Tag Archive: aberdeen

The week everything changed

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This week was a turning point for many people in my country. You would have to have been living under a rock in recent weeks to ignore the coverage and impact of the Scottish Referendum, and the impact of the decisions made on Thursday will roll forward like waves into the future. However, that is not what this post is about. There are people out there who can write more succinctly and with greater insight on that subject than I, and whilst I have strong opinions on recent events I will limit my sharing of them to sitting around a table in a pub with my friends, or perhaps shouting at the television and the newspapers.

You see, two days before Scotland’s day of reckoning, there was a day in my personal life with equal or perhaps even greater significance for me. This was the day where I left my full time job for the last time and entered the next stage of my life.

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Three months ago, after a lot of thought and consideration, I put in my notice after deciding that the high-stress, long commute, long hours, desk pilot lifestyle was no longer serving my best interests. Things hadn’t been 100% right for me in my job for a little while and whilst I loved many aspects of working where I did and the people that I worked with, I couldn’t see a future there for me. Having been inspired by several friends doing something similar, I began to see that it wasn’t too late for me to quit the rat race and find a life that I was in control of and made me happy. Of course it wasn’t an easy decision to make and the next few months are by no means going to be easy either, but I’m very excited to move on and start building a different future.

MaldivesSo, what exactly am I going to be doing with myself? Well, next Wednesday I will be enrolling on a full-time taught Master’s degree at Robert Gordon University and in 12 months time I should be graduating with an MSc in Digital Marketing. This is a slight deviation from my career so far, but I see it more as a development than anything else. For those of you that don’t know, my undergraduate degree is in Music (BMus (Hons) Newcastle University, ’06) and I have spent the majority of my career so far in Concerts and Event Management/Arts Marketing, most recently in Higher Education. In the last 18 months or so, my job has veered away from that aspect and into an Administrative direction that wasn’t really part of The Plan, so this is my way of re-qualifying myself and upgrading my skills with a view to re-entering the Arts Marketing world in the future.

The course itself is taught over two days a week, with three days left free for study and research. This tremendous amount of time flexibility that I’ve been granted is going to allow me to train more effectively than ever before, with my eventual goal being the 2015 West Highland Way Race. I look forward to being able to actually have the time to take strength/conditioning classes and no longer having to head out for a couple of hours of running after a long day at work.

Postgraduate study is no joke, but I am looking forward to a less stressful existence and being able to be a better person to be around. I didn’t used to be a particularly sickly person but I’ve never been more ill more frequently in the last couple of years than in my whole life, and I credit that entirely to burning the candle at both ends and in the middle, and generally not being able to look after myself as well as I’d like. Many friends are always quick to say how ‘healthy’ running and training must make me, but health does not just translate as the ability to run 50 miles. Just because I can do that does not mean I’m a healthy person and anyone who knows me very well will know that there is a lot I can improve upon right now to be granted the title of ‘Healthy’.

vs-lochmuickSo for now in terms of training for the next couple of months, I’ll be building a strong body with which to tackle the West Highland Way and its associated training next year. As keen as I am, there is no point in bashing out the big miles now as I’ll be worn down and bored by March. I have some weight to lose, some muscle to rebuild and some strength to gain first, and I hope that this will lead to PBs at the Peterhead 10k and the Fraserburgh Half marathon in November.

I also look forward to having the time to share more about my training on this blog and moving away from the constant stream of Race Reports that it has been lately. When I started RedWineRunner several years ago I documented my weekly training as I built up to races and this is a format I’d like to return to. Hopefully with more frequent posting will come more reader engagement and the opportunity to grow this blog into something a bit more substantial, but I promise to keep it relevant and not sell out to sponsors and reviews.

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

So here’s to the next big step. It’s hard to believe that I started RedWineRunner nearly four years ago to document my tentative embarkation upon the great sport of ‘running’. A lot has gone under the metaphorical bridge since those early posts and I don’t doubt that there’s still a lot to come! I’m excited for the future and for further change and I hope you all stick with me for it.

Thanks for reading,

~Rwr

RACE REPORT: The Running Shop Beach 10k 2013

runningshop10k3The Running Shop Beach 10k 2013

Gun time: 50:44 – NEW PB!
Place: 139th/229
Category: 12th/43 Senior Females
Gender: 26th/82

The Running Shop 10k is a funny race. A no-fuss, no-frills evening race organised by a local Running Shop, funnily enough named “The Running Shop”, and held every year mid-week in the middle of June on that well-worn pathway to the North East runners’ Hell – the Beach Promenade.

For the princely sum of £7, you get a flat and fast timed 10k race with water and a chocolate bar at the end. It’s not chip timed, but the amount of entrants means that if you care about your time you can get very close to the start line if you wish.

This year the race was part of our Club Championship, which was my main reason for entering. I hadn’t done a 10k in over a year; I don’t particularly like the distance so if I was going to pick a race to do a 10k it would probably be one with plenty of course support, and a nice t-shirt and medal at the end. I can be fickle like that at times, but that’s not what this race was about. Runners come here to race their legs off away from the big crowds of the other expensive and commercial local 10k, Baker Hughes, and hammer it out as fast as they can on the flat and unchallenging route. It is essentially a time trial, with many of the local running clubs including it in their championships and some of the fastest local runners coming to give it their best.

My speedwork lately has been non-existent; I haven’t been to a club session since I started my new job (I keep getting home too late) and I’ve been concentrating on getting my running fitness back before doing anything more complicated with my pace. Essentially despite running lots of miles lately, I was completely untrained for this race and I knew it was going to hurt. To smash my PB I needed to hold an average pace of 8:18, which seemed a little ambitious to me, but I figured I could give it a good try.

After giving Kate a lift down from work we had a brisk 1.5 mile warm up to try and loosen our legs up. After both completing the Ythan Challenge on Sunday we weren’t very sure how they’d be feeling; mine felt a little unresponsive at first but soon sped up. I had a quick trip to the bathroom and found a lamp post to tie my jumper on to before hanging around for the last 10 minutes with the girls from the club. No-one was all that excited to take part after having trained for ultramarathons all year so far – the general consensus was “Too short, too fast!”

The gun went off and suddenly I’m moving forward, swept away in a fluid moving cell of legs and arms. I had decided 8 minute miles was a good pace to aim for and that I’d try to hold it as long as I could. That plan lasted about 30 seconds before I realised that the wind was behind me and that I should take advantage of this whilst I could as I’d lose time on the return journey running straight in to the wind.

By the time the first mile was over I was already not enjoying myself so I turned on my mp3 player for some distraction. Mile 2 and 3 were straight in to the wind and finished with a surprise fastest ever 5k time for me – 24:13. Despite my general discomfort this pleased me as it meant I was doing well – keep this up and I was well on course to beat my PB.

The course is a loop on the Promenade so the lead pack passed me on the upper level, followed by a stream of familiar faces. It was really nice to exchange thumbs up with faster runners from the club which gave me a much needed mental boost. I was flailing mentally and straying in to “Why do I bother” territory, so seeing people being better than me gave me the kick up the backside to remember that getting faster doesn’t just happen and that I need to work to earn it.

Miles 4 and 5 took us back past the start and onto the second lap. The wind was behind me so I tried to let it push me on but I couldn’t get my legs to move fast enough. They were fatigued and my lack of muscle strength betrayed me – this is what I need to gain for an increase in speed. More hill reps and intervals are in my future to build explosive power in my muscles.

Mile 6 was at the turn around and had us run toward the finish straight in to the wind. I was getting slower and slower and felt like a football slowly deflating. Legs, move faster! No, arms – you move faster too! Stop slouching! Lift your knees! I mentally barked instructions at myself but I still felt like I was running like the flying spaghetti monster with limbs all over the place. The stomach started tightening and my ITBs started grumbling – I want to sit down and retch like a cat throwing up a hairball please – says the body. No! Run faster! – says the mind. Can’t – say the legs. I hate 10ks, says Redwinerunner.

‘Til now I had only given my watch one or two glances to check my pace, and had been so disgusted by the falling numbers that I had given up monitoring the data. With about 400m to go I looked at the overall time and was surprised to see 48:XX – suddenly all my mental gurning disappeared and the possibility of a PB kicked me back into race mode. All of a suddent, I DIDN’T have nothing left and I wasn’t totally spent and was able to find something for a finishing sprint. Later this really annoyed me; I should have kept my eyes on the prize and I could have run better – I clearly wasn’t trying hard enough.

runningshop10k4Ronnie caught me deep in the hurt locker – I had no idea he was even there

I crossed the line in 50:44 by my watch, which is a 49 second PB. I’m pleased but I feel underwhelmed – I allowed myself to under perform in the second half which meant a big positive split. It also revealed where my weaknesses are at the moment (anerobic fitness, leg strength) so I suppose I have benefited from this race in that respect. I have no further plans to race another 10k until I have to, but now I’m slightly tempted to do the Forfar 10k in August just to see how much I can improve with some proper training. By then I’ll be in peak marathon training and should be in excellent shape so perhaps I could FINALLY dip under 50 minutes? My 10k time is the area that has improved the least in my 3 years of running – the very first race I ran I finished in 54:47 so I’ve only managed to knock 4 minutes off in 3 years. That is in comparison to 7 minutes off my 5k, 19 minutes off my Half Marathon and a stonking 1hr 7minutes off my marathon time. There is little room for error in a 10k though; every second counts, so I guess I’m glad to still be chipping away at it. I can do better though.

