Borneo Half Marathon – the Unoffical Night Run

The Borneo Half Marathon was due to take place on May 5th in Kota Kinabalu (KK), in the Malaysian State of Sabah – to the North East of Brunei. However the race was cancelled (I’m not getting paranoid yet, but this is becoming a familiar story in my race calendar) due to local elections. Like many of the runners, we had non-refundable air and hotel bookings so decided to go anyway and a few ladies from Panaga were also due to run, so we all made our various routes towards Sabah; ours being an early morning drive across the southern border to Miri, Sarawak and a flight with AirAsia. [I sat beside a tiny ultrarunner who had previously competed the HongKong 100K- he and his friend ogled my Dean Karnazes book ‘Ultramarathonman”].

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KK will be the stepping off point for the TMBT in September, so we checked into the Hyatt Regency which was very plush and had lovely seaview rooms, delicious buffet lunch with traditional drum and dancer display and a luxurious spa.

There had been talk about meeting up for an unofficial night-run round the proposed routes and I quite fancied that, so I took my stuff and kept an eye on the website for further updates. Meantime, the Brunei ladies all met up at the race expo which was in this huge shopping mall called Suriah Sabah – a monstrous L-shaped multi-layered complex with higher end shops like Coach and Levi through to local style supermarkets and cafes in the basement.

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We bumped into lots of other runners, since we all seemed to have had the same idea of changing into our race tee-shirts. I got directions to the local outdoor survival shop from one gent and bought a snakebite kit and a small torch.

We spoke to a couple from Taiwan, whilst I was buying my very bright Adidas race leggings (as per the cover of last months Runner’s World magazine) and Wan (spelling?) had studied a year at Herriot-Watt and he and his girlfriend Avalyn (sp?) would be running the full marathon that night. There were various rumours about start-times for FM/HM but my plan was to just turn up at 21:30 and use the course map to navigate round. Wan thought 9pm, others were going for 10.30pm. Hmmmmm

Back near the hotel, Liz, Rachel and Marie ‘s other halves had ‘forced’ my OH to drink beer and therefore, I knew I was on my own for the race (the ladies had all had a run and were looking forward to a nice dinner/drinking in an actual pub, since Brunei is a dry country). I decided I would get a taxi but luckily, a local runner Hazazi offered to give me a lift. Well now, my Mum would have a hairy fit if she knew I was accepting a lift to a remote location in a foreign town and country, from someone I had met only days previously through FaceBook (!!) but I went with my gut and runners are usually a genuine, friendly bunch, so I said OK and we headed out to the Lika Stadium at 08:40pm.

Hazazi was meeting numerous friends and I was introduced as we started amassing in the car-park near the would-be start. The KK runners were handing out red bicycle lights for clipping on, as we would be running on open busy roads, in the dark. I had worn reflective, bright clothing and we would be running in groups for safety. So it was not to be a race. I hoped there would be some people at my pace, although I didn’t care about time I just wanted to complete the distance as a training run.

After some discrepancy in start-times, with foreigners who didn’t know the route being paired up with cyclists, I discovered the half runners had left already and the next bacth wouldn’t be going until 10:30 😦 Luckily someone let me use their phone and I rang OH to tell him I would get a lift home. Hazazi was looking after the orphaned Scottish girl and would also give me a lift back to town; how nice was that? Especially as he was due to run the 10K so would be waiting for hours…….so we agreed that I would run with him to the 5K turnaround point which was roughly at a Shell petrol station (an unofficial toilet/water station).

We started off in 2s and 3s and ran towards the sea, via some roundabouts, it was vaguely down-hill so I noted that for the return, as the course was a ‘lollipop’ (out and back route with a loop at mid-way). I was at conversational pace for the first few Ks which were along the coast-line but eventually H urged me on, so I tried to catch up with one of his friends Jasmie who was just ahead. I ran with him for a few more roundabouts and then another friend, Burn, appeared from an impromptu toilet-stop, so the three of us started a slight ascent on the main carriageway towards the University, where the hill-challenge lay. borneo water stationLuckily there were some volunteer water stations which also had 100Plus dotted along the course, some with tables, others from the back of a truck! So many thanks to everyone who manned these. The race might have been at night but it was still melting hot. I know now to just watch my heart-rate and slow down if it gets high, regardless of pace. We were pretty steady, speaking in clips and taking turns running on the outside. I was sweeping the hand-held torch I’d picked up in the outdoor shop, in our paths when the street light waned and occasionally swept it along the tree-line. The frogs were really loud! I held my precious electrolyte drink in the UltrAspire Handheld which is fast becoming my new race-buddy, despite saying after the Crathes Half 2012 that it was too heavy for just a half marathon (when I’m presumably meant to be running fast as opposed to an ultra-distance where I’m just bimbling along “enduring”).

