Race Report – Aviemore Half Marathon 2018

It’s been a few years since I last ran this race, but those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember that this one holds a special place in my heart, not just because it was the first ever half marathon I ran (back in the pre-blog days of 2009) but it was also where Steve and I got engaged – that was quite a way to relieve my pre-race nerves! Further to that, in 2012 I ran a PB here which proved stubbornly difficult to beat for quite some time – all the way to early 2017 in fact! But for the last few years I haven’t been up there as I had different autumn priorities, and when Steve signed up back in the summer I initially wasn’t sure if I wanted to run the half or the 10k, eventually deciding that it would be worth capitalising on the training I was doing for the Disneyland Paris half and “properly” running a half marathon to round off my racing year.

In the past we have stayed in Aviemore the night before the race, but this time decided we would get up early and head up first thing in the morning. This meant leaving between 6 and 6:30am, times which seem increasingly reasonable the more I run!

It was still pretty dark as we set off on the 80ish mile drive north into the Highlands which meant we didn’t get much chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery. We had the latest episode of Marathon Talk playing in the car and had a pretty easy drive, arriving at the race HQ just before 8am.

The race itself starts at 10am, however the logistics are such that runners are taken by bus to the start (only about 10-15 minutes away) and the course returns us to the MacDonald hotel complex which is used as the race HQ and car park. The buses begin at 8am and the last one is at 9am so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to collect our race numbers, go to the loo and get in line for a bus.

s6tVq4+ARuSFinP1VTwu%wWe were up at the start at the Badaguish outdoor centre not long after 9am. It was pretty chilly, but the organisers have a good set up with teas and coffees available (with donation buckets out for those who have cash at the start line) and a sheltered area to gather in. I had a cosy top on that I was going to put in Steve’s bag (we usually do this since he will finish first and can collect the bag before I finish) but had chosen one I was happy to throw away if I just couldn’t bear to remove it soon enough!

We had a cup of tea then got in the queue for the toilets around 9:30, so by the time we emerged it was time to hand in our bag. I was shivering a bit, but didn’t have too long to wait until I got underway and I knew I would be absolutely fine once I got moving.

DtHG+BLvRxaWOtnFMuJoZgAs runners line up there are markers with approximate times on them and I set myself up next to the “sub 2 hours” marker. Realistically I had no idea what I could do, but with a PB of 1:53 and previous long-standing PB (from this race) of 1:56 I was fairly certain I could squeak under 2 hours.

Before I knew it, we were being walked towards the start and past a piper. Steve took some photos as I couldn’t be bothered to pull my phone out and I was instructing him as to the photos to take!

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AFkyVosFSzuzu8JxGouiCAThere was a moment of confusion when we could see through a  break in the trees that the runners at the front had started and, of course, those further back started to run even though we hadn’t reached the start line yet. I never understand this. Surely we’re going to run enough during the race? And the confusion was created by the fact that so many people were running and I could hear lots of folk asking if we had crossed the start line yet, but since we had race chips on our shoes I knew that even though there was no gantry, the start line would be when we crossed a timing mat slightly further on so stayed calm and started my watch as I hit the mat.

The first half of the race, which is net downhill overall, takes place on trails which can be a little narrow at points and thanks to the recent rainy weather there were quite a few puddles. I knew from previous experience that it wasn’t worth worrying about pace in the first half of the race as the chances are you will be way off, particularly with a steep hill at the start of the 4th mile, but will make up lots of time once the course emerges onto the road as it’s pretty much all downhill through the second half of the race. I actually set my watch to show me the average pace rather than the current pace and amused myself with some “runner maths” to try and work out if I was on track for a sub-2.

fullsizeoutput_28faA fun moment came towards the end of the trail section as I became aware of runners backed up around a corner. It turned out that there was a puddle of such magnitude that there was absolutely no avoiding it and people were looking for the best way to approach it. Most were going around the edges (which were pretty squelchy) as there was clearly a deeper hole in one part of it and lots of people were falling down. Not wanting to hurt myself by stepping on something uneven that I couldn’t see (or have an impromptu ice bath), I also went around the outside, but still ended up in cold water up to my knees and with icy cold feet – a good incentive to run faster in the second half to warm up again!

Thanks to my choice of attire I was getting lots of shouts (everything I was wearing was actual running kit, I just thought I would have a bit of fun and embrace the feline theme of running for a cat charity!). Early in the race as we had a brief section on a road I heard a little girl say, “she’s dressed up as a cat!” and as we ran by Loch Morlich shortly before joining the road for the home stretch a spectator shouted, “well done pussy cat!” Most of the marshals also commented on my cat ears and gave me a big smile. It was really nice, if a little unusual!

Once out on the road around 7 miles in it was time to get myself moving a bit faster. My average pace had been showing about 9:27 and I knew that 9:09 would be 2 hour pace. With the slight downhill it felt easy to push on and although it crossed my mind to wonder if I could sustain a faster pace, I dismissed the thought and focused on running to feel. I was passing people and feeling good. I even managed to take my gels (I had one on the trail at mile 5 and planned a second at mile 10 with “a parkrun to go”) without choking myself!

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Splits from the trail section

I was noticing my average pace falling until it dipped under the 9:09 I was looking for and at that point I knew I could keep my legs turning over all the way to the end. An interesting thing about this race is that the mile markers are actually “miles to go” so they are counting you down to the finish. I had noticed in the second half of the race that the markers were a bit off compared to my Garmin and suspected the route was going to come up a little short. Thanks to my knowledge of the route, I decided to trust the markers and keep on pushing as my pace felt ok.

There’s a short, sharp hill to take us from the path we are on up onto the main road and back into the hotel complex, and as I came off the hill I glanced at my watch to see that it read 1:55. I knew my previous best time from this race was 1:56 something, but couldn’t remember what the seconds were. I tried my best to speed up as the finish line was in sight but the last 100m or so are over grass which was a bit soft and uneven so I couldn’t get quite the sprint finish I wanted.

I heard the announcer call my name as I crossed the line and headed through the chute to collect my water, shortbread (such a Scottish race haha!) and medal then return my chip.

NpnukYlNToyy7NRYe2SBdQI met Steve and we headed back inside to sort ourselves out and I took advantage of the opportunity to look up my previous time (1:56:35) and confirm that I had indeed beaten it. My chip time for this year was posted as 1:56:02. Those 2 seconds are a little irritating, but given I had only expected a squeak under 2 hours (and there were some slight holdups on the trail) I’ll take that. This now becomes my 2nd fastest half marathon time and only the 3rd time I have run sub-2. Pretty pleasing for someone who was certain she wasn’t in fantastic form! I suspect the lack of pressure or expectation meant that I ran well, felt comfortable and enjoyed the event. I felt really strong in the second half and looking at my splits that strength is confirmed so I definitely got my strategy right.

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Splits from the road section – definitely a negative split!

UntitledAnd so this remains one of my favourite races. It’s well organised, has a fun route and is very friendly. There are always people there that I know and the sections where there are spectators always have great support. It’s nice to run a race with a more local feel to it. I’ll try not to leave it another 5 years before I go back!

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4wGXTmvsReqkWr+0x7yOkAYou can read about my previous experiences of this race here and here.

