Race Report – Disneyland Paris Half Marathon 2019

I hope you like photos, because this post is full of them!

Day two of our weekend of running at Disneyland Paris this past September meant the half marathon. You might remember that the 2018 event had been my first Run Disney experience, and with theming that appealed much more to me in 2019, I was really looking forward to this race.

As with the 10k, the route was changed slightly from the previous year, but with time spent in both parks as well as the same out-and-back section outside of Disney to complete the distance.

And the theme? Couples (in all their forms). I had an idea that I wanted to dress as Belle again, but this time in her “provincial” blue dress, so this made things really easy for Steve who was able to wear his Beast T-shirt from last year again. I even did my hair like hers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you take on one of the challenges (31k or 36k) you have the same race bib (and hence the same number and corral) for every event you are in. This meant we were once more in corral A and my sister further back behind us. This race has the biggest numbers so the expo seemed much busier beforehand, but since the weather was mild (I didn’t need a foil blanket or extra layer) we just headed outside after dropping our bag off and used the portable toilets by the starting corrals as this was going to be much faster than standing in a queue for the ones inside. After this Steve and I got ourselves positioned in our corral ready for the off.

Soon enough, it was time for our wave to start, so I said goodbye to Steve and got ready to go (we were running separately again as he prefers to treat this as a race whereas I prefer to “get my money’s worth” out of the experience!).

Of course, once again I was running in kilometres and the markers in Disney are as exciting as anything else!

The first couple of photo ops were just that – photo ops rather than character stops. First with Hercules and Meg in one of the backstage areas, and then a Lion King display that looked pretty cool in the morning light.

After that, we were into the main park but it was some time before we hit Main Street for the out-and-back run as there were character stops and photo ops before then! Like the day before, I was keeping my sister posted with the characters and who they were switching with so she knew if she wanted to stop or not. Her strategy was to stop at every 3rd, unless it was characters she REALLY wanted to see, so that she could stay ahead of the sweepers.

Pocahontas & John Smith

 

Phantom Manor couple

And then it was time:

Official photo

Clarabelle & Horace

Official photo

From there, a host of further character stops, with all the characters out as couples, in line with the theme.

Aladdin & Jasmine

Tarzan & Jane

Rapunzel & Flynn Rider

Phoebus & Esmeralda

Jack Sparrow (making his way towards Angelica)

Belle & the Beast

Official photo

Buzz & Jessie

It was after this final stop with the Toy Story characters that I realised I was now behind the infamous “balloon ladies” who walk at the back of the pack at a steady pace, just within the sweep time. I wasn’t worried though as I knew I was about to run 10k outside the parks and would soon overtake them (and my sister who had been with me at Belle/Beast but had passed me while I was getting that Toy Story photo). It was such an ego boost to be passing so many people that even at a fairly easy pace I felt like I was flying – and got *that* photo:

Once outside of the parks, it’s a case of running steadily. The route leads away from Disney into a nearby village where we run around a reservoir then retrace our steps back onto Disney property. It’s a great opportunity to appreciate all the other costumes people are wearing and there are lots of what the French call “animations” – musicians, dancers, DJs, etc to keep things interesting.

Then on our way back we cross a bridge where we can see the main vehicle entrance to Disneyland.

Returning to Disney property, the route hits some of the resort areas, starting with a quick pass of the hotel we had been staying at (and where Steve was eating his second breakfast, having collected our one drop bag which he was going to meet me with later, checking us out and taking our luggage to the bagagerie for safekeeping).

Then through the grounds of the hotel we stayed in last time.

Official photo

The route finishes by following the path that leads from these hotels towards the parks, looping the water and passing through the Disney Village before making its way backstage and to the finish line by the side of the Walt Disney Studios.

This time I was greeted by Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.

Before grabbing my medal and snacks:

I got the same snacks as in the 10k, plus these extras

I then grabbed a picture outside of the finish area before making my way back to the expo – a slow business with all the crowds since part of the route was on the way I needed to go, and with Steve finding it hard to get through as well, we agreed to meet at the expo tent.

When I got there I headed on in to get my 31k challenge medal, which funnelled me straight into a photo op.

