Tag Archive: motivation

Hoka Highland Fling 2014 Preview

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With 3 days to go until my second attempt at the Hoka Highland Fling, I’m in full on planning mode. Big ultras are superb fun, but they involve such a lot of thought and packing to be prepared for every eventuality. I can benefit from a certain amount of knowledge having done this race before, but it doesn’t detract the actual amount of purchasing and packing required in the next few days. Here are my thoughts so far…

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Pacing and race plan

This race is part of my training for the Great Glen Ultra on the 5th/6th July, so I am running it with my eye on the horizon at all times. I finished last year in 13 hours and 6 minutes and whilst I know I could improve on that, I need to take it easy and not push my pace to hit a randomly defined goal for the sake of it. I also have the Cateran Trail 55 mile race three weeks after the Fling which I need to be just as strong for, so the biggest challenge of Saturday will not be to complete the race or achieve a time, but to finish and not be too gubbed to start another 50+ miler in three weeks.

I will be running with my friends Vikki and Kate from Stonehaven Running Club, and we will also be joined by Rachel. Vikki has done the Fling several times but it is Kate and Rachel’s first go at a 50 miler. I’m confident that as a group we’ll be able to make the experience as enjoyable as possible and pull each other through any dark patches. Last year I was alone for the entirety for the race which was ok, but isolating. I will benefit from having my friends and training partners by my side and hopefully the miles will drift by.

For those of you doing the Fling for the first time I’d like to pass on some advice which my friend Sandra gave to Fling virgins on my favourite running siteDon’t over-analyse it if it’s your first time. Turn up, take what’s thrown at you and deal with it. It’s the only way. You cannot anticipate what’s ahead. You’ll feel crap, but hang in there. You’ll feel good again – you will!

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It is true – you will feel so crap at times, but it is all so worth it.

Shoes

I have elected to go with my Salomon Speedcross 3s. Unfortunately the forecast this week is a little messy and it looks to extend to the weekend, so I think this is the only sensible option.

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Kit

Ideally I would like to wear something very similar to last year – Long socks, shorts, top layers of t-shirt, long sleeve top and club vest, with water-proof in the Camelbak. I’ll start the day off with gloves and buff as well as it’s very cold that early in the morning at this time of year (the race starts at 0600). The only problem is that it’s forecast to rain, which makes me worry a lot. The weather up the West Highland Way can be brutal and very changeable. I may carry an extra layer in a zip-lock bag in my Camelbak.

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Fuel

As last year I am planning to make little drop-boxes for each check point. I will eat every 30 minutes and alternate gels with real food, and save any with caffeine until Beinglas. Much like last year I will eat a mix of cake bars, hula hoops, and dried fruit on the run, with Muller rice or custard to eat at the first two check points. I remember desperately craving salty and savoury snacks at Inversnaid and Beinglas last year, so instead of Muller rice here I will have quorn sausages and tattie scones with marmite.

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For liquids I will be sticking with High-5 electrolyte tabs in my Camelbak, a bottle of lucozade at Balmaha and a gin and tonic and Beinglas.

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I am nervous about the race, but I really can’t complain. Unlike last year I am not nursing an injury, but I do feel a little under-trained. This is probably just in my mind though, but it’s been 6 weeks since my last long run! I would have liked one 20ish mile run in between the honeymoon and Fling, but it didn’t happen so I can just consider myself to be very well rested after a tough D33. I think half the reason the D33 was so tough was due to build up of life-fatigue and lack of sleep. You cannot prepare for a big race by being extremely stressed and sleeping 5 hours a night or less for weeks, as well as training hard. I am coming into this race relaxed and rested, so as long as I show up with the right attitude and don’t give up without a fight I know I can finish this race again.

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Excitingly, at the finish line I will have the newly christened RedWineRunner Ultravan waiting for me! And my husband, obviously, who I hope will forgive me for having a Fling only 5 weeks into our marriage (hahaaaaaar… Sorry). Anyway, this van belongs to my Dad who has kindly agreed for us to borrow it for our running adventures this year. It very easily solved the problem of finding accommodation in Tyndrum on Saturday night, and also will make this year’s West Highland Way Race and Glenmore 12/24 infinitely more comfortable.

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Here’s to lots of adventures in this wagon! There’s something very middle aged about sitting outside a camper van drinking coffee on a Sunday morning in Braemar, but we very much enjoyed our one night test-run last weekend and I’m definitely not middle-aged, so it must be fine.

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After we left Braemar we went for a lovely walk up Linn O Dee and Glen Lui. The weather was gorgeous and I was gagging to be running; this scenery really whet my appetite for running on the magical West Highland Way on Saturday.

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So this is it – here we go again. Kynon is marshaling at Balmaha again so if you see him do say hello. I hope that everyone’s taper and preparation has gone as well as possible and that the traditionally beautiful weather comes out for the Fling once more.

See you in Milgavie!

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.

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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.

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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!

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

RACE REPORT: West Highland Way Race 2013

It’s 1230am on midsummer’s eve, in a car park outside a railway station in Milngavie. A man stands half way up an embankment in a yellow jacket with a microphone, addressing the crowd before him. They hang on his every word; no-one makes a sound and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

Ian Beattie, Director of the West Highland Way Race is delivering the pre-race briefing to 183 runners, their crew, and dozens of marshalls and supporters. Once a year, always on the longest day, we come together in this anonymous station car park in the middle of the night to start what is regarded by many to be the greatest race in Scotland. Friends from far and wide gather here, united by a love of running, the route and the people who run on it.

Months and years of training have gone into this for every runner on the starting line, and it means everything to them. They have 35 hours to complete the 95 mile journey from Milngavie to Fort William, a remarkable tour de force of the beauty which Scotland has to offer. From the suburban car park out into a country park, to the top of Conic Hill and around the edge of Loch Lomond. Through the lush forests of Crianlarich down to the valley of Tyndrum, over the exposed Rannoch Moor and through the stark beauty of Glencoe. Up the Devil’s Staircase and down the crippling descent to Kinlochleven, before the final climb through the desolate Lairig Mor and the last stagger down to Fort William. The race finishes as it starts, in a car park; but the journey in between will change a person. He who commences this race is not the same man who completes it.

I returned to the race for the third time, this year as part of the sweep team with 5 other runners from Stonehaven. We would work in pairs and take turns to look after the slow and the vulnerable at the back of the race; each covering about 30 miles of the route in total over the 35 hours. Whilst not comparable to the running of the entire race, it was an ultra endurance test in its own right with us being mentally and physically stretched to the limit. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get started.

Thursday night saw us raiding Asda and filling a shopping trolley full of supplies. When we spoke to the lady on the check out she casually asked where we were off to with all our supplies; “An adventure on the West Highland Way!” we replied. No further details required.

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We savoured our last sleep on Thursday night, not knowing when our heads would rest on a pillow again. After work, we packed the car and picked up Scott before heading down to Milngavie to arrive at about 11pm.

Everything was completely familiar – the red Trossachs Search and Rescue Unit, the Kirky Krazies Ultramarathon Support Vehicle, the motorhomes in various states of repair, the support crews sitting on deckchairs outside their cars and some runners darting around excitedly greeting old friends. Others sat in their cars in darkness, focusing on the task ahead.

We made our way up to the Church Hall and checked in with Race Control. There we received our lovely blue West Highland Way Race ‘Crew’ jackets and pink 2013 WHW Race Buffs. After saying hello to plenty of people we headed back outside and met up with the rest of Team Sweep.

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Left to right: Me, Kynon, Alex, Scott, Marc, Neil.

We filled in time being treated to some great friendly hospitality from Alan and Angela at the International Fire and Rescue Association van and learned about some of the work their charity does, whilst enjoying a coffee and a sandwich. It’s an impressive vehicle with a lot of history, including its first job being the incident control unit at the Lockerbie Air Disaster.

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Kynon and Graeme were taking the first shift from Milngavie to Drymen, and were dressed and ready to go at midnight. I joked around with the other guys and caught up with friends whilst waiting for the race briefing at 1230. Ian addressed us with the usual warnings and regulations, but this year he included some words written by Fiona Rennie, great WHW Race stalwart, who is currently fighting her strongest battle yet against cancer and could not be on the starting line that night for the first time in nearly a decade. It stirred emotion in many and made the runners more determined than ever to conquer the race since she couldn’t.

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As ever, the time flew by and it was time to assemble. We positioned ourselves some distance up the High Street and listened for the count down and the klaxon at 0100.

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As expected, the rain began falling in sheets right before the horn went – after all it wouldn’t be the West Highland Way race without a bit of precipitation. After a few minutes silence we heard the horn, and they were off.

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As quickly as they flew past us, they were gone. Kynon and Scott made their way up the High Street at the very back of the field and the adventure had begun.

