Prague Marathon

Way back in 2013 I decided I’d do an international marathon this year. Living in Glasgow there are three airports within an hour’s drive from my house, and I’d spent the whole of last year running Scottish races. It was between Rome and Prague as I’d read and heard good things about both. When I counted the weeks I realised I would have to start training for Rome the day after my ultra marathon, and it was an easy choice. There was no way I’d be training well over Christmas, especially not while in Bahrain.

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I didn’t really get into the swing of training, though, and I reviewed my goals for Prague a couple of times. My main goal is always to finish happy, and I’m pleased to say I managed that in this race. First marathon where I didn’t cry!

However, I didn’t have a good race. I was off work with a cold just days before going to Prague. The previous Saturday I’d been at Brew at the Bog and some absolute wanker of a woman stamped on my foot. It had been niggling all week and at some points during the race caused me actual agony. And I really need to review my training strategy, because ‘it’ll be alright on the night‘ is not a sensible way to go into a marathon.

All of this meant that from about mile 2, I was not having any fun. I actually started with a really good pace, just about 9 minute miles, and at mile 13 realised I might be in with a chance of getting a PB after all. Then I had to stop to try to sort my feet out, a couple of times. I realised quickly that it wasn’t going to make much of a difference how I rolled my socks or tied my laces, and decided to grin and bear it for the rest of the race.

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Around mile 18 I saw the 4:15 pacers behind me and got a boost- they were pretty far behind which meant I was doing really well.

They caught up around mile 20 and, upon noticing them, I uttered a startled, ‘No no noooo’ and put some speed on. That got a chuckle from the pacers.

They caught me back up at mile 22. And I couldn’t, just couldn’t, get away from them again. One of the pacers tried to tell me that they might have started before me, meaning I could still make 4:15, but my brain was fried and I’d had enough. As they jogged into the distance my heart sank and my motivation left me.

I had managed to keep a good pace up until then, even though I was feeling pretty rough, but I slowed down completely. I walked through water stops.

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Finally, trying to keep a running motion going, I turned into the last mile and saw a clock. My phone had died at mile 21, so I’d been running the last few miles without music and without Endomondo to tell me what my splits were. I saw the clock and realised that if I tried, I would still finish in under 4:30. That wouldn’t be a PB, but it would certainly be a lot better than my last marathon. That perked me right up and I managed a bit of a quicker run in to the end.

My time was 4:29:08. I am very, very happy with that. Considering how bad I felt throughout the run, how unprepared I was, and the heat (I’m a Scottish runner! What was I thinking?) on the day, I’m really proud of that.

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Prague itself was amazing. I would go again in a heartbeat. It’s so old! The race was really well organised. I would prefer to receive a finishing bag when I have actually finished, and I would like it to have more than just flyers in it, but the medal was huge. The course was pretty good- there are a couple of loops of the same bit of road throughout, which I always find a bit disheartening. I know some people like that because they can visualise the rest of the route, but I would prefer either no loops or an out and back. I had been warned about the cobblestones before going and I have to say, I didn’t have a problem with them at all.

I’ll be at the Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon on Sunday with Iona, and I’m looking forward to it. I know she’s going to be Speedy McGee but I’m going out for a fun day in one of my favourite places.

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Changes

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I’ve been in Glasgow for three years now. The plan was never to stay this long; I was meant to go to uni when Duncan went to college and we should have left last summer. That’s not how things worked out though, and I’m not sorry about it. I’ve had a great time living in Glasgow. It’s a wonderful city and I’ll be sad when I can’t pop down to the West Brewery or the Botanics on my bike anymore. I liked my job and the people I worked with. I’ve had excellent nights going to openings and readings and other events, and it’s been a great place for meeting old friends and making new ones.

But it’s time for a change.

A few weeks ago I applied on a whim for a position as a journalist on the Isle of Lewis. Long story short, I was delighted when I was offered the job. I’ve only been to Lewis once, for the interview, but I loved it. I’m very excited about the prospect of living there. I won’t be in Stornoway, I’ll be living in Ness, about 40 minutes north of the town. That’s where the job is and I’d rather be close to the job and occasionally go to Stornoway than have over an hour’s drive every day. Besides, what would be the point in going somewhere rural and living in the most built up area?

