Red Wine Runner

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.

Laurencekirk Hill Race

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