Stonehaven Beer Festival- Undo Cycle

I have quite a lot of silly ideas. Many of them work out well and I end up having some fun adventures. Occasionally, I have a silly idea which is actually a really rather stupid idea.

Last year I did a fair bit of cycling, and successfully managed the Etap Caledonia, 80 miles with a few mean hills. However, I didn’t do much cycling after that, avoiding the bike before the wedding due to the likelihood of falling off, and then staying off it during the winter as I’m very much a fair-weather cyclist. Although the nicer weather has arrived I haven’t really got back into the cycling, with only a couple of short cycles on the railway line under my belt. So naturally it seemed like an awesome idea to enter the cycling sportive associated with the Stonehaven beer festival.

There were three options; the Undo (52 miles), Redo (70 miles) and the Dinaedo (100 miles). Here I did make a sensible decision, and entered the shortest option of the Undo. Being a kind and generous soul, I signed both my mum and dad up too. While I was vaguely aware that the route went over the Cairn o’Mount, despite having heard various cycling friends talk about it before, I didn’t fully register the implications of this.

In a bit of a panic as I started to realise what I had done, I headed out for a couple of rides with my dad. 11 miles along the flat railway line – I was sorted! On the Tuesday before the ride I even cycled from the railway line up to my dad’s- three miles of gentle uphill- to drop my bike with him, so surely I was totally ready for the challenge ahead!

I was offshore on the Wednesday to Friday so didn’t do much exercise, hoping that a bit of rest would also help. When I landed on the Friday I headed straight to the pub for a cider or three, but stopped early, aware that any kind of hangover would categorically not help! Although dad had registered us already, and we were heading off in one of the later waves, we were keen to get to Stonehaven in good time as parking would be at a premium, so it was another early start.

Mum had a similar lack of training under her belt as me, so we decided that we would stick together and let dad go off ahead of us (partly so that he could get finished and come rescue us if we decided we had bitten off more than we could chew!).

It seemed like half the population of Aberdeen were at the start, and I couldn’t move anywhere for bumping into people I knew. Comments included “I didn’t know you cycled!” and “didn’t expect to see you at an event on two wheels”. Which says it all really…!

It was already very warm, and I was glad that I was in shorts and t-shirt. I was already starting to regret my bag though- I tend to carry a little running backpack on the bike with my phone, layers, food, and in this case a wee pump. Generally very sensible, but does make for a sweaty back. In the event, I had absolutely no need for the layers, but I did need the food, so although it would have been more pleasant without it, it was worth it.

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Team Sharp- note the blue sky!

 

Soon enough it was time to head to the start. I was nervous about starting with so many cyclists around me, but they were splitting everyone up into quite small waves which helped. Unfortunately they were only giving out the emergency number at this point, and as I scrabbled to try to write it quickly in my phone, one of the volunteers was telling me to move forward, so I missed the number. It certainly would have been helpful to have that made available in advance!

We set off right at the back of a small group, and negotiated the fairly narrow turn out of the park. We turned straight into a gentle uphill, and immediately towards a red light- luckily it changed to green just before I had to stop! It was only now that I started to get nervous about the traffic aspect- the Etap was on closed roads and although I’ve done a few cycle commutes, I’m still very wary of busy roads.

Very quickly, things got very hard! We turned straight onto a pretty mean hill. I tried to remind myself that I have cycled hills before and I just need to get into gear and grind it out. I was still only in the middle ring of three, and it was a comfort to know I had more gears available if I needed them. A few cyclists were passing here as later waves were released, and there was also quite a lot of traffic. I had a scary moment as a car with a horse box passed me when it didn’t really have enough room, and as it swung back in the horse box seemed to come very close to me. At first I thought I was just being a nervous cyclist, but somebody behind me cried out and as they passed me they asked if I was okay, so I knew I wasn’t being totally lame to have got a bit of a fright.

I had pulled away from mum on the hill, so when the route levelled off and the opportunity arrived, I pulled over and waited for her. She wasn’t far behind, and she went past me on the downhill. This remained our tactic for the rest of the day- she’s quicker on the flat and the downs, I’m quicker on the ups, so we would just go at our own pace then wait for each other every so often.

Although I knew the Cairn o’Mount was the big climb and came just before halfway, there were some cruel hills even before then. Still, it was a gorgeous day. We thought we were probably last, and there wasn’t anybody around us, but the route was beautiful and we were in no hurry. The beauty of the roads being open, and the fact there was a 100-mile option, meant there was no time pressure on us to finish. It was lovely just being out in the countryside with mum.

 

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Blissfully unaware

 

There was a food stop at about 17 miles (maybe?), and we stopped for some snacks and to refill our water bottles. The food stations were excellent, and as I knew the tough bit was approaching I wanted to make sure I was well fuelled. We took our time then headed off again, quite quickly turning up a short but very steep hill. I didn’t have any gears left on that one! I joked to mum “maybe that was the cairn!” as we both recovered our breath afterwards.

And then it was the Cairn. It starts reasonably gently, with some nice downhill too, and then it really starts! The first big climb is 12%. I was immediately in my lowest gear, and having to grind it out. And then my bloody Garmin went onto auto-pause- the ultimate offence to my speed! I wasn’t far from the top but I was scared of falling off, so in the end I did get off and push. I could see mum behind me also pushing. The route then levelled out and I was able to get going again, though my legs were already quite jelly like. A little further on there was another hill and when I saw the 14% sign I must admit I swore out loud. A guy I know from work passed me here and I told him I thought I might die.

Little did I know how much more there was to come. I will admit I had to get off and push a couple more times (and here I did regret my heavy hybrid!). But I was walking at a fair clip, passing other people who were walking and probably going quicker than I would have been able to cycle. Of course the problem is once you get off, it’s very hard to get going again on any kind of incline, so I probably pushed on some bits I could normally have cycled. It was also quite blustery and exposed, and a few times I was blown around a little which was scary. I decided at this point that anybody doing the Redo (or indeed the Dinaedo) which involves not only this climb, but then coming back up and over again from the other side) must be genuinely mentally deficient.

Then finally, it was the top. I gulped down some water and a few jelly babies. I couldn’t see mum behind me, but I knew she would catch me soon enough, and I just wanted the descent over with. There’s not much to say other than I hated every minute. I was absolutely terrified, and spent the whole time glued to my brakes. It didn’t help that cyclists were coming back up the other side, and there was a fair bit of traffic.

I finally reached the bottom with hands, arms and back sore from my terror grip and legs like absolute jelly. I dropped my bike and headed for some food, passing some Metros on the way. I informed them of my mentally deficient theory.

Mum arrived soon after and we grabbed some more water and food. It was nice to know we were just over halfway with the toughest bit behind us. I knew there was another short steep hill shortly after this food stop, but had decided that it was an easy ride after that. I didn’t quite make it up that hill without having to push- I would normally have managed but my legs were just absolutely mashed. I have never felt anything quite like the burning in my quads I felt that day!

There did then follow some lovely shaded bits of the route- it was really warm so it was lovely to get out of the sun for a bit. I was sore and tired and it seemed like a long way still to go. At about 30 miles I started to feel a real bonk coming on, so I stopped and rammed some caramel and jelly babies in my gob. I did it too fast and spent the next few miles feeling sick, but once the food had settled I did feel much better for it. As we approached 40 miles I knew there wasn’t much more than an hour left, and just hoped there were no more bad hills. I got chatting to a girl who said she thought there might be a wee slug sting in the tail. She was doing another 52 mile ride the next day so she was crazier than me!

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Bonk incoming! Eat chocolate!

 

Mum was well ahead of me at this point, as I descended the hills like a nervous old lady. With 10 miles left, as we approached a left turn, I saw her sitting at the side of the road with another girl standing next to her. I hoped she was just having a rest, but it didn’t look good. As I stopped the girl told me that she had fallen off, and I saw her grazed knee and elbow. She was understandably a bit shaken, so I force fed her some water and sugar while we found tissues for her grazes. At this point I cursed the fact I didn’t have the emergency number. In a fit of optimism we had texted dad to tell him to have a beer while he waited for us and mum would drive home. Luckily when I phoned him, he hadn’t had a drink, so he was able to come get us. I didn’t know exactly where we were but was able to direct him reasonably and it was only another 20 minutes or so until he arrived, just as one of the motorbike marshals also turned up- though we were able to send him on his way, it was comforting that he did arrive. It was also great that every single person that passed us as we were stopped at the road side (and there were quite a few- we weren’t as close to last as we thought!) asked if we were okay and needed any assistance.

