Race Report – Loch Ness Marathon 2017

Finally. All I can say, is finally!

I first entered the Loch Ness marathon as part of my fundraising challenge in 2014, but injury put paid to my plans that year. Last year I thought it was time to try again…until a hip issue led me to the heartbreaking decision not to run. In 2017 it was third time lucky.

Entering this race is straightforward. I entered back in the spring and it’s first come, first served with no ballots or waiting lists. I received plenty of information in advance via email, although I knew roughly what to expect anyway in terms of collecting my race pack and what the finish area looked like thanks to spectating twice before as well as my experience of running the 10k in 2013.

Since neither of us fancied driving 100+ miles home after a marathon, we opted for the train. This put us in Inverness mid-afternoon with enough time to check in to our hotel and leave our bags before heading over to collect our packs and browse the expo.

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Race day logistics involve a bus trip to the start line, which makes for a pretty early start for a 10am race! Luckily our hotel was really geared up for this. There were signs up at reception telling guests to let staff know that they would be running and therefore looking for an early breakfast, which was at 6:30am. My alarm went off at 5:30am so I could take some fluids on and get into my kit.

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Heading down to breakfast, we expected some porridge, toast and maybe bananas. Instead, the full breakfast was available. Steve opted for sausages, bacon, etc but there was no way I could stomach that so early so stuck to my usual pre-long run staples of toast with nutella and a bowl of porridge. I also took a pastry with me to eat later on (I’ve run the Paris marathon after these so knew it would be ok).

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It was then time for some final preparations before heading to the buses which were on the other side of the park, beyond the finish line. We knew we would be on one of the last buses (it’s quite a fleet to get almost 3000 runners to the start as this is the only way to access the area on race day) and all the race staff we passed were really helpful in making sure we were heading the right way and keeping up a brisk pace. We still ended up in a big queue though!

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The bus journey took around an hour. We were a little slower as our bus struggled to get up the steep hills to the start line, however the weather wasn’t so great at this point and it was better to be on the bus than exposed to the elements, even if I was getting desperate for the toilet!

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Once there, it felt a little bit like being on the edge of the world as the wind whipped up and the rain came down. We got our stuff organised and had a couple of toilet trips (queues for the portable toilets were HUGE but there were plenty of dense trees and bushes to make a “wild pee” an option!

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As late as possible, we put our bags onto the baggage bus and headed to the start area to find a suitable position.

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There was the usual music and an announcer getting everyone in the mood, and then all of a sudden we were being counted down and off. I had expected that heartbeat music so de rigueur at races these days to make things tense, but there was no drawn-out ceremony here which was refreshing.

I have to say, a bit of me could hardly believe I was there. After two failed attempts to make that start line, and a lot of stress caused by my cat being very unwell the day before (the emergency vet visit before we left was not in the plan!) I had hardly dared to let myself believe it would actually happen, but here I was with 26.2 miles standing between me and that finish medal. And those 26.2 miles looked like this:

Net downhill, however the hardest part comes around mile 18, just about the worst possible time when all the joy of the downhill start is a distant memory!

The first 5 miles were brilliant. I was running downhill, feeling fresh and surrounded by beautiful Highland countryside. I actually ran this in silence, enjoying my own thoughts and the atmosphere around me. There’s a short climb in mile 6, but this was around when I took my first energy gel so I was happy to have slowed down. The generally downhill trend continued to about mile 10 and my second gel, and as things levelled out I decided to put a podcast on to give me something else to focus on.

At this point I was 2 or 3 minutes ahead of my splits for a sub-4 time, however it had felt relatively easy thanks to running downhill and my hope was to have that time “in the bank” ready for the hill later on.

The next 7 miles are flattish, but there are some slight inclines and declines along the way, in fact the half way point felt on a slightly upward trajectory. I was still counting down the miles, aware that although numerically I was half way, the received wisdom is that “half way” is really 18 miles as you hit the hill.

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I lost a little time in this section, but was only a minute or two down on where I wanted to be, which would still have bagged me a PB. But then I reached Dores and THAT hill…

Race organisers had included some helpful signs: “slightly steeper bit ahead”, “wee bit hilly” and “keep calm and tame the monster”. Huh. But I trained on hilly routes and tried to include a hill towards the end of my runs. I was ready…or so I thought. I began the plod up what seemed the longest hill in the world, until I realised that I could probably walk just as fast. The hill beat me and I’m not ashamed to say so.

When the top of the hill finally came (after a false summit or two) it was great to point myself downhill again. By now I was way off the pace I wanted, but hoped I might be able to reclaim a bit of ground.

But it was not to be. On reflection, I think the hill was only part of it. The stress of a poorly cat on Saturday had affected my nutrition and hydration plans, not to mention the impact of feeling stress so close to the event. I hadn’t realised quite how much of an impact it had until I needed to tap into some energy that just wasn’t there. I’d had a gel with caffeine at mile 15 (double espresso, yum!) and had two gels left to take – miles 20 and 23.1 – but they just weren’t doing enough. I rallied a bit on some of the downhills, but as soon as it was more level or uphill, even for a short time, I just couldn’t sustain my pace. Still, there was nothing for it but to keep moving forward.

Finally, I was back in Inverness and the finish line was getting closer. Just before mile 25 you can hear the announcer on the opposite side of the river but I was prepared for this. Time for a final push to the line as the crowds thickened and you just HAVE to keep running: past the footbridge that would be a shortcut to the finish, over the main bridge, past the hotel and digging deep to find that last “sprint” to the finish.

Once over the line I needed to take a moment. I wasn’t sure how I felt – well, physically I felt tired and sore and as if I’d just run 26.2 miles, but I wasn’t sure where my emotions were. I leaned against a railing to compose myself then headed around to collect my medal, goody bag (the most Scottish goody bag ever – Baxters soup, Walker’s shortbread, Highland Spring water) and T-shirt before joining Steve who was watching out for me.

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I was soaking wet so opted not to hang around taking photos and instead shuffled over to collect my bag where I had some warm layers. There was a changing tent and I sat in there for a bit getting myself organised and sending some messages to say I was finished. Feeling better, I rejoined Steve to go and get our complimentary post-race meal: soup, casserole and bread.

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Having refuelled and composed ourselves, we did get some photos before heading back along to the hotel for our bags (and I had a change and freshen up in the toilets so I felt a bit more human before the train home).

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Soon after crossing the line I got a text with my official time of 4:18:10. It might not have been what I was looking for, but knowing that the marathon is a tricky beast, I had set 3 goals. My A goal was the PB/sub-4, my B goal was sub-4:20 and my C goal to be faster than in Paris back in April. B goal achieved and that is still something to be proud of (and it finally got me on the Marathon Talk podcast podium with second place!). I may still have a tantalisingly-close PB of 4:05:07 to beat (Paris 2014), but since then I’ve not exactly set a blistering pace with a 4:40:02, 4:43:39, 4:38:38 and 4:32:07. Bizarrely, that PB is a bit of an outlier in my marathon history, and until now that 4:32:07 from Paris this year was actually my second-fastest time. Other than my PB I have NEVER broken 4:30, so to go below 4:20, over a challenging course, is a good sign that the training is paying off. In entering this race I had wanted to see if training through the summer months so I was a) better rested thanks to the school holidays and b) better adapted to warmer temperatures, would make a difference. Added to that, I wanted to see if an elevation profile more similar to what I train on would suit me better, and I think my result is a clear yes.

