Red Wine Runner

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Dundee Half Marathon 2011 – RACE REPORT

17th July 2011 – Dundee Half Marathon

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2hr 12min 50secs (new personal best)

406th out of 512 finishers. Gender 109th out of 160, Age group 48th/80.

I had originally signed up for this half marathon some time ago when I was planning my Marathon training in the first instance. I wanted to incorporate several half marathons so I could get used to racing in longer distances and build some mental racing endurance. In retrospect it wasn’t ideal to be racing another half only a fortnight after my first, but if anything it forced me to face up to any residing issues I still had in my head regarding the distance after my challenging first attempt at Stonehaven.

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Racing in Dundee meant an early start – too early for Azul who was not impressed at all. I was up at 6am to eat some food and we left at 7am.

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Overnight oats made with vanilla and mango yogurt, buttered Soreen and a pre-race banana, washed down with two double espressos. I ate the oats and took the rest  in the car.

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Leaving Aberdeen it was a beautiful, calm and clear morning. I was a little worried that if it continued to be sunny as we travelled South then it would just get hotter and hotter…

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Ah. Worry not. Plenty rain ahead. FYI this is Stonehaven, and those lovely ‘rolling’ hills in the background are what we climbed to the top of and down again in the half marathon…

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Mmm rain rain rain. Much better.

We got to Camperdown Park in Dundee right on schedule at 8.30am and were directed onto some very wet grass for parking.

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When we exited our vehicle we were immediately (and I mean immediately; the car doors hadn’t even closed!) accosted by a lady selling tablet for a Breast Cancer charity which was quite disconcerting. She must have made a fortune in this way. We bought some anyway although the way we were backed up against our own vehicle didn’t leave any other options.

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Registration was in the Wildlife Centre building which had a small cafe open and two toilet cubicles. There were no other toilets at the start since the Dundee Council, who run the Manor House where the rest of the loos were, had decided not to open them early for the race as previously promised. The race organiser apologised profusely for this and encouraged everyone to write to the Council to ask why they had elected to not support this large event. I was so, so glad I had insisted on a pre-emptive toilet stop at Dundee Tesco’s just in case. You never know what you’ll be faced with at a race start line…never pass up the opportunity to use the facillities!

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Despite this being a largish race (650 places) there was a fair lack of atmosphere at the start. No-one really seemed to know what was going on, there were no sign posts to the start line, no visible start line and nothing other than a big herd of skinny runners shivering in nylon vests waiting in the cold waiting to get started.

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When we eventually found the starting line, it turned out that the generator which was supposed to blow up the starting line arch had failed, so they just had us all line up at a specific point. There was a reasonable amount of hanging around – I think the race started on time at 10am but it felt so much longer as I had no-one to talk to after Colin went to take pictures of the start, and as mentioned before, there was absolutely no atmosphere.

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There were a lot of club runners representing clubs from all over Scotland, however it seemed about a 50/50 mix of club vs non club runners. I saw Martin Dickie from Brewdog and his missus who were both running, but other than that I didn’t recognise a single face in the crowd. The weather at this point seemed a bit changeable – it was warmish and humid, with thick cloud betraying the epic amounts of rain which had fallen in the past 24 hours.

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I was a little nervous, and just really wanted to start. My race plan hadn’t changed – first 6 miles easy, ramp it up a little for 7-10 miles, then push harder still for the final 5k and hopefully finish strong like Stonehaven. Suddenly the crowd began a countdown and before I knew it we were off and I was running another half marathon.

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Notice anything strange here? Look a little closer…where are all the women?! It was a very male dominated race – only 160 ladies racing out of 512 starters.

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Disconcertingly, I had a repeat of the same panics which swept over me at the start at Stonehaven. I would describe it almost like hyperventilating; I just couldn’t catch my breath and my pulse was through the roof. I had to concentrate hard on breathing in slowly  through my nose and out through my mouth as calmly as I could – part of me seemed to be panicking about whether or not I’d be able to complete the distance and within my goal time (I was aiming for under 2hr 10mims, ideally 2hr 5minsish), and yet the other part was totally chilled out. Perhaps the added pressure of having a PB to beat triggered it? I’m not sure, I really hope it doesn’t become a feature of my distance races…perhaps once I’ve got a few more under my belt and am more comfortable with the distance it will stop.

