RACE REPORT -The Neil McCover Half Marathon 2015

THE NEIL MCCOVER HALF MARATHON 2015

TIME: 1 Hour 37 Minutes and 26 Seconds

Overall position 56th/146 finishers

9th/54 females

The half marathon has been my nemesis distance for quite some time. I clocked my last PB at Loch Leven back in May last year, just as I was recovering from illness and then every time after that I seemed to get further and further and further away from my time. I hadn’t raced many last year – the worst of all being Jedburgh in October where it was so windy my feet were getting blown from underneath me and my breath sucked out my lungs, and after that all my favourite races or good PB courses seemed to clash with other races or be on when I was on holiday. My first half of the year was the Haddington half in August – stupidly the week after the Devil O the Highlands, so I had absolutely nothing to give and slogged around, breathing out my arse and couldn’t wait until it was over. On finishing I promptly told my team mates if I was ever so silly as to sign up for a race the week after an ultra ever again they would be allowed to slap me.

So, a few months down the line and I noticed the Neil McCover half was coming around again the same weekend as Jemma was down for a wedding, so we signed up and looked forward to a run in the countryside near my home town and a good catch up with my new sister in law. Race day came and I wasn’t sure how I was feeling, but there was a tiny voice in my head screaming at me to do well. I silenced in, forgot about any pressure and prepared to run another enjoyable race on pretty fresh legs. What a race it was!

A few miles in and it's still all smiles for now!
A few miles in and it’s (sort of) all smiles for now!

Spits; 7:07, 7:30, 7:14, 7:30, 7:35, 7:24, 7:30, 7:33, 7:24, 7:58, 7:32, 7:38, 7:28…..

The first few miles were brilliant. I tried not to look at my watch and just enjoy the race and looked forward to seeing my parents at 5 miles as we ran through a village near where they lived. I spotted my mum from a few hundred meters away and flew by waving my arms around like a loon as my dad attempted to take some pictures, but round the corner and away from them it was time to continue to dig deep on this exceptionally undulating course. Through the 10k mark in just over 45 minutes and feeling fresh, a nice stretch of downhill and then, ooooooh big hill. It’s a sneaky hill in the it’s split into 2 sections; the first being a long slow climb up to the bridge over the canal and the second half a sharp steep hill to the top. Suddenly everything went a bit pear shaped as all at once the one ear phone I had in fell out, my ipod became unclipped from my shorts and I spilt juice all over my face. But not to worry, a quick glance at my watch and a bit of counting miles and splits on my fingers and I realised that even if I did the last 3 miles in just under 10 minutes I’d still get a PB. On one hand I felt like easing off the gas a bit and trundling home, on the other I wanted to give it my all and see if I could bag a huge PB in the only distance I was still struggling on for the year. So I chose the second option!

Starting to tire and heel strike :(
Starting to tire and heel strike 🙁
Last 100m, trying not to look at my watch!
Last 100m, trying not to look at my watch!

Coming back down the last 2 miles and I was running on the outskirts of my home town and on the very road I used to to cross county on back in my school days! The route was still not easing off and I continued to dig deep and give everything I had left to get to the finish line.

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1:37’26. Wooweeeeee, 9 minutes off my personal best and 15 minutes off my course time from 2013!

I’m absolutely over the moon with how good a season I’ve had and with one race left this year (Glen Ogle round 3!), I’m easing off for a few weeks now and am just back from enjoying a week in France and Switzerland with Craig, which involved a few huge treks up mountains, some paragliding and a train ride up a mountain railway to try and see the Matterhorn! No rest for the wicked 🙂

Roll on 2016. Who knows what huge events I’ll try and enter next year!!

The Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon 2014 – RACE REPORT

THE MULL OF KINTYRE HALF MARATHON 2014

Official time: 1 hour 56 minutes and 07 seconds

Overall: 88 out of 211

Category: 17th out of 40

Medal : Yes

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This race had been a Christmas present from Jemma and something I had been looking forward to for months. The day before the race Jemma and I decided to go and stay with my parents who were up at the boat in Loch Melfort. This at least took some of the pressure off for race morning although we’d still have an hour and a half to travel from there. We settled in for the night and enjoyed a lovely dinner and a few bottles of fizz. As you do the night before a serious race of course…

Race day came and when I woke up at stupid o’clock to see the rain pelting off the deck, I couldn’t think of anything less I wanted to do than race. With fingers crossed for better weather, we had our breakfast and a few cups of coffee then said our goodbyes and got on the road down to Campbeltown. With window wipers on full blast and windows steaming up every 2 minutes, I tried to lighten my mood but running in heavy rain is something I just cannot stand. Drizzle is fine. Or for a short distance heavy rain is fine. But 13 miles in the pouring rain was something I could live without. The journey down is a beautiful one, but when you’re stuck behind a couple of patient transport buses and with no possibility of overtaking it can get slightly tedious…

We arrived in Campbeltown with plenty of time to spare and set about getting our race numbers and finding a shop to buy some juice. By now the rain had stopped and it was starting to brighten up and as if by magic, so did my mood! Race numbers and time chips in place, we were ready for action! We’d decided months ago that this wasn’t going to be a race for a time by any means. This was one of the most beautiful places in the UK and there was no way I going to sprint around with my head down and miss all the beautiful views. Plus I was still feeling tired from giving it my all at Loch Leven a few weeks before, I needed time to recharge!

Pre race aerobics. Why on earth not?!
Pre race aerobics. Why on earth not?!
Serious pre race preparation going on here....
Serious pre race preparation going on here….

15 minutes or so before the race started everyone gathered in a field and began a pre-race aerobics workout along with a very energetic instructor up on a stage. Jemma and I bopped about outside the pen and threw a few shapes of our own. Why on earth not?! The sun was now out and all the serious runner types were mingling around the start line looking on with interesting facial expressions. Just before 10:30am everyone else joined them and with a count down of 3-2-1… we were off! The 10k and half marathon both started at the same time this year and just over half a mile in the 10k runners took a sharp left and left us half marathon runners climbing the long and gradual ascent out of Campbeltown and onto the beautifully scenic roads out to Machrihanish.

Photographer = spotted!  Photo - West Coast Photos
Photographer = spotted!
Photo – West Coast Photos

Miles 1-3 were along the main road out of Campbeltown before turning onto a side road and heading up another incline. We had said we were going to run about 8:30-9 minute miles and enjoy having a plod, but straight away we found ourselves galloping along at 8 minute miles and several times had to slow ourselves down quite a bit. Heading up to Machrihanish there was bit of a nasty hill so I put my head down and pushed up to the top. When I got to 5 miles I turned to grin at Jemma as I had noticed her shadow sitting on my shoulder the whole way up the hill, only to met with someone else. Sorry to the random who I was manically smiling at, I was just happy to be at the top of the hill!! Onwards, and mile 5 took us onto the golf course, up and over the dunes and then down onto the beach. Wow. It was just amazingly beautiful!

Photo - Kintyre Forum
Photo – Kintyre Forum

Running on sand = difficult! But this was perfect practice for the Black Rock 5 race which I am running again in 2 weeks. A brilliant race in Kinghorn in Fife and this year there are over 1000 people doing it. I can’t wait!
The beach section was an out and back loop of about a mile in total and on the way back I clocked Jemma and gave her a whoop and a high-five. We were both having so much fun!! I leapt across a river, ploughed through the soft sand and back up the bridge to the dunes. This section was really tough and my hamstrings were starting to feel like they had taken a beating. Finally we were back on the road and I decided now would be a good time to take a gel and some water as it had suddenly got really, really sunny! The route followed the same road back for another mile and then took a sharp left and onto a different yet just as undulating road back to Campbeltown. About 10 miles in I felt my pace really slow and I got really thirsty. Just how hot was it now? The last few miles saw us rejoin the main road and enter Campbeltown from a different direction and thankfully on a descent. By now I was really sore and tired and just ready to finish. Coming round one of the final bends I took my earphones out and dropped one of the covers so had to do a quick about turn to scoop it up, nearly tripping up the poor knackered man behind me. I couldn’t say sorry enough but he just laughed thankfully! Coming up to 13 miles the crowds thickened and everyone was cheering us in. The announcer at the finish line was clocking everyone’s numbers and shouting out their name as they came across the line which was just a lovely way to finish!

