Tag Archive: marathon training

Mud, Hills and Adventures

In the three weeks since the Great Glen Ultra I have kept myself very busy, both in and out of my running shoes. Oddly I haven’t suffered anywhere near as much fatigue as after the Cateran Trail 55 in May, and as soon as my joints stopped aching I was gagging to get back out running again. After being in a state of constant taper/recovery since the end of the Highland Fling in April, I was really ready to get back into a structured training regime to get me in the best shape possible for the Glenmore 12 hour race in September.

Heart of the Park Challenge route

Heart of the Park Challenge route

A week after the Great Glen on the 13th July, Kynon and I drove out to do the Heart of the Park Challenge in Braemar. This is a small and low key off-road 12k adventure race around Braemar, with three river crossings, some sharp hills and lots of mud. I’d had a run the day beforehand to make sure my legs were ok, and they were mostly fine apart from a sore bit on my foot. Kynon and I decided to run together for fun and just enjoy the race together in the sun – something that never happens as we’re far too competitive if left to our own devices in races.

Picture - Kevin Masson

Picture – Kevin Masson

I unfortunately suffered from a bit of car sickness on the drive out and my stomach had not quite settled by the time the gun went. I hammered it up the first hills without doing a warm up and I quickly felt decidedly rough about the guts when I got to the top. Across a cooling river, over a field, through a deep bog and up another sharp hill was as much as my stomach could take before I had to adopt the tripod stance against a tree and puke what was left of my breakfast up. I wouldn’t normally have been too bothered about this, but the poor young marshal who couldn’t have been over 12 years old looked utterly traumatised so I felt a bit guilty!

Kynon showed no concern whatsoever and was happy to get a move on once my periodic retching had stopped, and we sailed through the rest of the course enjoying the technical terrain. The route is beautiful and well worth an explore, if you can figure out how to dodge the thigh-deep mud baths.

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

Photo - Heater Barnett

Photo – Heather Barnett

The rivers were lovely to run through and felt great on my throbbing left foot which felt like someone had hit it right across the top. This was the pain which had been bothering me through the week and running on rocky trails had really inflamed it. Since I was favouring it whilst running, I unfortunately then managed to somehow kick the underside of a rock like a football and go flying face first onto some grass. I’d hit the top of my second toe on my left foot which was now throbbing painfully as well.

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

Photo - John Mill

Photo – John Mill

We made it to the finish in 1hr 32m 6 seconds and then enjoyed sitting on the warm grass eating crisps and drinking coke whilst the last finishers came in. The top of my foot was swollen and throbbing and my stubbed toe was swollen and purple and blue – that in itself was less concerning as the day went on than the loss of movement in my toes, which I couldn’t lift off the ground or clench. With great annoyance I arrived at A+E later that evening and was assessed by a Doctor who wanted to x-ray, but the Department was closed for the night. On my return the next morning I was seen by a nurse who had treated someone just a few days prior who had come in with a post-Great Glen injury as well, so at least she wasn’t surprised as the Doctor when I said I ran 72 miles, not 7 point 2.

In the end the x-ray revealed no breaks or stress fractures, and it was just a bad thump for the toe. It remained lovely shades of blue and purple all week and the swelling on the top of my foot went down with a course of anti-inflammatories. I’m glad I went to A+E to get a definite answer and am grateful that I live in a country where I didn’t come home with a bill for several thousand pounds for the hospital’s time.


With no lasting significant pain, the next Saturday it was time to take part in the Laurencekirk Gala Tower Hill Race again. This is a 3.2 mile race up and down a hill to a tower and back, which takes place in Laurencekirk, during Gala week. The clues are in the name. Last year I ran to Laurencekirk with Vikki and Kate which gave us a total of 21 miles for our long run that day, but this year we took the car as I didn’t trust my foot with that distance.

It was also absolutely pouring with rain. The Howe o’ the Mearns was filled with mist and surrounded by thunderclouds which rumbled ominously around us. After paying our £4 each, the 25 or so runners lined up behind a line drawn in the mud on the road. After a short period of dryness, the heavens opened in time with the starters’ whistle and within 200 meters we were all soaked to the skin. The rain was heavy and tropical, and as lightning flashed and thunder crashed around us, I wondered if running up the highest hill around towards some power lines and a tower was really in our best interests.

However I got to the top and ran around the tower to return, to see that I was 4th last and performing fairly poorly as usual. I am really tremendously crap at running up hills and I struggle to get any speed or momentum going. One day I will actually train properly to improve myself in this area rather than churning out poor result after poor result and moaning about it, but that day will have to be when I get bored of running ultras which I don’t see coming very soon.

Very wet SRC runners

Very wet SRC runners

I finished in 34.39; 4th last and 4th of four Stonehaven ladies for 17 SRC Championship points. I am currently 3rd in the Club Championship; this is about the time of year where my excelling in points due to presentee-ism is overtaken by those who are actually decent runners. There are three more races in the Championship series but I am only around for one of them, which will complete my five finishes to be eligible for the Championship. It’s a 5k, so there is no danger of me threatening any Championship podium positions this year, unless no SRC ladies turns up for any of the three remaining races…


After a very enjoyable weekend at the Commonwealth Games (we saw Rugby 7s, the marathon, and athletics) I am feeling very inspired for this weekend’s Callanish Stones marathon. Naomi, Rachel and I are driving to Ullapool on Friday before getting the ferry over to Stornaway and being met by Jemma for a fun weekend in the Hebrides. I have no desire to hit a particular time in this race, but I’d like to think I could cruise under 4hr 30m without too much bother. I’m not feeling the Great Glen in my legs at the moment but it might be a bit different after running 20 miles; on the other hand I might just be able to lock onto a pace and use my endurance to ride out a time nearer 4 hours. Either way I’m looking forward to a great weekend away with my friends in a place I’ve never been to before.

Here’s to marathon number 6!

5 tips for Budding Ultramarathoners

I’ve had this post written in my drafts for nearly a year now; building on it, adjusting it, finally finding the right time to post it. We’re now in the middle of the second month of the year, which means many runners will be knee deep in training for their first ultramarathon and perhaps wondering what on earth they’ve got themselves into. The sheen of starting training has worn off, you’ve got months still to go, and you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Welcome to ultra. I promise it’s worth it in the end, but it’s a hell of a journey to get there.20130202_121217

So, I present to you: Check yourself before you wreck yourself – a very average ultrarunner’s guide to staying happily in the middle of the pack. There are umpteen books and training guides out there which cover everything you might need to become the best ultra runner you can be – but what if you’d just like to finish happily and healthily, and with enough enthusiasm to sign up for another? I can’t tell you how to race tactically to win, to go from a tortoise to a hare, or issue you with plant-based diet plans which will turn you into Scott Jurek v.2.0, but I can offer you some experience on being a normal person trying to happily juggle life and ultra training in a hectic world.

Last year I made some definite mistakes and learned a lot about how to not train for a 50 miler. The same could be applied to training for a 50k ultra or anywhere in-between or beyond those distances. Allow me to share these lessons with you.

[disclaimer: I am not a medical or sports professional, and have no formal training or qualifications to back these thoughts up. This is what works for me, but it may not work for you. I learned the following the hard way, and chances are you’re going to have to do the same; but maybe this might help guide you a bit. Don’t be a dumbass, don’t put yourself in danger and always remember Mike Raffan’s rule #1- don’t be a dick.]

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1) The biggest challenge is finding the right balance of dedicating yourself to your training, whilst still being able to maintain a shred of a life so that you can let your hair down every now and then and still retain your identity. There is no point in doing this if you don’t want to, or you are not enjoying it. Whilst you will benefit from considering yourself to be an athlete who has to prioritise training above anything else, the crux of the matter is that you aren’t. You are not a professional, no-one is paying you to do this and you’re accountable to no-one but yourself. Ultra marathons and their associated training aren’t for everyone and you really need to want to do it and also know why you want to do it. Why did you sign up? What is your motivation? Beware of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) as described in the book ‘Relentless Forward Progress'; ultras are becoming so popular these days and so many people are doing them that it’s natural to want to do the same amazing events as what your friends are doing – but are you ready? You’ll soon find out.

20120212_112351Training for my first ultra, the 2012 D33

2) Pick your training plan extremely wisely. This is a no-brainer, but I managed to mess this one up a bit last year. I used Relentless Forward Progress’ 50k plan to do my first D33 and it worked perfectly, so I didn’t think twice when filling in my calendar with the mileage for their 50 mile plan last year. That plan was far too much for me – I realised when I had scheduled doing bigger back-to-backs than my friends who were training for the West Highland Way race for no good reason other than it was in the plan. Take advice from other runners who have trained for your race before, ask to see their training, consider whether you are similar runners – are they consistently faster and stronger than you? Maybe their plan will be too much for you and could use a tweak or two. Ask questions and soak up the answers – there is no right answer on how to train for an ultra, you have to figure out what works for you. Some of my club train 6 days a week, others only 3; but everyone has always finished their races.