Once dad had arrived I quite quickly headed off, keen to get the last 10 miles done. It wasn’t long before I realised that I was on the Stonehaven half marathon route, and it was nice to recognise where I was (and know that it was mostly downhill from here!). I did have one scary moment where I nearly skidded trying to avoid some gravel, and it was very lonely, but I knew it was less than an hour to go which was a big boost. Turning onto the slug road was a little scary but luckily it wasn’t too busy with traffic.

In the last few miles, cyclists started to pass me and I realised it was the guys doing the longer cycle. They had cycled twice as far as I had and yet still flew past me! But I was so nearly there. I cycled down that first mean hill that you run up in the half, and negotiated the sharp left hand turn at the bottom of the hill. As I passed the road that heads into Minerwall park, I saw a “caution cyclists” sign and started to worry that I had missed a turn. The road was busy with cars and I could see no signs. I reached the small roundabout and followed the arrows left, then panicked even more as I turned onto the road we had started on, thinking I had somehow missed the finish and was back on the start of the route!

Luckily there was then a left turn soon after this, and as I turned into that road I saw a marshal indicating into the field where we had started, and I was flooded with relief. With just under 52 miles on the Garmin, I rolled over the finish, then lay my bike down and collapsed on the ground next to my friend Vicky, who captured the moment perfectly.

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When I had recovered enough to get my phone out, I was astounded to read a message from my dad that mum was back on her bike and determined to finish. Only around ten minutes after I finished, she arrived, in significant pain and no doubt still some shock, but (just about) in one piece.

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My amazing mum

 

We headed for the beer tent, where mum was taken away by the paramedics and patched up, while I used both my token and hers to get a couple of glasses of my favourite elderflower cider- I’m not sure anything has ever tasted quite so good. I also caught up with a few friends which was lovely, but once mum was ready to go I was keen to know she was home safe so I headed off with her and dad. IMG_2173

I totally failed to do anything productive that evening except drink prosecco, eat lots of food, and bask in the glory of having completed one of the toughest challenges I have faced. Yes it was very stupid to attempt that route on no training, but I did it!

The final word goes to my amazing mum. After a night of agony, she headed to A&E on Sunday morning, where an x-ray revealed that she had broken her collar bone. To get back on her bike and finish those last 10 miles quicker than I did was just amazing. And despite what we thought, we were not last- there were a few people as much as half an hour behind us, even with the half hour stop waiting for dad.

Turns out that maybe I get my crazy stubborn streak from her after all!

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Strathearn Marathon 2017

As previous blog readers will know, Strathearn marathon is a firm favourite in my racing calendar. After setting my PB there in 2014 I’ve got progressively slower each year (though only a minute between my 2015 and 2016 times!) but I still love to return to this amazing wee race; there’s just something about it. It’s tough and hilly and there are no cheering crowds, but the support from the marshals is second to none, the organisation is superb, and it’s brilliant value for money. I was quick to sign up when entries opened in July last year, being second on the list.

This blog has well documented my struggles in the last few months, and as the time for Strathearn drew closer, I wasn’t sure that I was going to run it. I had signed up for a new marathon in Paris on June 24th and I thought that three marathons in such close succession, especially after how I’ve been feeling lately, might be one race too far. Given that I had already booked my flights for Paris, if one was going to fall off, it was going to be Strathearn. However, the Paris marathon was cancelled due to security concerns (although disappointed I’m not totally gutted about just heading over to Paris to eat, drink and try out the new parkrun instead!) and so Strathearn was back on the table.

The Tuesday before the race brought the Metro Beach 10k, where I have previously set a 10k PB (two days after my marathon PB at Strathearn incidentally; running really is a funny old beast). I was feeling pretty exhausted after our busy weekend in London and mindful of the marathon to come, so I didn’t want to push it too hard, and decided that I would pace my friend Diane (whether she wanted it or not). The weather all day on Tuesday was pretty horrendous and having sat on the top floor all afternoon hearing the rain hammer down, my enthusiasm levels for the race were definitely not high.  I came pretty close to bailing, but knew that I would regret it if I did, so after work I headed down to the beach. Although when I arrived it was still totally miserable, the weather did start to brighten and by race time the conditions were actually fairly decent for racing; not too warm, and not too strong a wind. In the end Diane didn’t quite have it in her legs, so told me to go on and run with Erin, who absolutely smashed her PB and came in first Junior Female. As I knew I would be, I was glad I had decided to run in the end!

 

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Pre-race enthusiasm

 

During the week I also treated myself to a new Garmin 235 and after some easy miles on Thursday evening its race predictor suggested I could run a 3:52 marathon, so I knew Sunday was going to be a walk in the park (haha). I did parkrun on Saturday morning and ended up bullying somebody round again (my motivational patter really is pretty terrible). I grabbed a bacon roll then went out for an easy hour on the bike with my dad, before having a very lazy afternoon in front of the telly. I headed to bed early, wary of another early Sunday start.

As I set out on the road just after 5:30am, I thought “next year I’m staying down there!” It is a reasonable distance to drive on the morning, but there’s also lots of nice looking hotels and B&Bs in the vicinity of the race start, so next year I do think I’ll treat myself. I picked Rhona up in Stonehaven around 6am and we headed on our way, as I munched on a Nutella sandwich. It was nice to have her company, as we could have a good natter, but we also know each other well enough that we could happily sit in comfortable silence.

The forecast had been for some rain showers later in the day, but as we headed down the road it looked pretty ominous. We parked up in the field at race HQ in torrential rain, and the enthusiasm in the car was not marked! We waited for a few minutes and it did ease off, but as we headed to registration the cold wind and rain spatters did not add to our enthusiasm levels any. I was disappointed on registration to find that they had done the numbers alphabetically this year so I was 147 instead of 2, but at least I hadn’t managed to nab number 1, or I would have been even more disappointed! The race was chipped this year and we picked up the wrist-based chips as well as handing in our drinks for the personalised drinks stops at miles 10 and 18. We also received our t-shirts, which this year have a map of the route on the back, a lovely addition.

There were lots of familiar faces and it was nice to catch up with everyone. Although it’s nowhere near me, this does kind of feel like my “home” marathon. With lots of chatting and a couple of loo stops the time passed quickly, and soon enough it was time to head to the race start. Wary of the weather and the exposed parts at the highest point of the route, I decided to keep my long-sleeved base layer on, especially as I knew I might be out there for towards six hours (though I hoped not!). My plan was to take it very steady on the hills, walk where I needed to, and hope for around five hours.

We set off for the loop of the campsite with the usual pipers piping us round- always a lovely touch. As we headed out on to the main road I fell into step with a couple of guys I had run a few miles with at D33, and one of whom had gone flying past me at Stirling. It was nice to have company and we chatted as we approached the first hill. The rain had now stopped and it was muggy; my sleeves were rolled up straight away. Keen to keep the company of the guys I probably ran for a little longer than I would have otherwise, but soon enough I gave in to a walk and they pulled away ahead of me. At this point I chatted to another guy whose wife is a second claim Metro who was also walking, but then I started to pull ahead of him and I was on my own once again.

There was another piper after a couple of miles and at first I was a bit disappointed that he was packing up just as we got there, but he jumped in his car and headed another couple of miles up the road so I got the honour of being piped up the hills twice which was nice. I was still walking quite a lot but maintaining a decent walking pace, and those who were passing me as they were running the whole way weren’t pulling that far ahead of me, so I was happy with my strategy. As we reached the point at about five miles where the course levels off I very quickly passed a guy who had been running the whole way which was another boost. Unfortunately as we reached this point we were running into a headwind so it wasn’t as much of a relief as it might have been, but I did manage to pick up the pace a bit. I was feeling a lot stronger than I have lately, and it was a relief not to have that weak, heavy legged feeling; my tummy also seemed to be behaving so far. There was a guy here sitting on a wall with a drum cheering the runners along, which was awesome.