My first task was to change into my running gear as I was taking the second shift after Drymen with Alex. When everyone was ready we headed out in convoy to the first stop along the way – the Beech Tree Inn. The lads were keen for some bacon rolls, but I was still well fuelled from my earlier snacks. I stood under my umbrella and awaited the lead pack, who at 6 miles and about 45 minutes race time were expected soon.

Paul Giblin and his distinctive running style flew by in first place without breaking pace, followed by Robert Souter, Marco Consani and Mike Raffan closely after. After a three minute break the rest of the runners started dribbling through, but we weren’t hanging around and got quickly on the way to Drymen to rest before the crew change.

The dead-end road which the Way crosses at Drymen was already filled with cars, so we pulled in as close as we could. It was 03:00am when I slipped into the passenger seat and reclined it back as far as it would go to try and rest. My mind was going a mile a minute – the adrenaline from the race was surging through me and it was difficult to go into sleep mode, so I settled for just lying in the dark with my eyes closed. I gradually wound down and relaxed, but with the hubub of the race going on around me sleep was never going to happen. Every time a car roared past I got a fright from the noise and the lights shining into my car, but I kept my eyes closed tight and told myself to relax.

I heard a text message notification and sat up. It was 03:45am. I looked around me and all the cars were gone; what had been such a hive of activity was now eerily quiet in the hazy dawn light. The message was from Kynon; he reckoned they were about a mile out, but were walking with a likely DNF. I got out of the car and jumped about to try and wake up as I was very cold, whilst eating another half sandwich. I woke the boys up and we drove closer to the Way to await the arrival of the Crew, whilst speaking to the remaining runners’ support. He informed us that it was his Dad who was out there, but that his training had gone badly and he’d suffered from two chest infections this year so far. He didn’t look hopeful, but was diligently awaiting as instructed, clutching a Mullerice and a banana.

Kynon and Scott arrived in great spirits, but as soon as they took us aside they told us that they’d been walking behind the runner since mile 1.5. They let us know how he was feeling and what was going wrong, and then Neil spoke to the crew who was adamant that the runner was continuing regardless of how close he was going to get to the 6am cut-off at Balmaha.

At 0415am our runner left the checkpoint and headed off up the trail. Despite walking he was covering ground quickly enough and Alex and I followed about 20 feet behind, shooting the breeze on what had turned out to be a hazy, cloudy, but dry morning. Our runner got slower and slower and really struggled with the hills. We decided to get closer and see how he was doing, and he told us that he had last completed the race in 1997 but had had several DNFs since. He told the same story about his illnesses in the year so far and explained how his legs were giving him terrible bother.

He willed himself on, but I could see the frustration  flicker across his face. I could tell that he was the kind of person that would rather DNF than DNS and would have started the race regardless of condition. Eventually he ground to a halt and we gently broached the subject of cut-off times. It was now 5:30am and we weren’t even on the approach to Conic Hill, and we had to be on the other side of it by 06:00am. It was agreed that he would pull out and that his support would come up from the road and meet him.

It was at this point that we were able to appreciate the priceless role that George Reid and Karen Donaghue were playing in the event. They were always ahead of the sweep crew by one check point and ready to come down the course at a minute’s notice to assist with a DNF to allow the sweepers to push on quickly to catch up with the next remaining runners. By this point there was such a gap that we called Neil and Mark who were ready and waiting to sweep stage 3, and told them to go as soon as the last runner came through as there was no way that we would be able to make up the time.

George and Karen looked after the runner and allowed us to finally stretch our legs with a run to Balmaha where they’d meet us. We merrily galloped through the last of the forest and down the track towards Conic, stopping only to take a couple of pictures.

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The view was quite different from when I came through here during the Fling. The blue skies were well hidden and Conic Hill was cloaked in a thick cloud.

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20130622_061248Here’s where George and Karen had been camping out with a flag until we called them.

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20130622_062107A very misty descent back through the clouds led us down to Balmaha for 7am and in to the Oak Tree Inn which had opened especially for the occasion. Lots of race people and race crew were here, grabbing a cup of coffee, a bacon roll and some charge for their phones. I had some of my snacks, but kept off the coffee as I was hopeful for a snooze soon.

We shipped out about 7:45 and drove to Beinglas Farm where we would meet Marc and Neil after their epic lochside stint, and Graeme and I would take over. As soon as we parked up I had my seat reclined back and curled up on my side hugging a cushion. I needed no rocking at all this time as I slept for two delicious hours until 10:30am.

1015991_10151698473485873_1667651994_oI had this feast for breakfast. That’s a buttery, dipped in Ambrosia Devon Custard, with a side of sour cola belts and a can of Coke.

We spent the next 2 hours pottering about Beinglas, talking to the other marshals and cheering on runners. There was lots of race gossip to catch up on including the news that Paul Giblin was absolutely tearing up the course and was on track to obliterate the course record.

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20130622_113617It was warm, but the weather was extremely changeable. Every 5 minutes it would change from being sunny to pouring rain. The midgies were out in force so Deet-based products were being slathered on all exposed skin. Just before 1pm we greeted Marc and Neil who had been out for 7 hours along the lochside. They came in with three runners plus George and Karen and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. This was now over 12 hours of race time and 40 miles of running.

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Kynon and I left Beinglas together at about 1pm and began the journey to Auchtertyre. You will perhaps note our unusual choice of headwear – peaked caps are excellent for keeping midgie-nets off your face when you’re walking/running. The WHW isn’t really a place for fashion.

20130622_130721I remember how barren this part of the Way was in April when I ran the Fling. To see all of the trees in full bloom and beautiful greenery everywhere was a pleasure. It started to get really warm  and we were able to lose a few of our layers and enjoy our trek in the sunshine.

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The runner we were with was fine, but he was going quite slowly. After a few miles we spent some time talking with him about the various pros and cons of the race check points; it was obvious that he wasn’t going to make the cut off in time unless he picked up the pace but that didn’t seem to bother him too much.

After a while I ran on to check on the other runners who were ahead and left Kynon to hold court at the back. I passed a couple of ladies who were doing fine until I found a lady sitting on a stile. She said she was DNFing and had called her support, but she was fine and didn’t need my help. Since she didn’t have a definite plan I decided I would stay with her until she was absolutely sure who was coming to get her and when. It was just as well I did as due to multiple phone calls with mixed messages and dodgy phone signals cutting out, the support were looking for her in the wrong place.

After she was collected, the next challenge was to get me caught up with the race. Further mixed information had meant that Race Control had intended that I was to be taken to the next check point by the runner’s support, but that message hadn’t got through so I was happily awaiting collection by George, who was in turn oblivious to this. After 10 minutes I called again to find out what was happening, and in the end one of the Trossachs Search and Rescue cars came to get me. When they turned up however, they thought I was the DNFing runner! Eventually I was taken further up the course where I got back on the Way and started running back towards Kynon who was still with the same runner, now on pace to be about 30 minutes late for the Auchtertyre cut off. At 4pm we had called the next sweep team to tell them to leave on time and we’d see the last runner in.

20130622_160530He’d been warned, and warned and warned; but still, it wasn’t pretty and he was not a happy individual. We were glad to be objective and not part of the race management, and just headed towards the car and the rest of the sweep team to make the next plan.

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We headed to the Bridge of Orchy hotel with Neil and Mark and settled in for some serious R n R. I had a complete change of clothes and a baby-wipe wash in the bathroom and then enjoyed a box of mashed potato, baked beans and quorn sausages that I had prepared the day before. Paired with some freshly deep fried onion rings, a pint of lemonade and a sofa and I was fully refreshed. It was about 6pm and my next stint wasn’t until midnight so I had some time to recover.

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We were just finished our food when a call from George notified us that a runner had collapsed outside Bridge of Orchy and that he needed help to stretcher him off the hill. The lads all scampered off, eager to help, but I stayed put, figuring I wouldn’t be much use in amongst a crowd of much stronger humans and I would probably just get in the way.

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It had turned into a stunner of an evening and the sun was shining brightly. I realised that in my three years of crewing on the Way I had never seen the hills surrounding Bridge of Orchy as they’ve always been cloaked in thick cloud. Whilst we waited for the sweepers to re-appear I admired the beautiful landscape and was thankful to be out and about enjoying it.

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Our next stop was Inveroran where Scott and Alex were ready to head out over Rannoch Moor. We parked both cars side by side with the windows down and sat and told silly jokes and told dirty tales. The tiredness was working in our favour; people’s humour was just getting silly, not dissolving and it felt like the group was really gelling.

20130622_202753The drive through Glencoe to the ski centre and the next check point is always breathtaking in it’s beauty. At the time of night the sun was pouring through gaps in the chunk clouds creating a beautiful effect on the hills. My phone camera couldn’t capture it, but a member of a support team called Jonathan Bellarby took this remarkable image looking down Glencoe at this time. The Way clings to the side of the Glen to the right and then goes up over the hills in the middle – over the fearsome Devil’s Staircase.

