Wind, Sleet and Hail; yes, it’s the Great Winter Run 2015

There was really no way that I was going to miss this event. I’m just hard wired to get on with it, regardless of how I feel and how much is stacked up against me. I’d also paid and I wasn’t going to be allowed a refund – what choice did I have?

We abandoned the idea of caravanning when we heard that we were going to have to endure a couple of pretty nasty storms. Towing the van up in slightly breezy conditions can be a bit dodgy; attempting it in up to 60 mph winds would be just plain stupid. Thankfully The Caravan Club agreed with me and I got a really nice and understanding email from them.

I booked our usual hotel on Leith waterfront for just £50 a room per night B&B. Total bargain, especially as they are happy to have Murphy there for no extra cost. We travelled up on Friday, had a nice lunch and dinner at the Ocean Terminal and caught a film in between. It was a nice start to the weekend.

On Saturday morning I took the dog out for his early morning walk. Thank God I had him on his lead; it was so windy he might have taken off, kite-like, if I hadn’t got a hold of him. On top of this it was also extremely cold and was trying to sleet. We decided to leave the dog in the comfort of his snuggly bed in the car and go to the event ourselves. He’s not a bad weather dog and would have been turning himself inside out trying to get away from the cold and wet.

IMG_0954

I’d sorted out three possible buses to get us to the start in plenty of time. We aimed for the first one and missed that, faffing about with the dog, and so got the middle bus. Just as it drew up I realised that I didn’t have my gloves. “Never mind,” I said “I’ll wear my spare socks!” Cue raised eyebrows from hubbie.

We arrived at Holyrood Park with half an hour to spare. I immediately joined a queue for the portaloos (which had been tied to the ground!) I can’t believe how long it takes some people to pee!

The weather was closing in and the wind seemed to be funneling around Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano we were running up and around. This wasn’t going to be a pleasant jog in the park!

I was in the Green Wave and ended up right at the back of the corrall as there was only one entrance. I’d planned to be at the start of the corrall because usually what happens is that slow runners get to the front and then just clog up the hill section of the course, walking side by side and not allowing anyone to get past. It’s difficult enough, without having to run it at someone else’s pace. Hubbie lent me his gloves and I was off!

For some strange reason they had decided to narrow the start gate, meaning that we were walking across it, rather than the usual jog to get going. I don’t know what the thinking was for that.

I had decided to run 4:1 run/walk intervals as much as possible, although I knew from experience that I might be walking more on the uphill and running more on the downhill. I managed a couple of straight 4:1 intervals which, considering my fitness, wasn’t bad. I was, of course, hideously under-trained for this event and still carrying bursitis on my hip, with all its associated muscle pains. Funnily enough though, I don’t find running is as painful as walking and the uphill section of the course wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. It was just under a 13 minute mile, but I was doing alright and I was still running.

I was still being caught behind slower runners and walkers. Hubbie told me that some runners held back at the start and went off ages after everyone else in an effort to get a good go at the hill. I can totally understand that.

The course undulates for the second mile, passing a loch nestled on the hillside, before climbing to the highest point of the road. I made up a bit of time, but the wind was really picking up and it had started to snow. We were exposed to the elements, with the summit towering above us, with no choice but to just get this part over. My second mile was just under 11 minutes, far slower than normal, but still OK. I was still running. In my head I was thinking “Just a few more metres and it’s downhill – that’ll be easier.”

How wrong I was.

As the road dropped away I started on my faster decent. Almost immediately I was hit by a blast of driven hail. People in front of me were running with their hands up to their faces, trying to gain some respite from the stinging ice. Luckily I’d worn a bandana as well as my woolly hat and managed to pull the bandana up over my nose. The hail was still stinging my eyes, but at least it was away from my face. I found it difficult to breathe through the material though and had to keep dropping the bandana and suffer the hail until I felt I could lift it again.

As the road levelled out I felt the effects of the weather and my lack of fitness. I couldn’t see the finish. Usually you can pick it out from way back but, with the weather being so bad, they couldn’t inflate the finish banner. I knew that I wasn’t going to get a PB or even a course PB, so I just went for a finish. My last mile was my fastest in ages at just over 9 minutes. I was really happy with that.

I crossed the line in 34:20, finishing (yes, finishing!) in 1528th place and 50th in my age/gender group. I’m actually quite pleased that I wasn’t way off pace. I did the same course last year in 32 minutes odd, so an extra two minutes is nothing, considering my injury. I’ll happily take that.

I did suffer a bit afterwards though. I was limping before we even left the field and struggled on and off the bus. I actually took a nap in the afternoon, wearing as much Biofreeze gel as I could! I’m still a bit sore today, mostly quads discomfort though and to be expected.

But look! It was worth it for this and my lovely new T-shirt!

IMG_3975

My goodie bag was full of stuff I couldn’t eat (filled with either wheat, nuts or gelatine, or combinations of each!), but also contained some freeze gels which will be useful I’m sure!

IMG_3981

All in all, I’m glad I went. The weather was atrocious, but I conquered Arthur’s Seat again and that’s done wonders for my self-esteem. It doesn’t matter how long it took me and one day I will go to Holyrood Park in the peak of fitness. This day I ran despite struggling to walk to and from the park and I think that I should be proud that I ran the best I could.

Race Report: The Great Cumbrian Run 2014

It’s the morning after and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. And for good reason. Yesterday I ran the best half marathon I’ve run for quite a while, despite running it over quite a challenging course.

In May, when I ran the EMF Half in Edinburgh – it was billed as one of the fastest half marathons in the UK. It was mostly downhill or flat and so I was looking forward to beating my PB of 2:22 achieved at the 2012 Great North Run. In reality I had a hard race, buffeted by head-on winds as I ran along the promenade that formed most of the route and psychologically hampered by the two way running lanes of the last three miles. I crossed the line in a disappointing 2:34. I buoyed myself by reminding my running ego that I had been injured for most of the preceding six months and that any finish was good, but I was embittered that I’d effectively squandered a chance to better that PB.