I was convinced the downhill came at around seven miles, but unfortunately it was nearer eight. However I did manage to take good advantage of the downhill miles, dipping under 10 minute miles without hammering my legs too much. I felt like I was fuelling reasonably well, taking on a jelly baby every couple of miles. Soon enough I reached the drinks stop at mile ten, grabbing my bottle of Lucozade. One of the marshals asked, “you doing ok?” and I replied “yes, but I know what’s coming around this corner!” and she laughed and said, “you’ll be fine!”. I ran to the corner because I knew I would soon be walking, and there was an American lady and young girl who were whooping and cheering with such enthusiasm! The girl also gave me a percy pig, always a winner. The volunteers at this race really do go above and beyond. I turned onto the main road and over the next few minutes drank about half the bottle of Lucozade. I was getting very warm now and regretting my kit choice. I ran as much as I could in this section knowing that the worst hill was to come. As I reached the bottom of it and the marshal pointed me up the hill I said “I don’t wanna go up there! Every year I forget how awful it is!” She cheered for me and told me I was amazing and doing more than she ever could.

As I walked up the hill I decided that the base layer needed to come off, so with no runners that close to me I started stripping off- what a relief it was! As I was walking here I was passed by a Chinese guy who I had passed on the downhill, who was much stronger on the uphills than I was. He did also seem to have quite a bit of wind though- and I wasn’t surprised to see him ducking into the bushes soon after! I kept expecting him to pass me again after that but although I did see him over my shoulder a few times, I did manage to hold him off in the end. This hill marked the slowest mile of the race, but I was approaching halfway and although tired I still felt ok, and my average pace was still reasonable. There’s some nice downhills again after this and I was able to pick up the pace again. The wind and rain also picked up a little and I had cooled down significantly, so I felt much better for that. Around halfway the route levels out again and I probably walked some flat-ish bits that I should really have run, and another guy passed me here. I went through halfway sometime around 2:25, so I knew that 5 hours was still on, but I would need not to slow down as much as I often do- hopefully achievable as I had taken it quite easy, and the second half of the route is easier than the first.

I was now just running the downs and walking the ups, so I did a fair bit of walking again as the route approached 16 miles. The sun was shining now and I was getting warm again, and starting to think that maybe I should have put some sun cream on after all (though it would mostly have been washed off I guess!). Around this time, I really missed the company of Joey and Lyndsay who had helped me so much last year. It is quite a lonely race and in line with the rules I didn’t have headphones with me, so it’s quite hard to keep motivated at times. The next thing to look forward to was the personalised drinks stop at mile 18 (it’s actually at about 18.5), although actually I didn’t really want anything sweet and was more looking forward to the water. Around 18 miles you turn on to a busy main road, the only really unpleasant bit of the race. I struggled here, again walking when it was fairly flat. But a small pocked of supporters cheered me on and I forced the legs to get moving again.

At the water stop I took both my Lucozade and a bottle of water, planning to chuck the Lucozade bottle at the 19 mile marker. The hill here between 18.5 and 20 always catches me out, and as I mostly walked I could see 5 hours slipping away. But I still hoped to be significantly quicker than Paris and Stirling, and I wasn’t hating every minute, so I didn’t let my head drop. I knew there were some nice downhills coming, I just had to get to them! Up ahead I could see a lady in a blue jacket and I was gaining on her. As I passed her she told me she was suffering from really bad back pain and not sure if she could continue. I tried to encourage her as best I could when I was struggling myself, and we ran together for a few minutes. She stopped at the water station around 21 miles and I kept going, on my own once more.

After that little bad patch, I was able to pick the pace up a bit for the last few miles, only going over 12 minute miles in the slightly uphill mile 23. At this point the heavens had also opened again and I was running into a cold, wet head wind- so that was fun. 5 hours was gone so I was aiming to be under 5:10, the time from my first marathon, and I was sure I was going to manage that. The guy who had passed me around halfway was up ahead, and I thought that I might be gaining on him. He was also run/walking, and it gave me something to focus on.

With just over a mile to go, I suddenly realised I was exactly where I hadn’t wanted to be in the final mile. If I pushed on a bit here, I could actually go under 5 hours, especially as I had the course measuring a little short on my Garmin. I always try to run the last mile of a marathon, so at mile 25 I ditched my water bottle and braced myself. I walked for another minute or so, then started to run that final slight uphill drag. With around half a mile to go I passed the guy who had been ahead of me and said “Come on, you’re not letting me pass you now!” The clock was ticking agonisingly close to 5 hours and the short steep uphill was horrible, but then it was downhill to the finish, and I was passing the 26 mile marker. It was going to be so close! Marshals cheered me in and as I approached the line they shouted my name and that I could get under 5 hours, so I kept pushing right to the line, finishing in a time of 4:58:46 (I measured about 0.1 miles short so even if I had the full distance on my Garmin I should have just sneaked under). I was shattered but delighted!

 

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Thanks to Gordon Donnachie

 

The lovely American lady hung my medal around my neck and handed me a bottle of water which I gulped thirstily. It was still damp but had warmed up again in the last couple of miles. I collapsed on a chair, remembering for the first time in a while why it is that I do these things.

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I caught up with Lesley, who had run a brilliant PB, then wandered towards the food, where I bumped into Rhona and Graeme. I was grinning like a loony, “It’s so nice not to hate every second!” We chatted for a while then I decided that I just wanted to head home. I sat in the car for a while as I uploaded my run and caught up on Facebook, then set off for home. The drive was relatively painless (other than getting stuck behind a couple of nuggets that drive 45mph in a 60 zone and then maintain that speed through the 30 zone- a pet hate of mine!) and after a quick leg stretch and toilet stop in Dundee, I was home about 5pm, a mere eleven and a half hours after I left.

I just about managed a Chinese takeaway and a couple of glasses of Prosecco before falling into bed. It’s Tuesday now and I’m still exhausted, but it was totally worth it. Although I’m obviously still a long way from my best, things are going in the right direction, and Sunday was a good 45+ minutes quicker than Stirling (and even 30 minutes quicker than my moving time, taking into account the loo stops).

Every year I rave about this race and I will continue to do so. There’s just something about it; the organisation, scenery, marshals, value for money, t-shirt and medal, are all excellent. The results were up quickly and there are some fab race photos. I look forward to returning next year and hopefully putting a stop to my streak of getting slower ever year!

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A Weekend in London

A couple of months ago, my parents mentioned that they had a couple of spare tickets for The Piano Guys at the Royal Albert Hall, and would we like to come? Although I’m not particularly familiar with them (I thought it was four guys playing the piano, turns out it’s one piano and one cello!), I had heard and liked some of their music, and we have been meaning for some time to visit my brother and his wife who have now moved to London. We had nothing else on that weekend, and shortly after the discussion, flights and hotel were booked.

We did of course plan to run a parkrun while there. Burgess parkrun is close to my brother’s house, as well as the regular parkrun of one of my best friends, and so although it was a bit of a trek from our hotel, it was decided to visit there (and tick off another tourist location!). A quick search on Fetch also showed that there was a 10k in Regent’s park on the Sunday morning, for which entries were still open. The running aspects of our weekend were shaping up nicely.

On the Thursday beforehand, I had given blood at work. I first gave blood nearly 15 years ago when I was a student for the first time. I only gave a couple of donations and then for various reasons (mainly getting piercings every so often!) fell out of the habit. I thought about it last year when they came to work, but it was right before my Baker Hughes 10k PB attempt so I decided against it. This year it fell at a reasonable time with regards to races so I signed myself up. I felt fine during and after, and even managed a few slow miles in the evening.

 

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Anything for a teacake!

