Fraserburgh Half Marathon 2017

As previous blog readers will know, the Fraserburgh half marathon is a firm favourite in my racing calendar (not least because of the amazing spread they put on afterwards). I have run it every year since 2012, when it was my second half marathon and I was delighted to run a huge PB. Last year I just missed a PB in some pretty horrific conditions, and though I am nowhere near that shape just now, I didn’t hesitate to sign up when entries opened. I was glad that I had when it sold out fairly quickly, and it promised to be another great day out, with loads of familiar names on the entry list.

Since the Dramathon, I haven’t actually cut back much on my training, running an average of 35 miles a week. However it’s been amazing the difference not racing for a few weeks has made to how I feel. I guess I’ve really underestimated just how much a marathon, even one run at an easy pace, takes out of me. In the last couple of weeks, I have finally started to enjoy running again and feel a bit stronger with some speed coming back. A 25:40 parkrun in Paris (after a couple of nights of fairly heavy drinking!) followed by a mid-week speed session gave me a huge confidence boost, enough to ask my friend Lauren to pace me to a low 25:xx at parkrun. I was absolutely delighted to run a slight negative split and come in at 24:45, my fastest parkrun since February. The following week I also managed a tempo run at lunchtime which in fact ended up being my fastest 10k of the year.

Having managed to hold 8:40 pace for 10k, I started to think that a 2-hour half marathon (9:09 pace) should be achievable. Fraserburgh is a reasonably quick course with a few long drags and a couple of potentially tough off-road sections, and the wind can be a factor, but I thought it was certainly worth a shot. A couple of friends, Michelle and Jim, were also aiming for 2 hours so I hoped to try to keep up with them.

The route has changed once since 2012. The first few times I ran it, you did a loop of the houses first, then out into the countryside and back down the main road into Fraserburgh before finishing in the field. The loop around the houses was then moved to the end, which was always a horrible finish as you have to pass the finish with over a mile to go, up an uphill drag, then back towards to the finish. Fraserburgh has recently been lucky enough to have a brand new outdoor track built, and this year the route was to start and finish with a lap of the track. The good news was this meant no loop of the houses at the end!

 

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Stunning track- thanks to Broch Photo House FB page

 

The weather forecast was looking pretty decent, and we headed up the road on a cold but clear day. We nabbed a parking spot and registered easily, catching up with lots of familiar faces. As one of the last races of the year (as well as the fact it’s a great race of course!) there’s always a great turnout, and it sold out super quickly this year. They did also operate a waiting list and allow swaps which meant there were fewer drop-outs. I don’t underestimate how much extra effort that means for the volunteers and I’m sure those who manage to nab a late place are very grateful.

I was feeling pretty nervous but also looking forward to the race. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was shining, and I was feeling ready. I opted for long sleeves as although there was some warmth in the sun there was also a very cold wind. I suddenly realised I had forgotten my spibelt with my Haribo and was therefore carrying no fuel, but I had eaten a good breakfast so wasn’t too worried, and just hoped it wouldn’t haunt me in the later stages. We huddled in the pavilion until it was time to head to the track, which I must say was looking absolutely stunning. Once there I found my fellow sub-2 hopefuls, and as the gun sounded and we started running, a few more people joined our 2-hour bus (although my friend Shona very quickly pulled ahead and went on to run an amazing PB!).

 

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Me and Michelle- serious athletes! (thanks to Broch Photo House FB page)

 

The track was lovely to run on, and I just tried to settle into my pace and not get too carried away- there was a long way to go yet! The field quickly spread out but it was great to see a stream of Metros leading the way out of the track and onto the road. It was a short steep slope up out of the track, but I thought that would be good to try to lead into a fast finish at the other end!

 

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Thanks to Broch Photo House FB page

 

We headed along the road out of town, and as we crossed the roundabout I heard a marshal say, “looking forward to the write up”, but wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or not! I was feeling pretty strong, and just tried to keep a steady pace up that first uphill drag. The first couple of miles ticked by in 9:03 and 9:01, so bang on pace.

 

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Not hurting yet- thanks to Broch Photo House FB page

 

We turned off the road and towards the farm track. I walked briefly through the first water stop so I could have a quick drink. We hit the muddy part which can sometimes be so energy sapping, but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared it might be- though it did occur to me I might not think that so much on the way back! We were still running in a group with Jim and Michelle and a couple of others, and it was nice to have the company. Michelle had to stop to tie her shoelace around three miles, and we slowed our pace a little until she caught us again, but I did then start to pull away a little from her and Jim. I seemed to have managed to dial into a pace that was comfortable and just wanted to keep it going as long as possible- I figured they’d catch me again soon enough!

I think around 5 miles we crossed a road and the first Mackie cheer-point, which was a great boost. There was another water stop here and again I slowed to a brief walk before picking up the pace again. I was still feeling pretty good and passing people (although one big group of runners did go flying past me!) but I knew there was a long way to go yet.

I had forgotten that there was another change to the route to accommodate the track start and finish, an addition of a short out and back. It was a pleasant surprise as I love an out and back especially in a race where I know so many people. I was able to see friends running strongly ahead of me, and cheer on those behind me; two of whom where Michelle and Jim, hot on my heels! It was fairly flat so easy enough to maintain the pace, but at the turnaround point we did turn into a bit of a headwind which I hoped wasn’t to become too much of a feature.

I passed through halfway in around 59 minutes, so I knew that the sub-2 was on but I couldn’t fade too much. The second half of the route does have more downhill I think, and there was no longer the horrible loop around the houses at the end, but I also knew that that the railway line section would be approaching shortly, and I was nervous about it. Last year I pushed too hard to maintain my pace along this section and then had nothing left for the last few miles. It’s tough underfoot there and quite often a headwind. I was keen to ease off a little here in order to try to save something for the more runnable road miles at the end, and this showed with a 9:13 and a 9:20 mile, and a couple of people passing me (though they were the last to do so for the rest of the race).

As I headed up the slope from the railway line and onto the road, I was disappointed to find that my legs still felt tired and heavy and I worried that it was going to be the same as last year. However I did then find that I was able to pick up the pace, and the following mile (mile 10) was an 8:57. It was still on!

I knew there was some lovely downhill coming but unfortunately as I turned towards it, I was hit by a headwind. I knew the 2 hour goal was still on though, so that gave the motivation to keep pushing. I kept my pace up as I pushed down the hills, but then as I hit the muddy section, I had a sudden energy drop, and lamented the forgotten Haribo. I knew I just had to keep pushing until the nice downhill mile into town and fast finish on the track; and just prayed that the headwind wouldn’t be too strong on the downhill. I saw fellow Metro Alex and told him I was dying but he pointed out there was only 4km left and to keep pushing.

 

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Feeling the pain!

 

Thankfully the headwind on the main road wasn’t too bad, and I managed to pick up the pace and pass a couple more people. I was hurting now but the end was so close! As we passed the roundabout, the marshal again said that he was looking forward to the write up, so I knew he did mean me! I only hope I haven’t disappointed.

I was really hurting now. I just needed a 9:30 last mile, but that final section, slightly uphill and into the wind, road seemed to last forever. I finally turned into the track and was able to pick up some speed down the slope.

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Let’s do this!

 

Passing the finish was tough but at least with a lap of the track left I knew exactly how far there was to go, and that I could get under 2 hours. The Mackies were screaming at me all the way round, knowing how close I was. Eventually I crossed the line, dry heaving, for an official time of 1:59:36 and a gun time of 1:59:59!

 

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Cracking bling!

 

I grabbed some water and my awesome medal, before heading back to the pavilion to catch up with Stu, seeing Jim and Michelle finishing shortly behind me, both in awesome times. We grabbed some food from the amazing spread before heading back down the road for bubbles, steak and cheesecake- that’s why I do this! I was absolutely delighted to take nearly 12 minutes off my season’s best, and duck back under 2 hours for a half. Onwards and upwards!

There’s a reason I’ve done this race six times now. It’s so well organised, a total bargain, and the new route is brilliant- the addition of the track, which is totally lovely to run on, is great, and headwind notwithstanding, it’s a reasonable course for a quick time. The spread at the end is legendary for good reason. The team behind the race should be rightly proud of one of the key events in the Scottish racing diary!

 

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The Dramathon- when a Marathon isn’t a Marathon

Last year was a busy and successful running year. I completed 7 marathons and 1 ultra marathon, taking me to a total of 8 for the year, as well as getting PBs in every distance apart from the half marathon, which I just missed out on. This year looked to be an equally busy year, with plans for 7 marathons and 2 ultras. This pleased me as the total number of marathons was the same, and the total including ultras was one more. As has been well documented in this blog, the running has been of similar quantity but not quality; I have run some of my slowest times this year and it’s been a real struggle. It’s clear that if I want to get any speed back, I need to cut back on the marathons.

I decided to continue with this year as planned, then take some time off at the end of the year, before really focusing on my training again at the beginning on 2018, and trying to get some speed back. Then one of my planned marathons, in Paris in June, was cancelled. As ridiculous as I am aware it is, it irked me a little that I would “only” be completing 6 marathons this year, compared to 7 last year. I had heard about a new event running this year, the “Dramathon” comprising on a 10k, half marathon and a marathon, but had decided against entering, mainly due to potentially tricky logistics (it being a point to point race). However as it continued to niggle at me that I was one marathon down, I decided to have another look, only to find that the race was in fact sold out. I was disappointed, which made me realise that I had really wanted to do it, so I duly joined the waiting list. And within an hour or so I had an email offering me a place! I’m aware I’ve laboured this point slightly, but my reasons for doing this race come into play later on, so bear with me!

As the weekend drew closer, I was mostly looking forward to the race, especially as so many people I knew were running it. I was also quite looking forward to having it over with and having a couple of months break to try to let my poor knackered body recover. The weather had originally been looking pretty miserable, but the forecast brightened as Saturday drew closer, with rain forecast only in the early hours of the morning. There had been word earlier of mandatory kit (a foil blanket and a waterproof jacket) being required if the forecast was bad and this was to be confirmed the day before the race, but as there was no further word I assumed it wasn’t required. I carry a foil blanket with me anyway but never normally carry a waterproof jacket, I find I just cook in them!

I set off from Aberdeen at the early but not too horrendous time of 6:30, and had a smooth drive up. While driving I realised that I have run a marathon or an ultra every month since March, with two in September. No wonder I’m tired! I was even more pleased that this was to be the last one of the year. I arrived in good time at the registration point, which was also the finish (and actually just in time, as shortly afterwards the car park got a bit manic as the buses which were to take us to the start arrived). I registered, collecting my t-shirt and whisky glass (which I paid an extra £5 for but was delighted with as it was a lovely memento) and received my “dibber” which was put on for me, painfully catching the skin and hairs on my wrist! It felt rather insecure and annoying, but actually once I started running I was thankfully not aware of it.

There were only 4 portaloos so I quickly joined a queue before catching up with half of Aberdeen’s running scene. The race instructions had stated there would be “limited portaloos” at the start so I was a bit nervous about the bus journey and needing afterwards, but actually there were as many portaloos (4!) at the start as there was at registration. I’ve never yet been to a race with enough loos, but a few more would definitely have been a good idea!

