Don’t give up if you fall at the first hurdle

Every race can’t run smoothly and last weekend I discovered that the hard way.

I’d had a pretty good start to the year at the Devilla 15k on the 19th February. As usual it attracted hundreds of runners, keen to kick start their racing season with a wonderful mud bath and as always it didn’t disappoint! Not the muddiest I’ve seen it in the 5 years I’ve been taking part, but definitely a competitor for the top spot in places. The race started bang on time and I’d tried to sneak my way up the field in order to get ahead of the masses before the bottleneck about 2 miles in. Unfortunately I was still further back than I thought and again slowed to a shuffle though the narrow sections of the trail as the crowds went single file through the bogs. Anyone who did try to overtake in this section usually ended up face planting deep into the mud or losing a shoe in the deeper sections of the bog, so I decided to hang fire and wait until the trails to open up again before trying to pick up some speed. This is much easier said than done when your shoes are caked in mud and you’re carrying the extra weight of the mud. The track was much slippier than usual due to the forestry commission having done some tree felling recently and I found myself having to work a lot harder in places that are usually pretty simple trails.
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RACE REPORT – The Highland Perthshire Marathon 2015

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HIGHLAND PERTHSHIRE MARATHON 2015

TIME: 3 Hours 41 Minutes and 34 Seconds

Overall position 44th/118 finishers

1st/14 senior female

3rd/28 females

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I’m ridiculously late in writing this report for no reason apart from laziness! Work, training and sleep have taken control of my life again, and sitting staring at a laptop after a long day just hasn’t appealed to me. But excuses out the way, here we go!!

After running this race last year and finally getting a decent sub 4 hour time, I was desperate to go back and give it another go. I loved everything about the route, even the 2 laps didn’t put me off as I was desperate to push harder the second time round this year and finish stronger than last year. The day started as all big race mornings do; wake before my alarm, force in breakfast, fix my silly race day hairdo, put on my kit, mascara and Vaseline and then sort out my attitude. I’ve been told more than once this year that I need to have more faith in myself and push myself to my limit, even if it means reaching the ultimate pain barrier. My training had been somewhat lackluster since the Devil O’the Highlands race and I wasn’t sure what I had left to give come race day. I confided in my running friends about my doubts and they gave me all the positive words I needed to hear; all the miles were in my legs, the rest would have done me good and all I had to do was get my head in the right place.

After registering, pinning on my number and sorting out my final kit choice (nothing new there!) I had half an hour or so to plan out the race in my head. I was feeling tired and under trained, but this was a great course so I felt another sub 4 hour time was possible. I decided to try and keep up with Derek and Andy for the first lap and see how I felt by the time I got back to Aberfeldy after the first lap knowing that Derek would be hoping for under 3 hours 40 mins, and Andy usually runs great negative splits. After last years disaster of nearly missing the start of the race we headed round to the start line with time to spare for well wishes, hugs and of course – photos!

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I set off near the back of the pack to try and keep my first few miles at a steady pace, but before I knew it I was towards the front and running steady splits of just over 8 minute miles. I kept up with Derek for the majority of the first lap and we chatted away to a guy who had run 109 marathons. Really puts my moaning to shame!! I had a minor panic I was flying off too quickly but felt good, so just kept it up. Powered by magical blue powerade and shot bloks, I was really enjoying myself and feeling ridiculously powerful. Before I knew it, I was running through the castle grounds and tackling the hill for the first time with the words “Wee County Harriers don’t walk up hills!” running through my head. Thanks coaches!!!

The run back in to Aberfeldy is mostly downhill and I picked the pace back up quite a lot. Over the bridge and past the field and lap one was done.

