The Railway Relay

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ready to go!

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Whose f*ckin idea was this?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dundee Running Adventure Marathon (DRAM)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“What is this wind??” Thanks Tony!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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See- windy!

 

 

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

 

 

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Stonehaven Half Marathon 2017

I had heard of Stonehaven half marathon for a few years before I finally ran it. I had often heard of how difficult and hilly it was, as well as the fact that being a summer race it was often pretty hot. Although this didn’t put me off, it usually clashed with the Race for Life, which I took part in every year; after all, it was Race for Life that got me started running. However I’d become so disenchanted with the organisational and safety issues at Race for life, as well as the fact I was feeling increasingly uneasy asking people to sponsor me for 5k/10k, so I’d stopped running it, opening up a gap in my racing calendar. Continue reading

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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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