I was also really pleased with my overall stats:

Position – 1145/2619
Females – 267/1025
Category – 148/484

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Overall the Loch Ness marathon is a great race and I can see why so many people rave about it. I may have taken care of unfinished business in finally reaching the start line, but I can see me returning at some point in order to get my revenge on that hill! And my time? Despite what I swore to myself in the last few miles, I’m already plotting my next 26.2 mile adventure, so watch this space…

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Race Report – Cool Summer Mornings 5k July 2017

Locals are describing the Central Florida weather as “steamy” right now, but that didn’t stop us from heading off on our now-annual trip to Clermont for the July race in the Cool Summer Mornings series. (You can read about my previous experiences of this race: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)

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The race begins at 7:15 am so it was a 5:15am alarm so we could be on the road at 5:45 – “we” being your Running Princess, Steve and my parents. My sister was supposed to be joining is but ducked out as she had managed to get a fastpass for one of the new Avatar attractions at Disney and didn’t want to miss out.

We arrived around 6:30am and got a parking spot not too far from packet pickup then as usual we headed along to get our race packs and took them back to the car to get organised. We got stuck in a long queue to get our packets this year which was odd as normally it’s a quick in and out. Once organised there was enough time for a “comfort break” before heading over to the start line. I was standing with dad and just before the race start they played a version of the national anthem suitable for a race with the theme Rock’n the USA, then it was time to race.

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The route is an out and back along the shores of Lake Minneola and the setting really is beautiful. Unfortunately I don’t really notice it too much while I’m running as the humid air saps all my energy! The start was a little crowded so I hugged the side and set off rather quickly in order to get some space then maintained what I knew to be far too fast a pace for the conditions. When my Garmin bleeped to tell me my first mile had been completed in less than 8 minutes, I knew I would pay for it in the last mile!

Cool Summer Mornings 5kI knew Steve was ahead of me and was able to see him at the turnaround. I then gave dad a wave as he was a little behind me this year (this was just his third run since he had an op a few weeks ago). I saw mum a bit further on as she was enjoying her walk, something that really seems to be encouraged here as a way of getting more people active.

There was a water station and since it was so hot I grabbed a cup to take a quick mouthful then pour the rest of the icy water down my neck to cool me down. My pace had slowed to a more sensible 8:19 in the second mile, but I knew the last mile was going to be a tough one as it’s into direct sun with very little shade or shelter. After working hard to that point, increasing my heart rate and getting warmer, I knew this would be the point I would have to dig in.

And that’s exactly how it was.

It’s strange how a distance I’m so familiar with, that I run every week can feel so hard, yet in hot and humid weather the energy is just sapped as your body works harder to keep you cool. I was conscious that I was getting slower and slower, but did manage to find a last spurt of speed when I saw the finish gantry come into sight to finish with 25:23. I was about 20 seconds faster last year, but was in slightly better form so I’m happy enough with that.

Cool Summer Mornings 5kOnce over the line I was handed my medal and an ice cold bottle of water, while my timing chip was taken. I then headed straight for the cooling tent to get my temperature back down while I sipped my water.

Cool Summer Mornings 5kOnce we were all finished we headed over to the food tent where I collected a hotdog, watermelon, banana, pastry, granola bar, crisps, a can of soda and a beer. We then enjoyed sitting on a bench in the sun until it was time for the awards.

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Cool Summer Mornings 5k
Cool Summer Mornings 5k

Sadly no award for me this year as my category turned out to be super competitive and I came 5th. In order to place I would have needed my best 5k time of the year – not happening in this humidity! However Steve won the masters prize and dad, despite not being in his best form, took second in his age group.

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Despite not winning a prize, I was rather intrigued by my study of the results later on. Out of 514 finishers, a whopping 336 (65%) were female, which supports all I’ve read about the growth of female participation in the US. In my category alone there were 54 women (the biggest field in any of the age groups) and I was 5th (56th finisher overall, 18th female). Even the oldest participant was female – a sprightly 80 years old – and as the only one in her age group, she left with a prize. Awesome! It’s fantastic to see such huge participation from women and definitely something I want to see continue. Everyone was really friendly and several participants chatted to me as we milled around waiting for the awards.

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This will be our only race during our trip this year (next week we’re going back to Clermont for a bit of parkrun tourism!) and it made for an enjoyable morning.

Cool Summer Mornings 5k
Cool Summer Mornings 5k

Race Report – Loch Leven Half Marathon

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been in a hurry to sign up for a half marathon at this point in the year: not only did I know that I wouldn’t quite have worked my way back up to the distance again in my post-marathon training, but on this particular occasion I was going to a concert the night before. Not what you’d call ideal race preparation, but having been lucky enough to win a place in this race through the parkrun points competition last year, I figured I could take it easy round the 13.1 miles safe in the knowledge that my endurance base was up to the job – it’s funny how a month after a marathon you can just turn up and run a half marathon without any particular difficulty!

Actually, the last time I ran this race (in 2010, pre-blog) I did something similar: Paris marathon in April (my first marathon and hampered by injury during training) then the Loch Leven half marathon around a month later. At that point the course was very slightly different (minor alterations to the start and finish as well as a stretch which now takes place on the trail which opened more recently) but the bulk of the route remains much as it was.

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To be honest, I was a bit of a bad blogger this time. I left out some kit on Friday night (the race was 11am Saturday) but changed my mind about some of it when I saw the weather on Saturday morning. Being quite tired from my late night, I neglected to take a pre-race “flat runner” photo before I put it all on – oops! – but I opted for Nike twin shorts, a short sleeved Tech T-shirt, lightweight gilet, 2XU calf sleeves and my Adidas Ultra Boosts. On the drive through to Kinross, about half an hour down the road, I began to wonder if I should have brought my “emergency hat”!!

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Registration for the race takes place at the high school and we were able to park right across the street. We collected our numbers and race T-shirts then headed back to the car to sort ourselves out before returning to the school for a quick toilet stop. The start was about a mile from registration so we had to leave plenty of time to walk/jog there (they were transporting bags etc back to the start but we headed to the start line ready to run).

We chatted to one or two others en route to the start and once there I decided to have one last toilet stop before the race began – I had just enough time to join the short queue, nip in and line up at the start before the gun went off.

The race itself was quite nice. An undulating route around the perimeter of the loch with some hills in the second half. I gave myself the first mile to settle into a comfortable pace then switched on the latest edition of Marathon Talk to listen to and got a real surprise about 3 miles in when I heard my name mentioned in the “Rate Your Run” section!

I followed my usual strategy of a gel at 5 miles and 10 miles, but to try and avoid the slump I often experience around the 10 mile mark I decided to count DOWN the miles from the start, which psychologically made a difference.

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Running at a comfortable pace rather than racing meant that when I reached the steepest hill around 8 or 9 miles, I had plenty of energy left to start overtaking people who had gone out hard and for a good while I was passing other runners. Only a few overtook me in the last mile, which was on the trail, as I had developed a blister under my toe which was a bit nippy when I landed on it!

I also found time to pose for the photographer I spotted on a nice downhill stretch. Looks like I’m having fun (and doing a phenomenal balance manoeuvre!).

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Photo by Gordon Donnachie

[Source]

I wasn’t 100% sure where on the school grounds the finish line would be, but I also knew that since this was a smallish race (471 finishers – I was position 322, 97th out of 200 females and 43rd out of 94 in my category) my watch had been pretty much in line with the mile markers so I could trust how much there still was to go. Coming off the trail and around the final bend I began to speed up a bit to finish in 2:01:55. It would have been great to run just sub-2, but the second half was just a little too hilly for that. Still, I’m really pleased to run so close to 2 hours when I was tired and taking it easy as that means I wasn’t much slower than the pace I will need to run a sub-4 marathon and I still have plenty of time capitalise on my current form.

Once over the line I was handed my medal, a bottle of water and was able to collect a snack (there were bananas and that Scottish staple the caramel wafer). There was also a tent nearby where you could key in your number and get an immediate printout of your chip time, which was really good.

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I milled around taking selfies and chatting to folk until I was able to find Steve as he had my bag with warm clothing for the drive home. As soon as I’d sorted that out, we headed back to the car to get home for some food.

