Race Report – Stirling Marathon 2019

Or The One With Highly Questionable Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Official race photo

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

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

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

Official race photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Official race photo

Official race photo

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

Official race photo

Official race photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week in Review – Eek!!

I made it through the first week of the new term! It was a little odd being back in the workday routine after being off ill then off for the school holidays, but it was remarkable how quickly I got back into the way of it. And with our senior pupils beginning study leave for their exams midweek, my days will feel a little different for the next month!

This was also a week of keeping things ticking over ahead of the marathon on Sunday. I had to make sure I kept up the consistency of  my running, but also that I did my best to be as well rested as I could around all my work and other commitments. Here’s how it ended up:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – 4 miles
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – 4 miles + Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Sunday – race day!!

As you can see, it was pretty much short runs, yoga and some extra rest.

Monday’s Hatha class was a nice sequence of hip openers. Having run 17 miles in the heat the day before (and it was still reasonably warm that day too) it was a great way to make sure I didn’t tighten up. In actual fact, my legs felt ok. A little weary, but nothing felt tight or sore which is a good thing.

Setting the alarm early on Tuesday morning was a bit of a shock to say the least! I may have been doing early runs since October, but I didn’t run when I was unwell then could go out a bit later when I was on holiday, so this was the first early one for about a month. I ran my favourite 4 mile route and treated it as a recovery run. Like I said, my legs were a little weary but nothing untoward and much better than I expected to feel after 17 miles a couple of days earlier! It was also good to head straight out into a lighter morning – no need for the extra high viz any more!

When I got in that evening I did a little home yoga then rested for the remainder of the evening.

I took Wednesday as another rest day. I had some sweet treats to make for a staff event on Friday so queued up some YouTube videos and got on with it. I could probably have done some yoga afterwards, but opted to spend some time with my feet up instead – it wasn’t going to make any difference by this point!

I was up early again on Thursday morning. Previously I had been going for a slightly longer run, but with the race looming I decided to stick to 4 miles at a nice easy pace. I checked my ego at the door and got out there to enjoy the early morning air. It was actually quite a nice run and my legs were feeling pretty good.

I had my Ashtanga class that evening and it was another session where I was conscious of feeling pretty strong in moves like chaturanga where arm and core strength are key. My Wheel poses felt good and Headstand was decent too. I think these are my measures of how I’m feeling as being able to do these poses is a reasonably recent things for me compared to other postures where it’s more about progressing more deeply into them. I can’t imagine I’ll be feeling so strong in my next class 😂

Friday was another rest day. I had an appointment to get my nails done (they were due to be done when I was ill so I cancelled the appointment and was definitely conscious that they needed some attention!). Obviously I matched the colour to the top I planned to wear for the race – my less-than-ideal training may have left me feeling a little underprepared, but at least my nails are ready haha!

Afterwards, Steve and I headed out for our usual Friday night food and I opted for chicken curry with a beer. This is what I had on the Friday before the marathon last year so I thought I would repeat it. Maybe it will bring me luck!

Since we were both conserving our energy, it was “just” parkrun on Saturday without the run there or back. To be honest, I was quite pleased as the latest storm with a human name had brought a lot of rain and it wasn’t looking too great. Driving down was much more enjoyable than running! I had thought it was due to be dry during parkrun, but the drizzle at the start had turned into a downpour of biblical proportions by the time I was running the final mile, only to stop and be replaced by bright sunshine almost as soon as I stopped. I couldn’t believe how nice it looked as I stood there dripping! On the plus side, I had a nice new pair of leggings to wear – damn that Easter weekend discount!

This was a special parkrun as we had around 250 pupils and staff from one of the local secondary schools taking part to raise money for their chosen charity. Something fairly similar happened last year but on a much smaller scale. Despite the rain and the inevitable drop in numbers thanks to the London marathon and more local events such as the races in Stirling and a popular cycling event, our numbers were good and having set a new attendance record of 384 last week, we surpassed that to reach 446! It will be really interesting to see if any of the new parkrunners who joined us today will continue to come along. The extra numbers also meant a few minor changes such as using a different path to avoid fast runners meeting the back of the pack on their return, a slightly different funnel and a seeded start to make sure everyone was safe. It all worked really well as far as I could tell.

I took the run at a fairly steady pace. I had thought around 9 minute miles would be fine as that’s a pretty comfortable pace for me. I was a little faster, but that’s ok. It was even an unintentional Royal Flush Negative Split!

We headed home fairly quickly as we were wringing wet and needed to get showered and changed before we got too cold. I swear I was drier when I came out of the shower than before I went in ha! Then it was the usual breakfast with Steve’s brother and a quick food shop before a restful afternoon making sure we had our feet up and kept ourselves hydrated. Then it was time for the pre-marathon pizza.

And the traditional offering to the gods of racing!

Before heading to bed to get as much sleep as possible.

It was a fairly early alarm call for a Sunday morning, but we were keen to get to Stirling in time to snag a good (and free!) parking spot so it was worth the effort. A separate post on my race day experiences will follow, however the short version is that I performed much better than I had expected to given my recent illness and various disruptions to training over the winter. Marathon number 12 is DONE!

With the race only being about half an hour away, we had the rest of the day to rest and refuel. I had a recovery shake right after I finished and plenty of fluids, so by the time we got back to Perth I was ready for a nice, salty McDonald’s (post-marathon/half marathon is really the only time I would eat this!). I know it satisfied a craving but don’t really remember tasting it!

Then after getting showered, changed and catching up on social media for a bit, we headed out to pick up a Chinese takeaway. After a race like this I love to start with some salt and chilli ribs.

But I totally neglected to take a photo of my main course (a speciality noodle dish created by the owner of the takeaway we use) as I was so focused on shovelling the food in haha!

And then a short while later met up with a friend to enjoy a couple of “recovery beers” which just hit the spot, before heading home to try and get some sleep  – it was a school night after all!

And I certainly had plenty of steps for the day 😂

Now it’s time to enjoy some time off to let my body recover. Perfect!

What are your favourite pre- and post-race meals?
What do you look forward to most after a goal event?

