Red Wine Runner

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Strathearn Marathon 2016 – RACE REPORT

Strathearn Marathon
12th June 2016

strathearn marathon

4 hours 20 minutes 28 seconds
105th of 153 finishers
36th of 59 Females
16th of 26 Female Seniors

After the sudden news that I had got a new job and would be moving to Edinburgh within a fortnight, I had to re-think my plans for attending the Strathearn Marathon.  After completing my first week at work, I got the train home to Stonehaven on Friday night; I spent a lovely 33 hours with my husband before getting collected by Naomi at 6am on Sunday to head down to Comrie for the race. The plan was to enjoy some quality running and then I’d get a lift back to Edinburgh  with Sandra and Ian. I was glad to have sorted out a plan, and despite it being a little galling to say farewell to Kynon at 6am knowing I wouldn’t see him for another two weeks, there was little else to do other than saddle up and get on with it.

The weather was grim; proper dreich, foggy, drizzly and a little cold. The Strathearn Marathon is renowned for its views but it became apparent that we’d be seeing very little of them during the race. We arrived around 7.45 and got quickly registered before catching up with some friends and familiar faces. One of the great things about this small, friendly race, is that you are offered the option of personalised drinks bottles, which are taken to 10 and 18 miles. These were deposited at the start and the system was flawless.

At 8.55am we lined up in the drizzle and listened to the briefing. Mark Beaumont was the guest of honour and when the gun went off, he led us on his bike on a circuit of the Cultybraggan Camp for the first quarter mile. After returning to the starting line and crossing for the second time, we headed out of the Camp and out on to the back roads for the rest of our 26.2 mile adventure.

Strathearn Marathon

Picture by Ali Robertson

Shortly afterwards we started climbing steadily; much of the first five miles is up hill. Naomi, Kate and I ran together and maintained a steady pace. No-one was looking to set any PBs and Naomi and I had planned to use the race for a good catch up! After the course leveled off, it turns onto a slightly more major road, so common sense dictated that we ran in single file. This rather quelled the conversation but we kept plodding away despite the increasing rain.

Strathearn Marathon

Picture – Gordon Donnachie

It began raining very heavily and soon I was absolutely soaked through. There were quite a few exposed miles where the wind made me pretty cold and I was glad I had a long sleeve top on to stay a little bit warm. I continued to chat to Naomi every so often but didn’t get much response – I had figured she was just battling on in her own head, until I turned around at about 9 miles and saw it was a totally different lady behind me! Oops. It’s a shame my chat was so bad she couldn’t even respond to tell me she wasn’t who I thought she was.

Strathearn Marathon

Picture – Gordon Donnachie

As the heavy rain continued I just pushed on alone in my thoughts and the miles ticked by. I was surprised at how good I was feeling and nothing was hurting at all. I ran a couple of miles with Kate before we separated at the 15 mile water point, and then I had a great few miles where I just bounced along and began passing people one by one. I felt I got stronger in the second half and this was reflected in my eventual finishing time, which was a 2:12/2:08 negative split – a first for me at marathon distance!

Strathearn Marathon

Picture – Gordon Donnachie

I had a really strong finish which was I very pleased about; this race could have very easily turned out to be a bit of a suffer-fest as I really have not put the work in this year to merit a strong road marathon performance. 4 hours 20 minutes is 22 minutes off my PB, but for someone who has done two runs over 15 miles since last September (one in January, and one in May), has run just over 400 miles this whole YEAR, and has been carrying around an extra stone in weight for months…it’s not too bad. I wanted to use the race as a benchmark for improvement for the rest of the year, so at least I know what I’m working with. Like some report cards at school used to say… “If Rhona actually bothered to TRY, she could be quite good at [subject] but she doesn’t seem to wish to concern herself with effort”