I’ll be going up at the start of June. There isn’t really any time to go up and view houses before the move, so I’ll be rocking up to my new life with a backpack and my bike and hoping to get a place to live pretty sharpish.

Living on Lewis will afford Duncan and I ample opportunity to do what we love. He’ll surf, I’ll run, we’ll cycle. We’ll camp, he’ll fish, I’ll gather seafood. We’ll try kayaking, stand up paddle-boarding, windsurfing. We’ll snorkel. We love the outdoors and we’ll be minutes from some of the UK’s most beautiful beaches.

The job is also a really good move for me as I’ll finally be writing for a living.

Before I go, though, I have a list of things I want to do one more time:

I only have two weeks until I go to Oslo for a long weekend, then I’ll be back in Glasgow for two days finishing up at work and handing in the keys to my flat. Two weeks to pack up our lives in preparation for fresh new ones. But I live for adventure, so bring it on.

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Sweeping the Fling

The Hoka Highland Fling is a 53 mile race from Milngavie to Tyndrum along the West Highland Way. Last year Rhona ran the Fling for the first time and Iona and I, who were at Balmoral for the 10K, were more interested in how she was getting on than what was happening around us. This year Rhona suggested we volunteer to marshal and with one thing and another Iona and I ended up sweeping the first half.

I walked the West Highland Way in 2008 with Duncan and it was hard, and romantic, and one of the best things I’ve ever done. We carried our tent and gear and camped along the way. At the time I couldn’t run the length of myself and walking that far was a challenge in itself. The section of the race that Iona and I swept was 27 miles, which in 2008 took Duncan and I three days.

In 2008 before the Beech Tree Inn. Baby face.

I haven’t been training very well. I have been swinging between staying in or dropping out of the Speyside Way ultra and the Clyde Stride. I feel like my training has been all over the place and I need to go back to basics. However, Saturday’s 27 miler showed me that your running ability doesn’t disappear just because you’ve had a couple of lazy months!

We started from Milngavie at 7am with the relay teams after waving off all our hardcore pals who ran the whole thing (Rhona, Rachel, Kate, Gordon and George). Iona was bursting with excitement and I reminded her once or twice to just slow down a touch- I thought the runners might not want to see us hot on their tails. We set off at a good pace but then five minutes into the race a runner started walking. We kept our distance, chatting and trying not to get too close to the runner, but catching her up every so often when she slowed right down or at gates. We did ask her just before the Beech Tree Inn if she wanted some company or if she wanted us to keep back and she told us she was happy listening to her book. We got to Drymen about 3 hours after the start.

At the Fling.

By this time, we’d been basically walking since Milngavie. The second runner in the relay team was fresh and eager and set off at a good clip- and I couldn’t reset my legs! It took us a mile or so to catch up with the runner properly and luckily Iona spotted her going right when she should have gone left. Iona sprinted after her while I double-checked to make sure the route definitely didn’t go right, and after a bit of shouting and arm waving Iona managed to get the runner’s attention.

We got back on track and before long were at Conic Hill. We walked up briskly and I took the opportunity to drink some Poweraid and water and to eat a little. On the other side of the hill we found an injured runner. The poor thing had been injured from before Conic Hill and had managed to limp over and most of the way down, but I felt awful for her. To put in so much training and effort and get so excited only to have to pull out!

We walked with the runner until we found her support, who had come to get her. By now we’d had a call asking where we were as we were so far behind. We got a wiggle on, let out the legs, and blasted into Balmaha.

The last runner, the relay runner, had gone through half an hour before we arrived. We knew we were unlikely to meet any other runners but still needed to do the section from Balmaha to Rowardennan to make sure there were no injured runners, and to take down the signs. We ran most of this section, only walking up the massively steep hills. I was starting to slow down by this point and finding it difficult to keep the pace up. Iona, of course, was bounding ahead and beginning to look annoyed at my inability to keep up. I think that if we’d done a steady pace for the whole distance I would have been finding it easier here but as it had been stop-start my legs were getting stiffer and stiffer and I was having to bend double to get up the hills. We had called the next checkpoint from just after Balmaha to let them know we wouldn’t be getting into Rowardennan until later than expected, but the sweeper of the next section couldn’t leave until we pulled in.

