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RACE REPORT: Hoka Highland Fling 2015

Hoka Highland Fling 2015

hoka highland fling medal
53 Mile Ultramarathon 
25th April 2015

11 hours 44 minutes 7 seconds
Finish Position: 321 of 647 finishers (49 DNF)
Gender Position: 53rd / 160 Females
Category Position: 27th / 64 Female Seniors

This race report arrives a little later than I would have liked because of a big University submission being due last week. Having three days completely ‘off grid’ in the week before the submission was not ideal, but I’d worked hard in the week before the race in order to really enjoy my weekend and totally dedicate my mind to the task in hand (the 53 mile race, not the 5,000 word research proposal…)

Kynon and I headed to Tyndrum on Friday afternoon to park up our camper van before getting the train down to Milngavie that evening. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed eating an entire loaf of fresh bread with cheese between us in the sunshine, with a cold beer for extra carbs. The finish area was utterly silent other than peaceful birdsong; how strange to think of the mayhem which would be happening here in under 24 hours time.

hoka highland fling finish

HHF05

In general I was feeling pretty calm about the race, but I had taken a couple of my favourite running books to read from on the train to really get my head in the game. I love Kilian Jornet’s ‘Run or Die'; the passion which he injects into his running is just as strong in his written word. I read the first few chapters before switching to Scott Jurek’s ‘Eat and Run’ whilst intermittently staring out of the train window. The beautiful hills of earlier in the journey had shrunk back into the ground and been replaced by low-rise council housing developments. Thick grey cloud is cloaking the outskirts of Glasgow and raindrops are now crawling across the train window, which is the only barrier between me and the hustle of rush hour commuters in the rain. Away from the Highland dreams and a return to reality; the journey had gone too quickly. The only way back was to run.

When the alarm went off at 4.15am I felt relaxed. Prior to falling asleep I had envisioned every element of the race and pictured how I would traverse the course. I had had at least 5 hours of good sleep which was enough, and I quickly set about making coffee and eating a rice pudding, banana, and a cereal bar. Everything had been laid out the night before so I didn’t need to think at all; just put my kit on, eat, and keep calm. When Kynon was using the bathroom I cast my eyes over Kilian Jornet’s Skyrunner’s manifesto once more; there was something about his words which was sticking in my mind and giving me focus. Kiss or kill. Besa o mata. Kiss glory or die in the attempt. Losing is death; winning is life. The winning and dying are metaphors in my case, perhaps less so for Mr Jornet, but his sentiments are the same as mine. The secret isn’t in your legs, but in your strength of mind.

5.20am and we have begun the short walk to the station, sharing the weight of the bag of drop bags between us. Kynon wants to chat, I prefer silence. I try to keep my mind clear of everything, but soon we’ve reached the throngs of people crowding the station car park and there are plenty of people to say hello to.

hoka highland fling 2015

We catch up with most of the Stonehaven Running Club runners and catch a photo as it begins to get light. The rainclouds don’t lift along with the darkness however and rain is still spotting down, but it’s a great temperature for running with no wind to speak of.

hoka highland fling 2015

We’ve timed our arrival perfectly and after a final photograph and a hug and kiss goodbye and good luck, Kynon and I part ways to our respective corals – him to the 12 hours plus, and me to the 10 – 12 hours. I’m not really sure why I’m in here or especially why I’m so far forward, but since I’m standing next to Amanda Hamilton I’m happy for the company and stay where I am during the race countdown.

hoka highland fling 2015

At 6am the first wave is released, and 90 seconds later we’re shuffling on towards the underpass and the eerie whine of the timing chips activating. Up the stairs and along the high street with cheers and waves, and then we’re down into Mugdock Park onto the muddy path through the forest.

hoka highland fling 2015

With thanks to Monument Photos – www.monumentphotos.co.uk

Milngavie – Drymen

My plan was always to take it very easy on the way to Drymen. Nothing below 10 minute miles, heart rate as low as possible, and conserve as much energy as I could. I stuck to my plan, even as hordes of runners streamed by me in the first few miles and bimbled along in my own head. It was very busy; the runners didn’t thin out until Drymen, and at points there were even elbow bashing as I fought to keep my place to the left of the narrow track.

I had been bursting for a pee since the first mile and had patiently waited until my usual spot behind a wall at about 8 miles which has served me so well in the last two years, only to find the gate closed and access for my straining bladder was prohibited. I hung on a few miles gathering fury at all the men merrily emptying themselves by the side of the trail – how dare they enjoy such convenience?! Eventually I conceded I would need to scale the railway embankment to relieve myself discretely, and lost a good minute to answering the call of nature.

In the approach to Drymen I was just…annoyed. Annoyed about a lot of things; too many people around me, the rain, I was too hot, my gamin wasn’t working…I just wasn’t really enjoying myself and couldn’t wait to get the flat section done and to get out into the hills.

hoka highland fling 2015

Picture by Iain Shanks

Milngavie – Drymen
Split time = 2hr 10m 46s
Race time = 2hr 10m 46s
491st place

Drymen – Balmaha

I ran straight through Drymen and enjoyed briefly seeing Shanksi and the relay team from our club. Jemma had caught up with me and we passed the miles up and to through Garadhban chatting which made the time pass quickly.

hoka highland fling 2015

Slowly but surely the clouds cleared up and as we approached Conic Hill, the sun began to shine!

hoka highland fling 2015

hoka highland fling 2015

hoka highland fling 2015

With Thanks to Monument Photos

The view from the top was stunning in the morning sunshine, especially as there was still snow on the hills in the distance.

hoka highland fling 2015

I walked down Conic carefully, practicing how I will descend in the West Highland Way race. Any other day of the week I could fly down,  but I really wanted to take my time. Any time lost here would be made up with my strength saved for later in the day.

