A hill, some camping and a race against a steam train…

This week has been hard to settle into. The weekend was so jam packed and brilliant fun that coming straight back to work without any time to reflect has been hard! I’m mostly shocked at the amazing weather we were blessed with during our adventure. It was like being abroad for the weekend and really took me by surprise. We seriously couldn’t have asked for anything better!

On Saturday morning, Jemma picked me up and we headed North to Aviemore where we had planned to meet Rhona and a couple of her friends from Stonehaven running club, Kate and Ali. The main purpose of the trip was to race the steam train back to Aviemore on Sunday (a planned event, not just because we’re crazy!), so we decided to go up a day early, meet up with some fellow runners and have a lovely run around the Caringorms. Ali had planned a route up and around Meall a’ Bhuachaille and we were so lucky to have the weather on our side as the views from the top were breathtaking! The sun was on our backs as we ploughed up to the top (through the snow!) and after a quick breather and some posing for photos, we started our rather quick descent. The run back down the other side was exhilarating to say the least! From the bottom a trail run lead us to the Green Loch where we had a quick paddle to cool our feet down. The loop was about 6.5 miles of gorgeous trails and Ali couldn’t have planned a better route for us, so huge thanks to him for that!

Scotland... not a cloud in the sky!
Scotland… not a cloud in the sky!
Half way up and can see for miles....
Half way up and can see for miles….
Views from the top
Views from the top
Not a cloud in the sky!
Not a cloud in the sky!
The Green Loch - beautiful but cold!!
The Green Loch – beautiful but cold!!

After a quick trip to the shops, we headed back to the campsite and set up our barbecues. You couldn’t get camping weather any better than this, we were so lucky! We had a lovely feast of savoury and sweet food, the drinks were flowing and we had sunlight until around 11pm when we were greeted by a full moon and a blanket of stars in a cloudless sky. Perfect. If only I could say as much for my nights sleep. Camping and I are still not the best of friends….

Runners, barbecues and booze. Good combination!
Runners, barbecues and booze. Good combination!

On the Sunday we were up bright and early to head down to Aviemore for the race against the steam train, which was organised by the Cairngorm Runners and was probably the most enjoyable and fun race I have taken part in. The aim of the game is to beat the steam train back to Aviemore – around 45 minutes to run 4.5 miles miles. We met and registered around 10am we were taken by bus to Aviemore train station. Once at the station we were met by a piper and handed tickets to board the steam train to Boat of Garten.

Half? I'll take it!
Half? I’ll take it!

Choo Choo!! Meet the competition...
Choo Choo!! Meet the competition…

The train was packed with excited runners and their friends and family, and once at Boat of Garten we all hoped off the train to assemble a few hundred metres down the road in the forest. A quick pep talk later and we were on our way – with 45 minutes to go until the train caught up with us back at Aviemore. I wasn’t for letting it beat me but with legs still a little achy from the previous day I wasn’t sure what pace I’d be able to maintain for the 4.5 mile course. The trail was lovely and flat with just a few ups and downs throughout – such a scenic course with the back drop of the snow topped Cairngorms, and I somehow managed to keep a pretty quick pace up and pelt back to Aviemore in 37:54 (watch time, 38:01 gun time) and had plenty time to collect my medal, water and one of the best goody bags ever (which contained a sports bottle, energy bar, energy gels, North Face lip balm, high 5 tablets and discount vouchers) before the train pulled back into the station. All for £14 – bargain!

Much better than anything you get from the bigger races!
Much better than anything you get from the bigger races!
The bling
The bling

And with that our amazing weekend had to come to an end. The race was over as quickly as it had started and it was time to get back to reality. I’d definitely do this race again and I can’t give enough credit and thanks to the organisers and everyone that helped out on the day. The weekend was brilliant and it was so nice to meet new people who are as passionate about running as we are and I hope I get the chance to do something similar again in the future.

However, trying to get my legs to become friends with me again is another story altogether….

Our running team (and running team offspring) after the race.
Our running team (and running team offspring) after the race.

Cobra Classic 10k – RACE REPORT!

Oh hello Monday, back so soon?

Gorgeous medal. Wish my feet had those sometimes....
Gorgeous medal. Wish my feet had those sometimes….

What a quick weekend that was. I feel like it was just half an hour ago we were dropping the dog off at Craig’s parents and hitting the road down South for a very quick weekend of running, meeting new people and spiders. Yes, spiders! Craig is an avid tarantula keeper and has been frequenting the BTS (British tarantula society) show in Coseley, near Wolverhampton for years now. I originally was going to join him just for a weekend away and to help out at their stall, but when he suggested I look to see if there were any races near by that day, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of doing so already! So a quick look on Runner’s World lead me to booking into the Cobra Classic 10k in Hagely, just 12 miles down the road from where the show was being held. Brilliant.

