathtaking surroundings. I was randomly snapping pictures as I went so you’ll get a sense of the size of the Loch we were circulating. At points I could see Mike’s distinctive red and black top far, far ahead around the loch and saw that he was either leading or was in second place – wherever he was he was kicking some serious ass.

The field of runners were now completely spread out – I could see a lady well ahead of me and I couldn’t see anyone behind me, so I was tackling this pretty much on my own.

The path at around three miles turned into an utter nightmare – this wasn’t even a trail anymore so much as a sheep path clinging to the side of the mountain. I found myself leaping from rock to boulder to rock, scrambling through streams and hurdling heather.

I passed several hill walkers who were navigating carefully with climbing poles and was proud to realise how much of a lunatic they must had thought I was – a pigtailed woman wildly galumphing over rocks and through heather. I’ve become one of the people I used to look at in wonderment and think “Why the hell are they doing that?!” I felt like quite a badass if I’m honest.

Oddly enough doing all of the mountain goat rock leaping had seemed to loosen up my weeping leg muscles a bit and  by the time the path decended down to the Loch shore again at roughly 5 miles I was feeling a lot stronger. I was plodding at 9.30/10 minute mile pace though, but at least it was steady and I wasn’t having to run/walk any more.

The last two and a half miles were on rocky landrover tracks again. I could see one guy ahead of me and I really wanted to catch him up but I could never quite get there – as soon as I got close enough to pick him off he sped up again and took off!

There he is speeding up again! It was good to have that continual incentive kicking my ass all the way. The sun was out from behind some clouds now and it was baking down on me – I was soooo looking forward to the ‘sting in the tail’ at Mile 7…

So what was the surprise, and why had I taken a towel with me? At mile 7 when I finally reached the Boathouse and the end of the track up to the bothy, I found myself directed into the loch with instructions to wade out to a stone, touch it and come back and then down a can of my beverage of choice – Tennants lager or Irn Bru. The water felt so refreshing! I wish I could have fully submerged myself in it but I only got wet up to my thighs. I ran up to the man with arms outstretched and grasped the cool, inviting can of Tennants and nailed as much of it as I could.

That’s another thing ticked off my ‘to do’ list then – drink beer during a race! I continued slurping away at the can and spoke to some of the other people who had come in before me and were still working on their beverage. Donna and Annette came in just as I was heading out again so I got a quick picture of Donna before heading off on the last uphill kilometer, fuelled by a can of lager.

Step, step, step *burp* step, step, step *buuuuurp* step, step, step, retch, *BURPbuuuurpBURP* is the only way I can describe it….

You can imagine the turmoil in my tummy I’m sure – but I got to the finish line in one piece in 1hr 24 minutes and 11 seconds, and even picked off one last girl on the way. Unfortunately when I stopped running I thought I was going to do some projectile vomiting so I quickly went behind a tree to preserve a little of my dignity while I made some awful sounds!

Mike caught me just as I was coming up to the finish line…

And guess what – he came in second place! He finished the course in 55 minutes 13 seconds and seemed pretty chuffed with his run – you can read his race report HERE.

Donna and Annette came in shortly after I did at around 1hr 27 minutes I think. They had opted for the Irn Bru at the loch but had suffered no less from the bubbly tummies! We all sat about and relaxed at the bothy for an hour or so, refuelling and enjoying the weather before the minibuses left at 4pm to take us back to Aberdeen.

In short, despite the pain in my legs at the start I REALLY enjoyed this race. It was small, low key and informal – the perfect antedote to the full on madness that was Balmoral the day before (the press has reported 9,000 runners on Saturday). I’d love to come back next year and give it a shot with fresh legs – or better still, organise a day out with my running friends sometime in the summer and run around the Loch with no pressure.

I’d love to recommend this race to everyone, but then if everyone were to come along it would lose the special supportive feel of the small field. Put the last Sunday in April in your diary for 2012 and come along if you can.

So let me pose some questions for you:

– Do you prefer bigger or smaller races? Why?

– Have you ever drunk a beer during a race?