It was reasonably mild and I decided to go for just a vest, but with my long-sleeved running top in my running pack. I grabbed the last of my food (a Nutella b-ready bar, mmm) and jumped on a bus, where the journey passed pleasantly as I chatted to the guy beside me. We were at Glenfarcas distillery by 9:06am (for a 10:00am) race start and there was a cold wind blowing, so we hoped we would be allowed inside. Luckily I was in one of the earlier buses so was able to join the loo queue when it was long but not as long as it soon was. I was grateful I had my base layer with me at that point to put on over my vest. Again time passed pleasantly though as I chatted to a runner who recognised me from parkrun and had also done Stirling earlier in the year. We were then allowed inside which was a relief, and I caught up with some more familiar faces, and soon enough it was time to head outside for the briefing. There was a piper which always adds to the atmosphere, but it would have been helpful if the piping had stopped during the briefing.

I had hoped to run at least the first half with my friend Pamela. She was hoping for under 5 hours and though I thought I would be nearer five and a half I knew it would be great to have the company so I lined up beside her.

The start was straightaway uphill on road, nothing like easing us into it! It only lasted a kilometre or so though and then we were off road onto dirt track. I ran alongside Pamela for a bit but she quite quickly pulled away from me- I am just not good at trails. But it was a beautiful day, the scenes were lovely, and I was happy just to plod along, trying not to get in anybody’s way. Soon we came to the first of three road crossings, where we had to dib in and out so that we could cross the road with no time pressure. I understood the logic for safe road crossings, but I found it a little strange, and didn’t stop my watch for the crossings.

Soon after that we ran down into the grounds of a stunning castle, and I was delighted to see my friend Kate marshalling (after I nearly knocked over her son who I think was trying to high five me but I was distracted by working out where to go- oops, sorry Olly!), pausing for a hug and selfie.

It was then back up out of the castle grounds and across the second road crossing- which was up some stairs, how cruel! The dibbing point was before the stairs at least so I took my time up them. Once across the road we were directed right up a steep grassy hill and I looked back over my shoulder at some lovely views across a golf course. The first relay point appeared soon after this, and I was surprised it was so early on (I think we were only at 4.5 miles or so). I grabbed a cup of water (after having to ask fellow runners who were blocking the table to move out of the way) and was on my way, before crossing back over the road for the third and final time.

Not long after this, we were directed up a “small hill” which was definitely a bit bigger than small! This took us up and into the grounds of a distillery that I recognised as the start of the Speyside Way Ultra. I remarked as much to the couple running alongside me and they just looked at me like I was nuts; they were not very interested in my attempts to engage conversation so I gave up after that! As we turned onto the Speyside way I was telling myself, at least I only have 20 miles left, last time I was here I had 36 left. It was at this point I also had a sudden mild panic as I remembered we were supposed to be collecting stamps at the distilleries so we would receive the miniatures at the end; had I missed something? It turned out not, I guess they decided against the stamps although they didn’t tell us so.

I plodded along the way, chatting here and there to fellow runners. A number of us ran over the bouncy bridge at once and we all cried out as we suddenly stepped in unison and were thrown up in the air! It took a few hundred metres after the bridge for my legs to feel normal again. I was passing a few runners along here including one poor girl running barefoot and carrying her shoes due to nasty blisters; thankfully she was in the relay and nearly finished!

 As we were approaching what I thought was halfway I was starting to really look forward to it as I was hoping to use a toilet. Eventually at about 14 miles a portaloo appeared, fortunately with no queue. I wondered if the route was going to measure long; after all, they had said in their briefing that it was a trail race and distances were approximate. I started to mentally prepare myself that it might be 27 miles long, if the second half was accurate. It turns out in fact I had totally missed the actual “halfway” point as it was a couple of miles before that.

As I re-joined the running route, we turned right onto a muddy path. Here for the first time, I regretted my shoe choice. Although trail shoes were recommended, I figured I would be fine in the shoes that had got me through the Speyside Way Ultra. A couple more months of rain had made the going underfoot a bit more tricky however and there were a few points along that section I just had to walk, stepping aside to let runners past me, as I was slipping and sliding everywhere in the mud. Thankfully it didn’t last too long and I was soon running again, leaving behind everybody who had passed me as they stopped for longer at an aid station- I grabbed a pretzel and cup of water and kept moving.

Around here I got chatting to a lovely Austrian couple and it was nice to have some chat for a while. So far there had always been a few people around me, but there hadn’t been much conversation. I was also just starting to struggle a little. I texted Stu at 14 miles saying “12 miles or so left. Ready to be done. Tough today” I then proceeded to have a bit of a moan about how crap and slow I was, and he talked sense into me as he does, and I kept plodding on.

It was nice to recognise sections of the Speyside Way and again I tried to use that for a mental boost- at least I only have 10 miles left, not more than 20! It was lovely running through Aberlour alongside the river, the weather really was perfect which makes such a difference.IMG_2943

At around 20 miles I passed through an aid station which had also been one of the main check-points of the Speyside Way. Instead of turning left and up towards Ben Aigan, we headed straight on, and finally started to feel a bit better. I had been run/walking, and probably walking a bit more than running, but now I did it with a bit more strategy; walk a minute to ninety seconds, then run the rest of the mile. And repeat. This section was a long gradual uphill that I know a lot of people didn’t enjoy, but actually I definitely perked up! I also passed a couple more people here, and finally left behind a guy I had been playing leapfrog with for many miles. I remarked to him “it’s so beautiful, but I’m a bit sick of beautiful scenery and just want to be finished”. He laughed which I considered a result as I had tried to chat to him a few times before and had nothing back- although I did see him at the finish talking to friends in a language that wasn’t English, so maybe it wasn’t personal after all!

Finally 23 miles was there was just over a parkrun to go! We turned into another distillery and down a wee path, and I actually managed to pick up some pace and see 10:xx for the first time in a long time. I ran past a guy who said “600m to go!” “Eh? It can’t be, I should still have… two and a half miles left!” I was puzzled but he wasn’t in high vis so I thought maybe he was a well-meaning spectator who was confused. Shortly after that though, I passed a marshal directing me up a hill and saying “only 300m left!” I replied “it shouldn’t be… is it short… I’ve only run 24 miles?” She replied, “maybe short but it’s a tough 300m!” Right enough it was, up a mean little slope, but I was so distracted that I barely noticed it. I saw a sign for Glenfiddich and realised we were indeed at the finish line that I had seen that morning. I crossed the line to a fantastic cheer of support, and dibbed my dibber for the final time, luckily managing to wipe the confusion from my face momentarily to smile at the finish.

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Thanks to Andy Upton

 

As they cut my dibber from my wrist, I said “is it short? I’ve only done 24 miles. Did I go wrong?” My big concern was that I had somehow missed some of the route out. She replied that a few people had said that. I then received a lovely handshake and my medal from a very friendly gentleman, along with a clinking goody bag- looked like I was getting my miniatures at least!

As soon as I was passed the finish I went in search of friends to clarify if the route was short or I had gone wrong. I found my friend David who confirmed it was short. I was absolutely gutted. I vaguely contemplated running the extra, but I was also pretty wiped out, and would have had to go back to my car first to drop my medal and goody bag, so I decided against it. Instead I just headed back to my car feeling a bit flat, and changed out of my dirty gear. It was definitely a trail race!IMG_2945

Having changed I caught up with a few more people, before jumping in the car and heading back down the road so I could get a shower and some well-earned bubbles- from a whisky glass no less. Because I could!

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the day; the organisation was on the whole excellent, the scenery beautiful, and it was great to see so many familiar faces. The haul at the end was brilliant- if only I liked whisky. Luckily my wee brother is coming to visit next week and he’s definitely a whisky fan, so I will enjoy them vicariously through him. I’m sure I will return to this race again. It’s just unfortunate that I did have specific reasons for doing this race, and those involved running a marathon. In terms of the 100-marathon club, because I entered the race in good faith, I think I would still be allowed to count it, but I just can’t bring myself to count it. A little bit short is one thing, but 2 miles is a huge amount- nearly 10% of the distance! The race organisers haven’t mentioned the discrepancy; it looks like we missed out a loop in Ballindalloch early on but whether this was deliberate (perhaps to do course conditions or access issues) or a mistake (we were definitely marshalled that way) is unknown. While it doesn’t change the fact that this was an excellent event, a response on this would have been nice. Although they did state that this was a trail event and distances are approximate, that usually means longer than the advertised distance!

And so, I will be ending the year on one less marathon than I thought I would. I have looked into alternatives but there’s just no marathons that I can get to before the end of the year (if only I lived in the South of England I would have many to choose from!). And anyway, I am definitely ready for a rest. I’m going to take it easy for the next month or two, then get back into proper training and following a plan for the first time in a couple of years, with the aim of targeting a marathon PB in Manchester in April. This is the first year since my first marathon in 2012 that I haven’t run a marathon PB. This year ended up being quantity over quality and although some people may not share the view, I consider that an achievement in itself. But now it’s time to rest up then start training properly again, instead of being constantly exhausted and every slow step being an effort. Operation fitter, faster and stronger- I’m ready for you!

 

 

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Loch Ness Marathon- I’m with Maz

I’ve run the Loch Ness Marathon twice before. The first time was my third marathon and my first attempt at getting under 4:30. I sneaked a PB of 4:38 but did not have a good race. A couple of years later I returned and had a much better race there, finally getting under 4:30 (and then some, running 4:25:21). I really enjoyed that second time; not just the race but the whole weekend, which tends to attract a whole crowd of my friends.

Last year we were on honeymoon and running the Disneyland Paris half on Loch Ness weekend. While that was totally amazing, I was also a bit jealous of everybody in Inverness so I entered the marathon pretty much as soon as entries opened (although I was married by that point I clearly wasn’t used to my new name yet as I entered under my maiden name!). I booked the same hotel that I had stayed at in 2015 as it was in a perfect location for the race.

Much later, we decided to book an all-inclusive holiday in Spain for our main holiday of the year, to start just after our anniversary. This meant that we would be returning from 10 days of laziness and all-inclusive eating and drinking on the Friday before the marathon… at least I would be well rested and fuelled! The holiday was absolutely amazing and we were utterly lazy. It was too hot to do much running, but I did manage a few runs and one long walk.

Then, two days before the end of the holiday, we went on an organised bike ride in some stunning hills near Benidorm. Halfway through the first of three rides for the day, I took my hand off the handlebars of the bike and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. The immediately obvious injury was the bruised and bleeding knee, which was quickly patched up, and I finished the rest of the ride. However my left arm, particularly the elbow and wrist, quickly stiffened up and became extremely painful, to the point where I really thought I might have broken something. Long story short- European health cards are amazing, and an X-ray revealed no broken bones. But I was in a lot of pain and really not sure what the implications would be for the marathon.

