Manchester Marathon- Race Day is here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Where’s wally?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Not my impressed face

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Manchester Marathon- Training Weeks Nine to Twelve

WEEK NINE- In which I start to break

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

But enough of that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEEK TEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEEK ELEVEN- the taper begins and my confidence is shattered

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

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

Wednesday- 6 miles recovery at 10:51.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEEK TWELVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the other side I guess….

 

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Manchester Marathon- Training Weeks Five to Eight

WEEK FIVE

At first I was surprised to find I was five weeks into my training plan. Then I thought about how knackered I am and realised it’s not surprising really!

Tuesday- recovery run after hill reps. plan called for seven miles. Seven miles does not a recovery run make! I did not run this slow enough to get the benefit of the recovery because I was trying to fit it into lunch and ran the first five miles with a friend. Watch buzzed at me at the end saying I needed 3.5 days to recover. Oops! Luckily had a sports massage that night which helped to flush things out

Wednesday- 5 x 1500m with 3 minute recoveries. Did a couple of km warmup on the track checking for ice and luckily it was clear. The reps came in at 7:38, 7:46. 7:39, 7:59, 7:35. A lot slower than I’ve managed in the past, but not much slower actually than my horrible 300s the other week.

Thursday- 6 miles recovery. Was up just after 6am to do these, the first mile was horrendous but felt ok by the end.

Friday- 18 miles; 4 miles easy, 10 miles at MP, 4 miles easy. Stuck to the same route I’ve used the last couple of weeks, adding an extra (hilly!) mile at the beginning. Was lucky with another gorgeous day and not too windy, but this was a real struggle. for MP I only managed 10:09; disappointing after the previous week, but tried to remind myself it’s still an improvement. Overall pace was 10:36, ever so slightly quicker than my first 14 mile long run, so that’s a positive.

Saturday- did 3 miles before parkrun with mum, then Hazlehead parkrun, so just over 6 miles total. The long run the day before combined with the copious alcohol on Friday night made for a very painful first mile!

Sunday- rest day, but did a gentle run/walk of 3.7 miles with a friend who’s just getting back into running. It was a gorgeous afternoon and this was a true recovery session, felt pretty good afterwards.

Monday- 7 miles “as you feel”. Pace came out at 9:24 and felt pretty good (except the final quarter mile up a hill into a headwind. dying!)

Last week’s total was 50 miles plus the 3.7 run/walk, so that’s 5 weeks of 44-50 mile weeks done. weight is slowly coming down, so I hope to start feeling the benefit of that soon. And from the end of February I’m going to try to cut out alcohol which will also hopefully help.

I hope this is all worth it…

WEEK SIX

When a cut back week is still 44 miles….! Not a huge cut back in terms of volume, but a big change in intensity, and I was definitely ready for it!

Tuesday- 6-7 miles recovery run. Headed out aiming for between the two but got caught in horrible icy snow (my eyebrows froze!) so it was just the 6 in the end

Wednesday- 4 miles easy and thank goodness. Headed out thinking it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the day before, and it ended up worse! Couldn’t feel my face…

Thursday- 3 x 2000m w/3 min recoveries. Was hoping to at least manage better than the last time I did this session when it was a real struggle. I dragged myself out of bed just after 6am and headed to the track only to discover it was rather icy. Couldn’t face coming back later so just did the session. Reduced recoveries to 2:30 and just ran as hard as conditions would allow. Bit of a waste really.

Friday- rest day. Went to Dundee and got drunk in the evening

Saturday- 6 miles. really need to stop being hungover on a Saturday morning. Did just over 2 miles to warm up, then Dundee parkrun. I was vaguely aiming for a course PB (27:04). Lost a lot of time at the beginning being stuck behind folk, and then a really annoying guy with a dog who kept squeezing me out, but then stormed past everybody on the hill feeling really strong. Passed a lot of people on the two big hills and none of them came past me again. Sadly came in at 28:05. wasn’t too disappointed with this given the 27:04 was run when I was running at my strongest, until I realised I ran 27:20 in 2013 so that’s a bit depressing

Sunday- 15 miles “as I feel”. Took this opportunity to run with a friend. We were dropped off at Milton of Crathes and ran back along the railway line to Duthie park. Was a beautiful day and nice to have company. 11:10, but not sure I could have gone a whole lot quicker!