– The blogosphere is full of pictures of races amongst Palm trees – did you enjoy the change of scenery with my insight of how we do it in Scotland?

Thanks for reading as always, and welcome to my new readers who have dropepd by via dailymile or twitter – do comment and say hello!

Race Report – RunBalmoral 10k

This weekend heralded a new challenge for me in terms of racing – two races, on two consecutive days (and in fact if we’re splitting hairs, then it was two races within 24 hours!). These were the RunBalmoral 10k and the Cooper Memorial 12k: Twenty two kilometers of racing in 24 hours. The first, a large race with a field of thousands which is notorious for its Hill; the other, a small off-road club race which ends with a dunk in Loch Muick and downing a can of beer before the final 1km sprint. Chalk and cheese!

So why was I doing this? Why would I want to put myself though another race straight after another  and battle through DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to not perform as well as I could? Why on earth would the RedWineRunner endure so much for only one free can of cheap beer ?!

Firstly – why not! The opportunity presented itself to me and I’ve never been one to shy from a challenge. Running a 10k is now firmly within my repertoire and I no longer find it a challenge as a whole – I can wake up hungover and knock out a 10k without much strain now, so my ongoing goal for this distance is driving down my personal best (54m 47s) and trying as many different races as I can. On a normal weekend my long run would be a lot longer than 6.2 miles so I wanted something extra to keep my mileage up – and I love racing, so the chance to have a double serving of the atmosphere, camaderie, and elation that a race gives was a temptation I could never resist.

In brief I can report that I had a fantastic weekend and that both races were great experiences to tick off my ‘to do’ list. I’m now sitting on the couch with my aching legs iced and elevated with a bottle of very old, very expensive, very yummy red wine; ready to tell you all about it.

RunBalmoral 10k

Official time 57 minutes and 7 seconds.

Overall Position: 1236th, Age group: 239th, Gender: 397th

The Balmoral races take place in the grounds of Balmoral Castle, which is the summer holiday home of the British Royal Family. It’s roughly 50 miles inland from Aberdeen which took us around 2hrs 15 minutes to reach due to the amazing amounts of traffic crammed into the tiny village infrastructure. I was travelling with two of my running friends – Brian and Jo – who are a couple of pals I know from the Goth scene in Aberdeen. We left at 11.15am and we needed to be in the corrals by 1.30pm, for the race to start at 2.00pm. We thought we’d left in plenty of time, but when we ended up in gridlock a mile from the car park (which in turn is 20 minutes walk from the start) half an hour before we were due to assemble, for the first time before the race I felt the stomach churning agony of wondering whether we’d be able to get to the start on time…

The races are all sponsored by some of the biggest oil companies working in the North East – Stena (10k), Conoco-Philips (5k), Kongsberg (3k) and Petrofac (half-marathon), and attract huge amounts of runners; pro athletes, club runners, charity runners, LOTS of corporate teams, and plenty of folks like me and my friends, just trying to be the best runners we can be.

We arrived in time by the skin of our teeth – directed into a field-cum-carpark and car slotted in line next to another car which spilled its contents of runners out almost as quickly as ours did; fumbling with bibs and safety pins whilst simultaneously trying to inhale bananas and re-tie shoelaces securely. Oddly enough, I looked up and recognised the face I saw – it was my Dad’s colleague and fellow photographer Tony and his friend, both of whom I met last year at the Baker Hughes 10k. Sod’s law that out of all the thousands of cars in the various fields we got parked up next to them!

We hurried our way to the arena past streams of 5k finishers who were already on their way home; proudly wearing their medals and tech tees.  After a quick toilet stop I was able to locate my Mum and Dad who were kind enough to head out to support us, after a quick hug, some photos and dumping of keys, phones and other gadgets; we headed off to the corralls.