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Overall this was a great race. Well organised by Kinross Road Runners and with a lovely route (thankfully we were spared the midge cloud which had been in the news!), gender-specific tech T-shirt and nice medal. Definitely worth entering if you ever get the chance.
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Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

If you’ve read my previous posts on my trip to Paris last weekend (if not you can catch up here and here) then you’ll know it was a pretty busy weekend. And if you read my week in review then you’ll also know that marathon day didn’t entirely go to plan. In this post, you’ll learn a bit more about what happened.

IMG_1376Like any marathoner, in the days preceding the race I developed an obsession with checking the weather forecast for Sunday. The pattern went a bit like this:

Day 1 – Sunday = hot
Day 2 – Sunday = hotter
Day 3 – Sunday = hotter still…

And so on. Not the best conditions for this poor Scot who trained through the rains and winds of winter, with temperatures peaking around 12C (low 50s F). Everyone I spoke to over race weekend said the same: It’s going to be hot. Keep hydrated. I’ll probably take it easy…

Take it easy? But I put in weeks and weeks of training to get a sub-4, I wrote about it all over my blog and actually confessed to my goal whenever someone asked. Here it was looking like that goal was drifting away before the race had even begun.

So I reset my goal.

Instead of fighting to hit my paces, I would start out comfortably and just see what happened. If it became obvious that a sub-4 was out of the question, then I would just enter another race and try again. With that settled in my mind, it became much easier to head into race day without massive pressure to perform.

Race day began, of course, with an early alarm call. We knew that the hotel would serve breakfast from 6:30 and wanted to be down there as early as possible to give us plenty of time to finish getting ready before walking over to Avenue Foch, which we had realised we could reach really quickly from where we were.

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As we walked up to drop off our bags, it was already clear that it was going to be a warm day. Normally I would wear a long sleeved top, or at the very least some arm warmers, and feel slightly cool walking to the race, but not this time. This time I was wearing exactly what I would wear to run, with no extras. And I felt perfectly comfortable. Just how warm was it going to get? And when?

Like last year, there was a security check to enter the runners’ area. First our race numbers were checked, then a bag check, but this was fairly quick and we had expected it anyway. We both dropped off our bags, took a couple of photos and headed for the toilet queues before walking the short distance to the Champs Élysées (where there was a second check of race numbers) and the access points for each wave. Since I had hoped for a sub-4 time I was in the 3:45 wave and Steve was in the 3:15, so after one final selfie we parted ways to join the crowds trying to access the start area (this happens every year and my advice is just expect it and go with it – you’ll get in fine as the waves start to move forward).

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Once inside the start area I had a bit of space to take in my surroundings and snap a couple of pictures. I then decided I’d best have one last toilet stop (you know how it is – as soon as you think about nipping to the loo you immediately HAVE to go!) so joined a short queue. Unfortunately as I waited the 4 hour group was walked forward, engulfing the area I was standing in, which meant an inevitable delay to my start time as I would miss my wave heading out. I did manage to squeeze my way to the front of this wave, but in addition to the wave starts, Paris also splits the waves into the left and right hand sides of the road and staggers their starts. This allows volunteers to clear any discarded clothing/bottles/pre-marathon debris from the road. My group was walked forwards to the start line, then the right hand side was set off first and it seemed to take forever. At one point I wondered if all 57,000 entrants were being allowed through in this one group! A few people stared to climb over the barriers into this wave, but it seemed more sensible just to wait it out. The race is chip timed so there is no need to worry. Experience of this event has taught me just to be patient around the start and go with the flow.

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Eventually, we were underway. I had decided to listen to podcasts during the race to give me something to focus on, but didn’t start the first one immediately to give me a chance to monitor my pace and settle in to my rhythm. I waited until after the first mile to press play when I felt that I had adjusted into a suitable pace.

For the first 5k along to the Bastille, everything was ticking along nicely. I was right on my target pace and was managing to run in the shade at the side of the road. This continued until the 5 mile mark when I took my first gel, but by the time I hit 10k and the Bois de Vincennes it was starting to feel bit harder. The course had been narrow at points which had slowed me down, there were some short inclines and all of a sudden the sun was beating down with no real respite.

My second gel at 10 miles gave me a lift, as did the cheer point from one of my favourite groups the Paris Frontrunners, part of an international LGBT running organisation. The gentlemen of the group, in drag, cheering us on and waving pompoms always makes me smile and gives renewed energy for the next part of the course.

But by the time I reached half way I was beginning to flag. I already knew I was off pace for a sub-4, but now a PB was slipping away as well. At first this worried me, not because of my desire for a PB, but because it was feeling hard much sooner than it should. Having spoken to others after the race, I felt much better as everyone described reaching a point (somewhere between 13-18 miles) at which they just thought, “nope,” and switched their attention to simply getting to the end. Thinking about the relative paces of these runners and the times they began the race, I think everyone came up against this at roughly the same time of day, towards the later part of the morning and what is effectively the hottest part of the day. But when you’re mid-race and alone (or as alone as you can be when surrounded by tens of thousands of others having the same struggle!) it’s hard to know that.

What I remember is of having a very strange experience: my legs weren’t sore, nothing was tight or off, it was just getting more and more difficult to get my legs to move. I described it to Steve as being like wading through treacle and he said he felt something similar. Presumably the heat (I think it rose to about 24C/mid 70s F rapidly and there was no shade other than the tunnels along the quai) was sucking all the energy away as our bodies were having to work so much harder to keep us cool. I noted my heart rate was higher than it had been on training runs where I was running quicker and knew that this race was just going to be about completing the distance healthily.

The further I ran, the more I saw people who were struggling – people at the side of the road clearly in a bad way, people on stretchers and the sounds of ambulance sirens. I would imagine most of this was caused by dehydration and was glad I had opted to fill my hydration pack right up with an electrolyte drink. I also picked up water at each aid station to take a sip and pour water down my back. And as for the hoses – what sweet relief! They were icy cold and each run through would elicit an involuntary noise, but it was so worth it!

At mile 18 beyond the Eiffel Tower I took a cup of that delightful pink Isostar drink that I believe to be rocket fuel. I always run well after that, but sadly it doesn’t last all the way to the end!

One thing I did find interesting was that despite the need for walking breaks to cool down and taking my time at aid stations collecting a sugar lump and orange segment, I was constantly surrounded by the same people, always looking at the same running tops. Clearly everyone was having the same battle that day in Paris. And despite my perception of not running well/taking lots of walk breaks, when I watched my race video I was doing something resembling decent running in every single part. It just goes to show how your perception can be skewed by the tough moments!

There was a slight change to the final miles this year, meaning the run through the Bois de Boulogne was a little different. I knew my watch was about 0.2ish of a mile ahead of the mile markers, so just kept trusting the information I was seeing, knowing that the end would finally come. Finally passing the 26 mile sign at the roundabout outside the Bois de Boulogne is the sign that the finish line is near, and that’s where I found my extra spurt to take me to the end – I even made a valiant effort to race Superman, but he got me right at the end!

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Finally crossing the line and stopping my watch, I fully expected the usual wave of emotion and tears that accompany the end of a marathon…but they didn’t come. On reflection, I think my reframing the event as a long training run meant that despite my relief at being able to stop running once and for all, that same rush wasn’t there. I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do on this occasion, and was simply using this run as a stepping stone towards running an autumn race. The fact that I didn’t wake up feeling like my legs were on backwards was further testament to this: the race felt tough, but I clearly didn’t work all-out otherwise my legs would have felt much worse.

As I moved through the finish area collecting my T-shirt, medal and refreshments (I opted for water, another banana, an apple and enjoyed an orange segment on the move) I noticed lots of people seeking medical attention, more than I think I’ve noticed before, and felt glad once again to have reached the finish line without any ill-effects.

