Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Author: redwinerunner (page 1 of 64)

Spartan Race – My First Obstacle Course Race

Ten years ago if  someone asked me what an obstacle course race was, in the first instance I would probably have described the Health and Safety nightmare of my Primary School sports days in the early 1990s. Being a proper country girl who grew up covered in mud and climbing trees, the obstacle course race was always my favourite and I relished the opportunity to climb over and under things, get covered in mud, and do my best to beat all the other children to the finish line.

Later in life when I returned to running, after growing tired of the roads, the countryside became my obstacle course once more. A long run would not seem complete unless I got the chance to cross rivers, hurdle fences and fallen trees, and return home muddy and bloodied, with a big smile on my face. To that end, as the stratospheric rise in popularity of the commercial obstacle course race became unstoppable, I have never felt drawn to participating in an official ‘OCR’ as they are now commonly known. Cost, location, and my perceptions of the dude bro jock culture which surrounds the sport are all elements which have made participation a low priority for me, despite regular pleas from friends to join their event teams.

spartan race logo

When an email arrived from the PR team at Spartan Race, challenging me to participate in one of their Edinburgh events, I was initially a bit skeptical. This was sooooo not my scene;  I’ve written in detail in the past about how I prefer small, low key events, and I wasn’t quite sure if this was the way I would want to spend a Saturday morning in the Pentlands. Also, having been the sole voice of dissent amongst obstacle course race converts, would I be ready to eat my words and take on the challenge? However, the opportunity arrived not long after I had decided not to run the Cateran Trail 55 mile race last month, and there was a small voice inside saying that perhaps a complete change might be fun. Doing something totally different might really shake up my training and they do say that…

“A change is as good as a rest…”

So on the 22nd of July, Kynon and I will be taking part in the Edinburgh Spartan Race, and will be participating in the ‘Beast’ event. This is between 12 and 14 miles in length, and features 30-35 Spartan obstacles around the stunning yet brutal Pentlands. Preparing physically for this event will require some extra work for both of us, as well as thinking about how to approach the race as a whole. I genuinely had no idea where to even start, so I asked a couple of blogger friends for their top tips…

Abby from Abbyadventures.co.uk

how to prepare for an obstacle course race

  • Get the right shoes. Your standard running shoes are not going to cut it in all the mud. You want to try and limit the amount of falling on your ass you do (it will happen at some point) so grippy trail running shoes are a must. I use Inov-8’s and swear by them. 
  • Make sure you wear quick drying, light weight running gear. There is a high likelihood you’re going to get wet. Wet clothes plus running can cause some rather unwanted chafing (in ALL the unwanted places). The quicker you dry, the warmer you will stay and the less chafed you’ll hopefully end up. 
  • Lastly, but most importantly HAVE FUN. Completing an obstacle course race is all about the mindset. Things are specifically built to challenge you to push through mental barriers; dark tunnels, heights, water, you name it, the race will probably have it. Yes, they can be scary, but if you approach them with a positive mind set you are far more likely to succeed. Plus your race photos will look a lot more awesome if you’re having fun! 

Stephen from Howmanymiles.co.uk

obstacle course racing

  • My two words of advice are “Monkey Bars”. Find a set and make them your home. So many of the obstacles involve pulling your body up and perfecting a pull up will help you. If you can’t find Monkey bars, then invest in a cheap door frame pull up bar and get hanging. 30 days of hanging will help with your grip, pull ups and general strength. 
  • You are going to get mucky and there is sometimes barbed wire, so keep your expensive kit at home.  The weather can make a huge difference, although once you are muddy and wet, it doesn’t really matter, apart from on the obstacles, so invest in a good pair of gloves. I’ve found that MTB cycling gloves are quite good but gripper gloves are better

Corey from Learning Patience

  • When participating in an obstacle course race it’s helpful to wear full-length leggings or capris, as they can protect your legs from rope burns or other injuries from the obstacles.
  • A good pair of gloves are essential – I use old sailing gloves.  You can usual buy gloves at the races, but these ones are never usually as good as those you can bring from home.  If you forget to bring your gloves or don’t have any on race day, definitely purchase some at the race as you will definitely need them, trust me.
  • Take your time and make sure you enjoy yourself.  These events are all about FUN! Relax and take your time – injuries happen when you rush so be careful and enjoy your day!

