Newark Showground Christmas Challenge 2018

You may remember that I have travelled to deepest darkest England a couple of times previously to undertake the Newark Showground Christmas Challenge. The first year I did it, I ran just over 4:31 and as the route ended up being over 27 miles, this would have been a PB (and in fact probably still would be my PB!). The next year I returned for the slightly altered route (now just slightly over at around 26.4) and completed two marathons in two days for the first time. For one reason or another I decided against heading down last year, but when the race fell on a flex weekend again this year, I decided to go for it, especially as I could get my hotel super cheap (though the trains were still ridiculous!).

I don’t really know what it is about this event that means I keep coming back, but there’s just something. It’s so well organised, friendly, and simple, and I know the logistics well by now (though every time I forget about how painful the journey back up is). One of the big appeals this year was the medal; on both days you got a Christmas tree (one pink, one blue) and if you did both days, the medals would intersect to make a 3D Christmas tree medal.

I had decided to attempt Marcothon again this December, so on the Friday morning I did a slow 5k with my mum. My legs felt awful and I knew that the weekend was going to be a struggle, but I was determined to get two marathons done, and maybe a little more. My train journey down was smooth, and I arrived in Newark around 5:30. I walked the mile or so to the hotel then sorted my kit out in the hotel room. I had optimistically packed a load of options, including shorts (I wore shorts and a t-shirt the first year I did this race!) but with the yellow warning for snow and ice the following day I thought the thermal leggings were more likely to be worn.

I had an average dinner with a couple of glasses in Prosecco in the bar attached to the hotel, then settled in for the night. My taxi was booked for 8am so at least it wasn’t too early a start. I slept reasonably well and woke feeling nervous but ready to face the day.

As I was getting in my taxi, a guy in running gear called over from the reception. I asked if he was headed to the showground and he nodded yes so I told him to jump in. It’s a short taxi ride but not really walkable as it’s alongside a busy dual carriageway with no pavement. We passed the short journey pleasantly as we chatted; he was also a slower runner aiming to do the marathon both days but had only done a couple of marathons before so was nervous about the task ahead.

We arrived in good time and registered easily. It was very cold, but at least for now it was dry. There was a strong, icy wind which I knew wouldn’t be much fun, but at least I knew because of the twisty turny nature of the course you’re never running into the wind for that long (although by the eighth lap of the day it certainly felt like a long time into the wind!).

Soon enough it was time to set off, and the reasonably small crowd assembled at the start. I was immediately quite near the back but I was fine with that- the beauty of the timed race is that you know that some of the quicker people will keep going after the marathon distance so you won’t be holding anybody up. Conversely though I would occasionally find myself even further back than I thought I was when people stopped after a few laps.

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It was as friendly a field as ever, and I chatted to a few people, but mostly I was just in my own little world. The icy wind was hard to deal with, and it took a lap or two before I could feel my face properly. The sections into the head wind were really tough, and although I wanted to make it to halfway before walking, by the fourth lap I was having short walking breaks in the windiest sections. Halfway was a boost as ever (thoughts of doing more than the marathon were long gone!) but in the fifth lap I started to really suffer. Although my core was ok, my hands despite my good gloves were absolutely freezing. They were both in agony and yet I couldn’t feel them properly- it would have been nice to have some music but I wouldn’t work my fingers to get my phone out. I was starting to get concerned, not just about the current pain, but the agony that I knew would follow when I did eventually start to get warmth back in my fingers. Although there were showers, they were in a cold building and I wasn’t sure how I would warm back up properly. Around the sixth lap I was seriously contemplating having to pull out.

Then I decided to spend my (by now fairly frequent) walking breaks with my hands stuck in my armpits. After a couple of these, the relief was immense, as my core body heat started to slowly warm my icy fingers. It slowed me down, but given how close I was to pulling out, time was no longer any kind of concern as long as I got round within the 6 hours. By the last couple of laps I had cheered up significantly, and although still tired and cold I knew I would finish.

And finish I did, in 5:15:04. Somewhat depressingly, quite a bit slower than even day two last time I did the challenge, but another marathon in the bag (number 37 in total). Pretty much the minute I stepped inside the shed, the heavens opened with icy rain and I was very glad that it had stayed dry for the duration of the race!

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One of the volunteers gave me and Joel (new hotel running buddy) a lift home, and I had the most amazing long hot shower- I think I was in there for days! I then focussed on refuelling (KFC maybe not the best option but damn it tasted good) and resting up. I did not sleep well, and woke on Sunday feeling pretty exhausted and not exactly relishing the thought of another day, but looking forward to having it over with, and having my amazing medal in my grubby little paws.

I shared a taxi in with Joel again- minor panic as the taxi didn’t turn up (we had booked it for 8:15 but it had arrived at 8:00 and left about 8:10, but luckily it hadn’t gone far so was able to come straight back, and we still arrived in good time). Thankfully the weather gods were on our side and it was a much nicer day; the sun was shining and although there was still a wind it was much milder.

We registered easily again, and I chatted to the lovely Jabberknit, a Fetchie I met last time I did the race. I knew we were a similar speed so hoped I might have some company on the way round. I then debated about what to wear- after nearly losing my fingers the day before, I was actually considering leaving the gloves behind (I did, and I didn’t miss them!).  

My legs were super heavy as I started, and I knew it was going to be a long day. Quite soon into the first lap my tummy also started to make a few grumblings- the KFC was really not such a good idea. Fortunately there is a toilet en route, so after the first lap I dived in and felt much better for it- though it did mean the people around me, including Jabberknit, ended up a few minutes ahead and I was on my own.

I quite quickly resorted to music, and after only a couple of laps I decided to introduce a defined run/walk- I went for 4/1 so that I was always working in multiples of 5. This did reduce to 3.5/1.5 quite quickly, but I was able to still stick a few 4/1s in. Although the conditions were infinitely more pleasant, there was still enough wind to slow me down a bit. The wind switched direction after a few laps which at least changed things up a bit and made me hate different bits of the route!IMG_5973

There’s not much to say really. It was a slow shuffle to the end (and again, thoughts of running more than the marathon were quickly forgotten). I chatted and waved to fellow runners, as well as stewing in my own head, and finally, after just over 5:30 I crossed the line of the eight lap, my sixteenth for the weekend. I received my second medal, and then had to get help to turn the two medals into my amazing 3D Christmas tree, and suddenly it was all worth it.

 

The journey back up the road was tiring and painful, but as I had a long stop in Edinburgh I was luckily able to escape the station and meet my friend Rhona for a chat and some delicious noodles. I finally made it home just after midnight and fell into bed, too exhausted to sleep- Monday at work was a real struggle.

And so it’s done again. Two marathons in two days, and because of the miles in the preceding week, a super high weekly mileage of 73. Much slower than last time, but I still got it done. For a year that was supposed to only have one marathon, in which I desperately hoped for a PB, I have achieved a string of PWs but 5 marathons and one ultra, and an annual mileage of 1740 (lower than the last two years but now by a huge amount, considering I’ve had two injuries). Onwards and upwards for 2019!

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Glen Ogle 33

I mentioned previously in the blog that I was tempted by Glen Ogle 33, but also quite liking the idea of not having to do long runs over the upcoming months. Glen Ogle isn’t a race that has ever particularly been on my radar, but for the last couple of years Stu and I have spent a couple of long weekends at a gorgeous log cabin (with hot tub!) near Strathyre, and it’s a part of the world I’ve come to love. On an Instagram post about a run around the area, a friend mentioned that the Glen Ogle took place around there, and so the seed was sewn.

Entries opened in May, and I was still undecided. I learned that the race tends to sell out quite quickly, and so in the end I decided to enter, book a hotel which could be cancelled, and see how things went…

Fast forward a few months and, as per previous blogs, things weren’t going particularly well. I was totally undecided as to whether or not to do the race, especially with the risk of miserable weather. My friends Alan and Lyndsay spoke very highly of the race, but Alan did also mention that he had once been so cold during the race he couldn’t actually use his hands. A fun day out in the hills with friends somewhat loses its appeal in those circumstances!

To cut a long story short, for various reasons, I started to move towards doing the race and I found myself spending £25 on a race hoody. Being an Aberdonian, once I had done that, there was no going back!

And then, just over two weeks before the race, I woke up one morning offshore and couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. I had run on the treadmill the previous evening and noticed a slight discomfort in my foot, but it soon faded and was fine afterwards so didn’t think any more of it. I woke up unaware of any issues, but when I attempted to stand on one foot to put my jeans on, the pain was excruciating. Fortunately it was my last day offshore and I headed home; limping the two miles from the heliport to the car on my return, but only able to walk on tip-toe and in significant pain.