Training continued through what was one of the hottest summers on record, with almost constant great sunbathing weather and high humidity, with me having to resort to splitting long runs so that I could benefit from the cooler mornings and evenings. Training became inventive, with treadmill runs under electric fans – trying to make them as cool as possible. I stuck to a beginner’s programme in the belief that it was that which had helped me to my best finish and also that over-training could have contributed to my injury last year. I needed to start again.

My August half at Fleetwood was my biggest disaster yet, with me falling foul of two asthma attacks as I ran in high humidity and soaring temperatures. At least I finished.

So this, the Great Cumbrian Run, was my last chance for this year to prove to myself that I am worthy of the title ‘runner’. No big deal then.

I was cautiously optimistic in the weeks leading up to the event. Once the weather had started to cool down I no longer found the humidity a problem and I was no longer struggling to catch my breath. My last long, long runs of 12 and 14 miles were textbook, with no problems. Last Monday’s 5 miler was a breeze. I felt strong and comfortable. However, in the back of my mind, I felt sure some disaster would strike. Imagine how carefully I ran my last trail run, judging every loose stone as a possible source of injury! No wonder it was slow! I couldn’t even bring myself to run the trail on Friday, choosing the treadmill instead. I wasn’t prepared to take any chances.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not good at carb-loading prior to an event. I tend to eat carbohydrate rich foods anyway, so I just eat fairly normally leading up to an event. My last evening meal was a thrown together Linda McCartney Mozzarella Burger, a few chips and a massive salad, hardly designed to channel my inner Paula Radcliffe. My breakfast was better, it made up for everything, consisting of porridge, banana and acacia honey. That was rocket fuel. Paula would have approved, I’m sure.

We arrived at Carlisle at 8:45, parked up a good walk from the start and finish, and we went to the castle to collect my number and timing chip. It’s a great idea, starting the race from inside Carlisle Castle. There is no better feeling than running down the cobbles that have passed from Scottish to English ownership many times in their life, into Carlisle’s pedestrianised city centre past hundreds of supporters. Considering I’d signed up on New Year’s Day my number was still 634; it’s a popular race. I spotted numbers beyond 1400, so I’m guessing there were around 1500 competitors on the day.

Ready for action! Waiting for the off at the castle.
Ready for action! Waiting for the off at the castle.

IMG_3645Inside the castle’s quadrangle there were the usual line of unisex portaloos, possibly 20 of them lined up along one wall. It meant only a very short wait for toilets at any point in the lead up to the off. I went twice. You can never be too sure.

There was the usual warm up which about half the runners joined in with and the rest, like me, just did their own thing. It started to look like an outing of the Ministry of Silly Walks. John Cleese would be proud.

The route, through Carlisle city centre, out on the London Road and then through the villages of Cumwhinton, Wetheral, Scotby and Botcherby before heading home.
The route, through Carlisle city centre, out on the London Road and then through the villages of Cumwhinton, Wetheral, Scotby and Botcherby before heading home.

At 10.04 I crossed the line, keeping well back out of the way! My race strategy was just to run steady, keeping to a 4:1 run:walk ratio. I was on for 11 minute/mile pace and I knew, from experience, that I’d start faster than that and would speed up and slow down during the race, hills dependent! I tried not to worry, but wanted to try and keep my overall pace around 11 minutes per mile. My Garmin was set up so that I could see my average pace, my mileage and my time and then I locked it so that I couldn’t turn it on/off accidentally! I know myself too well. My pace was being aided by Jeff Galloway’s LoLo beat-synched music in his Half Marathon app I’d used throughout my training. I’d spent the evening before choosing my music carefully, with plenty of rock classics such as Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’ and Bryan Adams ‘Run to You’ – I think you get the idea. There were some odd choices in there as well, a few Glam Rock classics to make me smile and OK Go’s ‘Here it Comes Again’ so that I could do the hand movements and cheer myself up mid run. The most important thing was though that every song I chose would be sped up or slowed down slightly so that the beat coincided with my foot fall. It is a perfect way to run, in my opinion, and has helped me learn how to pace myself.

I hit 3 miles at 31:27. Having got there mostly on the climb, I was happy at that. However I knew that after this point I would be climbing hard for some time. I wasn’t wrong and I was devastated when I realised that the one hill I’d remembered wasn’t one hill at all, it was a succession of hills between Carleton and Wetheral. Despite that I managed to hit 6 miles in 64 minutes. My quads were starting to ache a bit, but I felt good and the rest of the route would now take us mainly downhill.

Look at those hills!
Look at those hills!

At this point last year I was in dire straits, struggling with foot, knee and hip pain. This year I was running well and I felt as if I was just in over-taking mode, passing people I’d lost sight of earlier. This is one of the biggest advantages of run:walk – those walk breaks re-engergise you. I tried hard to only walk when I was told to, although a few climbs had us all walking up them!

After crossing the M6 for the second time I looked at my Garmin, surprised to see that we were at 9 miles. I was tired on hills, but I was running well on the flat, sometimes ignoring the call for a walk break and running on. The last two miles weren’t easy, but they were a lot easier than last year and I started to overtake a lot of tiring runners I’d been yo-yoing with for the last few miles. As I came out of Rickerby Park I knew I needed to lift my pace a bit if I was going to get close to my personal best. I passed two runners who were getting medical attention, one looked as if she’d simply conked out and another who had clearly fallen on uneven paving slabs and split the skin on his cheekbone. I was pleased to see him heading for the finish as I left the finish area – I’d have done the same.

I found running through Bitts Park a bit of a nightmare, mostly because of the runners who had finished and were leaving along the same route we were still running on with all of their families. We didn’t need much room, but I would have appreciated a cordoned off passage for us, clear of strollers! As I neared the end of the path a council van pulled up in front of me and someone opened the passenger door, completely obstructing my way! I could not believe it and I swore loudly as I passed the driver’s open window. The very last thing you want, having run 13 miles, is to have to dodge and weave your way to the finish line!