My Year Of Running 2018 (Link Up)

For the last couple of years I’ve linked up with Courtney @ Eat Pray Run DC to recap my year in running (2016 and 2017). To be honest, it’s one of my favourite posts as I get to think back over all my awesome adventures from the year just gone by. Here’s how 2018 looked…

Best race experience
Hands down the Disneyland Paris half marathon. I know I’ve gone on about it A LOT, but it was probably the best race experience of my life. No pressure to run a certain time, it was all about celebrating my Big Birthday by combining all my favourite things – running, Disney and Paris.

Best run
For this one I’m going to choose the Stirling marathon. My training was really consistent and I came super close (as in, less than a minute) to the PB I set back in 2014. This is probably the best I’ve paced a full marathon and it really gave me a lot of confidence in what I could do.

Best new piece of running gear
I’ve bought several pairs of amazing, funky leggings this year and you would be forgiven for thinking I would choose one of those…but I’m not! The best thing I bought all year was this reflective “vest” which means I’m visible on my runs through the winter darkness but can wear whatever top I want, rather than being tied to the same old “high viz” one all the time.

Best running advice you’ve received this year
To switch from running after work to running before work. I’ve always been an evening runner, but was feeling increasingly pressed for time so began to consider early morning runs instead. With Steve’s encouragement, I took the plunge and have to say it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for my running as it fits so much more easily into my day. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed getting up early, but so far it’s been worth it for the extra time it creates in the evening.

Most inspirational runner
This year I’m going to choose my friend Tina Muir, founder of Running for Real. The Superstars community she has created on Facebook is so inspiring and uplifting. I’ve made new friends there and love some of the random discussions we have. Tina herself has been a fantastic role model in her decision to stop running in order to overcome amenhorrea and become pregnant. She will shortly be taking part in the WDW half marathon as her comeback race and I’m so excited for her to have this experience (and, admittedly, a little jealous as I’d love to be there too!). In case you missed it, Tina interviewed me earlier this year.

Favourite picture from a run or race this year
Duh! Obviously a Disney one! The hardest part was narrowing it down…

Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat
Can you guess? Why DLP, of course! I would repeat that experience any time. Good thing it wasn’t a one-off event!

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words what would they be?
Freakin’ awesome! 2018 was the self-styled Year of Me!!!. I set myself some fun goals, and celebrated a milestone birthday with an amazing racecation. There was also a marathon, lots of parkrunning (including in Florida) and the chance to connect with lots of amazing people both online and IRL. Here’s to an equally awesome 2019…!

Want to join in? I’d love to read about your year in running.

Race Report – Aviemore Half Marathon 2018

It’s been a few years since I last ran this race, but those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember that this one holds a special place in my heart, not just because it was the first ever half marathon I ran (back in the pre-blog days of 2009) but it was also where Steve and I got engaged – that was quite a way to relieve my pre-race nerves! Further to that, in 2012 I ran a PB here which proved stubbornly difficult to beat for quite some time – all the way to early 2017 in fact! But for the last few years I haven’t been up there as I had different autumn priorities, and when Steve signed up back in the summer I initially wasn’t sure if I wanted to run the half or the 10k, eventually deciding that it would be worth capitalising on the training I was doing for the Disneyland Paris half and “properly” running a half marathon to round off my racing year.

In the past we have stayed in Aviemore the night before the race, but this time decided we would get up early and head up first thing in the morning. This meant leaving between 6 and 6:30am, times which seem increasingly reasonable the more I run!

It was still pretty dark as we set off on the 80ish mile drive north into the Highlands which meant we didn’t get much chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery. We had the latest episode of Marathon Talk playing in the car and had a pretty easy drive, arriving at the race HQ just before 8am.

The race itself starts at 10am, however the logistics are such that runners are taken by bus to the start (only about 10-15 minutes away) and the course returns us to the MacDonald hotel complex which is used as the race HQ and car park. The buses begin at 8am and the last one is at 9am so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to collect our race numbers, go to the loo and get in line for a bus.

We were up at the start at the Badaguish outdoor centre not long after 9am. It was pretty chilly, but the organisers have a good set up with teas and coffees available (with donation buckets out for those who have cash at the start line) and a sheltered area to gather in. I had a cosy top on that I was going to put in Steve’s bag (we usually do this since he will finish first and can collect the bag before I finish) but had chosen one I was happy to throw away if I just couldn’t bear to remove it soon enough!

We had a cup of tea then got in the queue for the toilets around 9:30, so by the time we emerged it was time to hand in our bag. I was shivering a bit, but didn’t have too long to wait until I got underway and I knew I would be absolutely fine once I got moving.

As runners line up there are markers with approximate times on them and I set myself up next to the “sub 2 hours” marker. Realistically I had no idea what I could do, but with a PB of 1:53 and previous long-standing PB (from this race) of 1:56 I was fairly certain I could squeak under 2 hours.

Before I knew it, we were being walked towards the start and past a piper. Steve took some photos as I couldn’t be bothered to pull my phone out and I was instructing him as to the photos to take!

There was a moment of confusion when we could see through a  break in the trees that the runners at the front had started and, of course, those further back started to run even though we hadn’t reached the start line yet. I never understand this. Surely we’re going to run enough during the race? And the confusion was created by the fact that so many people were running and I could hear lots of folk asking if we had crossed the start line yet, but since we had race chips on our shoes I knew that even though there was no gantry, the start line would be when we crossed a timing mat slightly further on so stayed calm and started my watch as I hit the mat.

The first half of the race, which is net downhill overall, takes place on trails which can be a little narrow at points and thanks to the recent rainy weather there were quite a few puddles. I knew from previous experience that it wasn’t worth worrying about pace in the first half of the race as the chances are you will be way off, particularly with a steep hill at the start of the 4th mile, but will make up lots of time once the course emerges onto the road as it’s pretty much all downhill through the second half of the race. I actually set my watch to show me the average pace rather than the current pace and amused myself with some “runner maths” to try and work out if I was on track for a sub-2.

A fun moment came towards the end of the trail section as I became aware of runners backed up around a corner. It turned out that there was a puddle of such magnitude that there was absolutely no avoiding it and people were looking for the best way to approach it. Most were going around the edges (which were pretty squelchy) as there was clearly a deeper hole in one part of it and lots of people were falling down. Not wanting to hurt myself by stepping on something uneven that I couldn’t see (or have an impromptu ice bath), I also went around the outside, but still ended up in cold water up to my knees and with icy cold feet – a good incentive to run faster in the second half to warm up again!