The following day was a day off, and I had hoped to fit in one last long run before the race (my lack of long runs was woeful, with just a couple of 16/17 mile runs and one 22 mile run to Brewdog). Just walking around the flat was painful so I knew the long run wasn’t happening. I decided to walk into town (only a mile or so) just to get some fresh air and loosen the foot off, but within about 500 metres I was just about in tears with the agony and knew I couldn’t go much further. I phoned SPEAR and fortunately they were able to fit me in for a physio appointment that day. Some intensive massage into the foot helped, but it was still pretty painful and for the following few days I was still walking with a limp.

However, by the following Saturday (and a week of stretching and working with the spiky ball, a sports massage, and one further physio appointment) I felt ready to try a few minutes running within parkrun. As it happened, I ended up running the whole thing, with no pain. For the next few days I continued to push more than I normally would in a recovery period to see how the foot held up, and by the Thursday I had run every day, up to 6 miles including speed work, with zero pain or even discomfort. For better or for worse, I was going to start the race and see what happened.

Stuart was working on Friday, so as soon as he finished work we inhaled some pasta then set off down the road, as we had to check into our hotel by 10pm and I was a little nervous we would hit bad traffic. It was a longer drive than I had originally anticipated, mainly due to it being a horrible slow road, but we made it not too longer after 9pm.

The thing that was concerning me most at this point was the weather. The forecast was for torrential rain all day- there was even a yellow weather warning.  I had panic bought new gloves and thermal running tights (and almost a hat, but decided that a buff was a better option), and was stressing about what to wear, what to carry in my bag, and what to put in my drop-bag. I was planning to wear my Ultimate Direction running vest which I love, but doesn’t have much space for kit. Although to be wet, it wasn’t supposed to be that cold, and I worried that tights would just get wet and end up weighing me down and actually making me colder. In the end I sought advice from Stu and the Facebook group, and decided to go for shorts, carrying my tights with me, and just put a dry buff, base layer and gloves in my drop-bag (the shorts were the right decision, and the dry buff was genius!). My drop bag also held some pre-peeled Babybel, a pork pie, hula hoops, and a bottle of Lucozade, and I was carrying more Babybel, Haribo and honey stingers, and hula hoops, with one flask of water and one flask of Lucozade.

I slept reasonably well but didn’t wake feeling particularly invigorated. As I still needed to register, it was a pretty early start, as the race started at 8am. Fortunately we only had about a ten minute walk to the start, and as we set off there was only a light drizzle, and it was pretty mild. I registered quickly, received my dibber, picked up my hoody, and began the long nervous wait and multiple loo visits. Unusually, I didn’t know that many people, but I caught up with Lyndsay and also had a nice chat with a girl I had met at the Brewdog run- she was wearing full-on waterproof trousers! I don’t even like to wear a jacket (although I was today!) and do not think I would enjoy wearing waterproof trousers.

The briefing was held inside to protect us from the elements, then we all headed outside. It was past 8am by this point, and as we were all still filtering out onto the road the hooter went and that was it, we were off! I had thought that I would aim to run with Lynsday- she had run around 7.5 hours the previous year and was looking at similar, and that’s about the time I was expecting- although anything under the 8 hour cut-off would do. But I lost her at the start, and unsure whether she was ahead or behind, I was never able to find her again.

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Before the start- can you see me? From Glen Ogle race chat FB page

I did however see my friends Vicky and Gina up ahead, and as we turned off the main road and onto the forest trail, I caught up with them, and was relieved as everybody started an ultra-stomp up the hill, even though it was early on. That first hill just went on. And on. And on. I enjoyed a chat with Vicky and Gina but I was a little quicker walking, so I pulled on ahead a bit. I knew they would be quicker when the running started and sure enough, when the hill was finally over (after about three miles!) they passed me quite quickly. I chatted with a few other people here, and it was lovely to have company- some of the issues I’ve had in long runs before, particularly the Speyside Way, is how lonely I’ve been as I’ve ended up running on my own the whole time.

My legs were feeling pretty heavy, but my foot was fine, and the scenery was still stunning despite the heavy rain and clouds. Although thankfully not the torrential downpours that were forecast, the rain was persistent, and I was soon soaked through. It wasn’t cold though, and in fact I took my gloves off pretty early on. As we came down out of the forest and towards the viaduct we turned into the wind and this was pretty unpleasant, as cold rain hit me right in the face, but thankfully we didn’t have to run directly into it for too long.

Time was passing quickly and soon we were over the first road crossing and onto the long straight route along the viaduct which I had heard could be so interminable on the way back. I passed through seven miles and actually thought to myself “less than a marathon to go” then laughed at myself for thinking such a ridiculous thought. But actually- that seemed ok. I was run/walking, maintaining a steady pace, and I was enjoying it!IMG_5663

The next few miles were uneventful, punctuated by cattle grids and gates which were a bit of a pain. I was running on my own at this point, but I didn’t mind. The short steep descent from the viaduct was unpleasant and rather painful, and I’m glad I didn’t realise at that point that we had to come back up it! Two girls passed me at this point, and were to leapfrog for a couple of miles, before I slowly pulled away from them.

At around 10 miles I passed through a check-point, calling out my number to Julie and asking for a hug. For a few miles before I had been gaining on a small group and coming out of this check-point I passed a few of them. I must admit it was a bit of a boost, as I knew I was quite near the back. The next few miles were lovely, undulating forest path covered in pine-needles. I passed a few more people, and I chatted some more before pulling away again. I was maintaining a slow but steady pace and feeling pretty strong.

I don’t remember much about the next few miles. After a while I started seeing signs for Strathyre where the main check-point, and “halfway(ish)” point was. I wished I had checked whether “ish” meant it was before or after halfway- turns out it was quite a bit after halfway, at nearly 18 miles. I did have a little slump here, as the wind picked up and it started to seem like the checkpoint would never arrive. I also stopped for a quick pee and my shorts were so wet I could hardly get them back up. Another notable moment was when there was a deep puddle right across the path, and no way to avoid it. Although I was already wet there’s nothing so unpleasant as having to run (well, walk!) through deep icy water, and I whinged loudly even though there was nobody around to hear.

Finally I was crossing the shoogly bridge into Strathyre and saying hi to a man in a fox’s outfit (was I hallucinating?!) who told me well done. I changed my buff out, refilled my Lucozade and water, chatted briefly to the volunteers, then headed out munching a pork pie and a babybel (the babybels were an excellent decision!).

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Thanks to Scott Craighead- I look so much like my mum here!

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Shortly after the aid station there was a short steep muddy hill, and then the road kept going up… and up… I had remembered Lyndsay saying there was only really one big hill, so I was very indignant about this. Here again I chatted to fellow runners, and one warned me that the hill kept going. How bad could it be? Ha…

Shortly afterwards a cyclist passed me and asked if I was ok. I replied “perfect!” Then after a minute, “Well, I mean I could be dryer… and closer to the finish… but yeah pretty good!” He offered his support then headed off- just another friendly face in this lovely race, and each and every one such a boost!

And then another boost- up ahead I could see Vicky, Gina and Vicky’s husband Iain. We were now around 20 miles, so well over halfway, and it was great to have some company. We ran together for the next few miles, and then we had reached the end of the loop through Strathyre and were heading back towards the viaduct- at this point I realised we were going to have to go back up that horrible hill. I was feeling strong here and slowly started to pull away from the girls- although it was great having company, I was also keen to push on while I felt good, aware that it may not last.

I bounced through the checkpoint, enjoying the gentle undulations, and passing another girl who was obviously hurting. After a quick chat I pushed on again, keen to get the horrible hill out the way. It sucked just as much as expected, but I just walked as quickly as I could, knowing (or at least, hoping!) it was the last big hill.

As I reached the top I had caught up with a few more people, and we started to leap-frog as we all had slightly different run/walk ratios. I was glad there were people around as we reached the first of the gates and I totally failed to open it- I was reminded of the end of the Speyside Way ultra when I was stuck at a gate for ages! The guy behind me opened it for me, and I spent the next few minutes chatting to him and his wife, who was doing her first ultra and starting to really feel it.

The next few miles we were all like a scene from the walking dead as we ultra shuffled for home. I was still managing to run a fair bit, and walk at a decent pace, so I was passing people which is always satisfying. I was definitely hurting but it was just general stiffness and aches and pains from lack of training, not injury pain. I saw George just before the road crossing which was a big boost, “I didn’t know you were here!” “I wasn’t sure I was going to be!”

Then it was back across the road and thankfully instead of heading back up through the forest we headed down on the road. I tried to pick up pace here but running on tarmac on quite a steep downhill was pretty painful on my mashed legs! The route then started to undulate and that was much more pleasant. Up ahead I could see the green jacket of Minty but he was always just out of reach. And then there was the sign for Killin- I was over 30 miles, and less than 3 miles to go, and still feeling pretty strong. I saw Iain again and got a big high five, telling him the girls weren’t far behind.

Soon enough I was back on the road and heading down towards the finish. I was still gaining on Minty, and once on the road I ran all the way in. Suddenly Stu appeared looking astonished to see me so soon and I ran towards him with a huge grin “I’m having the BEST time!” He ran alongside me saying “I’ve got a present for you in my bag” Knowing exactly what it would be I said “you best not run and shake it up too much!”