L - R: Kynon, Vicki, Iain and Me

Kynon, Vikki, Iain and RWR after Vikki’s first WHW race finish in 2012

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3) Sleep is your BIGGEST weapon. When your mileage gets high and you’re training more than you ever have, your body is going to freak out a bit. The best way you can cope with this is sleep and rest; take your recovery after your long runs seriously and try and schedule yourself some proper time resting up if you can. Coming home from 28 miles and eating on the hoof whilst trying to shower and change to go out to meet friends is not the best way to do it. Also, get yourself to bed early as many nights a week as you can – I have a self-imposed curfew of 10.30pm on week nights or else I would just sit and blog/watch TV/read until I fell asleep. I get up at 05.30am and get home at 6.00pm Monday to Friday so I absolutely need to get as much sleep as possible, or else I just can’t function. You have to make rest and recovery as much as a priority as running, and unfortunately that means saying no to some cool stuff sometimes.

20120212_154308Do this lots.

4) Food. Food = fuel. Fuel = food. One of the first things people always ask is ‘What should I eat to fuel myself on runs?’ and no-one can answer that for you. The short answer is take different things that appeal to you and try them on training runs. Some will work, some won’t. Pay attention to what you crave when you come home from a long run and take that with you on your next run.

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That isn’t what this section is about though – of equal importance is what you eat when you’re not running. Last year when I started to get really worn down I examined what I was eating very closely. I kept a detailed food and exercise diary for two weeks using dailyplate.com and was pretty surprised by what it revealed – I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough food to support myself. I’m not one to shy away from carbs and big dinners, but without paying attention to what I was eating I was effectively starving myself. I was easily burning a minimum of 800 kcal a day through exercise, although some days it would be near 2500. With my base metabolic rate being around 1500kcal a day I needed to be eating a lot more than what I was consuming to keep my energy levels high. I visited a nutritionist at Aberdeen Sports Village to get some guidance and soon was back on track. Many gyms have these facilities available to members, or if not they can put you in touch with someone qualified to help you. Don’t try and figure it out yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.

ianrusselstart01The D33 – Do Epic Shit

5) Physical Maintenance: Book a sports massage now. Don’t wait until something starts hurting! If you’re training for your first ultra, you’re probably working your body harder than you ever have and you need to take care of it. I book a sports massage every month towards the end of my ‘cut back’ week regardless if I’m broken or not – the flush out is wonderful for the legs and you can get back in to training hard the next week with a brand new set of legs. Most runners will find that to a certain extent, they are never 100% right whilst training anyway. There’s always something; a niggle, an ache, never-ending DOMS. You just have to learn what’s normal for you and recognise when something isn’t right.

Also, be prepared for your feet to potentially do nasty things that you could never even imagine. You can do everything possible to wear the right shoes and socks to prevent blisters and damaged toenails, but the reality of it is that some people are just more susceptible than others. I’ve lost all my toenails several times and it’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. In the last year they’ve stopped being quite so flimsy though, apart from this time after the 2013 D33…

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Blisters on blisters on blisters which took weeks to heal. I had nothing of the sort after the Fling though…

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That’s all I’ve got for now. I didn’t want to write a book on this – there are already plenty out there, and as you all know I’m no particular expert. But these are things which I wish I had been told (or that I had listened to…) when I first started ultrarunning. Why did I start this nonsense anyway? Partly to move on and distract myself from a break up, partly because the races were there and they weren’t going to run themselves. I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zones to find out the kind of person I could be. Turns out, I like that version of myself best of all.

wpid-20130427_191140.jpgAfter the finish of the 53 mile Highland Fling, in 2013

Ultramarathon training is HARD, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you’re not finding it hard then maybe you’re the next Kilian Jornet or Rory Bosio and you ought to be pushing yourself harder? For the rest of you though – embrace it. Surrender your life to it for a few months and it will give you a lot more in return than you might imagine. Starting with moments like this….

_SM20191this….

DSC_9621…and then this;

IMG_3707IMG_3709…and then you’ll wonder why you ever doubted yourself. It’s all a mental game anyway – forget the physical prowess; the biggest trick you’ll ever learn is to fool yourself that you’re feeling great when you’re really not, closely followed by having the courage to believe that you WILL finish regardless of how you feel. You can go from feeling brilliant to terrible to brilliant in the space of 10 minutes in an ultra, so never lose hope that things could pick up and just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get to the finish. It really is that simple.

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Are you training for your 1st ultra this Spring, or your 50th?
How is your training going?
What do you wish you’d been told when you first ventured into ultras?
Leave your tips for other readers in the comments!

2013 – A Year in Review

With 2013 coming to an end, like many of you I am looking back at the calendar and trying to work out where the time went. The last 12 months feels like it has flown by quicker than ever before but thankfully in hindsight I can see I’ve achieved a lot.

This year has been a total monster – it has felt like I’ve been away more than I’ve been at home. Kynon and I keep a shared Google calendar to keep track of our plans and for a while every weekend was booked up months in advance with races, trips, work commitments, holidays, rugby things, wedding planning …and as well as all of that, little numbers in the corner of each box indicating how far I had to run that day. Fitting my training around my life has been harder than ever this year, but I put the work in and reaped the rewards with PBs in every distance that I raced.

I’m already looking ahead to 2014 with a lot of excitement; new distances, new goals, and the small matter of a wedding which is now in less than 3 months time. I’ll talk about that in the New Year however – for now, a brief look back at the last 12 months.

January

2013 started off with us still recovering from the flooding which struck Stonehaven in the early hours of the 23rd of December. Despite this being a running blog, the post I wrote about our experiences remains the most popular I’ve written to date.

Our street, alternative view

20121223_085147Residents+in+the+flooded+town+of+Stonehaven

My training for my third ultra, the Hoka Highland Fling, began in earnest and I began consistently knocking out high mileage weeks and back-to-back long runs once again. Having joined Stonehaven Running Club, I was going out each weekend with a great group of ultra-running friends who made the training a lot more enjoyable despite the tough weather we endured week after week.

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February

I ran my first race of the year, the Forfar Multi-Terrain Half Marathon, with Kate, Ronnie, and Rachel and had a blast. After running through snow, ice, mud and thigh-deep icy water we finished in 2hrs 10m 9s.

20130203_132200fh…and there was some great running done in the Cairngorms, which was just the pick-up I needed when I was finding Fling training tough.

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March

In March I completed my second ultra, the D33. The weather was grim and it was a very cold day, but I still managed to knock nearly half an hour off my 2012 time and finish in 5hr 26m 29s.

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I entered as part of a mixed team with my friend Kate and her brother – to our surprise and delight we finished as the fastest mixed team!

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I also ran the RunGarioch Half Marathon a week later where the weather was even worse. The wind-chill was horrific and the course had to be altered due to deep snow; I ran like I stole something just to get it over with and came in very close to my PB with a time of 1hr 56m 52s. I was very encouraged by that time, which for me, a week after thrashing out a PB on a flat, road ultra, was excellent.

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April

Next up was a big one, and my last ‘long run’ before the Fling – the Paris Marathon!

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I flew over with Rachel and Naomi and spent the weekend staying with Naomi’s parents who have a flat within spitting distance of the start. It was an amazing trip – taking part in such a huge, international race was a mind-blowing experience and I would highly recommend it to everyone!

wpid-20130406_083024.jpgWe did the International Breakfast Run 5k the day before, and the next day I somehow managed to pull a 14 minute PB out of the bag, and cruised home in 4hr 5m 18s.

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20130407_08122420130407_112249ian4Finish1Finish1Before and after Paris I had a flare up of Bursitis in my left knee which looked set to threaten my performance at the Fling, but after following strict Physio orders of 100% rest and some rather crazy kinesio-tape strapping I made it to the start of my Spring 2013 A Race – the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling.

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Not only that, but I made it to the finish, in 13 hours, 6 minutes and 19 amazing seconds.

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Those last 19 seconds were the best, but that day changed my life. Afterwards I wrote “I have seen within myself and I am stronger, tougher and more capable than I ever imagined.”  and it’s true, and it’s why I’m doing it all over again and more in 2014.

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May

May was an extremely easy month as I recovered from the battering I gave myself on the West Highland Way. Recovery was easy in Mallorca:

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But less so when I picked up a nasty case of food poisoning which really knocked me down, and also when we ended up severely delayed coming home and sent to Magaluf for a night…

Kynon went to Bournemouth to play in a Rugby 7s tournament, so I went to the Cairngorms to go running with friends. I met Jemma and Iona for the first time and we met up with Kate and Ali to camp at Glenmore and run up and down some hills.

