Tips For Travelling Abroad For A Race

Earlier this year I shared my tips for making your first race day experience go smoothly, however what about preparing for a race a little further away from home? One of the many wonderful things about running is that it’s something you can do wherever you are, and these days more and more runners are taking advantage of the opportunity to race abroad. Regular readers know that I’ve now run the Paris marathon 5 times (4 of those in consecutive years) and have become used to racing 5ks during my summer trip to Florida. Not only does racing abroad offer a fantastic way to see a new place, but it can also form the basis of a holiday or short break. Ideal!

But just as racing closer to home needs a bit of advance preparation, travelling abroad for a race brings with it a few additional steps to make sure that everything goes smoothly. Based on my own experiences, here are some tips to make sure you have an enjoyable time:

  1. Check if there are any additional requirements in order to race. In some countries, including France, runners must provide a medical certificate signed by their doctor before they are allowed to race. Perhaps you’re travelling even further afield and need to check visa or health requirements. Taking care of such things in good time means you can relax in the lead up to your trip.

 

  1. Confirm all bookings such as flights and hotels. Print out anything you need such as booking references, boarding passes and race entries and pack them in your carry-on along with other essentials like your passport (and while you’re at it, check your passport is still valid – you don’t want an emergency trip to the passport office when you should be on your flight!)

 

  1. Remember travel insurance and any health requirements such as an EHIC card.

 

  1. Make sure you have all the usual travel essentials – guide book, travel adaptor, phone charger, currency – as well as race-specific ones like your race pack or any other details you’ve been sent. If you have to visit an expo to collect your race pack, make sure you know how to get there and what you will need in order to collect your pack – some races require a confirmation document and/or photo ID.

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  1. Check the weather forecast and plan the kit you are going to need. Make sure you have a couple of options in case that forecast changes. Remember not to wear anything new, and make sure you have something to keep you warm/dry before the race as well as something to put on afterwards if you have a bit of a journey back to your hotel. If you’re going somewhere warm, make sure you pack your sunscreen otherwise you’ll have “interesting” tan lines to show off! I ALWAYS pack my race day kit in my carry-on so I know I have all my essentials safely by my side. If you’re travelling for a marathon, I recommend compression socks or leggings for the day after, especially if you’ll be flying, as they always help my legs to recover.

  1. Think about food. Ok, I know as runners we’re always thinking about food, but what I mean is to think about what you’re going to eat before the race. If you have a meal you always like to have e.g. porridge, it may be best to bring your own in case your hotel doesn’t have what you need. Likewise, you may not be able to buy your preferred race fuel (gels, drinks, etc) at your destination, so pack whatever you need. I usually carry a few snacks for the flight as well, since you never know what food options there will be on a travelling day.

 

  1. If you’re taking any tech like a running watch or smartphone, make sure you have any chargers you might need (and the appropriate adaptor to plug them in!)

 

  1. Pack a few first aid essentials like blister plasters and painkillers in case you need them after the race. It’s not a bad idea to have some safety pins for your race number either, just in case!

 

  1. Be sensible ahead of race day. It’s easy to notch up 10+ miles simply walking around a big city and ideally you want to turn up at the start line with reasonably fresh legs. That said, if you have the chance then it’s worth checking out the start and finish areas to make sure you know your travel arrangements for race day.

  1. The night before your race, do exactly as you would at home – read over your race pack, lay out everything you need and try to get a good night’s sleep. And make sure you eat well – I wouldn’t be trying any unusual or spicy foods the day before. Stick to something familiar and save the local delicacy for your post-race celebration!

A little planning will help remove some of the stress that can come with travelling and you will be able to relax, get the most out of your trip and, crucially, enjoy your race.

Have a great racecation!

Race Report – Cool Summer Mornings 5k July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s exactly how it was.