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Upon arrival at Glencoe we were able to catch up with our friends in the big red fire rescue truck and share another cup of coffee. People’s races were starting to get tough here, light was fading and the runners were facing their second night on the trail.

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20130622_205325We set up in the ski cafe to charge phones and Garmins and settled down for a couple of hours. There was much amusement however, when a young deer came along to hang out!

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He quite contentedly wandered around the support vehicles, cheekily asking for snacks and gently taking them from hands.

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I passed the time looking at Facebook and marveling at the athletic performances which had been unleashed. Paul Giblin had destroyed the course record in 15hrs and 7 minutes, taking 35 minutes off Terry Conway’s record set the previous year. The people who we would be finishing the race with would take more than double that time to complete the course which is a hard thing to get your head around at times.

The toughest part of the weekend ended up not being anything to do with the running or walking, but in fact it was the hours of waiting around which provided the biggest challenge. The final runners and the sweepers arrived at Glencoe around 11pm, but it was closer to Midnight before we were able to leave with the last runner, who had spent the intervening time shut in his van vomiting.

The temperature had dropped considerably when darkness fell and there was a wicked wind screaming down the Glen that cut right through everything I had on. Memories of the near-hypothermic state I ended up in last year on the Saturday night reminded me that there probably was no such thing as wearing too much clothes. We would be moving very slowly for several hours; not quickly enough to keep our body temperatures up without a lot of extra help, so I re-dressed with extra layers.  I believe the sum total was three long sleeve tops, a thick waterproof running jacket, my crew jacket and a waterproof/windproof anorak over the top. Running tights with compression knee-socks on over the top on my bottom half, and  associated hats, buffs and gloves to keep the peripherals warm. I felt cosy, but not too hot.

I was covering the next section to Kinlochleven with Neil. We checked all of the parked vehicles for sleeping runners/crew until we were sure that we just had our final runner remaining. We spoke to his crew and I realised I actually knew the guy in question; unfortunately he was not feeling very well at all. His crew said he’d be on the move soon, but that he’d prefer if we weren’t breathing down his neck so could we keep our distance. At just before midnight we finally departed and headed into the darkness, head torches switched off as between the last glimmer of daylight and the moon they were not required.

Neil and I stayed about 100 meters behind the runner and his support runner and chatted about running stuff to pass the time. Despite the thick cloud it was still beautiful to walk through the Glen in the deepest part of the night; when else would you get the opportunity to do something like this? The runner’s crew met him at the Kingshouse Hotel and forced him to eat some more; despite his stomach troubles he seemed to be moving at a fair clip across the flat terrain.

The Kingshouse Hotel seemed quiet on the outside, but we passed around the back which had a door open into the bar where there were some smokers. It was such a strange juxtaposition – the silence and tranquility of Glencoe at 1am, and a bar stuffed to the gunnels with people having a rager. It was getting to the point in the race where real life seems weird and a distant memory; tiredness does strange things to the mind and to me at that time, partying and having some beer seemed very obscure.

The runners support met him once more at Altnafeadh, just before we began the ascent of the Devil’s Staircase. We let him get a little head start and then followed after, but we had caught up in moments. The incline was proving to be a real challenge for the runner and as expected, it was a very slow journey up. We followed in silence, stepping quietly behind and halting every few seconds when he did. Every so often the incline would almost cause the runner to over-balance and I put my hands out to attempt to catch him should he fall backwards. For over two hours we didn’t say a word, the runner and his support were silent and the only sound was four pairs of feet moving forwards slowly, inch by inch.

The tiredness was becoming almost disabling. In the darkness and moving so slowly, I felt myself falling asleep on my feet. Every time we paused, my eyes would slide shut and I’d almost drift off but then force myself awake before I fell over. It was a most unnerving feeling and before long it felt like I was having an out of body experience and I was aware of myself making my way up the hill but not particularly conscious of it. This year’s hallucinations were not as cool as last year’s peacocks and dogs, but I was convinced there were wrapped Christmas gifts by the side of the trail, and kept on seeing rubbish that wasn’t there.

We eventually reached the Wilderness Response Team tent which was being staffed by two cold and tired chaps who were very glad to see us so they could pack up and go home. They would have been on that hill since about 12pm the previous day, providing cheery smiles and care if required in one of the most remote parts of the course. By now it was getting light and the headtorches were turned off again. We were now closer to Kinlochleven and were witness to a spectacular cloud inversion which saw us looking down upon thick mists in the valleys below.

Once again we were met by George and Karen who were waiting about 2 miles out of Kinlochleven. We all sat down and had a rest and some food and assessed how the runner was doing; he looked completely out of it and was going to need some serious TLC at Kinlochleven if he was going to continue. It was 4am so he had enough time to get going, but he certainly couldn’t hang around as the checkpoint closed at 5. Karen and I decided to run down and speak to the support to keep them in the picture and get them ready to receive him for a fast turn around, whilst George and Neil got the runner going again and down the hill as soon as possible.

Karen and I took off and ran our fastest miles of the weekend downhill through the clouds and into the town. When I entered the leisure centre everyone looked up in hope of seeing the last runner, but instead they were treated to a sweaty zombie sweeper – my 6 layers of clothes were less of a good idea for 25 minutes of sprinting. Kynon and Julie came up and talked to me; but I don’t remember what they said. The rest of the sweep team had been here since about 1am and had all got a few hours sleep in the gym hall; passing out on one of those mattresses was all I could think of. I clocked an empty one and saw that the race Doctor was starting to pack up his stuff in the hall – sleepy logic dictated that if I managed to get on that mattress then he wouldn’t be able to move it. I stripped off five of my six layers, dumped them and my camelbak on a sofa and grabbed Kynon’s sleeping bag. I wondered briefly if I ought to ask permission but then realised I wasn’t capable of speech so just staggered towards the mattress and flumped on my side. I was asleep before I even had the chance to pull the sleeping bag over me.

An hour later and Kynon is desperately trying to wake me up without physically shaking me – he and Julie have been trying to figure out whose responsibility it is to remove the comatose sweepers from the hall so that they can close the check point. It was decided that Kynon had assumed those duties when he put a ring on my finger last year so he had bravely ventured into the gym hall where I was doing a very convincing impression of a chainsaw. I’m known for sleeping particularly deeply (example HERE) so it was always going to be quite a task to get me conscious again, especially on this occasion. I don’t really remember anything else from Kinlochleven other than seeing Neil completely passed out on a sofa and thinking it was good that he’d got some rest as well.

The final runner had left Kinlochleven with time to spare and had headed off with Marc and Alex. Neil, Scott, Kynon and I headed to the outskirts of Fort William to sleep some more before Neil would drive Scott and Kynon up to take the final shift from Lundavra to the finish. We managed a further power snooze of about an hour and a half before it was time to go; in the intervening time the runner that we had escorted over the Devil had unfortunately pulled out and a good friend, Minty, had collapsed just outside Lundavra and hit his head hard. The race takes no prisoners and it will eat you alive if you’re not tough enough – which is why Minty kept going and went on to finish his first West Highland Way Race in 27hrs 26 minutes.

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Neil left about 07:15 to drive the final sweepers up to Lundavra and I contemplated the race journey so far and made some blog notes. It is always the most amazing experience, but it is the most extreme test of mental endurance I face each year. One year soon I will take a break and run the race instead – I’m told so frequently that running the race is far less stressful than crewing!

With the final sweepers on the way with a trio of cheerful runners who were definitely going to finish, Marc, Scott, Neil and I departed to Morrisons at 08:00am to get a hot breakfast. The fact that we all stared blankly at the food menu in the supermarket for a good 5 minutes trying to figure out what we wanted and how to order is telling of the mental state we were in. After eating our plates of sausages, beans and eggs washed down with toast and coffee, we decided to wander around Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports to fill in some time. The race was expected to finish about 11am and we headed up to the finish about 10:30am and caught up with the race HQ and assorted others hanging around.

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I watched a few runners come in and got that familiar feeling of the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end when I saw them greeted by their families who were simply bursting with pride. A few of the highly placed finishers and their families had come down to watch the last runners come in as well, which speaks volumes about the inclusive, ‘family’ feel of the event. Everyone looks out for one another, fast and slow, and the camaraderie between runners is incredible. I heard someone compare it to the camaraderie he had experienced in his time in the Armed forces which he hadn’t seen anywhere else in civilian life.

At 11:04 am, the last runner crossed the line with Scott. Kynon followed not long after, having stopped to help a support runner who had hurt her back. He crossed the line, shook Ian’s hand and declared the course to be clear – the race was done! After a quick change we all departed to the Nevis Centre hall for the prizegiving which was bursting at the seams with runners and their supporters. There had to be well over 500 people in that hall and the applause for everyone’s achievements was deafening.