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Race Report – The Stirling Scottish Marathon 2018

If you’ve been following along with my training since the beginning of the year you will probably know that I didn’t specify a time goal for this race. I was tired of constantly putting pressure on myself to achieve a time and then coming nowhere near it for a variety of reasons including injuries, weather and, for my last marathon, the stress of a very poorly cat and an emergency visit to the vet the day before. This time I wanted to enjoy the process (it is The Year Of Me after all) so my goal was simply to train as well as I could and then do my best on the day. That meant adapting to the circumstances and adjusting as I went rather than burning myself out chasing a time.

But I’m a runner. I had lots of data from my training so had an idea of where I might be and the last thing I wanted was to not do myself justice. And so I set myself “standards” rather than specific goals, benchmarks I could consider once I had a finish time rather than an extra pressure on the day. I wanted to have fun, to enjoy the race I had spent time training for rather than limp across the line ready to chuck my trainers in the bin.

  • With a PB of 4:05:07 from way back in 2014 (and I’m not getting any younger!), my “unicorns are smiling on me creating rainbows in the sky” 🦄 🌈 goal had to be a PB. And if the stars really aligned 🌟 a sub-4 has long been my ultimate goal. I didn’t honestly think this was realistic just yet.
  • Since setting that PB the absolute closest I’ve come is my time of 4:18:10 from my last race – the Loch Ness marathon in September. Everything else has been in the 4:30/4:40 region so my B goal 🏅 was to beat that time. This was the one I thought was most realistic and anticipated something between 4:10 and 4:15.
  • Finally, my “the wheels have totally come off and everything has gone to 💩” goal was to finish smiling. I was going to be running on a beautiful route and I do love marathons, so why would I want to make myself miserable? I knew I could finish, so just had to make sure that whatever happened I chose to enjoy it.

Within all of that I had one sub-goal: no walking other than to take my gels (it just works better for me to walk for a moment then carry on running). In the past I’ve lost the mental battle a bit and allowed myself to walk in the latter stages of the race, especially once I knew my time goals had gone. This time I wanted to eliminate that and run my best time, whatever that may be. I knew I needed to keep my pace under control at the start so I would have a bit of energy for later then dig deep in the latter miles to the finish. To help me with all this, I changed the settings on my watch so I could see my average pace and make sure I kept it steady at the start. My basic plan was to keep it steady to 20 then see how I felt (wiped out, obviously, but if there was anything left to push on then I was going to try and push on).
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Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 19.30.43The night before I got my kit organised. Since I was fundraising I had my charity vest and paired it with my favourite Under Armour running skirt that I usually save for marathons as well as a couple of special extras. I had ordered a pair of bespoke trainer tags from Lucy Locket Loves, one featuring my blog name and one with the name of my 2018 charity challenge Miles for Morven. I had also ordered a beautiful silk wrap from Run Bling by Nicky Lopez. I had asked her to engrave it with Miles for Morven and add some paw prints and I was so delighted with it. I wanted to keep my reason for running close by and have something to inspire me simply by glancing down at my wrist during the race.

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S1a70fuwSTK66ERWetx1MgRace day dawned and the weather was exactly as expected from my stalking of the forecast all week: dry and cool. Perfect. All my kit was ready so I got up, had my porridge, got dressed then had a second bowl of porridge just to make sure I was well fuelled. After a quick coffee we hit the road for the half hour drive to Stirling.

jeZ6wZPYSi+Ht3H1I3DK4QWe parked in the event car park (basically some empty land) with Stirling Castle in the background and walked from there to the start area. This was well set up with lots of toilets and the baggage buses. I actually got straight into a toilet (unheard of!) then reluctantly removed my layers, put my bag on the bus and, since there were now queues, waited to get into the toilet again.

We had to make our way a short distance from there to the actual start line where one of those god-awful mass warmups was underway. We were both in the red (front) wave and there were officials shouting at everyone to get into the pens, but sadly they didn’t actually tell us HOW (this is my one quibble with the setup). There was no obvious way to get in and lots of people waiting so we did what many others were doing and scaled the barriers! I’m not a fan of doing this since I’m terrified of hurting myself right before the race is due to start, but I took my time and as I turned to step into the start pen, I felt the steady hands of another runner help guide me safely there. Runners are nice like that.

By this time it suddenly dawned on me that we were getting underway. I hadn’t switched my Garmin on and still had my throwaway top on (it was cold and I knew these were being collected for charity) but I miraculously got it all sorted out just as the countdown began – no hanging around at this race!

Despite all that I didn’t feel stressed or worried (although I did miss out on a start line selfie). I was calm and ready to settle into my pace, soaking up the atmosphere through those first few miles when everyone is in high spirits and there are conversations going on around you.

I settled into a comfortable pace, holding back so I wouldn’t go too fast and use up all my energy. I was steady and enjoying the first few miles, legs feeling good. We passed by the entrance to Blair Drummond Safari Park at the 4 mile mark, where we were greeted by this fun cheer squad:

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Photo from Blair Drummond Safari Park on Facebook

The next landmark was Doune Castle which is generally known for being used as a film location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as, more recently, Game of Thrones. I did catch a glimpse of the castle and it looked really pretty.

Through Doune the crowd support was brilliant and I was still feeling good. I remember laughing at a sign saying, “If you collapse I will pause your Garmin” before heading back out onto the country roads towards Dunblane. There was a bit of a climb in this section, then a glorious downhill stretch through Dunblane (where Andy Murray grew up). I had really wanted to see the gold postbox that marked “Our Andy’s” Olympic gold, but I missed it. Steve thought there were people standing around it hence why I didn’t see it even though I was looking.

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I can’t remember where this was, but I really like the photo.

From Dunblane we followed the road towards Bridge of Allan and there was another nice downhill stretch before things levelled out. I was still averaging around 9:05 per mile and felt comfortable. The temperature was ideal, I was happy with my electrolyte drink and my gels (I actually didn’t use any of the on-course drinks or gels), there was a nice mix of sections with great crowd support and quiet sections where I could just enjoy the scenery and think my own thoughts (I had my Aftershokz headphones around my neck, but hadn’t yet bothered to listen to anything even as I went through halfway). It was simply a lovely Sunday morning run.

On the other side of Bridge of Allan is the University of Stirling where my sister studied for her degree. The route took us on a loop around the campus, starting with a bit of an uphill slog before a nice downhill run back out. That uphill felt tough, but as I left the campus and rejoined the road at around 16.5 miles I was doing ok and knew I would get my next gel at 20 miles so that was my target. It’s funny how these things become quite exciting during a marathon and I find myself strangely looking forward to the next gel, especially the double espresso one with caffeine I take at mile 15 – like having a mid-race coffee!

About a mile later, things felt a little harder but I was prepared for the mental battle this time. I had thought that I might put a podcast on when things felt tough, but instead I did something different. I had said that I was running this one for Morven and that when things felt hard I would remember my reason for running, the funds I had raised and the people who had supported me. My thoughts turned inevitably to Morven and I felt like I was drawing on her and the strength she had when battling illness in her last year. I know it’s hard for people who have never had a pet to understand, but Morven and I had a very strong bond so there was a lot of emotion tied up in this for me. As I ran, I developed a positive mantra which I kept repeating to myself in time with my foot strike and it helped to keep my cadence up. Before I knew it I was another mile in and gaining on a runner I knew from parkrun. I kept the mantra going until I took my gel at mile 20 then decided that I needed to get outside of my head for a bit. The weather had changed and it was raining so it was finally time to start my podcast to see me through the last 10k.