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Reclaimed bag in hand, I went to find Steve who was waiting for me at the agreed spot having had a very similar race experience to me. I got myself sorted out then we joined the queue for some photos. Isostar France had set up a couple of backdrops and were advertising free photos which would be published on their Facebook page. We got a photo together at one backdrop then went to the other for individual photos. We then shuffled off to take photos next to the rather apt “I made it” backdrop before our short walk back to the hotel (and the “Everest” that was the stairs to our room!).

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The first thing I did was lie with my legs up the wall for a good 10-15 minutes which really made me feel better. It was then time for a shower, change and catch up on social media posts before heading out to meet some others for some food. We opted for a nearby pub which we had been to before as we had spotted this encouraging sign the day before:

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We then rounded off our day with a short walk along to the Tocadéro to watch the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up with sparkling lights.

 

This marathon may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I’m not letting it get me down. There are some things you can control on race day – clothing, nutrition, attitude – and some you can’t, weather being one of the most obvious. Could I have pushed to run faster? Maybe, but I would probably not have made it to the end of the race and would be facing a lengthy recovery period before I could run again. By making the decision to ease off and simply complete the race, I know I’m in a strong position to train through the summer and enter an autumn marathon to have another go at breaking that 4 hour mark. A marathon is a strange beast: training can go absolutely perfectly yet anything can happen on the day. Much as I love Paris, this simply wasn’t the time for me to reach my goal. Next time, things might be very different. At the end of the day, with 4:32:07 I still ran a respectable time, even though my perception of it was that I performed badly. That tells me there’s much more in me and a faster time IS possible. Besides, I just had a weekend in Paris. What’s not to like about that?

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

Often a real highlight of the Paris Marathon weekend for me is the Breakfast Run. For just a few Euros (I paid 12 Euros extra when I booked my marathon place) you get a good quality tech T-shirt and access to a fantastic 5(ish)k run followed by breakfast. Ever since the first time we took part in this event I have loved the atmosphere, so was excited to return and experience the new route this year.

IMG_1205In the past, the Breakfast Run began at the marathon finish line, winding its way by the Trocadéro, over the Pont d’Iéna and around the Eiffel Tower to the other side of the Champ de Mars. This year, a new route was on offer. I’m not sure why it was changed, however it did strike me that the new route meant there would be no public access to the runner area (finish line etc) on Avenue Foch once it was set up, thus increasing security in a time of heightened alert.

The new route began at the Place du Palais Royal along Rue de Rivoli. This was perfectly walkable from our hotel, but in a bid to save our legs we decided to walk the short distance to the Champs Élysées, avoid the massive metro station at Charles de Gaulle Étoile (basically around the Arc de Triomphe) and get on the metro at the much smaller George V station for the handful of stops along to the Palais Royal (one of the stops for the Louvre).

As soon as we stepped out of the metro it was quite clear we were in the right place. All we could see were people dressed in the same branded T-shirt as us… and flags. Lots and lots of flags. People were milling about chatting, taking photos and, as you would expect, joining the queue for the loos. We were on the lookout for various people we were expecting to see, and despite it being quite hard to spot anyone in these circumstances (not only was everyone pretty much dressed the same, but there were apparently 3000 people signed up to run!) we quickly managed to find our German friend Stefan whom we met at the after-party last year. We also managed to locate our friends from Dundee (the ones we had caught up with at the departure gate in Edinburgh the day before), as well as a local couple we were expecting to see, and I was keeping an eye out for Tina aka She Who Dares Runs who had contacted me the day before we left to say she had secured a place to cover the marathon for Women’s Running UK and suggested trying to meet and say hello as we have been reading each other’s blogs for a while now (hi Tina!).

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IMG_1219While we were hanging about, I did have a couple of very unusual (for me) experiences. I guess I forget that people other than my friends and family might actually read what I post, so on the odd occasion, usually travelling to a big race, that someone actually recognises me from my blog, I tend to be quite surprised. As Steve and I stood around, another runner came over and said, “are you the blogger?”. I think my surprise was evident to the poor guy as I responded in the affirmative, but it was really nice to be approached like that, and even nicer when he got in touch later to identify himself and explain a bit more about how he recognised me. He might be reading this, so hi Carl!

But by far the strangest thing happened when I was waiting for Steve to reappear from the toilets. A runner came over brandishing a phone and making the internationally-recognised sign for taking a photo. Since Steve and I were wearing our kilts for the run, we have grown used to people wanting pictures as a kilt does tend to draw attention, so I assumed this to be the case again. But no. Not only did this guy want a photo, he seemed to recognise me from the blog and was quite excited about it. A rather bewildered Stefan took the photo for him, and I was quite glad he was there to witness the moment as I’m not sure Steve would have believed me otherwise. Why not? Because the guy who wanted the photo was from Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong! Who knew my blog had ever reached Hong Kong!!! Now I feel internationally famous lol!

IMG_1217Shortly after this it was time to get underway. The route took us from the Place du Palais Royal, across Rue de Rivoli and into the Place du Carrousel where the famous pyramid is located. This meant our first photo stop and in among the melée we managed to lose sight of Stefan.

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IMG_1226After this it was along the quai and over the Pont Royal with the Musée d’Orsay on the other side. We stopped on the bridge for some photos as the Breakfast Run is untimed and not at all competitive so times don’t matter. It’s an event all about experience and friendship – more of a display or procession than a race.

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IMG_1232We then followed the quai along the river Seine past the Pont Alexandre III until we reached the Pont d’Iéna. Again, stopping at various points for photos.

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IMG_1243From this point, the remainder of the route was the same as previous years as we came up from the Quai de la Bourdonnais, along Avenue de la Bourdonnais and made a final right turn onto Place Joffre to the finish in front of the École Militaire where there was a real party atmosphere.

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IMG_1252Once over the line we stopped for some more photographs, mostly with complete strangers drawn by our kilts, during which I heard my name called and turned to see Tina – she had actually managed to find me among all those people! Circumstances meant it was a bit of a rushed meeting, but we did manage a selfie and I was most excited to later feature on a post on the Women’s Running UK instagram account!
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fullsizeoutput_1da1Photos done, we headed for the tables with breakfast laid out. In the past this has been a bit of a scrum, but this year felt much better organised with a proper queue formed and croissants/pains au chocolat being handed out by volunteers. Much less pushing and shoving! I managed to score a pain au chocolat, coffee, banana and bottle of water. I drank the coffee while queueing for my banana and water, but the rest we took over to a bench with a front row view of the Eiffel Tower. Not bad for breakfast al fresco!

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IMG_1255Suitably refuelled, we began our amble across the Champ de Mars, which always takes a while as we stop to talk to so many people and take advantage of the great photo opportunities. We first had a chat with some women from Canada – I hope they had a great marathon – then caught up with the Dundee contingent for a while. I was also intrigued to see an impromptu yoga class taking place in the Champ de Mars and was inspired to do one or two poses myself!

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IMG_1329Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower and due to some new security measures there, we were unable to walk underneath so instead took a path around the side which turned out to be beautiful. There were gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the tower framed by trees. I’m really glad we took that route and will definitely go that way again in future.

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I was impressed that SCHNEIDER Electric managed to get their branding everywhere 😉

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Our final stop before returning to the hotel (which was within easy walking distance by this point) was the Trocadéro to take in the tower views. Over the last few years there has been some work going on around this area which often obstructed the view. This work isn’t quite finished, but there is much more space now to get some nice photos of the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_1343Once more, The Breakfast Run didn’t disappoint and we had a great morning enjoying the famous sights of Paris (along with one or two others with the same idea lol!). Here’s some of the Facebook Live video from the last section of the run that was posted on the official marathon page. The last minute or so gives a real flavour of the atmosphere:

If you’re ever in Paris for the marathon weekend, I highly recommend taking part in this event. You never know, you might see me there…!

Next up: Marathon day!

