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D33 Ultramarathon 2014 – RACE REPORT

D33 Ultramarathon

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15th March 2014
5hrs 25 minutes
177th of 306 finishers
35th/83 Females
20th/40 Senior Females.

The morning of my third D33 Ultra dawned calm and grey after a very windy night before. I awoke ages before my alarm as has become customary in the last few weeks – sleep has become surplus to requirements when my brain decides it’s time to awake and start thinking about table plans, thank you cards and how loud the music should be when I walk down the aisle. However, on Saturday morning I was able to look forward to a five hour break from the wedding melee and just enjoy a good long run with friends. My training thus far this year has been the (mostly) non-negotiable foundations around which I have built my week outside of work. However many other things had to be sorted out on a weekend, knowing that I had two periods of rest where I’d get to drop everything and go out and run has really kept me sane. Yes, weddings are important and it means a lot to a lot of people; but the wedding is just one day. It’s the marriage that is for life – just like running. That’s been our views on it anyway, much to the despair of some of our family and friends who don’t exactly share our priorities. I say our, because it should not be forgotten that Kynon was running at the D33 Ultra as well, and it was his first Ultra. Spoiler alert: he finished, and with a smile as well! Perhaps I can entice him to write another guest race report, however for now it is time to tell the tale of a race which didn’t exactly go to plan, but by all accounts should be considered a PB success. I’m marking this one down as a ‘learning experience’ and one of those dreadful runs which make you appreciate the good ones even more.

I woke up with not great deal of desire to eat, but choked down a banana and some coffee to get my system on the go. We had a lift arranged from a club member at 7.30am, and arrived in Duthie Park about 8.00am after a journey spent discussing our race strategies. My plan was to go out at a comfortable pace and average somewhere between 9 and 9.30 minute miles for the first half, and then push harder for the second to finish strongly at around 5 hours with nothing left in the tank. I was going to treat it like a marathon and take a gel every 5 miles, and not stop at check points. Having done the race two times before and completed a sub-4 marathon last Autumn I was confident that this was a realistic and achievable goal…

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Before the race there was the usual hubbub of excitement found at all the Scottish Ultras as old friends are reunited, this time after several months given that the D33 Ultra is the first of the ‘season’. I hadn’t seen anyone since Glenmore 24 in September so there was plenty of chat to be had. I was greeted by Sandra and Julie who were on number pick-up duty and had a special surprise for us, with a pair of personalised bibs for Kynon and I decorated with ‘Bride to be’ and ‘Hen run’. I loved this but was grateful I hadn’t been given a tiara and veil to wear!

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In the hour that followed I ate a Clif bar and some Powerade and tried to decide what to wear. It felt like it was getting colder and colder and rain was beginning to fall. I couldn’t shake the memories of last year where I put on some thermal sleeves at the last minute which probably saved my race as the weather turned wet and windy after a few hours. The forecast for Saturday had been a real mix but it wasn’t expected to be cold – hanging around in a chilly Duthie Park at 8.30am wasn’t convincing me however and I decided to put on the t-shirt I had in my bag for after the race as an extra layer, at least for the beginning.

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After the customary short and blunt briefing from George, there was a few minutes before the final countdown and the off.

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The huge crowd of 300 were raring to go and streamed out of the park to the railway line with a thunderous sound of feet on concrete. Cyclists, dog walkers and other users of the path were forced to stand to one side as the pack streaked up the narrow path as far as the eye could see.

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I very quickly spotted Graeme from our club near me so moved over for a chat. He and I run at a similar pace at these distance and are both training for the Fling so had similar goals. Soon we were joined by John and Mags from the Club and we ran as a little pack for nearly 8 miles, ticking each split easily off between 8:50 and 9:20 minute miles and chatting happily. My Mum was waiting to cheer at Holburn Station and my Grandad was waiting at Auchinyell Bridge at the bottom of his road; I was really pleased to see him and glad he spotted me amongst the crowd. “4:59!!” He shouted at me from above “Yes, Sir!” I hollered back, offering a salute as I passed under the bridge.