We came home on the Friday, and by the Saturday I felt ready to attempt a parkrun, having not run since the fall on the Wednesday. I nervously started running and as long as I didn’t move my arm, it felt ok. While the arm was generally not too sore, I still couldn’t straighten or bend it fully, and certain movements sent excruciating spasms of pain through the arm. In some ways, parkrun made my decision even harder. It would have been easier if it had been awful and I knew there was no way I could run a marathon; instead it was fine- but 26 miles is very different from 3 miles.

We were going to head up to Inverness either way; Stu was keen to support the races on his bike, the hotel was non-refundable, and I knew that I could have fun supporting and cheering the runners on if it came to it. I packed both running options and warm supporting clothes. Since Stu had driven up from Edinburgh the previous day I was supposed to be doing the driving, but my wrist was too painful and I couldn’t change gears or steer, so the driving fell to Stu again. We set off mid-afternoon and arrived around 5pm, checking into the hotel before heading to the expo. Stu was absolutely delighted to be attending the expo as a visitor rather than working at it!

I had decided to pick up my number so I could make my final decision on the Sunday morning. I did also think about entering the 5k, but as there are limited entries on the day I decided to leave that until the Sunday. We bumped into Maz, Erin and Laurie, and I showed off my now spectacular leg bruises to all and sundry; it was actually quite good to have something tangible to show people as to why I was considering not running (although it was the arm that was the problem rather than the legs!)

I decided against getting my picture taken with my number and the giant Nessie as is the tradition, as I still really didn’t know at this point what I was going to do. I had put a post on Facebook posing the question of DNS, DNF or Tough it Out, and got very mixed responses. At the end of the day though it was going to be a decision that only I could make. I knew that a DNF would hurt more than a DNS, compounded by the fact that Loch Ness by its nature is a difficult course on which to DNF (although I did bump into a friend who said that when her friend had to DNF she was looked after very well and returned to the finish in reasonable time).

We headed out for dinner and I ended up having a couple of glasses of wine, then we went and met Stu’s mum and I had another. By the time the wine had gone down, I was definitely leaning towards at least giving it a go; helped by the fact that Stu’s mum, who is a nurse, said that I was unlikely to do any further damage by running (always the big concern). We bumped into the Jog Scotland lot on our way home, and I told Maz that I would probably be seeing her in the morning, but that if she didn’t hear from me it was because I had chosen a long lie over the run (one of the pros for a DNS being avoiding the 6am alarm call).

6am arrived and I was awake and relatively pain free; I hadn’t had one of the pain spasms since early afternoon the day before, and it had much less painful than previously. If I was going to do the 5k I was going to have to be up in about an hour anyway, so it wasn’t like I was going to get much of a long lie anyway. Probably to nobody’s surprise, I got up and started getting ready to run a marathon. Tying my hair up was really painful but I felt otherwise ok, and soon enough we were walking to the start, as I texted Maz “I appear to be walking to the start dressed in running gear”. I arrived in good time, used insider knowledge to use a loo with a short queue, and soon enough was sitting on a bus, at which point I also texted my dad to confess- “I can’t not give it a go”. He was also not surprised… it seems I’m quite predictable.

Unfortunately tying my hair up had caused the arm to really hurt, and as I was sitting on the bus I started to doubt if I had made the right decision. I vaguely thought about jumping off the bus. If it was this sore just sitting on a bus, how was I going to run for 5/6 hours? But I was there, and I was still on the bus as it pulled out of the car park and headed to the start. Holding my arm still I dozed off, and by the time I came round 45 minutes or so later, I was extremely relieved to find the pain greatly reduced. I was less relieved to see the bleak looking weather outside and hear the wind howling against the bus. One of the problems of being driven up to the top of a hill in the middle of the Scottish countryside is that you are of course very exposed to the elements. We arrived at around 8:40 for a 10am race start and I was dreading standing out in the wind and the rain, but luckily our bus driver let us stay on the warm bus- what a life saver. Eventually though my bladder won over my need to be warm and I left the comfort of the bus, fortunately into weather not quite as bad as I expected.

I soon found the (very long) loo queue, and a Maz, and a Sheri! It was great to see them and the queue did move; we reached the front around 9:45, then it was time to head to the start. We bumped into so many people I knew and the atmosphere was buzzing- I knew then I had made the right decision, I would have been gutted to miss this. I had mentioned to Maz previously the possibility of running with her, but we hadn’t agreed anything for sure; now we agreed to start together and see how it went. I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep up with her but was keen for the company.

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Nervous at the start…

 

We set off and immediately as we ran down the steep hill my calf was a bit tight and sore; my arm was alright though I was holding it a bit awkwardly. Thankfully the leg loosened off and wasn’t any more sore than you would expect it to be with all the bruising! Maz carefully ran on my right to stay away from the bad arm, and the first few miles ticked by pleasantly. As soon as we dropped down the wind died and I straight away regretted my decision to keep my long-sleeved top on and transfer my number from my vest to the top. Never mind- it would be an excuse for a walk break later! Quite soon after the start we saw an altercation to our left. At first we thought it was a domestic (think Maz was quite excited!) but then we realised it was a landowner going mad at some guys using her trees as a pee stop. She actually hit the guy! That gave us something to talk about for a few minutes at any rate. We were also passed by a running squirrel, which was a bit nightmare-esque.

The day before, Stu had suggested that if I did end up having to visit A&E or my doctor about my arm I could say that I fell during the marathon. I said that I wouldn’t need to do that, but I had no intentions of mentioning the running of the marathon… I was busted after about two miles as my GP ran past and chatted briefly to us!

The miles were ticking by nicely, quicker than the average pace we needed but that was to be expected given the downhill. It’s a fine line at Loch Ness between taking advantage of the downs and not mashing your legs too much. We chatted to a few runners here and there, including complimenting one woman on her top which read “I run on gin and inappropriate thoughts”- don’t we all!

The first half passed by fairly quickly. At some point we picked up Lyndsay, who was taking it easy after her phenomenal run at Glenmore 24. It was nice to have somebody else to chat to, although she probably did pull her pace on a bit. We also passed a group of soldiers who were walk/running, and we all rather enjoyed that, although they were very young! We were also getting rather annoyed by a couple of runners around us with appalling etiquette (they appeared just after I had remarked to Maz that the overall etiquette was very good!).  They were run/walking but with no apparent logic; they would sprint past us, overtaking unnecessarily close, then stop dead right in front of us. We were very relieved to leave them behind!

The flat stretch along the loch, from miles 10 to about 16, looks on paper to be the easy bit of the route. It sucked! It just dragged on and on, nothing to really break it up, no crowds, long gaps between water stops. Stu texted me at around 14 miles to say he was at Dores at 16 miles, and I was so looking forward to seeing him! In fact I had thought I had seen him a couple of miles earlier when I looked over my shoulder and saw a cyclist in a red top- that could have been very awkward as I nearly said “hey sexy!”. He popped up on his bike as we hit around 15 miles, and cycled alongside us. I was struggling at this point, while Maz was doing ace and powering on. I needed some walk breaks but never let her get too far ahead and was able to run to catch her. Luckily Stu was there for the low patch and it helped to have him to chat to. The weather at this point turned a bit nasty with the wind and the rain picking up but thankfully it didn’t last too long.

We lost Lyndsay around here, but Maz was still doing amazingly and powering on. We knew the tough hill was coming but we were bang on where we wanted to be time-wise. Luckily I had started to perk up a bit too and our energy levels were more well matched again. The support coming through Dores was ace. Maz had her name on her t-shirt and was getting lots of cheering, which I gratefully accepted as my own. We joked that I needed and “I’m with Maz” shirt.

Soon enough the big hill began in earnest. Because half the road was open there were traffic cones at regular intervals and they were brilliant; run a cone, walk a cone. Oh ok, run an extra cone. Our brains were wonderfully in tune with each other and we pushed each other on using the cones. Stu was passing us around here too, and took an excellent photo which sums up Maz’s thoughts on the hill perfectly.

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Fuck you Dores!

 

 Around here we passed a girl who was limping along supported by a guy. She was crying and really didn’t look very well. We offered to get Stu to cycle on and get her help, as well as water and haribo, but she said she didn’t need anything. When we reached the next water point we were going to tell the first aiders about her, but there was already a police car there letting them know. We were surprised and delighted when she flew past us a few miles later looking strong and happy!

Finally, after a few false peaks, we reached the top of the hill. The PB was definitely on, and even 5:30 was looking possible if we pushed on a bit. There were a few pockets of supporters here, and I went out of my way to high five a couple of kids who were standing at the road side cheering enthusiastically, and must have been for hours! We were both tired now, and Maz’s legs were threatening to cramp up, but we were moving forward at a good pace. We had also passed quite a lot of people on the hill, and in comparison to the field around us were moving strongly.

We pushed on a little down the next hill. The road here was still coned off as one side was open to the traffic coming towards us, and we were surprised to have a car coming up behind us and having to pull in beside the runners when cars came in the opposite direction. It was rather satisfying when they reached the end of that road section and got to a marshal, who evidently told them off for driving down a closed road and send them back all the way that they had come!

With around 4 miles to go the marathon route joins the 10k route and I always find that a boost, as you know exactly how far is left in kilometres. We were still going well and I was trying to push Maz on a bit, aware that 5:30 was still within our grasp. It was tough though- there are a few mean uphills in those last few miles that I had forgotten about! I was telling her “just a short long run”, then “just an evening Jog Scotland run”. We passed the 5k marker which meant less than a parkrun to go! Shortly after that we crossed a large roundabout, where Maz suddenly veered off to the left. I wondered what was happening until I realised that she had shot off for a kiss on the cheek from a tall and rather attractive policeman. You honestly can’t take her anywhere!

We were still using cones to motivate ourselves, knowing that soon we would reach the riverside and the crowds. We mustered our strength so that we could run strong past our friends, and then we turned the corner and ahead was a tunnel of orange and noise. It was amazing and Maz started to cry, but I told her to save her tears to the end! That gave us such a boost and took us into the last mile. We walked up and over the bridge (it feels so steep at that point) and then started to run back towards the finish; there was a bit of a headwind but not too bad.

 

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Thanks Tony Jones for the picture

 

We passed a group of three ladies who were walking and one of them said “Are you Naomi?” it turns out she’s the girlfriend of a friend of mine from work. I stopped to chat with them briefly then caught up Maz, who was getting more cheers from people she knew as she headed towards her PB. She was hurting now but I knew that glory wasn’t far away so she wasn’t getting much sympathy. We took a few walking paces then pushed on to the end. There were more Jog Scotties, and right near the finish the Metro lot were there, screaming and cheering, and it was such an awesome feeling as we crossed the line, in a brand spanking new PB for Maz and just a few seconds outside 5:30 (for the love of a kiss from a policeman!).

We hugged and grabbed our medals and goody bags, before heading out of the finish area to meet friends. I was so proud of Maz, and so relieved that I had made the right decision to run. We were two very happy ladies.

 

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Finally getting my Nessie picture!