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

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

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

Cool Summer Mornings 5k
Cool Summer Mornings 5k
Cool Summer Mornings 5k

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

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

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

Cool Summer Mornings 5k
Cool Summer Mornings 5k

Race Report – Loch Leven Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Gordon Donnachie

[Source]

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

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

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

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Overall this was a great race. Well organised by Kinross Road Runners and with a lovely route (thankfully we were spared the midge cloud which had been in the news!), gender-specific tech T-shirt and nice medal. Definitely worth entering if you ever get the chance.
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Week in Review – A Cheeky Half!

Another week, another week in review! As ever, linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to bring you my weekly roundup.

From the title of this post you might have worked out that there was a half marathon in there, but here’s how the rest of my week looked:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Loch Leven half marathon
Sunday – rest

At this point I’m in a bit of an odd place training-wise. The furthest I’ve run since Paris is 8 miles, but still have decent fitness from my marathon training cycle. I’m looking forward to capitalising on this over the summer, but right now am amused by having sufficient fitness to complete a half marathon without any specific training. Just another reason to be grateful for marathon training!

I began my week, as ever, in the pool. I’m really enjoying my Monday swims lately as I’m beginning to feel a bit more confidence in the water and can find a rhythm more quickly. What I need to work on is having more continuous swimming i.e. not stopping between lengths. It will come!

On Tuesday I was a bit pushed for time but still managed to squeeze in a set of intervals on the bike at the gym. No time for any mobility work or anything this week though as I had plans with my sister. We were seeing the second instalment of the trilogy of First World War plays which began last year with The 306: Dawn. This year was The 306: Day and where last year the focus was on the stories of some of the 306 men who were executed for cowardice, deception and mutiny, this year the focus was on the women at home. Three of the women were connected to characters from the first instalment and some of the same music was woven through to give greater impact, so while you could have watched it in isolation without having seen last year’s production, it was definitely more powerful if you had. Dawn had me in tears, but Day had me torn between tears and anger as I felt driven to start a revolution 100 years too late as I watched the way women were treated for standing up for themselves and the men in their lives. Shocking that this was seen as acceptable and I’m so glad there has been progress since then.

I was a little distracted during the performance as I recognised the male actor who appeared but couldn’t quite figure it out. Checking the programme he had a Casualty credit (but then most UK actors do!) and I thought he might have been a regular. It was only afterwards that I was able to look him up and remembered exactly who he was!

fullsizeoutput_1e00Wednesday was a repeat of the same hill reps from last week. It felt tougher this week and I’m still not sure if I was a bit sluggish or if it was because every time I turned to run up the hill I found myself running straight into a headwind. Tough, but I know it will make me stronger and hill training is definitely going to be key in preparing for the Loch Ness marathon which is an “undulating” course with a hill at 18 miles, exactly when you don’t want it!

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IMG_1845On Thursday I enjoyed a fantastic Ashtanga yoga class. It’s been about a year now since I began my yoga journey and every week I love it more. This week was special because a lovely lady who used to be a regular at the class returned as an observer as she is just finishing her yoga teacher training course. Having an extra instructor meant more opportunity to be adjusted, not because of issues in how I approached a posture, but to help me move more deeply into it. It was so nice to see her and at the end of the class she commented on how much progress she could see in my practice, which is really good to hear.

Then it was Friday, perhaps the most exciting day of the week. Not because it was scheduled as a rest day, but because the reason for that rest was a trip to Glasgow to see TAKE THAT live in concert! I’ve been looking forward to this for ages and as usual they didn’t disappoint. The band is renowned for the theatricality of their live shows and this one fetaured a cast of dancers and acrobats performing in the round with a set that changed levels and with props that flew around the stage and awesome lighting effects. I was on my feet throughout belting out every song and loving every moment.

