Week In Review – The Final Countdown!

I made it! As I write this the school year is over at long last and I’m settling into “holiday mode”. Read on for a bit more about life and training in the last week of term as I join Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL for their weekly linkup.

As usual, I followed my established routine for the week (for the most part):

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – run
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – rest

On Monday I was feeling pretty exhausted. My brain was fried from the demands of the year, especially my recent exam marking which is enjoyable but takes a lot of brain power. I was also a bit daunted by everything I had to do in order to move classroom before the end of term. Getting into the pool for some gentle lengths was exactly what I needed, and I took it fairly easily as my whole being has been screaming out for rest! My swim always makes me feel refreshed though, so it was a worthwhile visit.

Admittedly, the last thing I felt like doing on Tuesday was a set of bike reps, however I also knew that this was the last set of reps before heading away on holiday and a repeat of last week‘s set. The knowledge that it was the last one and that I had successfully completed the same workout the week before gave me enough motivation to get to the gym and work my way through the reps. Finishing felt like such an accomplishment! After hitting the mats for some stretching and mobility work, I headed to the sauna to relax and unwind for a bit.

Last week I skipped my Wednesday run partly to allow the tightness in my right leg to settle and partly because I had a prior commitment. This week my leg was much better, but it still didn’t seem like the best idea to be doing a set of hill reps. Instead, I decided on a short run, but somehow getting myself home from work and organised for a run seemed to take forever. I was definitely procrastinating, but knew a run would make me feel much better. I told myself I could either run a 2.5 mile loop or a 3.5 mile loop – one meant turning right at the bottom of the road and the other left. Of course as soon as I got to the bottom of the road I was settling into the run and turned left for the 3.5 mile loop. This left me feeling energised for the remainder of the evening.

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Thursday was the day I had been waiting for – the end of term! It was a half day and I headed into school knowing that I could get the classroom move sorted out quite quickly. I had already packed up the contents of both my classroom and the one I was moving into, so simply gathered a crack team of movers (pretty much any pupil who turned up in my classroom!) and got the whole thing done really quickly. I still have to go and sort out where I want everything, but that can wait until later in the holidays.  By the time we finished up at lunchtime I had already taken over 7000 steps just from marching up and down the stairs with boxes! I spent the afternoon getting a few things organised at home before heading to my Ashtanga yoga class. I LOVED the class this week. I don’t know if it was that end of term feeling or if it was something else, but it just felt really good. I mentioned it to my teacher who said that she had felt it too – like everything just flowed really well that night. I guess sometimes you just get classes like that. Whatever it was, it was such a nice way to begin the holidays.

On Friday morning I had intended to sleep a bit longer, but my body had other ideas, pre-programmed as it is right now to wake early. Still, being up gave me the chance to do some tidying and organise my life a bit before heading to the gym to relax in the hot tub and sauna before taking care of some pre-holiday errands. A relaxing day made that night’s meal with Steve even more enjoyable!

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Saturday was in some ways a little different. Steve headed off to Edinburgh to get organised for his Ironman 70.3 the following day, while I headed to parkrun where I was the 27 minute pacer. Once more I was a little fast, finishing in 26:46, but I know I helped some people so that was great. It was a really busy parkrun and we got a new attendance record of 295 runners!

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After getting showered and changed I walked to the hairdresser for my holiday haircut and reached my step goal on the way back home. That brings me to a full year of reaching my step goal and that makes me really happy. More about that in my forthcoming update on my 7 goals for 2017.

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I also took delivery of the medal from a virtual race I had signed up for. Wonder Woman is ALWAYS going to sell it to me!

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The rest of my day was pretty relaxing, then Steve arrived home (complete with sliced hand from a sharp rock he got up close and personal with whilst checking out the swim course!) in time to eat then he had to get the last of his gear ready for an early start on Sunday.

I declined the chance to leave with him at 4:30am (!!!), instead getting a couple more hours of sleep all snuggled in with the cat. We had worked out that there was little point in me being at the swim start as it would be so hard to actually spot Steve or work out what was going on and much more interesting to watch the bike and run. After some checking of various options, I got the first train to Edinburgh at 8:50am and walked the short distance to the finish area at Holyrood Park (where the 5k and 10k of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival take place).

I arrived just in time to see the first finisher cross the line then battled for a bit with the online tracker to try and work out where Steve might be. In the end I discovered that there were some problems with that tracker and found another one that was a bit more helpful. Having established that Steve was out on the bike course (I was afraid I might have missed his transition to the run) I watched the first female finisher as well as the podium ceremonies (I got a bit too close to the women’s one and got splashed with champagne – cue me spending the rest of the day smelling of alcohol!).

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I then made my way back over to the transition area and was able to spot Steve coming in then got some photos a few minutes later when he emerged from the transition tent.

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The run course was three laps but I sought some shelter from passing showers during Steve’s first lap then caught him on the second.

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There was then just enough time for a cup of tea (the weather had by this time completely forgotten that it’s July and I had several tops on!) before taking up my position to get a photo of his finish – a respectable 6:19:48!

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I have to say, it was a bit strange watching the event. I knew the swim had been shortened due to the weather conditions and the bike course certainly wasn’t for the fainthearted, so spent the first part of my spectating thinking NOPE, not for me. But the more I watched delighted athletes crossing the line (and of course I was watching running, a familiar discipline) the more I thought “maybe one day…” and now feel inspired to refocus on my swimming again as I feel my progress here has stalled a bit. What I’m doing complements my running well enough, but it could still be much better. Let’s see what the next few weeks bring there…

Would you ever try a 70.3 triathlon?
What sporting event scares you the most?

Week in Review – A Break From Routine

Like last week, this past week hasn’t exactly followed my normal pattern, but I’m pleased to report that I still completed all my planned training. Go me! As ever, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL for my weekly recap.

The structure of my training is now pretty well established, but here’s how this week looked:

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Tuesday – bike intervals @ the gym + swim
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – mobility
Saturday – parkrun + Hatha yoga
Sunday – 9 miles

The week began with a degree of training uncertainty. As part of my exam marking role I was required to be out of school again on Monday for a meeting in Edinburgh. I got the train so I wouldn’t have the stress of driving into the centre of Edinburgh on a weekday, but this meant I wasn’t sure when I would get back to Perth. Steve dropped me off at the station as my train was at 8am and I walked from the station in Edinburgh to the meeting venue (about a mile) so was already more active than usual for a Monday. The trains are about once an hour so I couldn’t be sure what train home I would get. In the end I arrived back in Perth around 5pm and walked the mile or so home from the station. This meant there wasn’t enough time to squeeze in a swim before going to yoga (I had another missed class to make up), but had the bonus of reaching double step goal on a day when I normally have to be quite creative to meet my goal at all! I enjoyed the class and really appreciated the time to myself after another day focusing on the intricacies of exam marking, but sadly it wasn’t enough to help me drift off to sleep that night and that poor sleep set the tone for the week.

Tuesday was a bit of a struggle as I was feeling really tired from not sleeping enough, but I still went to the gym for my bike reps. I was perfectly prepared to back off a bit and go by feel, but the reps actually made me feel a bit better. I used the chance to also do a bit of mobility work before hitting the pool for a swim. I really like having a swim after the bike session but don’t always manage to fit that in. I had hoped that this would mean a good sleep, but I made the mistake of working too long into the evening and just wasn’t in bed for long enough. Oops!

Wednesday was warm, but not as much as last week so I felt much better during my hill reps. I’ve had the same session for the last couple of weeks so it’s easy for me to compare my performance week on week and consider the impact of factors like weather and how I’m feeling. Although tired, I felt my performance was better than last week so I was pleased. Still not enough sleep that night though – I just didn’t learn my lesson!