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Paul Giblin received a standing ovation for his record breaking run. I cheered extra loudly for Mike who continues to improve and this year came 6th in a time of 18hrs 18 mins.  There were huge cheers for those who had completed their tenth race and the biggest cheer (and another standing ovation) went to Gareth Bryan-Jones who at the age of SEVENTY completed the race in 26 hours and 15 minutes.

I came away from the ceremony emotionally charged and inspired. Being a part of this race keeps me hungry for more and encourages me to push myself further every time I train, in the hope that one day soon I will also be able to earn my own crystal goblet. As ever, it’s not a young persons race and competitors under the age of 30 are rare – there were only 5 female finishers in the F Senior category which extends to the age of 39.

The rest of the day saw us checking into our accommodation and groaning in delight as we lay down on the soft beds. I had the best shower of my life and then enjoyed a couple of bottles of beer with my feet up whilst de-briefing with the rest of the gang. We headed to the after-party at 8pm and proceeded to drink the Ben Nevis bar dry until we got kicked out at 1am.

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I lost count of the amount of people who asked me if I was running the race next year, including race directer Ian Beattie, who opened our conversation with “So I’ll be awarding you a goblet this time this year then, will I?”. To this I say: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. If it weren’t for the wedding and the honeymoon I might be thinking differently, but they fall at a time next year when training would need to be at its peak. As I said above, the race takes no prisoners; I am not going into this less than 100% prepared and I will not attempt to wing it – I have far too much respect for this race. At times I struggled in the Fling, so I know I can, and need to, get stronger.

Goals are good. Long term goals are even better, and from here I can see the next two years’ training shaping up very nicely. I will not be putting my name in the hat for the 2014 WHW Race ballot, but from now on every mile I run will be one mile closer to Milngavie Railway station in 2015. I will stand in the crowd on Midsummer’s night once more, but this time as a runner. I will listen to Ian give his briefing, before taking my place at the start and awaiting the horn and running up the High Street in to the darkness and the unknown adventure of the fabled 95 miles. It will be a long hard journey over the next two years to get there, but the goal has been set and the work starts now.

 

 

 

 

 

RACE REPORT: The Running Shop Beach 10k 2013

runningshop10k3The Running Shop Beach 10k 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Splits:

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

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

See you in Milngavie!

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!

The view from the bench

It’s been a funny couple of weeks. Since crossing the finish line at Paris I have ran approximately 8 miles, and I don’t like it one bit. I’ve been under strict physio orders to NOT RUN if I want any chance of getting to the starting line of the Fling in one piece (let alone the finish), so I have been cross training gently and giving my mind an extensive workout in the form of extreme positive thinking.

In 4 days time I’ll be packing up and heading down the road to Milngavie for the start of the 53 mile Highland Fling Ultramarathon and the longest race I have ever ran. How did this come about so soon? I’ve had a countdown on my phone since I signed up back in November and it really wasn’t that long ago it was reading days in triple figures. Back in November I didn’t imagine that I’d be staring down the Fling at this point having only run 4 times this whole month so far; but then again I can’t say I imagined  I’d be staring at it having knocked half an hour off my D33 time and coming within a whisker of a 4 hour marathon at Paris.  I have to take the rough with the smooth on this occasion, I think!

I’m aware that I haven’t given a huge amount of specific updates on my training for this race, and I guess the reason for that is for the most part due to my ‘one week at a time’ strategy. I wrote a training plan back in January, but after about a month I found things weren’t working so well and ended up planning my running week by week – but that’s a story for another post.

20130413_113213This is how I’m currently rolling, with a distinctive trilogy of red, white and blue holding my knee together as I bounce off the walls in frustration, desperate to be running ‘properly’ again. It feels a long time since my longest run (33 miles, 16th March) and a long time since  I had a ‘proper’ long training run with my backpack on and an aching body the next day.

20130413_113223I feel I have to note that I didn’t get a choice in the colours of the tape. I’d much rather it was a Saltire of course, or black…

All jesting aside, here’s an update on what’s up with my knee and how I’m handling it on the approach to the longest race of my running life so far. It’s a heady mix of denial, positivity and pure stubbornness as I refuse to acknowledge that there’s even the slightest chance I will DNS or DNF the Fling. This is the race where it has been known for a runner to carry on for 15 miles whilst having a heart attack, it has been finished by runners with broken bones that they didn’t start off with, and there are people who are desperate to be on the starting line this year as usual who are only not going to be because Doctors have had to practically tie them to a bed to stop them. My knee hurts when I run. No big deal.

The problem I’m experiencing is knee Bursitis, which is a completely typical runners’ injury. It is caused by inflammation of a bursa which are small fluid-filled sacs found in and around the knee cap, but you get them in all joints. The inflammation can be caused by repeated pressure on the joint or repeated movement and in the case of runners with the condition, over-training, running up a lot of hills, or failing to warm-up properly are frequently the culprits. I may or may not be guilty of all three.

I have been treating it with a steady consumption of ibuprofen, icing and rest. Whilst it is getting better I don’t think I’m going to be on the starting line in perfect shape by any stretch of the imagination. Even if I do start pain-free, I doubt that it will last very long. A trail ultra is much kinder to the legs than a road marathon though, so I am hopeful that I will be able to cope with the pain when it comes and manage it until I reach the finish. Like I’ve described before, the pain is on the inside of my left knee and hurts like an annoyance such as a headache does when I run – as in, it’s tolerable and it won’t stop me moving forward, but it’s not exactly pleasant. Given that a trail ultra of 53 miles will give me plenty of opportunities for a walk if required, I think the pain will be easier to deal with on this occasion than trying to hammer out a fast road race for a decent time without breaking pace.

So this taper, if you can even call it that, has been excruciating. Alongside all of the usual joys of taperitis with its pre-race nerves and phantom illnesses, I have genuine injury concern to manage as well which is making drawing the line between the two quite challenging. It has concerned me how unhappy not being able to run has made me, and this enforced time on the bench has made me question how I would cope if I ever were in a prolonged position where I couldn’t run at all. Is there such a thing as putting all ones’ fitness eggs in one hypothetical basket I wonder? All I want to do is run. I know I moan about it sometimes, but being a runner  really does make me very happy. Who would I be if I had to stop? It has made me conduct rather a lot of soul-searching, and the answer is I don’t know but I’m going to finish my first 50 miler on Saturday and that’s all that matters for now.

Where do positive thoughts spiral out of control and into delusion? I don’t know that either, but I won’t like to be the person who attempted to explain it to me.  What I do know though, is that in ultramarathons after a certain distance it’s all in the mind anyway and it’s not my mind that’s broken. I know I have the training and endurance in me to physically keep going for all 53 miles, but if I let negative thoughts in then that’s my biggest enemy. Mike ran only 120 miles in the two months between the West Highland Way race and the Glenmore 24 last year, and then proceeded to run 121 miles in 24 hours at Glenmore. Vicki sustained an ITB injury at the Fling last year and barely ran again until the West Highland Way race two months later, which she completed in 31 hours.

There’s no rhyme or reason to it, I can’t explain it, but it happens. The endless pursuit of ‘ultra’ is one of the things which makes our sport so mythically amazing; people have written books about it in attempts to explain it and still no-one’s got to the bottom of it. It’s what makes it so hard to explain why we run these races to well-meaning friends, family and randoms who ask us about it in the pub (after they spit their pint all over the floor of course). We are all in pursuit of that extra wave of energy that comes from nowhere and keeps us going in the darkest places and you have to believe that when you need it, it will come.

My biggest weapon against this race and this distance is my belief in myself and my training. I can do this. I CAN DO THIS.

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All I need to do is start at the start and keep running until I reach the finish. Simple.

A mutual friend was seen to comment the following in the West Highland Way Race Family facebook group recently, which just about sums it all up: “There are only three reasons for pulling out: 1. You’re dead 2. You’re unconscious 3. You’re paralysed. Everything else is just a minor detail to be ignored”.

The rest of this week will be taken up with planning, shopping and mentally focusing. I’ll do another update on the nitty-gritty of my race and what I’m planning to eat, wear and my general plans for my 53 mile journey. All in all it’s going to be a huge adventure and honestly, I can’t wait to unleash my inner strength on that trail.

RunnerInside

RACE REPORT: D33 Ultra 2013

D33 Ultramarathon

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16th March 2013

5hrs 26mins 29 secs (30 min PB!)
140th/292 finishers
24th Female (out of 61)
5th Stonehaven Running Club female finisher (16 championship points).