Strathearn Marathon

So, this summer, armed with my new size ‘Large’ club vest (my Medium one is too tight now) and stinging memories from Sunday of what inner thigh chub rub feels like (I have raced 100s of miles in the above pictured black skort and that has never been an issue before) I will be attempting to shift the lard and relocate the athlete I was a year ago when I earned my West Highland Way Race goblet. Eight months of unemployment has not been kind to my body or my mind, so I really hope that I have turned a corner with my new life in Edinburgh and I can start building these aspects of myself back up again.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone starts doing ultras and then makes it their life’s work. After my first ultra in 2012, I have consistently ran several marathons and ultras each year until 2016, where due to a couple of triggering factors I kind of just fell off the wagon. Bloggers and tweeters and many other online influencers might have you believe that once you start doing ultras and you’re in the scene, you just keep doing them all the time and it’s super easy and fun to do massive runs or races every other week; hashtag #trailporn hashtag #ultralife hashtag #zerolimits… Apart from the fact that a #zerolimits #ultralife is quite hard to fully execute when you have #zerobalance in your bank account, sometimes in life, much like in these races themselves, you go through bleak patches and you just have to keep knowing and believing that at some point you’ll probably come out the other side. I’m not really out of it yet but today I feel like I’m a lot further along than I have been lately.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

This weekend it’s my absolute favorite weekend of the year – the West Highland Way Race. This year I’m crewing for a guy from Los Angeles called Steve who I only met for the first time on Tuesday! It will be yet another way to experience the race through a visitor’s eyes and I simply cannot wait to head over to Milngavie tomorrow night. As usual there are dozens of friends taking part or crewing who I’m excited to see, and I’m ready for another adventure. Good luck to you if you’re taking part, or crewing – both are huge challenges!

Summer Running

It’s been a busy few weeks at Red Wine Towers and there are a lot of changes afoot. In the midst of it all I’ve been continuing to train as I’ve set myself some goals for the summer.  Let’s take a look at what I’ve got planned!

12th of June – Strathearn Marathon

strathearn marathon

After helping out and marshalling at the Cateran Trail races a couple of weeks ago, I came home with a lingering case of race envy. With nothing in my calendar until July and some itchy racing feet, I sneaked a little entry into this small but beautiful marathon. Renowned for its friendliness, the Strathearn Harriers put on a great show every year and the race has a super reputation. Naomi and I are heading down together and are very excited about the Squirrel medal we will be earning. I’ll be using this race as a gauging point for how I’m feeling and how much work needs to be done over the summer, with a goal of cruising around in 4hr 30ish.

3rd of July – Stonehaven Half Marathon

stonehaven half marathon

A return to my very first half marathon, except this year the course has totally changed! The course is now multi-terrain and takes runners from sea level all the way up 1000ft of elevation to Fetteresso Forest for a bit of a run around, before coming back down to the sea. The race has only grown its reputation for being the toughest half in Scotland, as now instead of the first 4.5 miles being up hill, it’s 7 miles of straight up hill. There’s no denying it; it’s going to hurt, but as long as I can get to the top then it’s a fun cruise back to town.

31st July – Fort William Marathon

fort william marathon

I won a place in this race a few months ago when I entered a competition on Twitter. The race starts and finishes at the Nevis Range mountain resort and takes in a circular route via Inverlochy, Gairlochy, and Spean Bridge. With 1200ft of elevation it’s a little bumpy, but I will be using this race as my last long training run for my final race of the summer.

20th August – Speyside Way Ultramarathon

speyside way ultra race

After enjoying the race so much last year, I really wanted to come back and give it another go. This year I am not attempting a half marathon the next day, so I am planning on target-training for this race specifically and going as fast as I can. Last year I ran over 7 hours, so I’d like to get a lot closer to 6 or maybe even under. Kynon is also doing the race so it will be a fun day out 🙂

As for the rest of the year, well I’ll figure that out when I get there. The changes I mentioned above will have quite an affect on what I get up to, because I won’t be living in Stonehaven any more! In fact, this time next week I’ll be packing the last of my bags and shipping off down to Edinburgh to start a new job. It’s all very exciting and I’m really pleased to be taking the next step in my career. This means that I’m on the look out for a new running club to train with and will sadly be hanging up my black and purple Stonehaven Kit. Ironically I’ve just renewed my membership and ordered a new hoodie, but I’ll always keep SRC as my second claim club whilst I’m in Scotland.