On the Saturday morning we were up bright and early to pack up the car and head over to Stirling to pick up some of Craig’s friends. By 11am we were on the motorway and come 4pm we were settled into our hotel and ready to catch up with others over dinner and drinks. I devoured my dinner of scampi and chips, had a good laugh and got to put many faces to names that Craig had mentioned many times over the past few years. I headed home way before the rest of them to try and get an early night, but ended up getting sucked into watching the farce that is Eurovision. Oh my!

Race morning arrived and I bounced out of bed, feeling really good and ready to run. I had my usual pre race breakfast of cereal with a banana and a few coffees. I opened the curtains and the room flooded with sunlight – this was going to be a glorious run. It was 8am and already roasting!! We checked out of the hotel, I dropped the guys off at the show and then made the few mile journey down the M5 to Hagley where the race was being held. As I drove along the leafy dual carriage way I started to spot ‘caution, runners!’ signs, and thought to myself that this course was looking nice and flat. I really, really wanted to get a PB in this race as in the few weeks I have been training with The Wee County Harriers I already feel stronger and more confident in my running ability. And if the course was as flat as I thought it was, we were laughing!
I got to the rugby club just in time to see the 3.5k fun run start and sat in the sun to watch that. After a few toilet visits and a quick dash back to the car to get my sunglasses I was ready to go. We all headed down to the end of the car park and then around about 10:30am we were off! There were loads and loads of club vests around me and I started to worry I’d be left behind, but to my surprise and delight I took off really quickly and felt really strong. The first few miles were along a narrow path that ran along side the dual carriage way and I was glad I’d got a fast start as there wasn’t much room for overtaking for quite a while. The first 3 miles were FAST and I’m sure I clocked around 22:xx but my timing was completely messed up so I can’t be sure. There was a drinks station at 5k and I tried desperately to drink from a cup and run but failed miserably. I usually run with a sports bottle but in my panic to find where I was going I forgot one and on such a hot day I really regretted it. I wasn’t stopping or slowing down to drink it properly so after attempting and failing to drink it, I launched it at my face and carried on. And then I hit the hill. I have no idea where I read, or thought I read that this course was flat, but I now know I must have made that up or imagined it because in the heat and with these hills this was probably one of the hardest courses I have ran. The next 2 miles were slow and sluggish and as I came off the the first big hill my legs just sighed and started to drag. I could see the road was long and flat ahead of me so I tried to pick up the pace but then came the next hill. I could see lots of people walking ahead of me and again this surprised me but soon found out why. This hill was much steeper than it first seemed! The marshall at the top of this hill directed me across the road and into some beautiful lush green fields that seemed to go on forever. I could see lots of multi coloured dots bobbing around in the distance and realised I hadn’t fallen that far behind the guy I had chosen to pace me so that cheered me up a bit!

The final few kilometres were along single track farm roads and with a final push up another hill I heard a marshall shout “come on Bab!” (love that in their accent!!) “this is the last hill, I promise. It’s all downhill and flat from here!”. And it was. Apart from nearly getting run over by a tractor as the farmer obviously wasn’t going to stop or slow down for anyone, especially a few hundred runners!! Soon enough I could see the finish line at the other side of the rugby pitch but by now I was all out of energy, feeling like I could possibly melt into a puddle of sweaty goo at any point and didn’t even have a second thought about talking myself out of a sprint finish. I happily plodded across the field at a steady pace, through the finishers chute to collect my medal and goody bag and straight over to a shaded area to get as much fluid back in to me as I could. Immediately feeling better, I looked at my watch to see what time I had stumbled in at and to my surprise my watch said 51:14. I know I had problems with buttons right at the start and didn’t get my time right on the line, but when I looked at the official results I apparently came in at 53:16. It wasn’t chip timed so I have no idea what has happened, but I am more than slightly confused. However at the time I was just too hot to care!

Almost out of shot.... running so fast!! Picture Roger Mills, Midland Photos
Almost out of shot…. running so fast!! Photos Roger Mills, Midland Photos

Over all it was a great race with a mixture of road, trails, hills and fields to tackle in a blazing 22 degree heat. I know that’s not very hot at all, but when nearly every race and training run for the past year has been in the rain, snow, hail or winds so strong I get blown off my feet, it was a welcome change but also a challenge. Can’t wait for more of the same, however next time I’ll be better prepared!