Yeah, we’re the ARGs. Aberdeen Racing Goths. Don’t believe the smiles; we’re actually moody and unapproachable ;)

Now here’s where my only criticism of Balmoral comes – I’m sorry to report that the ‘corralls’ were a shambles. The finish was the same area as the start, which was a great long chute barricaded in so you could only enter from the very end (furthest from the start line). There were no visible finishing time signs to denote the corrals and we were so far away from the start we couldn’t see the start line so we had no idea how far along we were in the first place! Everyone around us was wondering where on earth in the line up we were, until we heard a huge cheer and applause so we figured the race had started…not much of a build up then! We walked for about 3 minutes until we finally crossed the start and the ‘bleebleDEEP’ of hundreds of Garmins being started rang through the air.

side note: my all-time favourite starting a race song is definitely ‘Never for the damned’ by Paradise Lost. The long teasing build up gets my adrenaline flowing everytime; when i’m edging my way towards the start line I feel explosive and can’t wait to get moving  – Have a listen!

Paradise Lost – Never For the Damned

My Mum and Dad were waiting a few hundred metres into the course and Dad took these pictures of me as I passed them by

My Dad has recently retired and is now able to devote all of his time to his photography business, Earthly Light. Do go and take a look at his site – his landscape photography is breathtaking!

I was SOOOO frustrated in the first mile – I was stuck behind so many slow moving runners and I was having to duck and bob all over the place and over take big crowds of people by running in the ditches by the side of the road. Lots of others were clearly having the same problem as there were overtakers overtaking the overtakers and streaking by me. My race plan was to run a fairly chilled first two miles (which was flat and on a tarmac road) and then play it by my heart rate for “the hill” which lasts just over a mile, and then belt it for the remaining three miles which are downhill. This mainly went to plan but the first two miles were far slower than planned as I just couldn’t get going in a straight line whilst passing so many people. I think this had an impact on my overall time actually, but then it also prevented me from going off too fast so I’m not sure if I should actually be grateful for the slow coaches I was stuck behind…

As for the hill? Well the course literally took a 90Degree turn to the left off the road on to a steep incline farm track up into the forests. Ok, I thought, this is pretty damn steep. It’s alright though, you’ve trained for this – trust your training, lean in to the hill and use your arms to propel you forward blah blah blah etc. There were signs on the course instructing walkers to keep left and most people did keep to this, but at times I found myself on the right of the path spluttering “Keep left! Passing on your right!” at which the runner inevitably looked over their left shoulder and moved to their right. BUH.

I managed to push through just under a kilometre of the hill and then I felt my heart going insane so I moved to the right and started power walking. After a while the incline leveled off and I began to jog again and before I knew it I could hear bagpipes, which signified the top of the hill! There was a water station here and I grabbed two cups – one to drink and one to drench myself with. I’ve just realised at this point I’ve forgotten to mention the weather – it was overcast but warm, and as soon as we corralled up it started spitting. By half a mile in it was heavy drizzle and everyone was soaked – if anything it was a welcome coolant, especially after the RunGarioch sweatfest last month!

So – I was at the top of the hill, soaking wet, the pipes were skirling and I was feeling good. There was an actual sign saying “It’s all downhill from here!” I feel  I’m good at downhill running – I kind of just zone out and let my legs do their thing and then I’ll look at my Garmin and i’ll be running a 7 minute mile pace without breaking a sweat. I can maintain it as well, so this was what I was counting on in my race plan when I figured I’d just beast the last three miles. The field had spread out somewhat so there was plenty of room to run in, but the ground was still a land rover track and quite unstable underfoot – I had to be wary of skiteing on some loose chuckies and scraping the hell out of my knees…

There’s not much more to say about the next few miles other than they were fast and I felt like I was flying. I had a humongous grin going on (at least inside – on the outside it was probably a grimace) and I felt so strong – obviously the downhill incline helped but I was concentrating on relaxing my shoulders and lifting my knees high and I felt like I was gliding over the ground.

At about 7km the crowds started again and it was really uplifting to see all the families/friends/dogs/children standing in the pouring rain cheering and waving signs for their runners. There were lots of kids standing with their hands out cheering giving high fives and so many people smiling and whooping. If you ever get the chance to spectate a race – do it! The runners appreciate every cheer so much; every smile picks you up a little more and gives you an extra boost to do the best you can. And this is me talking about a (relatively) small race of about 5,000 people – I can’t imagine the atmosphere at the New York Marathon, London, or even Boston. I hope that one day my feet will tread those hallowed grounds!

