My Year of Running 2017 (Link Up)

This time last year I linked up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC to reflect on my year of running. I really enjoyed writing that post so am joining in again this year.

  • Best race experience 
    Apparently I’m getting fussy in my old age and hardly raced this year even though I ran loads. It would be tempting to choose Paris here (as I did last year) but I’m going to mix things up and choose the Loch Ness marathon. It was third time lucky for me having previously entered the race and not made the start line and although I didn’t quite reach my goal of a marathon PB, the scenery was stunning and I finished with my second-fastest marathon time ever (and the only sub-4:30 outside of my PB). I have to be pleased with that!

IMG_3894

  • Best run
    My best run came in September, just one week before the Loch Ness marathon, when I wanted to test myself at parkrun. I had no expectation of a PB but felt in shape to run my fastest time of the year. I ran well, felt good all the way round and was stunned to find myself just 5 seconds outside of what had been, until that moment, a “rogue outlier” of a PB. Most unexpected result of my life and I was probably just as pleased as if I had run the PB!

IMG_3852

  • Best new piece of running gear
    Got to be my Aftershokz Trekz Titanium headphones. I love to listen podcasts when I’m running and had begun to move away from wired headphones, but all the wireless ones had fairly bulky earpieces and/or plugged my ears too much. I love my Aftershokz as they’re not only comfortable, but use bone conduction to send the sound to my ears so I am fully aware of noises around me. Out of all the new kit I’ve bought this year, these have been the biggest game changer. Pricey, but worth it.

IMG_3397
IMG_4549

  • Best running advice you’ve received all year
    Not strictly advice, but this year I did try out a method of approaching my long runs that my husband has found useful. Combining the idea of running at a slow pace to build endurance with the idea of faster pick-ups during the run, I ran every 3rd mile at a quicker pace. This taught me that I could pick up the pace when I needed to and was a useful strategy heading into my goal race.
  • Most inspirational runner
    I’m inspired by many people, but for this one I’m going to pick Laura Muir. Laura has had an amazing year of setting records, challenging records and stepping up to the mark against strong competitors. I have been impressed by her attitude as she never shied away from her goals but was upfront about what she wanted to achieve. Even more impressive is that she has done all of this around her studies to become a vet. Incredible!
  • Favourite picture from a run or race this year
    More of a post-run choice, but I loved the pictures Steve and I took in the Champ de Mars after the Paris Breakfast Run. I think my favourite is this one of me in Warrior Pose!

IMG_1329

  • Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat
    If you don’t race very much but one of your race experiences was in Paris, what else are you going to choose? It may have been a ridiculously hot day, but even though my time wasn’t as I had hoped I was still running through the streets of Paris on a glorious spring day and there’s not much that can top that!

IMG_1388

  • If you could sum up your year in a couple of words what would they be?
    Making progress. I had a very consistent and solid year of running, with a new half marathon PB, improvements in my marathon time and some very pleasing parkrun results. I tried a bit of international parkrun tourism and just this month reached the milestone of my 100th parkrun. All in all it’s been a great year!

Despite a pretty light racing schedule, 2017 was an awesome year of running. I kicked it all off with a mega New Year challenge, went to Paris, raced in Florida and racked up my highest yearly mileage yet. Now bring on 2018…!

IMG_4947
Want to join the linkup? All the instructions are here.

Eat Pray Run DC
Advertisements

Adventures Along the A9

I may not have been able to run for a while, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been completely cut off from the world of running, and the tail end of September allowed me the opportunity to reconnect a bit more with my favourite sport as I accompanied Steve to a couple of races in my role as his driver, support crew and chief cheerleader!

A9_square

First up was a reasonably local trip just half an hour or so north on the A9 to Pitlochry. Steve had made a last-minute decision to run the 10k race there, so we set off in plenty of time to find a parking space and for Steve to register. We last ran this race in 2009, but the route has changed a bit since then so he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

Registration was in the local fitness centre and the race itself started a little further back down the road in front of one of the big hotels. The road was actually shut for a couple of minutes to allow the race to start safely. The finish was on the other side of the river by the Festival Theatre, so I planned to simply walk over there once the race was underway.