IMG_5348By this point, of course, I had no real clue where I was geographically. There was a sort of loop that we ran that took in some kind of bike path then we rejoined the main road and I remember a corner where there was lots of crowd support and I got a boost from a runner I know from a social media group giving me a shout. Since I had no on-course support with me, it was so nice at one or two points along the route to see people I knew and to get a shout from them to cheer me on.

From here, the road was on a slight incline. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have been too bad but at this stage in a marathon it felt quite tough. I spotted a race photographer so made sure to try and look like I was still running strong for the photos I would see later!

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Trying not to look like I’m dying (and probably doing a better job than the guy beside me!)

I always break the last 10k into “2 parkruns” with an extra gel in between. I opted to take my last gel at 23 miles then told myself I just had to keep moving forward through the last parkrun to the end. My average pace had been stubbornly drifting outside of my PB pace, but not too much so I was feeling confident that I could comfortably achieve my B goal by some margin.

At last the route brought me into Stirling and the final stretch to the finish. My legs were heavy and I felt like I was wading through treacle but I was still running. The hardest part was through the centre of Stirling (which reminded me very much of Inverness) as there were cobbles. People often express concern about the cobbles in Paris but I’ve never been bothered by those as they are actually pretty smooth and even. In contrast, the cobbles of Stirling were uneven and there were big ruts in some sections that made it difficult for weary legs, but I knew I had to be close to the finish as my watch had been fairly accurate to the course signage throughout and I was trusting that information.

Steve’s cousin had told us she would be at a cheer point for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau not far before the 26 mile mark and I spotted her leaping out to give me a big cheer as I turned a corner to be faced with what looked like a mountain. Yes, someone thought a 600m uphill finish would be the perfect grand finale to the route! I was willing my legs to move faster but I think the Central Governor had taken over long before and was refusing to let me go any quicker until an actual finish gantry was in sight. I could hear everyone around me react to seeing the hill and we were all exchanging a few words and groans about it. I had stopped my podcast when I got into Stirling as there was a lot of crowd noise and that meant I could soak up the atmosphere in the final sections of the race.

As I got closer to the finish I began to spot some familiar faces from Perth in the crowds and got a few shouts then, praise be! The finish gantry! The Central Governor relinquished control and my legs began to move again. As I ran into the finishing straight the opening bars of the YMCA began to play over the loudspeaker and hilariously both the girl ahead and I saw fit to join in with the actions as we ran along. I could hear a roar from the crowd each time we flung our arms up into the ‘Y’ and I just loved that atmosphere as I ran to the finish.

20x30-SSMC3090Crossing the line I had the usual wave of emotions, but managed to keep it together as I exchanged a few words with the girl who had been ahead of me as I had been using her as a kind of pacer for the last part of the race. I was grinning ear to ear from a great race and keen to get my official time as I knew it would be a few seconds faster than my watch.

I was handed my goody bag which contained my T-shirt, medal and assorted other bits and pieces, including a packet of spaghetti!?!

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jR1NmIv%R5+J7jGWZKh59gSteve was waiting at the end of the finish funnel and he had already collected my bag from the bus so I didn’t have to shuffle across the field to get it. The sun was shining so I fished my disposable poncho from my bag and spread it on the ground so I could sit down, have my recovery drink and gather my thoughts. I even managed to get up again all by myself (thank you yoga!) to get a couple of photos.

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YDBkbIBmRMW9SVArj30AGAAnd that official time? In case you’ve somehow missed my shrieking about it in my last Week in Review or all over social media, it was 4:05:40. A mere 33 seconds outside of my PB, making it officially my 2nd fastest marathon ever, and well inside that B goal I had set myself. I’d say that’s a good morning’s work. One or two people have asked if I’m disappointed not to get a PB and my honest answer is no. This race was never about a PB, it was about a process. It was about seeing how I would run when I listened to my body and removed the pressure of time. To run that time whilst still enjoying the race and never feeling like I was really struggling or that I couldn’t do it is testament to the training I have done and the approach I took. I also met my sub-goal of no walking other than to take my gels whereas in the past I would have taken walk breaks as soon as I realised the chance of meeting my A goal was gone. When I reflect, I truly believe that in many ways this is my best performance ever even if it isn’t my fastest result. It doesn’t always have to be about the time on the clock, but it should be about the time you have.

fullsizeoutput_252cOverall I really loved this race. I used to only want to run big city marathons but this was a wonderful experience for me and I would happily sign up to this race again in the future. It’s well-organised, has a fantastic route, great support and, crucially, is close to home. I do love the opportunity to travel for a race, but nothing beats home comforts when you’re preparing to run 26.2 miles.

Stirling marathon: you were great.

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Week In Review – Music And Excitement!

Oh what a week it’s been! It may have been the first week of a new school term, but from Thursday to Sunday everything was so exciting it was like Christmas for me! It was also the second week of my taper, the one when I tend to start noticing that sluggish feeling creeping in, but there was still a decent week of training (and some extra “rest” to combat a busy week). Here’s how it all looked:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – form drills
Thursday – rest
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – rest

A new term at school meant a new block of my Hatha yoga class. Although I have cultivated a decent home practice this year, I still enjoy going to my classes and miss it when it’s not on or I can’t go. It was so nice to be back on my mat in the lovely studio and I marked the occasion by giving my new leggings a whirl. I had a “whale” of a time! 🙄

ekUjbTiQQwqC5YKWYSe7tgTuesday had me back on the bike at the gym. Someone was on the bike I like (surely not just me that has preferences?) so I had to go on one I’m not so fond of. I know technically the bikes are all the same, but I’m sure the tilt of the seats differs a bit and the resistance doesn’t always feel the same even at the same setting. I’m still not sure if my workout felt tough because I was on a bike that feels “harder” or if I was just feeling a bit sluggish and tired. The important thing is that I got it done, event though my legs and my mind were telling me I couldn’t. Tenacious is my middle name!

Then on Wedensday I had a set of form drills to do. This time it was 10x 1km and I definitely felt sluggish. My calves were weary and my right hip was bothering me a little (it’s fine now, just a mobility thing I had been working through and a bit of phantom taper tension). At one point I thought I might bail out early but felt better as the run went on so completed the set.

3tRee26CTCeyXgtH1B4kSQIt was a super-quick turnaround as I got in the door at 6:30pm, showered, changed, ate and was ready for my sister to pick me up for an orchestra rehearsal that started at 7:30pm. Someone in my section had seen me out running and was most impressed that I had managed to juggle everything. To be honest, squeezing in a rehearsal at this point wasn’t ideal, but it was a one-off due to our concert from early March being postponed because of The Beast From The East. I figured I could manage one rehearsal plus I knew I had factored this into some extra rest and recovery at the end of the week to balance things up.

Thursday was probably the absolute highlight not just of the week but of my year so far. Back in October it was announced that GARY BARLOW would be performing in Perth as part of his solo tour and, since everyone knows he is my favourite, there was no way I was going to miss this. My sister sorted the tickets out and I was prepared to forego Ashtanga yoga for one night in order to see my beloved Gary (although I did some at home before I went). Oh boy was it worth it! I don’t think my sister really appreciated how good it was going to be, but there is just something so special about an artist who usually commands massive stadium audiences and huge venues to be in a far more intimate venue. We had seats but I was on my feet throughout and managed to notch up around 2000 “steps” just dancing and waving my arms about at my seat! I LOVED it!