Thanks to my choice of attire I was getting lots of shouts (everything I was wearing was actual running kit, I just thought I would have a bit of fun and embrace the feline theme of running for a cat charity!). Early in the race as we had a brief section on a road I heard a little girl say, “she’s dressed up as a cat!” and as we ran by Loch Morlich shortly before joining the road for the home stretch a spectator shouted, “well done pussy cat!” Most of the marshals also commented on my cat ears and gave me a big smile. It was really nice, if a little unusual!

Once out on the road around 7 miles in it was time to get myself moving a bit faster. My average pace had been showing about 9:27 and I knew that 9:09 would be 2 hour pace. With the slight downhill it felt easy to push on and although it crossed my mind to wonder if I could sustain a faster pace, I dismissed the thought and focused on running to feel. I was passing people and feeling good. I even managed to take my gels (I had one on the trail at mile 5 and planned a second at mile 10 with “a parkrun to go”) without choking myself!

Splits from the trail section

I was noticing my average pace falling until it dipped under the 9:09 I was looking for and at that point I knew I could keep my legs turning over all the way to the end. An interesting thing about this race is that the mile markers are actually “miles to go” so they are counting you down to the finish. I had noticed in the second half of the race that the markers were a bit off compared to my Garmin and suspected the route was going to come up a little short. Thanks to my knowledge of the route, I decided to trust the markers and keep on pushing as my pace felt ok.

There’s a short, sharp hill to take us from the path we are on up onto the main road and back into the hotel complex, and as I came off the hill I glanced at my watch to see that it read 1:55. I knew my previous best time from this race was 1:56 something, but couldn’t remember what the seconds were. I tried my best to speed up as the finish line was in sight but the last 100m or so are over grass which was a bit soft and uneven so I couldn’t get quite the sprint finish I wanted.

I heard the announcer call my name as I crossed the line and headed through the chute to collect my water, shortbread (such a Scottish race haha!) and medal then return my chip.

I met Steve and we headed back inside to sort ourselves out and I took advantage of the opportunity to look up my previous time (1:56:35) and confirm that I had indeed beaten it. My chip time for this year was posted as 1:56:02. Those 2 seconds are a little irritating, but given I had only expected a squeak under 2 hours (and there were some slight holdups on the trail) I’ll take that. This now becomes my 2nd fastest half marathon time and only the 3rd time I have run sub-2. Pretty pleasing for someone who was certain she wasn’t in fantastic form! I suspect the lack of pressure or expectation meant that I ran well, felt comfortable and enjoyed the event. I felt really strong in the second half and looking at my splits that strength is confirmed so I definitely got my strategy right.

Spits from the road section – definitely a negative split!

And so this remains one of my favourite races. It’s well organised, has a fun route and is very friendly. There are always people there that I know and the sections where there are spectators always have great support. It’s nice to run a race with a more local feel to it. I’ll try not to leave it another 5 years before I go back!

 

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

Week In Review – Always Have a Plan B…!

The first week of my October break presented an opportunity to press reset and get caught up on a few things. Yes, it would have been nice to go away somewhere, but on this occasion it was good to be at home. With a half marathon to run at the weekend, I took the chance to mix up a bit of training with some decent rest:

Monday – rest
Tuesday – 5 miles
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – 4 miles + Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session with Steve
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – half marathon

Start as you mean to go on, I say. I don’t generally like to sleep in (although obviously don’t set my alarm for as early as a school day!) but it is good to have a lazy start to the day and I decided I wanted to spend the first week of my holiday getting back into a habit I had back during my Easter break. So when I awoke I headed for the kitchen to make a cup of tea which I took right back to bed to read for about an hour. The kittens quite liked this and after running around daft for a bit they settled down at my feet for a snooze. Bliss!

Nothing better than a long lie with Gary!

I then spent some time on the afternoon on my “homework”. I’m studying this with my Advanced Higher class and felt in need of a re-watch of my favourite adaptation of my favourite novel. Such a hardship lol!

On Tuesday I followed my tea and book in bed with a run – not totally lazy! I set myself up with a kind of “mini taper” into my race so headed out for 5 miles. It was nice to get out in daylight after early morning runs last week, and the weather wasn’t too bad either.

When I arrived home I could spy a red package through the glass and knew exactly what it would be – my annual subscription to the London marathon rejection magazine. At least the running jacket I got with it is pretty good.

Given the numbers in the ballot I didn’t expect to get a place, but until that magazine arrives there is always a glimmer of hope that this might be the year. Still, with 7 rejections (and counting…) I know to have a Plan B in mind for what I’ll do when that inevitable “nope” arrives, and for 2019 I knew my Plan B would be to sign up for the Stirling marathon again. I really enjoyed it this year and liked how conveniently close to home it was, so by the time the day was done, this had happened:

Wednesday was another rest day. I had a few errands in town so clocked up loads of steps walking there and back (after some time spent reading with my cup of tea, of course!). At least my mail was more pleasing as I got some new casual leggings – and got photobombed by the kittens when I tried to take a picture!

On Thursday I doubled up – run in the morning and Ashtanga yoga class in the evening. My self-styled “mini taper” called for a 4 mile run and this time it was even pleasant enough to break my shorts back out of hibernation. I do love it when I can still wear my shorts without freezing to death!

Yoga was, as always, great. I had been curious to see how I would get on with the headstand after my breakthrough last week – was it a one-off or could I actually manage the posture by myself? As it turned out, there was no need to be concerned as I once more moved into the headstand on my own. I didn’t hold it for as long, probably because  I rushed to straighten my legs out before I had my balance feeling as secure as last time, but now I know it wasn’t a fluke I’ll take more care to move into the posture more mindfully as I go forward.

Steve offered me a training session on Friday morning (at a time which still allowed me my “soft start” to the day with my book and tea!) so I headed over to the studio. I was reluctant to do anything that would make my legs feel heavy on the Sunday, so we used the TRX and Core Momentum Trainer to do some work on my arms and upper body instead. Somehow I neglected to take a picture during the session, but did manage to take a photo of the coffee I had afterwards. Not sure what that says about me haha!

The new “cordusio”. I think I ordered it because I thought it was a funny word!