So – pull ups, gloves, have fun. This seems pretty straight forward, right? Spartan Race also provide a wealth of training guides and descriptions of their obstacles online which I’ve been examining carefully. I used to be quite good at Monkey Bars as a child, but since growing into a woman with thighs of steel yet the upper body strength of a gnat, a lot has changed. I also used to be quite good at climbing ropes in gym class, but 30 years later, looking at the 16ft rope climb out of a water pit has me doubting myself somewhat. As for getting over 8ft walls, I’m from a school of sporting thought where I believe that The Wall does not exist, but I’m not sure how efficient this will be in this race…

I have exactly a month until the race. I’m not sure how much I can do to strengthen myself within four weeks, especially without access to a gym, but I’ve looked out my kettle bell and I’ve been eyeing up the monkey bars in the play park across the street. This really is a journey into a different world for me and I’d be lying if I’m not a little bit excited to take on this new challenge!

Have you ever done an Obstacle Course Race?
If not, would you?
What are your top Obstacle Course Race tips?

Disclosure: Big thanks to Spartan Race who have given complimentary places at the Edinburgh Spartan Race for Kynon and I, and were also kind enough to send over some merchanise too. 

Strathearn Marathon 2017 | Race Report

Strathearn Marathon 2017
11th June

strathearn marathon medal 2017

4h 22m 7s
95th of 134 finishers
24th of 27 Females
9th of 14 Female Seniors

The Strathearn Marathon is a small club race hosted by the Strathearn Harriers in beautiful rural Perthshire. I ran this race for the first time last year on Naomi’s recommendation, and despite getting thoroughly soaked I enjoyed the race and the scenic route tremendously. I signed up again earlier this year and looked forward to a second go at the undulating route with the possibility of improving upon last year’s time. After a strong run at Stirling Marathon three weeks prior, I believed I would be able to bring my time much closer to four hours and mark a season’s best for marathon distance in 2017.

When race morning arrived it was after a busy and stressful week at which had even included a day trip to Birmingham for a big meeting on Thursday. I had also traveled from Edinburgh to Stonehaven late on the Friday evening for the luxury of spending a rare day with my husband on the Saturday, before an early night to try and rest before shipping out again at 6am on the Sunday.

I could also detail the tremendous amount of crap I had eaten and drank in the days prior to the race, but it’s of no real relevance other than that I highly recommend access to a Business Class lounge if you have to hang around in an airport for three hours, because the free alcohol quickly turns a very long day into a very good day. As usual, my pre-race fueling strategy was impeccable.

Race Morning

When Naomi picked me up at 6am for the 2 hour drive I wasn’t feeling on my best form, but it was great to share the car ride with her and catch up on life. I had eaten my dinner quite late the night before and was not feeling hungry at all which was disconcerting, as was the uncomfortable feelings in my stomach and guts.

As we traveled further South the weather got worse and worse, with rain lashing down and the wind buffeting the car. My enthusiasm for running twenty six miles began to wane and I questioned why I was casually doing a third marathon in six weeks, and if there was any way at all in which I could weasel out of it. Never the less, we parked up and swam over to registration, getting utterly soaked in even a short two minute walk. After picking up our numbers we returned to the car and stayed there in relative safely until it was time to get ready to run.

Much to our delight, the weather made a drastic improvement in the final half hour before the gun and whilst it was still cold and quite blustery, the rain had moved on. I said hello to a lot of friends who had finally emerged from their cars and the assembly at the starting line was a jovial group of chums ready to go. After the customary starting lap of the Cultybraggan Camp, we left the starting area and traveled out into the hills for our 26 mile jaunt.