Balmaha was a bustling fayre, with Big Davie the Polis in charge of his team of red-clad heroes. My drop bag was pressed into my hand and before I tucked in I was able to give George Reid a hug, who was waiting in the crowd cheering everyone on. I ate my custard and drank my powerade as I tried to re-fill my pockets – oops, no room. I hadn’t eaten anything other than a little cake bar so far. That wasn’t the plan at all. Hula hoops and cereal bar went on the communal table and I left the check point holding my buttery, but I really didn’t want to eat it.

Balmaha – Rowardennan

hoka highland fling 2015

All my early-morning frustrations about busyness and weather had long melted away and I really enjoyed the section to Rowardennan in the sun as it got warmer. My garmin wasn’t working but I did have a watch, so I had judged it by time – it was only going to be about a 1hr 45 minute run which seemed tiny. I tried and tried to get the buttery down but it just wasn’t happening so I conceded and took a gel instead. I just was not hungry – I felt absolutely fine, but didn’t want to eat food at all. What is this witchcraft?!

hoka highland fling 2015

The day was stunning and Loch Lomond had never looked better. Knowing the route better than ever meant I knew what was coming around every turn and I predicted my arrival time into Rowardennan perfectly. I refilled my water and again failed to take on more food from my drop bag, but enjoyed my 300ml bottle of Powerade – perhaps the magical blue juice was going to be my source of strength for the day.

Drymen – Rowardennan
Split time = 3hr 23m 29s
Race time = 5hr 34m 15s
493rd place (2 places lost)

Rowardennan – Inversnaid

hoka highland fling 2015

I left Rowardennan behind Mags and Scott from my club and soon caught up for some chat on the hills. Again, knowledge of the route allowed me to run a bit more of this section this year as I knew what was coming and where I could push on. We passed the point where I turned around at the training weekend and reached the start of the more technical part of the race which I always enjoy. I slotted into a conga line of runners all running at the same speed along the single track trail, which pulled me along from the front and pushed me along from behind in a steady rhythm over the ground. Without Garmin data I can only guess how long this section took, but it felt like I reached Inversnaid quicker than ever and this is when I began my steady upward climb through the placings. I don’t have much more to say about this section as it flew by so quickly. It was getting hotter though and I could feel a fine t-shirt tan developing; thankfully there was a refreshing breeze to keep us mostly cool.

Inversnaid – Beinglas

hoka highland fling 2015

Inversnaid had a crack team of marshals sorting everyone out quickly. I hoovered another custard and powerade and picked up some more gels, and left whilst chatting with Antonia. There was a tight group of about 5 of us who were running together through the technical section here. Thankfully most slower runners stopped to let us pass and I thank them for that, but the lochside is no place for headphones and blocking yourself out from your surroundings. Antonia has hit the nail on the head with this one so I will quote her words (emphasis mine): “Some runners wear headphones so we try to pass them whenever we can as they are unpredictable to run behind as they aren’t aware of us other runners. Don’t wear headphones in a race guys, enjoy the trail. If you can’t enjoy the trail, go back to the gym.”. 

I enjoyed running with Antonia, Scott, and Scott, but soon it was time to move on. My legs were feeling stronger than ever and for the first time in a 50+ miler, almost nothing was hurting. Usually my hip flexors, glutes and piriformus are complaining by this point and my feet are a bloody mess, but except from some of the usual foot pain in my bones I was feeling great from top to toe. I just had no desire to walk and ran all the way into Beinglas with the exception of yomping up a couple of steeper hills, and pausing to take a snap from near Dario’s Post.

hoka highland fling 2015

I saluted the man who I never got the chance to meet and continued to steam past runner after runner on my way to the final check point. My natural instinct was to reign it in, but again, my familiarity of the course was a huge help. I knew what was coming and every signal I was getting from my legs and body said go for it. Something special was happening. It was as exciting as it was worrying, but I wasn’t going to waste the chance I had been given.

Rowardennan – Beinglas 
Split = 3h 33m 40s.
Race time = 9hr 07m 55s
394th place (99 places gained)

Beinglas – Tyndrum

hoka highland fling 2015

With thanks to Running In Scotland

 

Arriving into Beinglas, the checkpoint was very busy. I was handed my drop bag and I kept walking looking for a space to stop and take care of myself, until I heard someone say my name and I saw Matt Williamson gesturing at me to come over. “What do you need, how can I help?” he asked; he quickly took care of refilling my camelbak and refilling my pockets with gels, as I tried to swallow as much custard as possible and eat some crisps for the salt. The sun had been shining all day and whilst a breeze had kept me cool, I had been sweating sufficiently to be covered in sticky, crusty salt. My fingers had swollen up too, and whilst I was feeling ok, I knew that a lack of salt and electrolytes could quickly give me a turn for the worse. When Matt asked how I was feeling I said I was terrified, that I’d never felt so good in an ultra and that I was frightened I might blow up. Looking at my watch, it was 3:15pm; I ascertained that if I could cover the final 12 miles in a decent pace it could be possible to even get under 12 hours – this was unfathomable to me, but the clock wasn’t lying. Matt wished me luck and sent me on my way, and I went out to give the last miles everything I had.

