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.
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!
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.
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.
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!