 

 

We were taking the evening flight on the Friday as Stu had work during the day. I had a very lazy day pottering about the house (using my blood giving as an excuse for my laziness!) and when Stu got home we headed to the airport where we had some food and a couple of drinks. Unfortunately, once we got on the plane we were informed there was a delay of around an hour. Luckily we were on a big plane with in-flight entertainment so we could watch films- I watched and enjoyed Table 19, and Stu watched Arrival (and was gutted when we landed with around 10 minutes of the film still left, but luckily he was able to catch the end on our return flight). This meant that the delay wasn’t too painful, but unfortunately it did mean that it was well after midnight before we reached our hotel and fell exhausted into bed.

 

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Airport cider!

 

We were up (not so) bright and early the next day to head to Burgess. There were a few panicky moments as 9am approached and we were still walking (and then jogging) to the start, but in the end, we arrived in good time and caught the new runners’ briefing before catching up quickly with my friend Shona then starting right at the back. The first kilometre was therefore spent weaving around people! It was very warm and I was tired so I just tried to enjoy a new route, which had a lovely lap around the lake and was pretty flat. I paced it well with 8:44, 8:41 and 8:43 to finish in 27:16. This is similar to the time I ran at Ellon a few weeks ago and with less sleep, less blood and less effort, so I was pleased enough. We headed back for Shona and then hung out with the team for a quick drink, before joining my parents and brother and his wife for a lovely breakfast, then a quick visit to their lovely cottage which is absolutely gorgeous and very them.

 

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Sweaty Metros on tour

 

After that we headed back to the hotel for a glorious cold shower, then met up with my friend Darren for some Pimms in the sun- it was wonderful! I even managed to get a bit of colour without being totally sun burned. It was a truly lovely afternoon of catching up and drinking in the sun; time flew and before we knew it, it was time to head to Royal Albert Hall to meet up with my parents.

 

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Pimms O’Clock

 

There we enjoyed a very tasty dinner and some cocktails before the concert, which was so much better than I could have hoped! I don’t think it was really Stu’s thing, but even he appreciated the enthusiasm and talent, and I absolutely loved it.

After the concert finished we headed back to the hotel, where we soon heard about the atrocious events happening not very far away. Luckily we knew we were all safe and tucked up in bed and could tell people so. I won’t dwell on this because that’s what they want.

Again, after not enough hours of sleep, we rose on Sunday morning and headed to Regent’s park as planned. It was another warm morning which I knew could affect my running. We found the race easily and registered smoothly, then warmed up. Even on a downhill with a tailwind, my legs felt heavy and tired, so I knew that I couldn’t expect too much. I thought a time around what I ran at Fraserburgh would be nice, but I wasn’t going to push it if it wasn’t happening. The race was three laps of the park and my main aim was to avoid being lapped by Stu!

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Luckily the route had quite a lot of shelter, and so the heat wasn’t as bad as it could have been. However, after the first couple of miles I felt pretty weak and tired; the heat and lack of sleep were taking their toll, and I expect I was probably still feeling the effects of giving blood. I went through halfway in around 27 minutes but then I had to ease off. Self-preservation was the key here; I wasn’t going to run a fast time anyway so I might as well try to enjoy it! It was a nice route with a few small undulations, and in one out and back section I was able to wave to Stu which was a nice boost. He came and got me for the last kilometre or so but despite his company and the slight downhill I wasn’t able to push on that much. Still, I was pleased enough to finish in just over 56 minutes- despite having to ease off and not feeling great, I was still a couple of minutes quicker than Baker Hughes. And I loved the medal- very “London-y”!

We had managed to negotiate a late check-out at the hotel but didn’t have loads of time so we headed off quite quickly, getting back to the hotel in good time for a shower and a quick rest. My poor wee leggies were knackered by this point (we covered 30,000 steps each day!). We then met up with another couple of friends for a lovely lunch and gossip, before heading out to the airport. Our flight was slightly delayed but we made it back to Aberdeen in decent time, and we were home by 9pm. We had a quick bite to eat then fell into bed- satisfied but exhausted! We definitely managed to pack a lot into the weekend and it was well worth it, but I could do with another weekend to recover!

 

 

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Fraserburgh 10k

Fraserburgh is described in Wikipedia as “a town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland …  It lies at the far northeast corner of Aberdeenshire, about 40 miles (64 km) north of Aberdeen, and 17 miles (27 km) north of Peterhead. It is the biggest shellfish port in Europe, landing over 12,000 tonnes in 2008, and is also a major white fish port and busy commercial harbour”. However, runners know that really it’s a town that puts on races followed by the most spectacular spreads of cakes, sandwiches, sausage rolls, and fine pieces.

Although I have done the Fraserburgh half marathon every year since it was my second ever half marathon in 2011, I have not done the 10k before. I was signed up a couple of years ago but got stuck offshore. So although it fell in a fairly race heavy month, I was still keen to enter, both to support local races and to stuff my fat little face afterwards.

Recovery from Stirling marathon has gone reasonably well. I took the Monday off and on the Tuesday evening did a few gentle miles at the beach, then paced Maz to an excellent time at a fund-raising 3k at the beach. It felt good to run faster again! A few more gentle runs through the week, then I was tail-runner at the beach parkrun on Saturday morning. It was a relaxed walk/jog in around 45 minutes, plus a sweaty mile and a half to and from Satrosphere to the parkrun start. I was looking forward to my run at Fraserburgh- main aim was to run faster than Baker Hughes, with a rough idea of around 9 minute miles or quicker to come in around 55 minutes.

My friend Ronnie, who is originally from Fraserburgh, had also signed up but after a busy week he wasn’t sure he wanted to run. He texted me on Sunday morning saying he thought he was going to give it a miss but with a little arm twisting and the offer of driving him up there, I had a companion for the journey. The drive went smoothly and we arrived in Fraserburgh in good time, nabbing one of the last parking spots (well… ish… it involved a bit of pavement parking!). We stepped out of the car into a rather cold and stronger than ideal wind.

 

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Are we sure this is a good idea?

 

It was busy and it was good to see lots of friendly faces. We registered in the fancy sports centre, and why they don’t use that for the half I don’t know- it would be much cosier than huddling in the freezing pavilion! After catching up with people Ronnie and I headed out for a wee warm up while he (completely inaccurately) described the route to me. It uses a similar route to the half so I was familiar with much of the route (as actually run, as opposed to as described by Ronnie).

Soon enough it was time to start, and after a quick race briefing we were walked down to the start. I wasn’t feeling too many nerves- surely this could only go better than Baker Hughes. I hadn’t felt great in the warm-up but I also hadn’t felt terrible, which was an improvement at least. The race started and we turned right onto the main road, onto the familiar half marathon route. It’s flat for a bit before a bit of an uphill drag, but the wind was behind us at least. I settled comfortably into a pace around 8:30mm, working at a reasonably hard but sustainable level. I already felt much better than I had in Baker Hughes, which was a relief.

After a mile or so we turned into the woods, and it was instantly quite warm, which I hadn’t expected when we stepped out of the car into the cold wind. This section is fairly flat, and I maintained pace, the first two miles ticking by in 8:29 and 8:24. I was still feeling ok, but aware that I was working quite hard- probably a fairly decent 10k effort, to be fair. Just after 2 miles there was a water stop and as it was quite warm I did grab a cup and walk for a couple of steps, before pushing on. This section was slightly downhill but we had now turned onto old railway line and although it wasn’t that uneven underfoot, I found it surprisingly hard going. My pace for the third mile dropped to 8:44, but I was still comfortably under 9 minute miles. I went through halfway in around the same sort of time as I did at Baker Hughes, but this time feeling a lot better.

I was definitely starting to feel the effort though, and I was glad to see that we were coming off the railway line as we approached half way. I had been weaving back and forth to find the best path and probably wasting precious energy here, given that the ground wasn’t that uneven. I had passed a couple of people, but the few people I had been hanging on to started to pull away a bit here. Unfortunately, at 5k we turned back on to the road and straight into a strong head wind. My slowest mile of the race followed at 9:05, as I found myself isolated in the wind. It did give me a boost though when I recognised where we were from the half marathon route, and knew that it was pretty much downhill from here, though we did have some more farm track to negotiate.