The rest of the day was about as busy as things get during school holidays. First I had my flu jab (definitely want to avoid getting the flu!) and then I had my nails done which meant a good chat with my friend who does my nails.

Saturday, as ever, began with parkrun. I’m not always good at taking it easy when it’s not pacer day, but I was determined not to overdo things and risk having weary legs for the following day. I started out at a fairly steady pace and allowed myself to push on a bit as the run went on (securing a nice Royal Flush Negative Split) but still coming in at a slower (for me) time of 25:44. I had thought averaging 8:20-8:30 pace overall would be ideal so that was perfect.

Steve’s brother was away on holiday, but the Steve and I still went for a post-run bacon croissant before getting the food shopping done (such Saturday glamour!).

I actually felt a bit “off”, kind of like I was going to get a headache but without actually having a headache. Not sure if that makes any sense, but I could feel my body telling me to have a nap so once home I had some soup then settled down for a nap. I did feel a bit better after that, but decided to take it easy and spend the afternoon watching a film. Time to break out Beauty and the Beast, because sometimes only a Disney film will do.

 

As the evening wore on I began to realise that the reason I felt “off” was because my upper back and shoulders were tight and this was travelling up my neck and into my head. I got Steve to work on it a bit and began to feel a lot better. Good thing too since we were getting up early for our race!

We had decided not to stay in Aviemore the night before, and instead get up early to make the journey north into the Highlands – only about an hour and a half away and the roads are pretty clear at that time of day. We were away before 6:30am and got into Aviemore just before 8. I’ll write a separate post with all the details of the race, but it was all pretty familiar even though I hadn’t been up there since 2013.

This was my last serious race of the year. Anything else from this point will be more in the “fun run” category, so I also made it the last hurrah for my fundraising efforts. I teamed my Cats Protection running vest with paw print leggings (actual running leggings) and a hairband with ears (an actual running headband). It got me a fair amount of shouts and made a few people smile along the route!

Post-race we tidied ourselves up a bit and on the way home called in to see a lovely couple Steve trains. They are in their 70s and so fit! I had never met them before but they had insisted we call in on our way home for a cup of tea, and despite being “race fresh” they were perfectly happy to sit and chat over some refreshments for a while and were so kind, waving away my apologies for not being at my most presentable! It was a nice way to break up the journey home and the cups of tea and choccy biccies were definitely appreciated!

The remainder of the day was pretty chilled and I headed to bed feeling really tired from the combination of an early start, racing a half marathon and having the long-ish car journeys as well.

When was the last time you needed to call on Plan B?
Do you ever theme your running outfits?

Race Report – The Disneyland Paris Half Marathon 2018

This is going to be a long one and full of photos, so put the kettle on, get comfy and prepare for a bit of pixie dust!

Imagine having a wish: a wish you knew would fill you with magic and joy; a wish so strong you felt envy whenever someone else had that wish come true; a wish you wished for so hard, for years and years. Then one day, that wish was granted

It may sound like the plot of a Disney movie, yet it’s how I felt about taking part in a Run Disney event. For years I had yearned to create a costume, run through Disney parks and meet a host of characters. I coveted one of those HUUUUUGE Disney medals and was determined that one day I would achieve my dream. A couple of weeks ago “one day” became “today”.

My awesome wrist wrap created by Nicky Lopez @ Run Bling

Our day began super early with a 4:30am alarm call so that we could have breakfast at our hotel at 5am (one of the benefits of staying in a Disney hotel was the early breakfast and late check out provided for runners). I would usually associate such an early start with a marathon and spend breakfast time forcing down food (and hoping not to see it come back up again!), but not this time. This time I was excited and, despite legs that had that telltale weariness of a day spent in a theme park (no regrets – it was an amazing day!) I was desperate to put on the rest of my costume and head over to the expo to wait until it was time to get into the start corral.

We actually got to the expo in great time, giving us time to take a few photos, chat to some other runners, admire the costumes and, crucially, join the massive queue for the toilets before we had to head around to our corral.

As close as I could persuade Steve to a costume. It’s amazing what you can find online!

We were in corral C and we knew we were supposed to be in our corrals about 30 minutes before the estimated start time for our group (corral A began at 7am and we got in our corral just before that so we could experience the beginning of the race. It was about half an hour later before we were to get started, but the time seemed to pass really quickly. The weather was mild, even so early in the morning, with a little drizzle in the air so it was going to be a humid morning.

Since the event had a “villains” theme, the start of the event was handed over from the Disney hosts to Cruella de Vil and her henchmen. It was great watching things get started and moving closer and closer to the start gantry.

At long last, it was our turn. We were counted down (I started my watch a little before the start line as I wanted my hands free to shoot some film) and I ran across the start line grinning from ear to ear.

 

The first part of the route took us under an archway announcing we were entering Disneyland then on into the Walt Disney Studios where we had spent the previous morning. We looped around different areas of the park, passing through “Studio One”, an enclosed area of shops and restaurants where all the cast members were out in force to cheer us on. It reminded me in many ways of the famed “disco tunnel” in the Paris marathon.

Emerging from the studio, I glanced to my right and spotted the first of the character stops. I had actually wondered about skipping the first couple in order to get ahead for some later stops, but when I saw who it was I realised I was definitely going to stop here after all. I was dressed as Belle and the first character was…Gaston!

From here, the route took us towards the main Disneyland park, and I did skip a couple of character stops as the lines were really long and they weren’t ones I was massively bothered about. For me, it was all about running around the different “lands” of the park and through the castle.

As we hit Main Street I realised that this section was an out and back – first running away from the castle, looping around the town square then running the full length of the street towards Sleeping Beauty’s castle. This was my iconic moment and I made sure to film, take photos and stop for an official photo to mark the moment.

We actually ran around to one side of the castle, via Adventureland, and into Fantasyland (pausing only for a photo with Jafar).

It was at this point that I found myself hit with a wave of emotion: I was actually running in Disney, I was running my dream race. The cast members were out in force and they were shouting “allez” in that rising way spectators do in the Paris marathon as well. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things that made me feel so happy I could burst – I very nearly cried with happiness and this remains a really vivid memory of the race for me as I looped around and through the iconic castle with an accompaniment of Disney music.