I did though and entered Sheepmount Stadium with my best half time of the year beckoning me to the finish line. I crossed it comfortably in 2:24. I was relieved and ultimately very pleased with myself. When I met up with my hubbie, having collected my lovely medal and almost empty goodie bag (honestly, if someone had just handed me the juice I’d have been less disappointed. A bag ‘full’ of leaflets was a bit of a let down) he remarked that I wasn’t even red in the face and that he’d watched me run across the bridge with ease. He even went as far as to wonder if I could have run it faster. Brave man.

times

Post run I had learnt from bad experience and asked hubbie to bring some sustenance with him (I’m so pleased that didn’t rely on the contents of my goodie bag!) and so had a soya milkshake and some biscuits as I walked back to the car, quite slowly! Once home we had some cheesy beans on toast and I enjoyed a hot bubble bath, followed by the welcome application of BioFreeze gel. I was good to go. We celebrated at the local pub with several pints of real ale and the company of friends. After trying to watch TV we both ended up tucked up in bed at about half 9!

Worth it, just for that lovely medal!
Worth it, just for that lovely medal!

This morning there is a little stiffness in muscles, but not much and that will soon wear off. My shoulders are aching more than anything, but I have a full body scrub and a facial booked at my local salon in a couple of hours. What could be better? Considering the hilly nature of the route I’m really pleased with my time. I came home feeling that I’d done the best I could and still got within 2 minutes of my personal best on any half marathon route. I feel that a rest before picking up my training for my last planned race of the season would be appropriate.

Now, if I could just conquer those hills at the Jedburgh 10k at the end of the month…

It’s OK, I’ve found the ‘CTRL’ button!

control1

I don’t often feel quite as in control of my running as I did yesterday. Don’t ask me why yesterday was any different from any other day. Maybe it was the weather? Maybe it was what I was wearing? Maybe it was what I’d chosen to carry? Maybe it was the route? I don’t know, but I felt ‘at ease’.

I had my last long run before my next race to complete, 14 miles. I’ve run further, so 14 miles was just 14 miles – I wasn’t perturbed by the distance. I decided to run an easy route  (it was a breezy day, I didn’t need to push myself over hills as well) and, after some experimentation, I had settled on a run/walk ratio of 2.5 minutes to 1. It was going to be a steady run building up endurance, not a race to the finish. That can wait for a couple of weeks!

The weather was perfect for a long run. It was, as I’ve said, a bit breezy, but as the wind was blowing on my face for the first seven miles I had the reassurance of knowing that on the way back it would be pushing me home. The temperature was also cooler than of late with the sun was just occasionally peeking through heavy clouds. Spot on long run weather. This would be the first long run I’ve managed to do in a oner for ages.

I had decided to ditch the chia gels I still have in the cupboard and look for something else. I left it late and ended up at Holland and Barrett just before they closed on Sunday afternoon. I chose citrus High 5 Energy Gels which I carried in the big side pockets of my new Ron Hill trail vest.  I also tool my Camelbak with 750ml of water and two High 5 Zero tablets. I had my Garmin…oh, and I wore my iPhone on my arm. I’m starting to feel a bit weighed down, I must admit! I bet if I ditched the lot I could run faster!

I tried not to pay too much attention to my pace, but instead just focus on the beat of my music and try and settle into a good rhythm. I didn’t want to try and run at my race pace and if I look too closely at my Garmin I start to speed up and this affects how I finish. I needed to start steady and finish strong. I looked only at the distance I’d run, just so that I knew when to turn home. I was, however, bang on pace and when Jeff Galloway said “You’re half way” I really was.

I took my gels (perfectly placed in my side pockets – easy to grab, no zips getting stuck!) at 4, 8 and 12 miles. They were more liquid than others I’ve tried, which made them easy to take. I just used them instead of water and ended up with 500ml left in my Camelbak when I finished. I’ll put less in next time. They were also very easy to open.

Until now I hadn’t looked at my Garmin data. My pace was fairly consistent throughout, although my first mile was predictably faster! I just can’t help myself! I find this all very reassuring; I felt good as I ran. I wasn’t slowing up and I wasn’t speeding up – not too much anyway. My running pace was 10 min/mile pace which, of course, was brought down by the walking intervals. It was an easy pace and I can see myself either being able to up that slightly in a race or lengthen the run. Running for an extra 30 seconds at that pace should be achievable.

I just beat the torrential rain we endured yesterday afternoon, it hit as I put the key in the door. I have a feeling I was being looked after.

After running I stretched out, made myself a lovely plate of scrambled (free range) duck eggs and toast and ran a very hot bath. I spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out with the dog, who appreciated the fact that I was stationary for longer than a few minutes, and icing my Achilles which had been a bit sore when I was running. Today I don’t feel as if I ran 14 miles yesterday, so something is definitely right!

What I’ve learned from this run is that I need to worry less about my pace and just keep it consistent. I can speed up from the half way point if I feel like it. I now have clothes and equipment which I feel comfortable in and which I’ll set aside for Fleetwood in two weeks. My only issue (and it’s a small one) is that my armband is rubbing, causing a burn mark. I was looking yesterday at something I can wear underneath it as a barrier, rather than spend more money on another armband. Maybe just some BodyGlide would do the trick.

So, in the meantime I must…

keep-calm-and-stay-in-control-6


 

 

The Edinburgh Marathon Festival Half Marathon 2014

OK, here it is, my appraisal of what went well and what didn’t from this last weekend.

To start off with I did everything right. I ran a good solid race, listened to my body (however achy it was!) and ran a sensible race. I finished and did so strongly, even if some parts of my race were quite tough going.

So, what was my experience of the EMF Half?

It started very early on Sunday morning with a 4am start. Far too early a start in my opinion. I didn’t feel as if I’d had enough sleep; it had rained heavily all night and the noise wasn’t as relaxing as the pitter patter of gentle drops on the canvas – it sounded more like a drum being played all night!

After a breakfast of toast and jam and a cup of tea, we set off at 5am for the Park and Ride. When we arrived (a good 30 minutes early) it was lightly raining. The bus was meant to arrive at 5:45am and leave at 6, but didn’t arrive until after 6. We asked the driver about the tickets and if my husband would stay on this bus or have to get another to get him to the finish. “No idea!” said the driver, who looked completely hassled. He said he hadn’t even got an idea where he was going and was going to have to follow the bus in front. Great. You can imagine how relaxed I was starting to feel.

