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RACE REPORT – D33 Ultra marathon 2015

D33 Ultramarathon
14th March 2015

d33 ultra medal 2015

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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 17.20.51

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.

d33 ultra _001

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.

IMG_1724

‘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?

RACE REPORT: Callanish Stones Marathon

Callanish Stones Marathon
2nd August 2014

Callanish Stones Marathon

Time: 4hrs 28 minutes
Place: 67th /126 finishers
Gender: 20th / 58 females
Category: 4th / 12 female Seniors

After I finished the Great Glen Ultra I felt strong and unstoppable; worlds away from the days after the Fling and the Cateran when I felt worn out and blistered. When I returned to Stonehaven I felt empowered by the new distance I’d conquered and was ready to throw myself back into training hard again, so when ripples of discussion amongst running friends quickly amounted to credit cards being flexed, I jumped right in and added my name to the Callanish Stones Marathon starting line-up alongside Jemma, Naomi and Rachel.

Callanish Stones Marathon

Picture – www.isle-of-lewis.com

The Callanish Stones are on the West side of the Isle of Lewis, which is part of the Outer Hebrides and the last stop in the UK before you hit the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve never visited the Outer Hebrides, but I love the West Coast and was delighted to get the chance to explore further afield. Jemma moved up to North Lewis two months ago and had plenty of spare bedrooms to accommodate our group, so not only would we get to visit Stornoway and run around the area surrounding the Callanish Stones, but we would also get to visit her little community of Ness and get much more of a feel of island life. The marathon was being organised as a one-off for 2014 by Stornoway Running and Athletics Club which made the attraction to sign up even greater, as if by then I needed any more persuasion.

Callanish Stones Marathon

Illustration by Rachel (medalslut.com)

STN-NessThe journey to reach our final destination was a lengthy one. First I drove to Aberdeen to pick up Naomi and Rachel, then we made our way north to Ullapool via Inverness. We parked in the long stay carpark and then got some lunch and a couple of beers whilst we waited for the rain to clear up.

Callanish Stones Marathon

Before the ferry arrived we did a little tourist shopping, then collected our luggage and stood by the embarkation area waiting for the ferry to be ready to board. The popular game ‘spot the runner’ helped us pass the time – this was the last crossing to Stornaway before the race so many of the visiting runners were on it.

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Unfortunately the boat was a bit late in departing, but we were rewarded for our patience with beautiful scenery in the evening sunshine as we left Loch Broom and headed North West to the Outer Hebrides.

Callanish Stones Marathon

Callanish Stones Marathon

Callanish Stones Marathon

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We enjoyed one more beer in the bar and wandered around outside enjoying the sunshine and the breeze on deck. The crossing was 2hr 45min in length so the sun was still shining when the imposing cliffs of Lewis approached on the horizon, and the stark green moorland on the hills shone brightly in the light.

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Upon disembarkation, Jemma took us to Lewis’ only Tesco where we purchased some pizza and supplies before commencing the car journey North to Ness. I hadn’t quite appreciated how far it was, but it was easy to pass the time by taking in the unfamiliar surroundings and admiring the striking and isolated beauty of the island. There are no trees outside of the shelter of Stornoway; few plants other than heather can survive so even now at the height of summer there is not much colour to be found other than khaki green and grey road. The houses are dotted here and there next to the road, bunched together for protection against the prevailing winds which roar across the island off the Atlantic all year round. The only large buildings to be seen are the chunky gable ends of Free Presbytarian Churches which rise bleakly above the communities they preside over.

It was late when we arrived at Jemma’s. I left my house at 0820 and I think we finally set down in Ness at about 2230 which made for quite an exhausting day. We quickly ate our pizzas and decided on a time to leave in the morning before turning in for as much sleep as possible.

It was a very civilised start at 10am which meant we didn’t leave until 0845. The weather was bright and breezy with some sunshine but it looked changeable so I decided to keep a long-sleeved top with me just in case.

Callanish Stones Marathon

We were able to park and get ready without fuss, and met our friend (and Fetchie) Gavin, who was attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon ran in full Highland dress. He needed to run it in under 5 hours but since he is a runner with a sub-3 marathon under his belt there was little doubt he would achieve his goal.

Callanish Stones Marathon

The race had thoughtfully provided an earlier start for slower runners and walkers in order to maximise participation. This had meant that our friend Carol was able to chose this small and friendly marathon for her first rather than travel for a Big City race. She had started at 8am and as luck would have it, she was passing the start at her 6 mile point not long after we arrived. She was happy and positive and said she’d see us out on the course later as we cheered her on our way.

After one last snap it was time for us to line up and assemble for the start.