Monday- 6 easy miles at 10:47. Bit tired and heavy legged but that’s thanks to bad diet and drinking again yesterday.

Really need to get a hold of the drinking. weight is slowly coming off and I’m NEARLY back at my happy weight. Got a couple of nights out this weekend then that’s it, off the booze til the marathon.

Been beating myself up a bit this week as it keeps popping up on Timehop etc when I ran my first sub-25 6 years ago. It’s hard to accept that I’ve worked so hard in all that time and not really seen any improvement. Two people that used to run similar paces to me, and I don’t think do anything significantly different in training, just ran a 22 minute 5k and a 1:43 half this weekend. I just have to accept I’m not a natural runner, but it’s hard sometimes

WEEK SEVEN

So after a cut back week I was ready to jump into this week, refreshed and raring to go, right?

… I’m still just knackered!!

Tuesday- 7 miles “as I feel steady”. Pace came out a bit slower than the previous week’s 7 miles but not too bad at 9:51

Wednesday- 6 x 1,000m with 2 minutes active recovery. Finally, a good session! Reps came out at 5:04, 4:59, 4:58, 4:58, 4:58, 4:56. Really pleased with the pacing as well as the speed, especially as this was another early morning session.

Thursday – 6 miles recovery run. Decided to run into work which is 6.7 miles. Pace came out at 10:48; given I was taking it very easy was fairly pleased to see this is quicker than previous commutes (albeit these were in the snow!)

Friday- plan called for 4 miles easy, 12 miles MP, 4 miles easy. This was pretty much a fail. I opted for laps of the beach for the MP section which was a mistake as it was super windy. I just couldn’t get the pace up, even with the wind behind me. Overall pace 11:09, with MP at 10:55; a whole minute off the pace. Disappointing but at least I got the 20 done.

Saturday- 3 easy miles before parkrun with mum (blowing a total hoolie!), followed by a slightly quicker actual parkrun again with mum. It’s great that my recovery miles work out so I can run with her and that took me to 249 parkruns so 250 next week; excited!

Sunday- rest day. Did an easy 11 miles on the bike, first time this year. was absolutely terrified, but it went ok- just did out and back on the railway line. Got totally freezing in the second half. Honestly don’t think my hands have ever been so cold. When I got back in the flat I just sat and cried and felt sick for a while at the pain.

Monday- hill reps, 10 x 90s with jog back recovery. Different hill than usual as I did these at lunchtime. oh my goodness it was hard work!! Decent session though

Other notable aspects of training this week were the fact that I was out Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, but managed to curb the drinking enough that I was able to complete my training without adverse affects, so that seems like a small victory. I had a couple of glasses of champagne last night and that’s it- no booze til after Manchester! Let’s see how that goes…

WEEK EIGHT

Well, the best from the east did its best to destroy this week’s training, and in some ways it was successful, but in other ways definitely not! This week’s plan was originally based around tapering for Smokies 10 miler, to give me a shot at a good time. This would have been interesting as the last time I managed a PB at Manchester marathon, I also PB’d at Smokies a few weeks before…

Tuesday- 7.7 miles early doors at 10:38 pace. this was a bit slippy as the snow was starting to fall. I’m still not good at getting up in the mornings, but I can do it when I need to; I had to on this occasion as I had a sports massage after work. I have had a tight piriformis and the massage was agony but definitely helped loosen things off

Wednesday- Recovery 5 at 10:58. Weather was a bit miserable but I’ve run in worse!

Thursday- plan called for 8 x 300m with jog recovery. Couldn’t get to the track due to weather so did 8 x 90s instead, in quite thick snow and a howling wind. Pace wasn’t there given the conditions, but it was just to get the legs moving after all.

On Thursday, Smokies was cancelled, which obviously screwed up my best laid plans slightly. No point losing a week’s training to taper for a race that wasn’t happening! but was I even going to get good training in given the weather?