borneo halfJasmie fell back a bit, so I was running now with Burn, who told me he had completed the TMBT 25K option last year and was moving up to 50Ks in September. Interesting, so I started asking a few questions and, well, we had a little race up the hill ! I wanted to see if I still remembered how to run a proper gradient as I hadn’t done so for a few months since I left Scotland. As we came through the campus, we hit the first of 3 inclines. Burn had a slight advantage in that he knew where we were going and how long the hills were whereas I was just striding with my head down; we both notably picked up the pace up-hill and I started to breathe hard for the first time. I was glad when we crested the top of the hill and then……suddenly we were lost! Looking back at the route map, it seems we should have gone right at the University but I think we went left and up another hill. Burn asked a passing student but we had no idea which right turn to take. J had easily caught up by then (humph! all our hard work on the hill was lost) and we all agreed that it would be better to do too far than be under 21Km, so we eased down towards the far right turn, knowing that what goes down must come up. I let gravity take me and coasted down but I think this is where the other two suffered the most- downhill hates quads, luckily I am poorly developed in that area 🙂

bim route half

Another ramp up, turning us back onto our original route and we were passed the half way mark and on our way home. I suggested we took a short walk to allow J to join us (and to get a breather) but after a minute or 2, Burn had had enough and we started jogging again and enjoyed the downhill we had previously attacked! We didn’t wait for Jasmie but Burn assured me that he knew the way alright and I gently reminded him that I did not (ie stay with me please).

By now the full marathon guys and gals who had set off at 9pm, were starting to come up towards us. I asked what the Malay for “Well done” was but was too chicken to say it, so just clapped or gave some encouragement in English. Everyone was so smiley and happy, like any run, some were struggling, some were coasting; we all waved.

I was glad to see the Shell garage as we excused ourselves amongst folks who were gathering on the pavements, probably wondering what was going on. Cars were tooting and shouting at us and we got a few more water stations before the final roundabout.

I was pushing quite hard now as my heart-rate had been slowly rising from mile 10 and I felt the lethargy of my 6am start, flight, expo. The last food I had eaten, being 8 hours previous, was a distant memory and hunger started itching at me to finish! We both speeded up and as I mounted the pavement over the last bridge I felt something go click in my right ankle. “No! The Achilles site, please don’t let it be the Achilles”. I didn’t want to sustain an injury on such an optional non-race as tonight (or at any other time for that matter) but there was no further pain and less than a mile to go……then suddenly we were finished! Only 12.65 miles. I said to Burn “I need to go on and complete the half marathon distance”, he understood and ran with me- a few laps around the complex until my Garmin said 13.11 miles. DONE!

Then I rested. I thanked Burn profusely for running with me (he looked like he could have sprinted off at any moment) and whilst I was topping up on cooler water at the running clubs’ van, Jasmie came in and had some pictures taken with Burn, Hazazis and a few others. Thank God no one wanted my picture as I felt quite gash, queasy and like I wanted to lie down. Of course I couldn’t, but I sat on the grass until we were ready to go. I felt very tired and light-headed and sick with hunger. I thanked Hazazis for everything – basically I probably wouldn’t have gone if he hadn’t offered me that lift – and made my way to the hotel-room. Luckily my OH hadn’t stayed out drinking so he got me some full fat coke and a huge bag of crisps from the mini-bar 😉 I collapsed into bed after a quick shower.

IMG-20130513-03254Next morning I went for a full-body massage and asked for them to be careful around the Achilles area. Time will tell what’s actually happened there. I felt yet again much better and had some delicious noodles for brunch at the Mosaic café. Spoke with another few runners in the distinctive race tee-shirt and felt pleased to be able to say “I ran it”. I also got a little present for my efforts – a Suunto Vector watch –  to help me with my hiller running and it includes a temperature gauge as well as altimeter. I’m looking forward to using it in the jungle hash.

We were also fair chuffed to get to Miri and find that the car was in one piece. The OH took another opportunity to stock up on beer before we crossed the border. So, another hot  race experience, in another part of the world. Unfortunately I can’t make the re-scheduled date as I’ll be in the UK (running) but I WILL be back to KK for the trail event in September and hopefully a few recce runs with my new Malaysian buddies before then.