Callanish Stones Marathon

A noted local archealogist whose name escapes me had the honour of setting us off, and at shortly after 10am we charged down the gentle decline on to the road which would take us out for the first 6 mile loop.

Callanish Stones Marathon

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The initial miles were flat and Rachel, Naomi and I trotted along happily together at a steady pace letting ourselves warm up and chatting with fellow runners. None of us were out to achieve a goal or set a PB, but Jemma was certainly the most rested of us all and she had bounded ahead from the start. I had decided that I’d be happy with anything under 4hr 30m, but most of all I just wanted a good long, steady and painfree run. The course might have been ‘hilly’ but it certainly didn’t compare to what I’ve been running on this year so far so I wanted to make sure I could still run for a long time without walking and fuel breaks! Ultra training can make you quite lazy so I wanted to make sure I could still quash my frequent desires to walk, as in a well-executed road marathon that really ought not to be part of the plan…

Miles 1-6: 9.23 / 9.56 / 10.01 / 9.42 / 9.44 / 9.24

The first loop had us pass the finish and the stone circles so we knew where we would be headed a few hours later, then there was an out and back which lead us back to the start. I had decided to leave my long sleeved top here as I had underestimated how warm the sun would be and was already sweating too much. I also sprinted into the loos as in the open countryside there was absolutely nowhere for the discreet, over-hydrated runner to hide behind, and despite wearing a running skirt, I wanted to avoid giving my fellow runners any cheap thrills.

After re-appearing on the course again I saw Naomi up ahead being chased down by Rachel who had also stopped for the loo. We were on a gradual incline so I didn’t want to burn off too much steam by pushing hard to join them – it was still early days and I figured I would catch them up sooner or later. There were some significant ups and downs where I leapfrogged with the same bunch of runners, but by about 10 miles the field had well settled down and everyone was spread out about 100 meters apart.

Miles 7 – 12: 9.24 / 9.34 / 9.43 / 9.55 / 10.11 / 9.53

Callanish Stones Marathon

As we passed mile 12 and approached the village of Carloway, the route turned left for another out-and-back, which then looped down under a bridge on the route and off towards the East. This meant you could see a lot of what was happening in the race. To my right I saw Carol below me still plugging away but just out of earshot, and to my left the sharp end of the field was coming towards me. The out-and-back took us towards the blackhouse village of Gearrannan which clings to the cliffs above the Atlantic. On the way I exchanged several high fives and “Well Done”s with 99% of the other runners which kept me pushing hard up the short and sharp hills on the windy uneven road.

Callanish Stones Marathon

Gearrannan was stunning and I wished I could have stayed to check it out. A quick google reveals that one can actually rent the cottages for a holiday there – perhaps an adventure for next year?!

Callanish Stones Marathonwww.gearannan.com

I was very grateful for the frequent water stations as the temperature rose. Thankfully the wind was mostly keeping me cool, but it was still very warm and I could feel my skin glowing in the sun. I had followed my usual plan of a gel every 5 miles but I was beginning to get hungry; I had noticed lucozade was available at the bridge where the route crosses itself but when I came through they had run out. This was at 15.5 miles so I had two more gels, or 200 calories, to take in the next 10 miles of running and my stomach was grumbling ferociously. I’d never been so hungry in a race before! Was I just too used to hitting up an all-you-can-eat buffet every couple of hours at Ultra aid stations with a rucksack full of supplementary snack on the side?

Callanish Stones Marathon

Here began my lower point in the race – falling typically in the no-mans land between 16 and 20 miles, where the finish feels like a lifetime away but it still feels like you’ve already been running all day. I spotted a couple of cast-away lucozade bottles and decided if I was hungry enough to pick one up – they were full 500ml bottles and when I lifted one it was 3/4 full. I didn’t want to have to suffer any more than required so I twisted off the screw cap and poured the juice into the water bottle I was carrying before drinking hungrily. Within 10 minutes or so I felt a lot more energised as the sugar and calories did their tricks. The next task was to get my head around the road which stretched in front of me across the moor, for miles…and miles…and miles…

Callanish Stones Marathon

Miles 13 – 18: 9.50 / 10.26 / 10.08 / 10.07 / 11.44 / 11.30

From mile 16 is a long slow killer of an incline which pushes slowly up along the straight Pentland Road which extends over barren moorland. The wind was blowing right into my face but I kept grinding away for half a mile at a time before having a short walking break to get my breath back. I decided to listen to my iPod and put on the West Highland Way Race podcast, listening to the episodes which I had already listened to at the Great Glen Way. I didn’t care though – it was nice to have familiar voices chatting away in the background as I slogged away.