Then we were turning into the field, Stu was saying “Just one lap of the field!” and I replied “Yeah but how big is the f*cking field” (thankfully no children in the vicinity…), I was powering past Minty, I was grinning, I was only just over 7 hours, totally smashing my time hopes and having had such a great day, despite the fact I was absolutely drenched and totally exhausted, and then I was crossing the line with a huge grin, dibbing my dobber, and falling into Stu’s arms. IMG_5674

I was honestly so delighted. It hadn’t been fast, I hadn’t loved every minute, but I had finished in one piece, with a strong second half. I headed back to the hall to receive my medal and goody bag and enjoy my present from Stu. IMG_5669

I changed into my dry clothes, but I had forgotten shoes, so I didn’t hang around for too long, keen to get back and in the bath before I cooled down. I won’t go into detail, but I will admit I did scream as I lowered myself into the bath and discovered the after effects of 7 hours of wet kit! Totally worth it though.

After a long hot bath and some refuelling, we headed to the ceilidh, where I didn’t dance but had a great night catching up with buddies and drinking lots of bubbles. We didn’t stay too late as we had an early start the next day, but it was a perfect finish to a great day.IMG_5677

I think in some ways the injury was a blessing in disguise, because it meant that I was so chuffed just to be on the start-line, and any time pressure went out the window, meaning I could truly enjoy the day. Having so much great company at many points of the run made a huge difference as well, and although it was wet it wasn’t cold so it wasn’t unpleasant. The steady start (and fuelling a bit more than I sometimes do) helped a strong second half- I went from 351st at the check-point to 317th at the finish and had already passed many people by then.
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Next up- the Fraserburgh marathon, one of my favourite races. But before that- two weeks of holidays and fun, including the Manchester markets and lots more bubbles!

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I Used to be a Runner

You may have noticed that it’s been some time since I blogged. That is because I am struggling to write a running blog right now, when I really don’t feel like much of a runner. Although I completed Edinburgh and Strathearn marathons after Manchester marathon, I don’t think I’ve ever really recovered mentally (and possibly physically), and running is a constant struggle just now. There’s also been some other things going on which are running related which aren’t helping matters, but as these are now nearly at a resolution, I’m hoping that things might start to improve. Anyway, despite not feeling like much of a runner I have in fact been doing some races, so for completeness I will give a brief summary of these! I would just like to add that I mean in no way to be derogatory or disparaging about the times I am running- this is all relative to what I used to be capable of.

·         Fetch mile (7:26). I should have blogged about this at the time, because it was awesome. We did Ruchill parkrun in the morning, and I ran with a friend that I’ve been trying to convince to do parkrun for ages. He did brilliantly, and it was a great social morning. Stuart did really well and finished first, then worried he might have worked a bit too hard ahead of the mile! I had originally put an estimate of 7 minutes for the mile but realised that was going to be too much of an ask, so revised my estimate to 7:30. Given how my legs have been feeling lately, I was delighted to just duck under this to run 7:26. The best bit of the day by far was seeing Stu finally get his sub-5 at a Fetch mile. All in all it was a truly wonderful celebration of running with good friends and new faces. IMG_4678

·         Stonehaven half (2:21:12). I was dreading this. It was a hot day, it’s a tough route, and I just couldn’t face the thought of the hills. My head I guess gave up before my body did, but my body wasn’t up to much either. Disappointed to come in even slower than the previous year. My best time at Stonehaven is under 2 hours; albeit the new route is a bit tougher, that’s still a big drop and hard to face 

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Forced smile!

·         Collieston 10k (1:08:41). This was a fairly last minute entry, when I saw late in the week that some places had become available. Stu was working on the Saturday and I was tailrunner at Stonehaven parkrun in the morning, so I thought I might as well spend my afternoon in some lovely scenery and earn a medal. I started off feeling surprisingly strong, and the first few kilometres I felt pretty good and maintained a reasonable pace. However as soon as we got onto the coastal path, I really struggled. It was stunning but it was quite technical running, and as it was so narrow I found it very stressful feeling the pressure of people behind me. I frequently moved to the side to let people past, terrified I was going to break a leg- one of my friends did in fact twist her ankle really badly. 

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Thanks to Mike Raffan for the photo- stunning scenery!

Just before 3 miles, there was suddenly a short but very steep bank. I completely freaked out and just couldn’t work out how to get down it. I started to go, then stopped, then started to fall. In my panic I grabbed the plastic pole marking the route, which of course was not stable and just came with me. I managed to land on two feet at the bottom of the slope, hugely relived. I then looked down and noticed blood pouring from my hand- I had somehow managed to impale myself on the plastic pole. There was a marshal who helped bandage me up (and looked rather alarmed and suggested I might need stitches!). I was nearly halfway by now and it would probably take just as long for somebody to rescue me as it would just to get back, so I figured I would try to continue. At least it was a nice excuse to take it slowly! IMG_4748

So finish I did. It was painful and I felt a little woozy, but I made it back it one piece, collected my medal, freaked a few people out with my bloody bandage, then drove myself to A&E. Luckily there was no nerve damage (though it took a good two months for my thumb to feel normal again!) and I didn’t need stitches. I needed a day or two off running so I could keep my dressing dry, but in the end, it was much better than the broken leg I had feared! I now have a nice little scar to remind myself why I’m very much a road runner… 

·         Chapleton of Elsick 10k (1:06:53). I never should have run this race. My ITB had been niggling for a few days, and I was in no way looking forward to the race. It was a tough route on a hot day- the ups were hard work, and the downs were agony in my ITB. It was basically just a miserable day out, the only saving grace being I was marginally quicker than at Collieston- but given the medical treatment and bloody loss in that race, it was hardly a real victory! 

·         Dufftown 5 mile / Ballater 10. After the Chapleton 10k, I was in agony. I couldn’t bend my knee, and even walking was painful. I managed to get a sports massage on the Monday evening and he wasn’t too worried, but as the week progressed I was terrified I was on the long-term injury bench. When it had eased off a little I went for a walk, and after only a couple of miles I couldn’t even step up onto pavements. I was supposed to be doing the Dufftown 5 mile race on the Wednesday, but I ended up offshore for a couple of days, so at least didn’t have to make the decision about whether I was fit to run (I wouldn’t have been!). Offshore was 17 hour days so I had no time to think about the treadmill- probably a blessing in disguise.  

The following Sunday I was down to do Ballater 10. Almost as quickly as it arrived, my ITB pain had gone, and by the Saturday I was pain free. I was incredibly grateful, but also worried about aggravating it again. And for what seemed like the nth race in a row, I was dreading what I knew was going to be a slow, heavy legged slog. So I made the decision not to run.  This was a difficult day- everything got on top of me, and I pretty much spent the day on the sofa intermittently crying and napping. Mental health can be a fragile thing, and this was a sharp reminder that I need to look after myself. 

·         Aberlour 10 mile (1:50:18). One of the reasons I had been keen to do Ballater 10 was that I am part of a running club at work which is a points-based competition. You get bonus points if you complete the 6 standard distances (5k, 5 mile, 10k, 10 mile, half marathon, marathon). Part of the reason I allowed myself not to do Ballater was the thought that I could do the Aberlour 10 mile race, a cheap, low key race on a Saturday afternoon, which is part of their highland games. So I headed up to Elgin early, did Elgin parkrun, then on to Aberlour, where I struggled round the race. There was a long steady uphill for the first couple of miles, then a very steep downhill- this was completely wasted on me as I pretty much walked down, still fearful after my Collieston incident. The tail runner (yes I was dead last here) was right up behind me, and at some points overtaking me, which was rather stressful. After a few miles we joined the Speyside Way and she thankfully stopped, and I joined up with another runner who was keen for the company.

She was lovely and happily babbled away for the next few miles, as I just tried to keep my legs moving forward. I eventually sent her on ahead in the last mile, and I finally finished, dead last, in a personal worst for 10 miles. At least I got a fab little bottle opener key ring, and my 10 mile distance. 

 

·         Dyce half marathon (2:22:40). My head wasn’t in a great place for this race, because of all the stuff that’s going on with Metro. But luckily I had the company of my lovely friend Michelle, and although the race was much harder than it should have been for the pace, I had a great time chatting away to her and it was much more pleasant than previous races. IMG_4922

·         Hatton gala 10k (1:00:05). This was a fun day out with a good crowd, but it was somewhat depressing to be over a minute a mile slower than the last time I did the race (at that point I thought my running wasn’t going very well- if only I knew!). I was also disappointed to just miss the hour- I thought I was going to do it, but then it measured ever so slightly long! Still, I had a reasonably strong finish and my head didn’t totally give up at least.