Lap 1 splits; 8:03, 8:15, 8:16, 8:10, 8:29, 8:22, 8:06, 7:58, 8:11, 8:08, 8:20, 8:20, 8:09

As I passed the marshal at the end of the first lap, he informed me I was currently 3rd lady. I have no idea how that had happened as I’ve never placed in a race before, but it scared me a little as I knew my competitive mode would kick in now and I might push off round the second lap too quickly. I had just passed a girl from Carnegie so knew she would be hot on my heels but tried not to look back too often as it’d throw me off my stride. The miles continued to to tick by, my legs tiring a bit but no major niggles to speak of so I felt no reason to slow down too much. Around mile 18 I finally conceded and put in my head phones as I had a guy running right behind me and he had an annoyingly slappy footed run. Normally I’d make up a song to sing along with something that annoyed me, but not today. I couldn’t get away from him fast enough!!
As I came through the castle grounds for a second time, I managed to look back along the route and found there was no one in sight behind me. Feeling a bit achy I decided to power shuffle up the hill the second time round and found I felt a bit wobbly and dehydrated and started zig-zagging up the road to the top of the hill. Luckily there was a water stop a top of the hill – definitely in the right place at the right time. I quickly found my pace again and flew round the last 4 miles of the course, occasionally glancing back to see if anyone was near me.

Lap 2 splits; 8:25, 8:36, 8:36, 8:46, 8:48, 8:38, 8:39, 8:36, 9:59 (walking up the hill!), 8:42, 9:01, 8:49, 8:35

As I came back into Aberfeldy for the second time, I finally spotted someone catching up on me. Not knowing if they were male or female I picked up the pace, flew over the bridge for the final time and back into the field to the finish line. A new marathon time of 3:41:34 (13 minutes off my previous attempt!), 3rd lady overall and 1st senior lady! No idea how that happened… obviously all the speedies were doing something else this weekend!!

I crossed the line, hugged everyone in sight and continued to be majorly confused that I’d placed first in my category. My brother in law Stuart asked me if I was crying, but no – I was just a tad snotty!!
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I walked about in a bewildered daze until I was told it was time to go home, still not quite believing what had just happened. I was quite tired during the second lap, and I did give up a bit on the hill so what am I capable of for London next year? Where are my limits?! I’m quite excited to see what will happen next year!!

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It’ll probably be a long time, if ever, that I place in a race again so I’m quite happily still basking in my glory just now. And I have taken over the top shelf with my trophies and demoted Craig’s to the second shelf….. ( as I only have some of them for the year as he gets to keep his forever, so I think it’s fair!!!)

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RACE REPORT – The Loch Ness Marathon 2014

LOCH NESS MARATHON 2014

Official time: 4 hours 05 minutes 49 seconds

Overall: 1016 out of 2478

Medal : Yes, same design as last year but ever so slightly bigger and shinier!

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I’m a little late in publishing this race report because for some reason the post race buzz wasn’t there this year, which disappoints me as it’s the first time it has ever happened after a race! After enjoying last years race so much I was really looking forward to giving the Loch Ness Marathon another go. I had pulled out of the Clyde Stride after thinking I wouldn’t be able to get my mileage up after my long holidays sailing around the Baltic, and also Jemma had talked me into it. On Saturday afternoon I drove up to Inverness, met up with Jemma at our B&B, headed into town for lunch and then over to Bught Park to get registered and have a nosey around the expo.

After quite a huge lunch neither of us fancied going out for dinner, so we bought some bits and bobs from Tesco and hunkered down in our B&B to watch some DVDs and stuff our faces with munchies. A couple of weepy films later, I sorted my race kit, had everything that I’d need in the morning laid out ready so I wasn’t crashing around the room when Jemma was still asleep and then drifted off into a rather uncomfortable sleep (note to self – remember my own pillow next time I go away as the one I had felt like it was made out of cardboard!).

Kit ready, including my running skirt in club colours!!
Kit ready, including my running skirt in club colours!!
Cold have done with a bit more than this, but never mind...
Could have done with a bit more than this (and about 5 more coffees!), but never mind…

Silly o’clock came and my alarm managed to buzz about once before I threw myself on it to shut it up. I had the usual pre race breakfast of porridge, coffee, banana and electrolyte drink and packed another banana and a flapjack to take with me for the bus journey. I was ready to go by 7am so I said my goodbyes to Jemma and headed off over to Bught park to meet my brother-in-law Stuart and get on one of the many coaches which were to transport us all the way down to the other end of Loch Ness for our race start. The organisation of the transport was once again perfect and bang on 7:30am the coaches started moving. I sat down next to a guy and soon realised I’d seen him at practically every race I had run that year and we got chatting about our plans and challenges for the following year. His challenge for this year was to run 100 races and this was about race number 75 – I thought I’d done loads! (I forgot to introduce myself at the time, but I later found out his name was Daniel and he also has a blog at medaljunkie)