20130525_14552020130525_15111020130525_15283420130525_15295220130525_16030620130525_153749The original point of the adventure was to take part in ‘Race the Steam Train‘, which was a madcap 4.5 mile race against the Strathspey Steam Railway train. Despite our aching limbs from our hill running the previous day, we had a wonderful day out and I can’t wait ’til next year’s event!

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June

June saw the start of Marathon training once more, with my sights being set at achieving a sub-4 time at the Moray marathon in September.

20130609_121915I went to Derry with work, and had to fit my training around City of Culture events and their associated hangovers.

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I had another fun day out at the Xodus Ythan Challenge with lots of friends from my club.

runningshop10k4And fought hard for a 10k PB (50m 44s) at a very windy Running Shop 10k. Will 2014 be the year I finally crack 50 minutes for 10k? All I know is that I truly hate that distance, but I’ll be giving it another shot at this race next year.

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At the end of June I had the privilege to be part of the sweep team for the West Highland Way Race with 5 other members of Stonehaven Running Club. It was another amazing 48 hours with my nutbag ultrarunning family and yet another amazing experience on the Way.

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The month finished off with a trip to Peterhead to take part in the Half Marathon there, which was supposed to be a test run for me at goal marathon pace. Unfortunately heat got the better of me and I totally blew up, limping home with a massive positive split in a season’s worst of 2:06.

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July

July kicked off with more travelling, with a summer vacation in Brighton and London for Kynon and I. We did some running, did some Hot Yoga and Bikram, and generally enjoyed the hot summer weather down South.

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Unfortunately I got sick with a bladder infection when we were in London and a couple of weeks later was struck down by food poisoning AGAIN. This derailed my marathon training a bit but I managed to have a great race at the Dundee Half and finished in 1hr 55m 18s, which was a new PB and bang on target for my sub-4 goal.

Picture by Rachel

Picture by Rachel

Kynon also ran (by now he was in marathon training for Kielder) and we both suffered dreadfully in the heat, but he also scored a PB of 1hr 53m. The organisation of race itself was dreadful and we will not be going back to any events by that company, but you can read more about that in the race report.

Another weekend and another race saw a gang of SRC runners head up to Ballater for the Deeside Runners 10 miler. It was a very, very wet day but we all did well and brought home lots of PBs – 1hr 25m and 3rd Stonehaven Lady.

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August

August kicked off with an epic run in Glen Doll and Loch Muick with club friends.

wpid-20130803_093039.jpgwpid-20130803_101813.jpgvs-lochmuickLater that day I was on a train to Edinburgh to fly to Budapest the next morning for work – my legs did not thank me one bit!

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Budapest was beautiful but ludicrously hot. The air temperature hit 40C every day we spent in the city and I’ve never experienced anything like the heat coming off the pavements. Needless to say, despite packing my trainers they did not get used.

Before I knew it it was taper time once more and the final countdown to the Moray Marathon began. Due to travel and my various illnesses over the summer I opted to do one more week of peak mileage training and do a two week taper instead; a risky move perhaps but I felt it was the right thing for me this time.

September

The Moray Marathon was on the 1st of September and I was delighted to smash my goal. I got my sub 4 (despite a small wobble at 20 miles) and felt that I could put my road marathoning to bed for a while. I know I will bring that PB down in future but for now I’m sticking to ultras.

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Next up was supporting my friend Vikki in her 100 mile attempt at the Glenmore 24 trail race. I didn’t blog about this for a multitude of reasons, but the weekend was another amazing ultra experience with some absolutely remarkable performances. My pal Noanie who I met at the D33 when we both completed our first ultra last year? She ran 126.21 miles, came second overall and totally burst the female course record. The people you get to meet at these events bring new meaning to the word ‘inspirational’.

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Vikki got her 100 miles and celebrated her 40th birthday in style with friends.

The rest of the month was a quiet one outside of work, which was completely insane. I ran the odd club session and chummed Kynon along for his final long run of marathon training but that was as exciting as it got.

October

October’s race was the Kielder Trail Marathon with Kynon, who was making his first attempt at 26.2. It was a HARD race to pick for your first marathon and he suffered for it but eventually came out the other side feeling accomplished. We finished together in 4hrs 56m 4s.

20131006_09520920131006_132808kielder620131006_164600…and then got marooned on a broken down bus for 3 hours afterwards…

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Kynon also wrote his own race report, which was entitled From Back Row to Back Roads.

November/December

Kielder was my last race of the year and since then I have dialled down the mileage but incorporated circuits classes, Metafit and more weights. I’ve kept up a moderate amount of runs each week but some weeks, I’ve done nothing. My personal life became very busy as well which is why I decided to take a break from blogging and start again in 2014. I am not very good at finding motivation when I don’t have a specific training plan to stick to so I’m looking forward to the new year and a new start.

In the Stonehaven Club Championships I finished 7th Lady, and was awarded Bronze standard, for achieving a minimum of 2 events at 55% WAVA, with a minimum distance of 10k. I was very close to silver, so that’s next year’s target – 3 events of half marathon or greater, at 60% WAVA.

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There is one exciting thing to finish the year off with. About a month ago I was asked if I might like a place in the Stonehaven Fireballs procession as a swinger. This felt like a huge honour that I could not turn down, but oh my word am I nervous. Physically it will be a challenge as whilst I am fit I run with my legs not my arms, and this is 20 minutes of walking up and down a street hurling a 9lb ball attached to a wire around my head. Oh, and it’s on fire too obviously. At least I know I’ve got the cardio endurance, and if my friends 78 year old Grannie can do it, I can too.

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I’m nervous that I don’t do a good job of it and let down all the people who’ve come from all over the world to see us; this pride and tradition is certainly not trusted to the weak or the timid though, so I need to HTFU and stride out with confidence.

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In hindsight it really has been an amazing year, and I am proud of the leaps forward in my running that I have made. There is still so much room for improvement though so I hope you’ll join me in going forward to 2014 with ambition and a return to regular blogging.

Happy New Year!

RACE REPORT – Moray Marathon 2013

Moray Marathon
1st September 2013

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Gun time: 3hr 58m 30s
Position: 94th/160
Gender: 15th/36
Category: 6th/15

Marathon number four. Marathon number two of 2013 and my first concerted attempt to achieve the coveted ‘Sub 4′ time. After executing Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 marathon plan with a degree of accuracy that was mediocre at best, at times recently I have felt a bit of a phony when talking about my lofty goals for this race. Despite missing some major chunks of training due to unavoidable life obstacles, I still had every intention to go out at #1 goal pace and employ the old chestnut of  ‘fake it til you make it’ until either I couldn’t hang on any longer, or until I crossed the finish line. Friends of mine have tried multiple times to try and get under four hours and have missed out unfairly again and again; surely it was too much to ask for me to wing it for 26.2 miles on my first attempt? Or was it…

4pm on Saturday saw me give up on pacing around the house and ask to get in the car and leave earlier than planned, since I was feeling like a caged tiger. The hours and night before a race are the absolute worst; the agony of having hundreds of miles of training ready to explode out of your legs and having to sit down, rest, and eat, and somehow not snap at your loved ones. I was nowhere near as nervous as I was last year but I just wanted to get the last hours over with and get my legs over that starting line.

I had bagged us a room at the Premiere Inn on the outskirts of Elgin where a number of other runners were staying. We headed to the glamorous heights of the ‘Muckle Cross’ Wetherspoons pub in the town centre where I enjoyed a double vegetable burger with onion rings and fries, and a Strawberry Sundae to follow. Maybe not the most ideal of pre-race meals but I had had a large bowl of pasta for lunch and washed my burger down with alcohol free pear Kopparberg cider, so I was at least ticking some athletic nutrition boxes.

Back at the hotel I had a hot bath and watched ‘Run Fat Boy, Run’. The first time I saw this film I wasn’t a runner; this time around I was picking holes in the plot all over the place and snorted at the idea that one could register for the London Marathon just 3 months in advance. I know it’s just a fun film but I’m a serious runner the night before races, remember?!

In my freshly steamed and extra relaxed state I dropped off to sleep quickly and awoke 5 minutes before my alarm 8 hours later feeling refreshed and excited. Even though I had levied a certain amount of pressure on myself to perform a specific time, the fact that at the base of it all I was just really happy to be fit and running was keeping my nerves at bay. If I totally blew up and lost the sub-4 goal I knew I’d finish one way or the other, and the thought of notching up another marathon finish in a few hours time was enough to keep me cheerful.

We decided to go for the Premiere Inn breakfast served in the pub next door, which was of surprisingly high quality. I’ve had some stinkers of hotel breakfasts on race mornings so I generally bring my own food, but here I was able to have a bowl of Weetabix loaded with dried fruit and seeds and Costa coffee on the side. Whilst the fresh pastries, yogurt and breads were tempting, I knew they would do me no favours later on so I sadly left them untouched. I was extremely jealous of Kynon’s full Scottish which was admirably huge; I usually don’t really like eating first thing in the morning but anything involving beans, toast, hash browns and mushrooms has me right on board.