While we were waiting for the race to start, we bumped into several runners we knew and had a chat. One thing that did frustrate me a bit, however, was the number of people demanding to know why I wasn’t running. Even when I explained that I had been injured for months and was only just able to start running again, several told me that I would be fine and I should “just get on with it and race”. This made me angry, as I knew that this was terrible advice and that I was nowhere near ready to take on 10k at this point, but I simply smiled and ignored it so as not to spoil the day. Those who have followed my ups and downs throughout this year know exactly how tough it has been and how determined I am to return sensibly to running so as to avoid any further complications. Why would I risk it all over a 10k race that had no real value to me? I was far happier talking to those who asked about my recovery and how long I thought it might be until I was fully back to running again. In general, runners are a wonderfully supportive community, but based on this experience, I have to say that we can also be our own worst enemies when it comes to dealing with injury!

My own frustrations aside, it was soon time for the race to start so I wished Steve luck and  got ready to cheer him on as he began his race.

IMG_3586 IMG_3587

With the runners away, I set off to walk across to the Festival Theatre. I had 2 options for this. Option 1 was to cross the river at the suspension footbridge, however when I was in primary school I had a couple of class trips here and the boys used to bounce around on the bridge, terrifying all the girls. Having never entirely put my fears of “the wobbly bridge” behind me, I plumped for option 2: to cross over at the dam/fish ladder. There are some beautiful views here so I took the opportunity to take a few photos since I knew I had plenty of time:

IMG_3588 IMG_3589 IMG_3590 IMG_3591Soon enough, I arrived at the Festival Theatre and the finish area. I had about 15 minutes until the first runners came in, giving me the opportunity for a quick snack before positioning myself along the home straight to cheer the finishers on.

IMG_3592I could see the runners coming down the hill behind the gantry then turning onto the finish, so I had a good view of Steve coming in.

IMG_3593

He was pleased with his time and enjoyed the new route, so this was a successful trip and great preparation for the following week.

IMG_3594

The week after Pitlochry it was time for a much longer road trip as we headed further north to Inverness. Originally this would have been my final marathon of the year, but since my injury had prevented me from training, I was going to be firmly on cheering duties for this one. I had expected to feel sad that I wasn’t running, but oddly enough I was ok. I think since I hadn’t run in so long, I had really made my peace with this decision and was very much focussed on taking part in Cycletta the following week.

Since I wasn’t running, I was the driver for this one and I HATE driving up the A9. It’s not a great road and it seems to take forever to get anywhere. Eventually, though, we arrived at the event village at Bught Park where Steve registered and we checked out the race expo where I bought samples of a female-specific sports drink. The idea behind it is intriguing and I’m looking forward to trying it.

IMG_3626

We also collected our pasta party tickets before meeting up with Danielle and her husband Pat. Pat was running his first marathon and Danielle was aiming for a PB in the 10k. We arranged to meet up later to discuss logistics, then Steve and I headed off to catch up with the Macmillan team who had really decided to look after us at this race:

IMG_3604

This VIP pack was a godsend as it meant that on race day I was able to park at the Bught park (which has limited parking) and had access to the VIP tent, which was right on the finish line, for refreshments. I did head into the tent to watch Danielle finish her race (and she stormed it, nailing that PB!) but spent the rest of my time up to then helping out at the Macmillan marquee. Once Danielle finished, we staked out a spot close to the finish to wait for the guys to come in.

I got so excited when I spotted Steve that I actually missed getting a photo as I was waving frantically at him, but fortunately Shirlie from Macmillan was able to snap him in what has now become his trademark finishing pose:

IMG_3620

He seemed to take ages to make his way through the finishing chute, but when he finally appeared I threw myself at him for a hug (which turned out to be a bit sweaty – ick!) before whisking him off to get some food in the hospitality tent before they finished serving lunch. This also gave us a bit of room for some nice photos by the finish line:

IMG_3612 IMG_3613

We also discovered that we got goody bags from the hospitality tent, which made me feel like a celebrity!

IMG_3625

It was a jute bag each, containing jars of selected Baxter’s chutneys and relishes (Baxter’s are the title sponsor of the event), some soup and a money-off voucher. Fancy!

After we’d eaten, we met up with Danielle and Pat, who had run a very smart first marathon and finished strong.

IMG_3615

The marathoners

Steve, however, was rapidly seizing up and struggling with climbing even the smallest of steps, so he headed in the direction of the massage tent while I delivered various bags to the car (another plus point of being parked in the VIP car park – easy access!). When I returned, Steve was grimacing on the massage table. After all the painful treatments he’s subjected me to, I couldn’t resist a photo to commemorate the moment!