I wish I’d had my 10k medal for this, but it was with Steve and he hadn’t arrived yet, so my main learning from this is to try and have all my medals handy before getting my challenge picture. But since I was still waiting for Steve to fight his way through the crowds, I grabbed another picture in the expo tent to pass the time and browsed the event merchandise, much of which had by this point been reduced.

When Steve finally made it, we headed really quickly into the main park so I could get some pictures with my medals by the castle before we had to get back to the hotel to change and collect our bags so we could get the Magic Shuttle back to the airport.

And there was just enough time to nip into Le Passage Enchanté d’Aladdin with my 31k challenge medal since it was themed to Aladdin.

I do really enjoy this event. It actually presents quite an interesting challenge as if, like me, you stop for lots of photos it means the first half is very stop/start, but then there’s a steady section of running in the second half. By this time you’ve probably been on your feet for a couple of hours so that can feel a little harder than it would be otherwise. Still, it’s great fun and I have loved both of my experiences of it. Will I be back? You bet!

Race Report – Disneyland Paris 10k 2019

“One and done” just isn’t my style. I mean, I have previous for this one, such as entering a marathon just to have the experience once…and to date, I’ve run 12 marathons! So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise at all that when it came to my Run Disney experience, “one and done” just wasn’t going to happen.

Regular readers will remember that last year I celebrated a Big Birthday and made a bit of a Big Deal about it, keeping the celebrations going through most of the year, the highlight being my first ever Run Disney experience with the half marathon at Disneyland Paris as part of their Magic Run Weekend.

At the time I wasn’t sure how Steve would take to it and so made sure to savour every moment, not sure when I would have the opportunity to run in Disney again, but when I caught him eyeing up child-sized Mr Incredible costumes in the park shops and wondering if he could make it fit him, whilst simultaneously muttering about having to up his costume game, I realised that we were DEFINITELY going to be back!

This time round I kept things a little more low-key, but at the end of September we travelled back to Disneyland Paris for our second experience of Magic Run Weekend. Unlike in 2018 when we were “only” entered in the half marathon, this time we were able to sort out our logistics so that we could also take part in the 10k on Saturday morning to complete the 31k challenge (and receive an extra T-shirt and medal for doing so). It feels so long ago now, but in this post I’ll share some details (and many, many photos!) from my 10k experience.

First of all, the theme. For the 2019 Magic Run Weekend the overall theme was “Adventure”, but each race had its own individual theme and for the 10k it was “Princesses”. Oh yes, the theming for 2019 was far more “me” than in 2018! Steve, my sister and I decided to put together a group effort when it came to the costumes and I did actual crafts (all new to me!) to make something for Steve to wear:

Anna, Olaf and Elsa

And when it came to the route, I knew that it is changed slightly each year so had no expectations other than to hit both of the Disney parks and spend a little time running behind the scenes as well.

Steve and I had both been lucky enough to get in corral A so knew that we would get underway fairly quickly after the race started as there wouldn’t be too many waves ahead of us, so with this in mind we made sure to get into our corral in good time and enjoyed some of the pre-run entertainment. This year it was all on a big screen rather than a stage, and seemed to mainly feature the Genie from Aladdin.

And then, we were off! With very different plans in mind (Steve running it all as he would any regular race, me stopping for all the photo ops) we quickly separated and set off on our first adventure of the weekend.

As is the norm in France, the route was marked in kilometres and the markers were appropriate to the theme:

The route actually took us into the main Disneyland park fairly quickly and before I knew it I was running up Main Street towards the castle. This is always such an emotional moment for me, and since this was my first sight of the castle on this trip, by the time I reached the Photopass photographers I was fighting back the lump in my throat that was threatening to have me in tears (the fact that the ambient music was the big transformation moment from Beauty and the Beast – my favourite – where the Beast turns back into the Prince wasn’t helping much either!).

Official Photo

And from there I was on a Saturday morning theme park tour, punctuated by character meet and greets, starting just around the corner by the castle stage where Belle herself was waiting for me. Perfect!

(Official Photos)

Belle. Always my favourite.

Moana – the soundtrack to our SUP yoga sessions!

Ariel – I’ve been on such a Little Mermaid kick this year!

Merida. The proud Scots!