As we turned back in to the forest, there was a photographer and a couple passed me, the photographer saying to them, “Great, still looking fresh!” I felt anything but fresh and although we were now less exposed to the wind, I struggled to pick up the pace on the uneven ground. Still, I knew that tarmac was coming quite soon and I just kept trying to push on, using the downhills when they came. I grabbed another cup of water at the water stop, thinking “right, let’s do this” for the last couple of miles. I was running alongside fresh couple at this point, but nobody else had come past and I was gaining on some people up ahead.

The fifth mile passed in 8:57 and then we turned back on to the main road. We were into the wind a bit again here but it wasn’t nearly so bad, and there’s a nice long downhill. I managed to pass fresh couple again here which gave me a boost, and although it was now hard work, I kept pushing as I tried to reel in some runners in front.

 

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Home straight- thanks to Broch Photo House

 

The route levels off again at about 9k and I was now working hard. I knew I should be under 55 minutes comfortably, but wanted to keep pushing to get closer to 54. The “flat, fast finish” that Ronnie had described was anything but, as at 6 miles (8:45) we turned up a short slope and had to negotiate a mean little uphill finish through the park and on to the grass. I managed to pass one person but just couldn’t catch those ahead, although I had gained a decent amount of ground in the last couple of miles. I crossed the line in 54:16; delighted to be four and a half minutes quicker than Baker Hughes, and mostly managing to ignore the slightly painful fact that I ran pretty much the same pace for Fraserburgh half marathon at the end of last year- progress is progress after all, however slow.

 

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Ronnie perfecting the bedraggled runner look

 

I collapsed on the grass for a minute or two, before heading back along the route to see Ronnie, also pleased to improve on his Baker Hughes time and come in under the hour, immediately followed by Fiona who had done really well despite a niggly knee. We raided the amazing refreshments before heading back down the road triumphant, and pleased with our medals- I do love my bling and this one was nice and unusual (though if I’m being picky I would have preferred it to say 10k on it!).

Unfortunately, although this time last year I could have run quicker than this in training and thought nothing of it, I was very tired come Monday and my four recovery miles were hard work. I recovered reasonably well by Tuesday though, when I took place in the Metro 5k handicaps. Last year I only took part in race three of three and therefore my time was not representative. I had an absolutely miserable race, was passed by every single runner (apart from Callum who had just run an ultra and even he nearly got me) and cried when I finished. This year I had a much better experience of what a handicap race should be like; I managed to pass a few people, and was only passed by faster runners right near the end. I gained two places overall and finished in the top ten, and really enjoyed the experience (and I beat Stu!). I was a little slower than last year (27:17 compared to 27:01) but given where my running is at, I’m actually pretty pleased with that. My mojo’s attendance record is still definitely lacking, and my weight and diet is still an issue (I’ve halted the gain but not really managed to lose anything), but I’m hopefully getting there, slowly though it may be.

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Stirling Marathon- A Tale of Portaloos

 

Disclaimer: when I asked my little brother if he enjoyed my blog about my first marathon, he said “Well yes, but… a lot of it was about poo”. I don’t think he’s ever read any of my blogs since, but I am aware that plenty of other people will share his aversion to bowel dominated bloggage, so I’m warning you now that you may not want to read on. In short; I decided to run, I struggled through but at least managed a marginally quicker time than Paris, there were some teething issues but overall it was an excellent race and a long but good day out.

And now for the longer version. Following the week of Baker Hughes, I did start to feel a bit better. I got my blood test results back which showed no issues, so I’ve obviously just been doing a bit too much. As frustrating as this is- especially given that I’m doing less than I did last year and suffering more- it’s time to just accept it. I also had several amazing and supportive messages and pep talks. Although herein probably lies the first issue- I think I can acknowledge that I decided to do Stirling not quite for the right reasons. I did it for other people, not for myself. I don’t regret that decision, but it’s something to bear in mind for the future. A marathon is a big deal and just because I CAN grind one out, doesn’t necessarily mean that I should.

So now let’s rewind to sometime last summer when Rhona messaged me telling me about the announcement of a new Scottish marathon. Being an impressionable type, I entered as soon as entries opened (really must work on that). It was fairly expensive, and inaugural events can be a little risky, but I have a lot of faith in Great Run as a company and have always found their events well organised and good value considering the organisation. I’m not going to dwell too much on it, but in the few days preceding the marathon there were some communication issues.

We had received an event magazine a few weeks prior, and there had been various information on the website for months. This included information about water stops, and the fact that there would be a number of isotonic stops providing Lucozade. I was very pleased to see this as I struggle with my nutrition, but found that regularly taking on Lucozade in the London marathon made a massive difference. On the Thursday before the event we received an email saying that isotonic fluid would be provided at two points, and it would be PAS zero- a zero calorie electrolyte drink I have never heard of, never mind been able to try. There was also conflicting information about where water stops would be. Communication by email, Facebook message and Twitter gave different responses from different Great Run employees as to where the water stops would be, which was a little concerning. On the day, there were enough water stops, but I did not risk trying a drink I had never had before. In the event this did not affect my race, but the pre-race communications and contradictions were a stress I could have done without.

On the day before the marathon, it was Aberdeen parkrun’s 300th event, and so fancy dress was encouraged. Somebody had posted on the Facebook page saying they had four Teletubbie outfits if anybody wanted one, and I quickly volunteered. Three others were also found and it was decided that we would be a pacing team; 25, 30, 35 and 40. I volunteered for 35, not sure what I would be capable of in a Teletubbie outfit! It turned out it was much easier to run in than Elmo, and I was actually quite grateful for the cosy outfit giving the miserable weather. Although I didn’t have anybody running with my pace in the end, I really enjoyed it and I loved everybody’s reactions. It was a great way to spend the morning, although my legs didn’t feel as good at such a relaxed pace as I had hoped they might.

 

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Thanks to Alan Milne

 

 

Many months ago, and without checking my dates, I had booked tickets for my dad’s birthday to see Professor Brian Cox at the AECC, not realising it clashed with Stirling. And then my dad booked a holiday to Japan! Luckily Stu’s dad is equally geeky, and so myself and Stu and his parents headed to the show. I didn’t fully understand all of it, but it was highly entertaining, and worth the resultant early start the next day.

IMG_2042A few months ago, it was revealed that it would not be possible to drive to the start of the marathon, and that all runners would need to travel to the start by shuttle bus. This added an extra time factor, and in the end, we decided we would have to leave Aberdeen at 4:30am, which was pretty disgusting. Still- sleep before a marathon is over-rated, right?! In the end we were very glad we had decided to leave so early. Despite printing off the maps from the website and reading up on the road closures, we just could not find the Park and Ride carparks. We asked some event staff for help but they were very rude and dismissive, and we were starting to panic. Eventually we ended up in the centre and passed the bus station, where I saw runners queueing up, so Stu dropped me as close as he could and went to ditch the car- luckily we weren’t both running!

My friend David was standing in the (already quite long) queue with a couple of others, so I joined them (sneakily queue skipping a little- sorry fellow runners!), happy to have people to chat to and try to relieve some of my build up tension, as well as distracting myself from my now bursting bladder- it was now 7am and I had been in the car since 4:30am, steadily hydrating myself like a good little runner. Unfortunately, the queue didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The bus station was the second stop on the route, and they were filling up the buses at the first stop, so a maximum of two or three people were getting on each bus. Three buses came and went in around an hour, but only six or seven people got on, and there must have now been well over 500 people queueing. Eventually after an hour some empty buses arrived, but then chaos ensued as the people at the back of the queue came forward (I believe after instruction from marshals) and started getting on one of the buses. Long story short, I squeezed onto one bus by the skin of my teeth, as the people in the queue behind me weren’t allowed on. Phew!

The bus journey was uneventful apart from my now very painful bladder, and we eventually arrived at the safari park, where I immediately joined a mercifully short toilet queue. Marshals were telling us there were more toilets inside and we didn’t have to queue there, but I’m a runner and I know to stay in a short toilet queue when I see one. Thankfully I did as the queues inside the park were horrendous. The relief was sublime.