Photo - West Coast Photos
Photo – West Coast Photos

I was given my beautiful medal, t-shirt and goody bag and stumbled round to find some water. By now it was roasting and my shoulders were quite sunburnt. What a contrast from a few hours ago! I stood by the finisher chute to shout Jemma in and then we both collapsed on the grass for a few minutes to compose ourselves.
On the way home we stopped to take a few photos on Westport beach – another stunning beach on the west of the Mull of Kintyre. Such a beautiful place and somewhere I hope to visit again in the future.

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This was an absolutely stunning race that I hope to do again in the future, if even just to visit the beaches again! The goody bag was fantastic and I somehow ended up with 2 buffs in my bag. Don’t worry, they’ll get good use this winter!!

Thanks to everyone who helps make this race such a success and one of the most popular year after year. The medals are amazing. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!!

Post race sweatyness. Lovely!
Post race sweatyness. Lovely!
Loving my t-shirt!
Loving my t-shirt!

Race route photos from

The Loch Leven Half Marathon 2014 – RACE REPORT

LOCH LEVEN HALF MARATHON 2014

Official time: 1 hour 46 minutes and 28 seconds

Overall: 213 out of 532

Category: 23rd out of 102

Medal : Yes

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The Loch Leven Half Marathon was my first proper race of the year. After bouncing back following a course of iron tablets and a few months of amazing training, I was more than ready for it. With my ‘A’ race of the year being the Strathearn marathon in June I felt this was the perfect distance to stretch the legs at a good pace and see how I was feeling after 13.1 miles of pushing myself.

Kirsty came to pick me up on the Saturday morning and along with Susan and Andy, we made our way through to Kinross for race registration. We got there with plenty of time to spare, found parking easily and met up with the rest of our club mates at the school campus. Everyone has been training extra hard over the past few months for the marathon so all of us were feeling a bit sluggish and heavy and had the same outlook of ‘go out and see how we feel along the way’. Numbers on, final kit choice changes made and countless toilet visits later, we left the school campus and made our way a mile or so along the road to the starting area. The nerves were really starting to kick in. Even though my training had been going really well up until now and I had been feeling great, I still wasn’t convinced I’d be able to perform well on the day. But as always, at this point I could do no more and there was only one thing I could try and do – go out and fake it til I make it.

We all wished each other good luck, squished in for a few “welfies” (aka – ‘wee county harrier selfies’!) and before we knew it the horn had sounded and we were off! I got a pretty good start having chosen to set off at the side of the pack and passed by a few people who were all running side by side and taking up the majority of the road, until I nearly rear ended a guy who just stopped dead in front of everyone to fix his lace. My race was nearly over before it had even started! However, once were out of the starting lane and out onto the main road the pack spread out straight away and the race had properly begun. Here goes nothing!!

What a gorgeous bunch we really are!
What a gorgeous bunch we really are!

The race route follows the main road out of Kinross for 2 miles and then turns on to a quieter road that runs along beside Loch Leven. Even though there were countless signs advising drivers to slow down and that there was a race on, impatient drivers who couldn’t slow down or wait just a few more minutes were whizzing along beside us and cutting it very fine along side some runners. At one point later in the race I actually got knocked off balance by a gust of wind from a bus cutting it tightly around me as it overtook, but I’m sure the less said about that the better!

Runners taking over the road on the way out of Kinross. As we do :)
Runners taking over the road on the way out of Kinross. As we do 🙂

The first few miles flew by. I was trying not to look at my watch and just run my race comfortably, but I couldn’t help it and every time it caught my eye I was seeing 7:xx. So that was it, I was running a good race so far so I thought I might as well see how long I could keep it up. What’s the worst that could happen? I’d get to half way and feel a bit tired and then have to pull my pace back a bit? If so, then so be it. For now, the race was on!