It’s not unusual for me to forget how hilly some routes are, and Strathearn Marathon is no exception. The first four miles are a long drag uphill, where at times it can be more efficient to walk. At the top of the hill the route follows an old military road route which is very exposed and on this occasion there was a wicked headwind to battle. I was steadily plodding along in the company of a small group of older gentlemen, but the effort I was having to maintain to keep below 10 minute miles was quite significant.

Thanks to FishyGordon’s RunPix

At ten miles there was the first of the two personalised water stations, where you could have your own bottle presented to you. This is one of the advantages of tiny club-run races, and I was really looking forward to my Lucozade. I still hadn’t been feeling particularly hungry but I had forced myself to have a gel at 6 miles and the Lucozade would provide some more liquid calories on the go.

Somewhere around the 14 mile mark, the skies cleared and the sun came blazing out. This combined with the wet pavements and foliage meant that the atmosphere became steamy and humid. As it had been under 10C plus windchill when the race started I was wearing a  vest, t-shirt, and long sleeve top – all black, of course. I quickly became far too hot and removed some of my layers in an attempt to keep cool.

strathearn marathon 2017 tony wayte

Thanks to Tony Wayte

At Crieff (18 miles) I decided I needed to ditch the layers which I was carrying in my hand, and threw them under a bush on the outskirts of the town for collection later on. This meant I had my hands free to take a water bottle as well as my next personal bottle at the next water station on the other side of Crieff, and keep moving without having to concentrate on juggling items.

Whilst it was very warm I was feeling good and running fairly steadily well under 10 minute miles. My splits are all over the place, but this reflects the hilly nature of the course. My stomach had been giving me some discomfort and I hadn’t really committed early in the race to getting around the course any quicker than necessary, so I knew that this would be yet another marathon finish in the 4:16 – 4:22 bracket that seems to be my signature of late.

The last few miles were as tough as they always are, but I felt like I still had some significant energy left so I pushed as hard as I could to move quickly. I targeted each runner ahead of me and drew them in to overtake, and I managed to catch quite a significant amount of runners in the last 5 miles. We had another drastic change of weather at 24 miles when the skies opened and another deluge left me drenched, but in reality this was really refreshing and cooled down my over-heating skin.

strathearn marathon 2017 fishygordon 3

Thanks to FishyGordon’s RunPix

I finished strongly and flew down the finishing straight with a smile, captured nicely here by FishyGordon who kindly provided event photographs for free. You can check out his Facebook page here.

My time? 4hrs 22m 7s – another steady marathon run clocked up, and just seven seconds slower than when I ran the London Marathon whilst recovering from the flu. I am beginning to think I need to put a bit more effort into these events, as my last five road marathons have all been within five minutes of each other and I know I’m capable of a lot more.

strathearn marathon 2017 fishygordon 2

Thanks to FishyGordon’s RunPix

So what’s next?

Well, I’m taking a break from marathoning over the summer and will be once again trying to bring some kind of consistency into my training, have another go at losing that stone of fat that has persistently clung to my body since 2015, and prepare for the Glenmore 12 hour race in September, and of course, the Chicago Marathon in October. I’m not a fan of putting massive pressure on myself to PB at Chicago as I expect it will be pretty hot and jetlag will probably feature, but I would like to arrive at the start line knowing that I’ve put in some actual work and am capable of a strong and enjoyable run.

In the meantime though I have an exciting partnership to announce next week, which will see me turn my hand to something completely new in July! Stay tuned to find out more!

Running Science by John Brewer | Book Review

Running Science – John Brewerrunning science by John Brewer

In the last week I have been enjoying a new book which was sent to me; Running Science: Optimising Training and Performance. Published by Ivy Press, this large, hardback book is a compendium of contributions by 11 sports scientists and researchers, and edited by sports scientist and Running Magazine columnist, Professor John Brewer. The book looks at the scientific facts behind some of the world’s best performances and includes insights and analysis which apply to all runners from amateur to elite.

running science by john brewer

Running is deceptively simple as we all know. At an access level it is one of the easiest sports to break into, but to improve and reach ones’ peak potential requires a careful balance of nutrition, conditioning, and environment; all of which are firmly rooted in science. John Brewer and his team of experts examined hundreds of scientific studies on running and broke down the details and analysis to produce eight chapters of technical information, presented in a colourful and easy to understand format.

running science by john brewer

The findings are collated as a series of questions, many of which the reader will have asked themselves or their friends at some point:

Do you really need to stretch? Why can’t I catch my breath after I stop running? Do I have to load up on carbs to be a good endurance runner? What is DOMS and is it beneficial? Do i really need to warm up?