Once through the castle, I really was in photo mode. It felt like I was stopping for photos, shuffling a few steps as I put my phone/Go Pro away then immediately stopping again for the next one. During this time I chatted with others and was struck by how well organised these photo stops were, especially for someone running solo (I had told Steve he could run on at his pace. I mean, I was running in Disney, what else did I need!). Our package included a Photopass for the race and our bibs had a barcode on them which was scanned by a cast member before the photographer took our photos. There was also always another cast member on hand who took photos using our own phones so we would have photos right away. I was actually sharing some of these while I was waiting to see various characters so some of my friends on social media could experience the event along with me. I was having such a lovely time that I clocked a 37 minute mile. Nope, not a typo, it really did take me 37 minutes to cover a mile. My goal marathon pace is usually around 9 minutes per mile and I can walk a mile in around 16 minutes, so clearly I wasn’t in much of a hurry at this point!

Eventually, I made my way out of the park and embarked on the next section of the route which took me out into the French countryside, through a small town and around a reservoir before heading back to Disneyland. I know some people find this part rather random, but I quite enjoyed it. It was good to get my legs moving at a regular pace for a while and have some more consistent running without having the constant stopping and starting (except for stopping briefly to take a photo of each kilometre marker) and the scenery was quite pleasant. The part I found random was the fact that so many runners were in some kind of costume which pretty much looked normal within the magical bounds of Disney, but once outside I couldn’t help thinking that this must look like the weirdest parade ever 😂

Even in this section outside of Disneyland there was some entertainment – bands, breakdancers, cheerleaders – and lots of spectators, so the time did pass quite quickly. Because there were a number of out and back sections it also gave me a great opportunity to look at some of the costumes other runners had put together. Some were really elaborate and I’m not sure I could have run in them without feeling irritated, whereas I had put together something comprised mainly of actual running kit, with a sparkly skirt on top (the sparkly skirt was crucial as I had wanted to wear one of those for ages!).

The last part of the route brought runners over a road bridge from which we could see the traffic entrance to Disneyland, before heading in by the Santa Fe hotel and through part of the Cheyenne hotel (where we were staying. Thankfully I didn’t have to run past my room!).

From there, we followed the same path we had walked in by before the race that morning, around by the Sequoia Lodge and into the Disney Village which was packed with spectators, shoppers and those on their way to the parks for the day. It was so noisy with loads of shouts and cheers, yet at the same time a little bittersweet as I knew there was hardly any distance left to run. Yes, my legs were weary from being on my feet all weekend, but I didn’t want the experience to end so did my best to keep soaking up every moment.

Bur all too soon I could see the finish line ahead of me. We had retraced some of our steps from the early part of the race to finish behind the Hollywood Tower in the Walt Disney Studios park. I ran triumphantly over the line, collected my medal from a volunteer then walked over to the stage where Sorcerer Mickey was welcoming runners back. Sadly he was on a stage so there was no specific photo op, but I did get a cast member to take a photo and took a few seconds of video.

 

There were several Photopass photographers stationed in front of some of the Marvel statues in this area so I got a photo then began to make my way towards the exit to meet Steve. Along the way I collected all my goodies – a bottle of water, an iced coffee drink (it was pretty good), a box of snacks, a banana and a space blanket. There was also some Powerade but I managed to miss that (gutted – blue Powerade is my favourite!).

Once I met Steve, we had some more Photopass pictures taken outside the Studios before making our way back to the Expo to collect our bags (and take a few more photos because clearly we didn’t have enough already ha!).

I don’t think I ever stopped smiling throughout the race and had such an amazing experience. I had joked to Steve that I might take 3 hours and wasn’t too far off with 2:51:09. Near enough an hour slower than my half marathon PB! I did look at the results just out of interest, and my age category was won by none other than Paula Radcliffe, who is an ambassador for the event, but at 1:23:18 I suspect she didn’t stop for any photos haha!

I, however, stopped every kilometre as I wanted to make sure I had a picture of each marker. They were in keeping with the theme and were quite entertaining.

For me, this event was my fairytale, my chance to fulfil my wish of creating a costume, running through the parks and meeting a host of characters. Some wishes are for a once in a lifetime experience, but I have a funny feeling this won’t be the last time we take part in the Disneyland Paris Magic Run Weekend…

Week In Review – The Magic Of Disney

What a week! I can’t believe my magical weekend finally came around and there will be a post on the Disney race itself to follow as soon as I have some time to sit down and think about it properly. In the meantime, here’s my regular week in review post with how I spent my week as a whole (fair warning: there are LOADS of photos here!).

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – run + sports massage
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel
Saturday – Disneyland!!!
Sunday – half marathon

My main priority throughout the week was to be as rested as possible as I knew the weekend would be tiring. This meant cutting back some of my workouts and making a point of maximising sleep by getting to bed at a reasonable time and cutting out anything unnecessary in the morning so I could sleep a little later. I also made sure to include some yoga each day to help me unwind, starting with my usual Hatha class on Monday night. As ever, the perfect end to my busy Monday.

I had already decided to move my midweek run to Tuesday so I could have Wednesday completely free to pack. As it turned out, this was most fortuitous as Storm Ali paid us a visit on Wednesday and running would have been pretty challenging. It was actually quite windy on Tuesday, but I was only looking to run at an easy pace and this was perfectly achievable. I followed this up with a sports massage to make sure my legs were in tip top shape for a weekend of theme parks and running.

As well as a rest from any training, I also skipped my orchestra rehearsal on Wednesday so I had the night free to get myself packed and organised for the weekend. This made me feel much better as I knew I had little time the following evening and had to leave straight from work on Friday.

My packing “helper”. Mum was on kitten care duties over the weekend so they were spoiled rotten!

It was then really important to me to get to my Ashtanga class on Thursday after missing it the previous week. I wanted the chance to calm my mind and stretch my body before the busy weekend. Unfortunately, due to some heavy traffic I was a few minutes late and this affected how I felt as I joined in with the class. Still, it was much better than not getting there at all and I did feel a lot more chilled by the time the class finished. I then went straight off to get my nails done to match my running costume.

Can you guess…?

And then it was Friday. A colleague of mine very kindly offered to take the last few minutes of my class at the end of the day so I could get changed and get out of the car park ahead of all the school buses and parental pickups. This put us at the airport in good time for our flight and we got some food while we waited in the departure lounge.