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Splits:

7:30 / 8:01 / 8:13 / 8:14 / 8:25 / 8:40 // 1:39

Afterwards, I took myself home via the Carron for some chips and curry sauce. Dirty, but well deserved. This weekend brings a whole new challenge – sweeping the West Highland Way race. As part of a team of 6 from Stonehaven Running Club I will be taking shifts in bringing up the rear of the race and making sure all stragglers and sufferers are well looked after.  I know I’ll be going over Conic Hill in first light on Saturday morning and over the Devil’s Staircase as day breaks on Sunday, so if the weather holds clear I could be in for some fantastic sights. The forecast is diabolical of course, but let’s not dwell on that. It’s going to be another epic adventure – I should clock up around 35 miles over the 35 hours and we will be out on the course the longest of all. Another step forward in my own journey to completing the West Highland Way race and what an exciting one to take!

See you in Milngavie!

D33 Ultra – 3 days to go!

The days and weeks keep slipping by and all of a sudden it would appear to be March 2013. Not even the start of March – it’s now the 13th of March which means the 2013 D33 Ultramarathon is only 3 days away!

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This time last year I was in full race-preparation mode and absolutely raring to go. This year it’s been a little bit different obviously as it’s not my first ultra, but also training does not stop at this race for me this year. I’m taking a far more relaxed approach which has allowed me to enjoy race week so far and just look forward to racing. I have a few ideas about what I’m going to aim to achieve on race day, what I’m going to eat and what I might be wearing, but in comparison to last year I’m so laid back I’m practically horizontal.

The five day weather forecast came online yesterday and I’ve been obsessively refreshing BBC weather to track any changes. I’m not normally this fussed about weather, but right now it has been snowing heavily for the last 24 hours and that does not bode well for a good race. It seems to be melting quickly though, and the forecast actually looks reasonable for Saturday, if a little on the chilly side.

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I’ve been lucky enough to never yet raced in truly awful weather. I know this will change at some point, but I’d quite like it not to be this weekend. Last year’s weather was perfect and I even got a head start on my dodgy running tan with some excellent stripes from my running sleeves – let’s keep everything crossed for a repeat of that.

Stonehaven Running Club is doing a couple of mini-buses to transport runners up from the South, as parking is limited and we have over 20 runners taking part. This will be a great and fun way to start the day, but I really hope I don’t get carsick! I’m really looking forward to wearing my club vest again and running my first club championship race – there are 10 ladies running so even if I’m last there are a reasonable amount of championship points to be had.

I know this is the first time I’ve mentioned Club Championship races here, so here’s a quick note from the SRC website on what this means: Nine races have been chosen as the basis for the club championship. An individual can enter all 9 races but only their best 5 scores are added up and the highest scoring male and female will win the cup at the end of the year. Points are scored as follows: the SRC runners are ranked on their finishing places within the overall field, with the ‘winner’ scoring an extra point. So 1st finisher scores 21, 2nd finisher 19 and so on down to the 20th finisher scoring 1 point.)

D33

I’m pleased to report that my training has been going very well; I’m steadily churning out mileage weeks in the mid-40s and am suffering no ill-effects. I took a look at what I’ve done this year so far compared with last year, and I was quite encouraged. At times in the last fortnight or so, it’s felt like I haven’t been working as hard as last year…but it’s obviously because it’s getting easier, not that I’m doing less…

2013 weekly miles so far2013 weekly miles so far – you can see in week 6 where I crashed and burned a bit and skipped 30 miles of back-to-back that weekend…

2012 weekly miles from end of Jan2012 miles from the last week of January until D33 race week.

In comparison, 2013 is much heavier on the miles, far more consistent and includes at least two hours of cross training a week on top of the running. I am also about a stone lighter and much, much stronger. All good things.

In terms of my goals for Saturday…I’m still undecided. I will probably call it on the morning, or a few miles into the race. Last year my time was 5hr56m which is 10:47 pace, but I think I could easily shave 10 minutes or so off that without pushing too hard. I know if I decided I wanted to really crush this race I could probably get under 5hr30 but I think that effort might have training consequences which might set me back in my last weeks of preparation for the Highland Fling. I’ve got to keep my eyes on the prize! My Long Slow Runs in training have been at around 10 minute miles, so I reckon I will stick with that kind of pace and see where I am at half way. A steady 10 minute mile pace for the entire race would see me in at 5hr30 but I will be incorporating walking/fueling breaks as usual, although probably every 45 minutes rather than every 30 like last year. It is likely that I will also negative split as well, due to the slight downhill nature of the last section.

So let’s say my goals are as follows:

Bronze – finish strong and uninjured around the same time as 2012
Silver – 5hr 45 or less
Gold – 5hr 30 or less
Platinum – as above, but with a win at the rugby later on that night against France :)

Finishing my first ultra - D33 2012

Finishing my first ultra – D33 2012

I am so excited to do this race for the second time and to see my ultra friends again. The last miles of that race last year are still my favourite running memories ever, and I dearly hope I am luck enough to get a second day of happy times. Kynon is marshaling at the half way point so I will get a nice hug and a kiss to set me off on my way back home, and my Mum is planning on popping up on a couple of occasions too. Hopefully one of them will make it back to the finish in time for me but if not it’s no big deal as all my favourite running people will be out and about, either running or helping.

If this is your first ultra – best of luck to you and I hope you don’t have bad taperitus like I did! It is a wonderfully friendly race and if you don’t already know what the big deal about ultras is, by the end of Saturday you surely will. Just relax and think of it as a nice day out running with friends. Chat to everyone who passes you and be sure to try the flapjacks at half way! Stick around at the end and grab a beer and some cake, then get the train to Stonehaven for the after-party at the Station Hotel.

See you at the start, and remember; fear no distance!

RACE REPORT: Nuffield Health Jogscotland 5k Challenge

Nuffield Health JogScotland 5k Challenge
6th June 2012

Official time: 25 mins 21 secs
Finish position: 69th/201
Age Group position: 23rd/50

As far as races go, this was probably one of the least enjoyable experiences that I’ve had so far for a variety of reasons. The Nuffield Jogscotland 5k Challenge is a series of races which take place in the larger cities and towns across Scotland and are marketed towards the newer runner, corporate groups or people doing their very first race. There was a large group of us from Fetch heading along so Kynon and I decided to join in for the fun thinking it would be a pleasant way to spend a summer’s evening with friends.

Now obviously nothing could have been done about the weather, but unfortunately nearly everything else about the race was shoddily organised. After signing up online we received no further information about the event other than what was available on the website (the race started at 7pm in Hazlehead Park – a very large park in Aberdeen). The website stated that detailed instructions would be sent out by email before the event, however when it got to 4pm on the day and nothing had been heard, I decided to call JogScotland HQ.  I’ve done enough races to know that if I turned up an hour beforehand I’d have no problem finding the start and getting myself sorted out, but I was irked enough by the lack of communications both by email and on the JogScotland Facebook page that I decided to call them anyway to see what they had to say. I was put through three different people on the phone before I could get someone with an answer which was: Just turn up. When pressed about the lack of communication they responded that ‘Someone was supposed to do it, but then they were off and it kind of didn’t happen’. Really?! From a locally organised club race that might be an acceptable excuse, but JogScotland is a national running organisation with full time staff and if I’m paying to attend one of your events then I expect more.

There were many people calling the JogScotland HQ and local running shops looking for information which they were then posting on the JogScotland Facebook Wall to help clueless runners. The Facebook Page had been deluged with queries and complaints including some from people who had never raced before and were confused and nervous about the event. There was, and as yet still has not been, a response from JogScotland about the lack of pre-race information.

We arrived at 6pm to collect our packets and hoped there would not be long queues. The Scottish Summer remained true to form and less than a fortnight after complaining about running in 28C heat, I had my winter running gear back on again as we were faced with temperatures of 8C, a nasty wind, sideways rain and heavy fog when we left the car.

Packet pick-up was in some tents and there was also a burger van and a bag drop. Pre-race entertainment was provided which consisted of an aging pub singer in a silver flared catsuit and blonde 70s wig, singing along to a backing track in a portable trailer stage. I say ‘entertainment’ in the loosest possible sense; our enthusiastic chanteuse never got any closer to the notes she ought to have been singing than a minor 2nd below.