At this point UltraMikeR ‘s pal Vikki took a shot of me powering through the rain.

I love this picture! I totally look like I know what I’m doing! Despite the pigtails and the stamp on the hand from being in the Moorings the night before, I look like a SERIOUS RUNNER GIRL. Thanks Vikki!

Not long after this I saw Brian up ahead of me – he had passed me on The Hill when I was in my power walking phase. He beat me in BakerHughes last year by about 50 seconds and (sorry Brian) I was determined to beat him this time. I spotted him out of the crowd about 25 meters in front of me and started picking off the runners in front one by one. I couldn’t help wondering if I was doing something wrong to be able to streak past so many people at this point…? But then I realised that maybe today was going to be my day – just one of those days where your running is just absolutely on target and you feel ACE. I stopped doubting myself and put the foot to the floor and dug into my last mile reserves.

Sorry Brian – see you at the finish ;)

At this point I saw my Mum and Dad again and I got such a boost – I was grinning like a chimp as I flew by still passing people in the last mile.

Now I think I understand why I’ve put on so much weight in the last year since I’ve started running and working out properly – would you look at the size of my leg muscles!? Hello?! They look terrifying! I’ve got thighs like a rugby player!

The word to describe this race has to be STRONG. It was one of those days where everything clicks into place and you just have a great run – at no point was I thinking ‘Crap I can’t hold this pace for much longer’, or dreading the final sprint. I felt so powerful throughout and didn’t feel an ounce of struggle.

Then there was a sneaky wee hill as we curved around into the last 100 meters and the chute and that little stupid voice inside of me said ‘shall we just cool it, the finish line is still a bit away…?’ But I shut it up and concentrated on pulling my knees up and pushing hard away from the ground, with my shoulders pushed back and my head up – sprinting just like I’ve been practising. At some point I crossed the finish line – apparently they were announcing people as they crossed the line but I was so in the zone I can’t even remember running down the chute, or what tune I was listening to.

I blinked and I was staggering out of the crowd with a medal around my neck, my race shirt in one hand and slurping from a bottle of water. Thankfully I remembered to stop the Garmin and I saw I’d hit 57m 10s, which was great considering I’d gone out not knowing what to get from the hill and all I wanted to do was get under an hour. I’m not a fast runner – at 5ft 10” and 12 stone I’m not build for speed, so in general for 10ks I’m happy with under an hour (I’d like to be able to get my time under 50 minutes one day though). Considering this one involved a very slow start and a lot of walking up the hill I was happy with my time – The official chip times were released and my final time is 57m 7s which is only one minute slower than RunGarioch last month. Either way I felt stronger than any other race I’ve done before so that’s all that matters.

Another medal to add to the collection.

Brian looking soggy and exhausted! He came in at 57m 12s – just after me. He beat me at Baker Hughes last year so I was glad to return the favour ;)

The hill? What hill!!! As you can see, the sun came out just in time for the finish to dry us off.

SO. Four weeks until Baker Hughes 2011 – I’m gunning for a new personal best (under 54m 47s) as it will mark one year of racing for me. The start line is half a mile from my house; obviously, I can’t wait!

I’d love to start interacting a bit more with you guys, so here’s a couple of questions –

Do you have a 10k time you’re looking to beat this summer?

What’s your favourite song to get pumped up to start a race with?

Let’s chat!

 

Love, Life and Longhorns.

Here, finally, is a brief re-cap of my recent break in Austin, Texas. Home broadband is still malfunctioning – Badger and I are beginning to wonder what on earth we did in the days before the internet!? A busy weekend of racing is up ahead for me, with the RunBalmoral Tartan 10k on Saturday and the Cooper Memorial 12k Hillrace on Sunday – the weather looks to be brilliant and I can’t wait to get out there!