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I passed Carol again around 20 miles when she was going through a bad patch. I could see she was upset, but whilst she was telling me how bad she felt she was still powerwalking/jogging away at a steady pace which betrayed no sign of injuries or problems. I reassured her that she was, in fact, doing brilliantly as she was still moving forward and that’s all she needed to do until she got to the finish. A bit of patience, one foot in front of the other, and I promised her she would get there. I was reminded of my own tired and blinkered thinking during the Cateran when I swore I was doing dreadfully and in tears, was convinced I was ready to DNF. What I couldn’t see for myself at the time was that I was actually running up a hill, and therefore was, and would be, absolutely fine.

Finally we turned off the Pentland road at 21 miles and headed back in the direction of the Stones. The wind was behind us now and that with the addition of more lucazade and a 20 mile warm up meant I was ready to pick up the pace and get the race done. For the first time in a few hours I began passing people who were beginning to tire as I was just beginning to wake up. Each person ahead was reeled in and passed comfortably as I crawled my way back up the field.

Miles 19 – 26: 11.58 / 11.38 / 10.49 / 10.19 / 10.04 / 9.59 / 9.05 / 9.04

Just before mile 25 we ran through the start area again and retraced our footsteps towards the stones. I was able to overtake one last girl on the cruelly sharp incline as I focused on my glutes pushing me up the hill strongly towards the finish. With wobbly legs I navigated the uneven tussocky grass in the last 25 meters before the finish and crossed the line happily amongst the standing stones in 4 hours and 28 minutes on the dot.

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Jemma had finished 10 minutes before me and after receiving my goody bag we sat together and cheered in the rest of the runners. Rachel and Naomi weren’t far behind in 4hr 47m and 4hr 50m respectively, and then 20 minutes later at 7hr 09m 48s race time we were able to cheer Carol home to her first marathon finish, which is always such a happy moment.

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We caught a lift back to the start where there was a great spread of soup and sandwiches on offer, then we headed back to Ness where lovely showers, cold beers and bottles of prosecco awaited. We even saw fit to demolish the Chocolate Cookie Mallow Cheesecake we’d bought the night before in lieu of a proper dinner since we’d all had such a good day. At 7.30 we headed out to get the bus to Stornoway for the race ceilidh, which made the whole event feel even more like an ultramarathon as we danced away our stiff muscles.

Callanish Stones Marathon

The next morning I was awoken at 07.30 by howling wind and rain lashing against the window. The Lewis weather had turned on a sixpence and we were now being treated to the worst that summer had to offer up there. With a penchance for travel sickness at the best of times which can be exacerbated by the mildest of hangovers, I lay in bed dreading the ferry crossing. “The Minch”, which separates Lewis from the mainland, is some of the roughest waters around the UK at the best of times so the journey home had the potential to become very unpleasant.

Lewis, however, is full of surprises. When we arrived in Stornoway there were blue skies and just a hint of a wind. Travelling 25 miles south and heading to the East coast of the island made a huge difference in the weather. We departed Stornoway in the sunshine on the top deck, watching the island get smaller and smaller.

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Just as I was beginning to relax and settle down for the journey, Rachel came over and said to me “Dude, have you looked behind you?!”. A 180 degree turn revealed that apparently we were sailing straight into the mouth of hell, as the skies behind us were pitch black. The Captain warned over the tannoy that there ‘might be some discomfort’ up ahead, and after trying to take a panorama to illustrate the drastic difference in the skies we headed straight inside when thunder and lightning began to start around us.

28My phone camera couldn’t handle the light change!

After about an hour of pitching and rolling, the seas calmed down and we’d traversed the storm. Naomi, a seasoned North Sea sailor due to the nature of her job took it all her stride and fell asleep, whilst Rachel and I clung to the floor in the lounge groaning as the boat rose and fell on the waves.

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If that is how the crossing can be in summer, I can’t imagine how treacherous it must be in winter. Rather you than me, Jemma…

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The skies cleared and we enjoyed a dramatic view on our way back into Ullapool, which we found quite literally at the end of this rainbow…

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We wasted no time getting off the boat and beginning the next stage of our journey back home in the car. I finally arrived back in Stonehaven at 10pm and regaled Kynon with the tales of my weekend after presenting him with the enormous Black Pudding which came in my race goody bag which was surplus to requirement for this vegetarian.

Callanish Stones Marathon

It was one of the best goody bags I’ve ever had; featuring food and drink (consumed), a Harris tweed keepsake, Hebridean soup, plaque, t-shirt, a commemorative print and of course, the Black pudding.

Callanish Stones Marathon

If this race is ever run again I would strongly recommend it to anyone who has the time to make the journey up for a mini-break. The organisation was flawless, the course was stunning yet challenging, and the Hebridean welcome was warm. I look forward to returning in future to explore more of the Hebrides whether for running or not, but will always be sure to pack for all weathers whilst keeping my fingers crossed for the sun.