Friday- I opted for the double run commute, in case the weather deteriorated further and I didn’t get many miles in at the weekend. This gave me 6.7 miles in the morning and the afternoon (11:18, 11:11 respectively). It was hard going in the slippy snow but I didn’t feel as tired in the afternoon run as I sometimes do.

Saturday- my 250th parkrun Did the route beforehand and then ran parkrun, giving me 6.2 miles total for the day. proceeded to eat lots of cake.

Sunday- we ended up driving up to Thurso on Saturday evening for Stu’s granddad’s funeral. Although this was obviously tough, it was actually great for my marathon training, as the roads up there were much clearer. I managed a fantastic 21 miles, at an average pace of 10:30, and with a final mile at 9:30 pace. Felt fit and strong and like I could go further. If only all long runs could be like that!

Monday- after spending around 9 hours in the car and getting through the funeral, we got home after 8pm and I couldn’t face a run, so I took an unplanned rest day. After a 64 mile week, the timing was fine for that.

So although the week didn’t turn out as planned, it was actually a cracking week of training. Two more long runs and then it’s taper time. I only hope at least one of them goes as well as Sunday did…

 

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Manchester Marathon- Training Weeks One to Four

WEEK ONE

I have decided to keep a brief log of my marathon training; this is the first time in a long time I’ve actually properly followed a training plan so am excited to see how it goes. Metro coach is giving me a training plan, though I only seem to be getting it a week at a time (which I guess makes sense but I find quite tricky not knowing what’s to come). Anyway; week one is done and went as below…

Monday- didn’t get my training plan by lunchtime so decided to wait til the evening. By the evening couldn’t face running and cold is still lingering a little, so marathon training started rather inauspiciously with an unplanned second rest day in a row

Tuesday- plan called for 6 miles steady. I got a bit over-excited and average pace was 9mm. Felt decent though.

Wednesday- 3 x 2,000m with 3(ish) mins recovery at 10:32, 10:27, 10:23. Really tough session. Neither body nor mind was in it and pace was poor.

Thursday- five easy miles before flight to London

Friday- “rest” day, walked about 10 miles round London!

Saturday- parkrun (26:12 but it measured about 0.05/30 seconds short) with a 2 Mile warmup and 2 Mile cooldown (more than I would usually do)

Sunday- 5 easy miles with Stu, so tired and full of food and booze

Monday- the long run which was originally planned for Sunday, 14.3 miles at 10:37. Hilly route and felt quite tired but ok

So there we go- week one done, and all sessions completed, one way or the other!

WEEK TWO

Another week of marathon training done, with Sunday marking 11 weeks until race day. Surprisingly I am not suddenly magically faster after 2 weeks of training, but I am pretty knackered!!

Tuesday- Plan called for 10 x 75 second Hills with a jog back recovery 1 mile warm up and 1 mile cool down. I was on a course all day and out in the evening so I was up at 6:30am to do these. I must admit I felt pretty epic afterwards. They weren’t fast but I felt strong and kept the pace going through all 10.

Wednesday- 5 miles recovery run. This was hard work and my back was all seized up, but it eased off towards the end and I felt better for doing it.

Thursday- 16 x 300m with 100m recovery. Did a one mile warm up and a few token strides. Averaged around 8mm for the reps, again maintaining pace throughout, so although the pace is still lacking, they weren’t as miserable as last week’s 2000s

Friday- rest day. Needed it!