After the race I hung around for the prize giving and then sat in the sun to eat a cake or two which had been kindly donated by friends and family of the running club. Cakes after races are always good so many thanks for those!! Eventually I felt I’d had enough sun and got into my hot box of a car to head back to Craig at the show in Coseley. The show ended about 4pm and the guys had a really successful day, both buying and selling and Craig also won first prize in the photography competition for which he was awarded a lovely plaque. Hoorah!!
After all the excitement and awards of the day, we hit the road for another long journey back to normality.

Normality is boring. Bring on the next challenge…..

5 minutes after picking up the dog she was out for the count. Obviously had way too much fun this weekend!!
5 minutes after picking up the dog she was out for the count. Obviously had way too much fun this weekend!!

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Spring? Summer? Where are you?!

Busy, busy, busy. Work is really kicking me up the backside as I try to get yet another block of swimming lessons sorted in a very short period of time. However, after today we trudge on through the last 8 weeks of yet another block….. and then it’ll be the summer holidays?? Nah, that can’t be right. The trees aren’t even green yet! What’s going on this year?

Yet again, time is flying by and I was shocked to look at my calendar in work and see that April had whizzed past and we were into the second week of May already. I seem to have blinked and lost 3 whole weeks, yet in that time I have been unbelievably busy with work, running, family and everything else in between. Life really does seem to be in constant fast forward just now and this year has been the fastest so far. I think one of the main reasons I want time to slow down is because I’m heading for the big 3-0 this summer, but the less said about that the better thank you very much!

One of my big accomplishments in the past week, and something that can now be ticked off my to do list, was finally joining a running club. Something that I have wanted to do for many years but has always been put on the back burner with various excuses of working late, being knackered and mainly just being overly shy. But I did it! I went along on a lovely, if a bit windy, Tuesday night for my first session with The Wee County Harriers. Which just happened to be hill reps – oh joy! But I felt great and the people who I had been in contact with through facebook and email made me feel so welcome there. I really look forward to attending training after a hard day of working with screaming kids and to run off all the stresses of the day, and I can’t wait to go to my first race with them as part of a team. It’s the little things!

Speaking of running off the stresses of a hard day, it’s amazing how running can make you feel. It’s a release and an escape from all things that wind you up, get on your nerves or just make you want to scream. A long run with a beautiful backdrop can make you smile and forget anything that made you want to headbutt a brick wall. Last month marked the anniversary of a year of running ‘properly’ for me and as I look back I feel really proud of what I have achieved. Not only have I brought my 10k time down by near enough 10 minutes but I can now easily bash out a half marathon in a pretty respectable time and I have my sights set on bigger and better things. This time last year if you had asked me if I ever fancied running a marathon I would have laughed and said no chance. I had sworn off half marathons after my first attempt at Alloa in 2011 which killed my knees and made me ache all over and now a couple of years down the line I am happily considering running a marathon and then who knows what after that! A year of commitment and hard training for something I love and am really passionate about is paying off and after every run I feel stronger, and more determined to smash PB’s and set new goals for myself. This time a year ago I was happily entering races, just for the fun of entering them. I wasn’t expecting to beat anyone and was happily plodding along near the back of the pack. I can now happily place myself in the middle of a group of runners and know that I won’t be overtaken by near enough everyone within the first 10 minutes of a race. I don’t ever see myself being an amazing runner as I’m just not built that way, but for now I will do what I can to run to the best of my ability.

Saturday long run in the Scottish wilderness. Yes please!!
Saturday long run in the Scottish wilderness. Yes please!!

Speaking of runs that help you relax and release, I came across the most amazing trail run on Saturday. I went back up to Callander, where we ran the X 10K last month and set off from the woods along a single track road. The road was lovely and quiet and took me right along the shores of Loch Venachar. With very little traffic, I happily plodded along the side of the road one with ear phone in, hoping that no maniacs would fly down this road and have me jumping into a ditch.
It was beautiful and sunny to begin with but typical Scotland, a few miles in the heavens opened and I was drenched within minutes. Not that I was complaining, it was actually really refreshing. It was one of those runs where I had to stop to open and close gates, climb over stiles and hop over cattle grids to run through fields of Highland cows. It was glorious.

Loch Venachar
Loch Venachar
My hilly backdrop. One day I'll tackle hill running.... but not today...
My hilly backdrop. One day I’ll tackle hill running…. but not today…

And a couple of hours later I was back at my car having clocked up just over 15 miles. As I said earlier, once upon a time a marathon was something that not only did I never think I could manage, but never really appealed to me. I thought I’d get bored running for that length of time! But after 15 miles of scenic Scottish countryside, I could have gone further and my opinion of what I am capable of of may be changing….

15 miles and still more in my legs?? Nice one....
15 miles and still more in my legs?? Nice one….

We’ll see…. we will see….