 

 

 

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A 1, a 13.1 and a 26.2- Contains prosecco and antibiotics

At the end of my last blog, I had come down with a stinking cold after the Speyside Way Ultra. By the Monday I had all but lost my voice and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Luckily I had a reasonably quiet week at work, and I stumbled through the week feeling pretty horrendous. Stu’s birthday was on the Tuesday and he was keen to try out his new bike, so I went out with him for eleven miles, but they were much harder than they should have been, although it did feel good just to get my legs moving. I managed a slow four miles on the Wednesday with Stu and though my legs didn’t feel too bad, it was really hard work and my heart rate was through the roof- I think after the run my Garmin said something like a 52 hour recovery.

I didn’t attempt anything else for the rest of the week because I knew I had a busy weekend coming up, with the Union Street Mile and the inaugural Great Aberdeen Run. I first took part in the Union Street Mile last year, after not applying in previous years due to believing I needed a 1500m time to apply, and absolutely loved it, smashing my mile PB with 6:45. Although I knew I wasn’t in the shape to come close to that time, I was keen to take part again. And this time wouldn’t be so stressful as I didn’t have a wedding to rush off to straight after!

With a bit of help from dad giving me a lift up from the beach, I was able to take part in the beach parkrun as my warmup (I’ve missed a few lately for various reasons so was keen to run, and I would have been after a 20/30 minute warmup anyway). My mum was also taking part in her first parkrun after breaking her collar bone. I wanted to run with her but was a little nervous about the timing so pushed on a bit, but she finished in a great time and it’s good to have her back running again! Dad then drove me up to Union Street where I registered and did some strides while waiting for the start.

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Team Metro- thanks to Tony McGarva

 

I was still feeling pretty rough, but parkrun hadn’t been as painful as the run earlier in the week, and at least I knew the pain would be over relatively quickly- hopefully in less than 8 minutes! I lined up at the start with what seemed like a much bigger crowd than last year, which was great to see. As the race started, said crowd all shot off and I was immediately in last place. My friend Lesley, who also completed Speyside, and another lady were ahead so I just concentrated on not letting them get too far ahead. Plan was steady but hard until the turn, nail it down the hill, then hang on for dear life as the road kicked back uphill at the end. The beauty of being last is that I got a few extra sympathetic shouts from the crowd!

I passed halfway in around 3:30, so hoped that a sub-7 minute mile was on. Just after halfway I passed the other lady, and was reeling in Lesley. I was no longer last but there wasn’t much in it, and I still had the sweeper cyclist for company. My lungs were burning and everything was hurting, but I was desperate not to finish last, so I gave it my all. My watch buzzed for a mile just before I threw myself across the line, just behind Lesley and a few seconds behind the other lady- phew! I had been delighted to see 6:5x on my watch but unfortunately by the time I crossed the line it had ticked over 7 minutes. Still, I was absolutely delighted with 7:02 given the circumstances. I proceeded to cough up a lung for the next half or so which was both painful and unpleasant. I don’t often look that red in finish photos, but I’m pretty beetroot in that one!IMG_2625

I took a leisurely walk back home enjoying the parade as I went, then spent the rest of the day not doing a whole lot. After all, there was more racing fun to come the next day! I was delighted when Great Run announced that they would be coming to Aberdeen. Great Run events are not cheap, but unfortunately it has taken somebody with their money and power to get a race like this going in Aberdeen, and I was very hopeful that it would be a success. When entries opened I entered straightaway, not really thinking about where it would place in my racing calendar. As the day approached, I knew that I would not be in a position to aim for a time, so I offered to run with my friend  Toni, who has struggled with injuries lately and hasn’t been able to do much training. I’m not sure she realised quite what she was letting herself in for when she agreed to put up with 13.1 miles of my terrible chat!

I woke feeling alright on the Sunday morning, though still sounding like I had a 50 a day habit. Unfortunately Stu, who was running the 10k, had also come down with a bit of a cold so he was not looking forward to the day. In the end he didn’t have the race that he wanted, but he still did brilliantly, and I wish he wouldn’t beat himself up so much! His race started earlier so he left the house and I took my time getting ready and having some breakfast. It was so bizarre being able to just walk to the start of a big city race without having to stress about all the logistics! It was also quite cool being able to walk down the middle of main roads in Aberdeen as they were shut.

I saw Stu coming into the last 500m or so of the race, and decided that I would run with/after him to the finish. Approximately 20 seconds later I remembered that Stu is quite a lot faster than me, and nearly died. I walked the rest of the way to the finish! There I caught up with a load of friends; it was just fantastic to see the city celebrating running like this, and to have so many people I knew there. I was buzzing! I caught up with Toni, then cheered in a few more 10k runners, before having one last loo stop, then heading into our start pen. Toni was nervous but excited and I was just loving the atmosphere. We managed to bump into Jane, Sheri and Tony as well as my friend Michael in our start pen, and the time before the start passed quickly.

And then, we were off! Far too fast really, as we fed off the atmosphere along Union Street and the downhill near the start. I reigned Toni in a little bit, and we settled into a decent pace. She had a vague goal of 2:20, but really just wanted to get round. Quite quickly the crowds had dispersed, and there was that sound that I always find quite eerie in races where suddenly it’s just runners’ breathing and footsteps. Time passed pleasantly as we chatted, and saw a few more familiar faces running around us.

We turned up onto the prom, and although the pace was fine for me, I was glad I wasn’t trying to go any quicker- everything just felt tired and heavy. Around 3 miles we passed the first water stop, and just as I was asking Toni if she wanted a walk break for the water stop, Stu appeared alongside us on his bike- BUSTED! So we didn’t stop! It was great having him pop up and support, and I attempted one of those running and jumping photos I see people do so often- and failed spectacularly. Or maybe Stu failed as a photographer… Either way the resultant photo will not be shared, especially after a friend told me how chunky I look in it! It was also around this time, when we were less than 4 miles in, that we saw the leaders come flying back in the opposite direction- absolutely phenomenal. It was great to see the stream of Metro vests coming towards us and cheer them all on; it seemed like I knew every second runner!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after this that Toni’s injuries started to flare up, and by five miles or so it had become a case of grinding it out. The out and backs were great as we got to cheer on fellow runners, and I kept trying to motivate Toni as best I could. The cobbled sections through old Aberdeen were really tough, and we started a run/walk strategy, but our pace was still decent and soon enough we were over halfway. We did pass Stu, whose bike chain had broken. He ended up having to walk his bike all the way back, and I had quite a grumpy husband by the end!

It was great seeing Lauren and a few others I knew who were volunteering, every one gave a big boost. We headed back along King Street and then up onto the beach. There was a bit of a head wind here but actually we were very grateful for it as it was very toasty by now. More than an hour after we had seen the leaders flying past 9 miles we were doing so, and we were finally getting there! We headed down the hill along past the golf course, expecting to turn left up the hill by Pittodrie. Unfortunately we had to do an annoying little out and back first, which we weren’t expecting (though to be fair it was clear on the course map, I just hadn’t paid sufficient attention!). That knocked our rhythm a bit but I tried to point out to Toni that it just meant there would be less distance to cover after the hill! The hill was tougher than expected as instead of heading back down the other side as you do in Baker Hughes 10k, you turn right and keep heading up. But after that it was a nice downhill to Mounthooly, and by then it was less than 3 miles to go. There was also an added bonus of the firemen sitting outside the fire station with their hose spraying lovely cold water on the runners (though no disrespect to the firemen of Aberdeen, but they can’t quite live up to the pompier of Paris!!)

After suffering some Stirling flashbacks as we headed down and up a couple of underpasses under Mounthooly, I had the massive boost of seeing Annie. I sprinted up the hill towards her and gave her a damp sweaty snotty hug which I’m sure she was absolutely delighted about. The hill up to the Gallowgate was short but tough on tired legs, and we were grateful to walk through the water stop, then enjoy the run down the other side. The drag up Schoolhill wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, and there was the pleasant surprise of seeing Stu and Carolyn outside the theatre, and soon after that Toni’s friend Caroline was running alongside her. Toni had been in pain for some time by now and was getting quite emotional but she was doing so well and we were so nearly there!

With a couple of miles to go, I said to Toni that we could just about get under 2:30, but we would need to push on a bit. She said “Ok, I want to do that, push me!” (again- she probably regretted that later). As we headed up to Queen’s Cross, we had just about reached 12 miles when she tried to say that she couldn’t do this. To the amusement of the nearby marshal I told her to wise up and shut up, and that we only had a mile left. Sometimes tough love is needed!

As we reached Queen’s Cross we had less than a mile to go, and it was all downhill. I said to Toni that 2:30 was on if we ran the rest of the way, and she nodded in determination. That last bit was fantastic; Toni dug so deep and we ran the whole way, and entering Union Street and the cheering crowds was awesome. In the end we crossed the line hand in hand in just under 2:28, a phenomenal effort!

We caught up with everybody at the finish, but didn’t stick around too long as I could tell Stu was keen to get home. He ended up heading to Evans and getting his bike sorted which cheered him up a little, and then we headed to the pub with Metros where we had a brilliant afternoon and lots of delicious prosecco, before heading home relatively early with fish and chips.

The following day was a bank holiday, so I had booked it off to spend with Stu. Unfortunately the weekend’s exertions had taken it out of me. My cough was horrendous again and I felt really miserable. While Stu headed out on the bike with my dad, I just about made it from my bed to the sofa. I was able to drag myself out in the evening for my birthday treat from Lauren- a showing of Jane Eyre at the theatre. Although long (over 3 hours!) it was an absolutely fantastic show and well worth it.

The next day I dragged myself to work looking and sounding like death. After posting for advice on Fetch about whether it was worth going to see a Doctor, a Fetchie GP advised that I shouldn’t still be so bad with a cold after that amount of time, and it was worth seeing a Doctor. I phoned up and although the first available routine appointment was 12th September, once I spoke to the duty doctor and explained the symptoms she told me to come on down. She diagnosed a chest infection and prescribed antibiotics. She did advise against strenuous exercise, and asked if I had anything coming up. “um… I’m supposed to be doing a marathon on Saturday…” She did say that she wouldn’t advise it, but to see how I felt. Work had told me not to come back, so I gratefully headed home and after doing a bit of work I pretty much slept all afternoon.

The following few days I did finally start to feel better. I wasn’t managing full days at work, but I was a thousand times better than I had been! By Thursday I managed a slow four miles with Stu and didn’t feel any worse for it. Friday brought the first day I really felt properly human in a good couple of weeks, and another slow but comfortable three miles.

So- to the marathon. The Highland Perthshire Marathon is one of these that I don’t quite know what happened. One minute I was looking at an event website, and the next I appeared to have entered another marathon. I really don’t know how it happens… It was a two lap course and I had heard good things about it. I booked a nice room for the Friday and Saturday at a nearby resort and thought that we could make a weekend of it; there was a ceilidh after the marathon and I had so much fun at the ceilidh after the Callanish Stones marathon. Unfortunately, Stu didn’t really seem that keen to join me so it looked like it was going to be a weekend on my own.

Then he got his bike, and I mentioned to him that there was a cycling option as well, either one lap or two. Less than a week after getting his bike, he therefore found himself signed up for what turned out to be a 26.2 mile time trial (see- doesn’t just happen to me!).