Our information pack had stated that our bus would go on a circular route, collecting runners from three Park and Ride destinations, starting with ours at Craigmillhall at 6, around to Sheriffhall at 6:15 and then to  Straiton at 6:30, arriving in the city centre at 7am. Instead our bus and the one in front went from Craigmillhall directly to the city centre.

When we arrived, after a very strange roundabout route, at Market Street we were told to disembark and make our way to the start. It was 6:30, we had an hour and a half to wait in the rain with no shelter and nowhere to go but the start. Luckily the start was clearly signposted; things were looking up. However, once at Market Street there were no other buses, no information and no one around to ask about the shuttle service to the finish. My poor husband was looking very concerned; maybe we could ask at the start?

The walk to the start took about 20 minutes. We wondered if we’d have been better leaving our car in Leith and catching an ordinary bus to the top of Leith Walk. It would have saved us a fortune (we pre-paid £16 for our two tickets) and we would have known exactly where we were going and at what time we needed to leave. We could have maybe enjoyed one extra hour in bed! Of course, at 6:50 the start was fairly empty – all the sensible people were still having breakfast! I did manage to make use of the portaloos whilst there wasn’t a queue, although as they’d been open all night it seems that the party crowd had taken advantage and the loo I chose stank of sick. Fab. My day was getting better and better.

We were told by Race Crew that my husband could catch a service bus to Musselburgh at the bottom of the hill, so after checking out the bus stops we felt a little better. He later told me that the bus stops had all been closed and the only way he managed to get a bus was because a little old lady who was also waiting for it stepped out in front of one and made the driver stop! He promises me that he didn’t push or even gently coerce her.

The rain started to get heavier and by the time we were asked to get into our pens it was really chucking it down. And so then they decided to delay the start for 15 minutes! Excellent. You have 10,000 wet and cold runners waiting open to the elements and you delay the start! When we eventually got away the rain had lightened a bit, but it was still quite windy. I had recollections of the last time I ran in Edinburgh at a half marathon – the infamous Rock’n’Roll 2013 disaster when the wind and rain was that bad it blew portaloos over and wrecked a concert stage. Surely I couldn’t be twice jinxed?

emf3

I had my Jeff Galloway Half Marathon app set for 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking and had decided that if I felt good after a few miles I could increase the running or decrease it if things started to go bad. I was determined to finish. Mile 1 was a healthy 10:21 and I felt that I was running well, although the route seemed to be really crowded at times. My third mile arrived after 32:31 minutes and I was comfortable with that, so I tried to adjust my app. I was easily coping with 3:1, 4:1 would be good. However, with all the rain, my armband face was misted up and I couldn’t properly see the phone screen. I clicked what I thought was 4:1 and carried on. I realised that I something was wrong when at mile 4 I tried to have half my gel and couldn’t manage just half of it on my walk break. I stopped and checked; I clicked past 4:1 and chosen 4.30:30 – no wonder my walk breaks seemed short!

emf_2014_half_edited

By mile 4 we were heading along the promenade and into the wind. I don’t mind the rain really, but the wind just zaps the strength out of your legs. We had 7 miles of the wind blowing on our faces, slowing us down. My Garmin splits tell the full story; I just got slower and slower. My 10k split was 69:05. My slow times weren’t helped by the fact that in a couple of places we had to slow down to a walk in order to cross roads through very narrow gaps whilst the traffic was being held up. It was really frustrating!

emf2

Once we’d reached Musselburgh at mile 8 I wondered where we were going to be heading – the finish was just a mile from where we were. The route took us tantalisingly close to the finish and lead us away for two long miles before turning us round for the last two miles. What we had was two lanes of traffic, us heading away from the finish watching those who had rounded the turn and were ahead of us running on the home straight. It was demoralising; I had no idea how far I needed to go before I had to turn – the road seemed to stretch on forever.

Eventually, half broken, I made the turn. It was better being on the final stretch, far better looking at the anxious faces of the people on the other side than be one of those anxious faces. It was even exhilarating when, at mile 12, the elite marathoners passed us on their way out. I am so very pleased that I had made the turn before the elite men passed by! They didn’t get a chance to overtake me – I was able to clap them on and get a slight lift from their wonderfulness.

With half a mile to go I was struggling. I think I’d hit the wall and I was half running, half walking – knowing that I only had a few hundred metres to go. All of a sudden I made a left turn and there, like an oasis, was the finish! Amazingly I found my legs and sprinted down the bouncy castle like matting to cross the line in 2:34:17. I had come 8773 of 9652 runners. There were a thousand people slower than me. Awesome!

Once I’d crossed the line I went to get my medal and goodie bag. Despite the fact that the organisers had asked for T-shirt size, there were no medium T-shirts left, only XS, L and XL. I hunted about for a bit and then decided that a large T-shirt would do. I got my photo taken with my medal and wandered out to find my husband.

We’d decided to meet at the family reunion section, but neither of us could find it. Instead I headed for the beer tent, knowing that he wouldn’t be too far away from a free beer sign! I wanted to find the Diabetes UK tent and say hello. There were five main charities and many more smaller ones, Diabetes UK being one of the smaller ones. I didn’t get a post-race massage, but I did get thanks, an additional medal and a goodie bag. They’d even laid on sandwiches, fruit and water. It was getting on for 11am and we headed away to get the shuttle bus as the last one left at 12.

It was a tough walk, mostly uphill, to get to the park and ride car park. At one point I had to stop; my poor muscles were weeping! Once we reached the car park we joined a massive queue, not knowing where the queue was heading or what we were queuing for! There were a few buses parked up, but no one was there directing the queue. It turned out that the two buses we were queuing past were our buses, but no one knew until we overheard the driver saying where he was heading next. All of a sudden his bus filled up!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and eating and I’m happy to report that I suffered no real ill-effects of my run. I went for a walk along the prom this morning, met a marathoner still proudly wearing his medal 24 hours later, and I’m feeling fine. You’d never really know that I’d run a half marathon the day before. I wondered if I’d really pushed myself hard enough, thinking that maybe if I’d pushed harder I’d be hurting more today, but I think I just prepared myself well and did all the right things afterwards. I stretched immediately, had a post run soya milk shake (for muscle repair), ate an apple (anti-inflammatory properties) and continued to stretch out gently throughout the afternoon. I know that at miles 12 and 13 I could give no more, so to think I’d not tried hard enough is just silly. I think I was a victim of the weather again, sadly. One day I get another ideal race, like the Great North Run was, and get close to beating that PB.