hoka highland fling 2015

In theory it was possible to cover these 12 miles in two and a half hours, but it seemed a lofty goal. Even with the sun still beating down I inexplicably still felt amazing, there was not a drop of fatigue in my legs and this was reflected in my continued efforts up and down the hills where I passed the steady stream of walking/jogging runners making their way towards Tyndrum. Cow Poo alley was a dream – it was dusty and dry instead of the usual shin-deep quagmire – and I reached the bottom of the hills above Crianlarich ready to tackle them strongly.

hoka highland fling

Thanks to Lucja Leonard for the photo and pop-up support!

 

This was the reason why I had so carefully walked down Conic Hill 30 miles earlier. My legs were fresh and ready to go, and I bombed the downhills like I was on fire. I let gravity do its job and glided down to the road crossing in a series of fearless descents. One day perhaps I will pay for ripping down hills like this and will trip over something and lose my nerve, but until that day, my legs were made for descending.

hoka highland fling

Crossing the A82 I knew I had 3.5ish miles to go. I nailed a caffeine gel. A quick look at my watch showed it was about 5:10pm; the gel would kick in in about 10 minutes, and then I would take another to get as much of a boost as possible into my last mile. Bleeeerrgh, I feel like crap. Hang on; 5:10pm. 3.5 miles to go. That’s 11 hours 10 minutes race time. That means, barring utter catastrophe, I can get in UNDER 12 HOURS. What’s that sparkly thing? Ooh, there’s another! F*&k, I’m seeing stars. I am actually seeing stars. No wonder I feel so rough. Shite, am I about to pass out? What if I pass out? What if I get to 1 mile to go and keel over and DNF? Ohshitohshitohshit better just keep running. Don’t do this to me body, come on, we’ve got this! Take another gel! Drink water! Count to 100! Just keep going!

One final cursory glance at my watch as I approached the piper in Tyndrum showed 5:4Xpm. A big lump in my throat formed as I pushed past one final runner in my approach to the last hill to the By The Way entrance, and there it was; that beautiful finish once again. Flags blowing in the wind ushered me along the red carpet to the finish and I raised my arms in a silent howl of victory.

hoka highland fling

With thanks to Clark Hamilton

hoka highland fling

With thanks to Clark Hamilton

Beinglas – Tyndrum
Split = 2hr 36m 12s 
Race time = 11hr 44m 7s
321st place (73 places gained)

A medal was hung around my neck and water pushed into my hand. I took a few more steps before the tears of disbelief came on thick and fast and before I knew it I was bawling like a bairn. Amanda had finished just before me and had scored a PB and we happy-cried on each other, before I moved on to blubbing all over Julie, Keith, Sandra and Sarah.

hoka highland fling

With thanks to Sandra Mcdougall

I don’t even remember Sandra taking this picture. Spangled doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, but I somehow managed to get myself to a chair to eat some soup and drink some water in some steps towards re-joining the human race. Soon after Scott and some of the SRC girls finished and joined me as we all celebrated PBs (or first finishes, in Scott’s case). A congratulatory text from my Mother In Law confirmed my final chip time of 11 hours 44 minute and 7 seconds which took my breath away all over again. I had hardly dared to dream that I could get under 12 hours, never mind under 11hrs 45m. What had happened to me? Whose legs had I stolen? What had Matt put in my camelbak at Beinglas?

hoka highland fling finish

After I had gently come back down to earth, I got changed into some warm clothes and began the anxious wait for Kynon. Early reports suggested that he’d left Beinglas in good spirits and still running about 4:30pm which meant he would probably take around three hours to finish if he could keep moving well. I anxiously waited near the finish for signs of him until I spotted him come around the corner, and then headed back to the finish gantry to give him a big hug when he crossed the line.

hoka highland fling finishIMG_3633

Kynon finished in 13 hours 27 minutes and 41 seconds, and was a very happy man. His race was not without its difficulties, but like a true ultra runner he fought through and overcame them to finish strong and happy. I am very proud.

We spent the rest of the evening at the ceilidh rehydrating, before collapsing in the van for a few hours sleep. The changeable nature of highland weather was never felt more acutely than the next day, when snowflakes falling on my neck soothed my stinging sunburn, as we fought to tear down and store the finish area in intermittent rain, sleet and blizzards.

Phpt by John Arthur

Photo by John Arthur

 

Over a week later I’m back training happily with no injuries and no (read that again: NO) blisters to speak of! There are now seven weeks to go until the West Highland Way Race, so I have about a months more training to do. So what went right last Saturday? What can I learn that I can take away from this? I have a few ideas which I will cover in my next post, but it’s safe to say I remain delighted by my performance, which, relative to my own past experience, is probably the best run I’ve ever done.