And Rapunzel was out on a bridge spanning the route, calling encouragement to the runners.

And as with last year, all the cast members out along the course were full of energy and support. It was such an amazing atmosphere.

As I was running I knew that my sister was in a corral further behind us and that she didn’t particularly intend to stop for many pictures in order to make sure she had plenty of time in the parks later on, but I was texting her with information about where the stops were, which characters were out and, if I had heard it, which character they would switch with in case it changed before she got there. That way she could prioritise any stops she made. Since I was stopping so much, I fully expected her to catch up with me and she finally did at the very last character stop (Merida) so in the end, I wasn’t too far ahead of her in finishing the run, which made it much easier to meet up again in the finish area.

I was having such an amazing time that it felt like the finish line by the Walt Disney Studios was on me before I knew it (even though I was a good hour slower than my 10k PB haha!) At the point when I finished, Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck were on the stage greeting runners so I grabbed a picture.

Then went off to collect my all-important medal and assorted snacks.

 

 

We also grabbed a couple of post-race photos before heading back to the hotel to get changed and have (second) breakfast.

So all-in-all a fantastic start to our weekend of Disney running. I definitely recommend the 10k as an excellent event for those looking for a Run Disney experience but without the commitment of the half marathon distance, as well as for those who, like me, love the magic of Disney and never say no to a bit of a running challenge!

Stay tuned for a roundup of our half marathon experience…

Event Report – Beignet Dash @ Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter

Not so much a race this one, but a really good fun event so I thought it worthy of a separate post to share the details (and photos).

I think it was towards the end of my visit to Florida last year that I first came across the golden nugget of information that several of the Disney resorts host regular fun runs as part of their recreation schedule – and you don’t actually have to be staying in a Disney resort to take part. They take place on different days so check the recreation schedules, and each one gives you a different souvenir such as pins, water bottles or, in the case of the one I picked, BEIGNETS! I was sold, Steve was easily persuaded and my sister agreed to build it into a day of resort activities we had planned (nothing to do with beignets, of course!).

The logistics were pretty simple. The run takes place at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter on a Sunday morning. They open up a check-in desk at 7:30am and the run is at 8am (I think the times vary a little for some of the other resort runs so do check in advance if you have your heart set on something). It costs $15 to take part and that can be paid on the morning in cash, but my sister called up in advance and paid over the phone so we were all set.

We arrived at the resort just after 7:30am (there is a security checkpoint on the way into all the resorts but if you have a dining or recreation reservation there’s no problem) and made our way around to the check-in desk to pick up our bibs and sign a waiver. The bibs are really just a place to write your name and have some emergency contact details, but more importantly they have a tear-off slip on the bottom that you use later on to claim your beignets.

We still had time so wandered off to find some toilets (top tip, the most likely location is any building close to the resort pool) and took a few pre-run photos. I had embraced the Disney by wearing my new Minnie Mouse running skirt with my stars & stripes crop top, but I noticed a real range of choices, with some people in regular running kit and others going for a more RunDisney costume approach. I loved that!

A little before 8am we were gathered together by a rep from the recreation team and given a little briefing. Fairly straightforward stuff about the basics of the route (they used the resort lifeguards as marshals to make sure everyone went the right way) and details of how to claim our beignets. We were then given advice on how to position ourselves at the start: runners to the front, walkers to the back and “I’m just here for the beignets” in the middle 😂

The route itself was about 2km following the running trail around the “Sassagoula River” so nothing too taxing. I wanted to test out running with my GoPro mounted on a short grip so I think I made it a bit harder for myself by eliminating the use of one arm haha! No matter since the run is not timed and there are no placings – everybody gets the same.

There was some support around the route, mainly guests who were up early or out to support family who were running. The lifeguards were also really good and shouted encouragement to everyone. The instructions were really clear so there was no chance of getting lost, even if you found yourself making your way around the course alone.

The finish was back where we started after completing our loop, by which time there were all sorts of things set up. I had a “medal” of a Mardi Gras mask attached to beads put around my neck (it had an event badge pinned to it too) and was handed a small bottle of water (they had been giving these out while we were waiting to start as well). There were also loads of photo props out so we made sure to get lots of photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we were happy we had taken all the photos we could around the event, we went to take a few pictures around the resort with our medals/bibs still on. I liked these fun statues which led towards the pool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And made sure to clock the Sassagoula Floatworks where we would be headed later on to pick up our beignets.