IMG_3616

Legs working better, we dropped Danielle and Pat off at their car before driving home again. After a quick change, we headed out for something to eat. It was Ryder Cup weekend so everywhere in Perth was packed, but we were able to get a table in our favourite post-race Italian restaurant, then on the way home we couldn’t resist a couple of novelty photos to round off the weekend:

IMG_3617 IMG_3619

And so it was that our A9 adventures came to an end. Loch Ness marked the official end of Steve’s 2014 challenge. I had been worried that I wouldn’t enjoy myself since I wasn’t running, but I had a great time at the event village and it was brilliant to have a proper catch-up with Danielle. That said, hopefully the next time we head north for a race I’ll be running too!

Sometimes the right decision is the hardest one to make

If I’m honest, I’ve known for some time, but there’s a difference between knowing something and admitting something. By admitting the reality to others, we are therefore admitting that reality to ourselves. Up until now, I wasn’t ready for that.

But now it’s time. Time to let the world know that I will not be running in the Loch Ness marathon as I originally planned. Although I’m now in a position that I probably can start running again, the lack of training over the past few months means that taking on 26.2 miles right now would be lunacy (I’m crazy, but not that crazy!). I know this is the right decision, but it was not an easy one to make.

In many ways, not being able to run over the past few months resulted in a grief reaction. I lost something precious to me, I struggled and I now realise that, like many an injured runner, I was facing the five stages of grief:

stages-of-grief

At first, there was denial. At this stage, runners tend to ignore the injury and believe that a few days off, some ice, ibuprofen and stretching will somehow, miraculously, solve the problem. This never happens, yet this was the exact pattern I followed. I added a few more variables such as physio, taping and orthotics, but I still convinced myself that I’d bounce back in no time.

Then there was anger. Anger at my body for letting me down; anger at not being able to do the things I wanted to do; anger at the fact that nobody could really tell me what was wrong (and that some people didn’t seem to believe there was anything wrong at all). But anger is not terribly productive either. Being angry won’t suddenly make everything better or find a miracle cure, it just drains your emotional energy.

When the anger subsides, there’s bargaining. We bargain with absolutely anyone and anything (If I just rest for a few days, can I try a short run? If I promise not to go too fast, can I still do that race? If I ditch the half marathon and cross train, could I not just have a go at the marathon?). We clutch at straws, desperate to keep on going even though it’s causing us pain. If it was anybody else, we’d be telling them to stop being daft and rest, yet when it comes to ourselves we just can’t listen to good advice. And that’s exactly what I was like. Reaching that goal meant everything, and I was looking for any way at all to get there.

Which leads us to the fourth stage: depression. Depression hits as it finally begins to dawn on us that our plans are going to have to change, particularly when we’re not yet ready for that to happen. I’m a nightmare at this stage. I mope about and refuse to do anything useful like strength train, cycle or swim even though these would be worthwhile activities. I stop seeing the point in my rehab exercises and I lose interest in continuing with physio and other appointments. When I reach this stage, I need a really good kick up the backside and a new plan to get me back on track. Luckily, Steve is usually there to administer just such a kick!

It was at this stage that I found cycling. Admittedly, I was reluctant at first. I said that I didn’t cycle, that it was scary, that my bike was in a state after years of neglect, but then I gave it a shot and discovered that cycling was much better than I had expected. Cycling got me back outside into the fresh air. It wasn’t running, but I could feel my muscles working, my heart pounding and my lungs burning. I loved it! I found new routes (which I plan to run on eventually), I found a whole new community of friendly people to talk to and I found new excuses to buy myself brightly coloured kit! Running may be my first love, but cycling has proved to be a tempting mistress and saw me through a summer of not running.

Thanks to cycling, I was at last able to reach the final stage and come to an acceptance that my running would be on hold for a while. My body is telling me that it’s not yet ready to run long distances, and I’m ok with that. I have plans in place for a spring marathon in my favourite city in the world, but right now my focus is on preparing for my first cycling event, Cycletta Scotland on the 5th of October.  Having that to look forward to made it much easier to withdraw officially from the marathon, and as soon as I did I upgraded my Cycletta entry to the 40km distance. I might even take on a longer sportive at some point next year if the time is right. My experience at the Relay Wild Triathlon has spurred me on to work on my swimming and this week I had another session with a swimming instructor. I’ve returned to Metafit, a class I’ve really missed, and am entertaining thoughts of a short run, but will likely wait until after Cycletta.