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On Thursday my day was a little different. I was in school, but only with one year group (the seniors were still on study leave and two year groups were out on various activities). It was a bit of a weird day and for various reasons I just didn’t achieve as much as I had hoped. Heading to Ashtanga that evening was a welcome relief! We were back in the studio again as the weather wasn’t as good, but it was a great class, despite my tiredness making my balance a bit iffy in some of the postures! Afterwards I (yet again) got caught up in some exam stuff and worked a little too long. Not ideal, but it’s only once a year and the marking period is relatively short so I can cope.

Friday was another different day for me and I really enjoyed it. As part of our annual health promotion week the junior classes are taken out for a day on an organised walk. I had been assigned to accompany the year group heading out on Friday and was pleased to find myself with a really nice group of 50 pupils. Their walk was taking place at Loch Leven (where I recently ran the half marathon) but on a portion of the heritage trail. Our starting point was where we had registered for the race and we were led from there onto the path which we followed for about 3.5 miles around by the loch to reach our lunch venue. Fortunately it was dry (in fact, conditions were ideal for walking – dry and mild but not too hot) so it was really nice having our picnic on a nice grass area. We spent about an hour there and the pupils had a group activity to complete about responsible behaviour in the outdoors. After lunch we set off again for a slightly longer stretch (not quite 4 miles) to our bus pick up point (there were two other groups out walking around different stretches of the trail so we were a bit more spread out and unsuspecting walkers wouldn’t have 200 young people suddenly descending on them!). The kids were brilliant: super behaviour and no complaints, although I was amused at the fact that they had covered less than half a mile before they started asking when lunch was ha!

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Once back at school I had a bit of a chat with my colleagues (we had all been on various activities over Thursday and Friday so hadn’t all been together) then drove straight to the studio for a mobility session with Steve (I had spent the day in workout gear so there was no need to change). We worked through a series of exercises targeting the usual spots: upper back, hips and core. The temperature picked up during the day so I did have to clean myself up a bit afterwards before I was fit to be seen in public when we went out to eat lol!

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I had been hopeful of a longer sleep, however the cat decided to allow me just half an hour extra before declaring that starvation was imminent and I had to get up and fill her bowl. I did manage a short doze afterwards, but it wasn’t quite the same.

It was pacer week at parkrun so I was down sharp to collect my pacing bib. I had 29 minutes this time and to be honest I found it pretty tough to settle into the required pace and ended up finishing in 28:39! Oh well, I can’t imagine anyone would complain about getting a faster time than they wanted! I ran most of the course with a lovely woman who is quite new to running. Turned out she had met with Steve during the week to discuss some training and we had a nice time chatting while I gave her a bit of advice on her running. It was only her second parkrun and she did brilliantly, sprinting off in the last kilometre while I tried to keep the pace even and encourage some others around me. Much as I love to run a hard parkrun, I also really enjoy pacing as it gives me a chance to chat to new people and run at a more leisurely (for me) pace. I would definitely recommend it if you ever get the chance.

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After parkrun I had a quick change then headed off to my Hatha yoga class. I really feel the benefit of that post-run stretch and it sets me up for the rest of the day which, right now, is mostly centred around the exam marking and my team management duties.

On Sunday Steve headed off on a long cycle as part of a brick session for his forthcoming half ironman. I, meanwhile, had a bit of a tidy around the house then got ready for my 9 mile run. It was sunny but not too hot, so shorts and a vest were ideal. Of course the weather suddenly became very changeable and I got soaked in a midrun downpour, but it was still a good run. I have been running a very similar route every Sunday, with slight tweaks to vary the distance, and my plan remains the same: capitalise on the endurance I’ve built by running a bit faster so that after my holiday I will (hopefully) find marathon pace feels a lot easier as I build up the miles again towards the Loch Ness Marathon. Given that my route features a pretty big hill, I was pleased to finish with an overall average of 8:46 per mile, only a tiny bit slower than last week, but with much more of a headwind through large chunks of the route. Needless to say, by the time I was finished I looked pretty bedraggled!

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Next week I’m hoping to get my sleeping pattern back under control. The marking process should level out a bit, with my team perhaps not needing quite as much input, and I’ve changed my bedding as I know clean sheets help me to sleep better. A day off work on Monday should help too! I’ll let you know how it goes…

How has your training gone this week?
What is your next event?

Week in Review – A Change Is As Good As A Rest

It’s been a bit of a different week for me. Apart from the arrival of summer at last, I was away for a night on a work trip – something that’s a bit of a rarity in teaching – which meant a change to my routine. Read on as I link up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to I recap my week.

Despite my trip I did manage to keep the structure of my week (mostly) as planned:

Monday – swim + Hatha yoga
Tuesday – Bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – Hill reps
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session
Saturday – parkrun + Hatha yoga
Sunday – 8 miles

Monday was a bit of a rush as I had a dental checkup at 5pm and got stuck in traffic on my way home from work. Luckily I made it. Just! My dentist is near my gym so I was able to head in for a swim afterwards and benefitted from some tips from a very good swimmer who has taken an interest in my progress. He often gives me advice on how to make form tweaks which will help improve my swimming and I find this really helpful as I have no idea what my form looks like as I make my way through the water. After my swim I had time for a short relax in the hot tub before getting showered and changed. Since I had missed a couple of my Saturday Hatha yoga classes I was going to a Monday class instead to “make up” (we pay for a block in advance). Going on a Monday evening was a really nice way to round off the day, especially after all my rushing around after work!

It was on Tuesday that my routine began to change. I am involved in the process of marking and quality assuring exam papers, and the preparation for this each year requires me to be out of school for two days while the standard is finalised. This year my meeting was taking place in Edinburgh and I opted to stay over in order to remove the stress of driving up and down the road in peak traffic, through lots of roadworks. This also helps me to clear my head and focus on the task ahead. Since teachers don’t often have meetings or courses outside of school, one of the highlights is always the food! So for my readers who are teachers, this was my lunch:

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I wasn’t staying at the same venue as the meeting but my hotel was just a few minutes away, right next door to the zoo! This made my “commute” much shorter, giving me plenty of time to make use of the hotel gym facilities for my bike intervals. Using different equipment made it harder to get the right intensity level on the bike, but the most important thing is that I still got my workout done and was able to spend time on some mobility work as well.

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I also did a few lengths of the pool to try out the form tips I was given on Monday, before making use of the hot tub and sauna!

Since I was viewing this solo work trip as a bit of a treat (I was working hard during the day, but the evening was my own), I opted for a steak dinner and a small glass of wine which I enjoyed whilst catching up on some blog reading I had fallen behind with.

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And no hotel stay would be complete without a relaxing bath. Yes, I take hotel stays VERY seriously lol!

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My short journey back to the meeting venue on Wednesday meant I could sleep slightly later, although I did end up waking up a bit sooner than I need to so enjoyed time reading in bed with a cup of tea before getting organised and heading to breakfast. Given how seriously I take hotel stays, it should be no surprise that I fully availed myself of the spread available to create a three course breakfast!

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The remainder of the day was spent over marking preparations, pausing of course for lunch!

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Once home at the end of the day I had hill reps on my schedule. It was a hot day and I’d spent two days eating heavier meals than usual, but I gamely headed out anyway. I’m not going to lie, some of those longer reps were hard work, but I completed the set before heading home to melt into a puddle in the garden! It’s nice to have some good weather as I enjoy doing my post-run stretches (and jumping about!) in the garden.