Things began to unravel a bit when our flight was delayed (without much by way of explanation) for a little over an hour. By the time we moved an hour forward to Paris time, this meant it was getting quite late. We had always known we would be too late for any of the trains or coach transfers to Disney, so had booked a shared taxi but with the delays we ended up missing our slot and it took some time to get things reorganised – not helped by that laid back French attitude towards such things! By the time we got to our hotel it was 1am local time and had been a looooooooong day! We were booked into the Cheyenne which had a wild west/Toy Story theme and our room was ideal for our needs.

We were up sharp on Saturday morning as we had loads we wanted/needed to do. But first, breakfast. The buffet in our hotel was pretty good with a selection of hot and cold items. But the best bit was while we were eating there was an announcement that Disneyland was open! I think I squealed!!!

Our first port of call after breakfast was the expo to collect our race packets and the items I had preordered. This part of it was easy enough, leaving some time to explore the merchandise. I may have bought one or two all the things!

Finally, we went to check out the exhibitors but there were very few. I think perhaps I’ve been spoiled by bigger expos so found this a bit disappointing. I did enjoy finding my name on the wall of runners and taking some photos to mark the beginning of the weekend.

We took our things back to the hotel then it was time to hit the parks!

First, we headed into the Studios as I wanted to devote much of the latter part of the day to the main park. In the Studios our priority was to get on the Ratatouille ride since this was new to us and is currently under construction at WDW in Florida. We got a Fastpass but had some time to wait so went shopping then got in the queue for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. It’s been a while since we’ve done that one since we haven’t been in the Studios in Florida for a while and it was brilliant!

Ratatouille was amazing! It was a ride where you needed 3D glasses and were “shrunk” to the size of a rat. Doing something new was fantastic and it was a real highlight of our park day.

From there, we headed into the main Disneyland park. I found it quite confusing as it was similar to the Magic Kingdom in Florida, yet familiar things were in different places so it felt like being in a weird dream. Here, we wanted a Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as I knew it was different to the Florida version. We headed straight there, admiring the seasonal decor on the way.

In Frontierland, where Big Thunder is located, it looked like being in the movie Coco as there was a Day of the Dead theme.

We knew the parks would be busy and didn’t expect to get on loads of rides, hence our priorities (the others were Hyperspace Mountain, which was having a technical issue and Phantom Manor which was closed for refurbishment. Next time!). Given the long queues, we walked around soaking up the atmosphere and trying to get our bearings. We also needed some lunch so, on my sister’s recommendation, chose a place in Discoveryland (which I think of as Tomorrowland) that did burgers. I chose a chicken burger with fries and an ice cream for dessert.

Throughout the remainder of our day we managed to get on Pirates of the Caribbean (again, different to the Florida version), used our Fastpass for Big Thunder (which was brilliant!), watched the afternoon parade (Disney parades are the best!), bought souvenirs, took a million photos and found some more food before getting ourselves ready for the fireworks.

There was some rain in the area so the actual fireworks were removed from the evening show, but the projections onto the castle (similar to what I saw in Florida last year) were so good that I barely even noticed. It was all set to Disney music, some in the original version and some in French. Pretty sure the words to Let it Go were a bit different in French…

With that, our day came to a close and we headed back to the hotel to get our race things ready and try to get some sleep.

When our alarm went off it felt like the middle of the night…because it pretty much was! We got dressed and headed for breakfast which was laid on from 5am. We were actually given a wristband which meant we could go back for a second breakfast after the run, presumably because what we would eat before a run would be different to what we might prefer to have. We actually didn’t use this because of timings, but it was a great idea and we had been aware of loads of 10k runners coming in for breakfast while we ate the previous morning.

From there, it was final organisation in our room then over to the expo where the start corrals were and the bag drop. It also meant we could wait inside, where there were reasonable toilets, until we had to get into our corral.

I’ll write a more detailed race report to cover everything else, but the short version is I had THE BEST time! It was my slowest ever half marathon by far, but probably my favourite race experience EVER! I think it’s safe to say we’ll be doing this again in future. I’m already mulling over costume ideas…!

Post-race we nipped back to our hotel for a quick freshen up and to drop some things off, then made a whistle-stop visit to the main Disneyland park so we could take some photos with our medals and buy a couple of last-minute souvenirs before leaving.

The hotels gave runners a 1pm checkout so we had a quick shower, packed and were ready for the shuttle to the airport at 1:15. Perfect!

A “Beastly” stowaway in my carry-on bag!

The journey home was much more straightforward and even with a stop for some food, we were home and organised in time to watch the finale of Bodyguard on tv. I even think these cheeky faces might have missed me!

I really truly loved my weekend, I mean what’s not to like about a Run Disney event when you’re a runner who loves Disney? It was perfect! Look our for my race report (which will contain LOADS MORE photos!) to find out more about my experience.

What’s been your favourite race experience ever?
Have you/would you run a Disney race?

Race Report – The Stirling Scottish Marathon 2018

If you’ve been following along with my training since the beginning of the year you will probably know that I didn’t specify a time goal for this race. I was tired of constantly putting pressure on myself to achieve a time and then coming nowhere near it for a variety of reasons including injuries, weather and, for my last marathon, the stress of a very poorly cat and an emergency visit to the vet the day before. This time I wanted to enjoy the process (it is The Year Of Me after all) so my goal was simply to train as well as I could and then do my best on the day. That meant adapting to the circumstances and adjusting as I went rather than burning myself out chasing a time.

But I’m a runner. I had lots of data from my training so had an idea of where I might be and the last thing I wanted was to not do myself justice. And so I set myself “standards” rather than specific goals, benchmarks I could consider once I had a finish time rather than an extra pressure on the day. I wanted to have fun, to enjoy the race I had spent time training for rather than limp across the line ready to chuck my trainers in the bin.

  • With a PB of 4:05:07 from way back in 2014 (and I’m not getting any younger!), my “unicorns are smiling on me creating rainbows in the sky” 🦄 🌈 goal had to be a PB. And if the stars really aligned 🌟 a sub-4 has long been my ultimate goal. I didn’t honestly think this was realistic just yet.
  • Since setting that PB the absolute closest I’ve come is my time of 4:18:10 from my last race – the Loch Ness marathon in September. Everything else has been in the 4:30/4:40 region so my B goal 🏅 was to beat that time. This was the one I thought was most realistic and anticipated something between 4:10 and 4:15.
  • Finally, my “the wheels have totally come off and everything has gone to 💩” goal was to finish smiling. I was going to be running on a beautiful route and I do love marathons, so why would I want to make myself miserable? I knew I could finish, so just had to make sure that whatever happened I chose to enjoy it.