Onwards and upwards… 7 weeks until the Big One!

hoka highland fling finish medal

RACE REPORT – D33 Ultra marathon 2015

D33 Ultramarathon
14th March 2015

d33 ultra medal 2015

5 hours 15 minutes 45 seconds

174th of 338 finishers
34th of 110 Females
15th of 39 FSeniors

 

With 424 entries this year, the starting line at the 2015 D33 Ultra was set to be bursting at the seams. Even after the usual attrition rate brought the starters down to around 350 on the day, it was still a healthy increase from last year and double the size of the first year I first took part, in 2012. On Friday I was delighted to welcome two of the newest additions to the D33 family, Iona and Jemma, to our home in Stonehaven, where we all settled in for a night of carbs, gossip and pre-race planning. Who was running what pace? Would anyone get under 5 hours? What shade of purple nail polish would match my club kit the best? It was lovely to have a house full of friends to diffuse the pre-race nerves, but we all headed off to bed early to get a good night’s rest.

The first alarms in the house went off at 5.15am, and Kynon and Duncan (Jemma’s fiance / Iona’s brother) got up and away to be at the start at Duthie Park by 06:20am. Kynon sadly had to DNS his place in the race due to lingering injury recovery, so instead he was filling the position of ‘Race Bitch’, i.e the Race Director’s right hand man, and would be working hard all day. Since Duncan had come along for the weekend of fun he’d been roped into marshalling as well, and spent much of the day assisting Kynon in his various tasks. I’m delighted to say that Kynon will be writing a guest blog later this week about his experiences as D33 Race Bitch, so I’ll leave all further details for him to describe. Be sure to check back and read it – any story that starts with a horizontal portaloo at 06:20am in the morning will be a good ‘un.

Naturally after Kynon was up I was wide awake as well, and got up and set too my race morning preparations. My kit was laid out and all my drop-bags prepared, so all I needed to do was get dressed and eat my porridge and coffee. Thankfully the weather seemed to be exactly as forecast (dry, overcast, calm) so no last minute kit adjustments were required. We left the house on time and soon were sitting in the front seats of the X7 bus to Aberdeen at 7:10am, which left us right outside the gates of the Duthie Park at around 7:35.

Time flew by after I picked up my number and danced around race HQ saying hello to everyone. We had decided not to go to the pre-race pub session the night before as we were too tired, so I had a lot of hellos and hugs to dish out before the start. I decided a second pre-race portaloo stop was required and stepped into the queue for the two toilets about 25 minutes before the race was due to start. When I was still waiting 20 minutes later I started to get a little anxious, but thankfully I was lucky enough to be one of the last who were able to relieve themselves before quickly rushing to where the runners were gathered at the start. To this end I have no pictures of the start and briefing this year, but I have borrowed a couple from Chen Chee Kong/Running In Scotland to illustrate.

d33 ultramarathon start

d33 ultramarathon start

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

d33 ultramarathon start

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

I shuffled my way into the top quarter of the field in order to avoid being squashed in the first bottle neck of people as the runners squeeze out of the narrow park gates. Randomly of all the people I could have ended up standing next to, I realised I was next to Jack, one of my lecturers and the course director of the MSc I am currently studying. He was lining up for his first ultra and was feeling confident of a 5 hour finish, with the exception that some surgical pins had dislodged in his lower leg and appeared to be making a bid for freedom beneath the skin.  Despite there being few better reasons for worry on the starting line of your first ultra, he was happy enough as it wasn’t hurting! After I boaked a bit in horror at the sight, we wished each other well and I shuffled forward to join Iona as the countdown began.

After being a little unsure of how much effort I was willing to invest in a risky flat and fast race early in the season, I had made up my mind that morning that I was going to give it all I had. You see, this race means a lot to a lot of people, and no more than to my good friend and SRC Clubmate George Reid, the D33 Race Director. Unfortunately George has not been well at all this year, and has spent considerable time in hospital after an eventual diagnosis of Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. This is the chronic version of a syndrome called Guillain-Barre, which is a condition of the peripheral nervous system that can develop after a simple cold/flu virus. It’s a life changing diagnosis, and whilst George is out of hospital and much better than he was, he has a long way to go and he and his partner Karen (both in life and Epic Shit Racing) have had a really tough time of it lately. This was why Kynon was Race Bitch this year – that is usually Karen’s role, but she took over the Race Director role this year whilst George focused on getting better.

So; regardless of what else I had on the horizon, in honour of George and his present struggles, I wasn’t going to phone it in on Saturday. Races are for racing, and to do justice to it I wasn’t going to mess around. I had picked my pace and made my plan and was going to stick to it no matter what – no taking the foot off the gas in the middle if I got tired, no walking just because, no hanging around at check points. My goal was to bring home a big fat PB for George – hopefully around the 5hr 10 minute mark, or maybe even quicker. My only thoughts at the start was a wish to the running gods to give me the courage to stick with my planned pace at the start and not get carried away. I knew I could make or break my race in the first few miles by either being stupid or sensible and in 5 hours time I would be paying for whatever decisions I made in the first 5 miles.

d33 ultramarathon start

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

When the klaxon went, the runners streamed out of the park, through the gates and up the incline on to the railway line. Iona and I cruised off and despite frequent checking of my watch I was going far too quickly. I forced myself to slow down, desperate to keep up with my friends and clubmates but still committed to what I’d promised myself earlier on. After a couple of miles, Amanda and I fell into step and we chatted away for a while until we reached Checkpoint 1. I had a little bag with two gels and a bottle of water/powerade mix waiting for me so I quickly picked them up and almost didn’t break stride. I said hello to the marshals and wanted to stay, but just offloaded my gel wrapper rubbish, drank deeply from my bottle, and pushed on.

d33 ultramarathon

Picture – Chen Chee Kong

Sticking to my 9:30 minute mile pace plan was working well and my splits were wonderfully consistent on the whole way out. I had been mainly alone since leaving check point 1 but spoke to a few other runners here and there. I was blown away to be passed by the lead runner on his way back when I was only at mile 12.8, but it was quite incredible to see Team Scotland Commonweath Games marathoner Ross Houston at work. He was gliding over the earth making it look easy to keep a sub-6 minute mile pace going in an ultra, and still had the energy to smile and reciprocate our “Well Done”‘s. When the rest of the faster athletes started passing, as usual I got a bit too excited and gradually sped up as I high fived and cheered the other runners, which I tried to rein in before I got myself in to trouble, but it was hard when so many of my chums were doing so well.