Distance: 13.11 miles / Time: 2:23:50 / Race-pack contents: Newton technical tee-shirt, Newton sports socks, PowerBar, various money-off tokens / Race shoes: Purple Nike Lunarglide+ 4 / Race cothes: Adidas capris, 2XU socks (bought at the expo), Black Ron Hill reflective Fetch Everyone vest, Black Fetch buff

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Brunei Half Marathon

How long does it take a frequent runner to acclimatise from Scottish winter to Equatorial summer, where the mercury hits 30+ degrees? Longer than three weeks, you betcha….and here’s how I know.

The Brunei Half Marathon was entered at the start of 2013, as I rejoiced at finding a distance race in my new home country. I would run the same distance in the UK as a benchmark and then train on heart-rate until I was at a similar fitness and voila, everything would be hunky-dory. As time passed I was beginning to think we wouldn’t even make it over for the race, so 3 weeks to get used to the heat and humidity went something like:

IMG-20130318-029825K at 10:30am=beetroot and dying, 6K at 8am=still cream crackered and lung-less, 5K at 7am/5pm=almost bearable at a barely jogging pace. Longest run of 7 miles and 21 days in country …..oh, OK then.

But it wasn’t that bad. Race strategy was (a) don’t race (b) don’t exceed 175 bpm unless it’s a sprint to the loo or the final 10 metres (c) keep salted and hydrated (d) enjoy the city. I managed (nearly) all of those, slowed down when I had to, jogged all the inclines and had a tough but steady event, finishing in a not-too-slovenly 2:13:34 and I can honestly say, I was pleased with that.

Pace splits/heart-rate (the last 3 miles after the morning hotted up were very tough)

5K in 30.55 / 10K in 63.05/16K in 1.42/21K in 2.13

So roughly: 5K/5K/6K/5K in 31, 32, 39, 31 minutes, so you can see where the hills were but it was still pretty even. OK, important to me for this first hotter race but I promise the stats are over now for the descriptive and pictures.

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We stayed at The Empire Hotel in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan and I enjoyed being go-karted around between our wing and the main building. The complex is mahooosive and I look forward to a more exploratory return. I endured another highly painful foot torture-massage but felt brilliant the next morning for our 4 am start.

We arrived at the Hassanal Bolkiah stadium (named after the current Sultan of Brunei) P1000301and the place was buzzing with athlete’s, media and rows of food stalls serving rice and noodle dishes, fruit punch and water; all at 5 am. No queue for the loos and soon we were huddling behind the start-line, waiting to stride out into the dark. I opted to run with the Ipod in 1 ear and carrying an UltrAspire Handheld full of Aquarius sports drink, which is widely available in Seria. The race was sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank who have a series of marathons and half marathons throughout the Far East, including Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. We all got very nice turquoise/green tee-shirts and an over-sized mesh cap in our goody bags and can I just say that the expo and registration, although not well attended, was well organised and very friendly, with a personal smiley welcome and good-bye from their meet n greet team (this is proving typical of Brunei hospitality).

Back to the race! I was slightly taller and much paler than 90% of the participants and I felt there were at least twice as many first timers as there were regular runners (evident P1000295later when most of the 10K race was walking at the point where the half route merged). Of course this is fine until the last few miles when you’re tired and it’s hot and you’re weaving in and out of groups of walkers! I was in awe of the amount of fully clad head-to-foot in black, compression wearing folks, some with two layers on, including long sleeves and long socks. I saw one wheelchair entrant and at the 5K mark passed one single-legged blade-runner. There were a smattering of ex-pat types as well and I spotted a Dutch flag at the start-line. I tried not to stare at the Bruneian lady runners who were attempting to run in their Muslim headscarves: how hot would THAT have been (shudders). NIK6696_250_1Fair play to them! We were united in our goal though and we eased into the race start at 5.30 am and I waved at the cameras and tried to settle into a pace to the background noise of insects, feet falling on tarmac and ‘The Climb’ playing in one ear! I had opted to run in my grey/blue Nike+ Lunarglide 4s as they matched the outfit and also hadn’t done a long race; I wore the purple versions for my last half marathon. Rest of the attire was my usual garb: Nike dryfit shorts over Skins compression shorts, X-socks run (men’s version), Shockabsorber B4490 in turquoise, new BASIC charity tee-shirt, Scotland Buff, Worm sunglasses (not needed) and Lunarglides.