Undeterred, we went to find the start which was somewhere in here:

7pm came and went and there was not a single indication of when the race would actually start. Thankfully we had rounded up all of our friends and were able to have a laugh about it all whilst sheltering from the rain.

Finally, after a 20 minute delay we were herded towards the gantry; a man with a megaphone mumbled something unintelligible and suddenly we were running. It was a wild stampede across the field reminiscent of High School Cross Country; I decided that I wanted this over as fast as possible so I would just run all out and throw away any thoughts of smart pacing – especially as the race was obscuring my Garmin anyway!

Mile 1: 9:01 (all uphill)
Mile 2: 8:14
Mile 3: 7:47
(all downhill)
.10: 0:24

The route was mainly on trails and grass through Countesswells Woods which suited me just fine, however I suspect some fragile souls may well have been traumatised by having to skirt around vast archipelagos of horse poo floating in the giant puddles. It was really just a case of head down and go for me so I have little to report from the race itself other than the course looked like it was very nice and I want to explore up there one day when it’s not pouring with rain. Unfortunately due to bad course marking and a lack of marshalls, the lead pack got lost in the second mile and ended up passing the main contingent again at great speed when they found their way again. Thankfully I’m not fast enough to have those problems but was able to hang on to the feet and neon jackets of those in front of me, who at times were only just visible in the thick fog.

Upon crossing the finish line I was expecting a t-shirt, goody bag and medal as promised; however at the time it appeared that there would be nothing for us other than water and bananas. No-one wanted to hang around so we quickly dispersed; and thankfully noticed on our way back to the car that goody bags, t-shirts and medals were being dispersed at the same tent as registration which was away from the route back to the carparks. Again – there was no communication at the finish line to indicate this at all!

I don’t normally run in a full face of make-up but given that I’d come from work I had my usual eyeliner/mascara etc on; this obviously ended up streaked down my face in the pouring rain creating a marvellous look. We quickly made an exit and got home as fast as possible to warm up and dry off, feeling somewhat disillusioned with the whole experience, although glad to have had some fun with our friends.

So to summarise the improvements required; COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION! It is so important in all aspects of life and something which should be an enjoyable experience can quickly become confusing and frustrating for participants if they don’t know what’s going on. I do believe JogScotland may have had some factors working against them which caused the delays (slow confirmation of set-up location from Aberdeen City Council, a traffic accident by the park entrance which delayed the start) so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but there was no reason why this could not have been relayed to the runners. I know they’ve been organising these races for quite some time and my friends have always had good experiences so something doesn’t quite add up. I feel sorry for those who may have been doing this as their very first race however; it is really not an accurate reflection of organised racing in Scotland so I do hope they’re not put off!

GUEST BLOG: Gin Soaked Jogger

Whilst I’m recovering from being brutalised by the gruelling heat at the Dunblane Road Race yesterday, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of my friend Claire, the Gin-Soaked Jogger, who has written an account of her first-time experiences at last week’s Baker Hughes 10k.

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Buckfast Bolter? Tinny Trundler? Gin-Soaked Jogger – A note to a would-be-runner.

Firstly I suppose I should caveat any athleticism related to this post and freely admit I am 163cm tall, I weigh about 11st, I hit the gym enough to take care of the amount of pizza I eat and I love a bevvy.

I like to think I have a decent handle on my fitness. As long as my pizza-to-skinny jeans ratio is in order, I’m fairly content. I’ve never been a serious runner, have enjoyed playing full contact/touch rugby and cycling a bit; but have never before embarked upon a 10k race in Aberdeen.

Photographs used with kind permission from Roz Galloway
http://rozgalloway.blogspot.co.uk/

Having signed up for the 2012 Baker Hughes 10k around four months ago, I assumed I had plenty of time to get into shape and to expect to cross the finish line in a respectable time. I made the mistake of assuming a moderately fit individual like myself could expect to sail over a 10k finish line like a semi-pro, with an abundant surplus of glittering energy to spare. However, after waiting until I had around 7 weeks until race day to really start training properly, as opposed to hitting the treadmill at an easy, pedestrian pace, the creeping realisation of my ignorance started to loom.

Anyone who owns a pair of decent running trainers knows 10ks are largely regarded an “undemanding” distance; booting out 10k in an under an hour is “easily achievable”, especially for would-be athletes, marathon-chinners and all-round ass-kickers like my chum Red Wine Runner. I’d like to say to any the would-be, fair weather athletes such as myself out there; No, it’s not.

I would also like to say to any other novice joggers and weekend warriors; be prepared to awaken muscles you never knew you had. Being in pain from sports is one thing, but brand new pain is quite distracting. Who knew your ribs and clavicle muscles could get sore whilst running? Also standby for your previously pedicured toes to start moulding into garbled, bloodied stumplings, leaving you with more of a trotter than a foot. Be aware that parts of you that don’t chafe usually – might begin to chafe, when you start clocking in some miles. “Chub-rub” (upper thigh friction) is a mile-munching menace!

Bear in mind also, running outdoors on steep hills, over crumbly kerbs, dodging jakeys, dog turds and traffic is FAR more difficult than chugging out a mile or two in the comfy shelter of an air-conditioned gym, gawping at Beyonce on a plasma screen, whilst sipping a chilled energy drink and dabbing your brow with a fresh hand-towel. Speaking of shelter, rain can [and will] get you from all angles, especially when training on an Aberdonian beachfront. A decent waterproof can make a polar difference to a strong run and a “I give in” hobble. Lastly, be prepared to take firmer control of your bodily movements. As I nearly found out, your otherwise safe little toilet schedule may be subject to rapid and unexpected change. Be careful – no one likes a poopy pants.

Around about the month-to-race-day mark, I found that I would bottom-out (no pun intended) on the treadmill after around 4k, and crumble like Cadbury’s flake after about 3.5k road-running, so one Friday night I asked my seasoned runner chum Red Wine Runner for some training tips. To which she imparted this little nugget of advice, rich in its’ brevity:

“Just don’t stop.”

Easy enough for an ultra/marathon runner to quip, (whilst glugging a tin of lager I might add!), but when all my reading-up and treadmilling was officially not working, I decided to give “not stopping” a go. Would you believe it?! She was right!

Before I knew it, it was 7 days prior to the Baker Hughes 10k. In conducting a little dress-rehearsal I felt infinitely better equipped to take on a 10k race. I found that familiarising myself with the actual terrain I’d be facing on the day was irreplaceably helpful. Having the luxury of living in the same town in which I’d be racing meant I could have a few dummy-runs, as it were. Most of these I did with a chum, Lucy. Although Lucy’s pace is slower than I’d usually run I really enjoyed her consistent tempo. I would usually start running like a Special Ed kid on fire – pace all over the shop – running like Phoebe from “Friends” …but running with a comfortingly reliable pacemaker like Lucy helped me sort that right out. Cheers Luce.

So 7 days and a few staggered 5k jogs (and some leg/arse strengthening weights sessions) in between, the Baker Hughes 10k was here – and I was ready.

Trembling like a crapping terrier with nerves, I was at the starting line. Aiming to skim around the 1hour 15mins mark as I had done in practice, I waited with the thousands of others whilst the thoroughbreds down the front sprinted out of the blocks, aiming to clock in their lightning-fast finishes. Basking in the uncharacteristically warm weather, I reckoned by about the first kilometre I’d be sweating like a Geordie in a maths test. Having prepared for “washing-machine-weather” adding wet kilos onto your bodyweight and a typical Aberdeen coastal wind, on the day the sun was well and truly out and the race was on!

To be honest, I’m unable to deliver a kilometre by kilometre account of my race performance, how dull for you I’d imagine, dear reader. Maybe due to the heat, or the adrenaline rush, or my lack of rigid game plan, I don’t really recall what I was thinking all the way round other than: “Just don’t stop.”

One thing I can say however, having so many people cheering and clapping; my parents, my gorgeous training partner Lucy (sadly stricken down with illness prior to race-day), and my wonderful boyfriend cheering me on as I sprinted to the finish line; I found running the 10k a fantastic experience that I’d definitely consider doing again.

I suppose the take home message I’d share with anyone attempting their first 10k, on a base of moderate fitness is, like RWR said: “Just don’t stop.”

Although it sounds like a smug mantra, uttered by honed athletes and effortlessly muscular runners, I found this bit of advice extremely helpful. If you’re anything like me, then you may find the temptation to “just stop” when pushing yourself out of the clichéd comfort-zone is pretty high. I’m sure even those annoyingly determined, samurai-style disciplined over-achievers out there have their days where they felt more like the fly than the windshield. But I can honestly say Red Wine Runner’s brief advice holds a lot of gravity for me. I’ve definitely learnt the value of momentum over the last month:

JUST DON’T STOP!