Then it was back to the car to do what we could to freshen/tidy ourselves up before our breakfast reservation (you can read about that here).

And the beignets? Totally worth it. In fact, I would recommend the run for the beignets alone. Yes, I know I could buy some, but there was something very satisfying about “earning” them with that taxing run around the waterfront 😉. Did I mention the beignets are served WARM and with loads of powdered sugar? Amazing!

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience of a Disney resort run and hope to try a few more of them in future years. Mind you, if anyone suggests a return to the Beignet Dash, I’m definitely in!

Have you taken part in any of the Disney resort runs?
Would you run for beignets?

Race Report – Chariots Of Fire Beach Race 2019

Just a week after the Edinburgh half marathon, we were racing again but this time it was much more of a fun run experience.

This time last year we entered the Chariots of Fire 5k beach race for the first time, and although there was an issue with the turning point on the route so it was short, we still very much enjoyed the event and vowed to be back. Granted, we left it a little late to get our entries in this year, but we were both looking forward to it.

Pre-race information is really detailed and helpful, but we were happy we knew what we were doing, as it hadn’t really changed and we know the area fairly well. Sadly the weather wasn’t looking too promising again, but that wasn’t going to dampen our spirits.

We left at a much more reasonable time, despite having to drive for an hour and wanting to get there in good time to snag a decent parking spot. Thanks to the midday race start, this meant we were still able to be fairly leisurely.

Since participants are encouraged to wear white, I dug up the skirt (I suspect it’s actually a tennis skirt) I acquired for the race last year and paired it with my 2018 event T-shirt. Because of my later entry I wasn’t able to pre-order a 2019 one and I neglected to take cash with me to get one on the day. No big deal!

Once parked by the West Sands we collected our race numbers, nipped to the loo and returned to the car to get organised and relax for a bit. As race time drew nearer we headed down onto the beach. Steve wanted a warm up and right at that moment the rain began. Typical! Fortunately, it didn’t last too long and it actually became much brighter. What was the one thing I didn’t bring with me? That’s right, sunglasses. I honestly didn’t think I would need them so didn’t pick up a pair and here was me now squinting into the brightness. Luckily Steve had a pair in the car that he lent me, however they were pretty scratched so I think I got an interesting insight into what cataracts would be like while I was wearing them!

As we got ready to run, Steve bumped into someone he knew and I spotted some friends and headed over to speak to them. We then joined the crowds at the start line for the pre-race announcements. For some reason we couldn’t hear these too well but I knew the drill – run to the turn at the piper (no way was this going to be in the wrong place this time!) then run back, hand in my timing chip and collect my goodies. Simple!

The start is always marked by the strains of Vangelis and it must look (and sound) amazing to have all these white-clad runners dashing off across the sand. The majority of the course is on the wetter, packed sand so I had opted for my Inov-8 Mudclaws as I thought they would be best on this surface and I was really happy with my decision as they felt good underfoot.

There was some softer sand for a short stretch right before the turn, but it wasn’t too bad and before I knew it I was on my way back…into a headwind once again!

The headwind did slow me a little, but I kept a steady effort throughout and was happy with my run. I have to say, the return section was a little deceptive as I kept spotting, then losing sight of, the finish gantry so was just gauging the distance by my watch. Soon enough, I could hear Vangelis drifting towards me along the sand and did my best for a sprint finish. It later turned out that there was a photographer there, which clearly I didn’t spot. Ha!

Photo: Chris Wallard Photography

I returned my chip and collected my medal before locating Steve for a few beach photos. I also took some slow-motion video of me running by the water – it had to be done!

After catching up with a few people, it was time to collect the most important of the post-race goodies: a fudge doughnut and bottle of beer. The fudge doughnuts didn’t make it out of the car park, but we kept the beers (which this year had a race-branded label which was pretty cool) for later that evening. For those in more of a hurry, the medal was also a bottle opener!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A beach race is such a different race experience for me and although running on the wet sand can be rather energy sapping, it’s a great thing to do. I think this one is going to become a staple in our annual race plans now and if you can get to St Andrews in early June I would definitely recommend signing up. You won’t regret it.