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Thursday was another hot day so it was lovely to arrive at Ashtanga yoga and have the teacher suggest taking the class outside. I know they did this one night last year, but I think it was when I was away on holiday so missed it. We took our mats over to the North Inch and worked through the series of postures on the grass, surrounded by lots of other people out enjoying the warm evening in various ways: sunbathing, dog walking, sports… It was perfect! It felt a little odd having a different surface under me, and one or two times I had to shift around on my mat a bit due to a bit of uneven ground, but I would definitely do that again.

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On Fridays Steve has added a mobility session to my programme. Ordinarily I will do this at home on my own, however he had a cancellation this week so was able to fit me in at the studio. It was another hot day so in the end I refused to go inside and I completed my session in the car park! I may have had a few funny looks from those departing for the weekend, but at least I got to enjoy the fresh air and nice weather for a bit.

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It was so nice that I actually took a short walk once I got home as I wanted to enjoy the sun for a bit longer. I then took my MacBook into the garden and worked there for a while until it was time to go and eat. It was a bit warm for my usual choice of chicken curry, so I opted for a chilli burger instead (yes, I did cut it in half before remembering to take a photo – bad blogger!).

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The run of hot weather continued into Saturday morning and I knew parkrun was going to be a toasty one. I wore pretty minimal kit, but the bulk of the course is in direct sunshine so I got pretty warm and ended up being a little slower than last week with a 24:03. To be honest, I thought I would be slower! It was a really busy parkrun and we had a new record turnout of 286 which was brilliant. There was also the annual volleyball tournament taking place in the park so the area was really busy and buzzing with activity.

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Of course I was a pretty sweaty mess afterwards but managed a quick turnaround to freshen up and head to my Hatha yoga class. It was a really good class and I must have been really relaxed at the end as I suddenly became aware of the teacher telling us to start moving our fingers and toes at the end of the relaxation. I must have completely drifted off!

Saturday afternoon was quite overcast and there was a little rain, with a bit of thunder later on, but by Sunday morning this had cleared to leave another hot and sunny morning. Once more I found some minimal kit and headed out a bit earlier for my run. I had 8 miles to do and was taking the same approach as last week to run harder in order to capitalise on the endurance I’ve built by adding a bit of speed. My route was pretty similar to my 10 mile run last Sunday and the sun definitely made it tough in places, but I finished with an overall pace average a bit quicker than last week so I was pleased. If I can continue to perform well in warmer weather then I should definitely gain some performance benefits as the weather cools down into the autumn. Right now I’m all about finding those marginal gains that will make a difference to my marathon performance!
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fullsizeoutput_1e47It’s been so good to get some warmer weather, even if it did make my workouts a bit harder! Still, I’m happy with how I performed throughout the week and I know strong performances in the heat will be beneficial in the long term.

How do you fare in warmer weather?
Do you enjoy staying in hotels?

My Marathon Journey

Today is a very special day. Do you know why? Well, today is Marathon Day: 26th February = 26.2! (yes, I know my friends in the USA write the date the other way around and that my continental friends use kilometres, but just go with it – it is a thing, honest!) For a Marathon Day special I thought I would write about my own marathon journey. Some of this has been touched on in other posts, but I thought it would be good to take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come and why 26.2 miles remains so important to me.

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It all began waaaay back in the pre-blog days of 2009 and frankly, it was all Steve’s fault! 2009 was the year I “graduated” from being a bit of a fair weather plodder, to being a “proper runner” who trained regularly, regardless of weather, and signed up for “proper” races (rather than mass-participation charity fundraisers) thanks to the encouragement of a certain PT who had recently become a fairly permanent fixture in my life. I knew Steve had run many marathons (he was probably the first person I was ever aware of who had actually run any marathons, let alone several!) but I don’t think I had ever really considered marathon running as a genuine possibility for me. Despite a lifetime of watching the London marathon on TV every April, I still believed marathons were reserved for the super elite and the super fit. Surely impossible for someone like me? But that year’s London marathon changed all that. I knew Steve was training, but had little concept of what that really meant in terms of the commitment he was making, it was only when I travelled to London with him and watched the race live that I began to get a taste of what marathon running was really all about: the palpable excitement and nerves at the expo, the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd… and the people just like me running through the streets of the capital. I distinctly remember thinking, if they can do this, why can’t I?

And so the first steps on a journey that would change my life were taken. By the time the year was over, Steve and I were engaged and we had both signed up for the 2010 Paris Marathon. It may not ultimately have been the marathon experience I dreamed of, thanks to an injury sustained during training, but despite all the naysayers I completed that race (in a rather slow 5:01:03 – might have dipped under 5 hours if I hadn’t stopped for a toilet break!). Before the race if people had asked me about marathon running I would say something about how I wanted to do it just once to see what it was like, to be able to say I had done it, but far from a “one and done” experience, actually running the race made me want to do it again. I crossed the line tired, sore and feeling like I was under attack from my emotions, but I also crossed the line knowing that I DEFINITELY wanted to do it again. In London…

First marathon - Paris 2010

I was incredibly fortunate and secured a place in the 2011 London Marathon via the running club I was a member of at the time. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to get in and I don’t think I realised it at the time having never experienced the repeated ballot rejections that I have since become so familiar with! This time training went much more to plan and I completed the race in a much more respectable 4:35:28. I was overjoyed: I had actually run the London marathon, the same London marathon I watched on TV every year, and had achieved a time I felt to be much more representative of my abilities. For many, that experience would be the end of the road, but not me. My journey had barely even begun.

Lon-DONE! VLM 2011

A few short weeks later I was lining up at the start of another marathon, this time in Edinburgh. I had taken on a double marathon challenge to raise money for a local charity, but having one marathon already in my legs that spring I had no idea how I would fare. I had achieved the time I wanted to in London, so this race was all about the experience, about completing the challenge I had set for myself and raising money for a good cause. But having run a marathon already meant that I could go into this race feeling much more confident and I felt no pressure to perform. Perhaps that’s why I was able to set myself a new PB of 4:32:17, despite running into that Edinburgh marathon headwind for the last few miles (my dad was running the last leg of the relay that year and as he caught up to me and asked how I was doing I could only grunt at him and watch, helpless, as he disappeared into the distance on his fresh legs!). I could have ended it there: 3 marathons, including London, a decent finish time, and a fundraising experience. That’s more than many others would ever do, but now my journey was to take a new direction: I wanted a quicker time.

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And so my thinking changed. I was becoming more and more immersed in the world of running, something that led to me starting this blog, and I wanted to run a sub 4:30 marathon. I knew that 4:30ish was an “average” finish time and I wanted to be above average (delusions of grandeur, haha!), but this was not to prove as straightforward as I had hoped…

My first crack at my new goal was in 2012. My marathon of choice was the now-defunct Lochaber marathon, an out-and-back course on country roads around Fort William. It was always a popular marathon among Scottish club runners and I knew it would be a very different experience to the big city races I had taken part in so far. Training went well and I was hitting the paces I would need for a finish closer to 4 hours, but towards the end of March I developed a problem with my left calf and continued to battle with it right up to race day. My physio gave me the go-ahead to run, but with the caution that I should stop if the pain in my left side worsened (thanks to a biomechanical issue, I had developed bursitis in my hip and was getting referred pain in my calf as my body tried to adapt). I completed the race, but was off pace from the start, the last 10 miles were an uncomfortable, lonely plod and I burst into tears as soon as I finished. My time was still respectable at 4:35:08 (faster than London!) but I knew it didn’t reflect my training and what I thought I was now capable of doing. I had to chalk it up to a speedbump in the road and remind myself that there would be other races.