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·         Union Street Mile (7:40). I don’t have much to say about this. I was hoping to at least get 7:30 but I just had nothing. This is 55 seconds slower than my PB, and even a good 30 seconds slower than last year. Putting it into perspective, last year I had run my longest ultra a week before, and I had a chest infection. The Strava title “Will running ever not suck again” says it all really. 

·         Great Aberdeen Run half marathon (2:21:53). I had decided to run this race with my mum, as I knew it was going to be a struggle and was keen for the company. In the end, I couldn’t even keep up with her, and sent her on ahead after 8 miles or so. Run/walking along the beach into a headwind, trying not to cry, was a particular low point. At least it was marginally quicker than Dyce I guess… And actually, it was a good day out. It was fab taking part in a race where I knew so many faces, both running and volunteering, and I hope this race continues to be a success. 

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Fame at last!

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JSHH crew

 

·         Portlethen 5 mile Run. Finally- a happy tale! I wasn’t sure what to do with this race, as I just wanted to enjoy it. In the end I decided to stick with Maz and see if I could bully her round in a good time. Maz is a fantastic runner and capable of so much more than she believes, so she’s a good candidate for bullying. It was one of my best decisions as she did brilliantly, running so strongly and passing people all the way round and annihilating her goal time. I couldn’t keep up with her on the big hill near the end! I really enjoyed it and it actually felt good to run a well-paced, strong race- I wasn’t as within my capabilities as Maz thought I was!

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Running strong

And that brings us to present day. I’m currently running 20-30 miles a week (compared to my usual 40-50) but pretty much every mile is a struggle. I have to force myself out every time- although this week has been good as I’ve been spoiled with some great company on all of my runs, and that has made a difference. Last weekend I managed my longest “run” since June of 14.5 miles, but I did a 2/1 run/walk and it wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

I’m dearly hoping that if I just keep plugging away, things will eventually get easier. Paces that used to be my easy pace are now a struggle, paces that I used to be able to race at are a distant dream. It’s not like I’ve been injured (a few days of ITBS aside!) or had any other issues. I have put on about 10 pounds since Manchester which isn’t helping, but I’m still not exactly overweight. For what it’s worth, I gave blood a while back so I know my iron levels are fine.

I used to be a runner. I really hope I find her again.

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Strathearn Marathon 2018

Even when I was adamant that 2018 was going to be all about Manchester marathon and I was only going to be running “one” marathon this year, I still planned to do Strathearn, as I just love it so much. The logistics are simple- you can drive down and back on one day, the course is tough but scenic, but the thing that really sells it are all the volunteers involved in this race. Every single person you pass, from the guy directing you into the carpark, to the people on registration, to the marshals out on course and at the finish line, are the most friendly, enthusiastic people you could ever hope to find.

I was also keen to continue my streak and run this for the fifth time in a row. It’s only been run on seven occasions, though I’m not sure how many people have run them all. What I did decide to end though was my streak of early morning starts. Due to my liking for being in good time for everything (some might say ludicrously early), it’s always a painful early start. Last year as I drove past multiple hotels and B&Bs en route to the start, I promised myself that this year I would book a hotel.

I duly found a reasonably priced wee hotel in Comrie, just five minutes from the start. Stu was working on the Saturday so we didn’t leave Aberdeen until nearly 5, but we made good time and arrived around 7pm just in time for our dinner reservation. The hotel was busy, and I was worried our room would be noisy, but it was in a nice secluded little cottage out the back so it was fine. There had clearly been a crazy downpour shortly before, but it was still sticky and warm.

The woman who checked us in was lovely and super chatty, it was a small and friendly place. Even through our dinner she was chatting away, though I wasn’t so delighted to hear that it had been the hottest week she had ever experienced in the area and temperatures had reached 30 degrees! The forecast for the Sunday was warm but not that warm, with the possibility of some showers earlier on. I wasn’t going to be aiming for any kind of time (though it would have been nice to get under 5 hours, or under the 4:58 to stop my run of getting slower every time I run this race!), so I was just hoping that the weather was going to be pleasant enough that I could try to enjoy the day out.

After dinner we had a little walk to help dinner go down, then headed to our room to watch a movie before getting an early night. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I got a few good hours, and I was very relieved as 5am came and went and it wasn’t yet time to get up! It was nice to have a later start, take my time with breakfast, and head over to the start for just after 8am for a 9am start, so in good time to get registered and have multiple loo visits, but not too long to hang about.

Many of the usual suspects were there, and it was great to catch up with everybody. I had originally asked Kate for company during the race, but that was before I also did Edinburgh and I knew I was going to be far too slow for her, so I told her to go and do her own thing (she also had to finish in time to get her lift back!), and I’m glad I did as she went on to run an absolutely cracking time. Lyndsey, who I had the pleasure of running much of the race with a few years ago, was also there and I thought that we may end up running together.IMG_4479

Personalised bottle dropped off, chip and number attached, and portaloo visited around 500 times, it was time to head to the start line. I’m sure there was a briefing of some kind, but I didn’t hear it, and in the midst of chatting suddenly we were off! I was next to Callum and keen to have a chat with him I ended up running the first mile way too fast, but at least it was flat! As we turned out of the camp and on to the main road, Alan and Lyndsey caught up to me and we chatted a little, then Alan pulled on ahead. Lyndsey was chatting to a couple of people who were nervous about the cut off and I started to pull away a little as we headed up the first hill. I meant to hold back and run with her but somehow I didn’t and though I kept hoping she would catch me up, she never quite did- I should have just stuck with her at the beginning!

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Callum making me run too fast

 

The first few miles were as tough as ever, and it was already warm, so I was pouring with sweat. I just ran where I could and walked where I needed to- hoping that maybe if I really took in steady in the first half I could aim for a faster second half. As ever every marshal we passed was super enthusiastic and friendly, and the pipers on the hills were a lovely touch.

As we reached the top of the hill around five miles, it was bizarre to see the piles of hailstones at the side of the road. It was nearing twenty degrees, but the leftovers from the crazy storm the night before were still evident! I tried to remark on this to the woman running next to me, as we had been leapfrogging for the last couple of miles, but she had headphones in and obviously had them up loud (this was also evident as I then saw her getting in the way of cars that she didn’t seem to register were there). I was irrationally annoyed by this and it became my mission to try to stay ahead of her!

The downhill section seemed to take forever to arrive and even when it did, I couldn’t pick up much speed. I was fairly isolated with nobody anywhere near me (apart from my new nemesis still fairly close on my tail!). I started to wonder why I love this race so much- it was feeling like a real slog.

After a couple of miles downhill, the route levels out before the next mean uphill. As I do every year I made the hilarious joke that I would rather turn right than left, but they still made me turn left up the hill as they do every year. One of the marshals said something about the hill not being that bad, but I knew what was coming!

As I plodded on up I heard a panting behind me and there was Stu on his bike, having left just before the runners and already completed one circuit of the race route. It was nice to see him and he cycled alongside me for a good few minutes before going on ahead and telling me he would see me again.

Once that killer hill is out of the way, it’s not long until halfway. It’s also a bit more shaded along that part of the route, and the wee breeze was very pleasant. I just really didn’t have anything in my legs- or, if I’m honest, my mind! I was walking more than I should have, but now I just wanted to keep making forward progress. I went through halfway in around 2:30, so knew that 5 hours would be a stretch, although the second half is definitely easier.

Stuart appeared again, and it was really nice to have his support. He popped up fairly regularly through the second half, and it really did make a difference. As we turned on to the main road around 18 miles, the marshal at the bottom called out, “well done, all downhill from here!” I replied that he was a liar, as I know full well there’s another mean up around 19 miles. I was still in decent spirits though, as Stu captured.IMG_4610

Run, walk, run, walk, one mile at a time… god it’s warm now! Glad I put suncream on, and glad I had my vest with water and Lucozade. At 21 miles I passed a guy who was fully walking and obviously in some discomfort- he said his hips had gone. I was able to promise him that there were no more big hills, but he did say that he would be getting in the first aid car if it passed. I don’t know if he finished- having managed 21 miles, I hope he did!

My headphone nemesis had been right behind me until now, but now I did put a bit of distance between us. It was good to have a reason to keep pushing though, as any kind of decent time was long gone. Around 22 miles somebody came into view up ahead, and I seemed to be gaining on her, so that was also a motivation. Finally it was just a parkrun to go, and I knew we would soon be back into the town and into that last mile and a half. I caught up to the lady ahead, and we told each other well done.

As I turned into the last mile and the long straight (slightly uphill!) road to the finish, I could see a couple more people ahead. I was also looking like I could dip under 5:15, but it was going to be tight, so I had a reason to keep pushing. Just as we reached mile 26, I passed the guy ahead of me- he was wearing a full kilt, which I did not envy! “Alzheimer’s all the way!” which was a lovely boost- I was proud to be wearing my vest, and I’m proud of the money I’ve raised for such a great cause.