One day!

Blingtastic!
Blingtastic!
A nice wee collection!
A nice wee collection!
The Diabetes UK goodie bag (less the apple and sultanas, which I ate on route!)
The Diabetes UK goodie bag (less the apple and sultanas, which I ate on route!)
The back of my technical tee.
The back of my technical tee.

Will I do this race again? The answer is simple. No. For so many reasons I didn’t enjoy this experience. It was far too busy a race, the route was far too narrow in places and in some sections we were actually stationary. The getting to and from the start and finish was a total nightmare. It took far too long and was far too disorganised. The race itself was great – the weather couldn’t be helped. I’m destined for smaller races, even if I’m last I think!

The Final Countdown

Here I am, three days from the first half marathon of 2014. I’m feeling pretty good, if truth be known. With 14 miles under my belt from last Monday and a further 5 from yesterday I’m on target for a good finish. I’m not planning on breaking any records, but I am planning on crossing the finish line before the sweeper bus catches me.

Who am I kidding? I’m on target for a 2:20 half which, if I can get close to, I’ll be happy. I’m presently running 3:1 run:walk intervals and doing my trail runs at a faster 1:1 ratio in order to work up some speed. The trail running is definitely making me stronger and more confident.

So far as my kit bag is concerned I’ve got my running number which is a rather scary 39890! Over 40,000 runners? I’m hoping that at least 20,000 are full marathon runners who won’t be starting until I cross the line! Dodging runners was one of the reasons I started entering small races, so we’ll see how this goes.

With my racing number came a sample of High 5 Zero, which I’ve written about before. I was pretty impressed with it, so I’ve bought a tube of tablets. I can just add a tablet to my water, rather than have to cart a juice bottle around. I contacted the 33Shake guys about how to use the chia seed gels and their advice was a bit of a revelation. They said use one per hour of running. So I’m looking at using one and a half. If I break the mileage down I could either do half a gel at 4, 8 and 12 and have half left over or do 3, 6, 9 and 12 and use the lot. I think I’ll call that on the day. At least I now know that I don’t have to try and eat an entire gel at a time, so I’m pretty glad I asked! I’ve also bought some beetroot juice to try. This is meant to be a good boost, but I think I’ll try it tomorrow first – just to be sure!

My running kit is sorted. I tested my Diabetes UK vest yesterday and it’s fine. No chaffing or riding up; I shall be burn and embarrassment free. I will probably wear ¾ leggings, ones which I know are comfortable. I could do with some sunglasses. My trusty Fosters IronGirl shades have departed to sunglass heaven, thanks to one arm falling off. Whether I get some replacements in time, well, we’ll see. Lastly my shoes could do with a clean after my 14 mile dirt run the other week. Leaving them to dry so that the dirt would dust off hasn’t really worked.

I’ve checked the weather forecast and it’s saying humid (93% humidity) and cloudy, turning to light drizzle  about 10 am. It’s still a few days away, so that could change. I’m happy with that though, except for maybe the humidity. I need to remember to take my inhaler!

So that’s it then. I’ve spent the last hour locating my paperwork, gazing quizzically at the EMF website and checking the camping arrangements. I’ve discovered that we need to get to the Park and Ride for 6 am (yes, that’s 6 in the morning!) and that I’ll get dropped off at the start whilst hubby and hound get taken straight to the finish. Undeterred by those arrangements, my husband is seemingly quite happy to wander the streets of Musselburgh for three hours or so. There must be a car sales pitch there, or a boat yard or something of that nature. Jeesh!

emf_2014_half_edited

Lastly, my fundraising is going well. I’m up to £150 at the moment. That’s £50 over my race target, so I’m happy. If, however, you want to add to that, here are the details again!

http://www.justgiving.com/Julie-Hollis3

 

New Kicks for a New Day

My last post was a bit down. I don’t apologise for that; it’s a reality that life dishes out downers and we need to deal with these and carry on. So I’m carrying on.

Yesterday I crossed the border, left Scotland and went to Carlisle in England’s county of Cumbria. Carlisle is just under 30 miles away, quite close by our standards, and a much larger place than our local town of Dumfries. I hadn’t intended to go to a running shop, but my chores led me in that direction. Honest they did!

I ended up gazing longingly at nice new trainers in Chivers Sports. I tried on about half a dozen different pairs, mostly Asics and Brooks – the two trainers I’ve bought in the past, and ran up and down the shop under the watchful eye of one of the salesman. He knew his stuff! I explained that I had been told that I was a neutral runner, but that I’d had Plantar Fasciitis and had the start of bunions on each big toe (requiring a wider fit). He wasn’t put off by my peculiar running style (flicking my twisted right leg so that I landed well) but noticed that my left foot rolled in slightly. I needed some support, but not the excessive support of the Asics I’d worn previous to owning my Brooks Ghost 5s.

Choices, choices.
Choices, choices.

In the end we were choosing between the Ghost 6 and the Defyance 7. I noticed that the Ghost  dipped away at the left big toe, making me want to roll more in that direction, but the Defyance had me landing square. It was a no-brainer: I choose the Defyance.

IMG_2494

Brooks state that the Defyance has…

..that same amazing balance of the GTS…smoothly infused in the Neutral construction of this hybrid ride. From the reliable transition of the segmented crash pad to the adaptability of anatomical Brooks DNA and the adjustable eye row, this versatile shoe wins the all-around award every run.

After choosing, my salesman disappeared with my kicks for quite some time. It transpired that they keep records of every shoe sale to every customer and note down any issues that the customer has. My poor salesman had an essay to write! I eventually left with new shoes, at a discounted price and a discount card for future purchases.