Race Report – EMF Half Marathon 2019

The races in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival are hardly new to me, however this year was the first time I had returned since the infamous four races in one weekend extravaganza of 2015! (You can read about that here and here). Since that time the starting point (and therefore the first handful of miles of the route) has changed so this was an interesting combination of the new and the familiar.

The 8am race start meant an early departure for our drive to Edinburgh. We opted to park in our usual Sunday spot in town then walk from there to the start area around the university. The weather forecast had not been encouraging and the drive through was pretty miserable, but at least it wasn’t cold.

Once at the start area there was a slightly chaotic feel, probably because by this point I REALLY wanted to find the toilets and although there were plenty of giant maps up, I was struggling to get my bearings. In the end we got a race volunteer to point us in the right direction and headed to one of the university buildings that had been opened up. We then went our separate ways as Steve and I were in different start pens and we had to find the right baggage lorries (which were also in different places). This was also a bit chaotic as I quickly found myself part of a group of runners desperately seeking baggage lorries and not finding any volunteers who actually knew where we had to go! After much pushing through crowds, I eventually found the right place but the lorry I should be using had already been closed up. Fortunately, a volunteer at another one took my bag and assured me they would take it to the right place in the finish area. With that done, I made my way to my start point and waited in my disposable poncho and “emergency hat” whilst listening to all the pre-race announcements.

From where I was I couldn’t actually see the start line as the road curved around a corner, however I did hear the starting horn and could see people begin to inch forward. The pen I was in was actually pretty well organised, with event crew at the start walking everyone forwards towards the line. It probably took me 6 or 7 minutes to get there and get underway.

However I still found the first part of the route quite congested as there were sections that changed from quite wide streets to much narrower ones and this led to some sudden halts. As a result, I kept my eyes on where my feet were going so missed some of the key points of interest – the photos are from later in the day when we were returned to the start by the event buses.

Greyfriars Bobby

I had worn a lightweight waterproof jacket, but within the first couple of miles it was off and tied around my waist. It did rain again later, but by that point I was past caring about being wet and just accepted it. It was actually quite refreshing!

Once we were through Holyrood Park, I did feel like I had a bit more space and enjoyed winding my way towards the coast. Although early, there was still some pretty good crowd support, with lots of really encouraging people along the route. I very much enjoyed some of the signs, my favourite being “Don’t Quit Like Theresa!”. It took me a moment, but once I got the reference I was giggling to myself for the next few minutes. 

At this point I was ticking along nicely with the aim of a sub-2 hour finish. I knew I wasn’t in PB shape (anything under 1:53) but thought a sub-2 was within current my fitness level.

Reaching the coast, I was returned to familiar territory and knew I would keep running along there – past plenty more vociferous support – to about the 11 mile mark, then there would be a turn back to the finish. This meant that from about 9 miles onwards I could see the faster runners heading back towards the finish line. I spotted Steve but he didn’t see me despite my manic waving, and noted that everyone I saw was grimacing. I was still pretty comfortable and on-pace for my sub-2 so figured they must all be working pretty hard.

And then I reached the turn.

Suddenly, the reason for the grimaces was abundantly clear as I ran smack into a headwind that I knew I would be running into for the rest of the race. Ok, so it was “only” for 2 miles, but that’s still quite an effort after 11 miles of running! Fortunately, there was a water station so I walked through that to grab a drink and take a moment to gather myself before getting my head down and pushing on. I had my watch set so I could see my average pace and while I knew my last couple of miles would be slower, I still thought I could sneak it under the 2 hours I had targeted.

Finally, I saw the point where the route turns off into the finish area. There’s always a great crowd here and as the finish gantry came into view I picked up the pace to run over the line. Another half marathon in the bag and my time of 1:59:09 meant I had reached my target. I love it when a plan comes together!