Finally, the last corner was appearing and then I was turning towards the finish. They announced my name and I crossed the line with a big grin, tired but satisfied. I grabbed some water and my medal and fell gratefully into a chair. Another one in the bag!IMG_4609

Once I had recovered a little, I went and found the Strathearn squirrel, as I had taken my four previous medals and wanted the photo op. Sadly the medals aren’t that clear in the photo but it’s a good one nonetheless.

I rave about this race every year, even though I question why after those first few miles uphill. It’s just so well organised, so friendly, and good value. I intend to return again and continue my streak- although hopefully next year will be the year I finally stop getting slower!

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Edinburgh Marathon- Laying the Manchester Demons to Rest

As has been well documented in this blog, I sacrificed a lot for Manchester marathon, and it didn’t quite go to plan. My commitment this year had been to focus purely on Manchester with no other marathons, other than my annual jaunt to Strathearn. When Manchester didn’t work out, I ended up in a pretty dark place, and fell totally out of love with running.

So naturally, my reaction to this was to sign up fairly last minute to Edinburgh marathon. I decided to run for Alzheimer’s Scotland, in memory of my Granny, and hoped that running for a cause dear to my heart and without all the pressure I put myself under for Manchester would help lay my demons to rest.

My recovery from Manchester wasn’t too bad. The first few days were horrendous; both of my big toes were excruciating, and I could barely walk. One of them was infected and once I got antibiotics and they kicked in, it got much better. At A&E they gave me some steri-strips to help tape the nails in place, and numerous soaks in hot salty water offered immense relief. By the Thursday I was able to walk with discomfort rather than pain and set out to cover 5k, as I was starting to go stir crazy. I managed this, and on the Friday I also managed to walk over 3 miles (though I was a bit high on painkillers by that point!) and so felt confident to give parkrun a try on the Saturday, knowing that I could at least walk it if it was too painful to run.

The parkrun went well, and I managed progressive splits of 9:45, 8:43, 8:27 as the pain eased off. I was then able to start running regularly again, and actually ended up run/walking 20 miles two weeks after Manchester; I’m arranging a walk for work along the Speyside Way, and the 10-mile route needed to be recced. And then I had to get back to the car! I just took my time, walking as much as I needed to and enjoying the glorious day. It was pain free and reminded me of why I do this running thing- it was a wonderful day out.

Since then I’ve also managed a 25:01 at parkrun (damn you, second!), and a slightly disappointing (though not that surprising as I had just returned for a very indulgent holiday week of eating and drinking copious amounts) 25:26 at Dunecht Dash. I had also entered Baker Hughes, and all I wanted to do was hate it less than last year, where I had such a disaster! Mission accomplished, I ran hard but steady, and managed a 54:44 (a good 4 minutes quicker than last year) and managed to smile most of the way round (except that last bloody hill).

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2017 vs 2018 Baker Hughes

 

 

My diet is unfortunately out of control and I have put on a huge chunk of the weight I lost before Manchester. But to be honest, it’s been worth it- I’ve been enjoying it! Time to try to get back on track now though, as I’m starting to feel pretty horrible in myself.

And so, we come to Edinburgh. Given the weight gain, lack of proper training, and the forecast high temperatures, I certainly wasn’t aiming for any kind of time. I just wanted to get round, enjoy the atmosphere, and raise some money for a good cause. Stu was working on the Saturday, so after attending the Grampian Pride march (which was amazing- Aberdeen did itself proud!) I headed down on the train to Edinburgh by myself. I had a wee wander in the afternoon and picked up some food for breakfast, then headed to Prezzo for some carb loading.

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Grampian Pride

 

It was unsurprisingly heaving, and I was glad I had booked a table- it always amuses me when groups of runners turn up to an Italian restaurant, knowing what’s on the weekend, and are surprised not to get a table. Unfortunately this meant the service was a bit haphazard, but I got my food eventually. I had ordered a carafe of wine, and when the waitress threw my main course at me and then chucked some parmesan over it, she also managed to spill a load of parmesan in the wine. I asked another waitress to replace the wine, and although there had only been about a quarter left, she brought me out a whole new one! I had a very painful dilemma where I wanted the wine but knew that I would regret it in the morning. I had a wee bit more but managed to leave a fair bit behind. What a waste!

The race didn’t start until 10 and I was only a mile or so from the start, so I actually had a pretty decent long lie. I had a relaxed breakfast in my room, before getting myself together- it felt very surreal and I couldn’t quite convince myself I was off to run a marathon. I had checked my weather app and it said 14 degrees and sunny, so I was surprised (but also relieved) to step out into a cool, misty morning. Though I could have done with another layer at that point!

 

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Classy breakfast- Cheerios in a coffee mug

 

I walked up to the start, merging with the crowds of runners heading in the same direction, and walking irritatingly slowly. I arrived and couldn’t work out where I was supposed to go, as only the first few pens were sign-posted. A quick check of the map online and I worked out where to go, and managed to find Maz and her Jog Scotland girls, looking nervous but excited (about the alcohol at the end, if not the running!). I needed a pee by then but the loo queues were all pretty long. I had time, so I headed down the steps into the university building and joined a queue. Just then a member of the university staff came up to me, and said “how many are you?” There were three of us stood together, so he snuck us all through a hidden locked door at the back, and led me to my own private toilet with no queue. I could have hugged him!

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The Fabulous Ladies in Orange

 

I then joined the girls again, it was great to have company and some chat. But soon enough it was time for us to join our respective pens, and I headed off on my own into the black pen. It was still cool, and I was so relieved that it looked like we would have some respite from the heat at least for the first few hours. 9am came and went, and we slowly started moving to the start. It took nearly 20 minutes to get over the line, and in that time I got talking to a nervous first timer. I never admit to how many marathons I’ve done in these situations, so I answered the inevitable question with “a few”.

And then, we were crossing the start line and the race had begun! The crowd support was awesome, and I was running with a big grin in my face. I took it really steady, it was so nice not to have to stress about pace. I haven’t done Edinburgh before so I don’t know how it differed from the old route, but I really enjoyed the first few miles through Edinburgh. At the first out and back around the bottom of Arthur’s seat I saw Maz and the girls which was great, and I remarked to another runner alongside me that at least we weren’t going up!

I was running consistently between 10:30-11:00 minute miles. I could tell that my legs weren’t going to be able to keep it up, but I was happy to slow later if needed and just kept the miles ticking by. I was hoping to run around 4:45-5:00 (just as something to aim for) and I was looking good for that.

Support came and went as some points were quieter than others, but the crowds that were there were awesome. I was high fiving little kids and waving to old ladies wrapped up in blankets sitting in their wheelchairs, and grinning at the signs at the road side “Run like Ryan Gosling is at the finish” (spoiler- he wasn’t!), “Remember, you paid to do this” “Run like you’re in the hunger games”. This was what I needed!

As we turned on to the coast, it was a bit breezy but nothing too bad, and it helped keep me cool. Around mile eight I passed the first Alzheimer’s cheer point- I was wearing my vest so gave them a big wave and got a massive cheer. At mile ten, I started to suffer a little, but just slowed down. This was when we turned onto the interminable out and back- which actually wasn’t as bad as expected. It was awesome to see the race leader fly past looking like he was just out for a jog; he had a huge lead!

The crowds in pockets all along here were fantastic. We passed one house which had Aqua blasting out and guys dancing and cheering, and I sang and danced along with a huge grin.

Half way was a boost as ever, and there was another Alzheimer’s cheer point. I was looking forward to seeing them again at what I worked out should be about mile 23. I didn’t know many other people running, but managed to see and shout to Jonathan. Around mile 15 I started to struggle more, and at 15.5 I stopped for my first wee walk break and to text Stu- right at that point another metro, Graham, busted me and shouted out, I wanted to reply that it was my first walk break, honestly!

My pace had now slipped from 10:30s to 11:30s, which lasted to around mile 19. Looking ahead and seeing the long stream of runners along the coast to the turn point was a bit depressing! But then finally the turn arrived, and we turned back off the road. I struggled here on the softer ground which just zapped all on my energy, but it was a boost that the turn point was well after half way and there were “only” 8 miles left. I was by now searching out for Maz and the girls, and was delighted to see them looking so strong when they were at around mile 16 and I was coming up to mile 20. I got a big sweaty hug and headed off with a grin on my face.

It was getting warm now, and I was just relieved that it hadn’t been so hot the whole time! I had my ultra-vest on so was able to sip water and Lucozade regularly which really helped. I was walking when I needed to, and from mile 20 my pace slipped to more like 12:00s. I was close to 5 hour pace and tried to keep pushing, but my feet were sore, I was hot, and as I didn’t really have anything to prove I found it hard to really push on.

Things were really starting to hurt by mile 23, and I was a bit disheartened that the Alzheimer’s cheer point had packed up by the time I got there (although I saw some of them leaving and they did give me a huge cheer).  Then a kid appeared at the side of the road handing out ice lollies. Best. Thing. Ever. I had a wee walk and devoured the icy goodness, it really was amazing. That gave me the boost I needed and I picked up the running a little more. I was still close to 5 hour pace, but it was going to be close.