Saturday- plan said six miles as I feel, so did a progressive run on the parkrun route, then did actual parkrun with my mum

Sunday- this was the session I was dreading all week. 15 miles; 3 easy, 10 miles at MP, then 2 easier to finish. 10 miles at MP sounded horrendous, and I have never done anything other than plod out my long runs. I spoke to my coach and he said it didn’t have to be goal MP just yet, just get used to going a bit quicker for some of the long run. He said to aim for what I did previously or a little quicker, but who knows what that is? My PB pace is 10mm, my goal pace is 9:55. My marathons last year were more like 12:00…

My last long run was 10:37 pace, so he said to aim for maybe 10:25. I decided to shoot for 10:20- 10 miles at 10:20 pace should be totally doable!! I planned to do loops of the beach to eliminate hills and road crossings to help me keep to pace. I also managed to rope a friend in which I’m so glad I did. The wind picked up so half the miles really sucked, but I came out with an average pace of 10:19, so I’m really pleased with that. I promptly died and my penultimate mile was nearly 14mm with a fair bit of walking! But I recovered ok and the last mile was a bit quicker. You know I was tired though as I stopped when I hit 15 miles (well, 15.1) and walked the last kilometre home.

Monday- 6 miles easy recovery run. Seemed a long way for a recovery run and it was hard work, not helped by hitting some nasty ice, but it’s done.

Tonight I am having a sports massage which I really feel ready for. I wonder what the next week will bring…

WEEK THREE

I thought I had trained hard before… I didn’t even know I was born!!

Tuesday- 1 mile warm up and cooldown, 10 x 75 second hill reps with jog recovery. Overall pace similar to last time; uphills were quicker but recoveries slower! Felt pretty good especially after a long day at work and some slightly slippy pavements

Wednesday- Recovery 6 @ 10:41 pace; a real struggle and super windy, gave up and walked a little in some of the windiest sections.

Thursday- 1.4 mile warmup, 10 x 300m (around 8mm pace) with 300m recovery. Coach didn’t want to give me too much ahead of long run

Friday- 16 miles with 3 miles easy, 10 miles at MP, 3 miles easy. Average pace 10:28, MP section 10:06. This was on the fairly flat railway line and perfect conditions (beautiful day, not a breath of wind) but I’m still super pleased, it felt so much easier than last week. MP came out much quicker and I didn’t die in the final 3 miles.

Saturday- did the parkrun route with my mum then actual parkrun again with my mum, in around 35 and 32:30, to give me just over 6 miles. Super windy and super hard work but lovely to run with my mum

Sunday- rest day spent watching Stu smash his second ever duathlon

Monday- 7 miles with 8 x 30 second strides at 10k pace. This was a horrible run, I couldn’t be bothered to think of a route so just went on the railway line which meant I needed to use my headtorch. Forgot how much I hate headtorch running. Felt like I was running hard but pace was so slow. Just generally an off run. The 10k bits came out alright, but average pace was 10:08 which I was disappointed with.

Tomorrow calls for 8 miles (on a school night, ugh!), and this week I’ll be doing my long run on Friday again; plan says same 16 again so really hoping it also goes well and that good run wasn’t just a total fluke.

In other aspects, my diet and drinking are still letting me down. I lose a few pounds then binge at the weekend and put it all back on. Really frustrating and just don’t know what to do to break the cycle…

WEEK FOUR

The training continues. So far, with the exception of maybe swapping a day or two here and there, I have done every session, even when it’s meant getting up early doors (which I really struggle with) so I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I did however start to freak out a little the other day; it’s so much easier rocking up to a race with no pressure. My brain doesn’t always react well to pressure! Anyway. the race is still weeks away- plenty of time for the training to start going wrong and give me some excuses

Tuesday- 8 miles done. I was tired and it was windy and I chose quite a hilly route (excuses, excuses) was pleased enough to average 9:56.

Wednesday- 5 easy miles with Stu, 10:58 pace. Very tired legs

Thursday- 12 x 300m w/200m recovery, with a 1.1 mile warmup. this session absolutely sucked. I forgot my running socks, it was blowing a gale, I timed it wrong and there were school children everywhere tripping me up and smashing me with their school bags, at one point a branch flew at my face. On the uphill reps I was struggling even to hit HMP! But I completed the session, and did a short cooldown as icy hail started

Friday- I was nervous about the long run as my legs were feeling so stiff and heavy. But I fuelled well (bacon and hash brown roll, mmm), and it was another beautiful day, the wind thankfully greatfully reduced from the previous day. I did the exact same route as last time, average pace came out at 10:18 with the MP section at 9:56. I was absolutely delighted.

