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.
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!
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.
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?