So far as my running is concerned, well I’m almost ready to restart my half marathon training. I’ve been treading water a bit since Christmas, not wanting to put any undue strain on my left foot and re-spark my PF. I’ve done mostly short trail runs (up to 3 miles) and treadmill running. I’m enjoying trail running again, as is my dog!

Murphy in sniff-mode.
Murphy in sniff-mode.
The trail is great at this end! Wish it was all like this!!
The trail is great at this end! Wish it was all like this!!

The excessive rain we’ve been ‘enjoying’ has made parts of this route very, very muddy, but it doesn’t bother me other than obviously slowing me down! My old Nike Alvords are looking really manky these days, but they dust off when the mud dries and they are still  comfortable. I’ve even started leaving my Garmin at home and not timing my running. It’s quite liberating really!

My half training starts next week, so I’ll have to dust off my Jeff Galloway training app. I’ve set it for 11 minute mile pace, which I know I can more than handle, and will adjust the walk:run intervals as I feel fit. I’m feeling really positive about things just now so let’s just hope that I can stay injury free!

Gearing Up for a Great Run

On Saturday I’ll be running in BUPA’s Great Winter Run in Edinburgh. It’s a race I’ve done for the last couple of years, chaperoning my reluctant running husband around the demanding route up and around an extinct volcano in Scotland’s capital city. ‘Chaperoning’ isn’t maybe the best word I could pick – ‘bullying’ is probably more apt. Poor Grant. At the end of the first race in 2011 he said he thought he would die, after last year’s he thought he was going to be sick. How annoying, then, that I looked (and felt) as if I could run it again! Last year he announced that enough was enough, he wasn’t a runner (even though his 5k PB was an impressive 32:19 – not bad for someone who only trained for this race) and next year he’d be support crew. Although I miss bullying him (although I’m sure I can find other times/ways to do that), I’m quite pleased that this year I will be running my own race.

However this week has been a bit of a anti-climax. Our 16 year old Collie dog, Badger, has spent the last couple of weeks quickly deteriorating health-wise and our usual plans to make a weekend of this race went straight out of the window. He was our priority. We changed our plans to travelling the two hours to Edinburgh early on race morning and then coming home immediately afterwards. My son would be on hand to watch him whilst we were away. Sedated anyway, having suffered repeated seizures since before Christmas, he didn’t go far or do anything for that matter.

Yesterday, though, we made the sad decision to let him go. The seizures weren’t improving, the drugs weren’t working and the dog he once was, the happy go lucky bouncy Collie, was disappearing behind a veil of age inflicted maladies. We didn’t want that, for him or for us. He crossed the Rainbow Bridge last night. And we miss him.

Hesitantly and tearfully we are remaking plans. Today is a beautiful and calm day – the first for a while here in south west Scotland. I have my running gear on and my wee dog, Murphy, is desperate to get out and run with me. Once upon a time Badger would have joined us, but eventually it became apparent that he simply couldn’t keep up anymore. Try as he might. The dog that saw my running obsession start five years ago will today join us in spirit. And I know he’ll be there. Only this time he will be able to keep up, unfettered by old age, arthritis and lung congestion. Today’s run will be for him. And I can’t stop the tears from flowing.

Badger Big Dog - run free
Badger Big Dog – run free

We’ll travel to Edinburgh tomorrow and I’ll be fuelling up at Bella Italia at the Ocean Terminal, where they cater for those of us following gluten free lives extremely well. Hubbie and Murphy Dog will form Support Crew on the day and I plan to run 3:1 ratios up and whatever I can down the hill. If I can get close to my 30:32 5k PB I’ll be happy. I haven’t trained much – thanks to Christmas, New Year and that ever present Plantar Fasciitis – so whatever I achieve will be gratefully received! My foot feels good at the moment and Monday’s trip to my chiropractor helped loosen that calf and Achilles Heel off further.

Hopefully it will be a Great Winter Run!

When is your first race of 2014?

2014 – Bring It On

As the first day of 2014 it’s a very dull, rainy and windy one. Which is a terrible shame. I had high hopes last night in the local pub of doing fantastic things today. However I’ve long since found that plans made in the pub, Guinness in hand, are often poorly done. Instead I have cooked a hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie and started planning my race calendar. If you want my gluten free vegetarian recipe, please ask. It is delicious, even served with aging Brussel Sprouts.

After much deliberation and despite concerns about training inflicting further pain, I’ve picked three half marathons for 2014. I’ve chosen, and for very different reasons, the Edinburgh Marathon Festival Half,the Fleetwood Half Marathon and the Great Cumbrian Run.

2014 Races

The Edinburgh Half is part of a bigger running festival which also includes a 5k, 10k, a full marathon and a Team Relay (amongst other things). Last year I did the Rock’n’Roll Half in Edinburgh. It was a terrible weekend and I struggled in vain to better my GNR time on the day in gale force conditions. This year the organisers have decided to move the event to the end of June, possibly in an attempt to avoid bad weather (although as this is Scotland that mightn’t be possible!) This year, however, I thought I’d treat myself to a more PB friendly course and do it a month earlier when the weather might be a little cooler. I’ve gone the whole hog and booked the caravan into Silverknowes and bought us Park and Ride bus tickets to get us to and from the start and finish.

The Fleetwood Half Marathon takes place on the weekend after my 50th birthday so it will be my first of my fifth decade. Really I should be looking at lovely hotels and booking myself a pre and post race massage, but I’m guessing I’ll be checking out the local campsites and settling for a brisk rub down with a fluffy towel. This is known as racing on a tight budget! I don’t know much about this race at all.

Last year, in great pain, I completed the Great Cumbrian Run. This year I’m determined that my 13.1 miles won’t be as uncomfortable. It was nice to do a local half marathon (most of the local ones seem to take place on a Saturday and I have a gallery to keep open) and take in places I’d visited before in less arduous conditions. I’d like to run through the villages with more of a smile than a grimace! So that was on my ‘To Do Again’ list.

I’ve got a few other shorter races on my list – Kilomathon 13.1k, X Borders Challenge 10k (Gretna to Carlisle), Gallovidan 10k (Dumfries), Jedburgh 10k – but I haven’t entered any of those as yet. I think if I concentrate on completing three half marathons without huge problems that will be enough.