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I was pleased to have run the 27 miles (I don’t know if I mentioned that it was 27 miles?) and as usual my brain had become a bit woolly. I managed to drive to Tyndrum without incident and nabbed a hot shower before settling down to watch the runners come in.

For each of the runners we gave a big cheer, and at that time in the afternoon there were still lots of people waiting for their own runners, finishers were hanging about, the crowd was substantial. As the evening hit though, the crowds started to thin out. So I, of course, made it my mission to give each runner a massive cheer. I confess it started to get a bit ridiculous around 8:30pm, by which time I was screaming at the top of my lungs from the moment a runner appeared at the top of the finishing strait until they passed me. I also goaded George’s daughter into cheering with me, which she took to admirably!

I would recommend sweeping as a way to get involved, but next year I’ll be on the start line, getting ready to run the race for real.

So proud of our hoodies.

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One Day

Running is enjoyable for lots of reasons. Saturday morning trails in the sunshine, while everyone else is in bed; lunchtime jaunts that get you out of the office and reduce stress; the sweet feeling when your breath becomes regular and your legs have fallen into a comfortable rhythm. Part of what makes running as a sport fun is going to races. Meeting other runners, jumping about at the start line, the ecstasy or despair of crossing the finishing line, depending upon your time.

I’ve run some wonderful races. My favourites so far have been the Loch Katrine half marathon, Strathearn marathon and Tigh Nam Bodach. I’ve got some great races coming up, including a marathon in Prague, another attempt at Strathearn, the Mull of Kintyre half, the Speyside Way ultra, and the Clyde Stride. I’m looking forward to all of them, but here’s a list of races I’m hoping to do in the future:

Big Sur International Marathon

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It’s claimed that this is one of the most beautiful marathons in the world. Participants run along a scenic highway from Big Sur to Carmel, with the highest point being over 500 feet and the lowest near 0.

Course map & elevation

 

Angkor Wat Half Marathon

The half marathon is my favourite distance. It’s far enough to present a challenge but with the half-hearted training I do I can still usually pull a half marathon out of my ass. I’d love to backpack through South East Asia in the near future, and the idea of rocking up to Angkor Wat at daybreak to blast out 13.1 miles through a world heritage site blows my mind.

Course map

 

Two Oceans Ultra Marathon

At 56km (34.8 miles) this is well within my reach. The website proudly proclaims that this is the most beautiful marathon in the world. 11,000 runners take to the route, which to me makes it appealing just because it can be great to run with such a large field once in a while.

Course map and elevation

 

Cape Wrath Challenge

I’d love to run any of these races, possibly even ideally all of them. Cape Wrath will forever hold a special place in my heart because it’s where I got engaged. Just because it’s in Scotland, though, doesn’t mean it’s easy to get to. When Duncan and I tried to drive to Cape Wrath in March we got stuck in Fort William thanks to a road accident that stopped all travel north for the night. It also takes around 8 hours to get there from Glasgow, so it’s not really something you’d drive to and back in a day. Scotland’s north coast is absolutely stunning and the Cape Wrath Challenge definitely deserves a place on my most wanted list.

Course map

 

Marathon du Medoc

If you’re a runner and a drinker and the Marathon du Medoc isn’t on your most wanted list, it’s probably because you’ve never heard of it. Fancy dress, cheese, and wine while running. What could go wrong?

 

What’s on your running wish list?

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Gartmorn 6, Alloa HM, & an Update

March has been a bit of a slog. I haven’t really gotten into the swing of marathon training. I keep missing long runs and short runs and I haven’t ever gotten around to taking up yoga. I just couldn’t get excited about another mid-week run, and while Duncan was at home I tended to want to go to the pub with him on Friday and Saturday nights instead of staying sober enough to run long in the morning.