Anyone who has ever been in a running Facebook group will be familiar with the standard sofa-scientist answers to these questions, delivered with un-sourced references to ‘I once heard…’ or ‘In my experience…’. Of course there is some benefit to hearing about others’ experiences, but it is really refreshing to look up a question in this book and then get a fully referenced, scientific answer with a short, digestible explanation and diagrams where appropriate.

running science by john brewer

Other questions enhance appreciation for the incredible feats of the worlds’ greatest athletes – what would it actually take to run a 2 hour marathon? The Nike project certainly came close recently, but we still haven’t quite got there. Brewers’ answer to this question gives us a technical breakdown of what he thinks is actually required to achieve this, which isn’t too distant from what Nike recently attempted.

running science by john brewer

There are sections for specific events such as marathons and ultras, as well as questions regarding equipment and kit, including an answer to the oft-asked question: “Can running shoes help my running form – are my running shoes right for me?” There’s even an investigation into the science behind the influence of technology on runners’ psychological states, which for those of us who have ever panicked when the Garmin ran out of battery mid-race, makes for an interesting read.

running science by john brewer

I was so impressed with this book and the way it answers the questions that I’ve read it from cover to cover, soaking up all of the information provided in the infographics, and enjoying the full-page action photographs. Equally, it could sit on your shelf as a reference publication for the next time you have a burning question (or, if someone happens to be wrong on the internet…).

I would highly recommend this book as essential reading for any runner, from the curious beginner wanting to learn more, to the seasoned athlete wishing to fine-tune their performance to perfection. It would make a perfect gift for the runner in your life, or perhaps as a post-race treat for yourself; it is available from all usual book outlets at an RRP of £20.

Follow John Brewer on Twitter here: @sportprofbrewer

I received an advance copy of Running Science to review, but all opinions are as ever, my own.

Stirling Marathon Race Report | Stirling Marathon 2017

Stirling Marathon

21st May 2017

stirling marathon medal
4h 16m 49s
2065th place overall
510th Female
149th Female Senior

In May 2016, it was announced that the Great Run group was extending their Great Run British Marathon Series, and that Scotland was to get a new marathon. Billed as the Stirling Scottish Marathon, the event was received with enthusiasm by many as a ‘big city’ alternative to the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, with a route which would combine scenic running through the Heart of Scotland with an impressive finish in the shadow of Stirling Castle.

I was excited to hear about the new race and was delighted to receive a media place from Great Run in order to cover the event for Red Wine Runner. My original Spring 2017 plans were to PB at the London Marathon and then have a jog around Stirling for fun, taking the opportunity to soak in as much of the race atmosphere as possible. However, after my London plans were derailed by a nasty bout of flu, I found myself on recovery mode for a little longer than planned. I headed to Stirling with legs which were very well rested, but still with no intentions to try and set a new personal best. I wasn’t really sure what I would get on the day, but I just I wanted to enjoy myself and clock up my 28th marathon finish at this exciting, inaugural event.

I arrived at my friend Jemma’s house in Stirling on Saturday afternoon, and we spent the evening with her husband and his sister, Iona, eating food, drinking wine and discussing our plans for the race. We had to think about which shuttle bus to get to the start, and our cheering squad had to figure out their logistics too. It really could not be over-estimated how much Stirling had embraced this new event – with the entire city centre and surrounding roads being completely shut down to accommodate the runners, the race had pretty much taken over Central Scotland.