I then headed into the safari park, where I saw a few fellow Metros, then decided that actually I could really use another pee. The queues were insane and along with some fellow glamorous ladies I ended up squatting behind a dumpster. I then headed to the start where I was delighted to see several friends, including Colin who went on to smash his first marathon. At this point I decided to move back a pen; I had an orange number, but the pacers in that wave only went up to 3:45. 4:00 and 4:15 where in the white wave, and 4:30 still further back in the pink. I didn’t want to get swept up or depressed at so many people passing me, so I headed to the middle of the white wave- still further forward than what I intended to run pace wise, but not so bad!

 

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Ready to go!

 

The start was incredibly stirring. They were playing bag pipes and Braveheart type music, going on about the history of the inaugural event, and I was glad I was there. Whatever happened, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this! There were elephants, tigers and lions giving runners high fives, Brendan Foster was there, the weather was perfect. I felt lucky to be a part of it.

Ten minutes after the first runners set off, it was our turn, and as I crossed the start line I settled into a steady pace. We all had a chuckle at the volunteers cheering after the first few hundred metres, “keep going!” The start was a nice gentle downhill as we exited the park. There was then a short out and back section, where I was able to see a few familiar faces, and saw that Rhona wasn’t far behind me when she gave me a big shout and wave. I knew she’d catch up with me soon enough so I just plodded on, enjoying the atmosphere and support. Soon enough she came alongside me with Jemma too, and it was great to see them. As Jemma pulled away, Rhona proceeded to keep me company for the next six miles or so. She was very good at keeping to my slower pace, and it was lovely to have a good catch up as well as some comfortable silences- the company was much appreciated.

There were a few undulations which I did feel more than I would have hoped, but I just slowed my pace accordingly. After four miles we reached Doune and the first water stop, and the support was just out of this world. Crowds of people lined the streets cheering and clapping, and I particularly enjoyed the “You’re Doune really well” sign- puntastic! I couldn’t stop grinning at this point- what an atmosphere!

The route quietened down again as we left the town, back to less support but lovely scenery. I had a chuckle as we passed the six mile sign followed less than a hundred metres later by the 10k mat- I remarked to Rhona “that’s a short point two of a mile!” The 10k timing mat was definitely early, and this showed on the timings, which has pretty much everybody slowing loads in the second 10k. Shortly after this we started to go uphill again, and it was here that Rhona started to pull away. Although I had enjoyed her company I was glad to see her go as I was already starting to feel my legs to be heavy and tired, and wanted her to be able to finish strongly, which she did.

I was also starting to feel grumblings in my tummy, and when we reached the next water stop at seven miles, I took the opportunity of somebody exiting a portaloo to dive in. I was glad I had as I clearly needed it. I was in an out in decent time though, and grabbed a water bottle and plodded on. I knew the next water stop wasn’t until 12 miles, and although it was good running conditions I was still fairly warm so I kept hold of the bottle, which helpfully was a decent small size and had a sports cap.

Around here we passed through Dunblane where the support was also immense. Although there were some quiet sections, I would say that the support on this race was up there with some of the best I have ever seen. It was great to see the residents (who must have been inconvenienced by the race) coming out to support in force, even as the weather got a bit wet and miserable later on.

Unfortunately, I was no longer grinning quite so much. I had anticipated my legs being tired, but what I hadn’t anticipated was feeling quite so unwell. When the 12 mile stop came, I decided again to visit the facilities, having to queue this time but only for a short time. Again, it was worth it.

After this stop, the route went cruelly uphill, before looping around the university. At least we could see people coming back the other way and knew we would get to come back down the hill! I was walking the inclines now, as were many around me. A couple of guys behind me said, “If we do this again next year, remember that miles eleven to twelve and a half are a c*unt”. I turned to them and said “you’re already talking about doing it again, it can’t be that bad!”

Finally we were heading back down the hill, and it was here that I saw Michelle, Jackie and Kirsty. It was great to see them and Michelle gave me a big hug- though shortly after this she was sick and became very unwell, unfortunately having to DNF, so I hope it wasn’t seeing me that had that affect! Also around this time I saw a guy dressed in a huge inflatable outfit of Big Hero 6- I was glad he was behind me, but looking at the results he finished ahead of me, which is a bit depressing!

The next few miles were just a hard slog. I was walking at least as much as I was running, and the weather now had turned pretty miserable and I was starting to get quite cold. It was a fairly boring and exposed bit of the route. I chatted to a few people around and just tried to keep moving. I did see one runner, up on the pavement, so engrossed on her phone that she ran straight into a cyclist. She was very indignant- “we’re running a marathon!!” but I felt sorry for the cyclist. He was right out of the way of the runners and had stopped as he had seen her coming but she was totally oblivious.

At about 15 miles I heard “Mrs Milne!” and Claire and Jane came up behind me. They did their best to encourage me but by now my stomach was cramping badly again and I was just waiting for the isotonic stop at mile 16, where I had been promised there was also water, so I could review yet another course portaloo. As they pulled away, Claire came back for me and tried to take me with them, but I told her I really couldn’t run because of my stomach, so she had to leave me, but I was very grateful for the support all the same.

Mile 16 finally came- no water as promised, but another mercifully short portaloo queue. And then it was time to get going again. Unfortunately the relief wasn’t lasting long, and not much time passed before I was having to mostly walk again. I would manage bursts of running, only around 20 seconds at a time, before the cramps would be too bad and I would have to walk again. Luckily I was pretty much okay when walking, so was able to at least keep moving. And I knew the laps of Stirling would arrive soon; I was looking forward to these as I knew this was where all my support would be.

As we merged in with the laps, I saw fellow metro David going past on his second lap and as he was walking, I ran until I caught up with him. I asked him how the laps were, and he told me pretty soul-destroying. He was not wrong. I don’t generally mind laps- how many times did I run around that airfield in Newark after all! But these were tough because when you were only at 18 miles or so, you passed the 25 mile sign, and saw people heading for the finish when you still had a long way to go. It was also hard having people flying past and worrying I was getting in their way. But David did also tell me there were a few pockets of support on the way round so I was looking forward to those.

The support here was indeed awesome, and eventually I heard a wall of sound that was the first group of Metros. Stu was up high screaming my name, but I just looked at him and shook my head (I later texted him saying “this was a mistake”. He said “you’ve done so well, just keep going”). Soon after that I heard somebody calling my name and was so glad to see Suzy and be able to get a big hug from her- it was the boost I needed!

As we passed 800m to go, 400m to go, signs, I worried that I had somehow missed the gantry and gone the wrong way, but then I saw it up ahead with “finish” to the left and “laps” to the right, and was relieved that at least I hadn’t gone wrong. Jemma came up alongside me here and it was great to see her. She offered words of support then pulled on ahead. Not long after I saw Iona at the side of the road and waved but she didn’t see me!

The second half of the loop was much quieter, and the underpasses which had caused so much concern in the lead-up weren’t as bad as expected, but the sharp declines and inclines weren’t much fun. I wasn’t even at 20 miles yet so hearing well-meaning spectators saying “you’re nearly there” was also a bit rubbish! The supporters were however amazing. I got lots of cheers from fellow Fetchies (thanks particularly to Dvorak and JulesR!) and metros, I can’t remember them all. Rhona and Iona were cheering for me at one point, and George sitting on a wall calling out well done. There was one guy standing in his balcony, music blasting out, cheering constantly, even when I was on my final lap. And a little old lady wrapped in a blanket in her doorway cheering everyone on, and a guy leaning on crutches using them to clap. So many people had set up impromptu feed stations with all kinds of goodies- it was like an ultra! Unfortunately I couldn’t stomach anything.

As I entered my second lap I passed a guy with a prosthetic arm and leg- what did I really have to complain about?? I said “you’re amazing, well done!” He replied, “thank you, are you on your last lap?” “I wish!” “Well keep on keeping on!”