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But contrary to my expectations, it was not to be in the following year as the road got even bumpier. With the niggling problem in my hip resurfacing at the end of 2012, I made the heartbreaking decision not to take up my place at the 2013 Paris marathon and work instead on getting back to basics, addressing my biomechanical issues and rebuilding myself as a stronger, more robust runner. As it turns out, this was probably for the best as in February of 2013 I succumbed to the flu. Proper flu. The kind where it hurt to just lie in bed and even a trip to the toilet was a huge undertaking (a visit to the doctor completely wiped me out despite my otherwise good physical fitness and for the first time I truly understood why much more vulnerable people could be at such risk if they caught the flu). Still, a year of focusing my training in a very different way meant that I could go into 2014 feeling much stronger and ready to take on the challenge of aiming for a 4 hour marathon, my new target after my training for Lochaber suggested I might be capable of this.

2014 was a year of challenge. Steve and I committed to raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Support and my part in this was to take on 3 marathons – 2 in the spring and 1 in the autumn. The first of these was Paris, having been so disappointed not to get there the year before. Spring training went well and I was delighted to finish the race with a massive new PB of 4:05:07! But my good fortune was not to last as yet again I picked up an injury as I headed into my second marathon of the year – Edinburgh. This time it was my tibialis posterior. I couldn’t believe that I had yet another injury and there was a lot of “why me?” angst. Much like in Lochaber a couple of years before, I had the ok to give it a go and once more found myself with a painful hobble through the final miles, this time finishing in 4:40:02. Quite a difference from Paris! Even worse, the problem continued all the way through the summer, forcing me to pull out of my autumn marathon in Loch Ness to ensure that I could properly heal.

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Throughout my injury time I began to really seriously think that maybe marathon running wasn’t for me as I kept on getting injured, but my time in Paris made me think that I could aim for a sub-4 hour time and as my body healed I decided that I had to have another go. My journey was not over!

I had secured a place in the 2015 Paris Marathon and as the new year began it was time for the now-familiar routine of marathon training. That training began well, but as I headed into March the wheels came off. I had issues with nutrition, with feeling stressed about work pressures and something had to give. Inevitably that something was my body. What began as a tight calf soon evolved into a problem with my quad and I began to fear that once more my hip was going to be at the root of things. Fortunately a trip to the physio put my mind at rest when a mild strain to the quad muscle was diagnosed. Even better, I would be able to run in Paris, but had to make some sweeping changes to my training in the final weeks and found myself out on my bike rather than running. On race day my quad was reasonably comfortable, but I was aware of the muscle, a little like a constant itch that needed to be scratched, and what had begun as an assault on 4 hours turned into a much more sedate affair, clocking in at 4:43:39. Aside from that PB in 2014, I was actually getting slower! Yet once more rather than consider giving up, I decided to try AGAIN! I’m either incredibly tenacious, completely delusional or just plain mad!

Official race photo

I recovered well that spring and ran strongly throughout the summer, really enjoying my running again. And to cheer me even further, I actually WON my place in the 2016 Paris Marathon. Then it happened. What at first was a slightly niggly foot got worse and soon I was hobbling to my podiatrist hoping for a miracle. Instead, I got the diagnosis I had feared: a stress fracture of the second metatarsal. In the past all my injuries had been to do with muscles or tendons, things that would heal reasonably quickly, but this time there was damage to the bone. I had an Xray, I had taping and I had strict orders not to run. At all. Once more, I could see my marathon dreams slipping away and once more I considered whether or not I had reached the end of my marathon journey. But as I recovered well (following my podiatrist’s advice TO THE LETTER as well as listening very carefully to my body) I decided that since our trip to Paris was booked, there was no harm in actually trying to complete the marathon – after all, I was by then injury-free, I was just a tiny bit undertrained with my 10 mile long run and weeks on the bike. Still, what was the worst that could happen? I’d rather DNF than DNS and thought it would be fun to completely take the pressure off and just enjoy the experience. Which is exactly what I did. I kept the pace easy, stopped to enjoy a “buffet” of orange segments and sugar lumps along the way, took selfies and had a generally fantastic time. I learned a lot about pacing and was rather surprised to end up finishing faster than the year before with a 4:38:38. Maybe my marathon journey wasn’t done after all…

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After several years of injury-blighted spring marathons, I decided to try something different and sign up for an autumn marathon. My thinking was that a lot of my training would take place in the summer when I would be at my most rested, and I looked carefully at my training plan to shake things up and reduce the impact on my body. I was convinced that my injuries were coming either from biomechanical issues (which had largely been addressed) or training mistakes (which I didn’t plan to repeat). I also decided to keep this one secret and see what happened when there was no pressure on me to succeed. Sadly, I didn’t quite make it to the start line. My hip was to blame again, but this time for very different reasons. The yoga I had been doing had helped to significantly loosen off the offending hip, but then it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the demands of my training. Despite my physio saying I could run the marathon without doing any damage, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I had nothing to prove, after all I had completed marathons in much more dire circumstances. Instead I oped to pull out, work on strengthening my hip, and try (yet) again. To be honest, if I was reading all this about somebody else I’d be wondering why on earth they kept on returning to the marathon when more often than not it resulted in injury, yet I just can’t let go of my sub-4 hour dream yet. I’m so sure I have it in me and am determined to prove that I can do it, using all I’ve learned from past failures to make that dream come true.

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Which brings us right up to date. I have a place in the 2017 Paris Marathon (spotting the pattern yet?) and so far training has gone well, although I am conscious that I’m now hitting the stage where things are more likely to go wrong. Still, I believe that I was simply unlucky at the tail end of 2016. I don’t really consider my hip problem then to be an injury as nothing was damaged, it was more of a reaction to operating with greater mobility and a lack of strength. Rather than a training error, this was simply bad luck. I also believe that I got the pattern of my training right and have continued to work with that in my current cycle. At this point, I am further into the training than I was in the autumn and I continue to prioritise strength work for my hips and core in my PT sessions. I’m also using yoga to help me stay flexible, having regular sports massages, trying to prioritise rest and listening very carefully to my body. So far it seems happy and I’m hopeful that this time I can complete a successful cycle of training and prove that my roller coaster journey to date has finally levelled out to a much smoother path. Regular readers have perhaps been following my training in my weekly updates, and with just 6 weeks to go, I’m still feeling optimistic. Only time will tell if I can finally reach my goal and use the (often hard) lessons from my marathon journey to find what I’m looking for. Wish me luck!

Tell me about your marathon journey. Have there been many bumps in the road for you?
Do you have a favourite marathon experience?

‘Your Pace or Mine?’ Follow Up: A Running Record

In my recent review of Lisa Jackson’s Your Pace or Mine, I noted that the final section of the book is given over to the reader to use as a record of their running. I really liked this idea, but since I read the book on my Kindle rather than in paper format, I didn’t have the opportunity to fill my record in. Instead, I thought it might be fun to write up my record book (to date) as a blog post. It’s going to be a long one so put the kettle on!

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Favourite Race Photo
I have a few photos that I like: some from mid-race, some post-race medal shots and some of me leaping around like a loony after a run. But when it comes to actual race photos, my all-time favourite is this one from the Paris Marathon in 2016. I was undertrained thanks to being stopped in my tracks by a stress fracture at the end of 2015, but on race day I was injury-free and determined to get out there and enjoy a self-conducted running tour of my favourite city. I ran it my own way, stopped to take photos and enjoyed a buffet of orange segments, sugar lumps and that pink sports drink they hand out that acts like rocket fuel! When the photographers snapped me in the finishing straight, I looked like I’d had an awesome time, even though I was completely exhausted and my legs were begging for mercy. Sometimes you just have to forget your race goals and go out there to have fun.