The buses arrived at the start area which is just after Fort Augustus on the South West end of the Loch. We got off our buses and trudged towards the start line where thousands of other runners were mingling/queuing for the toilets/warming up and by chance met up with Anne and Scott from my running club. It wasn’t as cold at the start this year but there was a brief shower of rain while we were waiting to get going. I was feeling a bit nervous but more than anything I was just ready to run. I love the idea of everyone arriving together and then running the full distance back along the Loch side, but being dropped off in the middle of no where at 8:50am and the race not starting until 10am was a bit extreme. I could have had another half an hour in bed!!

Before the crowds arrived
Before the crowds arrived at the start of the 2014 Loch Ness Marathon
Scott and I ready to get going.
Scott and I ready to get going.

Finally, at about 9:55am the crowds started surging towards the start line. It seemed busier than last year and everyone was raring to go! I’d decided to start at around the 4 hour marker and just see how my race went, but I didn’t have any other plan than to start running and 26.2 miles later, stop running and lie down. After about a minute of walking, I crossed the start mat, hit the start button my watch, passed the pipe band that was playing for us and started the first few miles of descent while trying to maintain a comfortable and steady pace. No such luck! I got caught up the crowds, was close to tripping over the feet in front of me as people set off at a slower pace and in trying to get round them I had to run along the grass verge on the side of the road. I’m not meaning to moan at all, but in races this big it just seems silly when people set off in lines of 5 or 6 and take over the entire width of the road when there are thousands of other people barreling down the hill behind them. It’s the second race for me this year where I’ve nearly been taken out by someone stopping dead in front of me with no room to get round them within the first mile of a race! Anyway, small rant over….

The first few miles flew by. The descent along with the large crowds and cheers from supporters and runners around me made it easy and enjoyable. By 5 miles I’d realised it was going to be a long and lonely race running by myself, so out came my ipod and I hit shuffle to get me going. Then I realised than a few of the albums I had tried to put on the previous day weren’t there, so I was stuck with the same tunes I’d had for my last few events! Onward we plodded, through the ups and downs of the first few miles and after what seemed like no time at all, Loch Ness came in to view over the next hill. I’d got into a nice comfortable pace but when I looked at my watch at half way I realised I’d got there in 1:52:xx…. way too fast and I was already starting to regret it. At my last marathon I’d developed a blister which had suddenly burst at around 25 miles and now at only 14 miles in I was starting to feel my shoes rubbing on both feet – one on the same toe as last time and the other foot on the outside of my big toe. Not good when I was still so far away from the finish line! I suddenly started to panic and wondered what I would do if one burst now. Would I be able to continue? Would I have to drop or walk the rest of the way back? The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced I could feel my feet rubbing but I think (thankfully) it was just me being paranoid as nothing ever got any worse. By 17 miles I was still feeling OK but starting to tense up my shoulders which was giving me a sore neck. I decided that at the next water stop I’d walk through and have a proper drink and then see how I felt before the hill at Dores. By the time I got to hill my negativity had taken over.

I couldn’t pick up the pace after walking through the water station and the pain in my feet was really starting to get me down. As soon as I clocked the hill I knew I wasn’t going to manage to run up it so I thought I might as well pull my pace right back and just get to the top before trying to figure out how I was going to run the last 7 miles or so. While walking up the hill all I could think about was how much I desperately wanted a can of coke – if there had been a shop anywhere near by I would have been in there without hesitation! I now realised that I had not fueled properly at all for this race so no wonder I was feeling awful! My dinner the night before had consisted of a small bowl of noodles, some nachos and about 3 cups of tea and now I was feeling unbelievably hungry but also a bit queasy. I usually run with a bottle of powerade and also a sachet of high five 2:1 fructose powder to add to a bottle of water later on in the race, but after too quick a start I had guzzled my powerade by 10 miles and the zero highs tablet I had with me just wasn’t hitting the spot quite like the other stuff did. By the time I had finished that bottle at around 20 miles, plain water just wasn’t enough and I started the feel awful. The fuel stations were handing out cups of Osmo hydration but having never tried this, I wasn’t about to grab a cup this far into a race just in case it had negative consequences! Once over the top of the hill I got my legs going again and kept a steady pace along the road back into Inverness. Just like last year the crowds started to grow as soon as you entered the outskirts of the town and all the way down to the river the streets were lined with people cheering us on. This lifted my spirits a bit and I pushed along through the final few miles.