D33 Ultramarathon
Here illustrates the internal monologue battling on inside my racing head between daft and sensible, good and evil, naughty and nice. It only gets worse as the race goes on…

At half way my Mum was waiting to say hello and cheer me on, alongside a plethora of Scottish Ultramarathon legends who were taking care of everyone at the Checkpoint. Inside the drop bag this time was two gels and a packet of salt n’ vinegar squares, with another bottle of water/powerade. I was in and out of the Checkpoint so quickly that I didn’t really take in much of what was going on or who else was there, but they did have a new one-way system this year which lead us around a tiny loop of trees in order to keep track of who had come in and who had gone out. Once again I forced myself to keep moving quicker than I wanted to, and without stopping for more than a couple of seconds I was back on the road home to Aberdeen.

The next few miles were amongst the toughest in my race. Running over the uneven ground dodging big pitted puddles and other runners on the half mile out of the Check Point meant I struggled to find a rhythm and get back on pace again. I pushed and pushed but reaching the dizzy heights of 9:3X on the average mile pace on my Garmin seemed to suddenly be taking a lot more work. I tried to keep calm and moving as easily as possible (whilst keeping up a steady stream of ‘well done’s to the runners coming the other way) but I knew the time for easy running had passed and it was now time to start working.

Running between Crathes and Drumoak a ‘new for Spring 2015′ pain started to feature in my general discomfort. My left piriformis has been giving me bother after long (+20 mile) runs this year so far, and popped up just as I was expecting it, alongside some general glute stiffness. Yes, running at pace on a flat route for hours can be a test, but this year it was literally becoming a pain in the ass.

20 miles came and went and my splits got slower and slower. I could feel the PB slipping away; I would need to somehow come back from this period of discomfort and slowness in order to come home with a decent chunk off my best time. I didn’t want a repeat of last year where I shaved off a minute; I wanted a proper slice off which would represent a really hard effort. The devil on my shoulder started writing imaginary apologetic Facebook statuses in my head: “Well; I gave it as good as I could today guys, but my best wasn’t good enough…”, “I fought hard but a re-occurring pain got the better of me and I had to slow down”, “The West Highland Way Race is my number one priority so I had to be sensible”… it would have been so easy to mentally click ‘POST’ and ease in to an easy finish.

Whatever the negative voices in my head were saying, in the end it was me that had to cross the finish line and me that would be telling George about my race that day. Anyone that knows George knows that he is tough. The man eats nails on toast for breakfast. Oh, you ran the West Highland Way Race? He completed that race after a wee run to the start of that once. From Fort William. The question here was ‘What Would Loon Dod Do?’ The answer? H.T.F.U.

I grinded my way through the miles until the final Check Point, never taking my foot off the gas and pushing as hard as I could in an attempt to keep a steady 9:30 pace. Passing through it, I grabbed my drink and kept on pushing, knowing that in just a few miles I could almost relax and enjoy the slight downhill finish. My glutes and piriformis were still aching terribly but I just had to ignore it as there was no other choice. Passing through marathon distance in 4hrs 11m, I kept a vision of the reward of running through Duthie Park to the finish at the forefront of my mind. I don’t know why this was such a motivation this year as it’s not a terribly spectacular finish and there’s usually a risk of running over a stray child, tripping over an old lady or being clothes-lined by a dog leash on your way in, but I just craved that feeling of being in the last 200 meters so badly. Passing though the gates, engaging the sprint finish and running towards cheering friends and loved ones after a long day out – there is no greater feeling.

After marathon distance I was obsessively checking my watch to see if it had reached 28 miles. At this distance I had promised myself I could listen to my iPod and to a specially prepared playlist designed to power me through the last 45 minutes of the run. I was delighted to finally plug myself in and dance my way down the railway line whilst gathering my resources to try and speed up a little. I had calculated that a PB was still possible, especially now I was out of the dark third quarter of the race and the finish was within reach. I also had a wave from my Grandad to look forward to, as he would be waiting on the Auchinyell Bridge for me to pass at about 31.5 miles. Last year he did the same but I was later than I had planned – as a man of the Navy this was not acceptable to him: you show up on time or you don’t bother to show up at all. Thankfully he did stick around for me, but this year I was determined to not make him wait any longer than he ought to and I passed right on time. With a celebratory shake of his walking stick and an obvious tap on his watch he smiled and sent me on my way into the final mile and towards my finish line reward.

D33 ultra finish

Picture – Chen Chee Kong (who finished just after me!)