We arrived at registration at 8:30. It was held in the town hall once more and was quick and painless. The race top was a navy t-shirt with a gold logo and no advertising at all which is a refreshing addition to my collection, especially as it came in small sizes too. There were the requisite multiple trips to the toilet and hurried hellos with friends, before the quick walk over the road to Cooper Park and the start.

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It was extremely windy and I was very reluctant to shed my outer layer but I knew within a mile I’d be warmed up. I’d been trying not to think too much about how the winds could affect my running; there’s nothing worse than trying to battle against a strong headwind but the forecast seemed to indicate that it would be Westerly. Remembering the shape of the course from last year I knew that would give me a boost between miles 10 and 18, but the rest of the miles could possibly be tough ones. Since there was nothing I could do about it I didn’t dwell on it and just tried to keep my mindset positive. I got to run another marathon! Woohoo! (!?)

The race had grown slightly in size from last year from 140 to 160 starters but it still retained its friendly, local feel. After I had a final pep talk and kiss goodbye from Kynon I joined the small crowd and had a short wait before the hooter went and we were sent on our way.

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My plan was to run at around 8:40-8:50 pace for the first few miles and then decide how I felt. I turned my garmin to the ‘average pace’ screen so that I didn’t see the accumulated time or mileage and I would just focus on one mile at a time. The time I was projected to finish  each mile in would be clearly visible as I glanced at my wrist, so I decided I would try and avoid looking at the accumulated time in case it broke my mental game. As long as I knew I still had a chance at getting sub-4 then I wouldn’t give up, if I was running at the correct pace then I’d still have a chance…that was my rather irrational line of thought anyway.

Mile Splits:

1) 8:39
2) 8:35
3) 9:18 (hill – the highest point in the course)
4) 8:19
5)8:34
6) 8:54

The first hour went extremely quickly. It rained for a bit and there were blusters of wind but nothing which was affecting my pace too badly at all. A man ran behind me for a while and we exchanged pleasantries, but he was running very closely to me and somewhat in my personal space. The noise of his bumbag/waist pack bouncing was annoying me as well and I couldn’t figure out why, in such a small race, he felt he needed to be so close until I realised he was drafting off me. He was running so closely behind to my right so that he was running in my slipstream and avoiding getting battered by the winds – very cheeky. After 4 miles or so he decided that I wasn’t moving quick enough and moseyed on to slip in behind someone else. I was grateful for silence once more.

Each mile ticked by faster than goal pace. I tried to caution myself in to slowing down but I figured that since the pace felt OK I’d stick at it for a while longer. My stomach felt a little odd and unstable and I wondered if I’d eaten my breakfast early enough, but other than that I had nothing to complain about.

Mile splits:

7)  8:59
8) 8:55
9)  8:58
10)  9:00

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As I approached Burghead I began to slow a little as there was some long slow incline and the wind was having more of an impact. Kynon was waiting for me at 10 miles with my Powerade and ran alongside me for about 20 seconds. I remember saying to him ‘This isn’t coming particularly easily today!’ and him telling me that I would be fine and that I’d have the wind at my back for a while now. Once I’d climbed out of Burghead and was on the long straight to Lossiemouth, I knew I could just relax and hopefully let the wind carrying me a little.

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Like last year, my Mum and Dad were waiting at Hopeman as they’d taken their camper van up for the weekend and had popped up to the road to cheer me on. I was really happy to see them and Dad took a cracking couple of pictures…

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You too can hire him to make your next marathon look this enjoyable by visiting his website at www.earthlylight.com 

Mile splits:

11) 8:46
12) 8:34
13) 8:36 (New Half marathon PB?!!! 1hr 54m 48s??)
14) 9:09
15) 8:59
16) 8:44

On the way to Covesea and 16 miles I started feeling extremely hot. It was a strange kind of heat; the sun wasn’t out and it felt like I was overheating from the inside out and that I could never drink enough water again. I was wary of pouring water down my neck in case I got a stitch, but sipped carefully from the bottles every 5km. The straight was as lonely as last year, with the next runners 20 meters in front and behind and only my thoughts for company. I was pleased at the pace so far but my feet were starting to hurt and I still felt a bit sick…the excuses to slow down started to trickle in but I rebutted them with thoughts of how much it would suck to walk and start running again, and besides, continuing running meant it would be finished quicker.

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I saw Kynon again and told him about the huge combine harvester which had scared the living daylights out of me, even though I wasn’t wearing head phones. The monstrous thing  crept up behind me and took over the whole road so I ran on the verge until it had passed.

Mile splits:

17) 9:04
18) 9:24
19) 9:13
20) 10:19

Coming in to Lossiemouth was when I began to lose my grip on my race. The sweat was pouring down my back and my stomach was starting to feel very nauseated as I ran into the town. I just couldn’t seem to cool down which concerned me a little. I noticed that I was now passing the back end of the half marathon field which meant I must have been doing okay but I still hadn’t looked at my accumulated time, despite knowing that if I just  got to 20 miles under 3 hours then failing catastrophe, I’d reach my sub-4 goal.

Just after the water stop I got shooting cramps in my stomach which developed into a sharp stitch on my left side. Remembering the helpful advice some of you have given me, I breathed out as deeply and steadily as I could and exhaled as fully as possible before breathing in as deeply as possible again. I pushed my fingers into the cramping muscle and then tried to stretch it out but it continued to stab and bend me in the middle with pain. I could see Kynon in the distance awaiting with further Powerade and hoped that slowing to a brisk walk to try and get the muscle to calm down would help. I swigged hungrily at my drink and after about a minute I began to feel better and could breath more regularly again. I was annoyed that I had to walk a little but since I had physically been rendered unable to run by the stitch I hadn’t had much choice.

“Right, let’s get this done” I said and tentatively sped up to a run. I was expecting the stitch to kick right back in but surprisingly I felt fine. I decided to slow the pace a little and not over-cook it so that I’d have energy left for a strong finish in the last couple of miles. To my mind at this point, the sub-4 was gone. I knew that I’d slowed a bit since Covesea and taking into consideration the short walk, I decided that all hope was gone and that I should just concentrate on getting to the finish at a run. Oh how wrong I was…

It’s so easy to mentally talk yourself out of your goals when you’re tired in a marathon. Why the hell did I not look at the time? Had I done that I would have seen that I’d hit 20 miles in 2hr 58m and was well within my target pace! What an idiot. I came so close to blowing it.

Kynon had handed over my iPod for the final push and I had selected a dubstep album to keep a steady pace to and to try and block out my sore feet and hips/glutes. I locked into it and ran to the beat which translated to around 9:30ish miles on average. I took comfort in knowing that it would be over soon and I’d have another good finish – I might not get under 4 hours but I could pb perhaps…

Thankfully at 23.5 miles a girl who I’d exchanged chat with earlier came level and we blethered a little again. “We’ve only got 2 and a half to go” she said “And at least we should get under four hours…” What? Really?! I looked at my watch for the first time in 3hrs and 32 minutes and saw that I had 28 minutes to run 2.5 miles. I couldn’t believe it. Who had I been trying to kid? It was totally in the bag.

This sudden boost completely focused my mind again and all of my aches and pains disappeared. The real race had begun – I could almost taste the sub-4 and I wasn’t going to let it get away from me for the second time in a day.  0.5 of a mile later though, the route left the forest and the headwind which had helped me so much earlier on in the race was now my worst enemy, intent on ruining my race.

Mile splits

21) 9:19
22) 9:40
23) 9:57
24) 9:39

The wind made those last two miles a battlefield. Thankfully I still had the energy to push hard, but I could not get my pace below 9:30 minute miles. It was as if a big hand was pushing back against my chest; like the worst weather I run in down at the beach in winter; you can try all you like but running against it takes EVERYTHING out of you and you do not move any quicker.

25) 9:46

I was terrified in case my exertions triggered another stitch which would ruin absolutely everything. There is a hill coming into Elgin which I’d forgotten about which made it even harder but I knew once I got in amongst the houses that I’d get some shelter from the wind. It didn’t make as much of a difference as I thought, but running back down the other side of the hill certainly did and I was finally able to unleash the last of my speed to get me home.

26) 8:55

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Coming around that corner by the cathedral is both magic and torture – the finish is still a good minute of running away but it feels so close! I could see the clock still said 3:5:XX in the distance and over all the noise I heard Kynon yelling at me to get a move on.

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I remember feeling like I was running using someone else’s legs – they felt so wobbly and and I was feeling so sick, but I knew it was only a matter of seconds ’til I could stop and all the pain would be so worth it.