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Yes, we bought the same T-shirt!

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fGA90h7vSwWCCFAfe7pTIwEven better, I appeared on Gary’s Instagram. Sort of😂:

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fullsizeoutput_24c1Of course this meant that I probably had the least amount of sleep I’d had all week, despite being home at a reasonably civilised hour, yet I felt amazing on Friday with songs going around my head and still on a high from the concert buzz. I took a rest day and went to get my nails done all ready for the race next weekend.

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All about the bling!

Originally my plan for the weekend had me doing parkrun on Saturday then 8 miles on Sunday, but since I was so excited about watching the London marathon, I knew I would need to move things around a bit. I contemplated getting up early to run my Sunday miles before the TV coverage started, but with the concert on Saturday night (and an afternoon of rehearsals beforehand) I knew I would want to rest so decided on getting some solid miles in on Saturday instead. I duly ran the scenic route to parkrun, took part in the run, then rook a different scenic route home. 10 miles total for the day.

Fb%Cfn5jQTGlNRBJB3giRAI definitely felt better than on Wednesday, but felt like “marathon pace” was about all I could manage on my run down. Perhaps because in my mind I was running much further, or because I was listening to Marathon Talk, my standard “long run” podcast, I just didn’t seem to have much more oomph. I really expected to run about 26-27 minutes for parkrun, but rallied a bit to get a 25:15, having been getting gradually faster throughout. I’ll take that!

Steve and I ran home together (he had left before me to go down as he wanted to do some drills) and at first my legs felt a bit heavy form the faster running, but I soon settled in and felt comfortable by the time I got to my front door (which I ran past twice to make sure I got my 10 miles – runner problems 😂)

I spent the afternoon rehearsing on the same stage Mr Barlow had been on two nights previously. Sadly no evidence remained of his presence, but it was still cool to think about it like that. Then after a short break to go home and eat, etc, it was back for the concert. We played a great programme including some movie music – The Magnificent Seven, The Jungle Book, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Great fun!

Choosing a rest day on Sunday meant I got a decent sleep then transferred myself to the sofa in time for the coverage to begin. What an incredible morning of racing, despite less than ideal conditions for it. Now I’m feeling inspired to go out and do my best when it’s my turn next Sunday.

IMG_0496In case you weren’t aware, I’m running for the charity I got my cat Morven from back in 2000. I still miss her tremendously after saying goodbye back in January and decided to do something positive in her memory. When I find myself in a rough patch, I will be remembering Morven and using this to help me push on. If you would like to help, you can read more here. Every penny makes a different to the lives of cats without a fur-ever home.

Did you watch the London Marathon?
What was the last concert you went to?
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Week In Review – Too Much To Do!

The annual “crunch time” that is February continued to rumble on this past week as I had ANOTHER parents’ evening and two sets of report cards to write.  It would all be fine if I didn’t have to teach as well lol!

Fortunately I was still able to fit in most of my training and find a bit of time for myself in there – experience has taught me to do what I can to avoid overload at this time of year!

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym plus sports massage
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 14 miles

Going to a Hatha yoga class on a Monday evening is proving to be a great decision. Monday can be a bit of a shock to the system as it is, and as my mileage increases I can find myself quite weary as the week begins. I’m finding the yoga class a great way to take some time for myself and the timing means I don’t have to rush about in order to get there. This week we were in a new venue as my teacher has been looking for the perfect location for her yoga and pilates classes. I really liked the studio space she found – easy to access, nearby parking and it felt really chilled with low lighting and peaceful pictures on the wall. This week was a trial to see how the venue fared and I suspect it’s going to be a permanent move. No arguments here!

IMG_5545On Tuesday I worked a bit later to try and get on top of some of my reports. When I arrived at the gym I realised I hadn’t checked my training programme to see how Steve was progressing my bike reps this month and yup, you guessed it, a longer work interval but the same rest as I have been doing. The number of reps came back down but I found the last couple a bit of a challenge so dropped the intensity level by one in order to get a quality workout.

IMG_5546With a sports massage booked I had no time to squeeze in a swim but I’m hoping to pay an extra visit to the pool when we have our half term weekend next week. The massage was just what I was needing to flush out some of the tension beginning to build up in my legs and it helps to keep me feeling as fresh as possible throughout the training cycle.

Wednesday was the parents’ evening. I was already miffed to be missing a run and this was compounded as due to the way the two evenings had been organised for this year group, I had far fewer appointments and, unfortunately, they were really spread out so I was in for the duration! I made use of the time in between appointments to get some more reports done (I proof-read them the next day just in case!) and although mentally worn out at the end of the day, I felt better for making a dent in my workload.

Of course I felt pretty tired all day Thursday as a result, but I had my Ashtanga class to look forward to. There were only 2 of us in the class and both of us go regularly so that meant the teacher could move a little more quickly through the sequence than when there are less experienced practitioners in the class. As a result, we were able to try some postures we don’t normally do which was great fun. I particularly enjoyed having a go at a headstand and was able to hold it for a few seconds with the teacher helping to support me. Something to work on perhaps…!

I spent as much time as I could on Friday working on my reports and when the school day finished (we’re a bit earlier on Fridays) I decided to stay and get the last 10 done before the weekend. I’ll still need to proof read them, but it was such a relief to get them all written as I know there’s plenty more work to come this term! I did, however, have to sacrifice my PT session with Steve as I needed to be home to take delivery of a parcel (my new phone and I had missed the delivery driver twice already – oops!). Not ideal, but another example of how it’s ok to skip the odd workout when life gets in the way without it being a total disaster!

The rest of the evening was nice and relaxing and after we had eaten Steve discovered an unopened bottle of mulled wine from Christmas. Just to prove we’re still rock ‘n’ roll we not only had some, but served it in Christmas mugs. Party on!

IMG_5551On parkrunday we were still using the alternate course on the path just like last week. This time the conditions were a bit better (no sleet or painfully cold fingers!) but I was doubtful that I could maintain my current streak of each parkrun in 2018 being a bit faster. I’m not delusional and know it has to end some time, in fact I’ve been fairly certain for the last couple of weeks that I had reached my current limit there, but as it turned out I had a few more seconds in me so my 24:50 kept the streak alive. I was a little miffed to lose my Royal Flush Negative Split by just a second though – gah!

IMG_5603Steve’s brother was busy but the two of us still headed into town for our post-parkrun bacon croissant which was satisfyingly well filled this week. Just the thing!

IMG_5605The rest of Saturday was spent getting my new phone set up (something I actually quite enjoy) and making sure I was logged into all my apps again. My dad always takes my old phone so he’s excited to be getting an upgrade too!

Of course we finished the day with Steve’s homemade pizza, this week a belated celebration of (Inter?)National Pizza Day on Friday. I don’t know what TV programmes my parents are watching over in the States, but just about every day my mum sends me a text informing me of the random holiday being marked (my favourites so far include Spaghetti Day, Book Your Travel Day and Hugging Day). This time I actually already knew about Pizza Day as I had entered a virtual race to mark the occasion. Yes, I did enter because the medal was shaped like a slice of pizza. Wouldn’t you?