I’m really excited to be moving back to a big city again, but it will mean a lot less easy access to mountains to run up and forests to round around. We are truly spoiled in Aberdeenshire, but then which other city can claim to have a volcano in the centre of it? Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags will shortly become my new back garden so there will be no excuses for getting my legs primed for hills.

What’s on your calendar this summer?
What’s your favourite thing to do in Edinburgh?

 

 

 

Glen Lyon Ultra – Race Preview

Did you know I’m off to Glen Lyon tomorrow to run a 30 mile race? I did, kind of… I don’t know about you but April this year has evaporated at such a speed I feel like this race has crept up on me a lot quicker that I ever expected it to!

glen lyon ultra

So what’s the Glen Lyon Ultra?

The Glen Lyon Ultra is a brand new race from BaM Racing, stalwarts of the Scottish Ultra scene and organisers of Glen Ogle 33, Great Glen Ultra, and Glenmore 24. They like a race in a Glen, you see.  The race route was first used a few years ago when a company ran an event called the Tigh Nam Bodach 50k in December. For some reason the race never took off and it just faded away after the first year, but it is back with the BaM treatment and looking like a great Spring adventure taking place at a far more hospitable time of year.

glen lyon ultra david downey

Picture – David Downey

Where is Glen Lyon?

Glen Lyon is…in the middle of nowhere. This is a really remote race, high up in the hills in Central Scotland, properly off grid whilst technically still in Perthshire. It’s a three hour drive from Stonehaven, the last hour of which covers only 23 miles on single track roads towards a hamlet called Pubil. To this end, we are staying in Aberfeldy tonight to maximise the amount of sleep tonight in order to arrive in time for the 9.30am start.

glen lyon ultra route

What is the weather situation?

Well, it doesn’t actually look too bad – perfect weather for running if the forecast is correct. That part of Scotland can get extremely cold at any time of year though so I’ll be taking an array of kit. I’m a little sad that we’ll be missing the relative heatwave on Sunday, but perhaps it’s for the best given my usual failure to perform in heat. Unfortunately Stonehaven is on the wrong side of the weather front on Sunday, so I won’t be able to recover in any warm sunshine like you might find in Perthshire!

glen lyon ultra weather

So what’s the plan?

Any regular readers will know that 2016 has really been any but regular for me in terms of training. I AM training – an assortment of gym work, club running sessions, half marathon length runs, but LONG long runs have been largely non existent, and as for long off road stuff…the less said about that the better. The reason for this massive change in training has been because of having no big events to train for – no D33, no Fling, no Cateran, no WHW/Great Glen – all of the events which have shaped my training over the last few years have been absent from my schedule, and there’s little to no point in dragging your body through high mileage training for no reason. I’ve had a tough few years and perhaps this little break has been good physically. Mentally it doesn’t feel very ok though. Why no races? Well, to put it bluntly; when they all opened last year/early this year, I really didn’t think we’d be living in Scotland. But we still are. So make of that what you will.

Anyway; I’m not too worried about tomorrow. I know it will be harder than it ought to be, but endurance doesn’t go away and I expect it will just take a little while for me to settle into my groove. I’m really looking forward to a long run out in the hills; I’m going to take it easy and soak up the surroundings, enjoy the company of my fellow ultra runners who I simply haven’t seen enough of this year, and use the race as an opportunity to mentally reset and try and get to a place where I can at least regconise myself as an athlete again.

glen lyon ultra route profile

Are you running a race this weekend?