The 33 mile D33 Ultramarathon was my first venture into distances beyond 26.2 miles in 2012. I had such a successful and enjoyable race that returning for a second crack at it in 2013 was never in doubt. It’s a brilliantly organised race, directed by George Reid of Stonehaven Running Club and assisted by a team of eager marshals who keep coming back year after year. At £12 a place, it also offers astounding value in these days when the eager runner can find themselves paying £25 for a 5k race.

The race, like many other ultras this year, saw a huge surge in interest and entries flew in when they went live at Midnight on the 1st of January 2013. By the time I arrived home from working at the Stonehaven Fireballs parade at 01:30am on Hogmanay, there were 72 places already taken. I quickly signed up and headed out to party and I’ve been looking forward to the race with 349 other eager ultrachums ever since.

As recently documented my goal race this Spring is the Hoka Highland Fling which is on the 27th of April. This 33 mile race fitted in beautifully with my training programme which has consisted of roughly what I did last year but with longer runs during the week. Up until the last minute I was truly undecided as to how I was going to treat the race – would I do it steadily and try and glean the most out of a long slow run on my feet? Or would I go for broke, race my heart out and see what I was capable of? The other option for the perpetually indecisive runner, is to just start running and see what happens.

Two nights before the race, the Stonehaven Running Club ladies invited me to a pasta party, where we shamelessly gorged on bread, lasagne and cheesecake and talked about our race plans. I was a bit nervous about going as I didn’t know everyone and would be the youngest, and the only one unmarried and without kids, but naturally the conversation was relentlessly about running so I enjoyed myself heartily and was glad to be included. I am really enjoying being a part of a running club!

On Friday night I continued to eat solidly and enjoyed my typical pre-race/long run meal of a large pizza and stromboli.

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After hoovering that and enjoying a beer to steady the nerves, I started packing for the day’s racing, starting with drop bags.

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Just like last year in training, I’ve been fueling with gels, hula hoops, jaffa cakes and the odd jelly sweet. I packed what you see above into my camelbak and put the same again into my drop bag for half way. I wasn’t sure that I would eat anywhere near all of it but I decided it would be better to have options than nothing at all. Some runs I can’t bear to eat sweet things, others make me crave sugar; nothing was particularly heavy so my choices wouldn’t weigh me down. I usually have HIGH5 Zero electrolyte water in my camelbak but decided to have Powerade at the checkpoints as well for an extra boost. I love drinking that stuff when I’ve been running hard so I thought it would be a refreshing change half way.

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Drop bags labelled with my number (and waterproofed with sellotape), it was time to lay out my kit. As you know I was studying the weather forecasts all week and they reported a full spectrum of precipitation in the days preceding the race. At the last check however it didn’t look like we were going to have a dry day – it was forecast to be very cold and dry and then rain/sleet/snow from mid-morning onwards. Damn.

I chose my favourite Karrimor running shorts and my 2XU calf sleeves, and decided on a merino long-sleeve with a vest underneath and my club vest on top, with gloves and buff. Also in my kit bag I packed tights and a waterproof shell jacket in case I changed my mind at the start, and some warm dry clothes to change into when I was finished. For my shoes, after considerable dithering, I decided to wear my cloudsurfers. At least 80% of the run is on tarmac or hard-packed earth, so I thought they’d be the best choice given the amount of wear I’ve been giving them recently.

Bags packed and clothes ready, I passed the time by painting my nails in SRC club colours and watched rubbish on TV. I wasn’t nervous really, but the hours before any big race are the worst – you just want to get going.

Race morning dawned cloudy and overcast – but dry! I sprung out of bed at 0545 leaving Kynon fast asleep and put the coffee on, donned my racing clothes and had breakfast with the cat. I watched some inspirational videos on youtube and visualised my race and what I wanted from it. My most enduring memory from last year is running fast into Duthie Park feeling so, so strong – I could have been superwoman. I wanted to feel like that again, so my goals were shaping around a strong, fast finish.

At 0710 I headed along the road to meet a couple of the SRC girls to drive up to get our minibuses to Aberdeen. Because there were 23 of us registered for the race, we decided to book transport rather than clog up valuable car park space for those coming from further afield.

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I sat in the front and chatted with the driver about the race. I’m not sure he really understood what we were away to do or exactly why we were doing it, but he was pleasant enough and we arrived in the park in no time. Upon disembarkation, familiar faces were already milling around and the atmosphere was buzzing. I got my drop-bags in the correct place, my kitbag in the right van for the finish, and quickly and easily registered and got my number, 73, from Julie.

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It was COLD in the park. This was only 0800 so it can’t have been much above 0C and there was still a thick crust of frost on the grass. I was grateful to have plenty of people to chat to distract me and spent time interspersing jumping around with the odd stretch – anything to keep moving.

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Kynon arrived not long after I was registered. Wrapped up like the Michelin Man in umpteen layers, he was well prepared for a day of marshaling at the half way checkpoint.

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I kept my waterproof shell on until the start, but wasn’t intending on running in it. At the last minute, I decided to put on my fleece-lined sleeves under my merino top as an extra layer – if they were a nuisance then I could always discard them at a checkpoint. This turned out to be the best decision I made all day.

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A couple of weeks ago my SRC friend Kate and I decided to enter a team in to the mixed team competition – she was running her first ultra with her twin brother Alex as they turned 33 on the 15th of March – the day before the race. Kate goes by the name ‘weekatiepea’ on Fetch so we decided to call ourselves ‘Red Wine and Peas’.

Thankfully the Winter Gardens were open so we could use the toilets this year. I went over to savour the humid warmth of the greenhouses but forced myself out before I got to comfortable. Walking back over to the start with my friend Minty, he asked about my goals for the race. Vague as ever I replied;
“Well…ehhhh, I’m just going to maybe head out at like, 10 minute mile pace for the first half and see how it goes… I’ll walk every 40 minutes or so I think…yeah, and as long as I finish strong, you know…?”
His response was; “What would you say if I said I thought you could run faster? I think you’re under-selling yourself with all the training you’ve been doing lately, and you were so running so well on that day up Loch Muick. They call these things races for a reason, you know?”
Hmm – food for thought. I mused over his comments as I crunched over the icy ground. My biggest fear was running too hard and injuring myself, putting my performance at the Paris Marathon and the Fling in jeopardy. I felt stronger than I ever have, and there’s nothing worse than finishing a race and knowing you could have done more; feeling that there’s still fuel left in the tank.

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Back at the start, and almost everyone had arrived. What a contrast to two years ago when I came along to watch my two ultrarunning friends finish this race; I know so many other runners and each race is an enriching experience to be learned from. Perhaps I had no business playing it safe and maybe Minty was right, perhaps I was under-selling myself. When was the last time I truly pushed myself out of my comfort zone and found out what I was made of? Maybe it was time to find out. You can’t play it safe all the time.

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picture: Ian Russell

0850 and George’s voice on the Megaphone signified that it was time to assemble and listen up. He delivered a short and humourous race briefing as the runners huddled together for warmth. Thankfully he had an amplifier this year so everyone could hear. Out of 346 entries, about 20 dropped out officially and just under 300 made it to the starting line on the day.

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Without great ceremony we were sent on our way, and I was delighted to be finally on the move. My fingers and toes were numb!

ianr5Above pictures: Ian Russell

Just like last year, the stream of neon reached out from the park along the Deeside Railway line in an endless river of lycra. Other path-users were temporarily rendered statuesque amongst us as we (very politely) temporarily took over the road and swarmed around them. There was the usual banter and jokes as everyone settled into their pace and in a flash we had run a mile and we were passing the old Holburn station, where my friends Ryan and Sheenagh and my Mum were waiting to cheer.

P1040069Mike leading the race.

P1040103Pictures: Ryan Roberts

I glided through the first few miles, keeping pace with those around me and not feeling any exertion at all. Every time I looked at my watch it read at or around 9:30min pace – I tried not to let this intimidate me and just ran by feel – I felt good, so I kept going. I was near some of girls from the club and others who I knew were a lot stronger, faster runners than I – going at this speed felt dangerous with 30odd miles still to go but I wasn’t going to be the first one to break for a walk and get dropped. 40 minutes came and went, 50 minutes, an hour passed and still no walking. This in itself is no great feat but it’s certainly not how I planned to race this ultra.

Splits, miles 1-8
9:24, 9:31, 9:30, 9:29, 9:44, 9:33, 9:38: 10:25

1 hour and 17 minutes passed and I was at the 8 mile check point. Sean of the West Highland Way Race was here as well as Corrah and Sheri but I wasn’t stopping to chat. “number 73, going straight through” I called as I sailed past the bunch of runners at the check point and instantly gained 5 or 6 places. It was time for my second gel – even though I wasn’t walking I made sure still to eat, but my hula hoops and jaffas remained untouched. Real food wasn’t appealing.