As I was finally coming into the final stretch, into my second lap and at around 22 miles, Stu came up beside me. He asked me if I wanted him to stay with me or leave me and I asked him to stay. Because the runners had now thinned out so much, he was able to stay by my side for most of the last lap, and that was amazing. I was mostly walking but was cheerful enough and just having him to chat to was brilliant. My stomach was getting really bad again and starting to cause me problems even when walking, so with about two miles to go I jumped into a portaloo for one last time. I came out feeling much better and sprinted (haha!) off saying “come on Milne, let’s do this!” The relief wasn’t that prolonged but I was at least able to run a bit more for the last bit. Finally I was passing that mile 25 sign that I had seen twice before and wished so desperately was for me.

I did walk some of that last mile, but from the 800m to go sign I was determined. Stu peeled off to let me have my finish line glory, and I finally crossed the line 5:43:39 after I had started. In a bid for most motivational announcer, the guy cried out as I crossed the line “we now have less than 500 people still out there!”- so good to know I was in the bottom ten percent… I wobbled through the gantry, receiving my (excellent) t-shirt and medal, before heading for one last portaloo visit- I wanted to sample a full range, after all. Stu then bought me a gin and I finally grinned, posing in front of the castle with my medal and gin (which incidentally was far too strong to actually enjoy- I asked for a large, not realising it would be served in the world’s tiniest cup!)

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I then posed with the Nando’s chicken and received some crisps and vouchers for free chicken- chicken makes it all ok! I caught up with Michelle, Jackie and Kirsty again and gave Michelle a big hug and talking to as she was beating herself up. We runners can be so hard on ourselves (myself included) and forget how amazing it is to even line up at the start of a marathon.

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Once I’d recovered a little it was time to hobble to the car (having to climb over a wall on the way!!) and head back up the road. We were both too wiped to find anybody to celebrate with (not that I particularly felt like celebrating I must admit) and just wanted to head home. I had to set off on that bloody loop yet again to get to the car! But Stu had done really well finding a good parking spot and it wasn’t far to go, and soon we were heading out of the city. It was a smooth drive back up, and eventually we were home, though too tired to do much other than eat and head to bed! I did put some bubbles in the fridge but didn’t even get round to drinking them.

Was it the right decision to run? Perhaps not. Am I glad that I did? Absolutely. I would have been so gutted to miss out. Despite a few issues overall the organisation was great. Yes the laps were a little soul destroying, but I think it was just about worth it for the amplified support. It’s definitely an excellent addition to the Scottish racing calendar.

This time last year, I had an absolutely horrendous run at Windermere, where I was ill and it was incredibly hilly. I still finished in just outside 5:30. Admittedly my moving time minus toilet stops was around that time yesterday, but it is a bit depressing to be running times close to six hours. Last year I could grind a marathon out on a bad day in under five hours. But I’m not going to dwell on that. Undoubtedly I need a bit of a rest and then a training shake up, but that will come. For now, I’m going to be proud of my 25 marathon finishes (plus two D33s!) and glad that I was part of history in Stirling.

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Baker Hughes 10k- A Tale of Woe

I’m sure I’ve spoken of this before- most likely in my Baker Hughes blog last year- but the Baker Hughes 10k has always been a bit special for me. I’ve only actually run it a couple of times previously, but as a kid for many years I would support my dad as he ran it, thinking to myself that you would have to have serious mental issues to put yourself through something like that by choice.

And then of course last year, I had a fantastic run and finally broke 50 minutes for a 10k. The atmosphere was excellent, and all along the route there were people I knew cheering. I also have no issues with the route- it’s not the most thrilling of routes but then I rarely notice what I’m running past anyway. Give me cheering crowds and flat pavements over beautiful scenery any day! Given all this I didn’t hesitate to sign up many months ago, nabbing the early bird price- every little helps!

As discussed ad nauseum in my last blog, running has not been my buddy lately. But in some way knowing that I couldn’t beat last year’s time took the pressure off- time to run hard but comfortably and enjoy the day out. I hoped for a time around 52 minutes, which should have been well within my capability, and would be quicker than my slowest Baker time of 54:xx.

The forecast for the day was looking decent and it dawned mild without too much wind. Stu was taking a bag to leave at bag drop, so I put a thin long sleeved base layer over my vest before leaving to jog down to the start. It’s 2 miles from our flat to the start so it’s a decent distance for a warm up and saves having to worry about parking the car. I set off on my own with Stu and his mum a little behind me- it takes them much less time to cover 2 miles as it does me!

Within a minute or two of setting off I was over-heating. My legs didn’t feel too bad but I felt a bit queasy and just so warm. It was a surprisingly mild day but I didn’t think it was warm enough to warrant how I was feeling. I made it to the start without drama though and quickly joined the loo queue. Stu arrived shortly after and I handed over my base layer, cooling down at least as the breeze picked up a little. I still felt a little queasy but hoped it was just nerves. Bladder duly emptied it was time to head to the beach front for Tom’s inspirational Metro huddle and the group photo. It was clear that the wind had picked up a fair bit, but at least it would be blowing in the right direction for the most exposed part of the route along the beach.

I had seen on Strava that my friend Jim was also hoping for around 52 minutes, so I was glad when he found me in the start pen. I decided to try to hang on to him if I could. We crossed the start line together and I tried to settle into a good pace. I must say I think they do an excellent job at Baker of staggering the start- that first corner could potentially be a nightmare but because of the way they space the pens out, it doesn’t seem too crowded.

Jim set off at a fairly brisk pace, and I tucked in behind since we were heading into the wind (thanks buddy!). The first kilometre ticked by in a more than satisfactory 4:58, but I was working far too hard. I was roasting hot, and felt a bit dizzy and queasy. My legs very quickly felt like they were filling with lead. I had never felt anything like this so soon into a race- this was 20 miles into a marathon territory! I very quickly slowed down in a big for self-preservation, letting the crowds fly past me. At least I had managed the first kilometre on pace so wasn’t one of those annoying people starting too far forward and immediately holding people up!

The small incline up on to the beach front felt like a mountain, my legs feeling like they had absolutely nothing to give. Within the first couple of miles I contemplated dropping out- whether it was in my head or my body, something wasn’t right. But I’m an ultra-marathon runner. I can’t drop out of a 10k, can I??

All along the beach front I was going backwards and everybody and their dog went past. I stayed right to the side and just tried to keep my legs moving forward, fighting the urge to walk. Just before “half-way” (I’m sure the mat was early as it was last year) I saw my friend Lauren, who was marshalling, along with Kayleigh and Mo. They were a few metres to the side but I swerved over to them, saying that I felt sick. At that point I think I almost pulled out. But somehow I gave Lauren a weary (and probably pretty sweaty- sorry!) high five and re-joined the race route. I walked briefly at the water stop, swilling my mouth out. Although feeling hot and dizzy, I didn’t feel thirsty, and the water didn’t help much.

There’s not much more to say about the next few miles. I desperately tried to keep my pace under 6 minute kilometres so that I could finish within the hour. A couple of them tipped over but I had enough time in the bank from the first few miles. The support was immense and so many people cheered for me; I tried to muster a smile and a wave for them but I was just so miserable. In some ways the support made it even harder as I felt like I was letting so many people down.

At about 5 miles Erin came passed me. She was having a storming run and I knew she was going to smash her PB. I tried so hard to stay with her and encourage her, but I couldn’t muster anything else in my legs so I watched her zoom past, going on to a brilliant time.

 

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Thanks to David Maclennan for perfectly capturing my race

 

Then finally it was the last kilometre, up that stupid hill on which I pretty much ground to a halt, and into the home stretch. Stu was running alongside me telling me to push on but I just said “everything is spinny I can’t go any quicker”. And finally, finally it was finished. I grabbed my medal and searched desperately for water and Stu- when he reached me I just burst into tears on him. Again. Becoming a recurring theme in races lately! I took a few moments to myself, saying to Stu “I’m not sure I can do Stirling”. Because part of the reason I was so upset was not the immediate pain of the race, but the thought that if 10k was so hard, could I really run a marathon in a week. He told me that I had time to make that decision but if I didn’t do it, then that was ok.