Race Report – Inverness Half Marathon 2017

When training for a marathon the received wisdom is that it’s a great idea to race a half marathon around 4-5 weeks out from the event as a “tune-up”. This is the time to test out race day routines, clothing and paces to see where you are. Despite currently training for my 9th marathon, last weekend was actually my first ever tune up half thanks to my tendency to pick up injuries during the training cycle. The race was written into my training plan right from the start, however I held off entering until mid-February, right before entries were closing. Apparently even with training going well so far, I still retained a degree of caution!

As the day of the half marathon approached, I began to consider my plan. Since I have been running my long runs quite slowly, this was going to be my first opportunity to see if I could hold my target marathon pace for the duration of the race. But I also saw an opportunity to FINALLY get a new half marathon PB. I wanted to beat my time of 1:56:35 from Aviemore in 2012 and a little bit of runner maths showed me that if I could run at the top end of my target pace, I would finish around a minute quicker than this. The challenge was on!

With the race not starting until 12:30pm, we opted to drive up on the morning of the race, setting off around 8:30am. To save time, I organised all my kit the night before, but somehow neglected to take a “flat runner” photo, however my selection was similar to what I wore in Paris last year, just a different colour: Under Armour running skirt and top, Bondi Band calf sleeves, Lululemon arm warmers, Adidas Ultra Boost shoes and my trusty Spibelt to hold my phone. I was so beautifully colour co-ordinated that during the race a woman actually ran alongside me and complimented me on my outfit!

The drive up to Inverness was pretty uneventful. I’m not overly fond of the journey as it’s quite long and can be slow, but some of the scenery is absolutely stunning. We did, of course, make a pit stop at the House of Bruar for a “comfort break” as they have really nice toilets!

IMG_0954Not long after Bruar we were at the Drumochter Pass where the view really opens out to some spectacular hills.

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IMG_0958Once in Inverness we opted to use a multi-storey car park in the city centre then walk along to the Bught Park, an area we are pretty familiar with from marathon-related trips. To register, we had to walk through the Bught to the sports centre on the other side, and this is where I began to get a bit irritated. We had plenty time until registration was closing, but we immediately found ourselves in a queue. There were people trying to register for the half marathon, people trying to register for the 5k, people trying to get in to the toilets: people, people, people and no real order. I felt like there were too many people in the available space and nobody there to manage it so we couldn’t really be sure we were even in the right queue! By the time we got in to the sports hall, I was pretty grumpy and this wasn’t helped when I was told they were out of small T-shirts so I had to take a medium – and a “unisex” medium at that, which is basically a men’s top that’s far too big for little old me! I always wonder why race organisers can’t sort things out so that people are given the T-shirt size they requested on their entry, rather than whatever is left when they collect their race number – if you have to show ID to get your number, then your T-shirt size could be part of the same process to save disappointment. Grrr!

IMG_0970By this time I also wanted a pre-run toilet stop but was feeling so claustrophobic that I just couldn’t face heading back into the queues of people we had fought through. Instead, I found a different exit and located a different toilet. Still a queue, which I fumed my way through, but a little easier. I then stomped my way down towards the start area, still in a bit of a mood!

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Steve has antlers. I seem to have a head sprouting from my shoulder!

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IMG_0960I stood just to the front of the 1:50-2:00 section, still grumping about how busy it was, and waited to get underway. There was that heartbeat music that seems to be de rigeur at big races these days, followed by the obligatory countdown to the the start, huge cheer…and no movement whatsoever. Soon, though, I was moving towards the line, starting my watch and settling in.

The start, which is the final part of the marathon/10k in September, is fairly narrow so I found it difficult to settle into a rhythm. Already grumpy, I caught myself muttering about preferring training by myself so I can do my one thing. On the plus side, I was quite disciplined about not wasting energy weaving around people, knowing when the field stretched out a bit I would have plenty of room to run. There had been lots of announcements about record numbers, so perhaps the race is becoming a victim of its own success and organisers now need to consider ways to streamline registration and perhaps using a wave start to help ease congestion.

By the time I was about a mile in I had space to settle into my pace and began counting down the miles. Target marathon pace is between 8:50-9:00 per mile so my plan for this race was to have each mile average out at, or faster than, my target, taking account of the fact that I would be slower over hills. I found myself keeping a very close eye on my Garmin to see how I was getting on and right from the start was running faster than marathon pace. I wasn’t sure how this would pan out, but just let my body dictate the pace.

fullsizeoutput_1cb9I sustained a pace quicker than marathon pace through the first 8 miles, but then as I began the 9th mile, the rain began, I found myself running uphill into a headwind and there were a couple of tight turns. It was a bit of a miserable mile with the rain washing sweat into my eyes and it feeling harder to keep up the pace. Mentally, I checked out a bit and had to refocus myself on what I was doing. Steve had told me that there was a great downhill section at 9 miles and I clung to this information to get me through. Sure enough. towards the end of the mile I turned a corner and saw not only the 9 mile marker, but a fantastic swooping downhill. I leaned forwards and went for it. I might as well have been screaming “wheeeee!” as I went!

By the 10 mile marker we were retracing our steps from the start of the race. I was feeling much better thanks to the downhill section and a gel, so was ready to keep on going to the finish. The only thing was, the finish was NOT at the start line, but about 1/2 a mile or so further on behind the sports centre. That last mile felt absolutely endless and I have a recollection of a headwind. I also wasn’t entirely sure how far I still had to go. I trusted the distance on my Garmin, but since I couldn’t actually see the finish line it was hard to judge. At long last, however, I entered the running track which formed the finishing straight. I had half a lap on that lovely, bouncy surface before crossing the line.

I stopped my watch at 1:53:03, a time confirmed almost immediately with a text containing my official result. And what a result it was! At long last I had a new half marathon PB, and a much faster one than I had anticipated. I’ve often thought I might be capable of a 1:52:XX so those pesky 3 seconds were a little irritating, but I soon forgot that in my joy at running so well. Every mile except the 9th was faster than target marathon pace, and that was a very positive result.

fullsizeoutput_1cbaI made my way though the finish area to collect my medal, as well as a banana, Clif bar, packet of pistachios, water and somewhat ironically, suncream! Given that I was a bit of a bedraggled mess from the rain earlier on, this item was probably a bit superfluous on this occasion. Perhaps it will come in handy for another race where there is actual sunshine rather than “liquid sunshine”.

IMG_0961Steve, who had also run a PB, was waiting for me and we got some photos before I headed off to get changed into some warmer clothes.

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A “Highland Spring” tiara!

IMG_7260 IMG_7264We were both starving thanks to the lunchtime start, so made our way to McDonald’s to refuel (with me eating a protein bar on the way!). McDonald’s may not be very healthy and normally I would turn my nose up at it, but I must admit I don’t mind it after a race. Once refuelled, it was back to the car (via a quick stop for a takeaway coffee) for the journey home. We had to pull in a couple of times for Steve to stretch and get some air, so we were glad to get home and inhale the steak pies and rosemary potatoes we had waiting for us. Then it was time for a bath and bed, worn out but happy.

IMG_0962 IMG_0969Overall I have mixed feelings about this one. Obviously I’m delighted about the PB and the race itself was really nice. The negatives for me were the crowds that I think the organisers need to look at as the race continues to grow in popularity. There’s also the long journey there. We would have happily got the train, but there wasn’t one early enough on Sunday morning to get us there on time so we had to drive. The only other option would have been to go the night before, but that would have added to the expense with the need for a hotel. If we could have been earlier at registration I would have felt much more relaxed, but that just wasn’t possible for us. Still, I would recommend this event, with the caution that it is very popular and there will likely be crowds.
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New Year? Make Mine a Triple…!

…Triple RUN that is!