The last few runs I’ve pulled myself out for, though, have brought me back to the love of it. Some of the frustration I’d been feeling with myself was due to thinking I hadn’t done enough. A conversation on Twitter helped me immensely: some people don’t do well with training plans. Instead of feeling great about the miles I had done every week, including on my bike, I was feeling terrible about the ones I hadn’t done. Instead of thinking about the quality of each run, I’d been beating myself up about the quantity. I’ve been running to and from work some days just to get five miles in my legs. It’s not a long run each way but it does mean that I’m running first thing in the morning, which is something I usually avoid. It must be working because at the Alloa Half Marathon a couple of weekends ago I ran 20 seconds off my PB.

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I hadn’t been looking forward to the race. I only signed up because Iona and a couple of other people were going to be doing it and I’ve got the Beedie fear of missing out. What with one thing and another, it was just me on the start line. (Well, obviously there were a few hundred other people, but I think you know what I mean.) I started strong and my first few miles flew by. Usually I’d pull back after a couple of miles to make sure I had something to give at the end, but I thought for once, I’d just see how long I could keep it up.

My first few splits were 7:44, 7:39, 8:12, and when my fourth mile took 8:03 I realised I might be able to keep the speed up the whole way around. I kept steady and kept going fast.

When I got to the 6 mile mark Endomondo told me my time was 47:41 and I let out a loud ‘FUCK!’ Did I just get a 10K PB while running a half marathon? It turns out that I was a couple of seconds off, but this gave me more confidence and strengthened my resolve. I was also pretty sure that I’d slow to 9 minute miles towards the end. By the time I finished, my slowest mile was 8:51. And that was the hill.

I did start to hurt a couple of miles from the end but I had had such a great race, I was so pleased with my performance, I just dug deeper and deeper and hauled ass. I finished in 1:48:07.

Buoyed by my success, I was really looking forward to the Loch Katrine half marathon. It was wonderful last year. However, a wrong turn meant I ended up at the wrong pier and arrived at the start of the race 40 minutes late. So, first DNS. Completely gutted.

I should also mention the Gartmorn 6 which I ran at the start of March. It was muddy, it was messy, and it was a heck of a lot of fun. I ran this along with my From Glasgow to Saturn co-editor, Lotte. I think she enjoyed herself too!

Thanks Craig Mackay

I will be stepping up the mileage at the weekends, while still not beating myself up about not following my plan. I managed to do 18 gorgeous miles along Loch Katrine yesterday, and thought I went very slowly, I enjoyed myself. My plan for this Sunday is to run 16 miles, but at something like my normal pace. Then I’ll go up to 20 miles the following week and so on. There are only 6 weeks until the Prague marathon, so I’m going to concentrate on getting my long runs in until then. My goals have changed, and while finishing happy is always my main aim these days, I’ll just be hoping to finish in something like my first marathon time. I’ll be very happy with 4.20!

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Devilla 15K

In 2012 Iona and I ran the Crieff 10K. It was muddy. The ladies at registration advised us that trail shoes would be best, and we looked at each other with ‘oh shit’ faces. Of course we didn’t have trail shoes! I was one of the last runners to finish, muddy and grumpy. I’d spent my race picking my way through the mud, trying not to fall.

What a difference a bit of experience makes! The Carnegie Harriers’ 15K couldn’t have been muddier and I couldn’t have had a better time.

Notice how shiny and clean our shoes are.

After registering very quickly, there was a bit of hanging about. I had a Starbucks and hung about with Iona and her WCH. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been on a few weekend training runs with them- they’re a lovely club who always make me feel welcome, and if I lived closer to them I’d sign up tomorrow.

We set off on time and there was a bit of slow-going, with people packed in and trying not to step on each other’s heels. As ever, Iona seemed to find the route through the crowds so I fell in behind her. At the first large puddle people were actually stopping to tiptoe around the edges, fearful of getting their shoes wet. I took great delight in storming through the middle. A runner I’ve chatted to on Twitter came up to say hello, always a lovely occurrence in a race, and we caught up afterwards as well. It was a shame to miss Mike- we’d assumed he’d given it a miss due to injury.