Like last year, I decided to start to listen to some music here. I had downloaded Calvin Harris’ album ‘Eighteen Months’ on a whim that morning and decided to give it a spin. It had been raining lightly since mile 3 but now the precipitation started to get serious and I was thoroughly soaked through. When the path leaves the road near Drumoak it is very exposed and I felt the wind blow right through me but the music kept me perky.

Due to the miserable conditions I shut most of my senses down; I don’t really remember much other than constantly chiding myself to keep going. I don’t even remember if the album was any good! I thought about having a short walk coming into Drumoak, but then I noticed Mike’s wife Annette sitting taking pictures, so I didn’t want to be caught walking! At Drumoak I noticed I was slowly closing in on three SRC girls and as I crested the top of the hill I walked a few steps with them as we checked in with each other. I pushed on and passed them but was aware of them on my heels – as Donna Duggan captures here beautifully;

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Ahem. I’ve never looked better. It was really chucking it down now but thankfully the tree-lined path offered some shelter from the sleet. My hands were soaked and cold but then I remembered that soon I would be high-fiving and cheering the faster runners as they passed on the return journey which would warm them right up.

To my surprise I realised I’d caught up with Al and Tommy – I thought they’d be miles ahead of me by now but instead we ran a few miles together catching up on the news. Tommy is training for the West Highland Way race but sadly Al was one of the 15 runners who missed out on a ballot place this year. Another race that is suffering unfortunate consequences of its own success.

I passed the half marathon point in 2hrs 7 mins. Not long after the lead bike came into sight and the leader passed us, face frozen in a gurn but still nodding to acknowledge our applause. Paul Giblin followed the second place runner, and to our delight we saw Mike bringing up 4th place! He looked strong and very focused.

The next half hour was peppered with ‘well done’s and ‘good running’s which broke up the last three soggy miles before the check point. I was interested to see how close I was to some of my friends the closer I got to the turn-around point. I was really looking forward to a hug and a kiss from Kynon and hoped there would be some ultra-flapjack left.

Splits miles 9 – 16:
9:27, 9:31, 10:23, 9:28, 9:47, 9:45, 9:43, 9:51

I splashed into the check point and called out my number. It was quite busy but Julie had found my bag quickly and handed it to me. I was delighted to see my Mum who gave me a quick hug and helped me get my gloves off and to put more gels in my pockets. I hadn’t touched any of my real food so the supplies in my drop bag remained where they were, other than my powerade which I drank hungrily. Kynon was busy doing his job but came over for a hug and to wish me well – I realised compared to last year I was 20 minutes faster into half way so told him he’d better get a move on if he wanted to catch me at the finish this year. (He was late and missed me last year as he was in the pub!).

I finished my delicious ultra flapjack and knew I had to get a move on – if anything I was now freezing cold. I noticed the other SRC girls were into the checkpoint and the rest of ‘Red wine and Peas’ had already left so it was time to get going. I really didn’t want to be the last SRC girl to finish – where had this competitive nature come from? It is most unlike me…

The next 8 miles were my slowest of the race and were edging more towards 10:30 minute pace. It took me a while to warm up again after the check point and even though I was on my way home, I had a brief depressing period of realisation of how much longer I had to be out in the horrible weather before I got there. However I blocked off all my senses again and pushed on. Eyes screwed tightly shut against the blowing snow, it was just one foot in front of another; splish splash; through a puddle, squelch; oh there’s some mud, another four miles; eat another gel, oh hey look; I’m going to pass this person. A constant train of inane thoughts pushing me along the converted railway line in the rain.

I caught up with Al and Tommy just after Crathes and passed them, I caught the Peas at Drumoak and and passed them, I caught RitchieC just after Drumoak and passed him, I powered up the long slow hill before checkpoint 3 and passed everyone walking. Hang on, wait; what? Where had 8 miles gone? Was I at the last check point already?! Better have another gel then.

Splits miles 17 – 24:
14:23, 9:59, 9:54, 9:55, 10:10, 10:29, 10:20, 10:15

It was at this point I noticed I had yet to be passed in the return leg. Trotting past the check point I felt a huge boost as I realised that I only had 8 miles to go – that’s a simple run-of-the-mill lunchtime run for me. I run 8 miles at lunch three times a week in 1hr 17min on a bad day – I could do this in my sleep. I knew this trail inside out and have run hundreds of miles on it – the race was in the bag.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Since mile 8 I had had a nagging stitch in my stomach which was getting to be a real nuisance. In many runs recently, the same muscle has been cramping up and causing me a lot of pain, especially after about 20 miles. Thankfully on this occasion it wasn’t causing as much disruption as it has been known to do, but I really  could have done without it. I was also suffering from very stiff shoulders and upper back muscles; I don’t think it was related to my camelbak, but perhaps a build-up of tension in my muscles as I steeled myself against the wind and cold. I was constantly finding myself hunched over towards the end of the race and having to pull myself back up again. As soon as I did, the pain lessened but the muscles were constantly burning like I’d just finished a few sets of shoulder presses with a heavy barbell.

I concentrated on my triceps and pushed them straight back with each stride, imagining them swinging by my sides like pendulums. I made sure that I was picking up and placing my feet properly – no ultra-shuffling allowed! Focusing on these kept me moving at a smooth, decent pace and allowed me to continue passing people at a greatly increased pace. I cruised past 26.2 miles at 4hrs 20 mins – only 30 seconds slower than my PB set at Moray in September. When I realised this and did the sums, I discovered I could run at 10 minute pace between now and the finish and still come in under 5hrs 30. Was this even happening?! Despite the truly awful weather I was having a dream race. I decided it was time for my ‘Last Gasp’ playlist on my iPod – the one filled with my favourite running songs which never fail to make my heart soar with endorphins as I run like I stole something.

The field was strung out with runners separated by about 100 meters each and I picked them off one by one. People who had zoomed past me earlier in the race were flagging and I was maintaining the same pace and quicker than I had started at 5 hours ago. I ticked each landmark on the trail off as I passed them – Bieldside Golf Course, the bridge at Cults, 30 MILES!!!, the 3 Mile to Duthie Park sign, Anderson Drive, Holburn Street, the graveyard….the Duthie Park Green houses…

Into the last mile I just let myself fly – this was the fast finish that I’d dreamed of earlier. There were some people who stopped to clap as I entered the park and I was grinning like a mad woman as I charged through the last few hundred meters towards the finish. Finish! Kynon! Hugs! Beer! Medal! Cake! Warmth!

Mile splits 25 – 33:
10:01, 9:49, 9:44, 9:51 9:47, 9:45, 9:38, 9:26, 7:53 (!!!)

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picture – Ian Russell

I remember punching the air in delight and shouting “Yes! YESS!!!” as I came in to the finish chute, completely in shock at what I had achieved. A 30 minute improvement on last year’s time. I think I stumbled towards Kynon and George and hugged them both in exhilaration whilst George put the medal over my head. Mum was there too and so was Naomi who was helping with timing. Lots and lots of hugs!

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The next little while is a blur as I struggled to get warm and dry. I was torn between drinking my beer and a protein shake but I made myself down a shake first to get some solid fuel in me before indulging. As the blood flowed back into my hands it was agony – I clutched my bottle of Stella with two frozen paws like a child with a sippy cup – like most post-race beers though, it was the best I’d ever had.

I got a massage from Joey from Aberdeen Sports Massage who has treated both Kynon and I in the past, with the optimistic view that I might be out the next day for a short recovery trot.  I enjoyed some more beer whilst sharing battle stories with other runners before the prizegiving. It had been a very tough day for everyone but the weather seemed to have brought out the best of us and some smashing performances were recorded. Imagine our surprise however, to hear that Red Wine and Peas won the fastest Mixed Team competition! We were delighted, but Alex had got too cold and had already left so is sadly missing from our victory shot.

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My first running trophy! We’ll arrange some kind of timeshare so we can each get a shot of having it on the mantelpiece.

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Everyone was so impossibly cold that it was high time to get home and into the bath. High as a kite and jabbering like an excited 5 year old, I jumped into the car with Kynon and talked all the way home. Further celebratory beers were opened and some spectacular rugby was watched, before we headed up to the Station Hotel for the after party to celebrate a wonderful day of running.

I’m yet to get out for that recovery trot, but I’m being sensible and attempting to let my body recover from that which turned out to be a pretty hard effort. My legs have been mostly fine but my left ITB is a little creaky so I’m nursing that hard. I also have a blister that is the same size as my big toe, on my big toe. It actually started on the 23rd of February and is yet to heal nearly 3 weeks later, so I’m trying to let that dry up a bit.

I am now feeling so much more confident about the Highland Fling – the hay is in the barn so to speak, and I’ve proved to myself that I’m capable of doing a lot more than I thought I could. Between now and then I just need to maintain my fitness and concentrate in keeping myself as healthy as can be. I’m hugely grateful to Minty for putting those positive thoughts in my head on Saturday morning – it just goes to show a little self belief goes a long way.