2yW%4W28T%W90AXKvgShugAnd then it was Sunday. 14 miles on the schedule and it was another bright but cold morning. I plotted a route fairly similar to last week’s and used the same pattern of running every third mile faster, with a focus on good form. There were some points when I felt a little sluggish, but I suspect that’s a reflection of the busy week and missing my midweek run rather than anything else, and my overall average was still where I wanted it to be so I’m not giving it any more thought. It’s still all about the process and part of the process is runs where things feel a bit tougher. I know it will all come together when it needs to.

IMG_5607Later in the afternoon we headed out for our usual Sunday afternoon coffee and Steve bought me a Valentine cake. It must be love!
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The Valentine theme carried on through dinner as we indulged in our M&S Valentine Dine-In meal:

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Salmon, avocado and prawn starter

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Rack of lamb with garlic & rosemary crust served with triple cooked chips (rack of lamb supper? 😂)

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Black Forest rose dessert

I even did my very best to taste it all and not just inhale (the runger is getting real now!). The deal also included a small box of chocolates and a bottle of prosecco so it was good value and all delicious. A lovely way to end the weekend.

How is your training going?
Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
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Week in Review – No More Snow

I wasn’t really sure what to title my post this week. It was just another January week of darkness, rain and wind, with me out training anyway. But after getting so much enjoyment out of my snowy runs last week, the sudden melting of that snow was probably the thing that stuck out the most.

Here’s how my week shaped up:

Monday – Hatha yoga rest
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym + swim
Wednesday – form drills
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 10k

Monday didn’t quite go to plan as my yoga teacher had a bit of a family emergency so the class was, understandably, cancelled. I ran a few errands then did my own yoga session using the Yoga with Adriene 30 day journey I have been following. Not quite the same, but I still got some yoga in.

On Tuesday things were a bit more productive. As part of my role supporting a probationer teacher this year I had volunteered to join one of the panels offering them mock interviews in school ahead of their first proper teaching interviews which are coming up. It was really interesting for me to be on the other side of the table and I think I learned a lot from the process. Thanks to our earlier finish on a Tuesday I still had plenty of time afterwards to get to the gym for my bike intervals then followed this up with a swim. Having felt a bit rusty last week, I thought my swimming felt much better this week. Smoother and with less intake of water. Time will tell if this was a fluke or if I’m actually beginning to get the hang of it!

Sadly Wednesday didn’t quite pan out again. I got caught up in some things at work (there are what seem like a million mock exam papers to mark in a really short space of time!) and knew I couldn’t fit everything in. Since training is my priority, I had to miss my orchestra rehearsal but I’ll make sure I get there next week. My Wednesday workouts have been a little disrupted with the snow, so Steve told me to do another set of the form drills I did a couple of weeks ago, this time adding on two further reps. It was a REALLY windy day (Storm Georgina apparently) so it wasn’t an easy run, but since the drills are about form rather than pace I was still able to do it. I certainly knew about it in the last rep which was on a slight incline AND into a headwind. Character building I’m sure!

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The windswept look lol!

Thursday was, of course, my Ashtanga yoga class. I was really feeling in need of it to clear my head as I had been tying up the loose ends of vet bills and insurance payments related to my cat – not easy but it had to be done and yoga was exactly what I needed to settle myself down again. There were some beginners in the class so some parts of it moved a little slower, but I was really pleased to manage a full round of Yoga Wheel, a posture I was working on throughout 2017. Next is to manage 2 rounds as we usually do 2 or 3 rounds of a back bend and I tend to mix Wheel and Bridge in my practice.

I ended up with a rest day on Friday purely down to logistics. I fit my PT sessions around Steve’s paying clients, but had an appointment to get my nails done (badly needed, they were such a disaster and far too long for me) so our diaries just didn’t match up. This meant a home yoga practice for me again before we headed out to eat.

IMG_5451For some reason Steve fancied a dessert and since I’m a team player I wasn’t going to let him eat alone and made the sacrifice to have a sticky toffee pudding.  The things I do for love lol!

IMG_5452After a good sleep I was up and ready for parkrun on Saturday morning, wearing my new Mr Men/Little Miss running tights (apparently I’m developing a leggings habit but the mad patterned ones I’ve been buying are really cheering me up and let’s face it, at this time of year I’m manny in work clothes, running clothes or pyjamas!).

IMG_5455Since the ground was so soft the decision was taken to use an adjusted version of the route (we missed this a couple of weeks ago as we were at the vet). Basically it means avoiding the quagmire of the grass section and returning on a different section of grass (which is in much better condition) just behind where we normally run. It adds very minimally to the route, but is realistically faster as the ground is in better condition.

It was one of those days fairly common in Scotland where there is a headwind no matter which way you turn and I was starting out easy as I had been working through a slight niggle in my right leg (all good, just the effects of a movement pattern that needed adjusted so it’s fine now thanks to Steve’s intervention). I got a bit faster as I went on and was initially a little disappointed with my 25:34 until I remembered that last winter was very much the same with the effort level not really giving the return when it came to pace. It’s really best to forget about pace and just run to feel at this time of year so when the better weather comes the benefit will be there. When I received my result I realised that this was actually the fastest time I’ve run since the “parkrun year” began at the end of November, and on a slightly longer course. Not only that but each parkrun since the 1st January has been getting gradually faster so the training effect is in there, I just have to pay attention to it.

IMG_5460Post-parkrun I was getting my hair cut so missed out on the coffee and bacon croissants this time. I’m already looking forward to next week!

Since this was a cutback week, my long run was “just” 10k. Since I felt well rested I decided to get up and go quite sharp so as to create a bit of time in my Sunday. I was out the door before 9am and we were actually out on our Sunday errands before noon. Unheard of during training! I took it easy on my run and enjoyed one of my favourite loops close to home which involves a few challenging hills but also the fun of a nice long downhill stretch. Lovely!

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IMG_5520Then with all that time I was able to relax, tend to a few household bits & pieces and generally relax ahead of another work week.

How is your training going just now?
Has your parkrun course been affected by the weather?

I’m running for Cats Protection this year in memory of my cat, Morven.

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The Daily Post – Friend

Friend (noun): a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.

These days “friend” means many different things. There are the friends we’ve known since childhood, the friends we make through our interests or work and the “friends” we make online. But what does true friendship look like?

For me, a true friend:

  • is there for you no matter what
  • listens without judgment
  • gives unconditional love
  • knows when you need comfort
  • shares mutual trust and respect
  • is loyal
  • is good fun
  • makes you happy
  • helps you to be your best self

True friendship is a beautiful thing indeed, and perhaps it doesn’t only come from our human friends but our furry/four-legged friends too.

Morven was my best friend. For over 17 years she was by my side. Many believe cats to be aloof, yet I knew she loved me unconditionally, trusted me to the extent that even while in pain at the end of her journey she let me handle her, and she always knew just how to make me feel better when I was sad or sleep when I was tired. I have so many wonderful memories of the games we played, the moments we shared and the “conversations” we had. It’s hard for me not having her around and I’m trying to adjust to the hole she has left in my life.