Have you ever been to Glen Lyon?

Am I going to survive that dirty vertical after 26 miles?!

Berlin Marathon 2015 – RACE REPORT

Berlin Marathon
27th September 2015

berlin marathon medal 2015
4hrs 19 minutes 25 seconds
706th of 1437 in Age Group
4160th of 8924 Female Finishers

 

Just under a year ago I put my name in the ballot for the Berlin Marathon, mainly on a whim. I had no specific reason why I wanted to run it, but if you like city marathons, why wouldn’t you? Berlin is an amazing city and the race, like the other five World Marathon Majors, is legendary.

2015 has been a tough year of training and racing for me. I’ve recorded five ultramarathon finishes including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, and the accompanying Highland Fling and Devil O’the Highlands ultramarathons to complete the Triple Crown of West Highland Way ultras. In addition to this I have been completing my MSc in Digital Marketing, and come the end of September I found myself running on fumes. My running mojo was at an all time low and I was physically drained from a racing season which started in March, I knew that Berlin would be just the tonic for this ailment if I took the pressure off and allowed myself to enjoy it. Gone was the sub-3:45 goal, or even a sub-4 target; my goal changed to having fun and treating this marathon as a celebration of what I have achieved this year. A victory lap, if you will.

Kynon and I flew out on Thursday the 24th in order to enjoy a little time in the city before the race. Of course the sensible plan would be to stay longer after the race, but since my submission deadline was the 1st of October, at the time we booked the travel it was impossible to bet on whether I would be able to submit my thesis early before the race as planned, or whether I might need the extra time after. Due to our early arrival we ended up doing a lot of walking in the days prior to the race. It’s just as well neither of us were hunting for our best possible performances as we clock up 8.5, 9.5, and 14 miles walking in the three days before the race…!

berlin marathon expo

berlin14

berln marathon expo

On Friday we visited the Expo; a celebration of running of epic proportions inside the monolithic structure which is the old Berlin Templehof Airport. Images alone cannot capture the scale of this building; it is HUGE.

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

After we collected our numbers and bought some race apparel (be ready to fight if you want a certain item in your size!) we browsed the stalls before refreshing ourselves with some beers at the Expo Biergarten.

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

The Expo was an amazing place for people watching; it seemed like every nation on the planet was represented. Many were wearing commemorative race t-shirts and jackets, and there were more than one individual draped head to toe in Ironman finisher gear. Also, rumour has it that once you earn a Boston Marathon jacket, it is in fact possible to remove it…but many choose not to 😉

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

After some more snaps and exploring of the venue, we headed back into town amongst the army of people carrying race bags. The atmosphere in the city was full of anticipation – the 40,000 runners and their fans were taking over!

Saturday morning was the International Breakfast Run – a celebration of running and runners around the world. The 6k run was open to everyone and included a ‘power breakfast’ at the finish.

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

This was great fun, but not as scenic  as the Paris one. The run finished in the Olympic Stadium though, which more than made up of the lack of sightseeing! The Stadium was amazing; both in scale and the sheer brutality of the architecture. For a fan of brutalist architechture like myself, Berlin is an absolute haven.

berlin marathon breakfast runberlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

The afternoon before the race was spent watching the Inline Skating marathon at the 40km point – a 90 degree corner. I don’t know what I thought I expected to see, but this was something else. I had no idea the sport was such a big deal and even has a Pro Division! I thought it would just be people out skating for fun…how wrong I was! The skaters went so fast and I was amazed at how they stuck together in huge packs of hundreds of skaters at a time. When they whizzed around the corner at such intense speeds and gravity-defying angles, it was almost hard to watch in case someone slid and fell, taking the whole pack down.

berlin25

berlin24

I had some delicious Kartoffeln und Bier for lunch, and a pizza for dinner. I was well and truly carb-loaded and excited for the next day when we turned in for an early night. Our apartment was only a 30 minute walk away from the race village so in the morning we enjoyed a gentle stroll down to reach the start around 8am.