The first mile was uphill on a muddy mountain bike trail which eventually evened out until two and a bit miles where we were spat out of the forest on to a closed road. I had sorted out my start-of-race freakout by now and was running comfortably. There was a water station at 3 miles where there were small cups of water – not ideal, but they did the job. The clouds had cleared and it was beginning to heat up now – without the humid canopy of the forests we were exposed to the sunlight. Please don’t have this turn into another Stonehaven scorcher I begged…

Miles three, four and five were almost entirely downhill and on pavements. I allowed myself to relax and let the momentum carry me without pushing too hard. There were quite considerable amounts of marshalls out on the course as the runners had to cross many roads and junctions. The police were out in force too – just as well as some Dundee drivers just can’t be trusted; one boy racer decided to bypass the queue of traffic stopped by some officers at a T junction, by driving along the pavement and attempted to sneak a left turn directly in to the path of the runners without being seen. It was greatly entertaining to see a constable stand right in front of his vehicle and another open his car door and pull him out of the vehicle like a scene from Grand Theft Auto. I hope he got cited for it.

At mile 5 the course went off the road and onto the Dundee Green Circular route which is a cycle path. It crossed the A90 on a footbridge at Fintry and then decended into a park were plenty of local wildlife (neds) were hanging around to cheer us (hassle us) on . There was also a lot of broken glass on the path through this park; a shame but not unexpected in Dundee on a Sunday morning. There was more water at mile 6 and I took my first gel at this point. I was beginning to feel hot and uncomfortable and I took two cups of water – given that they only had about 2 inches of fluid in them each I don’t think this was that out of order but the marshal looked at me like I had two heads when I took the second. I needed it though, it was after 11am and getting hotter and hotter.

So according to my race plan I should have felt that my legs were ready to pick up the pace a little at this point, however I was comfortable with what I was doing and decided to just stick with it. The path was full of random undulations; short sharp hills and descents, and it was tricky to find a rhythm and stick with it. As I approached 8 miles the sun was really beginning to have a hard negative effect on me and I was feeling sick and terribly thirsty, I took a 0.10m walking break and decided it was ok to allow myself another at each mile from then on if I needed it to save energy. I think it was this point when the first cracks of doubt started to creep in; I could tell my energy was waning, if this was how is was going to be at 8 miles how would I find the strength to push harder closer to the finish?

The mountain bike trail spat us back out on to pavement at about 9.0 miles and oddly we went from running on a peaceful riverside trail to running alongside a main road through a shopping park. As we passed a KFC I wailed inside for the fountains of cold drinks which were mere steps away…chilled refreshing sprite…sugary, caffeinated coca cola… it was torture. That and the ubiquitous ‘KFC smell’ which surrounds every one of their outlets of course. I wanted to vomit, a lot, but there were lots of spectators at this part so I sucked my tummy in and concentrated on pretending I was a glamourous, powerful athlete conquering miles one by one for the cheering crowd, rather than being the overweight, plodding, sweaty, puke-bomb waiting to explode at the back of the pack.

After we ran through the shopping park we ended up running along the side of the A92, a main road into Dundee. We also took a random 1/2 mile out-and-back loop into a partially built housing estate… I cast my mind back to the map and course profile I had studied online…no – this was definitely not on the published course. Looking ahead up the A92 going East I saw a long thin stream of runners plodding up the long slow incline for what seemed like miles ahead. Incline!? There’s no incline at this point!?!!

In retrospect, I think this is where I let myself down and my race ended for me here. With the unexpected change of course, my race plan was moot. There was no way I could push my pace in the last miles when at least 1.5 of them were going to be uphill. I was really struggling from lack of water and had stopped sweating, my head was going fuzzy and I couldn’t stop focusing on what to do – mentally I was somewhat crumbling. All I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other but I was obsessing over my time and I could see that it was possible, if I didn’t keep moving fast, that I would come in even slower than Stonehaven. I thought about how embarrassing that would be and how rubbish I was for failing at my goal. Then I realised what a weakling I was being for allowing myself to think negatively and that I’d already failed in my goal to be tougher and push through mental and physical weaknesses in this race and all I could think about was how the whole race was just a disaster to round off a week of crap running.

There’s really nothing to report on the last couple of miles. No blaze of glory, no strong finish; I ended up walk/running the final mile and stumbled over the line in 2hrs 12 minutes and 50 seconds (garmin time, the race wasn’t chipped).