Not everyone can understand the bond we share with our pets, but those who do know that they are a big part of our lives, a member of the family. When we lose a pet we grieve in the same way we would if we lost a member of our family. That grief is hard, yet I wouldn’t trade in all the years of love and companionship for anything. No matter what other cats come into my life, Morven will always remain my special girl, my first cat, and nothing can ever change that.

Run free my special girl. I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge when the time is right.

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Week In Review – Positive Action

I want to start with a thank you to everyone who has been in touch with kind thoughts since I shared that I had to say goodbye to my beautiful cat last weekend. I really appreciate all your messages.

As a result, this past week was strange but I found it helpful to have my training routine. It gave me a focus and helped me to make some decisions (more about that at the end of this post).

I have continued with regular yoga (most days that I didn’t have a class) and my week ended up like this:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike reps + a swim
Wednesday – short run
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 10 miles

Monday was, quite frankly, awful. I was a bit of a tearful mess and while I did manage to keep it together to teach my classes (a welcome distraction) by the time I got to my yoga class I was definitely feeling emotional. I knew that yoga would soothe me and I always feel better afterwards. I did, but in a different way. People have said to me before that yoga can release emotions, that they have found themselves crying during their practice, but since it’s always made me feel relaxed and happy, I was convinced it wouldn’t have that effect on me. Turns out, it is possible to shed a few tears in downward dog without anyone realising! I suspect the release helped though.

I felt a little better on Tuesday – I even risked some mascara (although realised on my drive to work that it may have been a mistake!). After work I headed to the gym for my bike reps. There had been a little snow around but nothing as I drove back and headed towards the gym. By the time I had changed and emerged from the changing room, there was heavy snow falling outside! I added two reps to the set of intervals I completed last week and already felt stronger completing them. After that I went for my first swim in AGES. It was perhaps not my best effort, but by the end of my session I was feeling like I was getting my rhythm back again.

There had to be a bit of a change on Wednesday because of the snow. I was supposed to do some hill reps, but thanks to a bit more snow during the day, Steve told me the underfoot conditions just weren’t good enough for my planned workout but that a short run in the snow would be possible. I got myself all bundled up in winter kit and headed out. It was tough going as the snow seemed to sap all my energy, but I loved it. There’s something invigorating about running in fresh snow that can’t be beaten. It was only as I was running that it crossed my mind I could have gone to the gym and run on the treadmill instead, but I think the fact that I never even considered that as an option tells you how I feel about that!

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IMG_5354Orchestra was cancelled because of the weather so post-run Steve and I were able to eat together then watch a little tv. I’m still finding things like this a little difficult as I’m so used to the cat curling up on my lap as soon as I commit myself to a seat. That’s going to take a bit of getting used to!

Thursday was cold and there was still snow on the ground, but I was really looking forward to my Ashtanga class. I’ve been doing a little yoga most days this month and feel stronger and more focused because of it. It felt so good to work through the Ashtanga poses (the class I go to works through about half of the postures under the guidance of our teacher) and there were no tears so I was obviously feeling a bit more at peace with the events of last weekend.

On Friday I was back at the studio with Steve for a PT session. My focus is on exercises that will benefit my running, principally by improving my strength and mobility. For me this means working around my upper back, my hip mobility and knee drive so this week’s session included the TRX, bar bell and Core Momentum Trainer. Quite tough on my arms so I was feeling it afterwards!

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Guess who jumped in the shot again!

Still in need of cheer, I decided to break out one of the other pairs of leggings I ordered recently. These ones depict my favourite Disney movie (and favourite Disney princess!) so they did make me feel a little better. Clearly the key to cheering me up is new workout leggings – the crazier the better!

IMG_5355As we went to bed that night we were aware that a number of parkruns not too far from us had already been called off so we weren’t sure what the morning would bring. Ours was provisionally on, but it was 50/50 depending on how much the snow/ice froze overnight. Saturday morning was cold (below freezing again at -4C) but thanks to a light dusting of snow the course was runnable and we were able to go ahead on the usual route. Clearly not a day to run hard, so I decided to ditch my earphones, ran at a comfortable pace and enjoyed the experience. Running in the crunchy snow, I’m finding, is something I rather enjoy and it seems that 183 other people agreed with me!

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IMG_5373In the picture below, there are two paths hidden. Our route takes us initially to the right then returns from the left. No sign of any path right now!

IMG_5434I felt invigorated after the run, as well as pleasantly surprised at my time. Once I was more sure of my footing I got progressively faster to finish with the revered Royal Flush Negative Split and, having expected to be around 27 minutes (a 9-ish minute mile feels good in these conditions) I did it a bit quicker.

IMG_5393As usual it was a quick freshen up at home then back out to meet Steve’s brother for our Saturday coffee. The place we like to go to always shuts for a couple of weeks at the start of the year but was open again so it was back to the bacon croissants. I really missed those!

IMG_5433The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. Steve and I headed out to the farm shop for some things in the afternoon and decided to stay for a mint hot chocolate and scone. Both were delicious!

IMG_5435 I also spent the whole day with a fairly persistent earworm…

I awoke fairly early on Sunday, had some breakfast (porridge with honey is my choice right now) and got organised to run. The snow was still there (not enough change in temperature for it to start melting) so rather than worry about my planned approach of every third mile faster, I simply decided to run. I knew that I wanted to re-visit the woodland path I ran on last week as part of my run so I could see it in the snow and getting there by a slightly different route meant that my run would total 10 miles.

IMG_5438I ran to feel and largely ignored my watch as pace was irrelevant. At this point in training a run is a run and I’m convinced that running in the snow is making me stronger as I’m working hard on changeable terrain. As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed my run and would have happily gone further. The woodland path was lovely (no heron this week though) and I passed so many dog walkers and families out enjoying the snow (quite a few with sledges). What a great way to start the day!

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IMG_5439It may have been a strange week, but these snowy runs have really made me feel a bit better as I’ve enjoyed the change of pace and scenery. The cold air has cleared my mind and while I’m still sad and missing my wee cat, the pain is easing.

Another reason for this is the decision I made about how to channel my energies in a positive way moving forward. I got my cat from Cats Protection, a charity which seeks to create a world where every cat is treated with kindness and an understanding of its needs, when she was just 6 weeks old. She had been found living under a shed, presumably abandoned, and I loved her from the start as we quickly formed a tight bond. It breaks my heart to think that there are so many cats who don’t get that opportunity, and while I will likely bring more cats into my life in future, I can’t give a home to all of them. What I can do is raise funds to help improve the lives of cats in the care of Cats Protection. CP will never put a healthy cat down and will do whatever they can to find the cats in their care a loving home. But this, of course, takes money. In 2018 I will be dedicating my miles to the memory of my cat and raising funds for my local Cats Protection branch. It just feels like the right thing to do and I know my cat would approve.

First up is the Stirling marathon, where I will run in a CP top. Having this motivation will help to get me out the door on the coldest days and work towards my next goal. I’d love it if you could support me by making a donation. The equivalent cost of just one cup of coffee could enrich the life of a cat who deserves some love. Thank you.