berlin marathon start

Kynon and I were seeded in different corrals and also had been assigned baggage tents which were on opposite sides of the race village, so we decided to say our good lucks and goodbyes early on and went our separate ways after a couple of photos.

berlin marathon start

The weather was perfect – clear skies and a low sun rising into the perfect blue overhead. If it was like the preceding days, then it was going to be a bit too warm in the sun but it would be chilly in the shade. My fears of overheating were gone but I knew I would need to be careful about how much I drank, especially later in the race in the warmest part of the day.

After dropping off my baggage I debated whether to go straight into my corral or sit down and wait a bit. In the area where I was standing there were people peeing EVERYWHERE though, so no matter where I sat I would be getting a close up view of things that no-one wants to see first thing in the morning, or well, ever, so I decided to go to my corral after a visit to the loo myself. The portaloo queues were monstrous so I decided to join the mass public urination and found a dry bush to water before checking into my corral.

berlin marathon start

There was a peaceful walk through the woods of the Tiergarten before you emerge onto Under Den Linden and the breathtaking sight of the sea of 40,000 runners. If you’ve seen aerial television footage of the Berlin Marathon you’ll know the sight I mean, and in real life it was incredible.

berlin marathon start

berlin marathon start

I sat down on a kerb and spoke to two guys from America including one whose wife was from Forres. He was a Marathon Maniac so I recommended the Glen Moray Marathon to him, especially as he didn’t really enjoy his visit to the Edinburgh Marathon this year.

berlin marathon start

The race started at 9am but I didn’t get near the line until 9:23am. When I crossed I was near the 4 hour pacers so thought I would stick with them for as long as possible, however about half a mile in I saw people dashing into the nearby forest to relieve themselves. Standing around with nerves in the cold had expedited my need to do the same and I debated for a moment whether to join the al fresco toiletters or await a portaloo. I was quite uncomfortable at the time so decided just to duck in for a quick fix; 20 seconds later and I was feeling much better – the game was on! Hallo Berlin!

I felt like I ran the first 5k far too quickly but I recorded 29:59 so my feeling couldn’t have been further from the truth! The first water stop was chaos so I decided to skip it and just keep trucking. I lost sight of the 4hr pacer at some point and then didn’t see another pacer again for the whole race. They were wearing black balloons which weren’t very noticable, and it was also just hard to keep track of anyone due to the wide roads full of people.

The route was crowded but not overwhelmingly so. Even in the early miles the support from the crowds was strong and there were bands playing great music. I remember lots of fabulous jazz and blues outfits, brass bands, rock bands, metal bands, and most memorably…an Alp Horn Choir?!

The Danes won the award for the most enthusiastic travelling support, and the Swiss seemed to have flown pretty much the whole country out to support their runners. Mexico and all of the South American countries’ support were a riot to pass by and anyone with a Scottish flag gave me huge shouts of support. The crowds really made the race special for me. The route is flat and kind of uninspiring visually – Berlin is a city of many amazing things, but beautiful scenery is not one of them.

As the heat grew more intense I began to tire but just kept pushing at a steady pace. My rules were no walking allowed, and any pace under 10 minute miles was OK. I ran through sprinklers, high five’d kids, ate bananas and apples, and cheered back all the supporters who tirelessly applauded us. Every time my energy levels dipped and I started to feel less happy, another band or DJ seemed to appear which lifted my spirits. Whenever I felt grumpy there always seemed to be someone calling out my name on my bib and giving me a personal cheer which was just so lovely. I couldn’t help but smile nearly all of the way – these people weren’t out to cheer for hours only to be ignored by someone with a face like a punched quiche!