We reached a water station just before 3 miles in. I was a bit confused as I thought the first stop was going to be at the 7km mark, but shrugged and trucked on. A runner asked me what km we were at and in the process of taking my phone out of my pocket to check, I paused Endomondo. I didn’t realise until quite close to the end. This meant that when I finished with less than 6 miles recorded, I thought nothing of it, but soon it became apparent that nobody had run 9.3 miles. An email from the organisers suggests tampering.

There seems to have been a bit of drama with the race this year, with two ‘official’ Devilla events over consecutive weekends. I don’t know what the real story is, but by now I don’t care. Double the numbers got to run a fantastic race and as long as everyone acts like adults, who cares if someone fell out with his club? However, it doesn’t seem like everyone has been acting like an adult. Regardless, the marshals were quick to direct us back onto the route, we all ran the same distance, and there was chocolate and beer at the end. I had a brilliant time, and it’s impossible to complain about something as petty as a missing mile.

I felt good and finished in 1 hour and 13 minutes, but I was most pleased with how I coped in the mud. When my feet started to slip I didn’t stop and steady myself, I tried to just incorporate it into my run. If I fell over I had clean clothes in the car. I finished happy and that’s my main aim these days.

Then I went home and had a bacon sandwich, a beer, and a nap. More Sundays like that, please.

 

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Stuff & Nonsense

Happy new year!

2014 started in Bahrain. I was home to see my family for the Christmas period and when I found out on Christmas Day (after running with the Bahrain Black Hash, as is tradition) that the Seef Mall Half Marathon would be held on the 10th January, my last day on the island, it seemed like fate. I hadn’t run more than 3 miles at a time since the end of November and Tigh Nam Bodach, but I ran it in a respectable 2 hours and 18 seconds. I loved the race. It was brilliant to have my family there, cheering me on, and the atmosphere was great. Frustratingly I missed getting podium pictures- I earned myself 3rd place in my category but left before the prize-giving. I’d never gotten a podium place before! And to think, I would have been able to get my trophy with my family close by.

 A brief article was written about me (with a photo of Iona and I) for the Gulf Daily News and I followed up with a bit about how I found the race.

My next race is the Devilla 15k, which I am super excited about. We missed out on this last year, and I’m so looking forward to getting muddy and bloody.

This year I plan to race less and run better- though I’ve not done very well sticking to the plan, as I have four races in five weeks. I’ll be doing:

  • Devilla 15K
  • Gartmorn 6
  • Alloa Half Marathon
  • Loch Katrine Half Marathon
  • Prague Marathon
  • Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon
  • Strathearn Marathon
  • Sheriffmuir 11
  • Speyside Way Ultra Marathon
  • Clyde Stride Ultra Marathon

I would also like to pick up a 10K somewhere during the summer to test out my speed, but I’ll wait and see what else happens in the warmer months. If you’ve a suggestion for a good one, let me know.

I am also going on holiday quite a lot. Having just returned from Bahrain I popped off to Morocco for ten days.

I’ll be visiting Prague for my marathon, obviously, and I’ve booked myself a weekend in Oslo visiting a friend as a birthday treat. Duncan and I are also looking forward to going to Ibiza for dancing and shenanigans in July or August, and I think I’ll be having a quieter second half to the year to concentrate on training for the two ultras. Tell me about your plans, I’d love to meet you if you’re also doing some of these races!

I hope you’ve had a happy and healthy start to the new year, and here’s to updating The Pig and the Pen a little more regularly in future.

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Fostering

As I have mentioned in the past, I am a cat fosterer. This means that I work with Pet Fostering Service Scotland as a volunteer, looking after other people’s pets. These people are usually in some difficulty: in the hospital or being rehomed or such like. A social worker gets in touch with PFSS and asks us if anybody can take the pet while their owners are in this situation.

The service is not for people going on holiday or who can’t be bothered looking after their dog this week. It is for people who are truly stuck for someone to help them. In the past I have looked after a cat whose owner had been putting off a stay in hospital for some time as they were worried about their pet. Knowing that the cat was in a safe, welcoming place, meant that they did not have to worry and gave them enough peace of mind to finally go in to the hospital for treatment. Sometimes the cat will stay for only a few days; I have had cats stay for four months. The length of the cat’s stay depends on the unique situation of the owner.