All in all, it’s been a roller coaster of emotions, but in many ways I feel better for taking the decision not to run next week. I feel like a great weight of pressure has been lifted from my shoulders and I’ve found a new hobby that I not only enjoy, but which will be of benefit to my running when I make my comeback. My challenge for 2014 may not end up exactly as planned, but I shall continue my fundraising next year, and next week shall join one of the Team Macmillan cheer points at the Loch Ness marathon to support the runners all the way to the finish line. There’s a lot I can be grateful for, and soon I know I’ll be running again. In the meantime, I have a beautiful new piece of kit to keep me motivated:

IMG_3596

How do you cope with change?
What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make recently?

Race Report – River Ness 10K (Loch Ness Marathon Festival)

Most people’s idea of a weekend away involves taking it easy, possibly a leisurely walk and certainly lots of indulgent food and drink. Most people. But I am a runner, and the runner’s idea of a weekend away involves early starts, racing hard and bucket loads of pasta and energy drinks…and we love it!

This past weekend saw us Inverness-bound as Steve took on the Loch Ness Marathon and I ran the 10K to keep me out of mischief while I was waiting for him. A busy weekend with lots of driving, but most definitely worth it.

After a Saturday morning of rushing about on errands, we picked up our friend Graeme in the early afternoon and set off up the A9. With both Steve and Graeme taking on the full marathon, driving duties fell to me on this occasion and the three of us embarked on what is actually the longest road trip I’ve ever driven. It wasn’t long before the immortal words, “are we there yet?” crossed my lips, but a pit-stop at House of Bruar (they have nice toilets there!) and a delicious ice cream refreshed me for the remainder of the journey north.

Arriving in Inverness we headed straight for the event village at Bught Park (which I learned is pronounced “bucht” with the “ch” as in “loch”, not “bute” as I had previously assumed!). The Bught (as it’s apparently known locally) would be the finish for both the marathon and the 10K, as well as playing host to race registration, the expo and pasta party. As a 10K runner my race pack and number had been sent out in advance, but the marathon runners had to register on site. We had also all purchased pasta party tickets which we had to collect at registration. As it turned out, the pasta party ended at 6pm and we were actually the very last people to go in. Our meal consisted of a cup of Baxter’s soup (since Baxter’s is the title sponsor), a choice of 2 pasta dishes with salad and coleslaw, followed by apple crumble with custard and a bottle of water. It was all really good and a decent meal for the night before a race.

IMG_2188

After that it was time to get back on the road for the 14 mile trip along the loch to Drumnadrochit where we had booked a B&B. Not having stayed in a B&B for years I was unsure what to expect, but we had a comfortable en-suite room and there was free wifi so all needs were taken care of!

IMG_2189

The rest of the evening was spent chatting, hydrating and laying out kit ready for the morning. I had plenty of time, however the guys were being picked up at 8:15 for their bus transfer to the marathon start so I had to be ready to go at the same time.

Getting dressed in the morning I became convinced that my race number made me look like a tin of soup on legs and, with the early hour, found this rather amusing:

IMG_2191

As you can see, with the weather forecast to be good and temperatures holding up, I opted for my club vest, favourite running skirt and sleeves which I could roll down as I got warmer. I also added the tape to my lower leg which has been allowing me to run without any discomfort and my calf sleeves to help the muscles recover better.

After a cooked breakfast (a pre-run first for me as I normally opt for porridge!) it was time to load our things into the car and wave the guys off. I then had to drive back into Inverness to the 10K start at the Royal Academy. With my race not starting until 10:45, I knew I would be really early, but figured I would have to wait somewhere so I might as well be at the start and safely parked. I quite enjoyed the chance to relax in the car, listen to music and wait until some other runners I knew arrived.

The start area was really well organised: there were marshals to help everyone park, plenty of toilets and a coffee van. The baggage trucks were leaving at 10:15 so I put my bag on at 10, holding onto my car key so I could still keep a few last minute bits and pieces and stick them in the car before I ran.

Soon enough, it was time to line up ready to start. I skipped the mass warm up in favour of a final toilet visit, then started working my way through the field to find a starting position. With around 3200 runners registered it was quite tricky to move forward, but since the event was chip timed I wasn’t too bothered and just wanted to be ahead of those who would be likely to walk since I knew some of the early parts of the route would be on narrow paths.