Within all of that I had one sub-goal: no walking other than to take my gels (it just works better for me to walk for a moment then carry on running). In the past I’ve lost the mental battle a bit and allowed myself to walk in the latter stages of the race, especially once I knew my time goals had gone. This time I wanted to eliminate that and run my best time, whatever that may be. I knew I needed to keep my pace under control at the start so I would have a bit of energy for later then dig deep in the latter miles to the finish. To help me with all this, I changed the settings on my watch so I could see my average pace and make sure I kept it steady at the start. My basic plan was to keep it steady to 20 then see how I felt (wiped out, obviously, but if there was anything left to push on then I was going to try and push on).

The night before I got my kit organised. Since I was fundraising I had my charity vest and paired it with my favourite Under Armour running skirt that I usually save for marathons as well as a couple of special extras. I had ordered a pair of bespoke trainer tags from Lucy Locket Loves, one featuring my blog name and one with the name of my 2018 charity challenge Miles for Morven. I had also ordered a beautiful silk wrap from Run Bling by Nicky Lopez. I had asked her to engrave it with Miles for Morven and add some paw prints and I was so delighted with it. I wanted to keep my reason for running close by and have something to inspire me simply by glancing down at my wrist during the race.


Race day dawned and the weather was exactly as expected from my stalking of the forecast all week: dry and cool. Perfect. All my kit was ready so I got up, had my porridge, got dressed then had a second bowl of porridge just to make sure I was well fuelled. After a quick coffee we hit the road for the half hour drive to Stirling.

We parked in the event car park (basically some empty land) with Stirling Castle in the background and walked from there to the start area. This was well set up with lots of toilets and the baggage buses. I actually got straight into a toilet (unheard of!) then reluctantly removed my layers, put my bag on the bus and, since there were now queues, waited to get into the toilet again.

We had to make our way a short distance from there to the actual start line where one of those god-awful mass warmups was underway. We were both in the red (front) wave and there were officials shouting at everyone to get into the pens, but sadly they didn’t actually tell us HOW (this is my one quibble with the setup). There was no obvious way to get in and lots of people waiting so we did what many others were doing and scaled the barriers! I’m not a fan of doing this since I’m terrified of hurting myself right before the race is due to start, but I took my time and as I turned to step into the start pen, I felt the steady hands of another runner help guide me safely there. Runners are nice like that.

By this time it suddenly dawned on me that we were getting underway. I hadn’t switched my Garmin on and still had my throwaway top on (it was cold and I knew these were being collected for charity) but I miraculously got it all sorted out just as the countdown began – no hanging around at this race!

Despite all that I didn’t feel stressed or worried (although I did miss out on a start line selfie). I was calm and ready to settle into my pace, soaking up the atmosphere through those first few miles when everyone is in high spirits and there are conversations going on around you.

I settled into a comfortable pace, holding back so I wouldn’t go too fast and use up all my energy. I was steady and enjoying the first few miles, legs feeling good. We passed by the entrance to Blair Drummond Safari Park at the 4 mile mark, where we were greeted by this fun cheer squad:

Photo from Blair Drummond Safari Park on Facebook

The next landmark was Doune Castle which is generally known for being used as a film location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as, more recently, Game of Thrones. I did catch a glimpse of the castle and it looked really pretty.

Through Doune the crowd support was brilliant and I was still feeling good. I remember laughing at a sign saying, “If you collapse I will pause your Garmin” before heading back out onto the country roads towards Dunblane. There was a bit of a climb in this section, then a glorious downhill stretch through Dunblane (where Andy Murray grew up). I had really wanted to see the gold postbox that marked “Our Andy’s” Olympic gold, but I missed it. Steve thought there were people standing around it hence why I didn’t see it even though I was looking.

From Dunblane we followed the road towards Bridge of Allan and there was another nice downhill stretch before things levelled out. I was still averaging around 9:05 per mile and felt comfortable. The temperature was ideal, I was happy with my electrolyte drink and my gels (I actually didn’t use any of the on-course drinks or gels), there was a nice mix of sections with great crowd support and quiet sections where I could just enjoy the scenery and think my own thoughts (I had my Aftershokz headphones around my neck, but hadn’t yet bothered to listen to anything even as I went through halfway). It was simply a lovely Sunday morning run.

On the other side of Bridge of Allan is the University of Stirling where my sister studied for her degree. The route took us on a loop around the campus, starting with a bit of an uphill slog before a nice downhill run back out. That uphill felt tough, but as I left the campus and rejoined the road at around 16.5 miles I was doing ok and knew I would get my next gel at 20 miles so that was my target. It’s funny how these things become quite exciting during a marathon and I find myself strangely looking forward to the next gel, especially the double espresso one with caffeine I take at mile 15 – like having a mid-race coffee!

About a mile later, things felt a little harder but I was prepared for the mental battle this time. I had thought that I might put a podcast on when things felt tough, but instead I did something different. I had said that I was running this one for Morven and that when things felt hard I would remember my reason for running, the funds I had raised and the people who had supported me. My thoughts turned inevitably to Morven and I felt like I was drawing on her and the strength she had when battling illness in her last year. I know it’s hard for people who have never had a pet to understand, but Morven and I had a very strong bond so there was a lot of emotion tied up in this for me. As I ran, I developed a positive mantra which I kept repeating to myself in time with my foot strike and it helped to keep my cadence up. Before I knew it I was another mile in and gaining on a runner I knew from parkrun. I kept the mantra going until I took my gel at mile 20 then decided that I needed to get outside of my head for a bit. The weather had changed and it was raining so it was finally time to start my podcast to see me through the last 10k.

By this point, of course, I had no real clue where I was geographically. There was a sort of loop that we ran that took in some kind of bike path then we rejoined the main road and I remember a corner where there was lots of crowd support and I got a boost from a runner I know from a social media group giving me a shout. Since I had no on-course support with me, it was so nice at one or two points along the route to see people I knew and to get a shout from them to cheer me on.