    First half splits – 7:52, 7:40, 7:51, 7:58, 8:03, 8:00, 8:01

I had been pre- warned that there was a pretty nasty hill at about 8 miles just as you come into Scotlandwell, so with this in mind I downed a gel at about 6.5 miles and prepared for the worst. I somehow sailed up the hill, ticking off people one by one as I went. Where was this power coming from?! I was deep in the hurt locker and it wasn’t all plain sailing, but I flew out of Scotlandwell and onto the flat again just as my watch beeped 8 miles and I noticed I’d managed to keep my pace to 8 minute miles even up the hill! Feeling awesome I pushed on, knowing I was now comfortably over half way and I just had to keep this pace up to the finish line. By now the sun had come out of hiding and it was slightly too warm. There were 4 water stations on the course but unfortunately the bottles we were given didn’t have lids or sports tops, so it was a case of take what you can when you get it and then have to ditch it soon after or you’ll just spill at all anyway! I gulped down what I could and then poured the rest over my head before launching the bottle in the bins supplied just after the water stations.

Coming out of the last village on the route, I managed to pick my pace up a bit more and still comfortably running I glanced at my watch to see that unless disaster struck, I was more or less guaranteed a pretty big PB. My brain was a bit fried by this time and I had to concentrate hard to make sure my sums were correct. That’s my excuse for my race pictures being so awful. I knew fine well the camera was there and he actually yelled “SMILE!” at me, but this was the result…

"overtake, overtake - tick, tick... 3 miles to go, stick to this pace will make a pb?? Too much to think about, better stick out my tongue..."
“overtake, overtake – tick, tick… 3 miles to go, stick to this pace will make a pb?? Too much to think about, better stick out my tongue…”

The guy in front of me in this picture was one of the people I overtook on the uphill, but he managed to get past me again on the downhill and in doing so he started talking to me and telling me what the rest of the route was like. He really spurred me on and in the final mile and a bit he kept looking over his shoulder so I made it my goal to stick with him right til the end. The last mile was lovely and flat and followed an old railway route back into Kinross before cutting through a housing estate, up a sneaky steep hill and back onto the main road before turning sharply onto the grass of the playing fields to the finish. Still feeling strong I put my head down to push as hard as I could. Yes I could catch a few more people on this last stretch – tick, tick, tick. Yes, I still had something in my legs and YES! I could manage a sprint finish across the grass with a smile on my face and my arms in the air! I glanced at the race clock as I flew through the finishing chute and grinned as I got my timing chip cut off my shoe. A ONE MINUTE 47 SECOND PB?? YES! I’ll take that!! And first lady from WCH home as well! My smile couldn’t possibly get any bigger! My legs had turned to complete mush by now and my leg was shaking like jelly as the poor man tried his best to make sure he was just cutting off my chip and not half my foot as well! I staggered round to see my team mates and collapsed on the grass with a feeling of utter glee.

    Second half splits – 8:25, 8:23, 8:11, 8:02, 8:02, 8:09, (0.1 – 1:27)

I stood and cheered in all the rest of my team mates before Kirsty and I decided to call it a day and head home before the chills set in.

The goody bag contained a lovely medal, an awesome tin water bottle and the usual banana, water, chocolate and also a voucher for a drink and something off the bbq which had been put on for the runners. Not bad for a pretty cheap entry price of £18 (I think). I really enjoyed the race, everyone was very friendly and the race was well organised and marshaled. Thanks to all the lovely marshals who cheered me on throughout the race. I’ll definitely be back next year!

Race Route Photos – Gordon Donnachie.

And the training cycle goes round and round…..

With my energy levels having returned to normal, I’m glad to be back and training with gusto once more. The Strathearn marathon is a mere 7 and a half weeks away and my training is pretty much going to plan. I say pretty much as you always need to make exceptions for unplanned nights out, injuries and the odd bad day at work that can only be sorted with a couch, mind numbing television and a nice glass of your favourite Sauvignon blanc….

However, with tired blood a thing of the past (fingers crossed!) and muscles nearly back to the tip-top condition they were in at the end of last year, the runs are getting longer, much more comfortable and I find myself even wanting to incorporate hills into the equation.