I collected my post-race goodies – medal, bottle of water, High 5 tablets and a little blue box that contained my T-shirt, foil blanket and some hot/cold gels. The boxes are a great idea as they are far more environmentally sustainable than plastic bags. Another thing I noticed was that while there were small plastic bottles of water available along the course (which we were encouraged to toss into recycling bins around the aid stations) the bottles were not labelled so perhaps this event is moving away from having a bottled water company as a big sponsor. An interesting move when so often this is one of the biggest sponsors.

I found Steve, headed over to the baggage lorries and collected my bag which actually had been taken to the right place for me. Because of the forecast I had packed a full change of clothes and was soaking wet, so a change was needed. There then followed the least glamorous change of clothes of my life…in a portable toilet! I can confirm that it is possible, but it wouldn’t be my first choice if another option was available.

On a nicer day we might have stayed at the finish for a while, but this time we just headed straight off to the event buses which are at a park and ride about a mile from the finish. Runners and spectators can buy a ticket in advance and while the queue can be quite long, there are loads of buses so it keeps on moving. This is generally quite well organised, but the hike to the buses is definitely one of my least favourite things about this event. I don’t think there are any better solutions though, so just accept it’s how it is.

I was pretty hungry by this point so ate the cereal bar I had been handed at the finish and began dreaming of the post-race meal we would get once back in Edinburgh. Clearly I wasn’t the only one as I could hear others talking about how they had been dreaming of Domino’s pizza for the last few miles and when the bus went past a McDonald’s there was an audible groan from the passengers!

We were delivered back to the start area, which by now was being dismantled as the marathon itself had started, and we walked back over to town to get some food – McDonald’s remains my post-race food of choice even though I would be unlikely to want it at any other time!

We then headed to Hotel Chocolat for “dessert” before getting back in the car for the drive home. Ironically, it was much nicer weather by this time!

Overall, I liked the variation in the route but definitely caution against being distracted as it can be a bit congested at the start. I would also recommend getting to the start as early as you can in order to get your bearings and drop off baggage without too much stress. And remember that once you’re finished, you will still have a bit of a walk to the event buses to get back into Edinburgh again. In my experience, race day in Edinburgh is either roasting hot or pouring. We got pouring on this occasion, but for me it didn’t spoil the race. Not an event I do regularly these days, but it’s nice to be involved from time to time and I’m sure this won’t be my last EMF experience.

Race Report – Stirling Marathon 2019

Or The One With Highly Questionable Training

I really had no expectations for this one. I began the year feeling really strong, but a series of disruptions to my training and subsequent decision to build up into the event rather than taking a more traditional taper, meant I really had no idea what was going to happen. Yes, I ran 4:05 last year, but I also have a fair number of marathons under my belt where training was less-than-optimal and I finished in the 4:30s/4:40s. I was getting ready for this one fully expecting a 4:4X finish. And I was ok with that since just a couple of weeks earlier I didn’t think I would be running at all.

I didn’t spend much time poring over the route map. I knew there had been an alteration from last year so that where we finished would serve as both the start and finish lines (so we would basically run a really big loop) but didn’t think much about it other than that. It would be 26.2 miles, most of it would be on the same roads as last year, and I would do my best. I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing which was really nice.

I got my kit all prepared the night before: Tikiboo shorts, Under Armour sleeveless top, Nike arm warmers, 2XU compression calf sleeves.

The weather forecast looked pretty perfect – cool, dry and still, so I thought I would want the arm warmers for the first few miles and maybe roll them down later on.

We were keen to be in Stirling quite sharp (unheard of for perennially last-minute Steve!) as this year the event car parks were going to cost £5 (they were free last year – humph!) but there was a city centre car park really close to the start which would be free since it was a Sunday. So after a breakfast of porridge and coffee, we were in the car and on our way. We did have to take a diversion due to road closures for the races, but we scored a parking space right where we wanted and walked up to the start/finish area at Kings Park. The event area had really only just opened so it was pretty quiet and we had our pick of toilets as soon as we got there. What luxury ha!

I had packed a disposable poncho and since all the benches and the ground itself were wet from the rain the day before, I laid this out so we could sit down and wait until it was time to strip off our warm layers and hand in our bag. This was the only moment when I felt a little emotional and it was all because I opened Facebook. It popped up this memory from last year and although I was feeling calm, being back at the same event reminded me of all those feelings once again.