Sweating, smiling and sprinting, I crossed the line in a not-too-glacially-slow 1 hour and 6 minutes and I was honestly thrilled with my time. I’m still beaming, actually. I had a great day, smiling with the crowd, waving to my supporters, raising money for a local charity and giggling my way round the course looking at runners in suffocating costumes. The post-race beers were also some of the best I’ve had in a while, nothing like a cold one (or five) when you’ve earned it!

It would seem that even a gin-soaked-jogger like me can cross the finish line. And if I can do it, so can you.

RACE REPORT: 2012 Baker Hughes 10k

City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k 2012
20th May 2012
Chip time: 51 minutes 33 seconds
Place: 1117th / 3652 finishers
Category place: 101/863

I woke up at 6am on Sunday, excited for my third attempt at the Baker Hughes 10k and was delighted to be greeting with bright sunshine and cornflower blue skies upon opening my eyes. It was a beautiful clear, calm day! I leapt out of bed and busied myself making breakfast; which was cold overnight oats (porridge oats and milk, left overnight in the fridge to soak) with seeds and dried fruit, cranberry juice and coffee:

I was planning on walking/jogging down to the start as it is 3 miles from my house and I felt that would be both a suitable warm up and would avoid any car parking/public transportation problems at the race village. Everything had been laid out the night before so the morning routine would be flawless, but I still found myself running around fussing about silly little things. Nerves amplify feelings and I was feeling the usual race-morning stresses, but still excitement was the overwhelming feeling as I looked forward to meeting all of my friends and putting in a good shift on the road. It felt great to pin on a number again and know that I was going to leave nothing out on the course – I was going to run as hard as I possibly could that morning and be the fastest runner I’ve ever been.

The journey down to the beach went quickly; Kynon and I walked a mile briskly and then ran a gentle mile and then finished up with a walk alongside the many other runners making their way to the start.

Reaching the beach I was curious to see if the usual brisk winds would feature on the Esplanade; the beachfront is notorious for being windy even on what would appear to be the calmest of days, but there was only a light breeze which offered some relief from the sun already beating down strongly at 0830. Although I’m not a fan of running in great heat, it was a huge relief to have lovely weather for the race after the continuous barrage of rain wind and snow (yes!) which we’ve had for weeks.

We arrived and started looking out for familiar faces. At last count, there were SIXTEEN of my friends who running this race! I didn’t have to look far before I nearly tripped over my favourite Gin-soaked Jogger, Claire, who was running for local charity, Befriend A Child.

After speaking to Claire and her boyfriend Adam, we spotted Ryan and his enthusiastic supporter, Sheenagh, who snapped a couple of pictures:

With Kynon (pic by Sheenagh)

With Jim, Kynon, Brian and Ryan (pic by Sheenagh)

There was an awkward mass aerobic warm-up, which we all carefully avoided whilst making last minute preparations for the race. I had a bag which I was planning on depositing in the bag drop, but Sheenagh very kindly offered to look after it (thank you!) so I didn’t have to worry about my valuables being unattended. I took a High5 gel just before it was time to get in to our corralls, we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.

pic by Sheenagh

Kynon and I elected to enter the 46-50 minute corral and head towards the back. Nerves were building at this point and we both stuck on some music and just focused on visualising the race. I was planning on maintaining a minimum of 8:20 miles for as long as I could and then see how I felt in the last mile or so. My biggest concern was blowing up too soon and running out of steam. I knew my knee would be ok – I could run through any pains that occurred but the only potential problems would occur due to incorrect pace execution at the start.

As far as I’m aware the race started on time at 0930 and before I knew it I had crossed the start and was on my way. Past experience made sure I started tight on the left hand side of the crowd to avoid having to take a wide turn at the first corner; I sneaked around it deftly and then the race really began.

Kynon and I had planned to run together as long as possible and for the first mile or so we were side by side. There are a lot of tight turns in the Baker Hughes 10k course so it’s important to run the tangents so you don’t lose precious time by adding distance. I was religiously checking my watch and kept my pace on or below 8:20; I kept having to reign myself in though as the temptation to let my keen legs run off madly along with the crowd was huge. I kept on looking down and seeing 7:xx, which is great, but I knew I’d struggle to hold that for anything longer than a few miles.

The course curls around the harbour before making its way on to the South end of the Beach Esplanade; we ran past many warehouses and supply vessels with workers standing outside clapping and cheering, or just looking on in amusement. Support is always thin on the ground at this point but soon, after a short incline, you find yourself at the end of the Esplanade looking North up the coast and you can see two miles worth of runners and supporters stretching ahead of you.

Up until this point Kynon and I had been near each other, taking turns to lead the pace. At least that’s how it felt in my head – I don’t know whether it was intentional on his part! Around the 4k mark he stopped appearing in my peripheral vision – I later found out that this was when he started having problems with a hip flexor and slowed to a walk to stretch it out. Somewhere around this point Rachel passed me; ‘Keep up!’ she said! Challenge: accepted!

I kept on pushing though and glided through 5k in 25 mins 48 secs which was bang on target for a new PB. Shortly after 5k there was water which I happily poured over myself; I don’t think it can have been much warmer than 15C or so at that time in the morning, but working hard in direct sunlight felt very uncomfortable for this winter-hardened Scottish runner. I took a few sips and washed out my mouth; I didn’t NEED the water to drink and I didn’t want to give myself a stitch by gulping it down.

Mile 1 – 8:06
Mile 2 – 8:29 (???)
Mile 3 – 8:13

I don’t know why mile 2 was so slow…

The 10k race is a funny beast – it’s just over so quickly! After the 5k mark it felt strange to be thinking that I was over half way done and that the pain would be over soon. I just kept pushing on down King St, never letting myself take the foot off the gas and telling myself I had no excuses – this is only 50 minutes of your life, you are not in that much pain, stop complaining. You know how it feels to run 3 miles and know you’ve another 30 miles to race, so to only have 3 to go today is a luxury – HTFU!

I had been told that my Grandad was going to come down and try and see me on the course. This meant a lot to me as he’s never seen me race before; I was looking ahead anxiously trying to spot him at the point where he said he’d be, and I saw him! I pulled out of the crowds and took the corner wide whilst waving and smiling; he gave me a big wave and a cheer which was a huge boost at a point in the race when I was really starting to hurt – 8k.

The course made its way around the high-rise tower blocks of Seaton and along the long, flat straight of Golf Road. In all honestly I started getting tunnel vision here and I really remember nothing of note. All that mattered was getting to that finish line as soon as I possibly could, but still leaving a little in the tank to tackle the cruel and challenging  hill by Pittodrie Stadium in the last kilometre. I began to get a stitch in my right side which impeded my breathing and caused me some nausea, but I was able to ignore it despite the nagging pain.

I reached the Hill and shortened my stride slightly and leaned into the incline. It always lasts slightly longer than you expect, and the extra bit at the top just when you think it’s over is a killer. I passed Rachel again on the hill and then finally reached the sign merrily proclaiming “400m To Go!”

Please don’t puke. Please don’t puke. Please don’t puke!

The stitch in my side was stabbing away and as I tried to push harder going down the other side of the hill I felt the bile rise in my throat. I just couldn’t get my legs to go any faster! My heart was thumping and I was wheezing from the exhausting of hauling up the hill; it’s a real sting in the tail of what is an otherwise flat race. Normally as this point I’d be accelerating into a full on sprint; Rachel pulled up next to me and we ran together for a few strides getting faster and faster but then I plateaued and she out-kicked me and sped off.

Mile 4 – 8:18
Mile 5 – 8:19
Mile 6 – 8:10
0.27 – 1:57

I willed myself onwards through the last few meters; the crowds were a blur and I felt like hell but I knew it would be over in mere seconds. Line crossed, garmin stopped, lean forward, stagger onwards, quell nausea. I looked at my watch which read 51:32 – a new PB; job done.

Rachel came up and we congratulated each other on a good fight as we staggered up the finish gantry. I grabbed a couple of bottles of water for us, but had I known that this would be all we’d get at the finish line I’d have taken two each. This is where my only complaint about the race this year comes in – there was absolutely nothing at the finish line for runners other than a 330ml bottle of water! No goody bag, no bananas, no lucazade/crisps/cereal bars…nothing of the usual post-race snacks that even the smallest of races manage to provide. Once you were out of the finish chute there was no more water to be had, and as far as we could see there was nowhere else to get food other than a couple of burger vans. A big problem! After a tough effort you need a pick-me-up; at the very least a banana or something sugary like an energy drink to tide you over. On a day like Sunday where runners were coming in DRENCHED in sweat; they needed more than 330ml of water. Baker Hughes is already at the expensive end of the races available in the North East and up until this point I’ve always thought the £21 reasonably justified since you get a closed road course, t-shirt, medal, water and food; however I was very disappointed to not receive any sustenance after crossing the line this year. In the end we had to crash the sponsors hospitality tent (sorry Baker Hughes…) to get something else to drink and found some fruit juice and milk.