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The thing about a concert, though, is that it’s inevitably a late night and heading through after work meant we only had time for food at the venue (pizza with a base apparently made of cardboard!). None of this is particularly ideal preparation for a half marathon, but that was the prep I had so on Saturday morning, after less than 7 hours sleep, I was off to Kinross for my race. Anticipating that I wouldn’t be at my finest, I had decided in advance to simply treat this as a training run with a medal and just take it easy rather than racing. This turned out to be a good strategy and I was pleased to find that even when at less than my best I was able to finish in just a little beyond 2 hours and feeling comfortable. I’ll write more about my experience of this race in a separate post, but I enjoyed it.

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Post-race we grabbed some food then had a relaxing afternoon of napping and reading before treating ourselves to a takeaway since we knew Sunday would be a rest day to allow our bodies to recover from a late night and a race. I even pushed the barrel out and had a Saturday night bath with Epsom salts, bubbles, a running magazine and a glass of wine. Lovely!

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It was nice going to bed on Saturday night and not setting an alarm (little chance of sleeping in anyway when you have a cat!) and waking when her majesty demanded food. It was then an easy day of coffee, food shopping (usually done on a Saturday) and a visit to my parents (there was cake again!). This must be what the non-runners do with their Sundays! It was nice, but I think I would get bored of this after a couple of weeks and be desperate for something different.

In the week ahead I’ll probably ease off training a little for a lighter week to make sure I recover well, then I’ll be back to my preparations for Loch Ness. September will be here before I know it!

How is your training going?
Any exciting events in your life?

Preparing For Your First Ever Race

There’s been a lot of talk around here about marathons lately, and while I’ll always find them a big deal, I’m conscious that some of my readers are at a very different stage in their running journey and might be turning their attention to racing for the first time. Perhaps it’s a charity 5k (mine was), perhaps a local 10k, or perhaps you’re going all-out and running a half or full marathon. Whatever you’re preparing for, I thought I would share some tips to help make your race day as smooth as possible.

Your first ever race is bound to bring with it both excitement and nerves. You’ve spent weeks putting in the miles to get your body prepared, but in order to vanquish any pre-races stress and prepare your mind, it’s worth taking a bit of extra time to plan the details which will see you to the start line relaxed and ready to enjoy the experience. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Read your race pack…then read it again! Make sure you’re quite clear on all the arrangements, from transport and parking to the facilities along the route. Check directions, double-check the start time and remember to check the finish line instructions too, including what you can expect to receive (medal, T-shirt, banana, etc) so you don’t miss out on any well-earned treats.

  1. Sleep is always good, but in the days before a race getting plenty of rest will help you to feel energised on the big day. I often find it hard to sleep the night before longer races, but if I’ve slept well in the preceding days then I know I’ll be ok.

 

  1. Eat well. The night before a race is probably not the time to have a spicy curry or try something new which might see you racing for the loo mid-race! Best to stick to whatever has worked well for you in training. And remember to stay hydrated too!

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  1. Lay out your race kit the night before. Check the weather forecast but be ready for any eventuality – layers can be easily added or removed when needed. Stick with tried and tested kit that has worked for you in training and avoid anything new as a race is not the time you want to find out that your trainers rub or your shorts chafe! Make sure you have your race number and/or timing chip and it’s worth packing a bin bag or old top to provide an extra layer when you’re waiting to start which can be thrown away when you’re ready to run (I buy cheap disposable ponchos for this and keep them in my race bag). Remember essentials like safety pins, gels and water bottle. I’d pack some extra tissues too – those portable toilets can run out of paper quickly at a busy race! And speaking of portable toilets, I usually keep some hand sanitiser in my race bag too.

  1. Check your tech. If you plan to use a running watch, make sure it’s charged up and set as you want it. If you like to run with music (and it’s allowed at your race), create your playlist and charge up your phone/mp3 player. Remember to pack your earphones (fully charged if, like me, you like wireless ones!).