P1000309 P1000310

At around the 5-6K mark, the sun started to come up just as we passed the large gold-domed mosque and the heat wasn’t any worse than I’d experienced over the prevailing weeks. I was drinking frequently, had a short-lived twinge right knee and had some crystallised ginger and some Neurofen stashed ‘just encase’. My fellow runners were friendly, smiled and I felt confident enough to tap a local gent on the shoulder to tell him his shoe-lace was undone. I managed to ditch a rather annoying girl who was overtaking me and then slowing in my line of sight continually, by running through the second water station. My other half was made to jog alongside me to capture these pictures at the next water-station 🙂P1000311

The cheering bands were very enthusiastic as we came through the main town and by now, there were people on their way to work and it was getting warmer with every passing minute. Then someone turned on the heat and day broke over the streets just as we made our way to the first of three substantial fly-overs. The gradient would be manageable on it’s own but the addition of the camber as well as the amalgamation of walking HM and 10Kers…it was getting tougher. My strategy was to adopt the classic hill running mentality of lift from the thigh, take very small steps and let gravity put your foot back down. Only stop running if someone walks passed you faster…so I continued, snail-like but steady, taking tiny steps, working my arms, lifting from the thigh and you know? I was passing people. No one around me was jogging the hills! The crest came in sight and I tried not to bomb down the far side as the camber was killing my right leg. Repeated this pretty much 3 times and by then the 10 Mile mark had passed, so mentally I was on my way home.

One last fly-over onto the main road and by now the sun was beating off the tarmac back at me, people were slowing, very fit triathlete looking guys were bimbling, blinded by their own sweat. The water stations were now handing out DEET cream and the flies from the drains as we re-entered the main town, were quite something else. I’d slathered on SPF30 with insect repellent incorporated and just hoped I hadn’t sweated it all off.

My heart-rate was now over 180 BPM but I felt a greater urgency- to get out of the heat! I pulled my buff off my head, wound it round my wrist and felt a momentary relief as my head literally let off steam. The last 2 miles were all about trying not to blow up, keeping form (I could feel my head roll back and my middle start to collapse a few times) and dodging slower runners and 10K walkers. I saw a smaller lady up in front who looked like she was slowing and I just aimed at catching her and passing her. P1000350This pre-occupied me as we turned for a very decent 150m straight to the line (although I almost ran into the 10K funnel because a group of guys were cheering right in the finish-stretch). Luckily the Other Half has seen me lose direction near the end of races before (!) and shouted me over to the 21Km mat. I did speed up at the end but it wasn’t a massive push. I passed the girl though 😉

I got over the mat and immediately walked up the steps whilst taking my medal, water and can of 100Plus There were 100s of runners lying out in the sun, stretching, some flaked out and I sat and drank in the rehydration and the atmosphere. I’d completed my first half marathon in the hottest and most humid P1000358conditions I’d ever experienced and I had no “issues” – blisters, bad belly, energy dip (and like the Lossie Half in February, I didn’t use carb gels, just the carb drinks and water). Although the time was nothing special (to me), it was apparently representative of the 13th place in the non-local Open Female category and although they don’t publish the full results, I reckon it was a top 30 finish. It makes me wonder what further adaptions I’ll gain in the following weeks and what I can do next time? Mind you, I quite like the feeling of constant effort, sight-seeing and not being dead at the end…….. Brunei is beautiful and friendly and I look forward to running here again 🙂

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Ultra-running at a blistering pace

The 2012 Glen Ogle Ultra: I’ve been putting this off, writing about it I mean. But for the last week or three I just keep going over this overdue account late at night so I just need to write it and move on.

The short story is that I made a mistake. And as a consequence I went through the most horrendous racing experience of my life (to date). This from the girl who completed over 36 miles with chronic heaving diahorrhea. The worst part was that it was completely avoidable and utterly my own fault. And I have been a little angry with myself in the last few weeks. In order to get over it I’ve decided that another ultra is in order; to prove to myself that I have learned from the recent and can convert to a more enjoyable experience. Perhaps famous last words, but here’s how www.go33ultra.com went.