As I rounded the final bend at the bridge and turned to run back along the other side of the river back to Bught Park, I heard my name being yelled and some huge cheers and I saw Jemma and Rachel and some others cheering from the pub! I gave them a half-hearted smile and a feeble thumbs up and plodded my way along to the finish line. I heard my name being called out over the P.A system just before I finished but I was so drained I couldn’t even muster a smile for my finishing picture.

No marathon-photos. I will not be paying a trillion pounds for some pictures of me looking like death thanks very much!
No marathon-photos. I will not be paying a trillion pounds for some pictures of me looking like death thanks very much!

I was given my medal by a lovely cheery woman and then I went to collect my goody bag, t-shirt and so many treats but nothing that would quite satisfy this sugar craving I had. I plodded back along the road and fell into a chair in the pub beside Jemma and Rachel and was presented a bottle of coke which instantly inhaled! I wasn’t disappointed with my time at all but more my performance and how easily I sunk into a negative mind state during the run. I’ve learned that 4 races in 4 weeks (including 2 marathons and 2 10ks and both a marathon and 10k PB as well!) is far too much if I want to perform well on the day.

Soon enough it was time to say my goodbyes and head back down the road before my legs got too stiff. As good a race as it is, I think Nessie and I have spent enough time searching for each other for a while and next year I’ll hopefully be on to something bigger and better! Not to say I’ll never return though – I do love a Loch Ness medal!!

RACE REPORT – The Highland Perthshire Marathon and the big Sub 4

THE HIGHLAND PERTHSHIRE MARATHON 2014

Official time: 3 hours 54 minutes and 55 seconds

Overall position:80th/159

Gender position 11th/38 (5th/18 senior ladies)

Medal: Yes as well a certificate, mug and access to a health spa afterwards!

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My original plan for this race was for it to be a training run in advance of Loch Ness at the end of the month. I had high hopes for a good time but the main goal was to go out, have a comfortable run and try to finish the whole 26.2 miles with no wobbles or too many negative thoughts. Well, I think I just about managed that….

There were 10 Wee County Harriers running this race so once again we organised to use the school mini bus, courtesy of Kirsty, to transport us all there and back. I got up at some ridiculous hour in the morning and went about my normal pre race routine of shower, breakfast, coffee, hair, double and triple checking I had all my kit and then at about 6am I dragged poor Craig out of bed to give me a lift up to the school to meet the others. Everyone was in good, if somewhat sleepy, spirits and by 6:45am we were on our way north to the scenic Perthshire town of Aberfeldy to complete my third marathon.

Race registration. Weather looking good and gorgeous scenery. A good start!
Race registration. Weather looking good and gorgeous scenery. A good start!

We arrived at race registration with plenty of time to spare and got our race numbers and timing chips sorted before being handed our mug and then headed back to the bus to start getting ready. We still had a good 50 minutes or so before the race started so some of the guys went up to the local leisure to use the toilets and get changed. Time ticked by and before we knew it, it was 9:10am and time to head round to the start line. The others suddenly appeared back so we took what we needed off the bus and set off down the road to the start which was about half a mile away from race registration. Our walk turned into a power walk and then, realising we had 2 minutes to go, a gallop along the road to the back of the pack of runners lined up and ready to go. Just as we caught up with them we heard the count down from 3 and then the foghorn to start the race so our gallop slowed to a jog as we casually joined in at the back of the pack. Yeah, we meant that…

The first few miles whizzed by as we heading out from the village of Weem and followed the road East, past the village of Dull (having a wee giggle when we noticed it was paired with a town called Boring) and then turned onto a minor road for a few miles of gentle ups and downs. I was feeling strong and confident and there was only a slight hint of the voice in my head chanting “sub 4, sub 4, sub 4…”. I pushed it aside and continued to focus on the task in hand at that precise moment; to maintain a consistent pace and concentrate on the road ahead.