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No, I don’t know what’s happening with the way I’m landing on my right foot either, but my 1000-yard stare is focused on that clock ahead of me and I was going to get myself there one way or the other even if it meant running like a bag of spanners.

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The announcer called my name and my club out over the tannoy and I heard some girly screams which must have been my friends who’d finished the half already. I heard Kynon and my Mum yelling for me and punched the air as I staggered under the clock.

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SUB 4!!!

The glory lasted all of half a second before I wibbled, wobbled, dry heaved once or twice and then finally slowed to a halt by bending over and gripping a traffic cone for support until it started collapsing under my weight. By then Kynon had galloped over and was heaving me up on one side as my Mum was hugging me up on the other. Waaargh!! I did it!

A nice First Aid man came over and asked if I needed some help but all I needed to do was sit down for 30 seconds so I found a patch of kerb to negotiate a safe return to earth on. I looked at my watch – 3:58:29…

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It was definitely on my wrist and not someone else’s. Who am I? Is this what I do now? Run sub-4 marathons?! I was actually lost for words – I could not believe I’d managed to pull it off with everything that’s happened this summer.

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Dad took some pictures as I babbled away recounting tales of my race whilst drinking all the water I could get my hands on and some orange juice as well. I felt too sick to eat those bananas I was clutching, but they were hoovered not long after in the hall as I waited for a massage.

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This is the face of a very, very happy runner. Happy in the first instance because I got the job done, and in the second instance because now I have a sub-4 time I need never do it again. Or at least not for a while… Marathons are now marked as strictly for fun only, like Kielder in four weeks. I feel so lucky that I can ride my post-marathon high knowing that I have another marathon just around the corner, and I get to do it all over again but this time with my best friend for his first ever marathon.

Three days later and it still hasn’t quite sunk in. I’m not really sure if I deserve it given the amount of training I’ve had to miss and I feel like I might have just got really, really lucky, but that’s an examination for another post.

For now I’ll just enjoy the achievement, relish the recovery, and look forward to the next one!

~Rwr

Countdown to the Moray Marathon

background13Marathon number four and my first attempt at a sub-four hour time is now quickly approaching. At the time of typing I have approximately 21 hours until the starter’s horn and I couldn’t feel more prepared and ready! This is an acute improvement on last year when at this point before the race I was ready to run as hard and as fast as I could in the opposite direction.

Despite my somewhat patchy training this summer, another years’ experience has taught me again that ticking off every run on the schedule isn’t the most important part of race preparation and success so I feel 100% ready to smash my goal. When I think about the state of my knee and how tired I was when I started the Paris Marathon I’m filled with confidence for tomorrow – I’ve never felt fitter or stronger and I believe that tomorrow is going to be a very strong race for me.

Goals:

Bronze – 3:59:59 or quicker.
It’s a marathon time with a 3 at the start at that’s what I’m setting out to come home with.

Silver – 3:55 or quicker.
A solid sub-4 time which requires 26 sub-9 minute miles.

Gold – 3:50 or quicker.Ambitious, but not impossible. This could happen if tomorrow ends up being beautifully executed and I get the perfect race, meaning 20 steady 8:50ish miles and a strong finish. Stranger things have happened.

All things considered however, I won’t be too upset even if I do have a total stinker and blow up. As long as I finish and clock up another 26.2 then I’ll consider it a general success. I really like the idea of getting a strong marathon time but it’s not my biggest goal in running; as we know my sights are already firmly set on a 2015 West Highland Way Race and everything I run between now and Milngavie in June 2015 is training for that race.

The weather is looking perfect; cloudy and 12-13C with a slight Westerly wind which will help in the long, straight middle miles on the straight West facing road to Lossiemouth. I’ve spent the last 21ish hours following the live progress of the UTMB in France and am feeling pumped up and inspired by these amazing runners and breathtaking performances. It’s scarey to think that there will still be runners out on than course when I start my race tomorrow – after 40+ hours of running!

I don’t know anyone else who is running the marathon tomorrow but a couple of friends are doing the Half. I’ve made a pumping emergency playlist for the tough and lonely miles but as usual I won’t be running with my iPod for the whole race. It’s quite a barren course with few other runners and not a lot to look at so I think I’ll be grateful for the musical distraction when things get tough.

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Another finish like this please.

Kynon is providing support duties as he did last year and will be popping up at 10, 15 and 20 miles with my favourite blue Powerade. My parents are rumoured to be in the area with their camper van as well so I may well have a good welcome waiting for me when I cross the finish line. Just thinking about it now is giving me good shivers – I am so ready to race this hard and I can’t wait to get started!!

See you on the other side,

~Rwr

Two Week Taper

All of a sudden it’s only two and a bit weeks until the Moray Marathon! How did that happen?!

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I arrived back from Budapest having not ran a step since my run in Glen Doll - as expected it was ludicrously hot and temperatures were between 38C – 42C each day. That meant that the week which in any traditional training plan would have been chock full of miles was for me, 100% sedentary.

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Last year this would have freaked me out, but this training cycle has forced me to work at my most flexible which has certainly been another learning experience. Since I started my 12 weeks of training on the 1st of June (alongside a very stressful new job I might add) I’ve had one week in Derry, one week in London, one bladder infection, two colds, one very violent stomach flu/norovirus incident, and one week in Hungary. Such things do not a conventional training cycle make, but within that I have also nailed a half marathon and a 10 mile race at goal marathon pace and am injury free and happy. I suppose this is evidence that ticking off every run on your training plan isn’t always the only way to find success, but we shall see the proof in the race itself when I toe the line on the 1st of September in Moray.

To this end, I have decided to include one more full week of peak training and instead opt for a two week taper instead of the suggested usual three. I am not exhausted, my legs are not destroyed and I am not dreading my next run so I have a little more to give before it’s time to consciously cut back both mentally and physically before the big day. Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t; but this is the only way to find out.

I am aiming for a sub-4 finishing time and have decided to go out with an aim of 3:50-3:55. This means knocking out mile after mile of 8:46 – 8:57 minute miles, which still sounds a little intimidating, but I’ll just take it one mile at a time after half way and keep visualising doing this again in the last 400m….

Moray Marathon 2012

Moray Marathon 2012 – pic by Ryan Roberts

Finishing strong, like a boss …except this year, finishing half an hour quicker.

I’m trying to find thoughts and feelings I can use to motivate myself to keep pushing in the race when I don’t want to but I’m not finding much so far. I think it’s because deep down I’m not sure how much I really care about getting a sub-4 marathon time in 2ish weeks – it would/will be a great thing for me to achieve, but in the context of what I went through to complete the Highland Fling and what I’m aiming for in the 2015 West Highland Way Race, it seems kind of irrelevant. If it happens, then great; if not, then I’ve had a dodgy 12 week training cycle peppered with illness and there will be other marathons, including one in six weeks time with Kynon that I’m really looking forward to doing.

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I’ve had a great ‘racing season’ so far this summer with PBs being destroyed all over the place – there is not reason to believe that my marathon PB cannot join them in bits on the floor. As long as I find something to set alight when I need to start kicking my ass around mile 21-22 then I’ll be fine. I don’t know what it will be, but I believe in myself. Or more specifically; I believe in my ability to bullshit myself into believing in myself for about an hour and a half on the road between between Hopeman and Elgin on the 1st of September. Whatever works, whatever it takes…

RACE REPORT: Ballater 10 Miler 2013

Deeside Runners Ballater 10 miler 
28th July 2013 

Gun time: 1hr 25min 11sec – NEW PB!
Finish position: 105th/165
Female finishers: 21st/63
Senior female finishers: 13th/28

The Ballater 10 mile race was my first 10 miler when I ran it two years ago. Having ran a couple of Half marathons by then, the shorter distance of 10 miles was a pleasant surprise. I remember loving it and thought it was a shame that 10 miles is not  a more popular distance. There is the Arbroath Smokies Ladies 10 miler in March which I did last year, but I didn’t race it due the D33 being the week after so Vikki and I paced a friend to a 1hr 45min finish.

I wasn’t able to run this race last year so I was really looking forward to a second go at the course. I remembered it as being very undulating in the first few miles with a large hill in the middle, which I struggled with and walked. I am getting stronger and stronger at running up hills these days so I was hoping I’d be less troubled with them this year and quietly set a simple goal to not walk, even if it was as tough as I remembered.

After a gorgeous day on Saturday, I awoke at 6am to the rain coming down in sheets and making a huge racket on the roof. I turned over and went back to sleep, hoping desperately that it would rain itself out by 9am when my alarm was set. It turned out I didn’t need an alarm as SEPA issued a flood alert for Stonehaven just before 9am so both Kynon and I’s phones burst into song as the automatic message was relayed by phone call. The events of last December are never far from my mind and it is impossible to not fear the worst whenever the rain gets heavy.