That’s right, The Running Princess got 2017 off to a flying running start…

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After ending 2016 with a Hogmanay (or New Year’s Eve for my readers outside of Scotland!) parkrun, I was keen to begin 2017 as I mean to go on – by running! Steve began 2016 with what we refer to locally as the “New Year Triple”, and after being forced to watch from the sidelines with an injury, this year I wanted to put that one last piece of unfinished business to bed, while also getting a real handle on where my fitness is right now. The idea of a New Year challenge appealed to me and taking on three runs in the same day is something I’ve never done before (I’ve done two in a day on more than one occasion though!). With challenges like this the difficulty is less in the distance, and more in the stopping and starting whilst trying to keep warm so the legs don’t seize up!

And so, rather than take up the invitation of New Year drinks with some of our neighbours, we had a quiet, alcohol-free night at home, going to bed at our usual time ready to attack the 1st of January head on.

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First up, a New Year’s Day parkrun at my usual event in Perth. I had taken it easy at the Hogmanay event, thinking in terms of endurance rather than speed with three runs ahead of me the following day. For me, anything between 24:00 and 24:30 would be my average time (sub-24 if I’m in really good form and I actually managed one of those a week before Christmas!) so given the strong winds and somewhat squelchy conditions on the grass section, I thought something in the 25:XX region would be fine. Finishing comfortably in 25:05 was therefore perfect and the ideal setup for the New Year Triple!

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Last (park)run of 2016!

Arriving bright and early on New Year’s Day it was clear that it was going to be a busy parkrun, with lots of visitors from other nearby parkruns also looking to complete a double (or triple!) run. We wished friends a happy new year, listened to the briefing then got ready to run. I had my “endurance” head on again and was keeping an eye on my time to make sure I didn’t go any faster than the day before. It had been cold enough for frost overnight so the grass section was a bit firmer, but there hadn’t been a hard enough frost to really make much of a difference.

I slotted into a comfortable pace and kept it nice and even for the first two miles, but found myself naturally speeding up a bit in the third mile after the grass section. Then, as I got nearer to the finish, I became aware of a guy running right on my shoulder. He looked pretty done and despite the two further runs I had ahead of me, my competitive brain just couldn’t resist speeding up a bit for the last 0.1 to the finish to see what he had left. Yes, I dropped him, but after crossing the line he thanked me for keeping him going. Turned out he was feeling pretty done and ready to quit, but was hanging on to me to get to the finish, so I shook his hand and congratulated him on a good run. Me? I finished in 25:14 (an average of 8:09 per mile) and was happy that I paced it about right.

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First parkrun of 2017 – Perth

We left fairly swiftly to allow us a bit of time for a pitstop at home (the toilets in both of the parks we were visiting were shut because of the festive hours) which presented me with a few additional comfort options: I changed everything on my top half so as not to have to spend all day getting cold in sweaty kit, picked up the shoes I wanted for the other two runs (different terrains = different shoes; my podiatrist must be so proud!) and popped some other bits and pieces in a bag (change of socks and gloves to keep my extremities warm, change of running tights in case I wanted them, a hoody to keep me cosy and a couple of things to help tidy myself up a bit post-run!). Then it was time to set off for Dundee and parkrun no.2 (re-timed for 11:30am on this occasion).

The most exciting thing about this for me was that I’ve NEVER been to a different parkrun. Steve has been to three other parkruns (Dundee plus two in England) but despite friends and colleagues often suggesting I go to their local parkrun, I had never yet indulged in any parkrun tourism. That was all about to change…

Dundee parkrun takes place at Camperdown park, and while I may not have taken part in the parkrun there before, I do remember running in the Stroke Association Resolution Run there back in 2013 which used near enough the same course. Back then I was not long back to running after an injury and remember finding it tough, so I had it in mind to be pretty conservative since this was the filling in my sandwich of New Year runs.

Again, there were loads of people about and having glanced at the route map on their website I thought I’d best listen to the first timers’ briefing so I would have a rough idea of what to expect. After that, it was the regular briefing where the run director (in a kilt) welcomed everyone and, to a cacophony of barking from representatives of a local cani-cross club) asked, deadpan, if there were any dogs taking part! 🙂

I was having an issue with my wireless earphones so decided to forget about music and just enjoy the run since I was in a new environment. Camperdown is much more of a trail run than Perth, and is a lot more hilly. The run director had suggested that speedy runners from Perth could expect to add on about 1:30 to their time, and less speedy runners at least 2 minutes. Since I wasn’t planning to run hard, I estimated I’d be about 2 minutes slower than my run in Perth a couple of hours before.

The route began with a lovely (but all too brief) downhill stretch on a cinder path before turning off onto a trail. I got a nice splash of icy, muddy water as someone went by me but I soon warmed up as I carried on through the trees towards an uphill climb (the bit that saps the 2 minutes away from your time!). The course was then briefly flat before a short downhill, rejoining a parallel trail for the return with a lovely(?) uphill finish on part of the same cinder path we started on.

Despite having already run, I soon realised the benefit of all that trail running in November and early December as I was able to pass people on the hills and run strongly through the trail sections with my trusty new trail shoes. The uphill finish was a bit energy-sapping, but I still finished in 27:18, pretty much spot-on with the suggested +2 minutes and I felt that my effort levels were about the same. Two parkruns down, one more run to go!

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Second parkrun of 2017 (and my first ever parkrun tourism!) – Camperdown, Dundee

Back in the car I removed my top layer, put on my warm hoody, took off my shoes and donned a pair of cosy socks for the half hour journey to Blairgowrie. The last thing I wanted was to get cold and my muscles to seize up before running again!

We, along with a few other lunatics who wanted to do the triple, were heading for the Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run which has now been taking place for over 30 years! I took part in this event in 2014 when I had the most awful toothache, so my expectations weren’t exactly high, but I do remember thinking it was a great event. For the bargain price of £2 you get a 6k run then warm up with some delicious soup. There are usually 200+ runners even with the variable weather conditions at this time of year and there is now the option of a walk as well (which heads off half an hour before the run).

With all of the logistics of getting from one event to the next, we knew we would be a little tight for time. We parked the car and walked up to the town hall where the race begins, with enough time to register (there’s no advance entry for this event) and nip to the toilets (indoors – luxury!) before everyone started to assemble for the run. I put on a different top layer and took a gel since there events were all too close together to really eat anything and I was getting hungry. I can confirm that taking a gel before a 6k fun run does get you some funny looks!

There were a few announcements from the organiser but I couldn’t really hear them properly since there were so many people bestowing new year greetings on others, so I figured I would go with starting to run when someone said, “go”, following the straightforward route and stopping when I got to the end. Foolproof! I suspect the announcements were telling us to run on the pavement since the roads were open, but since the pavements were quite busy most people ran on the road anyway for much of the route.

I’d sorted out the issue with my earphones and decided I would listen to some music on this one so that I would have a distraction if it got a bit tough! But as we set off on the main road out of Blairgowrie, I felt not too bad. I was surrounded by familiar faces so knew I was in about the “right” position and just kept on going, enjoying the experience.

After about a mile there’s a left turn onto the road going past the golf course, and despite a bit of an incline here I still managed to run a fairly even first two miles. At the top of the road we make another left to follow a roughly parallel road back into Blairgowrie, finishing right by where we had parked the car.

It was in the second half of the run that things started to get a bit harder. My legs felt much better than I had anticipated, but I was still on my third run of the day and there was a pretty brutal headwind on the way back into Blairgowrie (it had been raining when we arrived and I don’t think Mother Nature was quite done yet!). I gritted my teeth and tried to keep catching up with some runners in front of me.

The finish of the run is a bit deceptive, particularly if you don’t visit Blairgowrie much, as you make a sharpish left turn onto a side street and run towards the finish. I remember being caught out by this the last time when others began to speed up but I didn’t realise how close I was to the end. This time, I did a little better, but still had it in mind that I had to run a bit closer to 4 miles rather than the 3.8ish actually covered by the route. The third and fourth miles were affected a little by the headwind, but I still managed to run them pretty evenly, finishing the run in 30:54 (an average 8:09 per mile – exactly the same as run number 1 in Perth that morning. I’m nothing if not consistent!). There were prizes for the top ten males and females, and although I knew that wouldn’t be me, I overheard the organisers putting together their list and was surprised to realise that I wasn’t that far off the pace as the tenth female finished in 29:XX (they only take times for the top ten, so my timing is purely from my own watch). After three runs in one day, that’s really pleasing!