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I was running smoothly and painlessly – I felt exactly how I want to feel at the start of a long road race. I took my 1st gel at 5 miles and by then was already regretting wearing gloves and the extra tshirt as I really didn’t need them, and would need to hold on to them til half way. I made the difficult decision to drop from my little group at 7.5 miles to nip behind a fence for a pee – knowing the route well I knew this was my last chance for a while so didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I stopped for less than 30 seconds but my gang was already gone – I would not see them again until the end of the race.

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The first check point came shortly after at 8 miles where I had a bottle of juice to drink. I was really looking forward to a drink since I didn’t have my Camelbak on but it tasted far too sickly and thick; at this point I only wanted water. I kept hold of it however and pushed on.

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Running was suddenly becoming a chore. The ease with which I covered the first 8 miles had stopped abruptly and I felt a sick and nauseous feeling spreading throughout my gut. Even cruising the down hills towards Drumoak was not comfortable and maintaining a pace under 9.30 as planned was becoming very hard work. I forced myself to eat and took my sleeves and buff off to cool down as the sun had come out and it was warm. I refused to believe my goals were gone as how you feel in an ultra can be so unpredictable…but not usually after 8 or 9 miles.

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When I got to Drumoak I conceded and walked up the hill and drank some more in an attempt to make myself feel better. Plodding along to Milton of Crathes was tough but I was delighted to see Mike in 2nd place behind Grant Jeans when the leaders began to pass me on their return to Aberdeen. I high-5ed him and shouted ‘Reel him in!’ as we passed, and continued to high-5 all my friends until my hand hurt. There were lots of supporters at Crathes including Kate’s husband Ali and their cheers really lifted me up. The sickness was getting worse and I could only begin to conclude that I was in for a very. long. day.

I reached half way in 2hrs and 33 minutes – only 3 minutes behind schedule. The half way party was in full swing and Sandra announced the arrival of the bride, much to my embarrassment. I was really glad to see my Mum there too – there is nothing like a hug from your Mum when you’re feeling crap.

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I got rid of my hot layers and drank some precious water. This time I ditched more than half of my powerade and mixed it with water which was a lot easier to drink.
I filled a sandwich bag with hula hoops and some flapjacks and just got right back out there. I didn’t want to get comfortable as I might never have left.

Kynon was not far behind me and reached half way at 2hr 50 race time so had made excellent progress in his first half. Passing more friends and club-mates certainly gave me a further boost, but as the sun began to beat strongly on my back my expectations began to slip. My guts were in agony – all I wanted to do was vomit but I couldn’t get myself to do it. After only 15 minutes out of half way I slowed to a walk for few minutes and thought about how I could handle the rest of the race. I knew I’d finish, but it would be slow and sore. After 10 more minutes before I had to walk again, I realised my revised plan of run 30/walk 5 was even a bit much. My next tactic was to ram more food in and hope it would pay off – I managed half a flapjack, some hula hoops and a gel and kept my fingers crossed it would either refuel where it was needed, or bounce out of my stomach and take whatever else needed to get out of there with it.

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For the first time that I can remember in the second half of a race I was being passed, by quite significant amounts of people. Normally this is when I come alive in a race, but in startling contrast to last year I was falling to bits and I was extremely annoyed. I could feel blisters boiling between my toes, my hip flexors were stiffened and waves of fatigue were washing over me. I hit  20 miles at 3hrs 12m and I felt completely rung out – there was no way I could make up the time to hit my goal but if I was able to cruise at a moderate pace there would be no excuse to not get under 5hr 30m.

It was after Drumoak that things began to perk up a little. My stomach no longer felt like I had drunk 10 pints of lager the night before. Perhaps the food had worked? I ran all the way up the long slow hill just before the 3/4 check point and passed at least 20 runners on the way who were walking and had recently passed me. Being somewhat competitive at times this really pleased me and further fuelled my rekindled fire. I refilled my water bottle at 3/4 check point, grumbled a bit with the marshals and set out preparing to work hard again, reeling slower runners in one by one.