 

  1. Plan for afterwards. Just because you’re finished running, it doesn’t mean your day is over. I usually pack a bag with a change of clothes (including spare socks!) or some warm layers, a snack and some extra water, especially if I have a longish journey home. If you are meeting supporters after the race, make sure you plan where to meet them, as finish areas can be crowded. Many races have designated meeting points so agree on yours before the race and you’ll appreciate it afterwards when you’re tired.

  1. Arrive early. If you’re anything like me you’ll feel much more relaxed if you’re there in plenty of time – nobody wants to add an extra couple of kilometres to their race with a last-minute sprint to the start line!

 

  1. Use the loos! The queues can get very long very quickly, so make a trip to the toilet your first port of call, especially if you’ve been hydrating en route. If it’s a busy race and the queues are long, get straight back in the queue when you come out – by the time you get to the front you’ll probably want to go again anyway.

  1. Remember to soak up the atmosphere. You may be feeling nervous, but this is supposed to be a fun experience and you want to have positive memories of your first race. I was on edge before mine, but lots of people reassured me and gave me encouragement, which helped me to enjoy the event. Breathe deeply, keep calm, and remember why you signed up in the first place.

Finishing my first 10k

  1. When the starting gun goes off, reign in the pace. It’s easy to get carried away and go out too fast, but better to save that energy for later on – a sprint finish is far more impressive than a sprint start!

There’s no other feeling like crossing the finish line for the first time, so if your first race is approaching, remember that this is an experience to enjoy. Taking the time to plan the details will not only help you to get the most out of your day, but to finish with a smile on your face ready to sign up to your next event.

Happy racing!
The Running Princess

Training Talk Part 3

During my recent marathon training cycle I was twice inspired by the Training Talk section of the Marathon Talk podcast to write a post (you can read those here and here) and it’s happened again. I had begun a draft of a post about not reaching my goal in the marathon and how I was able to accept that by reframing the experience, however since this became a topic of discussion in the first episode I listened to after the marathon, I thought I would use the points raised as the basis for my own post…

Three Simple Ways To Feel Good About Your Race When It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:

  • Remember that it’s only you who really cares
    This was something I really learned throughout this process. Back in the autumn I kept a goal race a secret, for a variety of reasons. It was a kind of experiment to see what difference, if any, there was if I wasn’t talking and writing about my training all the time. Would I perform any better free from that pressure? In the end, it was a moot point as a hip issue led to me missing the race, but for my last training cycle I was very public about my goal of running sub-4 hours. That, of course, meant that if I didn’t meet my goal, everyone would know. And do you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When I posted across social media that I’d had a tough race and missed my goal time, I got nothing but positivity back. The non-runners were simply impressed that I had completed a marathon; the runners understood not only how difficult that is, but how the hot conditions changed things. Nobody cared about my time, other than to ask if I had a good time.
    And the discussion on Marathon Talk was very similar. It was pointed out that sport can be tough in the moment, but in the end it’s just sport. How you perform doesn’t define you as a person. While we may think others might care about our time and judge us for it, in reality they care that we’re happy and a nice person, not how long it took us to run an arbitrary distance. All those people congratulating me on finishing a marathon proved that to be true, and my initial disappointment at not yet reaching my goal was soon replaced by pride that I had finished the race.fullsizeoutput_1cf9
  • Stop thinking about your outcome and identify the good things from the process
    In other words, what worked in your life with this race and why? Ok, so it took me half an hour longer than I wanted to complete the marathon, but there are still a lot of positives to take away: I entered a race during the school holidays so I could enjoy a slightly extended trip; I got to spend a weekend in my favourite city in the world, taking part in my favourite activity; I got to run the always amazing Breakfast Run the day before; I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s event; I got to soak up the atmosphere on race day and form unspoken connections with those around me, regardless of nationality; and I got to wear my medal with pride whilst celebrating with new found friends. What’s not to like about that?
    All of these things worked to give me a fantastic weekend away. The numbers on the clock are but a small part of that and the race was the culmination of many weeks and months of successful training. Training which I enjoyed and through which I could see the changes in my strength and speed. Those will still be there to capitalise on as I resume training.