Third run of 2017 - Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run

Third run of 2017 – Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run

In many ways I felt that this was my best run of the day as despite being weary from my previous endeavours, I still managed to maintain a consistent pace that’s faster than my proposed marathon pace. Yes, my legs got a little weary but that’s more due to having the gaps between the races than the overall distance, so in terms of fitness I feel in a good position to embark on my spring marathon training.

Post-run we had some soup followed by a bit of shortbread and a small chocolate bar before heading back to the car to drive home. We were both really hungry so as soon as we got in we had some Christmas cake and I warmed with a cup of tea before a nice relaxing Epsom salt bath.

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Definitely a day for the Wonder Woman mug!

I also had a laugh at the scene by the back door – 4 runs in 1 weekend meant 4 pairs of shoes drying out!

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As for the rest of the day, we pretty much put our feet up and enjoyed a well-deserved break before an enormous and guilt-free plate of steak pie, potatoes and veggies (no photos since we inhaled it so quickly!) and a glass of fizz to finally toast the new year and celebrate the successful completion of our challenge. We were exhausted, but content after a great day of running and feeling like we were part of something as everyone who took on this triple-run challenge became a bit of a team. An example of the running community at its best and a great way to challenge yourself to start the new year.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!!

How did you spend New Year?
Anyone else go for a parkrun double?

The 2016 Glasgow Santa Dash

For me, this year’s Santa Dash had a lot to live up to. Taking part in at least one Santa run per year has been our habit for years now, but after the disaster that was being struck down with a stress fracture last December, I missed out on (or had to modify) all my festive fitness plans. I distinctly remember consoling myself with the reminder that the events would still be there in December 2016, so now that we’re here I’ve been determined to make the most of things!

With work being busy for us both, we’re making sure to enjoy our weekends in December, particularly since this will be our first Christmas in our house. I’ll write a separate post soon with all our other festive fun, but this one is all about our Santa Dash experience.

We first took part in the Glasgow Santa Dash in 2013 when there were around 3000 runners and returned in 2014 when it had grown to around 5500! This year, the event actually sold out in the week before (we were a little later than intended in entering so I’m pleased we were able to secure places!) and this time there were 7500 Santa signups for this 10th anniversary event. That’s a lot of Santas!

Despite the expanding numbers, logistics were much the same as ever. Online registration was easy and race packs were available for collection in one of the main shopping malls in the days prior to the event. We’re a bit too far away for that so instead we take our own Santa suits (we’ve done a few of these events now!) and get our numbers on the day. This year, the event began at 10am so we left Perth around 8am, giving us plenty of time to drive to Glasgow, park, go to the toilet and get ready to run.

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One change this year was to the start. In the past this has begun in George Square and headed straight up St Vincent Street (also how the Great Scottish Run starts) but this year it started on the other side of George Square so we were funnelled around to St Vincent Street from there. I found this a bit narrow so finding space to run was tricky. We were also set off in waves, and while we hadn’t managed to make our way right to the front, we were in the first wave to set off.

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The remainder of the route was just as it has been in previous events and once free of the congestion at the start, I was able to run well and enjoy the atmosphere. I do love races in Glasgow as the support is always fantastic. Often there are places where only one side of the road is closed so there are cars on the other side with drivers honking their horns and shouting encouragement. And for this event it’s great to see so many kids running and people taking part as families.

Having run parkrun the day before, I didn’t all out race, but I did run comfortably hard and felt pretty good. Coming onto the last stretch up Buchanan Street to make the turn to the finish line (in previous years also the start line) in George Square I still felt that I was speeding up and though there was no official timing, I was pleased to cross the line and stop my watch at 26:21, my fastest around this course so far despite the first mile taking me over 9 minutes as I weaved through the slower runners and made my way up the hill. Very pleasing.

Crossing the finish line we were directed to keep moving forwards to collect our medals (the usual snowflake but with a ribbon denoting the 10th anniversary) and a bottle of water. I then found Steve and we headed into the square to take some photos by the decorations.

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Happy with our photos, we headed off to get a coffee and I couldn’t resist giving my name as “Mrs Claus” when asked by the barista. To be honest, those NOT dressed as Santa were in the minority during our time in the coffee shop!

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Finally, we headed off to have a look around the shops and the Christmas markets. A few years ago I recreated an iconic moment from Elf after the Santa Dash and having watched that festive favourite again the night before this year’s event, I couldn’t resist doing it again whilst in a department store (and yes, we did try out our “singing” whilst in the store!)

Love the people behind me not even looking as they're so obsessed with their phones!

Love the people behind me not even looking as they’re so obsessed with their phones!

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It was, once more, a great day out and a fantastic event which I highly recommend. There’s some video and a photo galley here, and if you’re in the mood for a festive game of Where’s Wally (or Waldo to my American friends) then check out this BBC article. I’m in the picture at the bottom. Have fun…!

Devilishly Good – The CHAS 6.66km Devil Dash (Race Report)

This time of year traditionally marks the start of “fun run” season for me. My goal races for the year are done, I’m building a base ahead of spring marathon training and there are a number of opportunities to have a bit of fun in some less competitive events or events where fancy dress is a requirement. I picked up a flyer ages ago for this Hallowe’en-themed event organised by CHAS (Children’s Hospice Association Scotland), a fantastic children’s charity, but was unsure whether or not I would take part given the situation with my hip. However with some pain-free running under my belt over the past three weeks I decided it was time to tweet how I fared with my usual weekend routine of back-to-back runs, and since Steve was providing the warmup for the CHAS event, I made a last-minute decision to go along and run rather than heading out for a wee solo plod.

I had no idea whether or not I would be able to sign up on the day, but was reluctant to sign up in advance as I wanted to wait and see how I felt after parkrun on the Saturday morning, however checking the event website later on Saturday online entry had closed but it said I could go along on Sunday morning and pay my entry fee. Entries in advance were £12.50 to run, £15 to run and get an event T-shirt. I turned up around 10:15 on Saturday morning to give myself plenty of time to sort out my entry, return to the car with the bits and pieces I didn’t need to run and nip to the toilet before the start. I was greeted by very friendly volunteers and registration was really simple: I just had to fill out the back of a race number with my details and they made note of those on their records while I collected my T-shirt and various devil accoutrements. The on the day entry prices were the same as in advance, which is not always the case, and since it was for a charity I paid the extra £2.50 for the Tshirt.

The race started and finished at the George Duncan athletics track, a familiar location for me, and I knew I would be able to park the car nearby and have use of the arena toilets before the event. All very civilised. Once organised and ready to run (I opted to leave my forked tail and pitchfork in the car, but donned my horns and hoped they would stay put!) I returned to the arena to chat to Steve and take in the atmosphere for a few minutes.

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It being a fun run, there were lots of families and less experienced runners as well as a few more competitive-looking types. Steve had decided not to run, instead running to the track, conducting the warmup and running home so he would get a longer training run, so this was a solo effort for me. I did spot some people I knew though, so was able to chat a bit around the warmup (even when it’s Steve I’m still not a fan of the mass warmup and take part reluctantly) and on the start line.

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Remembering my experience at the Caped Crusader 5k back in July, I decided to start right up front, as did my friend Marianne who is a fantastic short distance runner.

After one or two announcements about the route and the facilities available, we were counted UP to 6.66(!) and we were off.