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Name
Allison a.k.a The Running Princess

Date When Started Running
I don’t have the exact date for this one as my diaries from that part of my life are not all that detailed. That said, I can remember the day itself clearly. It was the beginning of term in August of 2005. We actually started on my birthday that year and it’s entirely possible that it was actually on my birthday that I went for my first run. My friend who is a PE teacher (and at the time we were car sharing for work as well) took me to the local park and told me to start running at the pace I thought was about right. Predictably, I set off far too fast and didn’t get very far at all. My friend then sorted out my pace and so began weeks of building up the length of time I could run before having a walk break (which had to be shorter then the running time). The first time I ran all the way round the park (about a mile and a  half) without stopping was my first big running milestone.

Age When Started Running
I was just about clinging on to my twenties when I took those first tentative steps, however I was in my early thirties before meeting Steve and venturing beyond the odd slow 5k plod.

Reasons Why I Run
My first ever blog post was all about why I run, but I suppose that was really only about why I started, not why I run now. At first it was all about a personal challenge and wanting to raise funds for charity in memory of my gran; now, running is a habit. In many ways it continues to be a personal challenge as I look to improve my times or push myself in new ways, but even without that challenge I would still want to run and it only takes a spell of injury to remind me of how important running is for clearing my head, helping me to manage stress, releasing endorphins and giving my thoughts some clarity. I love how running makes me feel both mentally and physically as it helps me to keep sane as well as fit. Running makes my body lean and strong. And it also makes me hungry! I love the appetite running gives me and surprising people with exactly how much food I can put away!

IMG_0605Proudest Running Moments
Running has given me lots of opportunities to feel proud of myself, so narrowing it down to just a few was a bit challenging! Here are some of my highlights:

  1. Completing my first ever marathon in Paris in 2010
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  2. Running my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon at Aviemore in 2012
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  3. Topping the podium for the first time ever when I won my age group at the Cool Summer Mornings 5k in 2013
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  4. Running my marathon PB in Paris in 2014
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  5. That time I ran 4 races in one weekend at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 2015
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  6. Finishing as second female and ninth overall!) in the Caped Crusader 5k in 2016
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‘Dreaming Big’ Goals (Races, Places, Times)
I love this heading. A chance for me to think about the things I would do if there was absolutely nothing to stop me. I would love to run all the marathon majors, something which isn’t an option for me right now as they don’t all fit in with my school holidays. I’ve run London, but would love to go back again with a Good For Age time. Right now that would be sub 3:45, a full 20 minutes faster than my current PB. We are dreaming big though! I would also love to do a Run Disney race. I know there’s a half marathon at Disneyland Paris now, but my ultimate dream would be the Walt Disney World marathon. My sister has done this, but again I’m held back by my school terms. Finally, there’s this year’s goal of some race PBs: if I’m dreaming big then it’s a sub-4 marathon, a sub-1:55 half marathon and a sub-50 10k. My other dream is to run in Central Park. It doesn’t have to be a race, I’d just love the experience of lacing up my trainers and heading off for a run in such a famous location.

Most Memorable Races
I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories from racing, but I think I’m going to pick my “firsts”:

  1. My first ever “proper” race – the Kinross 10k in 2009
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  2. My first ever half marathon – Aviemore in 2009. Memorable because Steve proposed the night before so all I can remember of the race is running along lost in thoughts of wedding dresses, possible venues and the most fun way to tell my parents later that day!
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  3. My first ever marathon – Paris in 2010
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  4. My first ever experience of the Paris Breakfast Run in 2014
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I’d also like to include running around the race circuit at Knockhill for the Graham Clark Memorial race, running over the Forth Road Bridge as part of a 10k race, and, of course, that time I ran a 10k PB (by one second!) at the Great Scottish Run then proudly announced my achievement to one of my running heroes, Paula Radcliffe!
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And although not technically a race, I’m including an honourable mention for parkrun during the I Am Team GB weekend when I got to meet a local Olympian and see a Rio medal up close.

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Favourite Running Motto/Mantra/Race Sign/Motivational Quote
My favourite mantra is “I can, I am, I’m strong” which I came up with for my first marathon. I had picked up an injury and seemed to be surrounded by people telling me that running my marathon was impossible. My mantra was a way to fight back against all the people saying, “you can’t” and remind myself that anything is possible.
I don’t often remember race signs, but I do love seeing all the firemen out in force in Paris with signs slung from their ladders declaring “les pompiers sont avec vous” (the firemen are with you). As for a motivational quote, it has to be this one:

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Funniest Running Moments/Favourite Stories Heard on Runs
Well, there was that time I got charged at by some scary looking cows whilst taking part in a trail race. Unfortunately the race route was such that I then had to run back through the same field on my return. Thankfully the cows had moved on to another part of the field by then!
There was also the time I did the Edinburgh Winter Run around Arthur’s Seat. It was freezing cold and as I came down off the hill it started snowing. I thought this was absolutely hilarious so the official photos showed me laughing like an idiot in the middle of a blizzard!

Favourite Medals/Race T-shirts
Funnily enough, I have a fair few of these! After a bit of thinking, I’ve decided on the medal and finisher’s T-shirt from Paris in 2010 (my first marathon), my London Marathon medal and, as a collection, my 4 Paris Marathon medals and the commemorative T-shirt I bought to mark the 40th edition last year. As a bonus, I’m also going to include a medal from a virtual race – the Platform 9 3/4k from the Hogwarts Running Club, an event I’ve participated in 3 times now.

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Charities Fundraised For and Amounts Raised
Since I began running to raise funds for charity, you’d think I would know exactly what my total is. But I don’t. Back then donations were made by sponsorship form, however I think across the 3 times I’ve run the 5k Race For Life I’ve probably raised around £150 for Cancer Research.

An early example of my signature "medal pose"!

In 2011 I pledged my support to a local charity, PKAVS (Perth & Kinross Association of Voluntary Services). They provide support to a number of different groups, perhaps most especially known for supporting young carers. I was inspired to help as a friend works for the charity and listening to her describing the challenges some people faced made me feel I should do something about it. Working alongside the charity, we set up the idea of “going that extra mile”, with participants joining teams for the Edinburgh Marathon Relay. Most were new to running and Steve put on weekly training sessions (often aided by moi) to help everyone prepare. For me, it was actually an extra 26.2 miles as I committed to running both the London and Edinburgh marathons which were just a few weeks apart. It was my first really big challenge which I completed, with a PB (since beaten) in Edinburgh and a total of £800 raised for a good cause. It was a real family affair as Steve also ran the marathon while both my dad and my sister were in relay teams.

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More recently, Steve and I took on an even bigger challenge when we decided to fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support following our experiences of seeing family members and others close to us battling cancer. In 2014 I was supposed to run 3 marathons (Paris, Edinburgh and Loch Ness) however injury forced me to withdraw from Loch Ness and replace it with an all-new challenge: cycling! I took to two wheels and completed Cycletta Scotland which had Macmillan as the title sponsor. In 2015 I decided to take care of my unfinished business by running the Paris marathon for Macmillan in order to complete that triple marathon challenge I had set. But, being one who never does things by half, I also decided to go bigger with my cycling and take on the Etape Caledonia. I then rounded off what was basically a spring challenge by taking on the Edinburgh Marathon Festival – 5k and 10k on Saturday then half marathon and final leg of the relay on Sunday (logisitcs meant it wasn’t possible for me to go from the half to the full marathon). With over £5000 raised in 2014 (with massive thanks to my friend Ian and his clients for their support) and a further £1000 in 2015, that made a grand total of over £6000 raised for Macmillan. Phew!