I floated towards the end of the railway line as the park gates came in to view. Julie was on duty here and gave me a big cheer, whilst Kynon was running across the park just ahead of me from his marshalling position in an attempt to get to the finish before me. I was gaining on him and for a brief moment I thought it might be amusing to try and beat him, even after 33 miles, but then I thought better of it as it would probably result in a finish line vomit and nobody really wanted to see that. Instead I just ran in as hard as I could and enjoyed the cheers all around me as I passed under the arch. Everything got a bit blurry as I caught my breath and steadied myself after the big effort, but I was able to glance down and see 5hrs and 15 minutes – a 10 minute PB!

d33 ultramarathon 2015

Karen came over to give me a hug and Neil put a medal around my neck. I was delighted to see George in the finishing chute sitting on a high stool, where he was still able to cheer in every runner like he always does each year. I was very happy to go over and give him a hug and report that a decent PB had been achieved.

d33 ultra

Kynon still had lots of work to do so I wobbled off with my Mum to go and see about getting a massage to loosen off my glutes and piriformis. Thankfully some guys from the SPEAR clinic at Aberdeen Sports Village were on hand, and for the princely sum of £5 I was able to get my pain in the ass sorted out quickly. I then moved to the food tent to fill my face with a delightful selection of Indian snacks (an inspired post-race choice), flapjacks and cake, and caught up with everyone else who had completed the race. Iona did a great job in 5hrs 4m, and Jemma sneaked under the 6 hour mark in 5hrs 59m. We gathered our things and headed back to Stonehaven on the 3.30pm bus and were back with plenty of time for showers before cracking open some beers for the Scotland V England rugby game. Saturday was a great day for running, but the less said about the rugby the better, I think.

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The after-party in the Station Hotel later on was great fun, and the perfect way to catch up with everyone’s races. There was a quiz, a bottle slide, and an auction, all to raise funds for GAIN – Guillain-Barre and Associated Inflammatory Neuropathies. As you can imagine this Charity is close to the hearts of all involved with the D33 Ultra this year; organisers, runners, marshals, and supporters. So far we’ve managed to raise £1,850 of the £2,500 target set by Mike a few weeks ago. So if you ran the race and missed the donation buckets, or didn’t have any money on you, or missed the news about this completely, or if you just enjoy my blogs and have a spare tenner in your bank account to support this – then you can make an online donation via JustGiving by clicking HERE.

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So all in all another epic day out from Epic Shit racing. The next morning I was up and out to do 7 miles in the sun after our guests left, and then after that I indulged my runger with a macaroni pie supper – an extremely rare treat only earned on the most rare of occasions. Huge thanks to Karen and George and all the Epic Shit team for all their hard work in the challenging circumstances. See you next year for D33 Ultra #5!

d33 recovery

RACE REPORT: Peterhead 10k 2014

Peterhead 10k

9th November 2014

Peterhead 10k medal

Time: 49m 01s – NEW PB!
Place: 86th / 185 Finishers
Gender: 18th / 82 Females
Category: 10th / 37 FSenior

 I’m very pleased to be finally writing a race report for a 10k where I can say I have cracked the 50 minute barrier which has seemed out of reach for me for so long. It’s silly; a sub 50 minute 10k isn’t even that fast, and it seems most people either achieve it in their first attempt without any specific effort at all or fairly swiftly afterwards. However I have really struggled to see any reasonable improvement at the 10k distance in the 4 years I’ve been running, and it remains my least improved upon personal best.

I completed my first 10k (Baker Hughes 2010) in 54:07 and went on to complete subsequent 10ks in 2011 in 56:17 (Garioch), 57:07 (Balmoral), and 52:36 (Baker Hughes). In 2012 I completed Baker Hughes again in 51:33, and in 2013 I completed the Running Shop 10k in 50:44 and Loch Kinord in 56:32. I don’t think my lack of improvement has been down to lack of ability, just mainly laziness and the constant pursuit of the easiest way to do the most exciting things. Why bother with training to burst yourself for ~49 minutes when you can train yourself to run for 72 miles? I look for a high ROI on my training and distances shorter than marathons have been overlooked for goal targeting since I went ultra 2.5 years ago.

Recently after a short period of less long-distance training, increased resistance training and a little bit of weight-loss, I found myself in the condition to have a reasonable attempt at running a bit faster over shorter distances. As previously explained I’ve been chasing a silver club standard, one of the requirements of which is three 60% WAVA finishes in 2014, and for me that meant a 49:49 or better at the Peterhead 10k was my best bet to get the third 60% before the year ended.

With this extra bit of pressure upon me (the alternative was sub 1hr 50m at the Fraserburgh Half Marathon, or a Proms 3k sprint – blerch) I did some club speed sessions and hill work by myself and as usual hoped I could ride off the pain endurance the ultra season would give me. If I can complete 52 miles of a 72 mile race with intense ITB pain, surely I can ride out 49 minutes whilst feeling like I’m going to die – put in context, it really seemed achievable this time.

I decided to target 8 minute miles as my initial pace ( for a finish time of 49:59), and take advantage of the downhill finish that Vikki had described to me in order to cut off more time with a fast last mile. In an attempt to take it as seriously as possible, I cut myself off the booze at the pub after Scotland’s excellent win against Argentina in the rugby the night before despite wanting to neck another few beers in celebration, and went home and ate a modest meal with lots of water to rehydrate. The luxuriously late start of 1pm allowed for plenty of rest, and Kynon drove me up so to avoid another race blighted by my tendency for car-sickness. The weather was perfectly chilled, sunny and calm, and for once absolutely everything seemed to be in my favour.