I have chosen to be a fosterer rather than adopting my own cat as I can’t make a commitment that lasts nearly 20 years. In the next part of my life I don’t know if I’m going to be living in Scotland or South America or on a boat. I may end up in Scotland for that time, but the point is that if I don’t know, I would be irresponsible to take on a pet. We are also away a lot. Duncan works at sea and I go home to see my family, we love to travel and even when we’re both in the UK we might go away for a long weekend. Fostering means we get the joy of a pet without the responsibility of making sure we have enough money for emergency vet bills, or having someone to look after it while we gallivant through Europe.

The process is that my contact will text me to ask if I am free to take a cat. I say either yes or no, depending on whether I’m away at the weekend or have anything planned during the approximate length of the cat’s stay. If the answer is no, my contact will ask another fosterer. If it is yes, she and I will arrange a suitable time for her to bring the cat to my house. She always makes sure this is convenient for me, and the owner and I never have any direct contact.

The cat arrives with its own food, litter and toys, I am given any extra information that I need (such as, ‘Don’t leave toys with string around when she’s alone’), and my contact leaves. The cat and I look at each other, and it usually dashes off to hide for a while. I leave it be, making sure there’s food, water and the litter tray all left out for it.

After a day or so, the cat will come out. We get to know one another. I’ve had loud cats, terrified cats, cats who don’t want to do anything but cuddle and cats who’ve constantly sat on the laptop while I’m trying to finish writing. We have had a kitten in the past. She spent hours racing about bouncing off everything, biting our toes and swiping our elbows, then just conked out, sprawled on Duncan’s lap or in her little play tunnel. It was adorable and exhausting.

We have had two ginger toms, one at 7 years old and one at 12. The older one acted much older than his years. We called these two Fatcat and Fluffycat, and while I liked both of them I fell deeply in love with Fluffycat. He was so old he couldn’t walk properly, and yet he’d still run with his painful looking limp to the door to meet me when I got home from work. When we gave these two back I cried, but they did get to go back to their owner.

We’ve had a few others in between, and the one I have just now (but who is leaving me tomorrow) is called Charlie. There is some debate about whether Charlie is a boy or a girl. The foster lady introduced him as a he and always talks about ‘him’, but the cat put its bum in my face the other day and I’m pretty sure ‘Charlie’ is not short for ‘Charles’. It doesn’t really matter- Charlie is a sweet, affectionate thing. Charlie will follow me about the house like a shadow, and curls up on me as soon as I sit down anywhere. Charlie is currently asleep on my feet, snoring gorgeous cat snores.

When I’ve been feeling particularly sad, which does happen from time to time, this cat will plod about on my pillow, groom me by munching my hair and licking my face, and then curl up with his head resting on mine. I have had bad dreams in the last few months and woken up to find the cat prancing about my bed in the dark, like my own patronus.

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Charlie’s owner can’t take him back. It is a sad situation, and now Charlie doesn’t have anywhere to live. The reasons for me not adopting him go back to why I became a fosterer in the first place, but if I were in a position to I would adopt this cat in a heartbeat. I do hope we manage to find a permanent home for him as soon as possible. I’ll be flying to Bahrain on Monday so this is my last night with him before he goes to another foster home tomorrow.

If you’d like to be a fosterer, please feel free to get in touch. I’m going to take the unusual-for-me step of turning comments on on this post, so you can ask questions below, get in touch via twitter, facebook or email. You’ll also find more information on the Pet Fostering Service Scotland website, and I’m sure there are counterparts in the rest of the UK (and the rest of the world!).

Tigh Nam Bodach Ultra Marathon

Well, I’m an ultra runner.

Yesterday Kat and I headed up to Glen Lyon to run a 50K race. I was up at 4am (on a Saturday), we left Glasgow at 5am and got to the starting location at just before 8am. The race was due to start at 8.30am, and we had just enough time to sort ourselves out, get our numbers, drop off our drop bags, and be briefed. 