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Biggest Challenges Overcome in Races
Generally speaking, my biggest challenge is injury. I have completed marathons despite being in a great deal of the wrong kind of discomfort (I’m looking at you Lochaber Marathon of Pain!) and also when undertrained as a result of injury. This is why I believe I’ve never truly demonstrated what I’m capable of over 26.2 miles.  But the fact that I’ve completed those races demonstrates that I can overcome challenges, usually with an altered goal.

Races With Best Snacks/Entertainment/Crowd Support
Without a doubt the best snacks have been at US races, particularly the Cool Summer Mornings 5k which often has post-race hot dogs, pretzels, beer, etc despite the fact that these will be consumed around 8am! The Chocolate Sundae Run, while a bit of a boring route, did have the draw of ice cream at the finish line! I also enjoy the on course “buffet” at the Paris Marathon as they lay out raisins, sugar lumps, sliced banana and orange segments. I can say without a word of a lie that those oranges have been the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted and a sugar lump late on the in race provides a fantastic boost to get you moving.
IMG_6102 When it comes to both entertainment and crowd support, the title needs to be shared by both London and Paris. I run with one earphone in so I can tune into my music if I need to without having to faff about, but I have absolutely no recollection at all of actually listening to my playlist in London thanks to all the various places blaring out music along the route, the wall of noise in Canary Wharf and the unwavering crowd support in the final stages along the Embankment when every fibre of your being is screaming to stop but every time you do, someone shouts at you to keep on going. In Paris there has always been phenomenal support from “Les Pompiers” but perhaps not as big a crowd as in London. That all changed in 2016 when, probably in an act of defiance at the atrocities that have taken place in the city in recent times, the streets were lined with supporters cheering the runners on and fighting back against those who commit such terrible acts. Paris also prides itself on the huge number of “animations” (entertainment) along the route. There are an assortment of bands in just about every genre you can think of from rock and pop to a bit of German oompahpah and the always fun samba bands. Many have dancers as well and the lift the entertainment gives the runners is visible.

Favourite Fancy-Dress Outfits
Running in fancy dress is not really my thing, but it has happened:

  1. Taking part in a Santa Run every year
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  2. Wearing my kilt for both the Perth Kilt Run and the Paris Breakfast Run
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3. Celebrating our parkun’s birthday with fancy dress. So far a beach party theme (in November!) and a superhero theme. To be honest, I quite enjoyed running as Supergirl!
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Most Beautiful Places Run In
I live in Scotland so beautiful places to run are often just a few minutes away and I love nothing more in nice weather (it can be a bit miserable and lonely when the weather isn’t so good).
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Away from my standard training runs, the Lochaber Marathon was beautiful, even if I didn’t really enjoy the race thanks to an injury flaring up. And of course, there’s my beloved Paris. What a beautiful city to run in !
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Countries I’ve Run In
Scotland (obviously), England (London Marathon), France (Paris Marathon), USA (training runs and events in Florida every July). I’m really going to have to work on adding to that list!

Cities I’ve Run In
6/7 of the Scottish Cities: Perth, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Inverness
London
Paris
Davenport, Florida
Winter Park, Florida
Tampa, Florida
Clermont, Florida

Marathon Majors Completed
Only London. One day…

Friends I’ve Made Through Running
Running has brought a lot of people into my life, from those I’ve trained for marathons with (connected for life!) to those I consider my “parkrun family”. Running also led me to blogging and there are several people I’ve come into contact with through blogging that I would probably never have met otherwise like Jaynie, Danielle and Kyla. It’s also what ultimately brought me to the Tough Girl Tribe and the fantastic women there. Running is such a fantastically inclusive community and provides a shared experience to base a friendship on or just start a conversation. Just one of the many reasons why I love it.
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Personal Bests (Time/Date) 5k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2, Ultra, Tri
I’ve got these listed on my Race History tab, but here they are again:

5k – 23:14 @ Perth parkrun 2015
10k – 50:14 @ Great Scottish Run 10k 2015 (aka That Time I Met Paula!)
13.1 – 1:56:35 @ Aviemore Highland Half Marathon 2012
26.2 – 4:05:07 @ Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris 2014

Race Record
This is a list that could go on for a while! All my race reports since I started the blog are under the Race Reports tab, but to summarise (and account for those pre-blog years!):

5k x 33 (inc Christmas events)
Parkrun x 66
5 mile x 2
10k x 20
10 mile x 3
Half marathon x 13
Marathon x 8
Other distances (e.g. EMF Relay, CHAS Devil Dash) x 10

Total = 155 events (89 if you don’t count parkrun) – phew!

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And now it’s your turn! Either write a post of your own to create your record book or share some memories in the comments below. I can’t wait to read them…!

‘Tis The Season (Part 2)

(If you missed it, you can read part 1 of my seasonal roundup here)

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Everyone has their festive traditions. It might be a particular meal, an activity or spending time with a special group of people. One of our festive fitness traditions is to take part in a Santa run during the month of December, however our most important tradition involves a bit less fitness and a bit more indulgence…

Steve and I first met back in the spring of 2008, but it was not until later in the year that our paths crossed again and we met for coffee. That “coffee date” being a rousing success, the following weekend we went on our first “proper” date and, it being December, Steve organised an appropriately festive day out to Edinburgh with skating on the outdoor rink, browsing the Christmas markets and sampling the glühwein. These were pre-smartphone days so I only have a couple of pictures from an ancient camera to record the moment for posterity!

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Neither of us are going to be troubling Torvill and Dean any time soon, but there’s something so special and Christmassy about ice skating surrounded by all those beautiful lights, so every December since then we’ve headed back to Edinburgh for a pre-Christmas day out (and confirmed that our skating has not, in fact, improved!). On a couple of occasions other friends have come with us, but more often it has just been the two of us and over the last couple of years we’ve fallen into a pattern of skating, drinking and eating lovely food. Without this trip, our Christmas would feel incomplete…

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(For some reason I couldn’t find pictures of us both from 2011 and 2013, but we definitely went to Edinburgh those years. Apparently we were more interested in glühwein on those occasions judging by these shots!)

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This year, our trip took place exactly a week before Christmas. I still had a week of the school term ahead, but it was still a fantastic day out and really made us feel like Christmas was just around the corner.

Steve had booked us on a train at about 9:15am, but despite an impromptu bonus run to the station when we mistimed our departure, we still managed to miss it. Fortunately there was another train a few minutes later and a lovely rail employee, filled with Christmas spirit, allowed us to to travel without having to pay a fee to change our tickets. I do hope she had a lovely Christmas after being so kind.

Arriving in Edinburgh we made our way straight to the ice rink as we had booked our slot in advance. I always feel kind of nervous as I exchange my shoes for ice skates and there are definitely a few wobbles until I find my balance, but soon I’m whizzing reasonably confidently around the ice (until I see someone fall, then I’m straight back to hugging the barrier!). One of these years I might even learn how to stop without having to head for the barriers at the side! Steve is less adept on skates as he didn’t do any skating at all (ice or roller) while growing up, whereas my sister and I had roller skates so there’s still some muscle memory in there. Poor Steve has spent so much time training himself to run, that the motion of skating goes against every instinct he has, however this year he did start to improve his form a bit and manage a PB of 5 laps of the rink without having to hold on to the barrier! That’s Olympic-qualifying standard, right 😉

They don’t let you take photos on the ice (we got a row for that last year) so we had to take our photo just before stepping onto the rink.