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  • What did you do that actually surprised you?
    By thinking about the race differently and what was surprising in the build up, we can soon see things differently to the finish time. For me, this race really was a celebration of my training as I actually completed that training buildup successfully. As someone who is prone to injury, that’s something that surprised me. Another surprise was my performance at the Inverness Half Marathon. I knew I was in PB shape and estimated that if I ran at marathon pace I could complete the race in around 1:55, but on the day ran faster to achieve 1:53. Definitely a very pleasant surprise.

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The key thing to take away from all this is that not reaching a goal isn’t a disaster. There are only so many things we can control and many more that we can’t. There’s a fine balance in endurance sport between caring enough about something to try hard, and caring so much that we take it too far. That can be potentially destructive. There will always be lots of “what ifs”, and often there is a perfectly simple answer:

What if I don’t make my goal time?
I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and enter another race to try again. 

Finish times are not the only way to judge the success of a race. One of my most successful was the same race last year when I was just so pleased to be able to take part after an injury that the whole race felt like a giant party. Being able to run and do so consistently was my success. This year, my success was having the courage to recognise that my goal was out of reach that day and reframe my marathon as a long training run for my next one. For there will be a next one, and maybe next time that sub-4 will be mine…IMG_1388

Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

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

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

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

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

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

So I reset my goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: Marathon day!

Week in Review – Race Week

And just like that, it was race week! Looking back, it hardly seems like any time at all since I began the year with the New Year Triple, but in reality there are many miles between the 1st of January and the first week of April. Today I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my preparations for race day.

Since it was the second week of my two week taper, things were a little gentler this week, while still maintaining the rhythm of my training. I also had the benefit of being off school for our spring break, so that meant more opportunity to relax at home and feel better rested for the big day. Here’s how my week looked:

Mondayswim rest plus sports massage
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym then swim
Wednesday – 4 miles easy
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel to Paris
Saturday – Breakfast Run
Sunday – marathon!!

As you can see, I made a little tweak at the start of the week by removing my Monday swim. I’ve written a couple of times about my elderly cat (she’s 16 and a half!) who now has an age-related health condition. This can be managed, but she can be prone to infections and other side effects of her condition and she had been unwell over the weekend, indicating a need for a change to her medication. I hadn’t slept well due to listening out for her through the night (I suspect it was a bit like having a sick child!) and had an appointment for her at the vet on Monday afternoon so I decided to stay at home and keep an eye on her instead of going to the pool. The good news is that her new medication has her bouncing back and much more herself again, which has been quite a relief for me. To get a bit of movement in my day I simply walked to my sports massage then shifted my swim to Tuesday.

IMG_1093That swim came after my bike workout. I made this my final hard workout of this training cycle and completed 20 reps of my intervals – the peak number at every stage. It felt a bit different doing them in the morning, but I felt strong and this gave me some confidence in my fitness which was consolidated by a decent swim afterwards. I then enjoyed a short time in the hot tub and sauna before heading home for a restful afternoon. My post-bike selfie also provided some entertainment for people on social media. Clearly I worked hard lol!

IMG_1094On Wednesday my traditional hill reps were replaced by an easy run to keep my legs turning over. Steve suggested about 4 miles and I set off on a loop I quite like, guessing a bit at the distance. It turned out to be 4.75 miles. Oops! Still, it was a nice start to the day and in the afternoon my parents, fresh back from a winter in Florida, visited for a cup of tea and a discussion of the cat’s medical needs since they would be taking care of her over the weekend.

IMG_1096Thursday was a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes you want to go for a run, but by this point my running legs were being rested ahead of the marathon, so after I had done all the things I needed to do to get organised for the weekend (by which I mean making lots of lists. I do love a list!), I decided to take a walk in the sunshine and enjoy poking about some of the nearby paths that I run along while I could take advantage of a more leisurely pace. I’d have loved to stay out longer but had packing to do!