Anyway; shortly after I crossed the line I found Sheenagh with Ryan, who had stormed home in 48:03, next up was Kynon in 52:44, Brian in 56:20 and Emma in 58:03.

Pic by Sheenagh

Lots of smiley, happy, running friends!

Shortly we managed to finally catch up with the rest of my crew who we’d missed at the start – Niall, Scott and Fiona – who came in at 59:35, 1:05:27, and 1:05:13 respectively. Unfortunately for whatever reason we didn’t get any pictures together! Perhaps everyone was too hot and excited to stand still for long enough; never mind, we’ll just need to do another race together soon :)

I was really pleased with my race. I know I didn’t hit my sub-50 goal but I feel that I gave it my all on the day and ran what I was capable of on Sunday morning. There will be a sub-50 in my future at some point, but I’m not worried about it for now. I don’t intend on doing any more 10ks in the near future; I’m toying with the idea of the River Ness 10k at the end of September as so many friends are doing the Marathon that day and I’d like to come up and support them, but for me right now all roads lead to distance, not speed. I had an odd feeling of dissatisfaction after the race on Sunday; it was just too short, not challenging enough, it didn’t require enough effort. I felt like I had so much more to give, further to go, longer to run. Even despite a new PB and pushing myself to what at that moment in time for those 51 minutes felt like my limits, I was left feeling a little empty.

What I did get from the day, was the amazing warm fuzzy that comes with running with friends; the shared experience, the highs and the lows, the stories at the finish line, the sweaty smiles. Running is an individual sport but there is nothing that I love more than sharing with with my nearest and dearest. Afterwards, we all met up in a pub for a slap up lunch and drinks and enjoyed the rest of the sunny Sunday. Young, old, fast, slow, first timers, old hands; we are all runners.

Picture by Claire

PB Prosecco!

Scott, Fiona and Niall

Adam and Claire

Kynon and I

Next up for me is the Dunblane Hydro 7.5 mile road race on Sunday with Kynon. This will dove-tail nicely into some more concentrated Half Marathon training for the Stonehaven Half on the 1st of July which will lead perfectly into 9 weeks of training for the Moray Marathon on the 2nd of September.

Sub-50 minute 10k Plan

After a fair bit of thought and time spent mulling over my options, I think I finally have my training plan sorted out for my sub-50 minute attempt at the Baker Hughes 10k in May. For me this is a tricky time to try and push myself into targeted training as I’m terribly busy both at work and socially. One glimpse of my calendar for the next month proves this!

I’ve been concentrating on how to train efficiently and effectively around various engagements; thankfully a key ingredient in building speed are interval sessions which for someone at my level, don’t need to be any more than 4 miles. This means I can squeeze in workouts where previously in ultra training I’d be struggling to find time to do so.

I’m working on the basis of three speed-based sessions a week, one easy run and one ‘long’ run, and one day cross training. I still have a great fitness base from the Ultra so I’m forgoing hill training for now and just focussing on getting my legs moving faster. I don’t have a great deal of time at all so I’m hoping for the best; if I don’t reach my goal at this race there are a couple of other options later in the year to have another go – further afield either the Crieff 10k or perhaps the Forth Road Bridge 10k, or closer to home the no-frills and flat Running Shop 10k in June which takes place along the oh-so-familiar Beach Promenade.

My planned sessions are as follows:

MONDAY: Cross Training – fitness yoga/core/weights
TUESDAY: Intervals* – either at the ASV track or in Stonehaven with Kynon (who is FAST)
WEDNESDAY: Easy run – a short 45 – 60 min run to shake out
THURSDAY: Tempo* – 1 mile warm up, X miles at tempo pace, 1 mile cool down
FRIDAY: Rest – probably with beer
SATURDAY: Progression – Early miles getting faster and finishing up at Aberdeen Parkrun.
SUNDAY: ‘Long’ Run – 1.5 – 2 hours depending on feel. Mainly indulging my enjoyment of long runs.

*: – These sessions are interchangeable depending on work commitments.

The training plan itself looks like this:

I feel somewhat uneasy looking at this – it’s a bit alien to me and I’m really not looking forward to the tempo runs. Tempo Pace for me will be at, or as near as I can get, to 8 minute miles. I need to run 6 x 8 minute miles to get a sub – 50 10k so on race day ideally I should be knocking out 7:5X miles. At the moment my easy pace is 8:30 – 9ish. Makes me feel a little sick just thinking about it…!

I wish I could say that the plan got off to a good start but last week was somewhat patchy. I had a great interval session on Tuesday in Stonehaven with Kynon, who quite frankly kicked my ass with his speed. We ran up and down the beach front in Stonehaven doing 0.25m sprint / 0.25 recovery; I think I need to be more controlled at my Sprint sections though as towards the end I just could not maintain a decent speed for the full 0.25. It was a good workout though and puke threshold was definitely reached at times!

On Wednesday I had an hour to squeeze in a run between my day at work and a work commitment in the evening, so I rushed home and was out of the door within 10 minutes to try a new trail by the river I’d scoped out on Google maps. It was a sunny evening and I was really enjoying myself – the trail was interesting and new to me and I was very reluctant to turn back at 2.5 miles. I completed my 5 miles in 46 minutes and somehow got myself to the Town House for a civic reception, dressed smartly and looking appropriately glamourous (through probably with mud still between my toes!) by 7pm.

Due to work I had to shift my Thursday tempo session to Friday, and then when the time came we were experiencing monsoon-style Spring rains – the weather was absolutely atrocious. I took the opportunity to use this time to write my training plan before heading out for the evening, trying to convince myself that it was a worthy substitute for running. Close, but not quite…writing training plans for a sub-50 10k does not actually get you a sub-50 10k!

On Saturday I was all set to return to my new trail for a longer recce run and wanted to go for about 2.5 hours, or around an estimated 14 miles. Again there were more monsoon-style rains but I forced myself to man up and get out of the door for my run.

So close to the city yet five minutes in and you could be miles away.

Spring has not quite sprung here – I expect that this could be quite overgrown in Summer.

About 2 miles in I began to encounter some problems – all the rain did not come without consequences…

I sucked it up and got wading. If anything it washed all the itchy mud off and the icy water rinsed out the scratches and nettle stings that were accumulating around my ankles. The trail ends at the border of Cults/Bieldside but you can continue on to circumnavigate the Deeside Golf Course which I did. I don’t think this route would be possible in summer at all – it will be far too overgrown. The trail is pretty technical with a lot of rocks, dips, climbs, low hanging trees, and muddy embankments. It was on one of these muddy embankments that I felt a painful wrench in my left quad as I swung it forward to take a big step… My quads have been quite tight the last few weeks and I’ve been attempting to foam roll this tension out but I still feel it on each run.

I decided to walk for a bit and try and loosen the muscle out. At this point I really wasn’t feeling the run – I was tired, soaking wet from top to toe, sore, and grumpy. I just wanted to go home! I even toyed with the idea of phoning a friend to come and get me – I’d been out for an hour and had only covered 5 miles out of my planned 14 and had that horrible helpless feeling of ‘How am I ever going to survive another 9 miles of this?!’ that you can only truly understand when in the middle of a bad run. The trail had pretty much come to an end and I actually didn’t know where I was. I figured I was somewhere near Bieldside/Milltimber and if I ran up perpendicular to the river then I would eventually hit the Deeside railway line. I really didn’t want to double back and go back over the flooded muddy path again…

I had a jaffa cake and looked at some cows. They seemed happier in the rain than I was! I headed North to try and find civilisation again and eventually found myself in the Newton Dee Special Needs community and located the railway line. My quad was aching and I had had enough – time to head for home.

I made it 8.5 miles in 1hr 36 minutes… not exactly what I had planned, nor anything like the speed I wanted to be running at but these tough runs are the making of us. This weekend’s long run will be the Petrofac Challenge 15 mile trail race which I’m looking forward to. It is taking place out at Balmoral Castle as part of the RunBalmoral events (I did the 10k last year) so it should be a very scenic run. In terms of time I have no idea what to expect – probably somewhere around the 2.5 hour mark perhaps but I won’t be racing hard.

RACE REPORT: D33 Ultramarathon

17th March 2012 – D33 Ultramarathon

5hrs 56mins 48 secs
160th/192 finishers

18th in age group, 44th female (out of 59)

5:50am, the alarm goes off, my eyes pop open and I immediately sit up and look out of the window to my left to check the weather. The skies are clear, the sun is rising and a new moon hangs low in the sky. Perfect.