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However, I got myself ready and headed up to Vikki’s house to pick up her and Gina. I was glad for the company on the journey which took about an hour. The weather was absolutely atrocious with the roads covered in deep surface water and the rain lashing down. We kept on telling ourselves – at least it isn’t cold! I would rather race in extreme rain than extreme heat so I wasn’t hugely bothered, but I knew the hanging around at the start would be hard.

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We put on rain jackets but mine was totally useless; I was soaked through in an instant, but it wasn’t windy and wasn’t cold. I actually hadn’t registered in advance so I filled out a form and paid in cash – I really liked that this was possible to do as the lead time for registering for some races is getting more and more ridiculous.

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We didn’t have long to wait before the start so we passed the time waiting in the clubhouse. Someone blew a whistle and gestured for everyone to get out of their cars, out of the clubhouse and away from their dry sanctuary to the starting line on the other side of the park. The weather may have affected the numbers a little, but there was still a healthy turn out with plenty of Stonehaven Running Club there to compete for more points in our club championship.
There was no hanging around once we were all assembled at 12pm, and a 3-2-1-GO set us on our way. The route was just like before and took us through the centre of Ballater, usually bustling with tourists  but today it was mainly deserted with confused faces peering out of cafe windows wondering what was going on as we passed in the pouring rain.
The route is truly beautiful and shows off Royal Deeside at its finest. The rain was producing a wonderfully earthy smell of damp pine trees and the air felt fresh and clean to run through which was a lovely change after the recent mix of humidity and dry heat.  I hadn’t given too much thought to the pace I wanted to run at since I was starting the race with 43 miles in my legs from the previous week, including a 20 mile trail run the day before. I figured I’d see how I felt and call it on the morning; as it turned out my legs felt absolutely fine so I decided to try and keep up with Vikki who was aiming for 1hr 25 or quicker. I realised that I had no idea what pace that translated to though, so I though 8:30 or thereabouts would be a good estimate.
The first few miles were as lumpy as I remembered. The ‘big’ hill started at around 4.5 miles and I cruised up steadily through the trees, finding the incline no trouble at all. I passed a few people who had slowed to a walk and as I reached the top I saw Vikki about 50 meters ahead of me which was a surprise – she’d been out of sight for a few miles and I thought she would be way ahead of me by now. There was a water stop at the top of the hill and then I could settle in for the long descent and make up some time lost on the hill.

Splits miles 1 – 5 – 8:08 – 8:37 – 9:15 – 8:34 – 9:09

I was totally soaked through but running through the rain and splashing through the puddles was exhilarating, especially on the off-road section from mile 6. I continued to see Vikki ahead of me but she loves a fast downhill as much as I do so I wasn’t gaining any ground on her!  The second half of the race flew by – over the shoogly bridge, up the steep track on to the A93, along the main road for a bit and then on to the final downhill into Ballater and along the over-grown footpath back to the field for the last torturous circuit of the park on the grass before crossing the line.

Splits miles 6 – 10 – 8:09 – 8:33 – 8:52 – 8:12 – 7:42

Eventually I got within 40 seconds of Vikki she was just too quick to catch! She knew that I was closing in on her and saw me behind her at points which she said spurred her on to go faster. When I crossed the line I flumped to my knees on the soggy grass and caught my breath whilst sitting in a puddle – I was so wet it didn’t even matter! I finished 3rd of the Stonehaven ladies which will have earned me 18 championship points. After 4 championship races I think I’m now in 3rd place – this is due to luck rather than skill I fear; If any more of the fast girls from the club had turned up on Sunday I’d be a lot further down the table! I have no hope of threatening the top places for much longer but I’m glad to be at least a little bit competitive in my first year.

The Stonehaven men won the male fastest club prize, we hung around hopefully just in case we might have earned the fastest female club, but that honour went to Deeside Runners. After a quick change into some dry clothes we headed home; it would have been nice to stay for lunch and a potter around Ballater but the weather was really not in favour for that.

I was really pleased with this race and how I performed. A 13 minute PB is great in itself, but I was more happy about how strongly I was able to run after such a tough week of training. It shows that I’m in great shape at the moment and that training is going very well. Another boost for a positive outlook for the sub 4 attempt at Moray in 4 weeks.

RACE REPORT: Dundee Half Marathon 2013

20130721_144226Dundee Half Marathon 
21st July 2013
Gun Time: 1hr 55m 18s – NEW PB!
351st Place (out of 755 finishers)

Back in 2011, the Dundee Half Marathon was my second half marathon which I ran just two weeks after my first. I remember having quite a tough race and it was probably my least favourite race of that year. Two years later and I was back for a second go, but this time it would be my 13th half marathon.

The week before the event had been extremely warm across the UK; some called it a heatwave, but what I believe we’ve been experiencing could be filed under what some have been known to refer to as ‘summer’. You’ve heard all this before – I hate running in heat and I don’t perform well in sunshine – so naturally I was desperate for a cool day. As we got towards the end of the week the temperatures crept down and on Saturday morning it was around 15C and cloudy when we left Stonehaven at 7:3oam which was quite reasonable, although it was forecast to warm up.

Kynon and I picked up Kate and we were at the start by around 8:30 after a stop at Tesco to use the toilets. Memories of a lack of portaloos from 2011 haunted me so we took preventative action and stopped at the supermarket. The start was in Camperdown Park where there was plenty of parking even though it was very busy. Again, like two years ago we were accosted by a woman selling sweets for charity the absolute minute we got out of the car. I don’t know where she came from but she swooped from nowhere and pounced upon us. I really don’t like this manner of collecting money – it’s incredibly forceful and puts you in a terribly awkward position when you’re trying to get your head on straight and your kit together to start a race. .

We headed up to collect our numbers to find a scene of mild chaos and nobody seemed to know what was going on. There was one big line, but we were being shouted at by a man with a megaphone to divide in to four (or five?!) lines by our race number. In itself this is not an unreasonable request, but given that within the five (yes, five) emails of instruction received in the weeks leading up to the race we were told repeatedly that race numbers would constantly change as the start list was updated in the run-up to the race, as the start list was indexed automatically by Surname…

So; thankfully someone had a phone where we could look up our number to collect our bibs. When we reached the front of our respective queues we discovered that staff were finding bibs by surname because numerically it just wasn’t working as no-one knew their number. Time was running out and I was feeling stressed and frustrated. I wanted to go to the toilet one more time but there was a massive queue for the 8 portaloos – 3 for the ladies and 5 for the gentlemen. Of course the ladies queue was twice the length of the gents and moving twice as slow. I joined the gents without a care and made it out of the cubical as the race briefing was being delivered. I shot across the park bumping into Rachel, who had just gone in a bush rather than queue, and we both expressed exasperation at having 8 portaloos for close to 800 runners.

There were corrals being arranged at the start but no advance signs had been posted so a lot of people had no idea where to go. I had guessed correctly that the back of the first quarter would be right for me looking to run around 1hr 50, but for many new runners who had no experience of corralled race starts there was more chaos as the Race Director yelled at us with a mega phone telling people where to go according to their projected finish times. Why there weren’t signs posting these i don’t know – this a total no-brainer and very simple to arrange. As a result the race was a little late in starting and rather than an excited atmosphere upon commencement, there was an air of confusion and bemusement.

The first two and a bit miles are mainly up hill on narrow woodland trails. It’s a lovely place to run but the start was spoiled by over-crowding and the constant need to bob and weave around slower runners or watch out for faster runners flying by. To a certain extent this was good to keep my pace restrained but it was frustrating to not be able to execute a start consistent with the pace I needed to run at to finish in my goal time. Of course time can always be made up later, but i’d rather not be thinking about that so close to the start.

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

There was a photographer at about 2 miles. I didn’t spot him at first, but then it seems I was quickly able to put on my ‘photogenic runner guy‘ face when I got closer…

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

Miles 3 and 4 are very downhill and entirely on road in a residential area. This should have been a comfortable ride down but I developed an agonising stitch in my right side from my rib to my hip which made the whole experience most uncomfortable. This has been happening more and more these days and I’m not sure why – does anyone have any ideas?

Splits mile 1 – 4: 9:05 – 8:48 – 8:07 – 8:12

Kynon, Kate and I had started together but I ended up taking a short early lead before Kynon shot off at about two miles. I was a bit concerned that he might have gone off too fast, but I wasn’t going to kill myself chasing him like the last time we raced a half together. I was running by myself until a man introduced himself to me as Mock Jogger and we chatted for a bit. He said he wanted to thank me for inspiring him to start racing after reading my race report of the 2012 Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half; I was so flattered and chuffed to bits! It took my mind off the pain in my side for a bit but it still persisted and wouldn’t go away.