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2015: An End of Year Report

Unbelievably, another year has ticked by and now we are all locked in “Crimbo Limbo”, an odd time of year when we’re not entirely sure what’s going on and most small talk (after the obligatory comments about the weather!) begins with, “did you have a nice Christmas?” then segues seamlessly to, “anything planned for New Year?” ( in case you’re wondering, my answers are “yes, thank you” and “no, just a quiet one”). It’s a time of year when we inevitably begin assessing what we’ve done with our lives over the past 12 months and consider how we might make the next 12 even better, so what better time than now to look back over my challenges from 2015 and think about some of my personal highlights..

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I suppose it all started this time last year when I set out my challenge for 2015: one marathon (hopefully with a PB), one cycling event, and a frankly crazy weekend of multiple races, all completed by the end of May. After being hampered by injury in the second half of 2014, I didn’t want to plan any further ahead than that, preferring a cautious approach to my race plans, and it paid off – despite a strain to my left quad affecting the final weeks of my marathon training, the only plans I had to change were my expectations of a marathon PB, instead setting out to simply complete the race and have fun. It may not have been my greatest ever marathon finish time, but I finished it, had fun and, in the words of one friend, “became the selfie queen of Paris!”.
Paris Marathon done and part one of my challenge complete √

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Next up was the cycling event, and with my strained muscle preventing me from running, I got a bit of bonus time in the saddle, even going so far as to enter an extra event as a warm-up the week before. I may sound quite flippant about it all now, but in reality this was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. You may recall that I only began cycling in the summer of 2014 and bought my first road bike that autumn just before my first ever sportive, now here I was contemplating an 81 mile event which went over a mountain! I found the whole thing really daunting – the distance, the climbs, the risk of mechanical failure and the risk of rider failure(!) – yet somehow I managed it. The weather was apocalyptic (up on that mountain was particularly horrendous!) but both my trusty steed Trixie Trek and I held it together to cross the finish line of the Etape Caledonia and complete the second part of the challenge.
Cycling, done! √

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But I think the real stand-out moment of the year for me has to be the third part of the challenge. Back in 2014 Steve became infamous for his challenge to complete all 4 races of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, a feat involving lots of running, a very swift half marathon and a willing friend with a motorbike. I was incredibly proud of what he achieved that weekend, but also intrigued. It may have been a long, long way to run, but Steve seemed to really enjoy it and get a real buzz from the experience, so when I was looking for something new to do, my thoughts turned once more to Edinburgh. I knew that my race pace versus the event logistics would rule me out of mimicking Steve’s challenge, but thought a variation might be possible: rather than going from the half marathon to the full marathon (the bit the logistics made impossible for me), what if I then went on to complete a leg of the team relay instead? From that seed of an idea, the concept began to take shape, and at the end of May it all came to fruition: I ran four races in one weekend, I got treated like a rock star by Macmillan, my chosen charity, and do you know what? I loved it all!
Four races, two days, one challenge completed!! √

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Edinburgh challenge completed 🙂

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The spoils from the cycling part of my challenge…

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…and the running bling from Paris and Edinburgh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In taking on this challenge, I learned that I am even more tenacious than I knew. Funnily enough, the marathon was the “easy” bit (not often one calls a marathon “easy”!), with the cycling posing the greatest challenge and Edinburgh being a journey into the unknown in terms of keeping on going. Yes, there were tough moments, that’s what makes it a challenge, but the pride in knowing I completed it will stay with me forever. Why did I do it? For one thing, I felt I had unfinished business from my 2014 challenge, so decided to extend it for another year. I feel a sense of satisfaction in completing what I set out to do, and am thrilled to have raised a further £1000+ to add to my total from 2014, bringing my grand total raised for Macmillan Cancer Support to over £6000! That’s £6000 that will make a huge difference to the lives of those affected by cancer and I want to thank everyone who has supported me in any way as I completed my challenges over the last two years.

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But this year wasn’t just about the challenge, I also had a lot of fun: I discovered the joy of parkrun; I continued to dabble in learning the front crawl; I completed both the Jantastic and 5×50 challenges; I had a fantastic trip to Florida, where I even won running prizes; I ran lots of real and virtual races (as well as creating my own!); I won some competitions; I tried out some new training ideas; and there was that time I met Paula Radcliffe, a real highlight!

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Oh yeah, and there was A LOT of bling!

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Top L-R: Great Winter Run 5k, Cool Summer Mornings 5k, Chocolate Sundae Run 5k, Perth Kilt Run 5k, Perth 10k. Middle: my prize for being in the top ten female finishers at the Chocolate Sundae. Run Bottom L-R: Scottish Half Marathon, Great Scottish Run 10k, Mo Run 5k.

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Virtual Runs L-R: 4th July Weekend 4 miles, Platform 9 3/4k 2015 (and the 2014 equivalent I was able to acquire later), Back to the Future Day run

Another mini challenge I set for myself was to complete at least one Virtual Runner UK event per month. With a final haul of 14 medals, I’d say I definitely achieved that one too!

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In total I’ve run 648 miles this year, my highest annual mileage to date, and cycled 270, a bit less than last year. I also found a great graphic to represent my total mileage for the year at Veloviewer, which uses your Strava profile to collate the information:

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Apparently. I climbed Everest this year!

All in all, I’ve had a fantastic year. I hope you’ve enjoyed following it all on the blog and will continue to follow my adventures into 2016. Remember you can also connect with my page on Facebook and use the links on the right hand side of my homepage (if you’re viewing this in a browser) to subscribe to the blog and never miss a post. But for now, I wish you all a very happy new year. Here’s to 2016!

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What have been your highlights of 2015?
Do you have any challenges lined up for 2016 and beyond?

An Overwhelming October

After some tough times in August and September, October offered much more positivity and I found myself rather busy. I began the month by volunteering at parkrun in order to save my legs to race in the Great Scottish Run 10k the following day. That particular Saturday was International Parkrun Day, a day to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the very first parkrun. I was barcode scanning and enjoyed congratulating runners as they finished.

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If you’ve been reading the blog recently then you will already know how much I enjoyed the Great Scottish Run, the highlight for me being the chance to meet Paula Radcliffe. Paula has long been a hero of mine and that experience even overshadowed my new PB! We also enjoyed catching up with our friends from Macmillan and posing for some photos:

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And I was greatly amused by this tweet from Traffic Scotland with a shot from the traffic cameras on the Kingston Bridge!

In the days after GSR I received the not unexpected news that I had not been successful in the London Marathon ballot. I have to say that on this occasion I wasn’t really disappointed as I already have my entry for Paris 2016 sorted out. I would, however, really like to run London again in the future so continue to enter the ballot in the hopes that sheer persistence will eventually pay off. On the plus side, my Spiderman magazine was accompanied by this year’s “consolation prize”, a long-sleeved running top. I rather liked the one I got last year and have worn it quite a lot to go to and from PT sessions, etc. This one looks to be pretty good too, although I’ve not had a chance to wear it yet.

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But for me the real high point of my October was the school trip to Normandy and Paris, an “intimate” gathering of 44 (4 teachers and 40 of our pupils). As always it was a real whirlwind of a visit, but I loved being back in Paris, soaking up the atmosphere and thinking back to my last visit earlier this year for the marathon. By the time I came back I was exhausted, but ready to start focusing on a new training programme to prepare my body for the demands of marathon training proper in the new year.

For those wondering what we get up to on the trip, here’s a bit of a photo dump with some memorable moments:

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I bought these almost as soon as I arrived. When in France…!

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This tribute to WW2 soldiers was not far from our accommodation in Normandy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stunning views from above Arromanches looking down to Gold beach.