All of this meant that despite my illness, I had no intentions to cancel the weekend. Even if I wasn’t able to run, we would still take advantage of the nice hotel and I would support Stu. Of course, this meant that the chances of me not starting the marathon were significantly reduced. And then on the Friday, I realised that the Saturday was five years to the day since my first marathon. At that point, I knew I would start. As it was two laps, I knew I could drop out at halfway if I needed to. Not that I admitted to my parents that was my decision- I asked Stu to text them to let them know once I had started running!

Our hotel was a short walk from registration, and we arrived in good time on a beautiful, crisp clear day- not a cloud in the sky but a lovely fresh breeze which I hoped meant it wouldn’t get too hot. I registered and caught up with a few friends, before sending Stu back to the hotel to chill before his bike ride, which didn’t start for a few hours. I wasn’t feeling too nervous- I felt ok, and I knew that I would just take my time. The cut off was 6:30 so as long as I got round in 6:29, it was all good.

The start was very low key, huddling on a pavement as the road was open until it was time to start! It was a very small field, and I knew that it might be a bit of a lonely run- at least I’m used to that now. We set off and I tried to settle into a comfortable pace. My legs felt pretty heavy but my lungs were ok and it was an absolutely gorgeous morning. I was glad to be there.

Very quickly the field pulled away, and after the first mile or so we were strung out. I didn’t look back at this point but if I had, I would have realised in was in last place. We reached a 14 mile marker quite quickly, and after about 0.8 miles on my Garmin we reached a 1 mile marker. When we reached another 1 mile marker in a different colour 0.2 miles later, I realised the first one must be for the half marathon which started presumably in a slightly different place. Because there were mile markers for the half marathon, the first lap of the marathon and the second lap of the marathon, there were tonnes of mile markers. I thought it might have been demoralising passing the higher mile markers that weren’t for me yet, as it had been in Stirling, but actually it was ok because I knew that the next time (as opposed to another few times!) they would be for me.

After a couple of miles I drew up alongside a guy in a black t-shirt. We got chatting and he was to be my companion until around 8 miles. Having his company made a massive difference and I was hugely grateful for it (I was glad to be able to catch up with him at the ceilidh afterwards to tell him so).

The route was gently undulating at this point, with a couple of short hills that I figured I would notice a lot more the second time round. Just as we were approaching 6 miles, the leader of the half marathon flew past. He was at 10k in the half marathon, in a mind blowing 33 minutes. He finished around 1:11 so didn’t die off any either- so impressive. He had a good few minutes lead over second who in turn had a good lead over third. After that though, a steady stream of runners started to pass us. The vast majority were very supportive so it was great to have them and I tried to say well done to them all in return.

Around 7 miles we came into the grounds of a castle and it was absolutely stunning. It really was a lovely route and I felt very grateful to be able to run in such a beautiful part of the world. After the castle we hit the big hill of the route. I stopped for a walk break here, knowing that I still had a long way to go and would have to climb this hill a second time. My running companion pulled ahead of me here as he kept running, but I still had the company of the half marathon runners passing. A couple asked if I was ok and I was able to brightly say I was fine and just taking my time!

The hill lasted to around 9 miles, and there was a water stop at the top. I had my vest on with some Lucozade, but was still enjoying taking on nice cold water at the aid stations. There was then a nice long downhill, and I was able to start picking up the pace again. I remembered from a blog I had read that it was pretty much downhill to the finish and I hoped that this was correct. I was gaining now on my running companion, just as a half marathon runner went past and said “are you the race sweeper yeah?”

I replied “No I’m IN the race… although I guess I know now that I’m in last place…” I had to work really hard over the next half mile or so to not let that get to me. I reminded myself that it didn’t matter if I was in last place. I was out there, I was doing it, and the majority of the people around me were being supportive.

Soon after that I passed my friend again, and I must admit that helped my mentality a bit- at least I wasn’t in last place anymore. I managed to put the bad thoughts behind me and push on. I was still getting lots of support from passing runners. Around 11.5 miles one said “we must be nearly there now!” and I replied “yeah YOU are!” “Oh- are you doing the marathon? Gosh!”

Fellow metros Peter followed by Claire also passed me, and it was great to see them. Claire passed me around 12 miles telling me she was dead and I told her to shut up as she only had a mile left! As we approached 13 miles I was starting to gain on a guy in a green shirt who I knew was in the marathon, as a steady stream of half runners pushed on to the finish. I saw the 26 mile marker which was next to a water stop, and crossed to that side of the road to follow the race route signs which I figured were for me, as the half runners headed up the other side of the road.

Suddenly it was very quiet! A lovely marshal cheered for me crying out “and there’s loads of people behind you” I replied “Well I know that’s not true” and she said “Well, at least 20”. Which was a blatant lie, but rather sweet. I wondered if maybe the guy who asked me if I was the sweeper had been wrong. Either way it didn’t matter. I was halfway, I was feeling good, I had 4 hours to complete the second half within the cut off.

I ducked into the toilet for a quick pee, then texted Stu to tell him I was halfway and to take care on the bike as it was a busy road, and texted a smiley face to my dad to let him know I was ok. The next couple of miles definitely seemed tougher than they did first time round, and without my companion the time passed much more slowly. I was wondering when I would see the first of the cyclists. I also wasn’t sure which direction they would be coming from; there were a few messages spray painted on the ground facing the opposite direction to which we were running, so I wondered if they maybe did the route in reverse.

I was also slowly gaining on green shirt. He was running steadily and I was run walking, but my running was quicker than his. When I did catch him I passed him quite quickly, telling him I was looking forward to this being over! And then up ahead I could see a guy in a black shirt, so hoped that I would also reel him in as it gave me something to focus on. Bikes had also started to pass now, and the majority of them called out in support which was great.

Around 17 miles I was having a nice walking break and trying to stretch out my back which was quite painful, when a lunatic on a bike went flying past yelling out “don’t you dare give up! This is AWESOME!” So at least I knew Stu was enjoying himself…! I calculated the timings and figured I would probably see him again on his second lap which was something to look forward to.

The next few miles passed pleasantly enough. I was tiring now but still feeling ok, and the important thing was my lungs and chest felt fine. Bikes were still passing by occasionally, so I wasn’t totally alone, and the marshals I did pass were fantastic. The big hill was tough second time around, but I knew that by the top of the hill it was only 4 miles to go, and mostly downhill. I had caught and passed black shirt. One guy on a bike said “Well done, I did this as a marathon last year so know how tough it is!” The camaraderie from half marathon runners and cyclists as well as the lovely marshals really did make this race great.

As I reached the top of the hill, Stu passed me again, whooping out that it was all downhill from here before gasping “fuck me!” so he was obviously working a bit harder this time… he then yelled at the marshals at the aid station that I was his wife. As I approached one said “He says you’re his wife?” “Aye, for my sins” “Well we all make mistakes!” so that gave me a nice little chuckle.

For the past few miles I had a goal of 5:30 in my head, but I now realised that I was going to come in well within that, and so set a new goal of 5:10, and quicker than my first marathon. This meant I did need to keep on pushing on and it helped to have something to aim for. I was running the downs but taking walking breaks on any kind of incline or even flat bits.

And finally, I was approaching the end. I passed the signs for Aberfeldy which I knew meant the 26 mile marker was just ahead, and then there was Stu with his bike. I was extra glad to see him as I wasn’t sure exactly where to go and the marshal didn’t really make it clear, but he pointed me in the right direction (apparently a few half marathon runners did go wrong at the end and although it was a very well organised race on the whole, that was one area that could use some improvement).

I turned the corner and there ahead of me was the finish. About 10 metres before the finish line there was a bike dismount point and unfortunately a couple of bikes were stopped there. I yelled “excuse me!” and they jumped out of my way just in time and I fell over the line in 5:07:07. My awesome medal was hung around my neck by a guy saying “I bet you’re glad to get here!” I replied in the affirmative as I was also given a bottle of water and a cereal bar, before heading over to the grass to collapse.IMG_2677

I was delighted to have finished, and more importantly finished feeling ok. I had a little cough but thankfully didn’t seem to have hindered my recovery any. I knew this wasn’t the most sensible thing I had ever done and I was very relieved to have been lucky enough to come out unscathed. I caught up with Stu, who was feeling pretty buckled but had really enjoyed it- it turned out later that he came second overall in the marathon bike ride, which is frankly pretty amazing.

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After a while we hobbled back to our hotel. I had a lovely long bath while Stu went out for supplies, then we flopped on the bed munching crisps. Peter invited us round to their cottage which was in the same resort, so we headed over there with some bubbles and had a really lovely afternoon with him and his wife chatting all things running, weddings, and more. We eventually headed to the ceilidh as I really wanted to catch up with my running friend, but once I’d seen him we didn’t stay long. We did one dance then headed to get some food as it was 9pm by now and we were both pretty starving. We found a takeaway and then headed back to our room to munch on chips, burger and pizza in bed- the perfect end to a brilliant day!

The next day we were due to head up the road to have brunch with friends, but having paid for it and not been able to take advantage on the Saturday, we were keen to have some hotel breakfast. We enjoyed a tasty cooked breakfast before the drive up, where we had a lovely catch up with friends and a second breakfast. All in all it was a pretty perfect weekend. I was delighted to finish in one piece, and having Stu’s company and support and to see him doing so well was great. Now- it’s time to rest! Next week we are off on holiday to Spain for 10 nights all inclusive, so I suspect that running will take a back seat for a while. But I think we’ve both earned it!  

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Speyside Way Ultra

Earlier this year, we headed up north for the inaugural Aviemore parkrun, which takes place on a section of the Speyside Way. It’s a beautiful parkrun and we had a lovely day out. I hadn’t really been aware of the Speyside Way before having never been on it, but I was aware of the existence of the Speyside Way Ultra, as a few of my friends had run it before. Purely out of interest when I returned from Aviemore I decided to look up the Ultra and find out a bit more about it.

Turns out it’s on a completely different part of the way, and very different terrain. But it was on a weekend which fitted nicely with my other planned races, and my friend Dave said that it was a great race and I would be ok in road shoes (I don’t like really technical trail or running a long way in trail shoes)… and before I knew it, I had entered.

As the day of the race approached, I was feeling reasonably confident in my training. I managed a 20/15 back to back, and the Railway relay of just under 27 miles, as well as Dundee marathon at the end of July. I was lacking in real hill and trail training, but I figured with the miles in my legs and not concerned with speed, I should be ok.

The weekend before the race we had an absolutely amazing weekend in London at the athletics. We had tickets for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and saw some of the best races. We also packed in a load of other stuff, including a duck tour, parkrun, 10k Pride race, and a trip to the Harry Potter studios. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time, but it was pretty tiring and I headed to work on the Tuesday feeling a little bit like I’d been hit by a bus. The rest of the week I did very little as I fought a snuffly cold; I only ran a couple of times and was in my bed early every night, hoping to stay fit enough for the challenge ahead.