This weeks training has gone something like this:

Sunday – 11 miles (of wind, rain, hills and lots of swear words)
Monday – 5 miles on road
Tuesday – 6.5 miles of “undulations”
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – club training – intervals and a few hills (7.5 miles)
Friday – weights
Saturday – 20 miles

If all goes to plan tomorrow I’ll have clocked about 48 miles this week and come tomorrow evening I can happily kick my shoes off, take the weight off my weary feet and enjoy my long lie the following morning. This will be the most miles I have covered in a week in a long, long time. I have my training schedule stuck to my fridge with my weekly mileage targets highlighted on it and every time I see it I feel an urge just to put my trainers on and get out that second. Obviously not always possible as usually when I see it I’m either on my way to work or on my way to bed… but at least I have to running bug back. I WANT to run again.

Spring running. It's just too cute!!
Spring running. It’s just too cute!!

The first race on my schedule (and the first I will get to properly race this year after my failure to function properly at Devilla in February!) is the Loch Leven half marathon on the 10th of May. Not only will it let me try out my racing legs for the first time this year but it also ties very nicely into my training programme. I’ll just have to make sure I haven’t pushed too hard during the week and that I’ve got something left in the tank come race day! I’m not going out with too much of a target in mind. As long as I have a comfortable race and I come in fairly close to my PB I’ll be happy. But you never know what will happen on race day, so I won’t count my chickens and all that. I’m getting nervous just thinking about it just now. The last time I raced with any speed in my legs at all was at the end of November at the Hartley Cup Relays and even then I was still a bit zapped post Ultra!

However that said, I need to get my head back in the racing game and learn to push myself – comfort should no longer be an option. I could easily bash out mile after mile at a steady pace and go on like that until the cows come home, but as soon as I take it up a notch things start to hurt and I pull back. Where’s that going to get me? I need to learn to focus more at races. This shouldn’t be comfortable and if I’ve got enough left for a sprint finish then I haven’t been trying hard enough earlier on in the race. Training needs to go up a notch and the miles need to be banked week in, week out. NO EXCUSES!! (Except for the odd wine/flake on the couch/bad day etc., etc….)

There's always time for a treat after clocking up the miles!
There’s always time for a treat after clocking up the miles!

After the Loch Leven half, Jemma (my new sister-in-law to be!!) and I will be travelling down to Campbeltown to take part in one of the most scenic half marathons in the county – the Mull of Kintyre half. This is going to be a run to enjoy myself on, rather than a race, in part because some of it is on sand (not that I’m trying to get the excuses in early or anything!) and also because I want to take in some of the views and remember this race. I’m sure there’s a reason it sells out in 10 days or less and has been voted “most scenic half marathon in the UK” for the last 4 years. No point in travelling over 150 miles just to get out of breath and come home again. In this case, it’s NOT all about the racing…

In June I will meet my nemesis once more – the marathon. This time I will be tackling the Strathearn marathon, surrounded by my friends and team mates as I battle to get closer to the 4 hour marathon mark. Sub 4? Who knows, again I’m not going to count my chickens, but I know I have it in me to get much closer to the 4 hour mark for 26.2 miles. Again, it’s all in the training and I will be rambling on about my marathon training in more detail as the weeks go on and we get ever closer to the event.

My new post training fuel.  Absolutely delicious!!
My new post training fuel. Absolutely delicious!!
Remember to treat yourself lots after long mileage... it's well deserved!
Remember to treat yourself lots after long mileage… it’s well deserved!

The biggest goal of the year (so far!) is the Clyde Stride 40 mile Ultra marathon in September and my main aim for this race is to try and run the whole way. In preparation for this I will be doing many, MANY long slow runs where I really dial back the pace and just keep going for as long as I can. I can’t imagine what 40 miles will feel like quite yet, but I’m sure after clocking hundreds and hundreds of miles in the lead up to it I’ll have a fair idea of the fatigue and stiffness that I may endure on the way! When I tell people that’s my next goal many of them just laugh. I’m so glad I have my running community for support and advice. I never laugh at anyone’s dreams. What gives me the right to? I’d never, ever do a bungee jump or a sky dive, or paraglide off the side of a mountain because that’s just not me. But if someone else wants to do it, by all means go for it! Tell me about your adventures afterwards and I’ll listen. One thing you’ll never hear me say is “pfffft, why on earth would you want to do that?!? That’s just stupid!” Each to their own…