With just less than 2 miles to go, I thought 5 hours was gone, so probably walked a little bit more than I needed to. With just less than a mile to go, I realised it might not be gone, so tried to push on a bit. I was measuring half a kilometre long, which started to mess with my head a little. I thought it was gone again so took a short walk with about half a mile to go. Then I told myself to man up and run to the end and tried to pick up the pace. The finish seemed to take forever to arrive. There was a corner, then another, and finally I could see the finish ahead of me. 5 hours was gone so I slowed down a little to showboat for the cameras and crossed the line in 5:00:14 with a big grin- the story of the day!

I was tight for timing to catch my train home and knew that if I stopped it would be difficult to get going again, so I grabbed my medal, water and goody box (a fab idea) and kept walking. And walking. And walking. Everybody was meandering and hobbling but I strode past, knowing that every person I passed was one less person in the bus queue ahead of me! I eventually reached the buses and hopped straight on one. Sitting down was glorious. A few minutes later it headed off, and I could see that a huge queue had formed behind me, so it was worth the effort getting there in good time!

The bus journey back was smooth, but as we got back into Edinburgh it was cold and grey again, and I didn’t have any extra layers with me! I hopped off the bus and began the mile or so walk back to my hotel (think it was about a mile and a half in the end), walking briskly both to make the train and to keep warm. My pedestrian rage was burning- if you’re meandering slower than the person that has just had to finish a marathon then walk three miles, you need to get out of my way!

I arrived back at my hotel and grabbed my bags, borrowing their toilet to change out of my shorts and throw a jumper on. I was pretty minging, and wasn’t sure what was sweat, snot or sun cream, but I had nowhere to shower! I then headed back to Waverley and arrived with 15 minutes to spare before my train. I managed to grab a seat and get myself settled, tired but satisfied after a day that did exactly what I needed it to

My mum and dad picked me up at the train station, and it was great to see them as they’ve been away for six weeks (during which time I’ve managed to keep their plants alive and only stolen one bottle of wine- a huge success!). The shower and glass of bubbles when I arrived home was absolutely heavenly.

So what’s next? Strathearn marathon is only a couple of weeks away, but after that… I don’t know. I’m currently tempted by Glen Ogle 33, but also keen on the idea of not having to do any long runs and focusing on the shorter stuff. I also need to try to get back on my bike, but the thought currently fills me with terror. I’m also pondering the possibility of adding something totally different- I do miss my spin classes. Running seems a constant struggle and I think adding something new to my routine could be a good idea- open to any suggestions!

Finally- as mentioned, I was running Edinburgh for Alzheimer’s Scotland, so if you have just a couple of quid to spare, I would really appreciate it….

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Naomi-Milne

 

 

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Manchester Marathon- Race Day is here!

Blogging about Manchester marathon isn’t going to be easy, but it needs to be done. I’ve well documented the training in the lead up to this big PB attempt, and this is the final chapter, even though it’s far from the chapter I wanted to be writing.

I’ll pick up from where the last blog left off, when I had completed my final training run on the Thursday. I had a sports massage in the evening, where it was determined that my hamstrings were extra tight and half the length they needed to be, so I really did need to keep working on my stretching in the next couple of days! Friday was a super relaxed day, spent with my feet up and loading up on carbs (some pasta, some percy pig!). I was feeling nervous but excited; I tried to harness a positive mental attitude and imagine how good it would feel when all the hard work was worth it.

We flew to Manchester late morning on the Saturday, and the journey was uneventful. The airport lounge and plane were half full of fellow runners, and we all chatted excitedly about the task ahead of us. Most people have had great training blocks and were certainly feeling the pressure. After a ridiculously long wait for baggage at the other end (nearly as long as we were on the plane!) we headed to our hotel and were able to check in straightaway. We immediately headed out for the last little leg loosener- plan had 2 miles but I was aiming for 15-20 minutes. We headed over to the start, a useful recce, then back to the hotel. My knee twinged, I felt a stitch, it felt super hot- standard pre-marathon run then! Apart from the imaginary taper niggles, my legs felt reasonable. Through no planning the pace actually came out bang on marathon pace- just do that 16 times over and I would have a 4:15 marathon- easy!

We then had a lazy afternoon watching the Commonwealth games and eating some lunch, before heading to meet my parents at the nearby Bella Italia.  They had brought down a cake for me that was left over from Easter (when I was still on the diet wagon!) but he didn’t quite survive the journey- they send me a picture of the cake saying, “we’re hoping you’re not going to look like this tomorrow” (spoiler- I pretty much did!). Plenty of carbs later I headed to bed hoping for a decent night’s sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I knew that I had had plenty of rest in the couple of days before so wasn’t too worried.

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I woke feeling rested and nervous. I had a relaxed start to the day, having my breakfast in bed and chatting to Stu. It was nice being so close to the race start and not having to worry about bag drop, so being able to leave it quite late before we left. I said to Stu, “what I fail?” and he said, “then we try again”. I just responded, “I can’t put myself through this again”.

We left the hotel just after 8 and headed towards the start. We stopped to visit the first portaloos we came across, which I then realised were actually in my start area. Manchester is unlike any other marathon I’ve done before, where the start is very non-descript and the “pens” don’t really exist, there’s just flags every so often saying “start area E”- handy if you want to move further a pen! After one last nervous pee, we caught up with a few friends who were running, and then I spied the 4:15 pacer. I headed over to him, intending to stick to him like glue. Another guy who was planning to start with him then started chatting to me, and unfortunately did not stop. Stu eventually had to butt in and say goodbye as he needed to head to the start, but it was a shame I didn’t get a few minutes to get myself together and a last pep talk from him!

There was suddenly a lot of noise and to my surprise I realised it was 9am and the race had started. We started to slowly meander as a huge group towards the start line. At this point you had to be quite aggressive and elbows out to keep with the pacer, and we hadn’t even started yet. I made the decision not to try, but to let him get slightly ahead and then just keep him in my sights and hopefully catch him towards the end. I managed to catch Stu’s eye and gave him a big grin and thumbs up. I was excited now, legs felt ready to go, it was time for all the hard work and sacrifice to come to fruition.

 

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Where’s wally?

 

And that was it, we were off! The crowds thinned out quite quickly once we got going. The conditions were perfect, cool and dry with no wind. The pacer was a wee bit ahead and I just tried to settle into my pace. I had made the decision to wear my Ultimate Direction race vest. I needed to carry my shot blocks and phone anyway, and I find my vest more comfortable than anything round my waist or in my pockets, plus it meant I could carry water and Lucozade. Unfortunately, despite having worn it for hundreds of miles without any bother, for some reason it was bouncing around a lot. It was annoying and quite painful where it was bouncing off my collarbone. I tried to think if there was anything I could do- I didn’t want to ditch it, as I needed everything I was carrying in it, but if it was annoying me now, how bad would it be after 26 miles?!

Apart from that the first few miles passed fairly uneventfully. At around 2 miles we passed the pub where we had plans to meet later- it was so nearly time for bubbles! Stu had said we might be around 3 miles but I couldn’t see him, but it was a distraction at least to look for him! The crowds were awesome and I gave a huge grin every time somebody cheered my name.

Mile 6 was the first point my parents had planned to see me, and sure enough, there they were, with Stu alongside. It was a great boost to see them, but as Stu broke away from them to run along side me, and asked how I was doing, I found myself shaking my head and voicing what I had been trying not to admit to myself for the last hour “It’s not as easy as it should be”. I was- just- hitting pace, but instead of it feeling easy and like I was holding myself back as it should so early on, it was a lot more effort than it should have been. Nothing was particularly hurting or bothering me, I just didn’t have it in my legs.

Stu ran with me for half a mile or so, then headed back to find my parents. “It’s just a tough patch” he said. I really hoped so, but it was a desperate hope. The atmosphere was great, the conditions were perfect, the route was flat if a bit windy in some places, but I was not having fun.

It wasn’t until mile 10 that I had my first mile where I was really off pace at just over a 10 minute mile, but I knew it had been too difficult to sustain pace until then and felt I could only slow further. It was good fun to see the faster runners coming the other way, and a nice distraction to look out for familiar faces, but my pace dropped significantly as soon as I stopped thinking about it, and I had to really force myself to try to keep the legs ticking over.

I was by now looking forward to seeing my family again; they were planning to be around mile 12. And there they were, my mum screaming “you’ve got this special girl”. I gave them a grin and thumbs up, but as soon as I was past I choked up, because I knew I didn’t have this, and I felt like I was letting everybody down. We looped through Altricham here and I remembered that it was around here in 2016 where Ben 401 had passed me, I was approaching halfway on PB pace, and feeling so great. Not so this year.