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53 miles is a long way too, but it’s ok; I can do it.

RACE REPORT: Moray Marathon

Moray Marathon

2nd September 2012

Time: 4hrs 19 mins 30secs
Position: 106th/141 finishers
Gender: 21st/33 female finishers
Category: 7th/ 10 Senior Ladies

Kynon and I travelled up to Elgin the night before the race and stayed at the Eight Acres hotel on the outskirts of the town. It was a bit of a last minute luxury decision to stay Saturday night; Elgin is only about 2 hours’ drive from Aberdeen but I decided the extra expense was worth the peace of mind of arriving the night before, and of course the extra time in bed.

When we got to the hotel we decided to get the most out of our stay and use the leisure facilities. I was bouncing off the walls with pent-up energy and nerves so was glad to have a gentle swim, and also enjoyed some time in the jacuzzi and sauna to really relax my muscles. My ITB had been tight since my last run on Thursday but other than that I was feeling in peak condition.

We met Naomi and her Dad for dinner – simple, staple carbs at the local Wetherspoons. I had vegetarian sausages, mashed potatoes and peas with gravy, and a side of steamed vegetables. I can’t say I really enjoyed it – I was too nervous to have any appetite but I shovelled it down anyway, knowing that I had to eat.

Kynon and I were back in the hotel by 8.30 after a gentle walk home to digest our dinner along part of the route as the sun set. I was still so nervous and wound up; I spent time sorting and organising all of my things and going over the plans with Kynon before doing some final foam-rolling and settling down to watch some Paralympics in bed. I wasn’t in the least bit tired and my mind was going like a freight train but at some point I fell asleep. I had a restless night however, and awoke several times throughout the night as the sky grew lighter and the countdown to the start continued to decrease.

0600 came and my alarm shrieked into life but I was already awake and staring at the ceiling. Sick with nerves, I went through the motions of the race morning ritual without much thought: Make coffee, get washed, drink coffee, apply bodyglide, get dressed, eat porridge, tie hair up, put some mascara on, check fuelbelt, check gadgets. I sleep-walked through all of this and suddenly an hour had passed and it was time to go downstairs and check out the breakfast buffet.

I had taken breakfast supplies with me despite booking the room on a B+B basis as I wasn’t sure what food would be available. Breakfast was served only from 0800 which was disappointing, but we’d been assured that there would be a continental breakfast available from 0700. What they should have said was – there will be cereal, milk and juice laid out… I had drunk all the coffee in the room and would have killed for some more with some toast, but it was not to be. I had some muesli and some orange juice.

We left the hotel at around 0800 and made the short drive to the town hall to register. Parking was plentiful and registration was done quickly since there was no queue. I got my number and race t-shirt and took the first of many trips back and forth to the bathroom. We hovered about a bit and decided to go back to the car; I was just a total wreck of nerves and didn’t want to be around others. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why I ever thought doing another marathon was a good idea, I felt physically sick and shed one or two nervous tears on Kynon’s shoulder before I counted to five and managed to pull myself together. He was doing an excellent job of keeping me as calm as possible and should be commended for getting the balance right between sympathy and tough love.

 

I caught up with Naomi who was definitely sharing my nerves as well. We spent some time nervously chattering with the other ladies from Fetch who were running the Half Marathon, and when it was approaching 9am I decided to turn my Garmin on. The power button didn’t respond. Pushing it again and again proved fruitless – the damn thing was not turning on at all. Frantically I asked around to see if anyone knew the buttons to press to ‘reset’ the Garmin 305 – it had done this once before and I managed to reset it but I couldn’t remember what to press. Marie’s husband managed to breathe some life into it but immediately it gave the alert that it was low on battery. The red mist descended – what the f*%k was it playing at?! I had made sure it was fully charged the night before and the charge obviously just hadn’t taken – again; this has happened before, but never at a race.  I freaked out for a brief minute until I realised there was absolutely nothing I could do. My best option was to carry Kynon’s stopwatch and write down some splits on my hand for 5, 10, 15 and 20 miles and hope for the best. Could I run a race blind?

At 0915 there was no point in delaying the inevitable any longer and we made our way to the start. It was as low key as I imagined – a simple inflatable start/finish gantry and about 100 lanky, serious runners  in club vests hanging around with family and friends. I was happy to see my friends Ryan and Sheenagh at the start – Ryan’s family are based in Elgin and they happened to be visiting this weekend so they came out to support me which was great. We took a couple of pictures and then it was time to line up.

With Naomi – Picture by Ian Sharp

Picture by Ian Sharp. Inspiration by Mo Farah.

There was the briefest of race-briefings which I heard absolutely nothing of, and then a countdown. My nerves were gone and I was excited to FINALLY get started. 5…4…3…2…1…

 

It’s the silence at the start of races which never fails to surprise me. After the first few hundred meters have passed and the cheers and claps of your supporters have faded, all you can here is the slapslapslap of trainers on asphalt and the sound of clothing brushing with arm-swings. I didn’t think too much about the task ahead of me – I had done enough worrying to last a lifetime and I had exhausted all possible thoughts about the race. I was so glad to be finally started and embraced the feeling of unknown potential I get at the start of every big effort. Anything can happen in a race this long! Even good things!

 

The course wound its way out of Elgin along pavements and the side of minor roads. The field was immediately spread out and we were running in dispersed single file by the first mile. I was clinging to the last bit of power in my garmin – at least it had lasted long enough to allow me to gauge my pace at the start and avoid going out too fast. My plan was to maintain 9:30 pace and to hold that as long as possible into the race and then see what happened after 20 miles – hopefully I could speed up.

I knew to expect incline by mile 3 but it really wasn’t that bad – the hill came and went without much event, as did much of the first 10 miles to be honest. My Garmin gave up the ghost at mile 4 and then I knew I just had to latch on to that pace and not budge. I passed a few people who I thought were slowing down and I was a bit worried that I was speeding up, but I was confident enough to pass them and in hindsight it was the right thing to do as they finished well after me.

I had arranged to meet Kynon at Burghead which was about 10 miles in to the race and therefore the first major milepost for me. I saw him pass me in the car some time before then so I knew he’d be waiting – I was so happy when I saw him in the distance! Coming into Burghead there was beautiful views over to the cliffs of the Black Isle – I had been looking forward to this part of the course which ran parallel to the coast and is a beautiful part of the world.

 

I reached Kynon at 1hr 37m – roughly 2 minutes behind schedule, but then he may not have been waiting at exactly 10 miles so I really have no idea of my timing. He had a bottle of blue powerade for me that I sipped from as he jogged alongside me for a minute or two. We had a quick chat about nothing in particular and then I gave him the juice back and we parted ways. So far the weather had been reasonably cool and cloudy but the sun was beginning to come out and it was warm! As I climbed out of Burghead I began to feel the heat coming off the tarmac and hoped that the clouds would stick around.

Picture by Ian Sharp

The next milestone for me was my parents waiting for me at Hopeman at around 11.5 miles. I was feeling great and was all smiles as I passed them – I was so happy to pass them with a big grin.

 

The sun was blazing by now and I was getting a bit warm so I poured water over myself and wet my buff to keep my head cool in the sun. I also decided to turn on my music and put one earbud in as we were running on a safe pavement beside the road. One of my favourite things about this race was the DESCENDING mile markers counting down. Seeing the big miles disappear quickly and more achievable distances appear was a great boost – 12 miles to go? Easy money!

The road between Hopeman and Lossiemouth is loooong and straight. The only other runner I could see was about half a mile ahead so I was racing on my own. Notable things from this section mainly involve roadkill – a bifurcated deer; the fresh remains of which were ALL over the road, a partially skinned rotten rabbit and a badger upside down on the verge. All somewhat traumatic for this animal lover. Other than that, everything was going fine and I remained within a couple of minutes of my schedule and I was yet to walk. I was just locked in to my pace and ignoring any discomfort – my ITB still felt tight but it was not worth worrying about.

The next meeting point was 15 miles in at Covesea. I could see some cars in the distance so I knew Kynon was waiting, however I also saw some red and yellow balloons which could only mean one thing – Fetchpoint! Maz and Sheri had travelled up with their daughters to cheerlead for us all and it was such a lift to see them. I took some more powerade from Kynon and we had another short jog and chat.

No, I don’t know what he’s doing either.