I check what’s happening in the world via my phone and read the #D33 hashtag on twitter before getting up. I prepare a coffee, a glass of nuun electrolyte drink and a bowl of porridge with peanut butter.

The coffee goes down a treat even though I’m already wide awake, but the porridge sticks in my throat and I have to force it down. I still feel satisfied from my dinner the night before; eating early in the morning is my least favourite part of a race day.

I go to where my clothes are carefully laid out and put on my race gear. These are my new favourite racing shorts, I like the grey tank top as it’s long enough to cover a tall runner’s tummy, and the blue long sleeve has been a staple in my running wardrobe all winter since I got it at the Fraserburgh Half Marathon in November. Fetch buff, 2XU calf sleeves and Ronhill running gloves.

I double check my drop bags and triple check my fuel. A bottle of powerade and a bottle of water are poured into the Camelbak and the pile on the left gets packed into the pockets – hula hoops, four jaffa cakes, three caffeinated gels, two gummy chews, and a partridge in a pear tree. The pile on the right goes into my half way dropbag along with the remaining bottles. I prepare a final bag with a waist pouch and a pre-mixed bottle of powerade/water for the Fetchpoint at 27 miles as I plan to leave my Camelbak there to keep me strong for the last few miles.

Time is slipping by and already it’s 7:30am. I allow myself one final double check of everything, put on my rucksack with everything in it and step out the front door in to glorious sunlight.

The short walk to the start takes around 15 minutes and gives me plenty of time to shake off any last minute nerves. I listen to upbeat tracks on my iPod and think about how grateful I am to have made it to the morning of the race in one healthy piece and what a great day of running I have ahead of me. I make sure there is no room for negative thoughts in my head as the anticipation grows when I enter the Duthie Park for the first time that day – how am I going to feel the next time I come through these gates? What will it feel like to be completing a 33 mile race and running down this path in a few hours time?

I pass the starting line on my way to registration and another wrench of excitement and nerves twists my stomach. I’m finally here, there is no going back now. I’m about to run my first Ultramarathon.

—-

When I got to registration I was immediately greeted by Race Director George, his glamorous assistant Karen, and Julie of Watching The Trails fame. I quickly got my number and some safety pins and took some time to wander around and say hello to everyone that had already arrived. I don’t think that up until this point I fully appreciated how many people I knew that were involved in this race; either by taking part, marshalling or supporting. If I had any remaining nerves they were quickly banished and hugged away by my friends who were all as equally excited that the day was finally here.

I made sure my drop bags were in the right places and found my parents who had graciously come down to see the early start and cheer us all on. My Dad took a couple of pictures of his fledgling ultramarathoner daughter blinking in the early morning March sunlight, probably wondering what on earth he might have done in my past for me to think that doing this was a good idea:

With George, and his fantastic race director’s shirt:

With some of my gang: L-R Me, Alan, Tommy, Annette, Ian, Donna.

After everyone was registered, George blew a whistle and the 199 starters were summoned to the starting line for the race briefing. I appreciated the warmth of the other runners around me as out of the sun, the air was quite cold. More greetings were exchanged and final good luck hugs issued as George dealt out the race instructions. Next year he needs to get a mega phone as unfortunately I did not hear a word!

With Sheri:

After the briefing there was a final few moments wait until the clock finally hit 9am…

Photo: Elaine Sandeman

photo: Ian Russell

…and we were finally, finally allowed to start our journey to Banchory and back.

photo: Ian Russell

Photo: Muriel Downie

Photo: Julie

Photo: IanS (Fetch)

Miles 1-8.5 (Checkpoint 1) – 1:27’36

The relief I felt to finally get going was almost tangible. I started in the last quarter of the crowd and held pace with everyone around me until we had left the park. The picture above shows the very start of the old railway line, which is accessible by a ramp just out of  shot to the right. There were one or two older ladies walking their dogs who found themselves enveloped in a sea of neon as we passed. Any other early morning users of the railway line were unfortunately sidelined until the pack had passed them, however most seemed to happily join in the cheering as we went on our way.

My parents had left the starting area before the gun went to get a good spot a little way up the route to take some pictures. They picked the old Holburn Railway station which gave them a great (and safe!) elevated view of us all as we streaked past.

Ultras are of course, known for their sociable reputation. Not even a mile in and I’d already made a new friend to chat to – Jenny, in pink.

“See you at half way!” I called and off they went to get on with their morning.

I kept checking my pace these first few miles and happily it was steadily at 10:00 minute miles which was exactly what I wanted. I felt ecstatic as I made my way up the trail in the sunlight with the Spring birdsong in my ears; I had my iPod with me to use later on in the race but for now I was happy to talk to my fellow racers and soak up the atmosphere.

After 3 miles it was time to take my first, reluctant, walking break and a gel. I reminded myself how important these early fuel breaks were and willed the five minutes away so I could get moving properly again.

For a while I spoke to a lady named Ann who was from Stonehaven Running Club. She and her friend run half the race – 33 miles is too much for them these days she said, but just to be able to participate in half of a wonderful race like this is a huge draw for them.

Photo: Julie

At around 6 miles we came to cross a relatively busy main road which was manned by a bunch of Fetchies. Haggis (yellow jacket) was in charge of stopping traffic, Duchess (Julie) was taking photos and Nywanda and MummyNy were manning a small refreshment table. Even early on, seeing friends was a huge boost; by now the field was quite spread out and at times it was hard to remember we were running a race.

After we got out of Peterculter and away from houses I was ready to take an alfresco leak so started looking for suitable bushes. A big bonus for training on this route is that I know when I can expect to safely and discreetly be able to, er, relieve myself, when required.  Shortly after, the route went onto the road for the first time and before I knew it I had completed a quarter of my race and was saying hello to Naomi and Carol at Checkpoint one!

MILE SPLITS:

1 – 10:09
2 – 10:21
3 – 10:43
4 – 11:31
5 – 10:23
6 – 10:01
7 – 11:37
8 – 11:10

Miles 8.5 – 16.5 (Halfway Checkpoint) – 1:32’15 – accrued time 2:58’39

I was very happy to see the check point and more friendly smiling faces. They were standing under a gazebo with a table of food, water and drop bags. I had debated getting rid of my long sleeve top here for a few miles – after emerging from the relatively shaded built up area of Peterculter, running in the direct sunshine was getting toasty. There were gusts of a fairly brisk breeze every now and then though so I decided to hold on to it until half way as planned.

There was a spread of sandwiches and jelly sweets but nothing really appealed. I sipped on a cup of water briefly to rinse my mouth out and quickly got on the move – my mile splits show I can’t have spent more than 30 seconds at the check point.

Despite the array of food I was a little mystified as to where my hunger was. Usually in training runs the thought of my next food break is always appealing but so far I’d had to force fuel down. Whilst I was running there was a constant low level of nausea which perpetuated the lack of appetite – not enough to disturb my rhythm but enough for me to take note. Gels seemed to be going down the easiest so I was glad I had several with me.

After leaving the checkpoint I felt truly alone – I could see no runner in front nor behind me, so I decided it was time to listen to some music and picked Florence and the Machine’s new album. At an hour and a half in length the duration would see me through to half way, I settled in for the long haul feeling very comfortable and the miles ticked by steadily without event.

Shortly after passing Drumoak at about 12 miles I realised the leaders would soon be passing me. I got excited and looked forward to seeing my faster friends and the boost that it would give me. At 12.8 miles I was passed by the leader who I didn’t recognise – how exciting; we all expected Grant Jeans to lead from the start and he was obviously facing some competition today. A minute or two later Grant passed me and one by one the fastest runners came into sight ahead. I passed Team Pyllon who were excitedly waiting for Paul to come through, unfortunately not long after he passed me walking with a furrowed brow looking most unhappy. I tried to think of something motivational on the spot to say but fumbled my words and blurted something like “Keep going Paul!” which is probably the least tactful thing I could have come out with – sorry pal, my running brain doesn’t think on its feet very well.

I was worried for Paul, but quickly focused on saying “Good job!” , “Well done”, “Nice running!” to the trickle of runners that were passing. Just about everyone greeted each other with a smile and a cheery greeting – the sense of camaraderie in the shared experience was amazing and I felt like I was running on cloud 9. I felt so lucky to be a part of the race and felt inspired by those speedier than myself.

In the distance I recognised Mike and waved excitedly, we passed each other with a big high 5 and wide grins; on the outside he looked strong and happy. Further on in the distance I saw a little red car I recognised and realised my Mum had pulled up ahead and was waiting for me. Hurrah, more smiley high fives! This was truly unlike any race I’ve ever experienced and was so far a walk in the park compared to Loch Ness. I saw her little fiat 500 carry on further up the road to the next checkpoint and wondered how many cars passing by were full of support excitedly scanning the trail for their runner, hoping to see them running strong and looking happy.