From my perspective, the start was much better organised than last year. Last year I had to scale a barrier to get into the starting area, but this year, although being fairly last-minute to head over as we wanted to go to the loo one last time, it was pretty straightforward. The start was on the main road and the waiting runners snaked back around the tennis courts into the park. This time both the full and half marathons started at the same time (last year the half was a bit later so a lot of marathon runners ran into the back of the half marathon towards the end). There was a barrier separating the two sides of the road as after about half a mile the routes would diverge so this made sure runners were on the right side of the road and didn’t have to dart about. By the time I reached the start line several minutes had ticked by, but it was chip timed so I was still really relaxed.

I was wearing my Aftershokz headphones but had decided not to switch on anything to listen to until later on. Instead, I took the time to settle into a comfortable pace and enjoy what was happening around me. I was a little disappointed there were no “animals” outside the safari park this time (I even ran on the right side of the road to get a high five!) but I did enjoy the difference between the quiet country roads and the immense noise in the towns we passed through.

Official race photo

As we ran down a short hill into Doune, I could hear some runners near me making some jokes around the name (it’s pronounced “doon” – the same as the Scots word for “down”) – lots of “running Doune the hill”, “heading doon to Doune”, etc. At the bottom of the hill we cross an old bridge and looking to the right, along the water, is Doune castle (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones, Outlander) so I stopped to take a couple of photos. They came out a bit “soft focus”, but you get the idea.

Doune itself was really noisy. There was a pipe band and I think every single person who lived there must have been out lining the streets to support the runners. It was a much-needed boost as much of the road out of there was uphill until  eventually a nice long downhill stretch into Dunblane. I STILL didn’t see Andy Murray’s gold postbox (sigh!) but later in the race I overheard someone else saying they thought we maybe didn’t run past it. Maybe it’s not my fault after all!

Dunblane was also really supportive. I saw some older women standing at the end of their driveways enjoying cups of tea and I think if they had offered me a cuppa I would have probably stopped for a chat there and then. I was approaching half way but it was starting to feel hard and I knew it wasn’t good for a marathon to feel hard so early on. Still, I wasn’t massively surprised and interestingly the weary feeling in my legs never got any worse through the remainder of the race.

Official race photo

From Dunblane, we made our way towards Bridge of Allan. I remembered a really nice downhill stretch here, which was just what I was needing, but I was also a bit confused. I remembered from the course map that mile 20 was close to the university, but if we kept on going alone this road as we had last year, we would reach there much earlier. Just as I was puzzling about how this was going to work, the route left the main road and took a right turn onto a narrow, country road for a loop which would bring us back onto the main road just before 19 miles.

I found this stretch of the route quite odd. It was pancake flat, but the road had lots of potholes and rough patches which aren’t great on weary feet. It was also really quiet. It was essentially a farm road and mostly flanked by fields. Those who lived along there were out offering support, but we were at that point in the race where nobody was chatting much anymore and I don’t think I was the only one who started to notice how tired they were at that point. All I could hear was the slapping of feet on the ground and a few weary groans as we approached the business end of the marathon.

I made a decision to take a short walk break when I got to 18 miles. In deciding to run the race, I had considered walking a little as a possibility to help me get around the route so was comfortable with that decision. Just as I ducked behind the mile marker to slow down without getting in anyone’s way, another runner passed by and spoke to me by name. I had actually noticed this runner earlier on when I had been right behind her as she was wearing a top with cutaways in the back which showed off a really cool tattoo. As she passed by, I realised it was Rhona, whose blog Red Wine Runner was one of the blogs which originally inspired me to start this one. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Rhona at a race, so it was nice to see a familiar face. I tweeted her the next day and it turned out she had been running behind me wondering where she had seen “those mad shorts” before, then twigged who it was. Running can be such a small world!

While on the subject of the shorts, I thought I had chosen a fairly understated pair, but they did get quite a lot of attention along the route from both runners and spectators alike! Every shout of, “I love your shorts!” made me smile and gave me a bit of a lift so it was worth wearing them.

Walking for a few minutes really helped me to rally so when I emerged back onto the main road and hit the wall of noise that was Bridge of Allan, I was ready for it. The first thing I heard was the end of a song from The Greatest Showman which really gave me a boost. It was so noisy along there I had to stop the podcast I had started when I began my walk break and didn’t re-start it until I was a bit further along the road again.