—-

The opportunity to study in Texas first presented itself to me in 2004, when I was half way through the second year of my B.Mus (Hons) Degree at the University of Newcastle in England. Spending a year abroad was part of my course and indeed part of the reason I chose that course in the first place. I had never been to America before and was delighted to have the opportunity to live there; initially it was thought that I would go to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champagne, however at the start of 2004 some links were being made with the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas of Austin and it was decided that myself and another student were to be sent as the first exchange students as part of the link between the institutions.

All I knew about Texas was that it was hot, and cowboys were there. And they ate a lot of meat, and were very Christian. This was in the days before Google Images, Google Streetview, Googlemaps, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Wikepedia (can you imagine?!) so I had limited resources other than the University Website and tourist websites to find out about Austin and what it was like, or even what it looked like! I rocked up onto American soil for the first time on August 10th 2004 with a completely blank canvass ready to start a new life – I had no idea what to expect and didn’t know a soul on the entire continent. I never doubted for a minute how much the experience would change me, but I never imagined how much I would fall in love with Texas and her people. As far as they and I am concerned, everything is very much bigger and BETTER in Texas.

I won’t waste your time explaining why, although it always surprises me how little is known about the Great State on this side of the pond (I guess I forget how little I once knew myself). In brief – Austin is smack in the middle of the State, placed in the leafy green hill country on the banks of the Colorado River. It’s a town steeped in musical culture, eccentricity and independence. “Keep Austin Weird” is the slogan you see on car bumpers, tshirts and in shop windows – Austinites are proud of their ‘weirdness’ within Texas. I used to describe it to my friends and family as ‘a little slice of San Fransico put right in the middle of the bible belt’ – the progressive freedom and wild hippy culture of Haight-Ashbury alongside historic traditions, a world class University and lashings of Texas pride.

I spent the year living in a co-op with 100 other people – a typically Austin living situation where in return for low rent, residents contribute towards the house by doing labour – cleaning, cooking, maintenance etc. Owned by students and run by students; a recipe for disaster one might think, when when you put together a large group of people who love their house and love their housemates all you get is endless positivity. I leaned a lot of life lessons from that living situation and meeting some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the honour of making friends with. I keep up with them to this day.

So I spent the year absorbing the amazing atmosphere in Austin, partying hard, growing up, and developing myself as a person. The year I spent away was definitely the making of me and the values I learnt in my hippy co-op are reflected in the informed choices I make now, as a big proper grown up adult in the scarey world alone. For a multitude of reasons to this year I have never made it back to Austin to visit – money has always been a big problem; but also having somewhere to stay, and the fear that I would go back and it would all be different. I thought that perhaps it would be best to leave my happy memories of that time intact. This year was to be my year however; I had the money, the place to stay, and the balls to book a plane ticket. Six years ago I had left a part of me in Austin and it was time to go and get it back. I touched down in Austin-Bergstrom after a 21 hour journey, absolutely high as a kite. I had to keep pinching myself – after 6 years of having dreams/nightmares about coming back to visit I couldn’t believe it was finally happening.

I was staying with my old friend Celeste, who lived in my Co-op (PEARL STREET) with me. We spent hundreds of hours hanging out together, drinking by the pool, going to gigs, getting pierced and tattooed – all the usual.

I wish I still had a body like that, and a tan like that!

Celeste came to stay with me in 2008, so it’s only been 3 and a bit years since we’d seen each other.

Shes’ a wonderful friend and I’mso glad the internet had allowed us to keep in touch easily. She had to work quite a lot whilst I was there so I was free to wander aimlessly around my favourite city, soaking in every detail and smell, and giggling at all the memories that came back to me:

Where I got my first tattoo.

The amazing Kerbey Lane cafe, whcih has the best Queso in the world.

The beautiful murals around West Campus, and all over the city.

Hazy memories of being a student here. Another lifetime ago.

The fabulous Spiderhouse Cafe, which now has a full bar all day!

The amazing sunsets.

The quirky houses.