Goals

On my Daily Mile profile there is a section entitled ‘Goals’. Last year it said something like ‘To run a 5k in less than 30 minutes, a 10k in less than 60 minutes and to PB my half time”; this year it says simply

“To run my own race and not care what anyone thinks!”

That’s the only resolution I’m making, the only goal I’m setting. I’ve spent far too long worrying about what others say and think. This year I intend hold my head high and do my own thing, at my own pace.

 

Ode to the Hills of Jedburgh. And there are many.

Those of you who often read my reports will know how much I adore running uphill. How that when I am racing and I see a hill I shout for joy and put my little head down and run my ass off enjoying every footfall.

You will also have gleaned that my humour is both sarcastic and dry.

Having run this course twice already I knew what to expect. If I’m honest my knowledge meant that I was wary this time. I knew that my calves were going to be under tremendous strain and that was the worst possible thing for my plantar fasciitis. If my calves tightened, my Achilles would soon follow and then my plantar fascia would too – it was a line of dominoes waiting to fall. I had no idea how to run this race so that I could finish it in the least amount of pain.

Even on the way I was playing with different scenarios. Should I run:walk the distance or just run it and walk when I had to? Should I run really slowly and just try to run without any walk breaks? It was a dilemma and one which wasn’t being helped by the weather – it was wild; wet and windy. I knew that once I’d turned at 4 miles I was going to be running uphill and into the wind. It’s always very windy on the A68 road and it’s a long steady climb into the wind.

In the end I decided to play it by ear. I would set my Jeff Galloway app to “just run” at a 10 min/mile pace, with the GPS switched on and walk as and when I wanted. No one would be telling when to walk and I could assess my fitness/pain and run accordingly.

We arrived slightly later than usual, not helped by following a string of traffic seemingly unable to overtake a cyclist on the way into town. The usual car parks were packed solid so we had no choice but to find a road side gap. This took some doing and we eventually parked on the hill going up to the gaol. I hoped that my handbrake was good. We walked down to the town hall and I collected my number, chip and T-shirt. Unfortunately the number didn’t have holes in it, so I couldn’t use my Event Clips – they just wouldn’t break the paper to form a good hold. I resorted to using the safety pins that the organisers always so thoughtfully provide.

Next stop was the loo.

We met friends, George and Linda, as I left the toilets (great municipal loos, by the way – warm, plenty of toilets and hot water!) George was running the 10k too, faster than me though. George is extremely encouraging and after one holiday George and Linda bought me back a headband to match the one he always wears in races. Together we are now ‘Team Headband’, although my text to Linda last night said that going by the weather we should rename the team “Team Wet and Wild’!

With ten minutes to go I wandered down to line up near to the back. I hadn’t had chance to warm up properly so I did some dynamic stretches and decided to start off slowly. When the gun went off we had a walk up to the line before we could start running. We ran up past supporters and the abbey, round into the town square where the pipers were playing something suitably Scottish and stirring, whatever that might have been. It was nice, whatever it was.

Running on cobbles isn’t ideal, but it sounds great when hundreds of others are also running on them!

The first surprise was that they had added an extra hill. Obviously 5 miles of going mainly up hill wasn’t enough. No. The organisers decided that we should have an extra one at the start. Excellent! My strategy of walking up the steepest parts of each hill was immediately put to the test! The rest of the hills came thick and fast. I was maintaining a great pace, despite walking the hills in an effort to spare my calf muscles.

Mile 1 came in at 10:23.

I was running as much as I could, trying to bring my overall pace down. When I walked up the hills I was usually overtaken by the same people I passed on the flat or the way downhill.

Mile 2 came in at 20:27.

I was slightly envious of the folk who were trudging up the hills, not stopping to walk, but running a slower pace than me on the way down. I was having to work hard on the flat to make up the ground that I was walking up. However, I was delighted to see my third mile pass by in a very respectable time.

Mile 3 came in at 30:41.

At the turn for 10k runners (the half marathoners carried on at this point) I caught sight of number 1003, my Daily Mile friend Helen, who I’ve never met before. I shouted a greeting across and was relieved to see that she wasn’t far ahead of me. I like to gauge my progress against folk who are my contemporaries and Helen runs at a similar pace to me. Despite everything I was running quite well.

This is when my race became a race of two halves and it was nothing to do with my PF, which was actually pretty good thanks to the ibuprofen, the bandaging and the insoles! The wind became my enemy which when coupled with a long slow hill pretty much zapped my strength. My fourth and fifth miles were very slow in comparison to the first three, both being 11:44. This slowed my pace right down and I knew that I would struggle to recoup the loss.

Having battled up a mile long hill against the wind when I reached the top I was expecting to simply hurtle down. What greeted me was a blast of air that took my breath away, literally. I started to gasp and realised that I was about to have another asthma attack! Hubbie had suggested that I took my inhaler with me after my last race and I was grateful for his insight as I stopped to take a few puffs. These enabled me to pick up my pace a little and use the downhill how downhills should be used!

The last mile is pretty much on the flat. It’s a lovely run back into the town, through the autumn leaves. I was tired by then though and running much slower that I can run. I was walking far more often than I wanted. I needed someone, at that point, to run with. Just someone to spur me on.

I crossed the line (I think, because there were two mats) at 67:59* (Garmin time) which is my slowest 10k time in a long, long time. I’m OK with my time though because at the finish I was not limping. My calf went into a spasm once I’d stopped walking, but I wasn’t in pain like I was after my last race. I was given my medal Olympic style, which was lovely!

image
My bling!

Helen found me at the finish and we hugged a hello and exchanged race stories. She had done well to finish a couple of minutes ahead of me – it’s not an easy race.

My white trainers are no longer 'white'!
My white trainers are no longer ‘white’!

After collecting my banana, Lidl Mars Bar, a bottle of water and Caribbean Lucozade hubbie and I walked up to the leisure centre where I got a well deserved shower before we walked to meet George and Linda for lunch in one of the local cafés. After lunch I was limping quite a bit, but a couple of ibuprofens later I was fine(ish). I’m now happily relaxing at home with a cuppa, a cosy fire and the thought of cheese on toast on the horizon.

image
A lovely new T-shirt to wear when I’m not running just to prove that I do!