Miles 1-10 splits – 8:43, 8:41, 8:45, 8:48, 8:46, 8:47, 8:29, 8:51, 8:48, 8:47

Things were going perfectly so far. My legs felt good, the weather was just right, the route was brilliant and every time my watch beeped another mile I noticed my splits were very, very similar. This was definitely a first in a race this long! The route took us into the beautiful village of Kenmore, over the bridge and into the grounds of Taymouth castle. The path wound round past the golf course, by the river Tay and then right by the castle itself before heading back out of the castle grounds towards the main road back to Aberfeldy. The route so far had been pretty flat or slightly undulating but here we hit the only hill on the course. Half way up it I thought to myself that this was fine, it wasn’t too steep and I dug deep to push to the top. I forgot to mention that this course consisted of 2 loops of the same route. So first time round, as expected, everything was going to plan. I continued to take everything as it came and I didn’t want to think how I might feel the next time we would hit this hill which unfortunately would be at around 21 miles into the race…

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The course - 2 laps of it..
The course – 2 laps of it..

The route leveled out again and we passed another water stop, grabbed a handful of jelly babies from the marshals and continued out on to the gradual decline that followed for the next mile or so. This part of the route was pretty uneventful. The overgrown tree-lined road meant you couldn’t really see much of the beautiful surroundings so for now it was a case of focusing on my breathing and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. As we passed our 11 mile mark one of the half marathon runners flew past us at a great speed. The half marathon had started half an hour after us and slightly further down the road than our starting point, so this guy was absolutely flying!! We cheered him on and then fell back into line and continued our first lap back into Aberfeldy. The route passed the Black Watch memorial where there was another water station and a huge crowd of cheering, friendly faces from supporters who lined the street all the way along to the end of the first loop. At this point Derek pulled away to nip to the loo so James and I pushed on. We heard our names getting shouted out from the announcer as we ran by the half way point and listened to the shouts and cheers from the crowds for the half marathon runners, who were now rounding the final corner and sprinting towards the finish line. But soon enough everything grew quiet as we left them all behind and we were once again running along the quiet back roads to the sounds of our breathing and our feet hitting the tarmac over and over…

Coming back into Aberfeldy after the first loop. Smiles all round, jokes being made and general happy chat. All good so far...
Coming back into Aberfeldy after the first loop. Smiles all round, jokes being made and general happy chat. All good so far…

A few miles into the second lap, I started to get a sharp pain in my right knee that sent a piercing twinge up my thigh. I decided to slow the pace slightly and try to shake it off as the last thing I wanted to do at this stage was start walking, seize up and not get going again comfortably. I took a couple of paracetamol and pushed on, enjoying the slight downhill again and trying to push the pain to the back of my mind. Miraculously, it worked! The pain eased off and pace continued nice and steadily.

The second loop didn’t feel like as much of a chore as I had expected and every so often I realised I was actually still very comfortable and I started to really over think every little thing…

“Feeling great, speed it up a bit?”
“Still too long to go, not yet..”
“But what if it’s not possible in a few miles. Shouldn’t I bank some time now just in case?”
“Oh shut up and just keep going….”

Once I’d finished arguing with myself I realised we were coming up to the second climb of the nasty hill. There was no way I was slowing down now. My splits had been so even all the way up until now so I wasn’t going to let one measly half a mile climb throw me off for the final few miles. Digging deep, I pulled out all the stops and kept the momentum going all the way up and let out a little whoop of delight when I reached the top and felt the ground level out and my legs gained speed once again. Last 5 miles, here we go…

Mile 11-21 splits: 8:42, 8:40, 8:57, 9:05, 9:09, 9:11, 9:18, 9:19, 9:23, 9:19, 9:27