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Omaha beach below the American cemetery. Very sobering to think of the events which unfolded there on D-Day.

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A simple but poignant memorial at the American cemetery

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I never tire of taking photos of the Eiffel Tower!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A beautiful sky above the Sacré Cœur

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Some unexpected hill sprints in Montmartre!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A visit to the famous Shakespeare and Co bookshop. If you’re a bookworm then I highly recommend it!

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A return visit to Bertie’s Cupcakery. Amazing cupcakes and another of my recommendations near Notre Dame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Arc de Triomphe by night (there are A LOT of stairs to get to the top!)

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The Eiffel Tower all lit up and sparkling. I love seeing it like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, we crammed in rather a lot, so by the time I got back I needed a bit of rest. However that didn’t stop me heading to parkrun that weekend. Not only did I have an October virtual 5k time to run, but it was Perth’s 100th event and there was no way I was going to miss out. Having run almost exclusively in shorts/summer kit until I went away, it was a real shock to wake up to a decidedly wintery day and find myself hunting for winter kit. I still throughly enjoyed the event, took it easy since I was tired and enjoyed a bit of cake at the end. Perfect!

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Looking cold and tired before the run!

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My October medal

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Amazing cake – and it tasted fab too! Pic from Perth parkrun Facebook page.

Whilst in Paris, I also discovered that I had won a twitter competition and my prize was an Absolute 360 tech T-shirt. I hadn’t come across the brand before, but a few people seem to be trying out their compression kit and I certainly found my T-shirt (not compression) really comfortable to run in:

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The remaining highlights of October included Back to the Future Day, in which I got completely over-excited, geeked out over my favourite film and earned a really cool virtual race medal!

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And finishing as I began, with parkrun. It was Hallowe’en and there were lots of decorations and things set up around town as part of the celebrations. Typically, I couldn’t resist a photo!

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So there you have it – parkrun, Paris and prizes! Looking back, it was a really busy month, but I also used my October break from school to have a bit of downtime from my training. I think it’s important to have a proper break from training a couple of times a year in order to allow the body to recover and hopefully avoid overtraining/injury. I had a couple of weeks off in the spring after the marathon, and even though my autumn races were shorter, I wanted to recharge my batteries ready to begin a new cycle of training. Now I’m back at work I’m settling into the routine of my new training programme and looking forward to building up a solid base of strength and fitness over the remaining weeks of 2015. I can’t wait!

How was your October?
What are your plans/goals for the remainder of the year?

A Super(ish) September

Although September began on a sad note with the funeral of Steve’s mum, having that closure meant that we both felt it was time to get back to a normal routine and return to regular training – after all, we had a half marathon fast approaching! I still had some lingering remnants of a cold, but I was certainly able to run (so long as I carried a few tissues!). The weather remained very pleasant for the time of year and I enjoyed sticking to running in my summer kit for a bit longer:

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I also had a bit of virtual running to do. First up, a September virtual 5k which I completed at parkrun:

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And then, something very exciting. I recently discovered the Hogwarts Running Club, which can be “joined” simply by liking their Facebook page. They organise six virtual races every year with a Harry Potter theme, and I found myself particularly taken with the Platform 9 3/4 km event. I paid my registration fee and downloaded my custom race bib:

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The race could be completed at any time, however participants were encouraged to run on the 1st of September as that was the date Harry returned to Hogwarts. I wasn’t able to run that day, so my trip on the Hogwarts Express was delayed by a week, but it was definitely worth it for this really cool medal depicting Harry and Ron’s eventful journey in the 2nd book:

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Front

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Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The medal actually arrived on the same day as the Scottish Half Marathon, a race I didn’t particularly enjoy for a variety of reasons, so arriving home to find a medal waiting for me was great. It’s a fairly hefty bit of bling, and holds its own nicely next to the frankly huge medal I got from the half marathon:

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Since the half marathon took place on a Saturday (highly unusual!), the following day afforded us a rare Sunday off, so we decided to make the most of it by heading out for breakfast – yum!

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A half marathon the day before meant we had earned this!

Then that evening we headed to Perth Concert Hall to see Twin Atlantic, a band from Glasgow, who were playing as part of the 10th anniversary of the venue. They’re not a band I know terribly well, but the show was great. I thought they were talented musicians and they played my favourite song of theirs as part of the encore, which made me happy.

Another highlight of September was the annual Macmillan fundraiser, the world’s biggest coffee morning, which my school has supported for several years. I’m not much of a baker so my contribution was some bits and pieces from my Macmillan fundraising kit (which somehow resulted in me standing in the home economics department ironing sashes the night before the event!), but the pupils put on an impressive spread and raised over £500 for the charity simply through selling tea, coffee and cakes to the staff. A fantastic effort!

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But I think my September highlight came the following Saturday. I took a few days off running after the half marathon in order to allow my body to recover, so parkrun was my first run in a week. As I walked over to the start, it struck me that conditions were perfect for a good time – cool and still. I had been posting some decent times recently and began to wonder if this was the day to try and shave a few more seconds off my 23:49 PB. I decided that I would go out hard, try to hold on and see what happened. If I got a PB, great; if not, I would know I had given it my best shot.

I got myself in a good starting position and set off at a fairly brisk pace. Glancing at my Garmin, I really wasn’t sure I could maintain it, but felt reasonably comfortable so got myself “locked in” to the pace and kept going.

Mile 1 ticked by in 7:28 (7:28?!?)

Mile 2 over the grass was a steady 7:32.

Mile 3, tiring somewhat, I clocked 7:36. My previous PB was based on a 7:40ish average so all I had to do was keep going to the line and a new PB was mine…

And this was when it got really difficult. I could see the finish line and my natural instinct was to speed up, but I had finally found my maximum effort level, so there was nothing else left. Despite slowing in the last 100m or so, I took a whopping 35 seconds off my PB, setting a new best of 23:14 (an average pace of 7:32 per mile). I couldn’t believe it! Actually I really wanted a lie down and had to have a nap that afternoon to recover! I still can’t believe that my legs moved at that pace – I never think of myself as someone who can put in mile splits like that. Not only that, but I somehow managed to claim 3rd female overall in the field that day – a triumph indeed!

The following day, conscious that I’d asked a lot of my body, I opted for an easy-paced recovery run and enjoyed the sunshine by the river rather than churning out “junk” miles and risking injury.

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Sadly, after the joy of a new PB, the fates weren’t quite done with me and September finished on a sour note with the news that my dad had been involved in a car accident. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, but he has done some damage to his knee so he’ll be in a knee brace and using crutches for a while, meaning golf and running are both firmly off the agenda. He’s also got loads of bruises from his seatbelt and airbag and, unfortunately, his car is beyond repair so there’s a lot of insurance stuff to sort out. And none of it was his fault – another driver shot out of a side road right into him as he was driving home from a round of golf. It just goes to show how things can change in the blink of an eye. As you can imagine, we all got a real shock, especially when he had to be taken to hospital to be checked over, and it’s awful seeing him unable to do the things he loves. Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery or I can predict him getting rather grumpy!

Hopefully, that’s me done with misfortune for a while – I’m certainly ready for some more positive experiences and October looks set to bring some fun. Watch this space…

How was your September?
Any exciting plans for October?