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I even got beaten by Wallace and Gromit!! I was near them for a lot of the course, they must have been so hot. They were a couple and when they took walking breaks they were holding hands, it was quite sweet. I wish Colin ran too…but then who would take the pictures?!

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The finish was in Broughty Ferry down by the River Tay. Very beautiful place to finish a race.

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Not very happy, and it shows.

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I immediately grabbed some water and sat down with my head between my knees, feeling miserable. Colin came over and asked how I was and I just babbled nonsense at him about how awful my race had been and how thirsty I was.

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I think I must have got through 2 litres of fluids in the half hour after the race. I slowly regained lucidity and ate some food and a protein shake. In the goody bag was a nice colourful medal, a water bottle, a gel, some snacks and a 15% off voucher for Run4It which will come in handy when it’s time for some new trainers at the end of the summer.

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We thought about sticking around Dundee for some lunch, but we decided just to save ourselves the money and head straight back up the road. I spent the rest of the day on the couch eating and drinking until I fell asleep.

In case you haven’t guessed; I am really good at allowing negative thoughts to snowball. As soon as a crack appears if I’m in the wrong state of mind I can exploit that to have myself mentally beaten in to a bloody pulp within minutes. All this over a stupid training race that I didn’t care all that much about anyway?

When the results were released on Monday I saw I was 406 out of 512 finishers. In my head that just seems really lame…I have much higher expectations of myself and I’m beginning to wonder if they are even realistic. If I’d hit my goal time I’d have been in the top 250 which would have been much more satisfactory…but was that even possible?! I don’t know, the course was tougher than expected – you really couldn’t call it a road race; at least two thirds of it was on a trail, and the huge hill where there ought to have been a descent was a sneaky addition. The change of course messed with my head and my plan, and the weather really wasn’t ideal. But these are all weak excuses – I have to take responsibility for my own performance and at the end of the day it was rubbish.

All this fuss over a sodding half marathon. I just want to do the best I can and it frustrates me no end when I find myself falling short of what I think I can (or want to) achieve. Onwards and upwards – next race is the Ballater 10 miler on the 31st of July; another new distance to be raced.

15 Comments

  1. I really feel for you Rhona. Hot weather and a change of route are both things that would affect most people and it is difficult to stay positive when you are feeling sick and thirsty. Maybe try running with a camelbak for the next half? Chalk it up to experience and concentrate on the marathon training. Saying that, I think you will enjoy Ballatar 10 and I wish I could be there too. I still predict a sub 2 for you at Fraserburgh in November (if not before) x

    • I seriously considered wearing my camelbak, but decided against it in the end as it was so cloudy and overcast at the start. Summer running in Scotland is not without it’s challenges!
      I’m confident for a sub-2 by the end of the year. The stars will align in one race and it will happen 🙂

  2. Another cracking write up Rhona. Dont worry about the negative thoughts, these are all part and parcel of distance running. The more times you’re exposed to the negative feelings the easier it becomes to conquer them because you know you can. Not sure if you caught my FB over the last few weeks. About 4 weeks ago I just never felt myself, usually after about 3 miles my breathing settles but I kept gasping for breath. On the Sunday, Tommy and I went for a 20 miler along the Union Canal. I never felt comfortable for the first 8-9 and by mile 10 I was struggling. At mile 11 I told Tommy to press on as I felt I was holding him back. Within a few mins he was out of sight and I was so breathless I stopped and walked. It ended up I could only jog for about 5o yards and had to walk for a few mins. I was totally devastated, how could I go from doing a marathon only 8 weeks earlier to being unable to running more than 50 yards without stopping. I went the doctors and he reckoned I either had mild hay fever or had a chest infection. I had to lay off all week and as I was in Menorca last week never ran then either. It meant I hadn’t ran for 2 weeks which felt like a lifetime. I got home on Fri and have been out 4 days since getting back. The first few runs felt like I’d never ran before which is tough mentally. It’s getting better and hopefully I’ll be back to full fitness within the next week or so. Anyway, not sure why I’ve rabbeted on but the point I was trying to make I guess is running is probably 60% ability and 40% mental toughness. The more frequently you’re exposed to hard runs and self-doubts the more able and easier you can deal with them. Stick in, you’re doing brilliant. Al

    • I believe the longer the runs get the more that physical/mental balance tips towards mental… I’m sure mental could also be interpretted in both forms there too!