I had booked a hotel near the race registration for the Friday night. You register for the race in Buckie, which is where the race finishes, then take a bus to the start. While this is good in that it means you end up back at your car, it does mean an early start, so I thought cutting out the drive up to Buckie would be a good idea. On the Friday morning I decided to have a look through some of the hotel reviews. I normally do this when I book a hotel, but I think I hadn’t been so thorough in my research this time, as there weren’t really many options available in the area. Anyway- the reviews were not great. The room had a shared bathroom (which I did know when I booked), and the reviews stated that it was smoky and noisy until late because of the pub below. The last thing I wanted was a stressful, sleepless night before so in the end I decided to cancel my room (just in time for a full refund) and drive up on the Saturday morning. This did mean I had to leave around 5am, but at least I had a reasonable night’s sleep beforehand.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I decided to enter this race was because I’d been told I would be ok to in road shoes. What people said in fact was, “you’ll be ok in road shoes if it’s dry”. It rained torrentially all day on Friday. Therefore when I arrived at registration on Saturday morning my primary concern was stressing over what to wear on my feet. I had taken my trail shoes with me, but I have never run more than 4 miles in them, so I was afraid they would shred my feet. Most people did say I should wear trail shoes, but in the end I ignored pretty much everybody except Stu and went with my road shoes. They have pretty good grip, and I knew that I would be happy to take my time and walk on slippy sections if I had to, whereas if my trail shoes shredded my feet I might not be able to finish.

(Spoiler- 100% the right decision and for 90% of the race I was super grateful for my decision!)

Having registered and visited the toilet approximately fifty times, we got on the bus for the hour or so journey to the start, during which Dave stank the bus out with his hula hoops and pointed out the biggest climb of the route to me- it did look fairly high…

 

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Team Metro- the Daves and Me

 

We all piled out of the bus and straight into the toilet queue. I was glad I had opted for a long-sleeved base layer under my vest; there was quite a cold breeze and I knew that I had many hours ahead of me. I could always take it off if I needed to. I was wearing my new ultra vest (which incidentally I love), which had hula hoops, jelly babies and a milky way, as well as one bottle of water and one bottle of Lucozade (and an emergency foil blanket!) There were two drop bag stations, and in each of those I had jaffa cakes, hula hoops, a pork pie and half a bottle of Lucozade. I’m incredibly bad at taking fuel on but knew I needed to get it right today!

The succinct race briefing included an ibuprofen amnesty, and I was very interested to hear that ibuprofen will be banned from ultras going forward, with runners risking disqualification if found carrying it. I know how dangerous it is, but was a little surprised to see such a definitive move- and one that I suspect will be reinforced more strictly than the existing headphone bans!

 

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Feeling nervous

 

Then it was time to head to the start. I was feeling incredibly nervous, and yet another Dave from Metro calmed me down, telling me it was a great and friendly race. I pointed out that at my end of the field it was likely to be quite lonely, but he reassured me that there’s a wide spread of finish times. And then suddenly, we were off! The route started downhill and I tried to reign myself in as people went flying past me. Somebody asked a fellow runner “how you doing?” and they replied “so far so good!” to which we all laughed as we were about 200m in! We passed a marshal holding a sign saying “if it was easy everybody would be doing it” then turned off the road onto the Speyside way.

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The going underground was damp but solid, mostly stoney path and grass, and although more tiring than running on road, fine even for my untrained legs. People were still streaming past me but I knew I had to resist going off too fast. Somebody came alongside me asking if I was Naomi, and it turned out it was IanS from Fetch. I had read his blogs from the race previously and it was lovely to meet him and have a chat. Although he was running slowly as he’s been suffering with injury and was running with a couple of first timers, it was still a little quick for me and soon enough I let him pull on ahead.

After only a few miles, I was pretty isolated. Sean the medic passed on his bike and I asked if I was last. He told me that I was a long way from last and there were at least half a dozen behind; that provided some comfort at least. For the next few miles, one or two people passed me, but I was pretty much on my own. I must admit I did start freaking myself out a bit about how long there was still to go; having so much time with my own thoughts was a bit dangerous!

The first couple of hours passed fairly uneventfully. One guy passed me saying “isn’t this lovely and flat!” and I replied “I don’t think that will last much longer”. He passed me fairly quickly, which was a bit demoralising. I knew there must still be a few people behind me, but I was aware I was making slow though steady progress. There were quite a few walkers out and about and many offered support, “you’re looking good!”.

Reaching the first check-point was a boost- it meant I was over a third of the way in, and it was nice to have some human contact after so long on my own. A lovely marshal helped me fill up my bottles, and I grabbed a couple of jaffa cakes and a pork pie. There were a few people stopped here but I didn’t stop too long so I figured they would catch me up soon enough and hopefully I would have some company.

I gave Julie a big wave as I exited the checkpoint, saying “I think we’re about to get wet” as the spots of rain indicated the forecast rain was on its way, but it never really came to anything. At this point we turned left and I knew that the hilly part of the run was beginning. I power walked as I munched my pork pie, surprised that I was still on road. In fact for the next few miles I was surprised how much road there was; I was grateful both for my road shoes and for the ticker tape that appeared every so often just when I was thinking I must have somehow got lost and missed a turning. I was doing more walking than running here, and kept expecting the guys from the checkpoint to catch me up, but they never did. In fact, I wasn’t passed by a single person from there. But neither did I see another human being, apart from Jenny at the marshal point, for another ten miles, which was tough.

Eventually we turned off the road, and onto the Ben Aigan climb. It was still good quality path however, and I was grateful that so far the rain hadn’t affected the route. I was still power walking all of the ups, but running for short bursts whenever I could, and maintaining a sub 15-minute mile pace; not fast, but fast enough to keep within the 9 hour cut off!

There was one stressful moment where there was an orange arrow, such as we had been following, spray painted on the ground, but pointing up off the track and into the forest. I’m still not sure why it was there, but after stopping for a minute to think, I decided that there really was no path there and it was unlikely the route would have me climbing over bushes and trees. I was incredibly relieved to see Jenny’s smiling face half a mile or so later and know I was still on the right route. In fact although I had been worrying about route navigation (in every blog I read, somebody seemed to get lost!) that was the only time I was really unsure.

I had a quick chat with Jenny, as she was the first human I had seen for many miles- she told me that I wasn’t too far behind the next runner, which gave me a boost to push on. I grabbed some haribo, before starting the slippy descent. This was the bit that everybody had said I would need trail shoes for, and it was a bit tricky to negotiate. However I’m a scaredy cat at the best of times and was quite happy to take my time- change of footwear wouldn’t have altered that! I was about halfway now so still had a long way to go, and I knew that the last third of the route was flatter, so I wasn’t worried about pushing it too hard.

Soon enough the descent was successfully negotiated and we were turning back onto the road, and up ahead lo and behold- another runner! He appeared to be walking, but very quickly. I was still run/walking at this point, so when I was running I would gain on him, but when I was walking he would pull away. I was overall moving quicker though and at about 20.5 miles I caught up with him. I stopped to walk alongside him and chat, but he was obviously not keen on company so I soon started running again.

There was another quite long uphill, followed by a steep downhill, which was quite jarring and painful on the legs! Just at the bottom of that hill I caught another runner and had a little chat with her, and then quite suddenly we were at the second main checkpoint, and there was a whole crowd of humans! I got my water bottles filled up, munched some hula hoops, then set out for the last third. I very quickly caught up with Wilson and it was lovely to have a chat with him, so I walked alongside him for a few minutes. This was a good point- only another 12 miles or so to go, I was feeling tired but ok, and knew that the worst hills were behind me.

After a while I pushed on, telling Wilson I would see him later. Another runner was just ahead of me, and I recognised him as the guy who had gone flying past me earlier on, remarking on the flat route. He told me how well I had done to come back to him! He asked how I was feeling and I said I was happy because I really believed I would finish now. I was feeling good that I had now passed quite a few people and not been passed by any since those first few miles. We ran together for a mile or so, chatting amiably. The weather here looked like it might turn a bit nasty, as the wind and rain started up, but we luckily seemed to just miss the worst of the weather. My new friend was running slower than me, but he was running steadily, whereas I was still having a few walk breaks, and eventually he did start to pull away from me.

 

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The race signs were amazing

 

A marshal asked how I was getting on in my shoes, and I was delighted to tell him that they were a success! Unfortunately quite soon after this, at around 28 miles, I hit a bit of a low point. I was alone again, the terrain was a bit tricky- not too technical, but needing quite a high level of concentration given my tired legs; the last thing I wanted at this point was a face plant! I texted Stu to say I was struggling and he told me just to keep going and how proud he was. Having resisted so far, I gave in and put my music on at 29 miles. We were off road at this point and there was nobody around.

As I hit 30 miles, I started to feel a bit better again. I was tired, but I had run 30 frigging miles! Soon enough I would hit 33 miles, which would mark the furthest I had ever run. This part of the route was very muddy, and actually the only time that I thought trail shoes would have given me some benefit as I slipped around a bit. Because it was flat I did want to try to push on a bit, but then I was still grateful for an excuse for walking breaks when it got really muddy. A marshal here asked if I had enough water and told me there was another water stop in a mile or so, then suggested that maybe I would prefer gin and tonic- I said yes please to that! (sadly he didn’t actually have any…)

Around here I passed Fiona, who had also been sitting on a shoogly bridge earlier on. She gave me a massive cheer which gave me a real boost; the support on this race was at times few and far between, but the people that were there were amazing! We turned onto the road again around 30 miles for a short section so I switched my music back off. I reached the water point and topped up my bottle and grabbed a jelly baby then continued on; as we were directed back off the road a marshal asked how I was doing and I said “I’ll be better in about 5 miles!” I was feeling ok but definitely ready to be done.

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Thanks to Fiona, both for the photo and support!

 

As I hit 33 miles I took my traditional “furthest I’ve ever run” selfie. Around here I passed the guy from earlier again, and didn’t see him again until the finish. Only a parkrun to go- I can do this! With a couple of miles to go, we passed through a gate, and I am afraid to say I was stuck there for a few minutes trying to open it. It’s amazing how befuddled your brain can get! I was also now trying to do some maths- could I duck under 8 hours? I would need to push a bit, but yes I thought I could do it.

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Furthest I’ve ever run…

 

We were back onto the road now, and I passed another couple of people. Sean the medic passed again on his bike and I said “a mile to go right?”. He replied, “a wee bit more”. Was it going to measure long?? 8 hours might be gone in that case- it was going to be tight anyway! Around this time I passed the sign saying “36.5 miles, because 37 would be stupid” and had a grim chuckle to myself that it looked like I was going to measure closer to 37! I passed another guy just as we came into Buckie; he congratulated me and I said, “must be nearly there now- the quicker I go here the sooner it’s over!” I saw a car slowing down and the window rolled down and there was a guy from work, clapping and cheering for me, which gave me a big boost as I begged “please tell me the end is nearly here!”

I knew the finish was uphill, but as we were going slightly uphill at this point I thought that might be it. Sadly I turned a corner and saw another steeper hill, and I must admit I swore quite vociferously to the amusement of the marshal and people cheering me on. I puffed and panted my way up the hill and finally, with over 36.8 miles and just over 8 hours on my watch, I was done. I crossed the line and burst out “oh my God! That’s a long fucking way”, cue more people laughing at me.