I hadn’t been certain about my drop bag. I knew I would have dry shoes, but what else? Thinking back to how I have felt during both marathons, I knew I’d need to concentrate on eating throughout. During the Strathearn marathon I didn’t manage much and felt drained and emotional at the end of the race, and during the Loch Ness marathon I didn’t manage much and had an awful time (though that could also be put down to a number of other factors). The problem had been that during training runs I’d have a couple of gels, perhaps a date or nut bar, and then when it came time to race the adrenaline and pressure suppressed my appetite to the point that I’d feel sick just thinking about food. Training runs and races weren’t matching up.

So my tactic for the ultra was completely different. I didn’t train specifically for it, didn’t let myself feel bad for missing runs, and kept a positive attitude. I thought of it as a pleasant day in the hills, rather than a race which I’d dedicated months of my life to and had a time goal for. I planned to take different foods with me and see which I wanted to eat on the day. I took Galaxy chocolate cakes, bananas, yoghurt covered nut bars, Torq gels, and a brown bread hummus and carrot sandwich.

This sounds like a lot of food, but I was aware from other people’s ultra recaps that what I thought I’d like before the race and what I actually wanted during might not be the same. I split all my food between the bag I had on my back and the bag at the halfway point. This meant that if I wanted to replenish my stock of cake bars and get rid of everything else, I could.

It was an excellent plan.

Courtesy of Michael Nowicki.

The race started and we went 300 feet straight up a massive hill. I jogged to start and quickly switched to walking. Near the top of a hill a chap struck up a conversation, and we ran together for the next 25K. On training runs with Iona and her Wee County Harriers I’d really enjoyed the experience of chatting while running and had hoped I’d be able to run with someone during the race, but hadn’t been counting on it. It was so lovely to chat, keep the pace even, and enjoy our surroundings. Derek, you were a great running buddy. Hope to see you at another run in the future.

I’m in the purple, barrelling in. Courtesy of Michael Nowicki.

The trail was fine, the scenery was stunning. The weather had held up for us and it wasn’t even very cold. I didn’t need my buff or gloves. Running alongside a mountain, with views across to other snow capped peaks across the loch- I don’t believe there’s a better way to start a race.

The first 25k was undulating but nothing torturous. We crossed three rivers, wading through icy water up to my thighs. I laughed the whole way across each crossing. I was having a ridiculous amount of fun.

Thanks, Michael Nowicki!

At the halfway point I changed leggings into Iona’s Skins (by the way, Santa…), our wonderful Smartwool socks, and my favourite Mizuno Wave Ultima 4s. I’m throwing my Sauchony Progrids away as I haven’t really worn them since they destroyed my feet at Loch Ness. If you see Mizuno Wave Ultima 4s in a size 6 on your travels, send me a link. I’m going to buy every last pair remaining so I don’t have a bad shoe experience again!

I ate a little of my sandwich and decided to put some music on for a bit. I bid adieu to Derek and popped on Mogwai‘s soundtrack to The Returned. If you’ve not seen The Returned yet, you’re missing out. Running along all by myself through white tipped mountains, listening to this atmospheric music by a Scottish band was fantastic. The speed of the music matched up to the speed I wanted to run at, and I even managed to alternate walking and running up the massive hill in the sixteenth mile.

I’d been concerned about spiralling into negativity again. In the pub on Thursday, a colleague had told me to count to 100 over and over. I pshawed, thinking it would be boring and that I’d be fine. When I felt, running up the hill, that I was tipping a little towards sadness, I started counting. I got to 100 and started again. I went over and over and it got harder and harder. What comes after 79? Not 90, definitely. Did I skip the 50s? Start again. After fifteen miles, even if you’re a superb, star runner, your brain doesn’t work the same as normal. Having this trick literally saved me from the dark place, and after a while I didn’t need to count any more.

You da man, Michael Nowicki.

At the aid station at mile 19 I took a cup of Coke and a couple of pretzels and didn’t stop for too long. I knew the next part of the race as it’s the bit we’d scoped out a few weeks before. Having finished with Mogwai, I listened to Mylo, the only time during the whole race I listened to dance music. I love Mylo. It’s nostalgic and poppy and when Pressure came on I had a wee sing-song to myself.