  3. Look at it this way… you’ve got years of running and racing ahead of you, if you get too fast too soon you’ll have nothing left to aim for 🙂

    Seriously, it sounds like a tough race, you did it and you finished and you got a PB, don’t knock it! See you at the mile and at Ballater. 🙂

    • I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard Sheri – you’ve hit the nail on the head there…don’t want to ruin future Rhona’s running glory by stealing her thunder now 😉

  4. Running downhill is often harder than running uphill – most of us don’t train the downhill muscles as much as the uphill
    Always start near the front – you hit your stride sooner and the others have to pass you
    Some of us are distance runners some are sprinters – I reckon you should try varying what you run – if you are not going great on the loungers races maybe you are a blindingly fast 200,400,800, 1500,5000 m runner-why not try and see – speed work is good for everyone and it might boost your confidence!
    Finally I know this will sound stupid – but I think runners today often worry to much about drinking/eating and drink to much. On a half I tend to drink before a race, pee about 3 times! then just take some water at drink stations if its hot, often never bother on a 10k, and I never eat, use gels etc – works for me!
    Keep on running
    Dycerunner

    • I’ve been trying to incorporate as much downhill as uphill into my training in preperation for Loch Ness and it’s notorious start – Iguess I just need to keep at it.
      I appreciate the thoughts on trying to race shorter distances, however I think if you saw me in real life you’d see I am not built for speed at all! Too tall, too fat and too slow – I’d be happier running the West Highland Way race than racing a track race any day!! Going that fast seems like an awful lot of work…give me miles and miles of trails and I’m happy!

  5. Another great race report Rhona. But you are very hard on yourself! First of all, you’re not fat – you look great and very athletic.

    When I started bike racing in 2007 I had a lot of the same experiences as you, and went through a lot of the same mental issues. Getting spat out of the back of the peloton 10 miles into a 60 mile race, and having to ride the rest of the race on your own isn’t fun. And it plays with your head.

    However, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and slowly but surely I got more comfortable in races, got more confident, and by 2009 I was racing in the national championships.

    I think what you’re doing is amazing. As a very new runner, I look up to you. You’re focused on your training, you’ve been honest about your goals, you’re prepared to go out there and race, and you wear your heart on your sleeve. I think that’s pretty cool!

    Ali

    • Ha! Tight and flattering running kit works wonders! Seriously though, I have a good stone going spare which just isn’t going anywhere fast (if you believe in BMI, I’m actually obese!). Can’t help wondering how much faster I could run if I were a bit more…lithe.

  6. Well done for getting through another half so soon after Stonehaven! I think you’re doing brilliantly.
    You’re so right about about half the battle, or more than half the battle, being in your head and not in your body. The physical side of it is the easy bit! I’m sure the mental toughness comes with experience. From the amount of training you’re doing you’re obviously not short of self-discipline and you’re setting yourself high standards so it’s hard not to be disappointed when you don’t live up to them. But don’t be so hard on yourself!

  7. Wonderful Rhona, I just came across your amazing blog today ,its about a year hence but I do hope you are continuing your jogs’n’blogs.I just like to say thanks as I did not have any pictures of last years event in which I also ran .I now have the proof that I really did do it as I’m in a couple of them.KEEP ON RUNNING

  8. Hi Rhona,

    Just thought I’d drop a quick note to say I really enjoyed this write-up on your experience of the Dundee Half Marathon.

    I’m planning to take part in it this year – it will be my first Half Marathon – and I am having a fair share of spells of excitement/nerves already.

    My main worries over the race are that I am a type 1 diabetic and, although taking part in a couple of local, low-key races (which I think I fared ok in) I’m a bit apprehensive of the challenges a half marathon may bring.

    That being said, I do a lot of running on the treadmill at the gym (probably cover about 10k or a bit more over a week) and I can manage my diabetes with that with no problems.

    I am doing the Dundee Half Marathon with another friend from Orkney who used to live and study in Dundee as I did.

    Anyway, just thought I’d drop you a note to say that I really enjoyed the Dundee report (I have been googling ‘Dundee Half Marathon’ to gauge runners’ feedback on the race and it all seems to be pretty positive so far, thankfully.

    Keep up the good work!

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