From here, the road was on a slight incline. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have been too bad but at this stage in a marathon it felt quite tough. I spotted a race photographer so made sure to try and look like I was still running strong for the photos I would see later!

I always break the last 10k into “2 parkruns” with an extra gel in between. I opted to take my last gel at 23 miles then told myself I just had to keep moving forward through the last parkrun to the end. My average pace had been stubbornly drifting outside of my PB pace, but not too much so I was feeling confident that I could comfortably achieve my B goal by some margin.

At last the route brought me into Stirling and the final stretch to the finish. My legs were heavy and I felt like I was wading through treacle but I was still running. The hardest part was through the centre of Stirling (which reminded me very much of Inverness) as there were cobbles. People often express concern about the cobbles in Paris but I’ve never been bothered by those as they are actually pretty smooth and even. In contrast, the cobbles of Stirling were uneven and there were big ruts in some sections that made it difficult for weary legs, but I knew I had to be close to the finish as my watch had been fairly accurate to the course signage throughout and I was trusting that information.

Steve’s cousin had told us she would be at a cheer point for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau not far before the 26 mile mark and I spotted her leaping out to give me a big cheer as I turned a corner to be faced with what looked like a mountain. Yes, someone thought a 600m uphill finish would be the perfect grand finale to the route! I was willing my legs to move faster but I think the Central Governor had taken over long before and was refusing to let me go any quicker until an actual finish gantry was in sight. I could hear everyone around me react to seeing the hill and we were all exchanging a few words and groans about it. I had stopped my podcast when I got into Stirling as there was a lot of crowd noise and that meant I could soak up the atmosphere in the final sections of the race.

As I got closer to the finish I began to spot some familiar faces from Perth in the crowds and got a few shouts then, praise be! The finish gantry! The Central Governor relinquished control and my legs began to move again. As I ran into the finishing straight the opening bars of the YMCA began to play over the loudspeaker and hilariously both the girl ahead and I saw fit to join in with the actions as we ran along. I could hear a roar from the crowd each time we flung our arms up into the ‘Y’ and I just loved that atmosphere as I ran to the finish.

Crossing the line I had the usual wave of emotions, but managed to keep it together as I exchanged a few words with the girl who had been ahead of me as I had been using her as a kind of pacer for the last part of the race. I was grinning ear to ear from a great race and keen to get my official time as I knew it would be a few seconds faster than my watch.

I was handed my goody bag which contained my T-shirt, medal and assorted other bits and pieces, including a packet of spaghetti!?!


Steve was waiting at the end of the finish funnel and he had already collected my bag from the bus so I didn’t have to shuffle across the field to get it. The sun was shining so I fished my disposable poncho from my bag and spread it on the ground so I could sit down, have my recovery drink and gather my thoughts. I even managed to get up again all by myself (thank you yoga!) to get a couple of photos.


And that official time? In case you’ve somehow missed my shrieking about it in my last Week in Review or all over social media, it was 4:05:40. A mere 33 seconds outside of my PB, making it officially my 2nd fastest marathon ever, and well inside that B goal I had set myself. I’d say that’s a good morning’s work. One or two people have asked if I’m disappointed not to get a PB and my honest answer is no. This race was never about a PB, it was about a process. It was about seeing how I would run when I listened to my body and removed the pressure of time. To run that time whilst still enjoying the race and never feeling like I was really struggling or that I couldn’t do it is testament to the training I have done and the approach I took. I also met my sub-goal of no walking other than to take my gels whereas in the past I would have taken walk breaks as soon as I realised the chance of meeting my A goal was gone. When I reflect, I truly believe that in many ways this is my best performance ever even if it isn’t my fastest result. It doesn’t always have to be about the time on the clock, but it should be about the time you have.

Overall I really loved this race. I used to only want to run big city marathons but this was a wonderful experience for me and I would happily sign up to this race again in the future. It’s well-organised, has a fantastic route, great support and, crucially, is close to home. I do love the opportunity to travel for a race, but nothing beats home comforts when you’re preparing to run 26.2 miles.

Stirling marathon: you were great.

 

Friday Finds – 27th October

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Hello! It’s Friday once more so that means it’s time for some Friday Finds. I’ve written this one in advance as I’m out and about this weekend, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no big story broke during today 😉

This week, I’m going to start with every runner’s worst nightmare – getting lost during a race. We’ve all been there, more than likely before our first ever race and certainly before a first marathon. It feeds our anxious dreams even though in reality we know that we’re not exactly elite and will have more than enough people to follow around the course. But what if you are an elite athlete looking for a win and you take a wrong turn? That’s exactly what happened in the recent Venice marathon when the leaders were led the wrong way by the lead motorbike. They did get back on track, but it was too late and the race was won by a previously unknown local runner. Oops!

A fun companion to this is this piece from Runner’s World. Whilst acknowledging that the majority of races are well-managed events, the writer considers some of the main mishaps that might result in runners having a less than ideal experience. I’ve certainly encountered a few of these in my time (if you have to give your T-shirt size when you enter, how can there not be one for you when you finish???). What about you?

On a happier note, I really enjoyed this column in The Guardian in which the writer describes, in vivid detail, the experience of running in a new place for the first time, before breaking down some of the science behind why those memories are so much stronger than those of our other runs. Yes, there’s the break from routine, but there’s also an argument that it could be evolutionary in nature, related to our minds noting landmarks as we ventured into new territory. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the way this piece was written and it got me thinking about some of my more vivd running memories.

In a similar scientific vein is this piece on “flow”, that state of mind we experience when we’re so engaged in an activity that we no longer notice time or effort. It’s that part of a run when we feel like we could go on for ever and ever. It’s a moment of optimal performance and heightened mental awareness that we are always seeking, but which is not always easy to find. Perhaps armed with a bit of science, we might find it more often…

And finally, if you think running a marathon is hard, how about running whilst juggling FIVE balls? Well that’s what “joggler” (yup, that’s what it’s called!) Michal Kapral attempted in the Toronto Waterfront marathon. Sadly, things did not go according to plan, however Kapral already holds several “joggling” world records, including the one I mentioned in this previous post. I’m sure that’s not the last we’ve heard of him!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Race Report – Loch Ness Marathon 2017

Finally. All I can say, is finally!

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was also really pleased with my overall stats:

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


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