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My friend Pamela was there and it was lovely to get my medal from her.  I then wobbled over to the grass, as a concerned looking medic asked if I had anybody with me, then gave me directions on how to get back to my car. I collapsed for quite some time, and cheered in a few more runners (many of whom I had passed in the last 16 miles) as well as catching up with Sean. The ultra community is such a friendly one and everybody is so supportive. But eventually it was time to get back down to the road, so I hobbled back to my car while phoning my family to tell them I was done. I felt pretty euphoric on the drive back down; it had taken me a long time, but I had done it, and I had finished strong. I arrived home and was fed steak and bubbles, then continued to drink more bubbles as I tried not to fall asleep.

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Unfortunately the cold I had been fighting off all week then hit pretty hard, and I felt fairly horrendous the following day, but it didn’t stop me enjoying a family BBQ before falling into bed for an early night.

I think I have reached my limit in terms of distance now; I really enjoyed the race, I’m glad I did it, but I have no real desire to go harder or further. I may do this one again (it’s an amazing race, and an absolute credit to the race director Sarah), but it’s not on my radar just now. Marathons are quite far enough thank you; it’s also way too hard to blog such a long race….!

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The Railway Relay

A few years ago, I was involved in the trial for an event that a friend was setting up, called “The Railway Relay”. This was to be a team relay event running from Peterhead to Ellon along the old railway line. The total distance of around 27 miles was split into 9 legs ranging from just under 2 miles to just over 4 miles. The idea was that the event would be self navigated, with minimal infrastructure needed as the teams could be self-supported. We completed the trial successfully, and I had an enjoyable day out, although I did find it tough running the second and especially the third leg after sitting in the car in between handovers. In 2015 the event ran for the first time, followed by another successful running in 2016, although I did not take part due to various clashes with other events.

In 2017 I had again decided against taking part, as the maximum distance each runner covers is around 13 miles, and that didn’t fit with my training requirements. However as the weekend drew closer, I was starting to realise that I needed to get a really long run in that weekend. It’s a real thought at the moment getting out for 20+ miles on my own, so I had a look around to see if there were any races that might help me get the distance covered with some company. I started to ponder the possibility of running the relay on my own. When I looked at 2016’s results (after a couple of glasses of prosecco I might add) to see how much slower I was likely to be than the slowest finishing time, I noticed that in the results there was a special solo entrant, who had completed the distance in 5:20, around the sort of time I expected to do.

I duly sent a message to Steven the Race Director, and the next day he came back to me saying that I would be welcome to take part as a solo entrant, as long as I confirmed to him in writing that I would have somebody supporting me to provide water and in case I got into any difficulty. After chatting up my wonderful husband he agreed to provide me with support, and before I knew it, I was in.

After Dundee my training has been going reasonably well. The weekend before the relay I successfully completed a 20/15 back to back, with the 15 miles at a decent pace, especially considering my tired legs. On the day before the relay I had a strong parkrun, managing a good negative split despite the headwind in the second half to achieve my quickest parkrun time since February (at 25:40 still a good two minutes slower than my best, but progress is progress!).

I was treating the race as a training run, and therefore did no taper. The previous week I had run 60 miles, and in the six days before the race I had run 40 miles, meaning that if I successfully completed the whole distance, I would have covered 127 miles in two weeks. I’ve finally managed to lose a few pounds and although I’m still a long way from my best, I’m feeling fitter and stronger than I have of late. I was looking forward to the event.

The relay started in waves half an hour apart, and I was in the first wave, meaning that although I was going to be slower than everyone else, I would hopefully still have some company for most of the time; though there were only 20 teams entered (and 19 started on the day though I didn’t know this until later), so the field was always very spread out. I registered and posed with my baton (Steven very kindly said I didn’t have to carry it the whole way!) and soon it was time for the low key start. There were 5 of us in the first wave, and within a minute the other four had pulled away pretty quickly, so I settled into my own plodding pace, calculating when I thought I could expect to be passed by the first runners from the second wave.

 

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Ready to go!

 

The weather was perfect, warm but not too hot, with just a little breeze. I passed the first handover point and was cheered through, with people calling out support to me for doing the whole thing. It was nice to recognise the handover point from the trial, and I hoped that my previous knowledge of the route would help through the race. I was a little nervous about the self-navigated aspect, but I had my directions printed out and knew that it was only likely to be the last leg that got a bit confusing, as otherwise I was just following the railway line. After a couple of miles I passed a friend from work who was out on a long walk and told me so- I said “I’m running to Ellon, wish me luck!” The first six miles passed by quickly- I was running a bit too quick (and already starting to ponder the possibility of a marathon season best, swiftly telling myself to pipe down and get back in my box as there was still a very long way to go!).

Stu had planned to park at Maud, which we had calculated was around 15 miles along the route, and run back to meet me. At about 8 miles I saw him appearing ahead of me and I was grateful for the company; I had been on my own for pretty much the whole time and unlike others in the race, I had obeyed the no headphones rule. Unfortunately the next mile was suddenly the slowest of the race and after feeling good and strong, I was concerned to feel suddenly quite tired and heavy legged. On looking at the elevation profile afterwards I realised why; although not steep, it was a long steady uphill drag from mile six to around 14, and this had obviously started to take a toll.

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Stu told me that Maud was 5 miles away, so it was only at 13 miles. I was a little disappointed to hear this, as I had hoped that I would have Stu’s company for a few miles past halfway and I wasn’t sure how far past Maud he would come with me as he would already have covered 10 miles by then. Still I plodded on, a little worried for how the rest of the day would pan out. We passed through another handover point and I got more cheers. Just before Aden park we passed a section of flooding which I struggled to negotiate, and ended up trashing my trainers; for the next half mile or so my feet seemed to weigh a ton as I tried to lose all the sticky mud I had picked up!

Not long after that the first of the later wave runners passed me, congratulating me as she did. She wasn’t moving that much quicker than me but it was still quite hard watching her head off into the distance! Another couple of runners passed soon after that, and then we were coming into Maud. It was nice as there was quite a crowd there so I stopped for a chat as Stu ran to the car to get water and Lucozade to fill up my bottles, and some hula hoops to replace my salts. My friend Alan offered me an ice lolly and though I declined, I then spend the next few miles wondering if he had really had one and wishing I had said yes!

I was now approaching half way, with just over 2:30 on the clock. I was still on for a sub-5 marathon if I could keep the pace, and on track to beat my predicted time of 5:30, but I felt like I was slowing. As Stu kept me company out of Maud I told him that I would probably have to start run/walking soon. He stayed with me for another couple of miles, then had to head back. He said he would see me at the end, and would maybe come back along the line to finish with me.

 

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“Whose f*ckin idea was this?”

 

And I was alone again. And suddenly, things got a bit easier (as, I know now, I started to head downhill!). There were a few bits that were quite exposed and the headwind was a bit annoying, but at least it meant it never got too hot. I was managing to keep my pace under 12 minute miles, which meant around a 5:15 finish. I was delighted to reach 17 miles and know it was less than 10 miles left, and also to reach the handover point there where the crowd of people waiting gave me a big cheer. I popped up onto the road and for a moment was lost, but then saw the signs across the road for the railway line and headed on my way.

I was still feeling reasonably strong, and the miles were ticking by. Two thirds was a big boost- only half of what I’d already covered to go (I do a lot of mental maths during long races…). I was trying to count the people who passed me so I could have an idea if there was still anybody behind me. It was now around 10 or 11 people although I had slightly lost count. Although some people passing didn’t take me on, some were amazing, telling me how well I was doing and how impressed they were (and a few also told me how crazy I was), and those little moments really helped me keep going.

The penultimate handover point was about 6 miles out and I was passed by another couple of runners around here. I was taking a few walking steps here and there but still maintaining pace, and still on for a marathon season’s best. This handover point was ace as the runners stood in a tunnel and cheered me as I ran through.

Then things got a bit tough again. I was still 5 miles or so out, although I didn’t know exactly. Nobody had passed me for a while and although I thought there might be one or two people still behind me, I also thought I could now be totally last (turns out I was). There was also a bit of a tough uphill drag from miles 23 to 24 which I struggled with. I quickly took out my phone to text Stu and said “ETA 45 minutes, would kill for company for the last mile or two”- then it was head down and get on with it.

I passed what I thought was the final handover point, but there was nobody there. Shortly after that I did start to wonder if I had gone wrong, and I was very relieved to see an arrow and some tape pointing down off the line. I was relieved for about 30 seconds until I started going down the big steps. After 25 miles they were not pleasant and I hobbled and swore my way down, then started to run along the river. Shortly after that I reached a bridge which I seemed to remember approaching from the other side of the river in the trial, and worried again that I had somehow gone wrong. I took out my instructions but my tired brain was struggling to focus. I asked a passing dog walker the way to the sports centre and she pointed me to the left, and then with great relief I saw some more tape.

I followed the river round, and then a little while later my wonderful husband appeared ahead of me- what a sight for sore eyes! It meant I no longer had to worry about the route and could just follow him to the end. He told me there were only a couple of kilometres left, and that we were on the parkrun route (which I hadn’t really recognised until that point!). That meant the route was going to measure slightly shorter than the worst case I had prepared myself for, which was a big relief at that point. I did panic slightly that I was going to have to go up the hill at the end of the parkrun but Stu reassured me I didn’t have to go that way!

I passed through marathon distance around 4:55, which I was delighted with, and then it was nearly the end. Up a short painful slope, trying to avoid getting run over by Craig Miller, then up another wee grassy slope. Along a narrow path, trying not to fall down the hill, and people moved out my way and cheered me through, and then I was finished! 26.6 miles in 4:58, dead last, but to the hugest cheer and with a big grin on my face (thanks to Kristi for capturing the moment)!

I collapsed on the grass for a moment, then caught up with Steven and grabbed my free can of Strongbow (there was only alcohol left, what a shame…) before heading into the scout hut for the prize giving. It was crowded when I entered and then everybody looked round and the room burst into cheering and applause for me; I was a bit embarrassed but also super chuffed, and did a little comedy bow. The support from everybody was awesome and really did make my day.

The prize giving passed quickly and then I did the draw for the raffle, then it was time to hobble to the car and head back down the road. We caught up with the athletics from the morning before I had a (mostly) glorious shower- the moment when I involuntarily screamed as the water hit chaffing I hadn’t noticed until that point notwithstanding! An evening of prosecco and athletics followed- perfection!

This is a no frills but excellent event that I would thoroughly recommend- the camaraderie and team aspect is brilliant and it’s a lovely route. It was so much more fun than trying to grind through a long run on my own, and I’m very grateful to Steven for allowing me my solo entry. My last word goes to my amazing husband; weekend days off are precious and he sacrificed his Sunday to support me through yet another of my crazy ideas. I’ve never been so happy to see somebody as I was to see him at the end, and I would not have been able to do it without him. He also proceeded to top up my wine glass and give me leg rubs through the evening; what a star he is. I am a very lucky lady.