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IMG_1151In the early evening I then headed to the studio for my usual PT session with Steve for some final work on my upper back mobility. Yet again, he couldn’t resist diving into my selfies!

IMG_1159After that, Ashtanga yoga. I REALLY enjoyed the class this week. I felt centred and like I flowed well between postures and in some I felt like my flexibility had improved a little more. I suspect things will feel a bit different next time in my post-marathon body! If I can get anywhere near my toes it will be a miracle lol!

Friday is usually my rest day, but this time it was my travel day. I got up early to make sure I had time to not only get myself ready, but to make sure I had given my furbaby all her assorted medications before leaving so that it would be a little easier for mum later in the day. I had packed everything for my trip the night before, so it was just a case of popping in the last minute items then we were off to the airport. We had expected to bump into Simon, who we had first met under similar circumstances last year, but before that we also bumped into Steve’s friend Fiona who now lives in Paris but had been back in Scotland for a few days and was heading back home to run the marathon as well. The departure gate at the airport is starting to feel like an annual reunion of the Paris marathon runners ha! We chatted a bit while waiting to board which helped to pass the time. Once on board, we discovered that there was an ITV film crew involved in making a documentary about becoming a pilot on board the flight. They were mainly filming in the cockpit but were also getting some shots around the cabin. I’ll now have to watch out for this coming on TV just in case I can spot myself!
IMG_1167The remainder of the weekend will be covered in more detail in separate posts, however I’ll include some highlights here:
Our first port of call in Paris was the Expo to collect our race packs. We ate there at the pasta party, had a look around the exhibits then headed for the hotel to unpack and get some rest (after a quick walk to pick up some bottles of water, during which I “returned the favour” with Steve’s selfie!).

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IMG_7550Saturday we were up bright and early for coffee and croissants before heading over to the Place du Palais Royal for the start of the Breakfast Run which was using a new route this year. I always love this event as it truly has such an international feel and we always find ourselves chatting to complete strangers, bound by the spirit of the marathon, and often stay in touch with many of these people via social media or our blogs afterwards. This year was no exception, and of course I have a photo or a hundred to remember the experience! Afterwards we enjoyed a second breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, banana and water while taking in a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars!

IMG_1252 IMG_1268We then meandered back to the hotel to get changed then headed out for some lunch and a few “errands” before opting for an afternoon nap and some chill out time back at the hotel before dinner. Basically it was a day revolving around food and marathon preparations!

IMG_1340On Sunday we were up early to get breakfast as soon as it was available, before getting organised for the short walk to the start/finish area. I had been watching the forecast all week and every time I looked, it was getting warmer. Walking up to drop my bag off before 8am without any need for warm clothing was already an indication that temperatures were going to soar. In the end, that put paid to my plans for a sub-4 time. I’ll write more about this in another post, but I know from speaking to others that practically everyone was much slower than anticipated and had to reset their goals in order to complete the race. It may have been disappointing on the day, but my time of 4:32:07 is actually my second fastest marathon time ever thanks to my oddly chequered history with the distance, and knowing that this was a below par performance gives me hope that I CAN do it under different circumstances. Once I’m recovered, I’ll be thinking about my next marathon and having another go at that elusive goal.

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IMG_1389And that’s it. A valuable reminder that it doesn’t matter how well your training goes, there can still be a spanner in the works come race day. You can only control so many things, and sadly the weather isn’t one of them. By resetting my goal I finished feeling healthy and injury-free so I can pick myself up, dust myself off and live to race another day. That’s way more important than risking my health over a finish time.

Look out for further Paris-related posts later this week with all the details!

Did you run or race in the heat this weekend? How did it go?
Anything you’d like me to write more about in my Paris roundups?

Race Report – Inverness Half Marathon 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A “Highland Spring” tiara!

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

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