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A great feature of this rink is that once you have finished skating and retrieved your shoes (which after a half hour or so of skating feel very strange!) you have to exit through the bar. Funnily enough, we’ve never been in a rush to leave here and like to celebrate a successful skating adventure with a festive adult beverage. This year, we chose a sloe gin hot apple toddy and it was delicious!

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After our drink, we headed over to the Christmas market. This year the layout was a bit different as the whole Christmas experience in Edinburgh is constantly being refined. The market is always busy, but the new layout and management of the entrance/exit did help. The stalls were full of the usual types of gifts and foods, but I did find a couple of fun photo opportunities as we wandered around:

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Showing off my new Elf-inspired T-shirt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were also some reindeer visiting from the Cairngorms:

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And then, I spotted it…

img_0166Obviously, we had to try something, but since we were on our way to have some food we opted for a Nutella hot chocolate instead of a crepe. Good, but not quite as good as that Nutella coffee I had in Paris. Yum!

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Our favourite place to eat on our Christmas trip to Edinburgh is the Chocolate Lounge on the Forth floor of Harvey Nichols (yup, it is the 4th floor but is spelled like the river that flows nearby – see what they did there!). There’s always a bit of a queue as you can’t book, but it’s totally worth it. You sit on a high stool with a conveyer belt going around in front of you like at a sushi bar, but instead of sushi, it’s examples of the chocolate products you can order. It being Christmas, we ordered a glass of champagne each to go with our food. Steve has a sweet tooth so always orders some kind of dessert, whereas I prefer savoury and my favourite thing to order here is the dipping plate (don’t worry, there’s still some chocolate, it’s just mixed in with the balsamic vinegar. Sounds weird; tastes amazing!).

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It’s quite clearly a dish for one, but when it was brought out the waitress, rather inexplicably, asked if it was “just” for me or if I was sharing it. As if! All I could think of was this:

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After eating, we still had plenty of time before our train so since it was getting darker we set off to see some of the amazing Christmas lights, starting with The Dome then heading along to the Street of Light display:

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There were some further stalls by the Street of Light, and we finally found exactly the kind of emporium we were looking for:

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Yes, there were samples and yes, we ended up buying some gin!

After which there was just enough time to grab a coffee before getting the train home (we were in plenty of time for this one!).

So there you have it. Our most important Christmas tradition of them all. We had another fantastic day out to Edinburgh enjoying some festive indulgences and creating more happy memories. Roll on the 2017 edition!

What is your favourite festive tradition?
Any exciting trips recently or in the near future?

2015: An End of Year Report

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

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

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

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

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Edinburgh challenge completed 🙂

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The spoils from the cycling part of my challenge…

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…and the running bling from Paris and Edinburgh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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Oh yeah, and there was A LOT of bling!

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

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

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

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

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Apparently. I climbed Everest this year!

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

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

A Nice November

What with one thing and another, I now find myself late in December with the realisation that I never yet wrote my roundup of what I got up to in November. I am a bad blogger and shall send myself to the naughty step to think about what I’ve one! But before I do, I’ll finish this post…

November began not with running, but with spectating. Steve had entered the Men’s 10k in Edinburgh, so I was his designated support team for the event. In other words, I accompanied him to Edinburgh, walked up lots of hills to the start then, extra bag in hand, marched myself to the finish in time to see him cross the line.

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The race began on the Royal Mile and it was a beautiful autumnal morning so I enjoyed my walk to the finish at Murrayfield, passing by the back of the castle:

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And with perfect timing, I arrived just a few minutes before Steve ran into the stadium for his big finish!

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I must say, I found it a bit odd to be spectating rather than running, but it was a well organised event and Steve seemed to enjoy it.

But don’t worry, I soon got my November running underway as I had one race and two virtual events lined up!

First up, I had entered a special 2 mile event celebrating the “birthday” of Virtual Runner UK, the company I have been using for my virtual races throughout this year. I was keen to enter this particular event because the medal was a really cute cupcake:

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I had also entered the Poppy Challenge, which required participants to submit their total mileage for the month of November, with a minimum 30km required to achieve the medal. This had been a really popular event and many missed out on the chance to sign up. I was lucky enough to snag an entry during the summer and was pleased to receive my medal to mark my efforts.

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And of course, I took on the 5k Mo Run in Glasgow on a rather grey Remembrance Sunday. Not too bad a bling haul for November and all fun, unusual medals.

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But November, believe it or not, wasn’t just about running. Some other highlights of the month included:

Playing in the first of my two annual symphony orchestra concerts.
IMG_5435And visiting the zoo for a special adopters’ day where I saw not only the king penguins (the animal I adopt) but managed, for once, to see one of the pandas.
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It was all great fun, and there was still plenty of time for running in a variety of weather conditions from rain, to cold, to a bit of sunshine. I even did a stint of timekeeping at parkrun on a beautiful autumn morning:

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Overall, a very nice November (the English teacher in me hates “nice” on account of it being such a bland word, but I needed a suitable adjective to create alliteration with “November” and “nice” worked best!). There was lots of running and a fair amount of fun. And to finish, a combination of both as our local parkrun celebrated its 2nd birthday and there was a beach party theme. That’s right, a November beach party! I opted for a VERY bright top (I got it in the US and suspect it may be visible from space!), some patterned shorts (over my thermal tights – it was a cold day!) and sunglasses (with yellow rather than dark lenses as it wasn’t a terribly bright day). It was a lovely run and we got a spot prize which turned out to be a chocolate Santa (no picture of that as it didn’t really last long enough – oops!).

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So there you have it. An enjoyable month to set me up for the fun of December and the festive season.

Did you do anything fun in November?
What are your favourite things to do when you’re not running?

A Super(ish) September

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

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

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

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

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Front

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Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was your September?
Any exciting plans for October?

Race Report – Scottish Half Marathon 2015

Despite the fact that this race was my autumn goal, what with everything that happened towards the end of August I was feeling rather ambivalent about the whole thing by the time race day rolled around. I knew I had trained enough to finish in a respectable time, but I also knew that I wasn’t in my best form for the distance. Somehow, my enthusiasm for the race had diminished, so I decided to re-set my goals so as not to put undue pressure on myself.

Originally, my A goal was a new PB (anything quicker than the 1:56:35 I ran in Aviemore in 2012), my B goal was a sub-2 hour time (something I’ve only achieved once in a race despite going faster in long marathon training runs) and my C goal was to complete the course quicker than I completed the EMF half back in May (2:04:18 as part of a much bigger adventure!). Knowing that a new PB was really not likely any more, I re-set my A goal to be sub-2, my B goal to be faster than in the EMF half and my C goal to not getting a personal worst (2:13:02 from my first ever half in Aviemore back in 2009). New goals set, I was ready…

The forecast for the day was pretty good, so I opted for my favourite racing kit: running skirt (this Under Armour one is my current favourite), calf sleeves (these are by Bondi Band) and Adidas Ultra Boosts (my “long run” shoe of choice) along with my Macmillan running vest. I was using this as a “race rehearsal” of my new hydration strategy for future marathons, so was using my Nathan hydration pack too. This meant that I could keep a long sleeved top with me right up until the start then quickly stash it in my bag. I also stuck a couple of post-race essentials into Steve’s bag as I knew he would finish before me, thus saving 2 bags going on the baggage trucks. The only real problem I had with my kit was the increasingly regular issue of a cat believing herself to be Essential Race Kit!