Carolann main - Metro Running CLub

Picture – Carolann Main – Metro Aberdeen Running Club

The first mile came easily in 7:43, which gave me a little padding for later miles. A steady incline rose, rose and fell, then rose, rose, and fell – we seemed to be going up, up, up which wasn’t part of the plan! Vikki had said this was flat, hadn’t she? Or was it “flat, kind of”? If there was a downhill finish then that probably meant we had to go up a hill to get there. Curses. Did not think that one through. Mile 2: 8:07.

Mile 3 and we’re still going up hill and I’m finding it harder to keep the pace as close to 8 as possible without working far too hard. A muscle in my stomach is twitching and threatening to cramp if I push too hard, so I keep a lid on it and lock into the pace of the man in front, telling myself I will be able to make up time on the mythical downhill shortly. When my watch beeps to tell me mile 3 was completed in 8:21 my heart sinks as my ‘padding’ is all gone and now I have to run faster than ever to hit the required time, and the road is still going up.

 peterhead 10k course profile

Between three and four miles my inner monologue can’t decide whether to scream positive encouragement to my legs or curse myself for daring to set out to achieve this audacious goal in the first place. Who cares about the silver standard  anyway? Not longer after 5k however I realised that it was over half way done; this shouldn’t have been such a revelation, but between that and the glimpse of Peterhead in the distance I remembered how temporary this uncomfort was and that if I could just get myself through another 2.5 miles I could forget about 10ks for as long as I wanted. Mile 4: 8:20

As illustrated above, the last two miles are gloriously downhill. I started to feel great! I had my watch set to show the estimated finish time for each mile and every time I glanced it said 7:XX, so the belief came back and I was ready to leave it all out on the course to get that sub-50. Mile 5: 7:39.

The temptation was strong to run as hard as I could in the last mile but the twitchy stomach muscle was still giving warning twangs. Running quickly downhill when I’m tired is almost guaranteed to give me a stitch, so I had to be careful with my efforts as a cramping muscle now would ruin everything. Mile 6: 7:25.

Picture - Carolann Main, Metro Running Club

Picture – Carolann Main, Metro Running Club

On the approach to the last 0.2 I turned my watch over to see the overall time of 47:39 and knew I had it in the bag. I was able to hammer it down the last 400 meters in the hope of achieving a time that started with 48:XX – previously unfathomable! Kynon’s trademark stadium roar encouraged me over the finish line, and I concluded my run as is becoming tradition in faster events, by taking a few more steps and bending over and retching into the hedgerow.

49:00 was the time on my watch, and 49:01  my official time, giving me a WAVA comfortably into the 60s of 61.90% and an average pace of 7:53. Not quite the fastest race I’ve ever run (my 5k PB average pace is 7:49) but I’m very pleased with the outcome. The race also gave an excellent medal, had an utterly superb post-race spread and to add to the occasion I was even awarded a spot prize!

Running socks, SIS gels, running hat

 Not bad for a £10 entry fee, all things considered.

Next up is the Fraserburgh Half Marathon on Sunday. Will I go out for another PB? Why not, it can’t hurt. Unfortunately the course has changed a bit and the long downhill back into town to the finish now has an extra mile loop of the town before you cross the line, but it still retains its flat profile. If I can hang on to 8:30 pace for as long as possible then I should be able to knock a couple of minutes off my PB of 1:55:18 set in July 2013. This is my first road half marathon since I set my PB last year so it will be good to see some improvement on tarmac.

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‘Til next time…

~Rwr

RACE REPORT: Monymusk Hilly Half Marathon 2014

Monymusk Hilly Half Marathon
26th October 2014

stonehaven running club at monymusk  half marathon 2014

Time: 2hr 15m 26s
Place: 79th / 92
Gender: 21st / 26
Category: 9th / 10

Monymusk Hilly Half Marathon is a small race in its second year, organised by the Cosmic Hill Bashers. In its second year, it attracted a field of 94 to the Village Hall for the start at 11am, including twelve from Stonehaven Running Club as it was the final race of the 2014 SRC Club Championships. The terrain is described as multi-terrain with runners making their way across fields, along roads, on forest tracks and mountain bike trails. Also, the clue is in the name, and racers can expect a significant amount of climbing throughout the 13.1 miles.

Stonehaven Running Club met at the leisure centre to share lifts at 9.30am and we made it up to Monymusk around 10.15am. Unfortunately due to my innate ability to get car-sick in almost any vehicle when I’m not driving, I arrived feeling pretty rotten and sick to my stomach. This wasn’t a great start to the day but with some fresh air, water and a cereal bar I began to feel a little more human after I picked up my number, which was a bargain £10.

We met some with some other club ladies and all dithered over what to wear. The weather was actually quite lovely with the exception of a very strong wind, which seemed to change in temperature every 10 minutes from being icy cold to rather temperate. We knew the route would be exposed when we broke through the tree line ascending the hill, but climbing hills is usually pretty sweaty work so it was a tricky one to call.

At 10.50am there was a short briefing and then we were walked to the start around the corner. My right hand automatically flew to my left wrist ready to start my garmin, but once again I was reminded that in my haste to leave on time earlier, I had neglected to pick up this essential piece of kit from the kitchen table. It didn’t bother me to be running utterly blind, especially as it was a trail race and I wasn’t chasing a time, but there’s nothing like knowing how far you have to go when your energy levels drop towards the end.