Next year? Yes, I’ll be there. I like this race. It’s tough and testing, but it’s good to pit yourself against Mother Nature’s hills and weather now and again.

My foot is OK. I have been sitting with it up for a while now and I’m about use the Shiatsu foot massager to loosen things off and release some toxins before icing it. Fingers crossed that this together with my nightly dorsal splint will mean that tomorrow morning is fairly pain-free!

My next planned race isn’t until January now. Maybe that’s a good thing. Some treadmill and trail running will help to build up speed and strength before then without causing further damage to my foot (now that British Summer Time has ended and the clocks have gone back outdoor evening running here is a no-no on the roads, unless I want to die an early and painful death under the wheels of a car/truck/tractor).

 

Finishing the Great Cumbrian Run, in almost one piece!

Oh my goodness, where do I start? I’ve just completed what was a lovely half marathon route, but only just. The Great Cumbrian Run is a well attended race, with in excess of 1400 runners, which starts and finishes in Carlisle. Better than that, you actually get to start from inside Carlisle Castle, run out of the quadrangle, through the castle gates and into the centre of Carlisle city. How many races can boast that?

We arrived early, worried that we might not be able to park. In reality there was plenty of parking, although we didn’t try to get too close to the start/finish area – something I would come to regret at race finish! I collected my chip, attached that to my shiny Nikes (honestly, who wears WHITE trainers?) and took advantage of the plentiful toilets.

Starting at Carlisle Castle!
Starting at Carlisle Castle!

IMG_2275

More toilets than runners!
More toilets than runners!

At about 15 minutes to the off an official asked all the non-competitors to leave the area so I said goodbye to hubbie and went away to avoid the warm up. I wasn’t alone – lots of runners stayed well back, doing their own thing. I don’t mind warm up, what I hate are the pre-race stretches everyone is encouraged to make. You can almost hear hamstrings twanging.

We started bang on 10. The cathedral bells chimed us across the start line, the spectators cheered us on. We ran straight into the city centre, which was a delight. The route through was barriered off and lined with folk sending us off on our way. I found hubbie at the far end of the pedestrianised area, called and waved and headed off down Botchergate. It was odd running through a city I know well, running past bars and clubs I have frequented on lazier days!

I didn’t look too much at my watch. The hills caught my attention more! I had met an ex-pupil at the start who had done the race before and warned me about the hill heading out of town and another at mile 3. I think she left a few out, but those were pretty tough! We climbed up along London Road, heading towards the M6, before turning left and out into the countryside.

I hit mile 3 at an encouraging 30:22, but my plantar fasciitis was already making itself known.

We passed through the villages of Cumwhitton and Wetheral, both quite well to do areas, supported all the way by locals. I high-fived I can’t remember how many children; it was a bit like the Great North Run in that respect. The hills were hard work with many of us walking up the worst of them.

I made 6 miles in 65 minutes – again not bad pace for me, but by then my right IT Band had started to tighten up, a lot. On walk breaks I took to hitting it in order to get the blood flowing, but that worked only briefly. I was fine on the flat and on downhills, but uphill was very hard work!

I started to really struggle at mile 7, taking far too many walk breaks for a decent time. My mile times dipped to 12 and 13 minute miles as I began to limp. I felt strong – if my foot and ITB had behaved I think that I might have got a good time, but they didn’t and by mile 9 I was in pain.

I met another runner, Emma, who had been running since the beginning of the summer and was running for Ataxia, spurred on by a recent diagnosis of a young girl. We yoyoed a bit as I took walk breaks, but eventually crossed the line more or less together.  At a particularly anxious stage of the race for me, at mile 11, when I was in severe pain with both my instep/heel and ITB,  she came to my rescue. She ran with me through Rickerby Park, telling me about herself and then asking me about myself until we reached a hill that I just couldn’t run up. I took a walk break, but caught her up a bit further on. When she started to falter at mile 12 I took her hand and we ran together for a while until she felt better. This is the first time I’ve experienced this and without Emma’s help I might not have finished at all, despite my own determination. I needed an angel.

My app stopped short of the finish, about a mile short. I restarted it so that I could benefit from greatly needed walk breaks, but ended up just running when I could. As I ran through Bitts Park I kept Emma in my sights and just kept going. I saw hubbie as I rounded the corner into Sheepmount Stadium. I thought that I had a lap of the course to do, but it was only half a lap. I ran as fast as I could through the line, but by the end I was completely spent. I couldn’t lift my leg onto the bucket for the chip to be removed, the pain in my leg was that bad. I could hardly move, but saw hubbie just beyond the finish area.

I started to see stars and realised that this meant that I was about to pass out. I hadn’t noticed that my breathing had become rapid, shallow, raspy gasps and that I was running out of air. We made it to some seats and I took my asthma inhaler, starting to feel better within a few minutes. It was scary, but passed quickly.

The bling was very nice and I also got a T shirt which, in time honoured fashion, I am wearing!

IMG_2281

The walk back to the car was complete murder.

Having parked at the other end of Bitts Park we had to walk for about 10 minutes. OMG. My foot ached, my ITB was taut and my hips were sore. I was a total mess! However, after a quick change of clothes, a soya milkshake and a Nature Valley bar I felt better.

Having been home for a few hours now I have bathed, applied Deep Freeze to my legs and sat for the Grand Prix with my foot on an ice pack. I’m starting to feel slightly hungry and slightly more human. I will sleep tonight. In fact, I might not make it to tonight!

Special mention has to go to EventClip, whose fab clips held my number in place, didn’t spoil my vest and looked pretty cool. I saw one other runner using them as well!

IMG_2278
Get your Event Clips at EventClip.net

What next then? Well I am booked in to do the Jedburgh 10k at the end of October. Hopefully my foot will heal in time for that. I’m now considering buying a night splint to stretch my foot – hell, I’ve tried everything else! My next run will be a short  recovery run once my foot feels better!