The Austin “smell”; a cedary, sandalwoody, aromatic, hazy scent, which never changes.

The ridiculous fried food – Above is a cheese jalapeno popper, above that are fried pickles.

Beautiful South Congress.

And I did …an awful lot of drinking in the sun.

I made new animal friends…

And of course, met my human friends. Some for the first time in 6 years.

With Dalon, an old housemate – who still lives there!

Chantal and Celeste – sisters.

With Steve, another good friend and ex-co-oper.

With Jeff – an honorary co-oper for the amount of time he spent at our house!

And new friends – Adrienne and Jason.

I also made the Pilgrimage back to Pearl St Co-op one night, with Dalon. It was so strange to walk the halls again. I stood outside my old room and remembered the girl who entered it and the woman who left. I was also pleased to see that my picture is still on the wall in a collage of old members – a little bit of Pearl Street which will always be Scotland.

MLK and Pearl.

The co-opers have since added some beautiful murals.

In our old hallway.

Outside my old room.

I’m in there – can you spot 19 year old me? Pearl Street for life!

So that’s about it. It was a step back in time really – when I was there it was as if I’d never left, and the last 6 years had never happened.  I feel like I was able to make peace with my memories and left reassured that I didn’t make it all up – Austin really is that amazing. Of course I left with sadness, and in a horrific flashback I found myself standing in line at Airport security in floods of tears, exactly as I did 6 years prior. The kind friendly TSA agent came up to me and asked how I was doing as I looked a little nervous – I told him I was just terribly sad to be leaving Texas and my friends as I love it so dearly. “Well” he said kindly, in his deep Southern drawl as he smiled at me with soft, wrinkled eyes; “You can always come back, y’all know we’ll be right here waitin’ for you…”

I wonder – Livestrong Austin Marathon 2012…?

Double Header

So as we slowly edge in to Spring, little bit by tiny bit, my running and racing are both literally and figuratively hotting up. This weekend sees my fourth race of the year and my third 10k at RunBalmoral which takes place in the grounds of Balmoral Castle – the summer home of the British Royal Family. However; not content with running just the one race this weekend, when I was offered the chance to run in a SECOND race this weekend I jumped at it!
My friend Donna asked me yesterday if I was interested in joining her on the Graeme Cooper Memorial 12k Hill Race which is run by the University of Aberdeen Mountaineering Society (Lairig). This is the fourth running of the race which is in memory of a member of the Society who died whilst out hillwalking in 2006. It takes place near Ballater around Loch Muick and the course is described as being ‘scenic and undulating with minimal height gain’. It’s not a large race at all, (around 100 runners last year) and it’s only £2 to enter with a FREE minibus out to the start from the Aberdeen Sports Village (my gym). What’s to lose?!
So it looks like it will be Ian, Donna, UltraMiker and myself hitting the trails on Sunday, with possibly Annette (Mike’s Fiancee) joining in too – should be a fun day out! My legs will be pretty tired from the hilly 10k the day before, but it will be good endurance training to knock out another 7.5miles on legs that would rather be resting on the couch. I’ve also been informed that the race has one or two unorthodox surprises in it towards the end; I believe a change of clothes and a towel will be wise to pack…

My race plan for Saturday at Balmoral is not to go all out at all – I know it’s a tough course what with it’s notorious ‘hill’ (so notorious in fact, that it’s featured on the race t-shirt!), but it’s rated as one of the most scenic in the UK by Runner’s World so I’m planning to just relax and enjoy it. I know I won’t do a personal best and I don’t want to injure myself over the weekend, so I’m just going to concentrate on running steady and keeping good form throughout the 10 kilometers …and chill out going up the hill!
Badger can’t come to these races unfortunately so I might be a bit short of pictures for the race re-caps. I’ll certainly do my best by myself and with my friends however. I’m also still updating on my phone here as our broadband is STILL broken…let’s hope it’s up and running again soon so I can get some picture-filled posts uploaded soon.
Happy running, friends! Let’s hope the glorious Spring weather continues :)