Just passed Crathes, Photo – IanS (Fetch)

Some Stonehaven runners including Vicki and Iain Shanks, and Alan and Tommy
Photo – IanS (Fetch)

Much as I was enjoying greeting every runner, my enthusiasm was getting a bit out of hand as I kept on catching myself running far too fast. Easy as it felt, I knew I had to hold back if I was going to finish strong in a couple of hours.

The sun was getting more intense as it got closer to midday, but it was probably only about 12C. Whilst this is March and the sun doesn’t even get that high in the sky this far North at this time of year, for runners who have training in the cold all winter it is a shock to the system to have to work hard in the sunshine.

Looking at my watch I realised half way was tantalisingly close. Eventually I could see some people moving in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief as I could get some cold water and get rid of my top. As I got closer I couldn’t see the recognisable figures of my Mum or my friends. Where were they? Maybe behind that crowd? No… By the gazebo? No. What? How is this happening?! Where are they?

There were cheers as I came in but I was anxiously scanning the small crowd for my support. No, my eyes weren’t deceiving me; they were definitely 100% not present. Looking at my watch revealed I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule – not a drastic deviation from The Plan at all. What the hell had happened to them?!

“My support isn’t here!” I exclaim incredulously to Fetchies Laurie and Susie who are manning the checkpoint; “I can’t believe this, I had this planned so well – they should be here!! Whenever they do turn up – please tell them they suck and I’ll see them at the finish…”

Rather than have assistance to sort things out I realised I was going to have to get my heat and mileage muddled mind in gear and do everything I needed to do myself. I located my drop bag and silently thanked my instincts which had told me to leave the drop bag with the half way crew and not my Mum, JUST IN CASE. I peeled off my top and poured the contents of my bag on to the ground, staring vacantly at it trying to figure out what I needed to do. “Dammit this is why we have support” I thought; “I can’t even tell you what my name is after 16.5 miles never mind figure this puzzle out”.

Photos: Laurie

“Right, Mitchell. Wise up; what are you doing? Quit doddering!” I chide myself; no time to waste energy on being annoyed. I crouch down on the ground and my calf muscles scream at me. “Empty gel wrappers and rubbish out, new gels in. Hula hoops in. Take some jaffa cakes out of the packet and put them in a ziplock. Put them in. Close the pockets. Right – unzip the bladder pocket and take out the bladder, no; unhook it first dumbass…” I speak to myself like a wayward child as my sweaty, swollen fingers fumble with the unco-operative twist lock of the camelbak. I can’t seem to figure out how to free the drinking tube so whilst I’m filling it up with powerade the whole backpack swings around precariously attached to the bladder. I eventually get the excess air squeezed out and the thing back into the backpack but not without excreting some language that would make a sailor blush.

After stuffing everything back into the drawstring drop bag I take a good look at the amazing spread of fuel – again the thought of anything solid turns my stomach. I force myself to eat one or two hula hoops and look longingly at the ‘ultra flapjacks’, made with almonds, cherries and pistachio which I’d looked forward to trying for so long, but my stomach was having none of it. “Alright guys, I’m off – see you at the finish!” I bid farewell and head back down the track with a final look back to see if I can see my support. For a moment I think I catch a glimspe of my Mum’s red hair in the distance but I tell myself I can’t wait and I need to focus on the task in hand: running back home to Aberdeen.

MILE SPLITS:

9 – 10:14
10 – 11:34
11 – 10:50
12 – 9:54
13 – 11:06
14 – 10:03
15 – 10:04
16 – 10:27

Miles 16.5 – 24.8 – 1:33’44 – accrued time 4:31:05

On this return journey home for the first few miles I was able to see how many people were behind me and to greet the rest of my friends who I had yet to see – Sheri was looking strong, Ian and Donna were running together and both looked quite happy to me but sadly Ian dropped out shortly after when he became a bit ill.

The feeling of the sun on my skin was good, but I was missing the suncream that I’d asked my support to bring. Some mild irritation remained but in the end their absence hadn’t affected my race, however the irony wasn’t lost on me that a similar thing happened to me when supporting Mike on the West Highland Way race last year – he ran a stage slightly faster than expected and we missed him by mere minutes.

A mile or two in and I passed the last runner, again I found myself entirely alone in the race. As it got hotter I began to feel tired, my legs felt strong but I recognised that the easy bit was over and I’d need to start digging deep. I spotted a red flash out of the corner of my eye and realised it was my Mum’s car speeding past me and I felt minor relief – I had a small worry that she’d perhaps had an accident and that’s why she’d missed me at half way. An irrational fear but the mind can play tricks on you when it’s tired. Not long up ahead she found a place to leap out and ran towards me with some suncream, she ran with me for a minute or so until I had coated myself sufficiently with the stuff and said she’d see me in a few miles again and that Niall and Fiona were finding a place up ahead to catch me as well.

I think miles 18 – 21 were probably the hardest of the race for me. It was an unfamiliar part of the route, I was fatiguing a bit and I lost some of my positive attitude as I ploughed on alone. My stomach was still a little funny but was accepting of the gels and hula hoops I force fed myself. I made sure to keep on drinking as well, even though my fluid was warm and sickly to taste.

Mum, Niall and Fiona all caught me at about 19 miles and it was great to see them all cheering for me. I was deep in the burn and couldn’t think of anything else to blurt out other than the mileage showing on my garmin and keep on putting one foot in front of the other. After I passed them I realised the chilled out music I was listening to wasn’t really doing me any favours and decided to switch to something far more upbeat. The difference was instant – what did I have to be feeling grim about? Nothing was hurting badly, I still had loads left in the tank, I was making great time, and all I needed to do was concentrate on running for the next 30 minutes. I didn’t allow myself to think any further than 3 miles/30 minutes at a time – negative thoughts of how long I still had to go tried to creep in but as long as I just thought of 30 minute chunks of running at a time it seemed perfectly achievable.

Miles ticked by one by one and soon I was back on familiar trails. I maintained my speed but passed slower runners as they either slowed down or lost steam. Everyone I passed said “Hello! doing ok? Feeling good? Good work!” or some variant and carried on their own race with a smile. Again the camaraderie of the shared journey shone through – everyone wants everyone to have the best race they can and we all know that the tiniest bit of encouragement can give the biggest boost to a runner.

I knew there would be the big, slow hill at mile 22/23 to account for, but I felt I was ready for it. I really wanted to keep running up it as I thought walking would hurt more. I weighed up the options and decided to go for it, after all it was the last hill of the race and after that everything was downhill (ish). I kept the pace steady and slow and passed three runners who were walking, including Robin who I had spoken to during the Devilla 15k. He was running with a Carnegie Harriers runner named Sue and asked me what on earth I was doing – ultramarathoners don’t run up hills!? I said “I’m feeling ok actually, I’m just going to go for it!” and kept on chugging. I was determined to stick to my run 30/walk 5 for as long as possible and was proud to have somehow conserved enough energy to keep going uphill.

On the other hand I knew that not long after the hill I would be back at Checkpoint 1 and Naomi and Carol would be waiting with smiles and hugs. I couldn’t wait to see them! I was so happy that things were still going ok and felt like I was having the race of my life.

MILE SPLITS:

17 – 15:19
18 – 10:14
19 – 10:35
20 – 12:19
21 – 10:22
22 – 10:33
23 – 11:49
24 – 10:48

Miles 24.8 – 33 – 1:25’43 – Finish time 5:56’48

I was greeted by the checkpoint team with big cheers and smiles. There was one other runner there who was looking weary but was enjoying some jelly sweets and a laugh with Naomi. I gulped hungrily at the cool cups of water and washed the taste of powerade out of my mouth but again did not fancy eating any solid fuel. I didn’t want to lose momentum so pushed on and left the checkpoint, I knew at this point that if I made it this far then I would definitely finish and I felt relieved and excited that it was going to happen soon!

I reached Peterculter and the marathon point in roughly 4hrs 40 minutes if I recall correctly – that time is 32 minutes off my Loch Ness Marathon time and includes all check point pauses and walking breaks. I shook my head in disbelief and couldn’t believe the difference in these two races! I made up my mind to definitely sign up for an Autumn marathon soon to destroy my marathon Person Best officially.

Niall, Fiona and Mum popped up again, still full of endless enthusiasm and high fives. I blurted out my ‘marathon’ time and raised my hands in disbelief – everything was going better than I could possibly imagine, and I was about to lose my excess weight at the Fetchpoint for the final push.

Just before the Fetchpoint and the final road crossing (27 miles) something started feeling a bit funny in my left knee. Funny, as in, grumbly ITB funny. It wasn’t a sharp pain but more of an unpleasant wrench and I became very aware of my knee. On the approach to the Fetchpoint I rummaged in my pockets and found my emergency paracetamol – prevention rather than cure, I needed everything I had for the last 10k.