Other memorable moments include;

– The long, shady, narrow street with the tall tenement buildings on either side and a bar in the middle with a wall of speakers pumping out banging dance tunes that you could hear for a mile away (also the associated punters dancing along going heavy on the beers at 11am!)
– The guy and his family with the HUGE Scotland flag on a stick who popped up on multiple occasions near me screaming “C’Moooaaaannn SCOATLANNNN!!!'” in their best football terrace voices, and their enthusiastic high fives for me every few miles.
– The participants who looked even older than my Grandad, who were still pushing along faster than I was. The results show there were 5 men in the 80+ category, one of whom ran a sub-4 time!
– The Nike cheering points with their infectious enthusiasm and motivational signs, which made even this seasoned cynic well up a bit.
– The care homes which had brought their residents out to the kerbs to cheer and high five the runners.
– The American lady on the bike who gave me kind encouragement in the last two miles, even though she called me Rhonda.
– The last half mile, running towards the wall of sound at the finish, and floating on air as I ran under the Brandenburg Gate for the last 200 meters.

I didn’t take any photographs during the race as I was too sweaty and sticky and it would have been too much of a faff getting my phone out of my dry bag. Much of the race itself is a happy blur though, especially the last two miles where I was far too hot and very dehydrated. It was a huge relief to stop running and I was very happy to see 4:19 on my watch – a credible time, even if it is 21 minutes off my best. Reviewing my 5k splits, I maintained a very steady average pace of between 6 mins and 6 mins 20s a kilometer for the first 40km and managed to wing a sprint finish for the last two kilometers, pushing my average pace down to 5m 49s.

berlin marathon finish

Afterwards I began to feel very not ok and knew I needed electrolytes quickly. I shuffled along with the crowd and picked up various food items and forced myself to eat a banana and some powerade. After collecting my bag I found a shady tree and just wanted to curl up under it in my space blanket and fall asleep… thankfully my sensible sub-concious took over and got me back on my feet to track down Kynon.

So what of the results of the McKinnon Marathon showdown? Well! In the end I retain my title, and lived up to my assertions that I would beat Kynon on the day as well – but only just. Independently, and starting in different corrals, I finished in 4:19:25, and he finished in 4:19:47 – a 36 minute PB for his first road marathon. It seems the competition is on – I had better up my game for the next round!

berlin marathon finish

The next day, we wandered around the East Side wearing our medals and exchanging friendly nods with the scores of others who were doing the same. We sat down for a beer in a bar and it seemed like everyone there had a marathon bracelet, a finisher shirt, or a medal on, which just perpetuated the warm fuzzy feeling I was getting from the event. It felt like my first marathon all over again, like I had been a part of something really special. Random strangers congratulated us on the street and our waiter gave us a free congratulatory shot.

Later on in the airport, the great exodus of runners continued and the airport and our plane were packed with marathon finishers, all struggling with the gangway stairs and getting up and down off their seats. I didn’t want to take my medal off when we had a layover in Amsterdam, and wore it proudly in the airport bar and as we boarded the next plane, the Cabin Crew were full of congratulations. In a year when a marathon has been a easy training run, it felt weird at first to celebrate completing a race of the same distance, but receiving such positive congratulations from random strangers reminded me that ran slow or fast, for most people the marathon is an achievement worthy of huge commendation. It is still a distance worthy of respect, and acknowledging and celebrating that by no means changes it in context of the other distances I’ve ran this year. I guess for some daft reason I had got myself mentally into a place where I felt like I couldn’t celebrate a marathon anymore, in the same way that a multi-marathoner wouldn’t really celebrate completing a 10k.

berlin marathon medal

Anyway, looking over the various pictures and videos which have emerged of the event since Sunday, I feel proud to have been part of such a huge shared experience. It’s inspired me to better my performance at marathon again, and instead of looking at ultras for early 2016, I’m looking for a road marathon. Like many, I’m awaiting the result of my London Marathon ballot application this week, so fingers crossed perhaps the decision will be made for me…

Thank you Berlin, we will DEFINITELY be back!

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