Technical Problems

Hi Friends! Unfortunately here at Red Wine Towers our broadband has broken and my plans of posting my Texas update have been thwarted for now.
I can still do a brief update on my phone however so I thought I’d update you all on some of the exciting food I got to eat whilst back Stateside!
One of the problems of being an avid blogger based in the UK is that so many of the produce and products talked about in US healthy living blogs are simply not available over here, and ESPECIALLY not up in Aberdeen which is relatively isolated from the rest of the United Kingdom, both physically and culturally. Veganism? Nigh on unheard of. Almond butter? Nope. Coconut water? Kombucha? Pitta chips? No, nada and nyet.
So naturally I was very excited to try all of these things and more and see if the buzz around the blogosphere about these foods was anything worth writing home about. On my first day in Austin my friend Celeste took me to the Texas grocery chain H.E.B so I could buy some supplies for my visit. I used to love visiting H.E.B when I lived in Austin – the huge amounts of fresh produce available is truly Texas sized and the choice is mind blowing. Wandering around the Whole Foods section I was able to find several different types of nut butters… Jen at Peanut Butter Runner recommended I try Sunflower Butter – I liked this; it was very smooth and creamy and tastes exactly like sunflower seeds. I love cashew nuts so naturally I grabbed some cashew butter – it’s quite sickly but still tasty, i want to try it on some kind of Sourdough bread. Finally I bought some jars of the legendary Almond butter; loved, seemingly, by anyone with a healthy living blog! I bought a big jar of plain Maranatha, a jar of dark chocolate Maranatha and two sachets of Justin’s Maple Almond Butter. I had no idea what it might taste like – since it’s made of almonds I thought it would maybe have a marzipan flavour. I was surprised at how runny it was – i had it with a banana and it has a very hard to describe taste…it’s thick and claggy in the mouth with a pasty texture. To be fair I was expecting something lifechanging but it was…moderately tasty. The chocolate one is phenomenal however – it tastes like cake icing! I haven’t yet tried the Justin’s but I’m going to put it on a bagel. VERDICT: NUT BUTTERS = worth the hype. I near exceeded my baggage allowance on my way home :)

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Next up – Coconut water. This has been hailed as a miracle fluid that hydrates the body quicker than water. The fit blog community love it – It’s essentially the water you find inside a coconut, flavoured, and put in a single serve carton. I bought two – natural flavour and tropical flavour, and tried them both first thing in the morning when I was dehydrated. I really didn’t like it actually – it was slightly thicker than water and the thick clear texture made me retch somewhat. There wasn’t much flavour going on and I didn’t find it refreshing in the slightest. VERDICT: COCONUT WATER = BOKE.
Thirdly – Kombucha. I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs talking about kombucha recently. It’s a fermented tea made with live cultures which are kept in it and retained in the bottle. You can get many different flavours and there seemed to be a lot of Austin companies making and selling it locally. Due to the live cultures in the drink it helps digestion and maintaining a healthy balance in the body…I think. I need to read up on it online. I found it wonderfully refreshing and flavoursome – it wasn’t cheap ($3.50ish a bottle) but if it was available over here I’d definitely be drinking it. VERDICT: KOMBUCHA = WINNER!
Pitta Chips. Now I looooove pitta bread; i’ll eat it at any time of day and I can’t think of a better snack or accompaniment to a meal than a steaming hot pitta and creamy cold hummous. I was excited to see Pitta Chips so I bought a huge sack of them – just as well as they were SO. YUMMY. They’re rectangular and about 3/4 of an inch by an inch, and very thick and crunchy. They were wholemeal and had a wonderful crisp grainy, earthy texture – not greasy at all. I ate them dipped in hummous or salsa…very, very tasty. I’m going to try and make these myself… VERDICT: PITTA CHIPS = HELL YEAH!