I saw mum, dad and Stu again less than a mile later on the other side of the road, and again although it was great to see them it was also hard. That was the last I would see of mum and dad until the end, but at least by now I was nearly halfway.

I passed halfway just over 2:10- not only was I already off-pace, but I would have to pretty much maintain the same pace to even get a PB, never mind the 4:15 I had hoped for. Thankfully my vest had by now stopped bouncing, and there wasn’t anything specific bothering me, but I just couldn’t maintain any sort of pace. I hadn’t walked yet though, and I had no intentions to start. Maybe if I could maintain a run I could at least come in under 4:30.

I was by now the “faster runner” on the other side of the road, although there were not so many people coming the other way- I tried to encourage those that were, as they still had such a long way in front of them. The crowds all along the way were awesome, it was obvious that I looked pretty bad as I was getting more support than most! I was taking a shot block every 2-3 miles and sipping regularly on Lucozade and water- it was really great being able to avoid the water stations and just drink to feel.

At mile 16 there was a tunnel of supporters and it was just great, I tried to smile and enjoy the atmosphere though I still felt like my heart was breaking. A guy was standing at the side with “10 miles until beer”- he reappeared a couple of miles later and had stuck an “8” over the 10, which made us all smile!

It was now counting down until 20 miles, where it would be just a 10k to go. Miles 18-23 are probably the worst in terms of less crowd support, but there were still pockets of people, and a few people out with hoses- I remarked with incredulity to the woman next to that a week ago it was snowing, and now it was warm enough that people were out with hoses! There were so many people with jelly beans, sweets, cookies, and even one guy taunting people with beer! Sometime around here there was a young lad crying and saying to his running partner he was letting people down. I chatted briefly to them, telling him this was the tough bit and it would all be worth it at the end, and that by even standing on the start line he was letting nobody down. That snapped me out of my self-pity but only for half a mile or so!

Although slow, I was still running. I haven’t managed to run the whole way in many of my marathons, so at least that was something. 4:30 was slipping away, but not by much. Stu had said he would get to the end then come back to meet me, so from around mile 22 I was looking out for him. My feet, especially my left foot, were really starting to hurt now, and my legs were heavy and tired, but actually it wasn’t really getting significantly worse.

And then at mile 23 there he was, my own personal race angel. We didn’t talk much, but he ran just ahead of me and I just focused on his legs and keeping my legs moving forwards. My feet were killing me and I said so to Stu- he said he would carry me everywhere later! People were cheering my name, and there was less than a parkrun to go. I was now targeting under 4:40, and just to keep running without a walk break.

Just after mile 25 there was a slope, as Stu said “last hill!” I said “who the fuck put this here?!” and then we were turning into the long finish straight and I could see the finish. Unfortunately, it was still nearly a kilometre away and by god it took forever to come- it really did seem like a mirage that would never appear. Eventually I hit mile 26, Stu peeled off to the side, my parents were screaming for me, and finally, finally, I crossed the finish line, just ducking under 4:35.

I wobbled along, my legs seizing a little, trying to work out where to go. It was a long walk until we finally received water, and then our goody bag with t-shirt and medal (no small t-shirts left). I saw a few friends and just shook my head. It took forever to get through the “athlete’s village”, and when I finally reached the exit it was difficult to squeeze out as everybody crowded round- it was the same in 2016 and I wish they would sort that out!

 

IMG_4026

Not my impressed face

 

Finally though I was through and free and making my way through the crowds to mum and dad. I fell into mum’s arms and sobbed- “I’ve let everybody down”. Of course she told me to wise up! We found our way over to a pavement where I sat down and she handed me my prosecco, but after looking forward to it for so long, I didn’t even want it- it didn’t feel like I had earned it. Stu then found us and I hugged him and cried some more, then did eventually force myself to drink some prosecco!

I then decided to take my sock off to see why my foot was so sore, and promptly wished I hadn’t. My entire toe-nail was vivid purple, with a huge blood blister underneath. I have never experienced anything like it before! I also had really bad chaffing on my chest where my vest had been bouncing. While neither of these things ultimately affected my time, they didn’t help make the experience any more enjoyable.

Two days later and the toe is still agony (the right one is also sore though not as bad), and I have a lovely giant blister on my chest. I am still gutted, and just can’t believe that I missed my goal by so much after working so hard. It’s not like I was unwell or injured, or the conditions on the day weren’t favourable- everything was in place for a great race. I just didn’t have it on the day.

I’m not sure what comes next. I will be having a few enforced days of rest anyway, as walking is currently still very painful. Then I need to try to find the love for running again. I really feel like I am just not a natural runner- I was quicker five years ago than I am now, I only seem to get worse with time. I tried something different, attempting to train smarter, and it still didn’t work. Perhaps it’s time to find a new challenge, but I don’t know what. But it’s hard to see a way forward to keep doing something that I am patently not good at; how enjoyable can it ever be to fail so consistently?

 

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Manchester Marathon- Training Weeks Nine to Twelve

WEEK NINE- In which I start to break

I am feeling pretty fed up this week. I’m exhausted, I don’t feel like I’m improving any. I’m loyally and diligently following the plan pretty much to the letter and I don’t feel like I am seeing any improvements. I’m being so careful with my diet and I haven’t had a drink in over 2 weeks (I know that’s not a long time but it is an achievement for me), and right now I feel like it’s not going to be worth it, and Manchester is just going to be a massive disappointment.

But enough of that…

Tuesday- Metro double tree reps, 8 x 750m (approximately). These were hard. I probably hadn’t eaten enough during the day, but I just had nothing. I forgot how depressing it was being so much slower than everybody else and it was a dark, wet, miserable, lonely night

Wednesday- recovery run. Supposed to be 6 miles but tried to squeeze it between meetings and ran out of time; 5.3 miles at 10:27 pace. Felt inordinately guilty about cutting it short.

Thursday- 3 x 2,000m with 3 minutes recovery, with 1 mile warmup and cooldown. Got caught out by the weather, was toasty warm! 10:43, 10:26, 10:18, so at least they got quicker (and were actually around the same pace as my double tree reps)

Friday- would have been a rest day by the plan but needed to do my long run (did request it to be on the Friday, coach said it would be fine to do it Friday but just watch after the reps). Supposed to be 4 miles easy, 14 miles MP, 4 miles easy. Complete and utter disaster. Just had nothing in my legs. Ended up run/walking the second half with a short walk every half mile. Texted my dad and begged him to meet me on his bike for the last couple of miles to keep me going. 22 miles, average pace 11:37. Totally miserable.

Saturday- usual routine of parkrun route followed by parkrun, was lucky enough to have company for both and the time passed pleasantly

Sunday- suppose this should have been a rest day given I didn’t take the rest day on Friday, but I ended up meeting some friends (including the lovely Maz) and having a gentle recovery run (Autumnleaves you should be proud of me, it was finally more like actual recovery pace and you’re right, I feel much better for it). This did at least remind me that running should not just be a chore and can be enjoyed.

Monday- 7 miles with 10 x 30s strides. Did this in the evening and it was so nice to run after work in daylight (albeit we just ran out of light in the last mile!). My lovely hubby came with me and I took great delight in catching him out with the strides and leaving him behind (for all of two seconds). Felt better than the previous week.

So there we have it. One more full week of training. My head is not in a good place right now, but hopefully the taper will help. Really disappointed that the long run was such a disaster after such a good week last week. I don’t want to make excuses, but obviously the 2,000s the day before didn’t help, plus I ended up with 67 miles in 7 days- I think 55-60 is around my breaking point!

WEEK TEN

So the final week of full training is done, and now the wind down begins (although I have a feeling I will still be working pretty hard for the next week or two!). I am knackered today but feeling much better than this time last week… This week was apparently a bit easier to allow me to do my long run justice, but it didn’t seem that much easier!

Tuesday- called for Metro hill reps, 12 x 80s. Didn’t fancy the metro session so just did my lunchtime hill which is a tough one. 12 x 80s seemed much harder than 10 x 90s and I didn’t seem to have much power in the legs. I did note that the metros all did 10 x 80s so don’t know if there was a typo in my plan!

Wednesday- 5 miles “really easy recovery” (I guess this was the easier bit). Average pace 10:48 so still a bit too quick, but better than I have been

Thursday- 2 sets of 1000,1200,1500 metres with 2 mins, 300metres,3 mins active recovery between sets. I did this as a pyramid of 1000, 1200, 1500, 1500, 1200, 1000 (5:23, 6:17, 7:59, 7:59, 6:28, 5:20)- it was pretty windy and this was another 6:30am session, so I was reasonably pleased with my consistency if not particularly my pace

Friday- rest day and thank goodness as the weather in Aberdeen was insane, with horrendous winds. Although forecast to be slightly better over the weekend, I was a little nervous about the forecast high winds for Saturday

Saturday- long run day. First time I haven’t done parkun in a long time and it felt very weird, but I was so nervous about the long run so just wanted to get it out the way. Did consider postponing it due to the winds but the forecast for Sunday/Monday wasn’t much better. Plan said 23 miles with 4 easy, 15 MP, 4 easy. I managed 23 miles at 10:31 average pace with the MP section at 10:13 (wind wasn’t too bad in the end). Felt pretty epic at the end and it was good timing to come home to my race number! I did deflate a little when Stu asked if that was my goal pace and I registered that of course I’m still a good 30s off that, but… what can I do. At least it was better than the week before! And I think it’s my quickest 23 miles in training, or certainly close to it.