Not long after, Kate passed me and asked how I was doing; I don’t think I was very positive, and she didn’t sound too good either as her feet were hurting. It was obvious that neither of us had much chat and she edged away. She remained about 200m ahead of me for the rest of the race and our pacing was clearly identical as I just could not catch up!

The sun was well and truly out by 5 miles and it was beginning to get properly hot, but thankfully there was a breeze which kept it from being too oppressive. The course continues on through a mixture of cycle path, parks and road; the constant variation kept the mind busy and the legs awake which made the miles fly by.

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

I obviously didn’t notice the photographer at 7 miles…

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

Just beautiful! It’s been a while since I’ve had a real stinker of a race picture but from the looks of the rest of the photographs taken here, everyone else was suffering too.

Splits mile 5 – 8: 8:47 – 8:49 – 8:45 – 8:52

Miles 8, 9 and 10 are tough ones as the race travels alongside the A92 dual carriageway, which is uninspiring territory to say the least. They are also uphill so application of a certain amount of heads-down-get-on-with-it is required. There’s the same funny little 400m out-and-back down one side of a street and up the other which allowed me to spot Kynon as he came up the other side ahead of me. I wobbled my hands in a thumbs up/thumbs down position to try and enquire if he was feeling ok, and his response was a shrug/nod/wobbly thumbs up which I interpreted as ‘Doing ok, considering’ which I was pleased to see.

The route crosses the road on a couple of occasions and the police were manning the crossings which were causing some congestion. Many car drivers were not pleased at being held up though and some were trying to sneak through dangerously much like I saw in 2011. I don’t know why they thought they could get away with this in the sight of a police officer – I’ve never seen it happen in any other race but in Dundee!

Splits mile 9 – 11: 9:20 – 9:00 – 9:19

I knew that at the top of the hill when we reached 11 miles it was literally mainly down hill from here. I was able to relax a bit and let gravity carry me at race pace as we made our way down to the riverside, which I remember seeming like it would go on forever. Just before we made the final turn to the river-front some wonderful person had turned on their garden sprinkler and hoisted it so it fell across the route which felt amazing to run through!

When we made the final turn the wind dropped and the temperature rose immediately, with the dry heat hitting you right in the face. I searched the horizon to try and spot the finish but it remained just slightly out of sight. I heard my watch bleep 12 miles and saw that it read 1hr 46:XX and I excitedly realised that I just needed to knock out a sub-10 mile and a new PB would be mine – perhaps I could even duck under 1:55! With the flat, smooth surface and the enticement of crossing the line I was able to speed up and start overtaking people, but it wasn’t easy since some people were clearly on a death-shuffle to the finish (or running at a slower pace due to doing the full marathon) so I had to be careful not to be an inconsiderate runner when overtaking.

When the finish line was in sight I allowed myself to push as hard as I could for the finish but I still couldn’t catch Kate, and I slipped across the line at 1:55 exactly by my watch and 18 seconds behind Kate.

Splits mile 12 – 13.1: 8:48 – 8:17 – :0.51

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I was so happy to stop moving! It’s the best feeling in the world crossing a finish line – nothing to do with pride or glory anymore, just the ability to crash down on to the ground and groan in a mix of delight and agony as the urge to vomit retreats.

Picture by Rachel

Picture by Rachel, gurning by 13.1 miles

Kate and Kynon were straight ahead of the finish in a sweaty pile, so I staggered ahead a few more steps before flumping down next to them on the hot, scorched grass. I necked the bottle of water included in the goody bag in one and sucked down the gel they had included. Kynon had finished in 1:53:39 and was suffering badly in the heat, but was feeling very happy with his 8 minute PB. The rest of our friends trickled in soon after – Rachel, Ronnie, Susan and others and we all compared notes on the race. In general, the route and the running was most enjoyable and the right kind of challenging, but all of us came away with the feeling that everything to do with the organisation of the event was chaotic and held together by a shoestring. Kate’s husband and children were not allowed in to the finish area (which as you can see from the photo above even after the peak finish time, was a huge roomy field) and there was no additional water available at the finish other than the 500ml bottle in the goody bag. Since Kynon was feeling really ropey I went begging to the finish-line volunteers and a lady gave me a spare goody bag which was extremely kind of her, but given the temperatures of the fortnight before there was plenty of time to make extra hydration arrangements at the finish in addition to goody bags. I think the MacMillan Charity stall were selling refreshments, but since nobody had any money on them we couldn’t purchase anything.

We collected our drop bag which had a bottle of lucozade in it and decided to catch one of the transfer buses back to the start. This was one aspect of the day which really did work like clockwork and we were returned to Camperdown Park and our car swiftly.

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I really liked the medal – it was very heavy and definitely the shiniest one I’ve earned yet.

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We were home within an hour, but sadly left the sun behind us in Dundee which made the post-run natural ice bath a little more challenging than we would have liked.

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Now, I am loathe to do this but I have to say that whilst the race itself was enjoyable, very well marshalled and supported, this was one of the worst events in terms of organisation I have ever taken part in. I don’t want to end my report on a negative note, but I feel I have to address a couple of the points mentioned above constructively and offer my thoughts on what I would do differently. There is a facebook group for the company that runs this and other events and it has been blowing up with people reporting many of the same complaints who are getting shot back down for supposedly moaning, being unsupportive and impossible to please; however as paying consumers of the services of this company we have a right to expect certain things which are fairly standard in races of this size.

1) Race Entry –
The website for this race is extremely poor and conveys next to no information about the event other than the bare essentials, once you’ve found the race that is. This event is huge and ought to be the flagship running event of Dundee – but it’s not even mentioned on the organiser’s home page – eventfull.biz

There was no route map available until last week and even then it was a hand-marked copy of a paper map of Dundee city, scanned and uploaded as three .pdfs with the page orientation wrong so you can only view it sideways. Simple solution – use mapometer.com to plot and save the route and link to it on your website.

Entry was listed as being £13.10 for the first 100 entries, then £15 up until six weeks before the event, and £18 thereafter. Kynon entered 7 weeks before the event and was charged the full amount – when he emailed to query this it was dismissed as him misunderstanding the pricing structure and that he should consider a half marathon for £18 excellent value. That it may be, but that was not the point and the pricing structure was completely misadvertised and the organiser admitted that the system was set to charge the higher amount after 750 entries, not after a certain date. When pursuing this further and requesting a refund due to the misadvertisement he was told he was ‘splitting hairs’ and was offered a refund of £1.50 which was both inappropriate and missing the point entirely. Further debate ensued, wasting both of their time, until eventually the full amount was refunded but the organiser still refused to admit fault. None of this was necessary – the race entry system should have been set up for what was advertised.

2) Pre-race communication –
There was no need for 5 emails to be sent out over the course of a month, each saying slightly varying versions of the same thing. One, clear email the week before would suffice. There needs to be an up-to-date, event specific website for this race as well – more information was to be found on Facebook than anywhere else and despite Social Media’s world domination, this is not acceptable and should not be the only way of communicating with your customers, many of whom will not use facebook.

3) Number pick up –
The only time I’ve ever collected a race bib by number was at the Paris Marathon when numbers were issued months in advance. There was no need to complicate things by publicising the continuously changing name/number index in advance and expecting people to keep track of their changing number. Just do it by name on the morning, or charge an extra quid and post them out by snail mail.

4) Toilets –
I’ve never been at a race where there have been too many toilets. 8 portaloos between 800 people seems a daft number to pick – perhaps this is statistically what might be recommended for a normal event with that amount of people, but 800 nervous, hydrated people all wanting to go to the toilet within a very small time frame requires more facilities, as nobody wants to relieve themselves in a public country park, but the bushes all around the manor house in Camperdown are now full of human waste in the middle of summer.

5) Corralling –
This needs to be sign posted. Either signs or marshalls marking each projected time split. With bigger races like this you ought to expect a lot of first time runners who won’t have a clue about start etiquette or what to do, and that’s fine; but you need to accommodate the clueless because they aren’t mind readers.

6) Start congestion –
Accurate corralling is particularly important on a course with such a narrow start as this. There were many complaints about the congestion and I believe Rachel even ended up slowing to a walk at one point in the first mile. Dundee locals have made the suggestion of doing a loop of the park on wider paths first and getting rid of the little 400m out and back at mile 9 which seems a valid suggestion. Either that or operate a wave start system and release the (enforced!) corrals every 30 seconds. This of course, requires the race to be fully chip timed.