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With the race not starting until 11am (a little late for my liking, to be honest), we had plenty of time to get organised, however we opted to set off at just after 7:30am to allow plenty of travelling time. The race started at Meadowmill Sports Centre by Tranent, however no cars were allowed at the start. Instead, we were encouraged to park nearer the finish (Musselburgh Race Course) and use the free shuttle buses to access the start. We parked at Wallyford park and ride, a location all too familiar from catching post-Edinburgh Marathon shuttle buses. Since we were nice and early, there was plenty of parking and the first bus was waiting to be filled with passengers. Straightforward enough, and my only real quibble is with access to toilets. We had both spent the drive to Edinburgh making sure we were well hydrated, and inevitably needed the loo by the time we parked the car. Last year, there were portaloos at the park and ride and, sure enough, there were a couple there again. But they were locked! Dismayed, we got on the bus (which suddenly seemed to take an awful long time to get underway!) and watched a stream of arriving runners make exactly the same disheartening discovery we had! Fortunately, when we did depart, we only had about 4 miles to go to the start area and as soon as we stopped I jumped up and hurried as fast as I comfortably could to the portaloos (which were still quiet since we were so sharp). After that, it was just a matter of waiting around until it was time to race.

A slight change to the start area this year saw the front two waves lining up behind the start line, while later waves were stacked up around the running track (last year it was the all-weather pitch, but I think it was a little tight for space, hence the change). Steve’s wave was one of the first two, while I was in a later wave. We got ourselves settled in the seating by the track and passed the time catching up on social media and chatting to others while we waited.

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About half an hour before we were due to start, we put Steve’s bag on the baggage truck and joined a toilet queue by the track. We thought this would be plenty of time, but for some reason it seemed like the queues just weren’t moving. What on earth were people doing in there? Actually, I think I’d prefer not to know! I wasn’t worried as I knew the race was chip timed, but still wanted to start in my wave rather than having to weave around slower runners in a later wave. Eventually, Steve had to leave as his wave was starting, while I stuck it out and bonded with a couple of women behind me who were getting similarly frustrated. The race start was actually delayed by a few minutes, probably because of the toilet queues, but by the time my turn came, my wave was already starting to move forward so as soon as I emerged I had to quickly dart in beside everyone else as we were walked towards the start.

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As I neared the start line, I heard the announcer give me a namecheck (Steve had also heard his name mentioned while we were in the toilet queues!). This race is organised by the same group as the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, and following our madcap multi-race schemes over the past couple of years, it would seem we’ve become fairly (in)famous here! Upon hearing it announced that I was “no stranger to these events,” I gave a little wave shortly before reaching the start line and getting underway.

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With the staggered starts, there was enough room to run and it was reasonably easy to make my way out towards the main road where we ran out in a straight line parallel to the coast for over 2.5 miles before making a turn into some houses and the first water station. The turn into some shade was welcome as it was a warm day and the later start meant we were getting the brunt of it. There was a fair amount of crowd support here as many locals had set themselves up on chairs outside their houses, and one enterprising chap had a cardboard sign indicating that he had water available and books for sale! (He did actually have two trestle tables: one with cups of water and one with books – if I hadn’t been running, I might have stopped to browse!). The route then continued on and joined Lyars Road around the 4 mile mark. Previous participants of the Edinburgh Marathon may remember the route used to have a short out-and-back section on Lyars Road back when the event finished at Musselburgh Racecourse.

The first 4 miles had ticked along quite nicely at under 9 minutes per mile, a pace I thought could see me finish in under 2 hours. But that all changed as soon as I left the safety of the houses and joined the coast road…

Wind.

Not just any old wind, but that peculiarly Scottish swirling wind that never seems to be behind you. I could actually sense everyone around me slow in unison as they ran into the “coastal breeze”. I vainly hoped that when I reached the turn (after about a mile and a half) that things might improve, but it was not to be. It was even worse after the turn. Not even a gel at the 5 mile marker just before the turn gave me enough of a boost to keep the pace up (although my effort level felt like I should be getting much more speed than I was!). Although I wasn’t losing position (everyone was fighting the same battle), I realised that a sub-2 was slipping away and it was going to be a real case of head-down-and-just-keep-running until I reached the finish.

It was at this point that I realised I’m a bit done with this particular stretch of road. It ALWAYS seems to be really windy, there’s hardly any support as there’s no access once the road is shut for the race, and the skyline was dominated by the imposing chimneys of the Cockenzie Power Station. Remember it? Here was our coastal selfie taken during our walk out to the relay changeover at the EMF:

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As it turned out, The Scottish Half was our last opportunity to “appreciate” the power station as this happened the following weekend:

Getting back to the race, and as I ran into Port Seton around the 8 mile mark (and the location of the final changeover point in May’s Hairy Haggis Relay), I found I was feeling rather jaded from constantly fighting into the wind and opted to walk for 30 seconds or so to grab a proper drink and give myself a bit of a talking to. Marginally refreshed, it was back into battle on a very familiar stretch of road for the final miles into Musselburgh. The only slight deviation from the Marathon route was a turn-off which took us along by some shops and cafes. This was actually quite welcome as there was a bit of shelter from the wind and without even trying, I found my pace increased a bit. But all too soon we were back on the main stretch of road and that was it all the way to the finish.

Finally, I caught sight of the racecourse, however it seemed to take ages to run along by the course towards the point where we would enter the final furlong. My instinct was to speed up, but that pesky wind was still making things tough and the turn into the course was a very welcome sight! With a bit of shelter from the crowds lining the final stretch, I was able to find a burst of speed, crossing the line in 2:03:01 and hitting my revised B goal of a faster time than back in May.

Once across the line I shuffled through the finishing chute to collect my goody bag (T-shirt, assorted food, Teapigs teabag, moisturiser samples and High 5 tablets), enormous medal and 2 bottles of water, before emerging to the crowds where Steve was waiting for me.

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Race swag

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I quite like the tech T-shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We decided just to head straight back to the car so we could get organised and head off for some food. And this was when we made an interesting discovery.

Having experienced the Sunday races at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival on many occasions, we were fully expecting the traditional march of the dead up the road to the Wallyford park and ride, however this time there were buses waiting to take us up there. This was a great touch and something that would be very welcome after running 26.2 miles in May!

Back at the car, it was time for some photos:

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Then suitably freshened up, we were back in the car and heading for Ikea as Steve had come up with a great idea for post-race food: meatballs! I have to say, a large plate of Swedish meatballs with salty fries and loads of lingonberry juice just hit the spot and gave us enough oomph for a saunter around the showroom afterwards. I even managed to pick up a couple of things my mum had asked me to get for her!

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Yum!

In all honesty, I didn’t really enjoy this race, but that was nothing to do with the organisation which was very slick (other than a couple of hiccups with toilets!). The buses worked well for us, support in the latter stages of the course was good (I particularly remember a VERY enthusiastic marshal around mile 10 and some cheery charity volunteers a little further along) and the finish area was well staffed. My real issue was with the route which, as I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty fed up with now and the relentless wind along the coast didn’t help. I know I was in good enough form for a sub-2 finish, but I really couldn’t have done any more in the conditions on that day. By the tine I finished, I was in a bit of a grump and declared vehemently that I didn’t want to do that race next year. I still feel the same now, but I know many runners really enjoyed it. Next year there’s going to be a 10k as well which will start and finish in Musselburgh, so that might attract even more people to sign up (although I’ll wait to see what the route is before committing myself – it’s bound to be along that coastline again!). I would also prefer the race to start a bit earlier as getting pre-race nutrition right for an 11am start when there are other logistics to consider is not easy and I was effectively running over lunchtime – not ideal.

If you enjoy running by the coast in the middle of the day and don’t mind some lonely sections on the course, then this is probably the race for you. Personally, I’m going to wait a year or two before I run along there again!