Unique Races for Unique Runners INC.

I am unique. Well, we’re all unique I suppose, but I bet I’m more “unique” than you! As the sun started to rise over my race day I was up having a hearty porridge breakfast; there was much to do. Before I could set off on my 13.5 miles there was washing to get out on the line, chickens and dogs to feed and dishes to wash! As I said to a friend, I’m sure Paula Radcliffe has exactly the same problems…

Once all my duties were complete I also needed to drive the route I’d picked on the computer. I had had to choose roads I didn’t know at all, despite having lived here for five years and checking that they were at least passable was only sensible. Driving the route also gave me an idea of elevation changes and in doing so I soon realised that running it clockwise wasn’t the best idea I’d had. At one part there was what I can only describe as a huge staircase, a steep climb followed by a steep climb – you get the idea. Reversing the course still left me with climbs, but they were steadier. One more problem emerged though – the odometer on the car was showing seriously shorter mileage than what the computer was telling me and because I’d overlapped the route in places I was struggling to see where I’d missed out a mile or so. Such was my excitement I forgot to check this before heading out. Such was my excitement I also forgot to take my watch!!

The Fly, ready to fly
I had decided to run in my Alzheimer’s tech vest because raising money for this worthy cause has been part of the reason why I am doing these crazy things. My target of raising £300 this year, one pound for every mile I challenged myself to run in 2011, is nearly complete. I’ve long since passed the mileage total and I have less than a tenner to go to reach the poundage total! I would like to thank every one of the sponsors who have donated their hard earned, many of them outside of Scotland but who can appreciate the importance of the cause.

Once I had everything I needed I headed down to the gates of Comlongon Castle, my starting point. Once ready, I hit the start button and my race had begun.

My route took me through the village and up in a loop past Ruthwell Church before heading down towards Ruthwell village. In point of fact I think that was my first mistake. I think I should have run past the church and carried on under the railway line before turning right to join the main road again. I mistakenly thought that the map was showing all the roads, but it quite obviously doesn’t.

I didn’t want to go out too fast and be left with nothing at the end and I was determined to do the entire distance with my prescribed run:walk intervals i.e. no stopping to walk on a run interval. My race pace was around 11 minute mile average. I know that I can average faster, but this was my first time. Crazy yes, daft no.

I was running in cool late autumn sunshine and it was incredibly pleasant! The sea mists were rolling in gently, keeping the temperatures down which suited me perfectly. Whilst I ran past walkers in coats, hats and gloves out with their dogs I was in short sleeves and gloves and very comfortable. The Roxburghe and Moss Roads were new to me and I almost regret not having at least walked along them before. They are old roads, so worn out now that there is a distinct hump in the middle and two tracks still in tarmac either side. Built on marsh land the road has sunk, but it is straight and flat and lovely to run on. I was able to pick up some pace and enjoy the view at the same time.

Once I reached Cummertrees village there was a sharp climb up to the main road. I knew that I would have to turn onto the road and run along it for a wee while before turning off up towards The Hannah, a farm just across the road. This, I knew, would be the start of my climbing; the hardest bit of the course.

The elevation chart for this section of the route shows you how much I was climbing. I didn’t design this looking for an easy, flat route. I went at this as a race designer looking to test the entrants. However, if you look at the chart from right to left you can see the ‘staircase’ I thought it best to avoid!
 At mile 7 I decided to take my gel. I had chosen a gel that was a drink as well and didn’t need to be washed down with water. I chose Maxifuel Viperactive gel in mixed berries flavour and, once I’d removed the top (!), I found it much nicer than the last gel I’d chosen. I felt invigorated and more so because I’d reached the top of the hill! And at not one point did I slow to a walk!
Unsurprisingly miles 7 and 8 were by far the slowest and that middle section took a lot out me. However, knowing that I was over half way with chiefly down hill and flat sections ahead of me I was happy to run on.
Heading back down to where I would normally run I passed the delightfully named Cocklicks Farm. Much like the famous port Cockburns, Cocklicks isn’t apparently pronounced how it looks, and, so I’ve learnt, neither is Twathats which I pass on my loop, but I’m yet to discover quite how to say either without raising at very least an eyebrow! It made me chuckle as I passed by!
Once I reached Ruthwell Church for the second time I knew something was up with my mileage. I was a mile and a half out and I couldn’t work out then where to make it up!
I ran down through Ruthwell village and joined the Bankend Road. I had no choice but to run along it for a while and double back on myself until I guessed I have about a mile and a half to go. Not easy, but I chose a likely turn point and went for it. As luck would have it I wasn’t far out and at least running on the fairly flat Bankend Road allowed me to claw some time back.
As I ran up Grant’s Hill, so named because on out joint runs out Grant hates to finish on this hill, I was surprised at how easy I was finding it; I didn’t have far to go. One mile left.
I ran back through Clarencefield, hitting 12.9 at the top of our road! With no where left to run I headed back down the castle road until the magic Garmin turned 13.1 and hit stop!
I finished my 13.1 miles to cheering in my head because there was no one around. It didn’t matter though; I had run my race in 2 hours 34 minutes, just 4 minutes over the time I set myself when I started training and a very respectable time for a first-time half marathon on a hilly course. I will beat that, of that I have no doubt.
Looking at my planned route and the route I ran I can now see exactly where I went wrong. It’s unfortunate that the planned route had to criss-cross otherwise I wouldn’t have gone wrong at all, but that’s life and I’m not going to worry about it. I will run the route again because it was lovely.
As you can see, I didn’t go easy on myself and I was determined to ‘race’ under race conditions. There was no pausing of the watch at any point and I am happy that I would have performed as well if I had actually attended this as a planned event (although I might have had a go at the route planner about his dodgy signposts!!)
Before the race one of my lovely runner friends told me to “Race Pretty.” I’m sorry, I race skank. There is nothing pretty about me when I run before, during or after. I am only prettier after my deep bubbly bath and when the blood has drained from my big, red face! I’m not being harsh, just realistic – this is me and I’m happy.
I am, after all, a half-marathoner.
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