Once I’d calmed down a bit I caught up with a few people and we headed over to prize-giving; great to see the Metro girls doing so well and Stu’s mum picking up a prize. I told her as well that I didn’t think I could do Stirling- she pointed out that I’m marathon fit not 10k fit and it’s a very different beast. Unfortunately, I’m really not marathon fit either, but it was nice to hear that she didn’t think I should be giving up just yet. She kindly went and picked up her car so I didn’t have to walk home, and I did feel better after a long hot shower.

 

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Wine makes everything better

 

We then headed to the pub where I proceeded to get distinctly merry through the afternoon (yesterday at work was pretty painful!). It was a brilliant afternoon and just what I needed. The words of kindness and support I received following my self-pitying Facebook post were amazing, and many made me shed a tear again. People call me an inspiration and I consider myself anything but, but when people tell me things like that it means so much and helps me keep going. My medal is still sitting in its bag because I don’t feel like I have anything to be proud of from Sunday, but at least I finished.

I am not yet decided about next Sunday. I am resting up this week, and will make a last-minute decision. People have said that I can adjust my goal but I had already done that- Stirling was never going to be about a time. And just getting round and enjoying the atmosphere doesn’t work when every step hurts and it takes you five or six hours! On the other hand, I’ve never had to DNS a marathon other than London, and that was with a bad injury and I had the option to defer. And the medal is awesome. Sigh. I just have to make sure that whatever decision I make, it’s for the right reasons, and for me, not anybody else. Time will tell.

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Dunecht Dash 5k

Dunecht Dash 5k is a race that I have been aware of for a few years and heard good things about but for one reason or another have never managed to do. This year it finally didn’t seem to clash with anything, and I bagged myself an entry.

Any of my Facebook friends will know that I’m currently in a bit of a hate/hate relationship with my running. Every run is a struggle, my legs feel heavy and tired, and I’m just not enjoying it. I have cut back my mileage although possibly not enough. I’m currently on antibiotics for an infection which may have been knocking me a little and I’m having bloods taken next week just to rule out any issues with iron levels etc- if those come back clear I’m just going to have to accept that I may need to take more time off than I currently want to (despite not feeling the love!). I do put my body through a lot and this may just be a warning sign to take a step back.

Anyway- now that tale of misery is out of the way… Despite the gloom, there have been glimpses of mojo in the last couple of weeks. Before Paris marathon I managed a 25:57 parkrun, and since Paris my times have been slowly coming down, with a 26:57 last week. With a slight hangover on the Monday I managed an (albeit flat) tempo 5k on the railway line of 26:01. With that in mind, I hoped that I would managed a 25:xx at Dunecht- I knew it finished with a sneaky uphill but hoped the race day adrenaline would give me that extra boost.

On the Friday I had a lovely run around Countesswells and Hazlehead with Alan and Alison- it was 12 miles but 12 tough miles with some cruel hills, and though it was slow and I faded at little at the end, I felt good for having done it. Saturday was time for the inaugural Aviemore parkrun- what a stunning wee route that is. I took it reasonably easy but sped up some in the second half, my legs still feeling quite heavy but not as bad as they have been. It was a gorgeous day as well, and after the run we headed to the safari park where we enjoyed a day in glorious sunshine. It was quite a long day but also perfect, and so nice to be able to spend a day like that with Stu.

Come Sunday I set off in good time, arriving in Dunecht early. The website had said that parking would be clearly marked from the main road, but although I could see signs saying “Dunecht races” pointing up to the estate, the only signs I could see about parking said “no parking beyond this point” so I parked up on the main road and started walking up the hill. As cars started passing me on the walk up it became evident that I could in fact have parked in the estate, but never mind- the mile and half or so walk was at least a decent warm up!

You’d think that having lived in Scotland for most my 31 years, I would know not to trust the weather by now. Unfortunately I had the heat of Saturday in my head, and popped on a vest and shorts without thinking much about it. I stuck a thin hoody on top of my vest as well. As soon as I stopped moving and got registered, I realised that it was really rather cold, with a freezing wind blowing through, and still nearly two hours until the race started! Luckily I also had a jacket in my bag but I certainly was never particularly warm while waiting for the race start.

Soon after arriving I bumped into my friend Freyja, doing her first 5k race (although she did brilliantly at a parkrun with me a few weeks ago) and very nervous. Many other familiar faces also appeared, and the time passed reasonably quickly chatting to people, visiting the loo, and trying to resist the delicious smells of frying bacon. Once the kids’ race had set off (and some of the insanely fast small people had already finished) I set off on my warmup. My legs felt alright, but the breeze was definitely a factor and that uphill finish looked rather cruel. I passed Robbie Simpson, who I knew was there to take a crack at the course record, during my warmup and had to reign myself in from geeking out at him.

Eventually it was time to move to the start. I was cold in my vest and shorts but I knew I would warm up soon enough once I got going. I positioned myself what seemed like quite far forward in the field, but looking behind me it was a smaller field than I’m used to so felt like I was in a reasonable place. My friend Rosey was running and had said she was going to be taking it quite easy so I thought I might just be able to hang on to her.

With an anticlimactic klaxon we were off, and I eased into my pace over the short grassy section before starting to push a little on the concrete. Even within the first few hundred metres we could see the field stretched out ahead of us, the speed Robbie was going at was just phenomenal! I chatted a little to Kev and Bill, and thought that if I could stick with them they could probably provide a useful wind guard!

The start is fast- the route is pretty much downhill for the first half and up for the second, give or take a few dips. Knowing this, I wanted to push on as hard as I could without completely blowing up in the second half. So despite it being quicker than I had thought it might be, I didn’t worry too much about seeing I was well below the 8 minute miles needed for 25 minutes. The first mile passed in 7:45 and I was feeling pretty good, although not looking forward to coming back up the hills! The second mile was 8:01 and I knew that I had time in the bank for 25:xx and started to think that if I could just stay strong up the last hill, I might even dip under 25. I had lost Kev and Bill but was running alongside a club mate Val, and in the third mile I started to pull away a little. There was a small downhill and I really pushed hard here, trying to gain some momentum. Luckily we had turned out of the wind now, and I hoped to get blown effortlessly and gazelle like back up the hill (ha).

 

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Effortless and gazelle like… (Thanks to Stuart Bell)

 

With the finish line nearly in sight, I was working hard but passing people which is always satisfying. I knew now I should be able to dip under 25, I just needed to keep pushing. The support up the final hill was great, and around 100 metres from the end I passed a guy who was obviously struggling. “Come on, final push” I gasped as I passed him, and we raced each other to the end, with him just pipping me, but then turning to thank me! An 8:06 last mile gave me an official time 24:42 with which I was absolutely delighted; my fastest 5k this year (just) and around a minute quicker than I had hoped for.

 

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Yay!

 

I quickly dropped my bag with my friend’s husband then jogged back down to get Freyja, bullying her up the last hill. She absolutely smashed it, taking around 2 minutes off her parkrun time- I was so proud of her!

 

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Not bullying Freyja hard enough as she’s still smiling (Thanks to Stuart Bell)

 

It’s a lovely route, although the second half is tough, and the organisation was superb. It’s an awesome medal too. I headed back to my car then home for celebratory brunch, feeling very pleased with my run. It does seem to have taken quite a lot out of me, as this week running has been back to being horrific. I tried some steady intervals yesterday just to get the legs going ahead of Baker Hughes and they absolutely sucked. I had a sports massage today which has helped loosen things off and I’m taking a couple of days off now, but I know that I can’t expect too much from Baker Hughes. It’s a shame after having such a cracking run there last year, but I’ll just be looking to enjoy the atmosphere. As much as some people don’t like it, I think it’s a great event. There’s a couple of people from work doing their first 10k and we’re all going out for a celebratory dinner after so there’s that to look forward to as well.

This blog has been a bit of a mixed bag, but that’s where my running is at just now. That’s the nature of the beast I guess- there are peaks and troughs. Since Paris it’s been a tough ride, but the general trend is in the right direction, and hopefully my mojo will become more of a permanent resident in the next little while!

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