So as the evenings get longer and as my motivation to go out and run as soon as I finish work returns, I feel I’m in a for a good summer of training. Next Saturday I will be making my way with hundreds of others to the start line of the Highland Fling – a 53 mile Ultra marathon that takes place on the first half of the West Highland Way. I still don’t feel ready to take part in this event so this year Jemma and I will be sweeping the first half of the race from Milngavie to Rowardennan. Of course we’ll have jelly babies and treats galore, so look out for us and hopefully we’ll spur you on and push you along if need be. I’m really looking forward to meeting more members of the Ultra running community whose blogs I have been reading or who I have met through twitter/facebook over the past few years. I’m so excited and honoured to be given a role in this great event and also can’t wait for a wee knees up at the Ceilidh afterwards (that’s if any of you can still move…)

See you at the finish line!

More sushi please!!
More sushi please!!

When you can’t quite make it to the start line….

This Sunday coming is the day I should be running my first marathon of the year. A race I entered almost as soon as it was open with high hopes of a distance PB and a more comfortable run that my last attempt, which was at the Loch Ness Marathon back in September last year. The Lochaber marathon is an out and back race on a relatively flat route and after the ups and downs and inbetweens of Loch Ness, I had really been looking forward to see what I was capable of. But after my rather shaky start to the year, I made the heart wrenching decision to pull out. I knew it was the right decision as I hadn’t been able to train properly, but the stubborn part of me was very reluctant to accept I wasn’t capable of doing it. In the state I was in I would have been lucky to complete the first 10k of it!

However, now that race day looms and I’m feeling much better and have a good few miles clocked in my fresh legs, I’m inwardly very jealous of everyone going up to the race. I know I’m still nowhere near marathon ready but now that I’m running well again, part of me wishes I’d still given it a go. The very silly part of me of course – I know I’d do more damage than good running on untrained legs, but still….. you know how it is.

The past few weeks have seen my return to running with a grin on my face. Not just a grin, but an elated , Cheshire cat type beam from ear to ear.

And, well whatever this is…

Black top on the right. Captions welcome...
Black top on the right. Captions welcome…

The above was taken at our club time trail on Tuesday. A 3 mile sprint around the Gartmorn dam, a beautiful – if somewhat muddy, circular loop where our club does loads of training. My splits for which were all under 8 minutes and my overall time being 22:35. I couldn’t be happier with that time, and if that’s how I’m starting my comeback I’m hoping at the next time trial I can slash at least another 30 seconds off that!

My giving it my all, Scott just having a leisurely jog. It's not fair....
My giving it my all, Scott just having a leisurely jog. It’s not fair….
Ruuuuuuuuuunn!! Pics - Richard O'Grady
Ruuuuuuuuuunn!!
Pics – Richard O’Grady

Thursdays training was one of my favourite pyramid set – 3 mins, 4 mins, 5 mins, 6 mins, 5 mins, 4 mins, 3 mins, following the old wagon way down to Tillicoultry and then, yep you guessed it, back UP again. I felt like I had so much power during this session which is something I haven’t felt since the beginning of December. I even managed a sprint up the last hill in the last minute of the last set – something I couldn’t have even dreamed of a few weeks ago!

So now the countdown is on until my next few events. Starting with sweeping the first 2 legs of the Hoka Highland Fling in 3 weeks – something that has just been finalised tonight and I couldn’t be more excited about! Then I have the Loch Leven Half at the beginning of May which is a race that I HAVE to run this year as it was my first ever DNS last year. Following that Jemma and I are running the Mull of Kintyre half at the end of May – one of the most beautiful in the U.K and then, in 10 weeks time, it’s marathon time again. The Strathearn marathon which will now be my first marathon of the year and my now ‘A’ race of the year. Training is well under way and if I manage to run it like I’m running just now, I’ll be elated and have a fantastic race.

Bring on the hours of running ahead.