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I hit marathon point in 4hrs 18m which was 4 minutes faster than last year but about 18 minutes slower than I had intended. I was pleased that I seemed to have been able to pull some of my race back but waves of nausea were still attacking my stomach every so often which forced me to a walk. My feet had become dreadfully sore and I could feel that monster blisters just like last years  had formed between my big toes and my second toes. This annoyed me most of all as last year they took 3 weeks to heal and made wearing shoes extremely uncomfortable – not what you want 7 days before your wedding.

My Grandad surprised me again by waiting on Auchinyell Bridge. “Where the Devil have you been?!” he shouted; this was at 5hrs 15m race time and he had obviously been waiting for a while. This made me feel guilty and it spurred me on even more to get this last mile to the finish over and done with – I was absolutely spent, my guts were in knots and my feet felt like bloodied stumps.

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Running into Duthie Park is always a pleasure. You are retracing the footsteps you took so many hours earlier and whilst it looks exactly the same you have accomplished so much in the intervening time. I checked my watch and it said 5:2X so I knew I’d shave a PB so I concentrated on running as hard as I could through the Park and enjoying the finish.

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There were plenty of supporters cheering and people calling my name. I flew down the hill to the gantry with a smile and stumbled in to George’s arms for a welcome home hug as he put my medal around my neck.

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I stumbled my way into the tent and tried not to be too negative when asked how my race had gone. The fact that I didn’t even stop my garmin until Sandra asked what my time was shows how little I cared for goals by the end. As it happened, I finished at 5hrs and 25 minutes on the nose; a 1 minute 28 second PB. If I had ran a marathon and shaved that much off my time I would have been delighted, but that was not what I came to do on Saturday so I felt a little underwhelmed by my whole race.

I drank over a litre of water whilst waiting for Kynon to come in, but I still felt really grotty and didn’t feel like eating anything. I caught up with various people and was delighted to hear that Mike came second and Noanie was 4th lady and 1st FV40. A lot of people struggled though and found the moderate rise in temperature tough to adjust to.

At just over 6 hours race time I saw Kynon’s red cap bobbing into the park. I was so excited to see him and was delighted to see that he was still running. He galloped down to the finish and walked over the finish-line in style, bowing deeply to the crowds.

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Just like me, he’d found his first Ultra infinitely easier than his first marathon and finished in great spirits, delighted at his achievement.

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After some hearty refuelling and a couple of beers, we made our way home to recover for the after party that evening. Obviously I was glad to have finished but I was sad and frustrated that I hadn’t got the race I wanted. It just proves once more that you can have the best season of training you’ve ever had in the bank, but if your body doesn’t show up on race day then you’re screwed. I’ve been so lucky with races recently and with only one or two exceptions I was very happy with every performance in the last year. They can’t all be brilliant, so I just have to take my teeny PB and be happy I finished another D33 ultra (mostly) healthy and uninjured, and keep my focus on the next race which is the Hoka Highland Fling in a month.

For now it’s time to focus on the wedding though. In less than 48 hours we’ll be married, and after a huge party we’ll be whisked off on honeymoon to return after a fortnight’s adventures a very long way away…

See you on the other side!

~RwR

 

Moray Marathon 2013 – RACE REPORT

Moray Marathon
1st September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile Splits:

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

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

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

Mile splits:

7)  8:59
8) 8:55
9)  8:58
10)  9:00

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

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

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

Mile splits:

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

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

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

Mile splits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile splits

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

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

25) 9:46

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

26) 8:55

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

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

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

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

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SUB 4!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Rwr

Ballater 10 Miler 2013 – RACE REPORT

Deeside Runners Ballater 10 miler 
28th July 2013 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dundee Half Marathon 2013 – RACE REPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

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

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

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

Photo: John Mill

Photo: John Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture by Rachel

Picture by Rachel, gurning by 13.1 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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