Very quickly, I found myself one of the front runners. I had no idea what I had as it’s been a few weeks since I ran on consecutive days and I’m in that place where my legs want to go faster than the rest of my body is ready for, but having maintained a really even 8 minutes per mile average at parkrun the day before, I figured something around 8:15 per mile might happen since I would have another mile or so to run. (Side note, I hadn’t entirely settled in my own head what 6.66km would be. I worked it out to be about 4.1 miles, but course measurement at fun runs can be a little rough so figured on anything between 4 and 4.5). But even without knowing exactly how far the course was as a number of miles, I knew the course geographically so at any time knew exactly how far I still had to go.

With each run I’ve been feeling better and better, so given the race environment (and my possibly arrogant feeling that I could place quite far up the field) I went out quite hard to really blow the cobwebs away and ended up with a first mile of 7:45! Looking at my Garmin stats, what followed was a gradual mile-by-mile slowing of my pace, ending up with an 8:03 per mile average. What that doesn’t take into account is the conditions. Having started hard I felt I actually ran fairly consistently around an 8 minute mile, however there was a bit of a headwind in places which inevitably had an effect. Still, given my lack of running at any pace, let alone speedy running lately, I’m pleased with how my body handled it  – I even picked up a few Strava PRs!

The route took us from the track, down a short path which leads to the North Inch where we ran two laps before retracing our steps back to the track to finish. As the field stretched out I reckoned I was the second female (after Marianne) and maybe in around 4th position overall, but with a local club runner and his grandson right behind me so I fully expected them to pass me at some point.

The course was really well marshalled with lots of friendly volunteers and there was a water stop, which I didn’t use, about halfway around the Inch so we passed it twice. By the time I was on my second lap I was catching up with groups who were walking the course (there was something quite amusing about coming up behind lots of people with horns and forked tails!) but they all moved aside to allow the runners to pass. The Inch was also fairly busy with general Sunday dog walkers, cyclists and groups taking the air on a sunny and mild day, but there was still plenty of space to run.

Leaving the Inch for the return to the track, I was passed by the club runner and his grandson (we had been back and forth throughout the race) and with that finish line energy that only kids can produce, they shot away leaving me no hope of catching them once more. I could see them finishing just as I entered the track for the final few metres and enjoyed the springy surface under my feet. I crossed the line and stopped my watch at 32:43, having run a bit beyond 4 miles. I was handed a goody bag and Marianne was waiting with the news that I was indeed second lady. She ran brilliantly and was not only first lady, but second overall, which is fantastic. There are no official results, but I think I was sixth overall, so a top ten finish.

I spent a few minutes chatting to Marianne since I’ve not seen her in a while and then realised that she had a medal. I wasn’t sure if they were for all participants or just the top finishers, so headed off to ask. It turned out that they were originally intended for everyone, but a last minute flurry of entries had left them a little short so they were prioritising the top three finishers and the children, which is fair enough. Marianne pointed out that I was second lady and the volunteer said there might be some left at the end, but I was heading off and didn’t want to wait. She took my details and promised to send one out to me. It would be nice to have a medal, but since I wasn’t expecting one and think it’s important that the children get one, I was quite happy with the situation as it was. It would have been a different story if that was a really serious race and I had signed up well in advance rather than a charity fun run I entered at the last minute!

After a bit more chatting I headed home and had a bit of fun donning all my various devilish accessories for some photos.

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I also dug into my goody bag where I found the usual array of leaflets, a balloon, a pack of inflatable “noise makers”, some sweets and what may very well be the greatest (and most random) thing I’ve ever received in a race goody bag: one of those plastic parachutist toys! I haven’t seen one of those in years but am definitely not too old to have a play with it, quite possibly by chucking it over the bannister and watching it float down the stairs!

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All in all, I had a fantastic morning. It was great to run hard again and see where my fitness is right now; it was lovely to catch up with Marianne; and finishing as second lady was a nice boost to my confidence after some difficult and disappointing weeks as far as my running is concerned. Sometimes turning up to an event like this is just the thing to make you feel good about your running again, while also helping out a deserving charity. Oh, and those devil horns did stay in place the whole time. Impressive!

Race Report – Perth 10k 2016

Somehow, late August rolled around again, and with it the Perth 10k, my local race. Steve took over the organisation of this one a few years ago, so it’s become a race I simply expect to do each year rather than plan to do, and this year was no exception, even if I do leave it fairly late to enter!
(If you’re interested, you can also read about my previous experiences of this race in 2015, 2014 and 2013, as well as on the previous route in 2012 and 2011).

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Race logistics meant that registration was closing a while before the race start, so I opted to head down first thing to collect my race number and T-shirt then go back home to have some breakfast and get changed at a leisurely pace. That meant I could go back down with enough time to nip to the loo, chat to some folk and simply race without lots of hanging around. Although a little overcast, it was shaping up to be a warm day so I opted for my favourite Under Armour running skirt, an Under Armour vest (that’s a tank to my American friends!) and my trusty Ultra Boosts.

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Arriving at the North Inch, everything went pretty much as expected: I found my dad (recently home from sunnier climes), spotted a number of people I know from the local running “scene” and grimaced through one of those tedious mass warmups that I hate – there’s just never enough space! Soon enough though, we were heading towards the start line where I snapped a quick picture before making sure I was all ready to run.

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The route has been fixed for a few years now so I knew exactly where I was going: around one side of the Inch, up the riverside path then cutting off to follow the road through a housing estate before rejoining the riverside path to retrace our steps to the finish. Flat, fast (on a still day) and good for a PB if the training and conditions are right. My original plan had been to run hard and see what happened, however my over-exuberance at parkrun the day before meant I wasn’t as well rested as I would have liked. I set off at a nippy pace, but around halfway my body began to remind me quite insistently that I had already run hard that weekend and should maybe slow down. As well as my body feeling tired, it was getting pretty warm too so backing off was inevitable.

During the first part of the race I had been listening to my running playlist, however when we headed out into the housing estate we had been asked to remove our earphones in order to hear any instructions over the traffic. I can run quite happily without my music, I just usually prefer to use the time when I’m running to catch up on podcasts or enjoy the chance to listen to music. But on this particular occasion, I was enjoying the distraction so had to come up with something else to occupy my mind for the mile or so stretch I would be alone with my own thoughts. My solution? To “do a Paula”. No, not that way, I mean to count! Paula Radcliffe famously counts to 100 repeatedly and knows that after doing that a certain number of times, another mile will have passed. I found it to be a pretty good distraction and it helped me to keep in a rhythm, the only problem was my poor English teacher brain kept losing track of how many hundreds I’d counted, so I’ve no idea what I actually counted to! Still, it’s a strategy I may use again in future, perhaps in those tough final miles of a marathon when all I want is to be finished.

Soon enough, I was back on the riverside path and decided to put my earphone (I only use one side) back in and listen to music before I descended into a ridiculous level of counting. My favourite tunes, combined with being on the home straight, helped me to pick up the pace a bit again, however with about a mile to go my stomach suddenly became a bit sore. I’ve never had this before but am guessing it was simply a symptom of running hard on a warm day as a short walking break (something I would never normally do in a race) helped clear it really quickly and I ran strongly to the finish line.

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All things considered, I’m pretty happy with my finish time of 51:48. Still about a minute and a half slower than my PB, but I really wasn’t targeting the race and did myself no favours by running fast the day before. It was faster than last year though, so that’s a bonus!

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Swag for this race includes a T-shirt (issued at registration) and a medal. No other goodies except a bottle of water at the finish, but that’s fine with me as I don’t need anything else when I’m so close to home.

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After finishing I hung around for a while chatting to folk, but then headed home while Steve wrapped everything up at the race site. When he arrived home we did get ourselves a little treat, which the cat was DEFINITELY interested in. Honestly, she’s after just about everything I eat these days, the wee monkey!

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I definitely think I could go sub-50 over 10k, but this wasn’t the day. Still, it was another successful event and I look forward to next year. If Perth is close to you, you should definitely consider entering.