The first section of the race took us on a steady uphill over a field on a grassy track, before we turned onto a country road for a brief downhill and then more and more climbing. I was grinding away at the hill, trying to keep a steady jog, but I just wasn’t keeping the pace of those around me and I saw the last of the Stonehaven ladies slip out of sight only about 2 miles in to the race. I didn’t really care; my competitive instincts had disappeared shortly after my guts started jangling like a set of church bells, and the previously experienced urge to vomit quickly made its presence felt once again.

This was frustrating, but what did I really expect having felt pretty ill shortly before and then gone from zero to running hard up a hill?! We’ve seen this phenomenon before this year, except at Braemar I did end up emptying my guts (in front of an unsuspecting child, no less) so what can be learned from this? 1) Drive myself to races. 2) WARM. UP.

Next, we turned off the road into Pitfichie Forest where the path was a wide and gravelly forest track. Still heading uphill I conceded to walk and continued to power up and up but breaking into a run wherever I could. The path got narrower, rockier and steeper and then we broke through the tree line and could see ahead where the hill side was populated by a small stream of neon ants climbing up to the summit.

Somewhere around this point I seemed to shake off the nagging nausea, and perhaps fuelled by the gorgeous views which surrounded us, developed a real spring in my step as the terrain became much more technical. I passed a couple of men and channelled my inner mountain goat hopping from rock to rock and over lumps of heather towards the marshall at the top.

As expected, the wind up on top of the hill was vicious but it was welcome as I was really overheating after the climb, which according to Vikki’s Garmin was a cracking 7 miles long. I began the controlled fall down the other side in delight as I was finally in my element; I love a technical downhill and enjoy letting gravity take its course without fear. I was ever-grateful for the superior grip of my Salomon Speedcross 3s which let me bounce all over the place without feeling out of control.

Monymusk Half Marathon Descent

I thrashed my way all the way down the hill and re-entered the forest where the path widened and flattened out. I lost a couple of places here which I had gained on the down as my legs had decided they’d had about enough for one day, and I struggled to find a rhythm again on the flat and easy road. It felt like I was stuck in 2nd gear; I wished I knew how far I still had to go as I was utterly clueless. The long haul up the hill had totally distorted everything in my mind.

After a welcome water stop I was told it was 4k to the finish. Ten more minutes along the road and the next marshall said 4k too! We turned off the road and headed towards the banks of the River Dee, and followed the river for some time along the bottom of a tussocky grassy field which was frustrating to run on. The soft grass sucked the last of the energy from my lifeless legs and I locked into a system of running for 50 breaths and walking for 20 which passed the time.

The next marshall said one mile left – excellent! The next one half a mile later said 2k left… I have never missed my Garmin more! I could deduce I was pretty close from the sounds of the road and my memory of the course map, so I tried to just enjoy the beautiful Autumn leaves around me and underfoot and the sunshine which was breaking through the trees.

A sharp right turn brought us on to the finishing straight, where after a long uphill run it was time to finally call it a day. The rest of the SRC girls were waiting for me which was kind of them; especially as there was soup and cake awaiting all finishers! My Mum had popped along to cheer us on as well as snapped a picture of me finishing:

Redwinerunner Monymusk Half Finish

 This smile was a bit forced – I was absolutely gubbed. The race was beautiful, but very hard work and a lot warmer than I’d expected and by the finish I already had a dehydration headache. I checked with the timer what my time was and was surprised to hear only 2 hours and 15 minutes – I had expected to be well over 2 hours 30, so despite it being a lifetime worst performance at Half Marathon distance I was pleased that my time wasn’t too horrific.

The other girls had come in between 1hr 56m and 2hr 08m and had all found it to be a very challenging course. In coming 6th SRC lady, I didn’t actually get any more Championship points as in my top 5 finishes in Championship races I have finished higher than 6th every time. Vikki came 5th SRC lady and was able to better one of her placings gaining another two points to retain her 2nd place with 89 points, and keeping me safely in 3rd with 87 points.

Unfortunately I will miss the prize giving ceilidh in January as we’re on holiday. I have one more goal to achieve by the end of the year, which is to reach the SRC Silver standard, which is defined as the following: Complete 5 formal events 1 of which must be a minimum of a half marathon and 3 of which must be over 60% WAVA. I obviously have the 5 events and the distance requirements sorted, but I need one more event at 60% WAVA. I’ll be attempting this at the Metro Proms 3k next Friday (or the December event if I’m unsuccessful) where I’ll need to run under 13 minutes 56 seconds. I can also attempt 60% WAVA at the Peterhead 10k where I’d need to run quicker than 49 minutes 59 seconds, which is a 45 second PB. That seems a lot more achievable right now than the 1hr 49m 40s I would need to run at the Fraserburgh Half Marathon, which is a 5 min 38s PB!

I’ve often said that I really don’t enjoy running ‘fast’ so competitions like this force me to push myself harder to unlock the achievements. It certainly shakes things up from my preferred ultra distances, and pushes me to train differently. Hopefully I will finish 2014 with a new PB or two and wrap up the year on a high!

Does your running club have a Club Championship or club standards? Do you take part? Do you feel it pushes you to run faster?