I can’t actually remember much about this part of the race apart from the fact the cars were passing by very closely and I started to feel a bit negative. James dropped back at about 22 miles with an injury and I started to slow slightly, thinking my legs were about to give up on me. I checked my watch and realised that even if i ran 11 minute miles, I’d still come in under 4 hours and suddenly I felt like I was being pushed along again. Nothing was going to take this away from me now…

Mile 22-26 splits: 9:42, 8:49, 9:14, 9:29,9:23

The last stretch of the route on the main road brought us back into Aberfeldy where we were met by two exceptionally cheery marshals who told us we were doing brilliantly and that we only had a few hundred meters to go. The pain had now returned in my legs and everything else also started to hurt. Just as I’d told Derek to push on ahead and that I was possibly about to die, I felt a pop and a horrible sensation in my shoe. A blister that I hadn’t even felt until now (thankfully!) had just burst and the pain was excruciating. I could see and hear the finish line, but I just couldn’t speed up. Even if I walked now I’d still make my time, but I’d run the whole race up until now so there was no way, no matter how much pain I was in, that I could walk now. I tackled the last hill on the bridge, flew down the other side and gave it everything I had left to run the final 50 meters down the road and into the field. Just as we entered the field and started down the finishers chute, Derek stepped aside and insisted I finish in front of him. So with one final push I fell over the line, wobbled a little and then lay down in the middle of the field while the world spun around me a little. I had just run a marathon in not only under 4 hours, but with 5 minutes to spare! How the hell did I manage that??!!

Once everything had stopped spinning, I sat up and was greeted and congratulated by my club mates and we stumbled into the refreshment tent to hoover up orange segments, caramel wafers and cans of coke. All the Wee County ladies had great races and ran amazing PB’s. It just goes to show that hard work and dedication really do pay off in the end. So proud of my wee running club once again!

The race entry fee also included access to a local health spa, so once everyone was in and we had collected our finisher certificates, we headed up for a swim and shower before all heading home – via the chippy of course – for some well deserved fizz and rest.

Fizz, crisps and TV. Perfect.
Fizz, crisps and TV. Perfect.

Now I’ve managed that time, I stupidly want to do it again and better it. I’m running Loch Ness again with Jemma in 3 weeks time but I’m just going to see how I feel on the day for that one. There are plenty more marathons out there just waiting for me and plenty of time to get faster.

Celebratory fizz, still can't quite believe what just happened...
Celebratory fizz, still can’t quite believe what just happened…

And I think it’s definitely time for a new medal rack. This is just getting a bit ridiculous!

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Too many holidays and a change of heart.

I’ve had a fantastic summer so far. 3 weeks of sailing around the Baltic sea with Craig and my family and managing to visit Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden, as well as many islands in between in that time….I’ve now come back to reality with a bump.

My plans for the next few weeks were originally:
– Get back to training asap after doing very little while away
– Run the Highland Perthshire marathon in September as a long training run
– Try and beat my PB at the Stirling 10K (which would mean a PB in every distance this year!)
– Run the Clyde Stride 40 mile ultra at the end of September.

However, for a while now I’ve not been feeling the drive to run the Clyde Stride. When I think about how excited I was before Glen Ogle or Strathearn, I realise I’m not getting the same feeling about this race. Whether it’s because I haven’t managed to go and run any of the route in advance or because I’ve done very few miles in the past month, I just wasn’t looking forward to it. So instead of running a race I wasn’t particularly feeling up for, I decided (with very little persuasion from Jemma!) to sign up for the Loch Ness marathon and see if I can break the elusive 4 hour barrier time before the year is out.

Not really anywhere to run out here....
Not really anywhere to run out here….

I’m much more excited about running Loch Ness again as now I know the course and I know where the hills are. I know not to go out too fast on the first downhill section and also not the give up on the nasty hill around 19 miles in. I know to take more gels and carry some paracetamol in case my knee starts to hurt again. Running a marathon in under 4 hours is my ultimate goal for the rest of this year. After taking 12 minutes off my time at the tricky Strathearn marathon, I feel I should be more than capable of it on this course, but after swanning around on holiday for weeks, has all my hard work and training taken a back seat?

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With 4 weeks of hard work ahead of me, it’s time to really put some effort in.