Other food notes…let’s be honest, Texas and the South is notorious for it’s food, and you either love it or you hate it. Me? I am in love with Texmex – cheese, chillies and corn chips – what’s not to like?!
– Blue corn chips…not as wild tasting as you’d think. Kinda boring actually.
– Jalapeño flavour crisps are still the most amazing thing ever.
– Lemon Pepper – what a great condiment!
– Frito Pie – a Texas speciality; a pie made of Frito crisps, salsa, guac, queso and chili. What the hell?!
– Fried pickles! – after Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point ate some recently and waxed lyrical about their greatness, I knew I had to try them when I saw them on special at a fried food cart. They were coated in a salty batter made with sesame seeds and coconut. AMAZING – but a bit salty. I took some pictures which will appear when the broadband is back.
– Michelada del Sur – an amazing Mexican beer drink. 1/3 tomato juice, hot sauce and lime juice topped up with Dos Equis Mexican beer, served over Ice with lime. Sooo refreshing – I tried to recreate this with Asda tomato juice and Tennants’ lager recently and it failed miserably :(
– Migas – My old friend Angharad over at Eating for England recently did a post on Migas after she revisited Austin last year (to get married! To the man she met whilst we were both studying in Austin! She now lives in Minnesota and has an ace food – go check it out!). Migas are a Texmex breakfast food – eggs scrambled with cheese, tortilla chips, onions, peppers and whatever else is lying around around in the fridge and served with the usual trimmings. I had mine at Trudy’s – with a legendary Mexican Martini whilst catching up with an old friend. Sheer Austin bliss.

I think this has to be it now; my fingers are exhausted from typing on my phone but I really wanted to share some of my amazing food experiences with you all!

A brief update and some lengthy news

Hey kids! How are y’all doing? I’m back from Texas!

It’s been a good couple of weeks since my last update, and in that time I’ve taken some much needed rest and recuperation in my favourite city in the world – Austin, Texas. I studied at the University of Texas for part of my undergraduate degree and fell in love with Austin. I’ve not been back since I left six years ago, so this was a very special trip for me. I’m currently working on a proper post about my travels, so you’ll have to wait a day or two longer for my tales of love, life and Longhorns; but for now I’ve got some very exciting news to share with you.

If you take a little look to my brief introduction under my picture there on the left, you might spot a little change. Have you seen it yet? Let me give you a clue – it starts with M…and ends 26.2 miles later…

This morning I finally bit the bullet and signed up for the 2011 Loch Ness Marathon! It had been playing on my mind for some time – the date; October 2nd, would be a perfect end to a season of endurance racing and I can plan my training to peak in October after doing my planned halfs in the summer at Stonehaven, Nairn and Glasgow. I weighed up the pros and cons; whilst it is earlier than when I’d planned to do my first marathon, judging by the way my training has progressed so far I had a feeling if I didn’t sign up before the deadline (May 1st) then I’d regret it all year…

I’d originally secretly been aiming for a Spring marathon next year (Edinburgh perhaps, or Brighton) but that means training over the winter which as we all know in the North of Scotland, means months of snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures. Not impossible to train in, but adds a certain additional degree of difficulty. If I aim for Loch Ness then the toughest parts of my training will be in the cool months of late Summer and the race weather will likely be cool, but not freezing…temperate but not roasting.

So I’m very excited to take this next, step, yet also have an appropriately sized baby butterfly fluttering deep in my tummy. I expect this butterfly to evolve and grow over the coming months into a full on tropical moth with an eight inch wing span…! One of the other catalysts in making the decision this morning was that Ian was also, in his own words, “95% certain” that he wanted to do it. With a little mutual encouragement over Office Communicator this morning we got through the payment screens and had signed up for our first marathon. I do hope that Donna decides to do it as well – having two pals to make the training journey to the start line with will definitely help us all I think.

So that’s my news for now…I guess the next step is to research and choose a realistic training plan. I am also planning to run the race in aid of Willows Animal Sanctuary – the charity I raised nearly £500 for in 2010 running my first 10k. In the next two weeks however, I shall be kicking my ass in to shape for my next race (RunBalmoral Tartan 10k) which is on the 23rd of April and features a mighty, legendary hill. It’s not a race for PRs but I’m still giving it nothing less than my best!