7) Chip timing –
The race is advertised as chip timed – it is not. Runners wore a chip which accurately recorded their finishing time as they cross the finish line (thus eliminating human error) but the time issued is a gun time, not a chip time, and should not be claimed as such. What’s worse is that in an email after the event addressing complaints about this, the organiser dismisses these complaints and tells us that there is no difference between gun times and chip times:
“All runners received the same GUN time (as explained in the emails leading up to the event) so it was in fact an accurately chipped timed event, as this would be the same set of results even if you were timed from a start mat – my decision to not have matts at the start was simply a cost exercise (not a reduction in quality of results) – if the combined event goes ahead again next year and we have adequate numbers for the DRAM Marathon then the entire event will be chip timed, but the resulting times would still be the same – you would have just seen how long it takes to run across the start matt – the first person across the line is the winner, no matter where anyone else started.”

This explanation is total nonsense. We paid for a chip timed race and should have received an accurate start line to finish line result – what we got was a gun time and anyone who has ever run a race before will know this, making this dismissive response insulting and inaccurate.

8) Finish –
There was no need to exclude family and friends from the finish area; the race wasn’t big enough for this and it wasn’t as if the runners were being offered anything that the spectators weren’t entitled to such as food and drink. There should have been stacks of water at the finish – they knew it was going to be hot and to run out (or just not provide?) was inexcusable.

There were other issues in the race which didn’t affect me so I don’t have the right to complain about, but there were problems with the course marking and marshalling of the later stages of the marathon; the top finishers male and female got lost and ran 28 miles. Many finishing times, names and number seem to have been jumbled up (despite the chip finish) and the top finishers in the categories seem to have had various issues regarding getting their place recorded correctly.

So, what is going on with this race? Despite being organised by an event company, I wonder whether Eventfull is actually just one man? How many people are behind this? The organiser has sent out all communication under his own name and has assumed personal responsibility for everything to do with the race so I wonder if it is just one person handling everything? If so I’m not surprised that things have got a bit out of control and I do hope that reports of him ending up in hospital with stress for the second year running are untrue. After his email last night I feel a bit like I’m kicking a puppy by writing out all of these criticisms but so many of the errors made were unnecessary and should be easily fixed for future events.

It shouldn’t have to be this hard – Dundee City Council should be giving this event more support and publicity as it has the potential to be fantastic and a real draw for the city. They are now in the running for UK City of Culture 2017 so hopefully these events will be given more support, and if Eventfull Management is just one man, then he’ll get more support in order to execute a flagship event the city can be proud of.

Sub – 4 Marathon Training Update

I’m half way through my marathon training and looking over the blog in the last couple of months recently made me realise that the content I’ve been posting has been mainly race reports. During the training for my first marathon and ultra, I posted weekly updates and musings on my experiences which kept the blog posts much more varied and I don’t know whether to return to that format or not. I get bored by reading others’ weekly training reports so I certainly wouldn’t to inflict the same on my own readers, but then if the blog is just a stream of races with no training to reference from then what is there to tie it all together?

I feel like my training is going well, but lately I’m constantly having to make changes and adaptations to fit it around the rest of my life. How annoying when you can’t make running your number 1 priority?! Thankfully this hasn’t affected my weekend long runs, but my running during the week has been a bit jumbled with lunch-time runs being deferred to evenings and some evenings being skipped. I feel like I lack consistency but I think that speaks more for the rest of my life than my commitment to my training.

Lawrenckirk

Last week I had a great morning out with Vicki and Kate. We all wanted to take part in the Laurencekirk Hill Race, but also had long runs to complete. Since the Hill race is only 3.7 miles long we decided to run to the start instead of drive, and left at 7am to cover the 18 miles on the back roads. It was a glorious morning but very warm, and I drank 1.5 litres of water along the way. Like the rest of the country we’ve been “enjoying” an actual summer which has made for interesting training for a cold-weather runner like me.

The race itself was a bit horrific, but it was always going to hurt trying to run straight up a hill and then fly down again, so I don’t think it made much difference whether I’d ran 18 miles before or not. Physically I was a bit pooped but my legs were fine. I would never normally elect to do a hill race but it was part of the Club Championships and I needed the points for taking part. Luckily not that many Stonehaven ladies showed up as I was third last in the race but still was able to get 15 Championship points for coming 6th out of 7 ladies who ran. I finished the 3.7 mile course in 36.40, and then didn’t move for the rest of the day.

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picture by Iain Shanks

My weekly sessions are currently based around Yoga and a gentle shake-out run on a Monday, either a lunch-run or a Club run on Tuesday, mid-week middle distance on Wednesday (8 – 10 miles), lunch run on Thursday, rest Friday and Long Run on Saturday. There should be another 10 miles at the weekend to finish off the week with a back-to-back, but the last time I managed to make that work was about a month ago. I’ve been running between 40 and 50 miles a week which feels right for me at the moment – I’m not tired and I’m not sore, but I still feel like I’m working hard.

I am hopeful for a successful execution of training in the next fortnight, as the last week of my plan before taper is when I’m in Hungary for work. This is likely to severely disrupt my runs, but hopefully I’ll get out for a few short trots. It will be extremely hot but my hotel has a gym, so if it is un-runable outside then I can resort to the dreadmill.

I had a good run at the Dundee Half Marathon yesterday, which although was tough going at times I managed to come home with another new PB after a near-perfectly executed marathon race-pace run. I aimed for 13.1 miles at 8:50min/mi and finished up with an average of 8:47; even though my training might be a bit haphazard, I’m clearly doing something right as that’s spot on for sneaking under 4 hours in 6 weeks time.

I can’t believe I’m half way through this marathon training already, but life is really sneaking past at a rate of knots. Before this weekend, hitting my sub-4 goal seemed like a bit of a pipe-dream, but after the Dundee Half it feels far more within my grasp. Race report on that will be swiftly forthcoming…

RedWineRunner and the big SUB 4

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In three years of running, I’ve ran three marathons; Loch Ness 2011, Moray 2012 and Paris 2013. I’ve consistently taken time off my personal best each time I’ve crossed the finishing line from my first, injured time of 5hrs 12m 02s at Loch Ness…

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A victorious 4hr 19m 30s at Moray…

Moray Marathon 2012

And a surprise 4hr 05m 18s in Paris…

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I’ve had a kind of love/hate relationship with the marathon. After being burned by the distance at my first attempt, despite going on to complete a successful 33 mile ultra marathon a few months later, when it came to my second attempt at 26.2 I arrived on the starting line full of nerves. When it came to Paris, I was just in it for the social and took the race quite literally in my stride as part of my preparation for the Highland Fling ultra. I enjoyed myself hugely and without putting any pressure on myself at all I came tantalisingly close to cracking 4 hours.

Therefore it ought to come as no surprise at all that for my 4th marathon I’m going all out for a sub 4 time. Once more I will be returning to the quiet back roads of Moray to take on their flat, fast and cheap marathon and will be tacking marathon number four on the 1st of September 2013.

I’ll be following the guidance of Mr Hal Higdon and his Intermediate 2 marathon plan. This programme worked extremely well for me last year and fits into my life nicely. Running five days a week and training on a sixth is now a habit which is hard to break, and despite enjoying a very easy month in May I’m itching to hand my life over to a training schedule once more.

Frustratingly, in theory I started my three month training regime on the 3rd of June, but was unable to execute a full first week of training due to a five day work trip to Ireland. I did enjoy two lovely, sunny runs along the banks of the Foyle, however.

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I think my biggest challenge over the next few months is going to be my work/life balance. Fitting my training around some big changes at work (which have meant longer hours and no more lunchtime runs for now) and the challenges of wedding planning has already proved to be a pain, but there’s nothing to be done about that other than somehow find the time to do it. If that means running at 4:30am or 8:30pm, then so be it – at least I’m training in the summer!

Fitting blogging in and around all of the above will also be tricky – this post has sat in my drafts for nearly 10 days and I’m only now getting around to finishing it. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep things ticking over around here but if it gets a little quiet then that’s unfortunately why.

I’ll finish up with a run-down of which races I’ll be at in the next few months:

- 16th June – The Ythan Challenge
My third attempt at the extremely popular adventure race. Previous Race reports: 2011 and 2012

- 18th June – The Running Shop  Aberdeen Beach 10k
My first 10k in over a year – can I crack out a new PB? I need to beat 51m 33s on a flat course if that’s the case.

- 21 – 23rd June – The West Highland Way Race
I’ll be joining the WHW Race family for the third year in a row, but this year I will be on the sweep team with 5 great runners from Stonehaven Running Club. Another new challenge that I’m really looking forward to! Previous reports: 2011 and 2012.

- 30th June – Peterhead Half Marathon
A tune-up race for the Moray Marathon – I’ll be running at marathon goal pace for this (sub – 9 minute miles)

- 21st July – Dundee Half Marathon
Another tune-up race – primarily for Kynon and his preperation for the Kielder Marathon. I will either pace him, or run at my own goal pace.

- 28th July – Ballater 10 Mile Race
I have high hopes for a big PB here – My current best time was set at my only 10 mile race so far at the same event 2 years ago – 1hr 38m

Here’s to another great summer of running and racing!