Nywanda, Haggis et all were all still holding fort strongly hours after I had first passed them. It goes without saying but the input of the volunteers at Saturday’s race was amazing – they selflessly volunteered their entire Saturday to look after us all and did such stellar jobs with their cheering. Nywanda had my waist pouch ready and helped me wriggle out of my camelbak whilst I grabbed my phone and two gels. “Right! I’m ready to get this job DONE!” I shouted as I left.

I took out my iPod and found the hour-long playlist I had entitled ‘Last gasp’ which was going to pump me up sufficiently to get me home in good time. Before anyone asks – no I will not share it as my taste in music for running is horrendous, embarrassing, and not for your eyes! I took the time to assess how everything felt now that I had the rucksack off; the knee was fine, my feet felt good, my shoulders were stiff but loosening up now they were free from carrying the camelbak. A quick look at my watch revealed I was yet to pass 5 hours – I forced my befuddled brain to do some maths – I was at 27.5 miles at nearly 5 hours, so that meant even if I ran 11 minute miles to the finish I would finish under 6 hours. It didn’t sink in for a minute or two as I thought I was making a mistake – how has this happened? Where did this speed come from?! I vowed to leave nothing on the course and beast these last 6 miles as hard as possible to come in as far under 6 hours as I could. I decided I’d go for three sub-10 miles, take a short walk and a gel, then go as hard as I could for the final three to the finish.

When my watch passed 30 miles I grinned and said “WHAT?!” out loud – “30 miles?! I’ve run 30 miles today?!” It was an amazing feeling to have. I passed a few male runners around this point who were doing an ultra shuffle towards the finish – they all seemed pretty tired, but there was a young girl up ahead of me who’d over taken them too and looked strong so I decided to try and keep in pace behind her. I don’t really remember much from these miles – there wasn’t really very much in my brain other than focusing on the girl’s (I later found out her name was Noanie Heffron) swishing ponytail.

With about 1.75 miles to go, suddenly Maz and her daughter popped up again on their bikes – they’d been at the Fetchpoint and were riding up and down the trail cheering runners on. “You look amazing! Finish strong!” they screeched “SUB-6 OR BUST BABY!” I bellowed as I ran past.

I was quite close to Noanie now and she kept on looking behind her so I decided to pull up by her side and say hello. “Are you out for sub-6?” She asked? “I am now” I replied “Come on; we can totally do this, let’s go!” Due to the nature of the trail we couldn’t run side by side as there were too many kids on bikes, families walking hand in hand or wayward dogs with sticks. I slipped in behind her though and pushed hard to keep with her pace, but she started pulling away gradually and I just didn’t have it in me to keep up. A glance at my watch revealed sub-9 minute mile pace – it was inconceivable to me that after 31 miles I could run like this.

I passed the Old Holburn railway station where my Mum and Dad had stood so many hours before, and although I knew I only had less than a mile to go I felt myself flagging; there was just nothing left in me to keep up the pace. I allowed myself a 30 second walking break to get my breath back and re-steele myself for the final, final push to the finish where so many loved ones would be waiting. I’d been deliberately not looking at my watch but I allowed myself one last peek – 5hrs 50 – and sighed with relief, it was ok – I had the sub 6 finish in the bag.

Photo: Laurie 

My eyes scour the distance for the Granite pillars which with show me I’ve come to the end of the railway line and the entrance to the park. I’ve run this route so many times before and I know how far I have left but I seek out the pillars regardless – hoping for a sign that it’s nearly time to stop. My lungs are on fire but my legs are still pushing strong and I send up a prayer of thanks to the running Gods for letting me race without injury. I finally spot the pillars and push my arms back and forth drawing myself closer to them, and safely navigate the twisted path which takes you in to the carpark. A van pulls in up ahead of me and I glower at the driver – no mate, after 33 miles you wait for ME to cross.

I finally sail through the gates and force myself to concentrate on the potential hazards ahead by the children’s play area; animals and toddlers are on the loose, sweet Grandparents are shuffling in to my path and I run the risk of getting clotheslined by a dog leash but I make it safely past and move my gaze to the distance where I can see crowds of supporters anxiously awaiting their runner.

The crowds come in to focus and some of the blobs start jumping up and down shouting my name and my face breaks in to the biggest of smiles – after 33 miles and nearly six hours on my feet I’ve made it home.

Upon crossing the finish I stagger towards Julie, George and Karen laughing. I’m incredulous and struggle to find words other than “Wow, ohmygosh, that was amazing!” and variants thereof.

Julie gives me a big hug and Karen puts my medal around my neck and I’m swamped with hugs from my Mum, my Dad, Laurie, Naomi, Carol, Niall, Fiona and countless other runners. The next half hour is a whirl of excitement as I catch up with everyone and find out how they got on, interspersed with breaks to cheer others as they finish. Everyone crosses the line with the most wonderful smile but the biggest smile belongs to Mike’s girlfriend Annette who finishes with her arms held high about her head – finishing her first ultra after four months of training and only a couple of short races under her belt. She falls in to Mike’s arms and everyone’s heart melts

photos: Laurie

My flatmate Scott and his girlfriend Alo arrive, shortly followed by Kynon who’s been in the pub watching the rugby. I ask the score…and then immediately regret it. I grab myself some cake and force it down before allowing myself to open the bottle of beer which has found it’s way in to my hand. It might be Miller, but it’s the best beer I’ve ever had.

So here I am, an ultramarathoner. Days later I’m still glowing with the memories of what a wonderful day it was. Naturally I’m already trying to decide which race on the Scottish Ultra circuit I want to do next – dipping my toe in to this wonderful world is not enough for me. It wasn’t long after I finished that I said to myself – I can do better. I can go for longer, go faster, run harder

This is the start of something big.

Belief, not barriers

When this post goes live at 9am on Friday morning, I will be entering the last 24 hours before the start of my first Ultramarathon. To say I’m nervous would be accurate, but I think the major nerves have passed earlier in the week and I am now ready to step up to the biggest challenge I’ve ever tackled.

Naturally I am still labouring under a healthy amount of apprehension. As long as you’re fully prepared, to have nerves before a race is a good thing; It means you’re taking it seriously enough. They say if your dreams don’t scare you, then your dreams aren’t big enough. For me, I guess this is a damn big dream.

This week has been pretty agonising, but I’m glad to have had social media outlets and Fetch to share some of my nerves and worries with my fellow racers. We are all stretched to the limit by taper stresses and everyone is gagging to get started. For some like me it is their first nerve-wracking attempt at anything longer than a marathon, for others it’s the start of yet another SUMS season and ripe with hopes of new PBs, new distances, and new achievements.

The way I cope with stress is to micro-plan everything down to the last minute. My family and supporters have already been sent race plans and instructions. My meals for the entire week were planned and purchased on Monday. I can even tell you which underwear I’ll be wearing on Saturday morning and how many teaspoons of peanut butter will be in my porridge. It’s all about control for me, if I don’t know exactly everything that is going on around an important event I feel like I’m losing my grip.

The one thing I can’t control however, it what happens when I cross that starting line. I expect I’ll be calm and excited and will chatter to my friends as we slowly seperate out and take our own paces into the race. I’m not planning on running with anyone for the duration of the race,  I expect I’ll need to control my initial pace carefully, and I know it will be a chore to force down that first gel after 30 minutes… But that’s all I know. Unfortunatley I know from experience that things can fall apart in races – I felt equally as prepared and controlled before the Loch Ness Marathon, but by 13 miles my race was over as I was disabled by crippling ITB pain.

What if that happens again.

What if, what if, what if. What if it happens again? At 13 miles? When I have another 20 to go? What if it happens at 6 miles? or 16? I can’t shake the spectre of what happened to me in October – it is haunting my race preperations. Common sense tells me that every race is different, every RUN is different, that I haven’t been bothered by that pain since my  recovery last year, that I’ve trained smarter this time, that I’m stronger, that I am going into this race with as much a chance as anyone else as either getting injured or not getting injured. Common sense tells me that there is no point in wasting energy worrying over it.  But it will always be there in the back of my mind, in the shadows of the trees, in the whistle of the wind….what if….

The D33 finish last year

There is little to be done other than to find the courage and to take the first step across the starting line on Saturday, and then take it step by step after that. If I run strongly and smartly I have no reason to worry, I will complete the 33 miles and run straight down the hill to the finish with my arms held high – an ultramarathoner. I am made of belief, not barriers.

“It is not our success that give us strength. It is not accomplishment that make us persevere. It is the struggles, the hardships and even the failures that give us the hopes, the dreams and the ability to achieve the impossible” – htfu.com

See you at the finish.

~Redwinerunner