After a couple of tracks I decided the time was ripe to listen to Stephen Fry tell me about his life. I wanted to zone out and just enjoy the race and the route. Stephen’s silky, comforting voice filled my ear holes for the next ten miles, until my battery died just after mile 30.

I could feel myself slowing right down and put a jacket on. The wind started up here, but thankfully wasn’t a constant for the rest of the race. As the route goes downhill for a bit alongside the river, it was fairly sheltered. Only one runner passed me, and I didn’t see anybody but the marshal and a couple of dogwalkers for nearly two hours. I did start to get a bit annoyed about mile 25, right up until I realised I’d nearly run another marathon, and then I perked right up again. I reminded myself that I was in it for the long haul. If I ran slowly, so what? If I walked, who cared? Finishing was the only goal.

From mile 26 there was a two and a half mile uphill climb. I walked this. I nearly crawled some of the steeper parts. I stopped at the aid station for a couple of moments again where the nice chaps gave me a cup of tea and a bit of tablet. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a cup of tea more. I felt refuelled and kept going, right to the top. I tried to run when I could. Slow, tiny, little old man steps, but running nonetheless. On this stretch there were a couple of cars, all of which stopped to let me keep running rather than forcing me to stop and stand off to the side. This was much appreciated as, I’m sure you’ll know, it’s much easier to keep going than to stop and start again. They all smiled and gave me thumbs up and shouted encouragement, and I loved each and every one of them for it.

Mile 28- 31 was all downhill, but by then I couldn’t lengthen my stride. I just kept up my tiny steps and determined face and battled through the wind. There was one small hill just before the final turn back across the water to the finish line, and when I saw it I thought, There’s no way I’m walking this. Head down, arms pumping, I tiny-stepped my way up.

The finish was a let down as almost everyone else had gone. I wanted crowds, cheering fans, crying babies, a gigantic inflatable arch and a gold plated medal. Instead, I got a couple of very cold people with gigantic smiles. I guess I can’t complain!

I had a brilliant experience, and it was down to my own mindset. I didn’t put pressure on myself, I ate delicious things, I stopped if I wanted to and admired the scenery. I’m glad to say that I learned my lesson after Loch Ness. I’ll be bringing this mindset to the marathons I have planned for next year, where I will combine it with proper training to do my best in a race setting. For now, I’m just so pleased with my performance that I don’t care I was fourth to last in.

I also managed not to cry. A first! Hurrah!

The Tigh Nam Bodach Smartwool Ultra (try saying that three times fast) was a great route, and I’d definitely do it again. The aid stations were well stocked and the marshals were friendly and supportive. It was its first year and I think it was brilliant for what it was, but there’s always room for a bit of improvement. The route and race itself was perfect, and I just hope the organisers sort out the little periphery issues: for next year, I’d like the finish line to be a proper one, for the party not to have been packing up when I got back, and a t-shirt or medal as a keepsake. Or for the price to be much lower.

This is also the end of Run 2013. You beautiful people have donated over £600 to charity:water. Thank you so much.

Oops, I’ve Entered an Ultra

In the last two months I have managed to

a) run a half marathon in a respectable time, exactly a week after the Loch Ness marathon. I also met some wonderful runners that I had befriended through Twitter.

b) try out a running club after having a lovely experience running with some Wee County Harriers over a couple of weekends. I did not enjoy the running club half as much and won’t be going back.

c) sign up to a 50K winter trail ultra marathon. No typos.

I will run the Tigh nam Bodach Smartwool Ultra on Saturday. The first 15 miles are on trail, through rivers that could be up to my thighs. At halfway we get given some lovely dry socks and then we’re off for another 15 miles of road running. I expect the route to be chilly but beautiful. Iona and I went up to do a recce a few weeks ago and even then there was snow on the mountains.

This is the last challenge of Run 2013. It is the 16th race of an amazing year. I have raised quite a bit for charity:water already, but there’s always room for more!

Find out why I chose charity:water.

Find out about the challenge.

Donate moneyz.

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