Another slight change to the route was around the university. Last year we ran in, did a loop then came back out the same way. This time we still went in (up a pretty steep hill dammit!) but our loop funnelled us out a different way so we were further along the road. It did, however, lead to a nice downhill section that gave me a bit of a second wind for a bit.

From there, I knew I could make it. I remembered that I would have a slight incline (where a photographer lurks!) before arriving in Stirling to make my way through the city centre and up to the finish. With about a parkrun to go, I got a nice text from a colleague to wish me luck and that gave me a bit of a lift just when I needed it. Then once in Stirling itself the crowds were amazing. I’m looking down in the photos because the streets are uneven cobbles and the last thing I wanted to do was trip, but I knew that Steve’s cousin would be out ready to cheer us all on so when I spotted her I waved and she came out to give me a high five. The crowds were roaring their support and since our race numbers were printed with our names on the front, everyone was getting lots of encouragement by name which is always so good through those last miles.

Official race photo

Official race photo

Finally, I found myself at the bottom of the last hill (!!) up to the finish line. I was prepared for it having been there last year and we had actually walked up that hill on our way to the start that morning. Again, loads of supporters shouting encouragement to get the runners up the hill. I began to feel pretty strong as I knew I had it now. I had been keeping an eye on my time and knew that I was actually going to finish sub-4:30, which was a surprise. I even wondered if I might manage 4:25 so as the terrain levelled out and the finish gantry was ahead of me, I kept the pace up as much as I could (I think I even passed someone!) and barrelled over the line with my arms aloft.

Official race photo

Official race photo

Made it! Against the odds, I not only made it to the start line but finished this marathon feeling pretty good, all things considered.

Stopping my watch it said 4:26:01. Ach, that second was a little disappointing but so much faster than I had expected. Even better, when I checked my official time it was 4:25:59. Got that 4:25 by the skin of my teeth!!

I collected my finisher pack and found Steve who was waiting for me just beyond the finish area. I was on such as high as I just couldn’t believe I had run 4:25 when I had expected 4:4X. How on earth had I done it?

I was, however, very keen to sit down so we laid the disposable poncho out again and once I had taken a couple of photos I sat down to enjoy my recovery drink and regroup a bit. Poor, exhausted Steve (who had finished the marathon then dutifully collected our bag from the baggage bus before hanging around waiting for me) had to listen to me yacking on in an endorphin-fuelled frenzy of excitement until I gave him the five-minute warning that we should head off (to give him a head start getting up off the ground – he’s not so good at this after a marathon haha!).

The finisher pack was pretty well stocked – lots of food, T-shirt and medal. My only real complaint is about the T-shirt as it is MASSIVE on me. It’s one of those “unisex” ones (not a thing – women and men are completely different on top) and this is allegedly a small. I wore it in the evening to go for a drink (with a long-sleeved top underneath it) but I can’t see it getting any further use and I took advantage of the post-event survey to let the organisers know my feelings on the matter.

Overall, I’ve found this one a little hard to process. As an event, I certainly recommend it. Plenty of runners, yet it feels small. Quiet country roads, yet roaring noise just when you need it. The route is undulating, but it is Scotland after all and nothing I haven’t trained on. Organisation is good and since it’s close to home it eliminates the stress of travelling and finding food ahead of the race. What I’ve struggled with a little is my own performance. I was so relaxed about the whole thing as I had no pressure to perform, yet far exceeded my own expectations given the training I had put in. I’ve also recovered really quickly which suggests I’ve got more to give. There’s a little bit of me which briefly wondered what I might have achieved if training had gone better, but it’s not worth dwelling on that. It is what it is. Life gave me some lemons and I made some pretty damn good lemonade that day. Marathon number 12 is in the books and despite a few miles of the race where I never wanted to do it again (standard!), I can’t see this being my last marathon. I just hope number 13 is a little luckier!

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.

We 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.

As 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!

There 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.

A 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!

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.

I 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.

Spits from the road section – definitely a negative split!

And 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!

 

You can read about my previous experiences of this race here and here.