Sunday- recovery 6. Was very glad I didn’t postpone the long run when I woke up to snow and icy winds! Struggled to face this and tried to get company, but in the end it was ok and I did some lovely snowy miles up at Hazlehead. Tried to listen to the mini AL on my shoulder and not to beat myself up over the slow pace but to slow down further- 11:39 pace.

Monday- 6 miles “as you feel”. How I felt was tired, and fed up of the cold wind! 6.3 miles (misjudged route slightly) at 10:14 pace

And so the taper begins, though I have no idea what that will look like.

Oh- one other notable thing from this week is that at on Thursday I weighed in at 135.8 pounds, first time I’ve been at my goal of 136 in a good 18 months! Delighted and hoping that will help. Still haven’t had a drink either, I’m practically salivating at the thought of the bubbles on the finish line…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I bloody hope this is all worth it!

WEEK ELEVEN- the taper begins and my confidence is shattered

I’m struggling today. I’m exhausted and disappointed.

Tuesday- plan called for 5 x 1500m metro reps at HMP with 3 minutes recovery. I didn’t want to do the metro reps so decided to use my mile loop at work at lunch. I ended up doing 5 x 1 mile w/2 mins recovery, as 3 mins seemed excessive. At 8:24, 8:22, 8:23, 8:20, 8:23 these were realistically quicker than HMP, but I enjoyed the session.

Wednesday- 6 miles recovery at 10:51.

Thursday- race week reps. Short warm-up then 10 x 300m w/300m recovery. The reps all came out around 7:30 pace; but then they were downhill with a bit of tail wind

Friday- plan called for 5 miles easy, and I was able to tie this in with my mum’s long run. She had 12.5 miles to do so she did 7.5 then I met her and ran the last 5 with her, which was great; nice easy recovery for me (12:13 pace) and I like to think it helped having me towards the end, as it was her longest run in a long time. Was lovely to run with her anyway.

Saturday- was supposed to be a rest day, but having missed parkrun last week I was keen to parkrun. I haven’t made it to Stonehaven parkrun for a while as it doesn’t fit so well with extra miles beforehand, so I ended up doing the run/walk pacer there. At over 14 minute miles it was nice and gentle and it was really rewarding. I was pretty knackered as I had a 4am phone-call from work after which I didn’t really get to sleep, and I got another call at 9am so had to go do some work after parkrun, which wrote off the rest of my day a little

Sunday- national road relays in Livingston. I hadn’t originally planned to do these, but it’s always a great day out and they were needing people to make up a team. I requested the long leg (5.8 miles usually, ended up being nearer 6 this year due to road works) as that’s what I’ve always done the last three years. I tend to perform better than I think I’m capable of here; the first two years I ran close to 10k PB pace, running 8:07 on a tough route in 2016 (last time I ran a PB at Manchester). Last year I was running really poorly and only managed 8:23 pace, shortly before taking nearly 6 hours to get round Stirling marathon.

Given how well I had run close to Manchester marathon in 2016, I was hoping for a strong run, and at least quicker than last year. This did not happen. My pace came out at 8:35, so a significant PW on the course, and a full 28 seconds a mile slower than when I was last in good marathon shape. I know that marathon training doesn’t always equate to short speed, but it’s not like I’ve not been doing speed work… so this was a huge knock to my confidence. I crossed the line and absolutely broke my heart, sobbing like I haven’t in a long time.

I currently feel like the last 10 weeks of hard work, sacrifice and dedication has been for nothing, and that I should just quit running- I’ve been training harder and smarter and I still suck (I’m aware this isn’t entirely rational, but it’s how I feel). I was *this* close to saying fuck it and drowning in a bottle or three of wine last night (I had Dominos and chocolate instead).

Plan calls for recovery six miles today, but I don’t know if I can face it. I’ve asked coach if a shorter run would be better than nothing, or if I should just take a day off. At least the sun is shining- maybe I’ll just go for a walk. Have a sports massage this evening which is always good.

The only glimmer of positivity from yesterday is that at least I think I do look quite slim, so the diet work has paid off, even if it hasn’t helped with the running…

WEEK TWELVE

I am feeling a bit better today than last week. I obviously worried my coach a bit when I told him how I was feeling after Livingston, I saw him last Friday and he was asking if I was feeling better, when I started feeling so tired, but I kind of thought it was a bit late to be having that discussion with just over a week to go- only thing I can do now is make sure I take this week really easy. which I will.

I did end up taking last Monday off, just went for a long (3-ish miles) walk to get some fresh air. Felt better for that.

Tuesday- 6 miles at 9:44. Technically this was a MP run although it wasn’t intended to be, just so happens it came out pretty much at 4:15 pace for a marathon. Given that I haven’t managed a single long run with any sections at this pace, I still can’t really see it happening

Wednesday- 4 miles at 10:00. Didn’t feel as easy as it should have for the pace

Thursday- 1 mile warm up and cool down, with 10 x 500m with 1 minute recovery. Legs finally starting to feel a little better.

Friday- rest day. Did a bit of walking in the afternoon to get to a mortage appointment, but only did around 10,000 steps.

Saturday- I decided to have a crack at Stonehaven parkrun in a bid to get a bit of a confidence boost. I haven’t run hard there very often so I thought I might be able to get a course PB- all I had to do was run the same pace as Livingston, for half the distance. Also thought I might be in with a shot of first lady if it was quiet. In the end I only managed 5th lady (though first in my age category) but was delighted to smash 26 seconds off my course PB (and around a minute off the last time I ran hard there with Stu pacing me) in 27:00 (it’s a tough course).

It was dubby and windy, so that was a nice confidence boost. Not so much when I realised it was only a minute a mile quicker than supposed MP, but at least Manchester won’t have that bloody hill.

Sunday- kinda hoped my legs would magically feel great again, but of course they didn’t. 8 miles at 10:27 and my lower back was quite achey, and has been bothering me a bit since.

Monday- easy 4 on the plan, but I’m taking an extra rest day. Legs feel ok but back is a bit tight and sore, it’s really time now for taking it easy so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I swing between thinking maybe I can do this, and thinking there’s no hope. The trouble is, there’s not a lot of space between my goal (4:15) and my PB (4:23), so if I miss the target, it may not even be a PB. I know not every race can be a PB, but if I don’t even manage a PB after training so hard and making so many sacrifices (resisting all the delicious goodies at various Easter meals yesterday was tortuous!) I know it will be really hard to deal with.

Either way, in less than a week I will be drinking prosecco. I can almost taste the delicious bubbles already…

THE FINAL WEEK

And that’s it, as of this morning my training is complete, bar a short 2 mile/20 minute leg loosener after the flight on Saturday.

Tuesday- 6 miles easy with 6 x 30s strides. Ran sligthly harder than easy at 10:01 but the strides felt pretty good. Back was still a bit tight, and my neck and shoulders were super tight, could hardly turn my head

Wednesday- plan called for 3 miles as I feel. This was one more run than I would normally do in a taper, so I did it run/walk, starting off with 1 min run, 1 min walk, then moving up to 2 min run, 1 min walk (apart from up the biggest hill where I reverted to 1:1!). overall pace was just over 11 minute miles and felt great for taking it nice and easy

Thursday- 4 miles easy with 6 x 30s strides. First mile sucked as I was up early to do this before work, but the strides felt decent and pace came out at 9:56 overall

Today is also the last day of Fat Club at work, and I weighed in at 133.4. That’s a total weight loss of nearly 16 pounds and I’ve had a few comments about how slim I’m looking, which is nice. I have been carbing up this week with a bacon and hash brown roll almost every day though

I forgot to add in my last blog, that March came in at 213 miles, my second highest ever monthly mileage. Looking at the Fetch training analysis, I have done more miles than before my last PB at the marathon. It’s not just about the quantity obviously but there are some quality miles in there too.

Last night I had an indian head massage and oh my goodness what a difference. I can now turn my head and my shoulders are so much looser. It was so amazing I never wanted it to end- wish I could afford that more often! I’ve got a short sports massage this afternoon, I will ask him to focus just on my hamstring which is still a bit tight. It’s not sore and doesn’t paritcularly bother me, but I’m most aware of it going upstairs and going uphill. I have been working it all week with the spiky ball and it’s definitely better.

Rest day tomorrow (and day off work thank goodness, I need the long lie!) then flying to Manchester Saturday lunchtime.

See you on the other side I guess….

 

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