I powered on to Lossiemouth. As I entered the town I saw no signs of the race – I could have been on a long training run for all the evidence there was of the marathon. The odd gel packet and bottle on the ground let me know I was still on the right course, and there was one or two marshals situated at turnings who kept me right as the route wound down to the harbour front. I was getting tired now and my stomach felt a little queasy so I decided that I would walk through the water stop here and take a proper drink as was feeling properly thirsty and I didn’t want to swallow lots of air. I turned a corner and suddenly Ryan and Sheenagh were there – Noooo! The first time I walk in 19 miles and my friends see me! I can’t have walked for more than a minute though and quickly kept moving forward along the harbour beside the packed cafes. There were no claps and cheers of encouragement though – everyone looked at me  as if I had two heads as I was running by!

 

Kynon was waiting for me at 20 miles and again I was very glad to see him; things were getting tougher as I was getting fatigued and a muscle in my back was really stiff. I power-walked with him and he gave me a pep talk and told me he’d see me in less than an hour in Elgin. 6 miles to go – easy, easy!

It wasn’t all easy though; of course the last few miles went on forever and ever. I demanded that my legs kept on doing as I asked and kept running – I was annoyed that I couldn’t see my pace as I felt like I was pushing really, really hard but I knew that I’d probably be struggling to get under 10 minute miles. Or was I? Part of me was glad that I didn’t know and could just concentrate on running as best I could. Every time my weaker side thought about walking and just forgetting my time goals, I told myself “What – did you think this was going to be easy?! Just because you’ve done the hard training did you think the race would be a breeze?! NO! You have to FIGHT for this! Now RUN”.

The final miles ticked down: 5…4…3…2…1. The last three were in direct sun and straight into a headwind which was really hard. The muscle in my back was agony and I was desperate to lie down and stretch it out. I passed one or two more people until I entered Elgin and I was on my own for the last mile. My stopwatch said 4hrs 11 so I knew if I worked hard I’d slide under 4:20 happily.

The town looked so different than it did earlier in the morning, now bathed in sunshine. The streets were deserted though; it was almost eerie in places as my fatigued mind started thinking about zombie movies like 28 Days Later. In the distance I could hear a man’s voice and a megaphone – the finish! I could almost taste the glory! The course re-entered Cooper Park in the shadow of the ruined Cathedral and the last 100m in the park was a glorious straight with spectators on either side. I saw Ryan and Sheenagh first on the left, and then heard Kynon bellow my name from further up. The Fetch girls were a vision of red and yellow on my right as I flew past them and finally, the finish line was in front of me.

Picture by Ryan Roberts

I ran hard right to the end and slowed to a wobbly walk as soon as I was under the clock. I took two steps before my stomach heaved and I bent over and retched heavily and loudly several times. The queasiness that had built up over the last few miles had been peaked by my sprint finish and my stomach needed to empty itself except there was nothing in there! By the time Kynon had run over to congratulate me I was on my knees on the grass verge retching and struggling for breath – he said he wasn’t sure whether I was going to throw up or cough up a hair ball.

The need to retch quickly subsided however and I was able to straighten up and fall in to his arms – “4 hours, 19 minutes, 30 seconds. I am SO proud of you!” he said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry really; my Fetch ladies came running over, Ryan and Sheenagh were there too and I had lots of congratulatory hugs with everyone. Someone had handed me a medal at some point and Kynon put it around my neck for me and gave me some juice; I was overwhelmed with happiness and couldn’t believe the race was over – what an incredible PB! Fifty-two minutes off my previous time!

The next half hour was spent basking by the finishline in the sunshine and the glory of achievement. The stiff muscle in my back started spasming badly though and I could hardly straighten or lift my left arm so I took some ibuprofen and hoped for the best. I needed some help to put my new race t-shirt on though!

This is the Mitchellbot, by the way…

We were expecting Naomi at around 5hrs and after nervously waiting for her for 10 more minutes she appeared around the corner into the park running strongly and wearing the biggest smile; one reserved only for those who have achieved something truly great for the first time. Naomi completed her first marathon in memory of her Grandmother in a time of 5hrs 10mins and 14 seconds.

 

After finish line celebrations were concluded we headed back to the town hall en masse to change before heading off. Being such a small, fast race there were not many runners left but we were still able to get a sandwich and a cup of tea. Sitting in the car on the way home I couldn’t believe how easily the whole race have come together in the end; it had passed so quickly for me and without any drama whatsoever. What on earth was I going to blog about?!  I had just achieved what I set out to do by putting one foot in front of another and doing so until I reached the finish.

 

My legs were feeling great; a little stiff in my ‘duff’ knee but otherwise fine. My feet had escaped largely unscathed apart from one nasty blister entirely removing a nail stump from its bed. The ibuprofen did the trick on my angry back muscle and it relaxed and stopped hurting soon after. I was annoyed that I didn’t have my Garmin splits to pour over and examine my pace, but I was most pleased about the fact that I had ran 19 miles without walking – the furthest I’ve ever gone without a walk break.

I wore my medal with pride for the rest of the day until Kynon took me out for a celebratory curry and a couple of beers at Brewdog. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little stiff when getting up for work the next morning, but two days later only a little tightness remains in my quads and I’m looking forward to a recovery jog tomorrow if the weather is right. I’m taking it easy this week but I’ve already signed up for my next race which is the Crathes Half Marathon next Saturday and am on the hunt for more challenges to finish up the year with.

 

I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in the last few months for this race, but it’s all been worth it. Brewdog: I’m sorry I’ve stopped spending half my salary and time in your bars and on your beer; it’s not you, it’s me. The hangovers were slowing me down. Scott: I’m sorry our flat is always covered in freshly washed running gear drying and that the washing machine is always on the go – it’s been a sweaty summer. Family: I’m sorry that you rarely see me anymore, I promise to try harder to figure my work/life/run balance out. Non-running friends: I’m sorry you never see me any more either, but thank you for your continued support of my lunacy. There’s always room for one more on a run if you want to join in.

I might not have reached the magic 4hrs 10mins, but a 52 minute PB? I’ll take it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that about the marathon again! That time is for every 5am weekend start, every agonising back-to-back, every dazed and stiff pre-work mile, every exhausting post-work mile, every turned down afternoon in a beer garden, every shortened night out and every turned down party invitation. Good things don’t come to those who wait; good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up.

Moray Marathon: Count to Five

I am a big fan of the television show Lost. Like many avid viewers, I was disappointed and let down by the eventual conclusion of the series two years ago, but over time the annoyance has faded and I’ve decided it is now time to go back to the island

I commenced my second viewing this week and am already completely sucked back in to the vortex. I’m already craving hours on the couch watching back-to-back mind-bending episodes, examining every scene and conversation for clues and significance which which will make more sense the second time around. I think this will be a very fine way to recover from tomorrow’s marathon in the coming days!

What has all this got to do with the Moray Marathon anyway? Upon re-watching the very first episode I was reminded of a significant conversation which occurs early on between two of the main characters, Kate and Jack. Jack, a Doctor, has a serious wound on his back which requires suturing and he asks Kate to do it for him but she is very afraid. To calm her nerves whilst she carries out the surgery he tells her a story about a time in his life when he was afraid, but had to face his fear and overcome it.

image/words: Lostpedia

“Well, fear’s sort of an odd thing. When I was in residency my first solo procedure was a spinal surgery on a sixteen year old kid, a girl. And at the end, after thirteen hours, I was closing her up and I, I accidentally ripped her dural sac; shredded the base of the spine where all the nerves come together, membrane as thin as tissue. And so it ripped open and the nerves just spilled out of her like angel hair pasta, spinal fluid flowing out of her and I… and the terror was just so crazy. So real. And I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I’d let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its thing, but only for five seconds, that’s all I was going to give it. So I started to count: one, two, three, four, five. Then it was gone. I went back to work, sewed her up and she was fine.”

The message of the story resonated with me and made me reconsider my fears of re-visiting the marathon distance in a race. Fear and nerves are inevitable in sport – if you don’t have any then you probably don’t care enough about what you’re doing. If your dreams don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough.

Whilst you may not have a choice about whether you have fears or not, you certainly do have a choice with how you deal with them. When I last wrote on Tuesday, I was allowing my fears to creep into places in my mind and heart that I don’t usually let them and they were damaging my mental outlook, which is almost important as your physical strength for a race. When the fear is knocking at the door tomorrow on the starting line I will give it five seconds to do its job; to raise my adrenaline, to make my heart beat faster and to remind me how much I care about this – and then it will be gone. I will cross the starting line and the journey will begin.

One: Amazing partner who has believed in me every step of the way so far.
Two: Wonderful parents whose unwavering support will be waiting for me at mile 11.5.
Three: Times that I will have raced 26+ miles by tomorrow lunchtime.
Four: Hours and ten minutes is the time I hope to finish in.
Five: Aberdeen Fetchies that will be waiting at the finish line to welcome me home.

Cowards never start. The weak never finish. Winners never quit. Tomorrow I’m going out to take more than an hour off my marathon PB and the only thing that can stop me, is me.

See you on the other side.

~RwR