Saturday- we were heading up to Thurso for the weekend to visit Stu’s grandparents, so we headed up to Inverness on Friday night and planned for Inverness parkrun on Saturday morning. Although I usually hate them, I packed my trail shoes and thank goodness I did. It was a total mudfest! And a fair bit of it was perfect for my trail shoes, which came into their own on the slippy slidy mud. We ran 1.3 miles to get there, and then my parkrun came out just over 30 minutes, but I lost so much time on the first lap getting stuck behind people who didn’t want to run through the puddles! Although tired and tough conditions, I was pleased with a progressive 10:30, 9:31, 9:15 (8:13 for last 0.1), passing people all the way. A tired cooldown mile back to the hotel before the long drive up to Thurso.

Sunday- rest! Did a grand total of about 2,000 steps (though did also drive for 5 hours)

Monday- hill reps, this time 10 x 90 seconds with jog back recovery. Used the same hill, it levels out slightly for the last 10 seconds or so but is still uphill and it’s quite nice because you can accelerate again slightly. Was up to do these at 6:30am as I have a dentist’s appt this evening. Average pace was actually quicker than the last set of hill reps, and I did get a segment PR for the hill rep segment I’ve created, so must have been a reasonable pace!

Now to see what the next week brings…

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From 2017 into 2018

2017 was a difficult running year for me. Although I did complete 6 marathons (and one nearly marathon!), 2 ultras including my longest ever run of 36.5 miles, and one 27 mile relay solo, I did not really enjoy my running. I wasn’t running well, and ran some of my slowest marathons, with only one under 5 hours. I managed a handful of quicker 5ks, but on the whole was struggling to get anywhere near 25 minutes, and after running under 49 minutes for 10k in 2016, it was disappointing to manage nothing quicker than 54 minutes.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, as I did manage to end the year on a more positive note. I was absolutely delighted to duck under 2 hours at Fraserburgh half marathon, though I did then have a rather poor run at the Lossiemouth 10 mile Turkey Trot. I decided for the first time to participate in Marcathon, the goal of which is to run a minimum of 25 minutes/3 miles every day in December. I did similar in November 2015, running a massive 230 mile month and feeling the benefit with an almost marathon PB (if the course hadn’t ended up over 27 miles long!) the following month.

I only take a few rest days in a month anyway, so I figured it would give me good motivation to keep going through the cold and festivities, without stretching myself too much. I promised myself I would stop if anything started to niggle. As it turned out, the main challenge was not my body but some horrific conditions as the streets around Aberdeen turned into sheet ice. In fact the very first day nearly derailed me, as both roads and pavements all around our flat were nearly impossible to navigate due to ice. Fortunately we were heading to Edinburgh that day so I was able to get a few miles in once we were down the road.

The ice created further challenges through the month, and on one memorable occasion I ended up running up and down the same quarter mile stretch of pavement until I thought my brain might explode. I persevered though, and managed to run through the worst of the weather, fortunately never having to resort to the treadmill.

My original goal for the year was 1760 miles, a totally arbitrary goal that was simply a round number, and a few more miles than I managed last year. I hit this with time to spare, then realised that I could in fact just about hit 1800 miles, as well as my highest monthly mileage for the year. It meant a couple of double run days, and slightly longer runs than planned, but it was doable! So the final day of the year came and I ended up with 1802 miles for the year, my highest ever mileage.

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2018 started with the New Year’s Day double parkrun. I had originally planned to run between the two, but I was suffering quite badly with the cold and chesty cough that had been plaguing me since Boxing Day, and I realised that I had no reason to and nothing to prove. So I had two fairly easy runs, taking me to a total of 241 parkruns, which is super exciting as it means my 250 really is imminent.

The 2nd brought Lumphanan Detox, a race I have done a few times now, and regret every year! It’s a tough race, with the first 2km up a steep hill, and a farm track section which is always unpleasant, be it because it’s wet and muddy, or icy, depending on the conditions. I wasn’t going to enter this year, but for whatever reason, I found myself entered and dragging my ill and tired body up to Lumphanan. My cough was bad, it was freezing cold, and I was pretty miserable, wishing I wasn’t there. I knew it would help with the hill but I couldn’t even bring myself to warm up- I just wanted it all over so I could go back to bed!