Race Morning

After a good night’s sleep we got up at 6am for coffee and breakfast. With all our gear ready, we left the house an hour later, intending to catch the 0720am shuttle bus from Stirling Bus Station. Due to so many roads being closed, the race had provided shuttle transport to the start at Blair Drummond Safari Park which all runners were strongly encouraged to take. There were various park and ride collection points around the Stirling area, with all runners allegedly being accounted for for transport. I was a bit nervous about this – 6,500 runners is a lot of people, and I didn’t recall being asked where I was intending to travel from on race morning. How would they know how many buses to send, and where?

Unfortunately when we arrived at the bus station, we were joining a queue several hundred people long which extended all the way around the concourse. Jemma spotted a friend near the start who had been waiting since 0630, and had seen only two buses turn up, both only able to take a tiny handful of runners due to them being full from earlier collection points out of town. This wasn’t the greatest start to the day, and with no event staff on the ground, communications on how the issue was to be solved was poor. I busied myself on my phone to try and get an answer via Twitter, if only to avoid thinking about how much I needed the toilet…

stirling marathon shuttle bus

Two empty double-decker buses showed up about 0745 though, so in the grand scheme of things we were not inconvenienced too greatly. Some Security personnel directed the long snake of the queue across the concourse to the bus stands and started herding us on to the second bus from the back of the queue first, which understandably *really* irritated some of the runners who had been waiting for much longer. This was regrettable, but we really didn’t have a choice other than to get on as directed. The buses pulled away to a selection of colourful language and two-fingered salutes from the crowd that was left with just over an hour until the start of the race.

stirling marathon start

As previously mentioned, the race starts in the impressive surroundings of Blair Drummond Safari Park. The buses dropped us off at the gates and then we had about a mile’s walk to the start area. When we arrived, Jemma and I went straight to the toilet queues as we were both absolutely bursting. Regrettably there seemed to be somewhat less Portaloos than the demand required, and we spent the next 30 mins inching forward bit by bit. The Portaloos were in addition to other park toilets, but I had hoped that the queues for the Portaloos would move more quickly…

At 9am when the runners were called to their pens for the warm up I was still in the queue with my kit bag, as I still was when the Orange Wave, which I was placed in, started their race. Upon exiting my Portaloo, I raced to where Jemma and Chris were sorting their kit and quickly did some last minute checks before sprinting to my allocated baggage bus to deposit my bag. Together we jogged towards the back of the next wave who had been brought up to the starting line, and with a sigh of relief realised that we could finally get on with the easy bit – running the marathon.

stirling marathon start

The Great Run Group do sporting ceremony very well, and we all felt roused by the music and announcements in the minutes before we crossed the line. Dozens of park rangers were lining the first part of the route alongside cute jungle animal characters; despite the stressful start to the day, as soon as I got a high-five from a Lion and an Elephant I knew everything was going to be just fine.

stirling marathon start

stirling marathon start

Speaking of elephants… this guy came out to cheer too:

stirling marathon safari park

 And this majestic beast was overseeing proceedings from the sidelines. Also spotted – a common-or-garden Red Wine Runner not looking where she is going.

Image from the Metro

Image from the Metro

So we were finally on our way; through the Safari Park before on to the closed A84 road heading towards Doune. There was a little out-and-back where I was able to shout to some friends including Naomi, who was just up ahead. It was truly amazing how many people I knew taking part, especially people from the Scottish ultrarunning community who hadn’t run a road marathon in years, if ever. It seemed like everyone had wanted to be a part of the first running of the Stirling Marathon even if they had sworn off tarmac running for good.

After about a mile I caught up with Naomi, and she and I spent the next 6 miles trotting along together steadily and catching up. It turned out that she had had quite a stressful morning getting to the start via the Park and Ride service; given the amount of feedback which has been deluged on the Stirling Marathon Facebook page, I do hope they can use this first year as a steep learning curve and improve the transport for next year.

stirling marathon route

At four miles we ran through the tiny town of Doune, where there were pipe bands, drummers, and 100s of enthusiastic supporters. Even at this early stage we had seen that the people who lived along the route were willing to turn out their full support for the race and make us feel welcomed as we ran through their towns and villages. Between six and seven miles Naomi and I went our separate ways; we’ve ran together for years now and I was aware that I was pulling her on a bit – she’s not daft enough to burn out too early in a marathon so I drifted ahead as we approached Dunblane.