Bang on time, the race started and I began shuffling my way towards the start. Once over the line, I was able to settle into a run as we rounded a corner to a short climb. My goal in this race was simple: run a bit faster than in Stirling two weeks before. I have been doing a little more running since then now that I have had physio on my leg, so having completed that race in just under 56 minutes, I settled on 55 minutes as my Loch Ness target.

I had heard that there were some short climbs in the first couple of miles before a long gentle descent later. I kept my pace steady and didn’t worry too much about getting stuck behind slower runners as I knew I would be able to run faster later. The first 2 miles were completed in 9:05 and 9:07.

There were indeed some narrow paths here which did slow things down a bit, but by the time my watch was bleeping to alert me to the 3 mile mark, my pace was picking up and I ran the 3rd mile in 8:41. The 10K route joins the marathon route just before the 3 mile mark (23 miles into the marathon) and I was looking forward to running the final stages of the route Steve and Graeme would be covering later.

From this point I really enjoyed the race. There were road closures in place and there were lots of beautiful trees along the side of the road. Closer to the finish we were running by the river and the amount of on-course support picked up, even though it would be some time before any marathon runners would come that way. Still running downhill, I felt good and was able to keep my pace up, passing other runners as I cruised along. Mile 4 in 8:34 and mile 5 in 8:32 – nice and consistent.

About a mile and a half or so before the finish, I realised that I could hear the announcer at the finish line on the other side of the river. The route was levelling out a bit and I knew that the last section was by the river, over a bridge then back on the other side to the finish gantry. I dug in and kept going, keen to maintain the consistency of my pace and completed mile 6 in 8:33 before heading into the home straight. Unbelievably, I couldn’t actually see the gantry but could still hear the announcer and trusted the mile markers and readings on my watch. I pushed the pace on and sprinted towards the finish at around 8:04 pace and crossed the line knowing I had met my target: finish time 54:33.

Again, everything was really well organised in the finish area. I was first handed my medal then filtered on to collect my tech tshirt (plenty of small ones available), then my goody bag, water, banana and Cliff bar. It was a really good selection of race booty, to be honest, with a  goody bag full of assorted food (including soup of course!) and leaflets about forthcoming events.

IMG_2218

 

IMG_2214

 

IMG_2216

 

My race pack had also included a ticket to get post-race soup and a roll which I had along with some friends who had run the 10K. Fortunately someone also gave me an extra ticket so I would be able to join the guys later when they were having their food.

After that it was simply a case of enjoying the atmosphere while we waited. There was plenty to do and at no time did I feel bored: I had company and it was exciting watching the winner of the marathon complete his race and learn that this was his debut. The first female runner was also a debut marathoner so it was a good weekend for first-timers!

Of course there were also one or two photo opportunities to keep me amused and I took photos with both Nessie and an actual tin of soup on legs (remember this is what I had thought I resembled that morning!)

IMG_2197

 

IMG_2202

 

 

Soon enough, Steve finished and Graeme only about 5 minutes behind him. Both did phenomenally well having not been able to complete as much training as they would like. After all the congratulations (and a quick catch up with some of the other Perth runners in the race) it was time for some more photos. This mainly involved me trying to look pleased about being sandwiched between two rather sweaty (and not overly fragrant) gentlemen!

20131003-204654.jpg

20131003-204812.jpg

Job done, the guys headed for a well-earned leg massage then, with “runger” most definitely kicking in, it was time for their post-race meal. I had my second cup of soup and roll, while the marathon runners also got a hearty plate of stories and oatcakes which looked delicious and was another example of the stellar organisation that goes into this event.

That high standard of organisation is also apparent in the race logistics, some of which I’ve already mentioned. It’s quite clear that everything had been considered. As a 10K runner, my car was safely parked at the Royal Academy where I had started my race that morning. There were shuttle buses on hand to return runners to their cars which were running until 2:45, a good 4 hours after the race began. Not wanting to rush the tired marathoners, we weren’t ready in time for the last shuttle, but a quick visit to the fabulous volunteers at the information tent and we were able to order a taxi which arrived in good time. The driver was brilliant and delivered us right to the car so the guys could simply fall out of the taxi and be bundled into my car for the trip back home!

Overall, I had a fantastic weekend. I was really impressed with the slick logistics, friendly volunteers and scenic route. I may only have tackled 10K this time, but I’ll definitely be back at the Loch Ness Marathon Festival and I highly recommend the event. There’s something for everyone from 5K to the full marathon (and the Wee Nessie for the kids) all centred around the same race village. There’s loads to do and lots of tempting food stands. Maybe I’ll see you there next year…