I had somehow managed to convince my friend Barry to enter, and his plan was to run with me. I warned him it wasn’t going to be fast but he said he was happy with that. I was expecting to be well over an hour. I’ve twice been under an hour at Lumphanan; one was the first time I ran the race in 2012, and then in 2016 when I finally beat that initial time, running 57:19.

Eventually it was time to start, and we headed to the field which marks both the start and the finish, stopping for a quick Metro photo on the way. I kissed Stu goodbye; he was hoping to try to better his course PB, I was just hoping he finished in one piece! Soon enough the crowd started moving and I hit start on my Garmin, not realising that there was in fact a chip mat at the start as well as the finish.

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Team Metro- thanks Tony!

 

 

As soon as I got going, I felt better. Funnily enough my chest didn’t bother me at all while running. My legs were tired and heavy, but I was still managing to move up the hill at a reasonable pace, even passing a few people (including the two people walking right in the middle of the road two abreast- why do people do that?!). Not much to say about the hill except I swear it gets worse every year. As we finally reached the top I said to Barry, “the key here is not to hammer the down too much- there’s plenty more shit to come”. We did pick up the pace here, but quite a few people did go flying past us; mind you, we caught a lot of them back up in the second half.

It felt good to pick the pace up, and my breathing was feeling fine. We made up a lot of time, and reached halfway in just over 30 minutes. I knew I had the extra seconds from starting my watch early, and that the last mile was downhill- could I manage to duck under an hour? It really depended on how bad the farm track was.

The farm track was bad.

It was horrible, narrow and icy, and you couldn’t find your pace because you were alternatively stuck behind people, and also aware that you were holding people up. It’s also slightly uphill for the most part. It was just awful. I accepted that the sub-60 was gone as my pace slowed right down. I also lost Barry at around 7km as he nipped past a couple of people ahead of us and I just didn’t quite have the energy or confidence to go with him.

Eventually the track was over, and with about 2km left we popped back out onto the main road. Looking at my watch I realised that in fact if I pushed on here, I could still get under an hour. There’s a nice downhill stretch so I let my legs go, knowing it would soon be over one way or the other. I passed a few more people which is always a boost.

With 1km left I just needed to keep it under 6 minutes. There’s a nasty little sting in the route where you pass the finish and do one small loop around the houses up a small slope, but I was prepared for it, and as soon as I turned the last corner I knew I could put my foot down. Unfortunately that section of road was icy and I very nearly went arse over tit!

Fortunately I was able to stay on my feet and find a gritted section and push on to the finish- Stu appearing a few metres before the line expressing surprise and delight at my arrival much earlier than expected. I crossed with a high 58 on my watch, so knew that I was under an hour for sure. And in fact, when the official results came through I was delighted to see I had run 58:33, my second fastest time on that route. Given the difficult conditions and how I’ve been feeling, I was really chuffed with that. It did wipe me out for the rest of the day, but it was worth it!

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Delighted!

 

I took a couple of days off after that as my chest was still pretty bad. I haven’t set myself a mileage goal this year, and it’s actually been really freeing to be able to take a few days off without feeling guilty for it! I decided to run proms on the Friday, but that was a mistake. The weather turned horrendous and I ran my slowest ever 3k time, but at least it’s a marker for the year! I managed a much better run at Stonehaven parkrun the following day, where I ran just a minute outside my PB and paced strongly, passing a number of people without being passed in the second half and finishing 3rd lady, despite feeling like I was drowning in phlegm.

And now, it’s time for marathon training to begin. I’m still not 100% fit and the cough is lingering a little but I’m a lot better than I was. I’m excited to actually start a proper training plan again; it’s been such a long time since I trained properly as opposed to just racing all the time. I’m also going to FINALLY lose the half a stone or so that’s been lingering for far too long.

Operation 2018, fitter, faster and stronger is a go.

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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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