The route swept through the town from the West to the South, and from the first hand-made ‘Welcome To Dunblane!’ banner, the road was packed with crowds for the entire two miles. The outpouring of support was phenomenal; young and old, they cheered us through their town and offered jelly beans, orange slices, and high fives. My face actually started to ache from all the smiling – I know the support in London is legendary, but this somehow felt so much more authentic and closer to home.

Next up at ten miles was Bridge of Allan. Again, even though the rain was now steadily pouring, the crowds stayed out to cheer. The route then presented a tough hill as we took a brief lollipop shaped tour around the University of Stirling, and by the time we were running past the foot of the Wallace Monument, we had hit half way and it was time to look out for Iona, Duncan, and other assorted friends waiting to see us and deliver high-fives.

I did a quick body-check at half way to assess how I felt. I had passed half way in 2hrs 06m which was promising, as I was feeling really good and my legs definitely had some pep in them. I had been checking my watch occasionally the last few miles and was comfortably running around 9:30/9:40 pace without trying, so I decided to try and stick to that and see what happened. I knew we’d hit Stirling city centre and the laps at about 18 miles, and I had been mentally visualising the race as a sprint finish with an 18 mile warm up.

stirling marathon finish

A lot of people had been apprehensive of how the lap system would work. The route map showed that we would go around the city two and a half times before finishing at the foot of the castle, where there was a lane system in place – keep right to carry on, keep left to finish. There were also timing maps to verify that every finisher had completed the correct distance. I think this system worked ok, but completing the lapped section was very tough mentally and I had to work hard to keep my head together.

stirling marathon laps

Upon entering the city loop, we immediately merged with fast runners who were completing their final loop and were sprinting through the city. I was conscious to not get in people’s way, but it was hard when they were ducking and weaving around the slower runners. The support from the crowd was brilliant but I quickly realised I had to ignore it as I still had 7 miles to run, despite the well meaning shouts of ‘you’re nearly there!’ and the big signs announcing ‘800m To Go’, and ‘400m To Go’. Running past the finish line area not just once, but twice, was quite soul destroying, and required a degree of tenacity to keep going.

The loop consisted of a climb into the city centre then a section going right through the middle of the town. It had been raining for a couple of hours which made the paving underfoot very slippery, and the sections of road which were cobbled were treacherous! After passing through the centre, the loop went past the finish and then negotiated a couple of steep underpasses on a roundabout which were narrow and slippery. We then went through a housing estate with lots of friendly supporters, and then returned to the start of the loop after climbing up a nasty lung-bursting hill.

Eventually it was my turn to complete a final lap of the city and finally let the rousing cheers of the crowd spur me on. There were quite a few friends scattered around and seeing them on my way gave me a last boost for a strong finish, as I finally got to ‘Keep Left’ and cross the line.

stirling marathon medal

I was really pleased with my race. I felt very strong throughout most of the miles and maintained a really even pace without a single walking break.  I haven’t had many good runs after London and I was worried that I’d lost a lot of fitness, but this is clearly not the case and I am more recovered from my illness than I thought! I’m excited to get back to training again, and will be tackling the Strathearn Marathon in two weeks’ time with renewed confidence.

stirling marathon

All in all, I think the Stirling Marathon has the potential to be a really great race. There are one or two issues which stand out which need change or improvement, such as the situations with the buses and the toilets, but hopefully the organisers will listen to the feedback from runners and improve for next year. I’m still not convinced about the loops of the city however, and would be in favour of accommodating a few miles elsewhere earlier in the route in order to reduce the amount of laps.

Thanks again to Great Run for the opportunity to run at this new event!

Did you run the Stirling Marathon?
What do you think of races with laps?

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