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Dundee Running Adventure Marathon (DRAM)

The DRAM (Dundee Running Adventure Marathon) is a race that I’ve been aware of for a while, but hasn’t really been on my radar for one reason or another. Some friends did the half DRAM a few years ago and found there to be a number of organisational issues, and it seemed to be quite a small field with a rather uninspiring route. Recent reports around the organisation do seem to have been more positive however, and with it being reasonably close and pretty good value (£26 for the full marathon) I decided to give it a go this year.

Since Strathearn marathon I haven’t done any long runs, but I’ve maintained a decent mileage, with a double commute day (14 miles in total) and Stonehaven half marathon taking me to a 56 mile week a couple of weeks before Dundee. As ever, I hadn’t exactly trained properly, but I hoped to have enough miles in my legs to get me round. I was very much treating this as a training run, and an opportunity to try out my new Ultimate Direction running vest.

I was out for a friend’s birthday on the Saturday night (fortuitously she chose Italian so I was able to successfully carb up) and I was very sensible and stuck to water and left after the meal. Unfortunately I had a terrible night’s sleep, and saw every hour, so I would have been as well just staying out! I was tired and grumpy and definitely lacking in enthusiasm when Sunday morning arrived.

I ended up giving a couple of Metros a lift down, and we left Aberdeen at the not-too-horrendous hour of just after 7am, after I had managed to incinerate my morning pop tart and burn my finger quite painfully on its molten innards. It was a pleasant drive down with company, and we arrived in Dundee in good time to get registered and use the loos. By the time we headed back to the car there was a steady stream of cars arriving and we were glad we had arrived when we did, there was soon a long queue of cars backed up waiting to get into the car park and I would have been stressing if I’d been stuck in that.

The time passed pleasantly and quickly chatting to fellow runners and soon enough it was time for a last loo stop. The queues were long by now but that was expected. I did feel sorry for the race organiser who must have felt like he was banging his head against a brick wall- he was asking people who weren’t queuing and were ready to start to move over onto the grass so he could get an idea of the queues, but everybody was completely ignoring him. In an email after the race he did also say that his back cyclist for the event hadn’t turned up which led to some delay to the start (and a mistake with the timing meaning that the finish line clock was wrong). There’s definitely an element of quirkiness in the organisation of this race, and you can tell it’s one guy doing it pretty much on his own, but on the whole I think he does a pretty good job- it must be a stressful morning.

With my last pit stop timed perfectly, it was time to head to the start line, where I caught up with a load of the Jog Scotland Hazlehead lot, who were doing the half. I hoped that this meant I might have some company for the first half (the half marathon route is just the first half of the marathon route and the races start at the same time) as I was anticipating a lonely second half. Although the day was shaping up to be warm, there was also quite a cool breeze, which I figured I would be grateful of later.

I had been warned that the start was narrow and slow, but I wasn’t worried about that so was happy to start near the back of the field. I set off running with Louise and Maz and sure enough we quite quickly had to slow to a walk as the route wound through narrow trails in the woods. It was uphill but not steep, and I did find it a little frustrating when I was stuck behind people walking in the middle of the path, but on the whole it was fine as it meant I had a nice steady start; my first mile was the slowest of the first 10 miles. It was really nice to have a chat with Louise and Maz too, but after the first mile or so as the path opened up a bit I started to pull away from them. There were a few muddy sections and annoying oblivious headphone wearers, but it was nice running in the shade and I was enjoying myself. I could see another couple of Jog Scotties, Jackie and Kristi, up ahead so just concentrated on slowly catching them up.

After a couple of miles we were spat back out onto the road and it was nice to have a bit more space, though it also meant we were out in the sun now and it was instantly quite warm. I was enjoying having my vest on and being able to have a sip of water whenever I needed it, but I still stopped at the water stop to walk a few steps while drinking from the cup. The route then headed downhill for the next four miles or so. I knew that the route had been changed this year to finish in a different place so that we didn’t have to come back up this way; the old marathon route had the last six miles uphill and I was very grateful for this. A few people passed me here, including Jackie and Kristi, but I took it fairly steady, aware that I had a long way still to go and not wanting to mash my legs at this early stage. I was also passed by a guy in a gorilla suit, who must have been absolutely melting.

At one point we headed up and over a bridge, and I recognised where we were as we passed over the dual carriageway that heads from the north into Dundee. The other side was down a steep grassy bank and I just tried to make sure I didn’t go head over heels! I had pulled away from Jackie and Kristi now and so had nobody to chat to, and the scenery was rather uninspiring, but I was still feeling okay and just ticking off the miles. There were a couple of people around me wearing marathon numbers which was a big relief; it meant I was less likely to be totally alone for the second half. I thought it was a bit weird that full marathon runners had to wear a number on both front and back, but actually it was really good to be able to see which of those runners around me were doing the full.

I was now walking a little on the inclines, but mostly running. Around 10 miles there was a little out and back section that headed down a residential street then back up, and I saw my friend Ann quite close behind me. I shouted at her to get a move on as I wanted some company, but when she caught me up soon after that she went flying past me, so although it was nice to see her I didn’t get any company in the end! It was great to see her doing so well though, and she went on to a cracking SB in the half. We were running alongside the dual carriageway here then turned into residential streets again. There were quite a few road crossings but these were excellently managed by the police; I’ll say here that all the police and volunteers were brilliant (apart from the marshal that said “well done, even you guys at the back” which I thought was a bit off!!).

Around here I passed a guy in a parkrun 50 t-shirt who was obviously flagging, and I said “come on, less than half a parkrun to go!” but he said he was beat. In my head I was thinking at least he didn’t still have five parkruns to go like I did! One of the marshals here said “nearly there!” and I responded “not for me!”- it was like Stirling all over again except I was feeling much more cheerful.

We passed up and over a steep bridge then turned onto the sea front with less than a mile to go until halfway, and unfortunately turned into a head wind. I wasn’t sure exactly where the route went but figured this head wind would be a feature- and it was, as we headed out the coast in a straight line into the wind for the next 7 miles.

I knew that we had to pass the finish of the half, but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. There were still a few runners around me, so it wasn’t the sudden isolation I had expected. I gave Ann a shout out and got a huge cheer from the Jog Scotland lot which was nice; I was rather jealous as they lounged in the sun triumphant, but I still had work to do. Tony also took a great picture of me which perfectly captures my thoughts on the headwind- at least I’m still running! Physically this was quite a tough little section as it was on quite thick grass into the wind, and we did also have some steps to negotiate. But then we were back out onto the road and it was just the wind to contend with.

 

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“What is this wind??” Thanks Tony!

 

After another mile or so, I saw a cyclist in high vis coming towards me with a speedy looking runner behind me. I asked him if that was the leader and he confirmed it was. I cheered him on and wondered how long the out and back would be and whether I would see my friends. I passed a young lad here who was very slim and said to him “better watch you don’t get blown away!”. I was run/walking now so was leapfrogging with a few people. It was a lot better than I thought it would be- although I wasn’t talking to anybody there were other runners around which makes a big difference. There were nice views here along the coast too, and then more runners started coming back the other way.

My friend Michael passed me in fifth, saying “pure hell!” as I gave him a sweaty high five. At around 17 miles we came off the coastal path and were then running alongside a busy road, slightly uphill. I was kept telling myself at least uphill now meant downhill later, and with the wind behind! I was calling out well done to all the runners coming back the other way, but they were a rather grumpy lot! Then I saw my friend David which was nice, though he didn’t look particularly cheerful- he was just in the zone! We passed through some kind of industrial estate which was a bit unpleasant, then back onto the coast, passing Alan on his way back who gave me a big cheer and promised me there were no more hills to come! The wind here was really strong and I was struggling now. I was also measuring quite long on my Garmin which is always a bit disheartening.

Finally, I was starting to see runners coming back the other way who I knew weren’t too far ahead of me and after what seemed like forever I was turning around to head for home. Just the final quarter to go; with a tailwind, and more downhill than up. Easy peasy, right?

It was a struggle. It was definitely better with the wind behind, but it was also much hotter, and I was super grateful of the Lucozade in my vest, though it was nearly finished now. It was just a run/walk battle to the end. I was however passing a few people, which helps a little. Five hours was slipping away, especially as I was measuring 0.3 miles long, but I didn’t really mind, I just wanted to be finished- I said so to a fellow runner! I was leapfrogging here with a woman in a purple top who had been near me pretty much since the beginning. She had a very steady pace and was running constantly, but her running pace was slower than mine, so when I walked she would pass me, and when I ran I would pass her. As we climbed up what I knew was the last hill of the route she pulled away from me, and I pulled away from another runner behind me.

Then we were back on the coastal path, and I passed another runner. Just a parkrun to go! With just under two miles to go I passed purple top lady on a narrow path and then felt like I had to keep running so I didn’t cut her up; I ran from there to the end (and put nearly 6 minutes on her in the last two miles!). There was one horrible moment where I wasn’t sure if I was on the right route and I was very relieved to see the back of the 14 mile marker; I was still on the right route, and there was less than a mile to go! Shortly after that, when I had 25.7 miles on my Garmin, a marshal said “well done, half a mile to go!” and I wondered if the distance would be bang on in the end.

I was running along a pavement here and ahead were two runners who were walking with a kid, three abreast on the pavement. They turned around and saw me coming, then continued to walk three abreast, meaning I had to step off the pavement to pass them, which I thought was a bit off. But then I was past them, and I could see a marshal ahead directing us into the field, as my Garmin ticked over to 26.2 miles (just under 5 hours!). I knew then I was going to have to go back over those bloody steps; I minced over them as I did not want to fall on my face at this point, moaning to the marshal as I did so. Then it was back over the uneven ground and grass (no sprint finish here!) and finally under the finish gantry.

My watch showed 5:02:xx and strangely the finish clock also did (I knew it had taken me a couple of minutes to cross the start line) – though this was explained later. I got my goody bag and collapsed on the grass. I pulled my medal from the bag to see “half DRAM” so had to haul myself to my feet again and go back and change it, for a lovely piece of bling saying “DRAM”. I then had a bit of a wait around for the bus to take me back to the start and my car, but I didn’t mind as it was a warm day and it was nice just to be off my feet. The bus journey was smooth (the advantage to being slow is there weren’t many runners left so it wasn’t a busy bus as I believe earlier ones were!) and soon enough I was back at my car then heading back down the road.

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See- windy!

 

 

So another one in the bag- I’m still around 15-30 minutes slower than I was averaging last year but I’m ok with that. Last year I did 7 marathons and an ultra, this year so far I’ve done 4 marathons and an ultra. Last year my body coped well and I managed a PB at every distance except the half marathon (which I missed by just a couple of minutes), but it was obviously a bit too much to ask to do this two years in a row. I’m going to continue with my plans for the year and aim to complete all of the races I have signed up for, but then I’m going to take a break. I have so far entered ZERO marathons for 2018. I would like to do Strathearn again having done it four times in a row now, and I think I will aim for something like Berlin and try to really train and get a PB, but I’m not going to keep going the way I am. It will be time to knuckle down and focus and train properly again. Onwards and upwards!

 

 

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