First timers raise their hands, Andy, Lee and I take a rare chance to be at the front

Our B&B near Strathyre, was lovely but apparently we were their last guests before shutting up shop for the winter and they made no bones about not being able to do an early brekkie. I was actually thinking WTF as my mouth made the very accommodating words of “NO bother, don’t worry about me”, thus I was faced with a non-ideal bowl of rice-crispies laden with sugar and a flask labelled “Mike” as I grumped about the diningroom, wondering why Mike was getting a flask and I wasn’t, I finally realised it said milk. The cheese croissants (random!) were later fed to some enthusiastic ducks on the far side of Loch Tay, can’t think of anything I would less like to eat during a run! I managed to drink some Devon custard before the off and into the frosty darkness we drove. The previous night we had (ahem) been introduced to the countryside by way of trying to find an ATM and frustratingly had a 20 mile round trip, such is the remoteness of Strathyre. At least we could buy a few jars for Andy and enjoy a cracking Alf Tucker Fish n chips for dinner! Eventually.

Race outfit was somewhat similar to last years:2 x Nike Lunarglides (1 pair for Check-point 3 drop bag), 3 x X-socks run (1 pair for CP3, 1 spare for rucksack, 1 to wear),INOV-8 Gaiters, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs Intense full length tights, B4490,Ice-breaker 200 light, long sleeve top, Gore Magnitude AS vest, Nairn orange buff, Ben Fogle buff worn as hat, Montane Featherlite waterproof carried in rucksack, Salomon XA20 rucksack, UltrAspire hand-held (CP4 drop bag) Rucksack contents: peanut butter/jam tortilla, banana, 6 cherry mule kick gels, 1 soya milk, 1 Litre of water+electrolyte, waterproof, spare socks plus emergency kit: caffeine gel, ibuprofen, paracetemol, vaseline, micropore tape, electrolyte tab, safety pins, spare lace, blister plasters, Blackberry, TOILET ROLL (in capitals cos, well, y’know I didn’t take this with me at Speyside Way due to the amount of toilets en route and of course the worst happened. Never tempt the Kazzy-Gods!).

A Kara chocolate coconut milk filled UltrAspite handheld waited for me at CP4, for the final stretch home along with my ipod. Various food in the drop bags but I didn’t think I’d need it and had the equivalent of a teddy bears picnic last year.

I was late getting to the bag drop because for some reason we parked at the finish and then had to jog up the road laden with drop bags and excess warm clothing. I muttered the infamous grumble about not needing an early morning yomp before a 33 mile run. Grumpy b*gger! Race briefing and a walk down to a new start-point further down the glen where a tonne of logging had been carried out. Lee and Andy and I said our goodbyes and we all started with big smiles but, tragically, I hadn’t bothered to tighten my laces and got distracted within the first few minutes when my Garmin Forerunner pinged out of it’s velcro strap AGAIN, this time, the pin was lost in the dirt and I threw the contraption into the rucksack. Oh well, I didn’t really need to know my pace and mileage, did I?

Caught up to Andy and we trudged up and around the forest and down towards the road crossing as George (D33 RD) biked passed and said a few words of encouragement. Unfortunately the Demons had already dropped in to say “Oooh this uphill part is tougher than last year and you’re not really enjoying this are you?”. I agreed with them and threw all ideas about pacing out the window, to concentrate on trying to enjoy things. Andy advised that an easy out and focussed return might do the trick and I stuck my new race plan back in the faces of the ne-ersayers. CP1 passed and we were on the recognisable cycle path into the wood, where dear old Raymondo (Ray McCurdy, marathon 100-club and infamous ultra-runner) asked us if we’d done 4 miles yet; we told him “about 6” and he trundled on as we stopped for a gel-break. The gels and water were going down fine and the going was easy. Passed a group of 3 just as the rain started “OK, who’s brought the brolly?” I managed as we cat n moused them for several miles up the Serpentine and onto the old railway.

Still feeling good but I think Andy’s knee started playing up before CP2 and he urged me to go on but no, I was fine doing what we were doing and I had the added benefit of a captive audience for discussions on small holdings on the West coast, farming and other nonsense. To shut me up (possibly), Andy gave me a taste of his newly bottled mountain stream water and wow, it was fantastic (and we’d only seen the one lone sheep on the higher ground so it was possibly sharn free!)

The field was very sparse now with a few runners in the distance and a few well behind. Usual protocol of thumbs up and OK? to those we left behind and well dones to those who went on ahead. Passing on the right please!

CP2 and I wrestled a choc milk out of my drop-bag and we crossed the road to be met by my OH (the photographer), so we hammed it up a little for the camera’s. Safe to say I was in good spirits and more than a little concerned for Andy’s leg but we were on a down-hill loop before hitting the main climbs of the day.  I ate my peanut butter n jam tortilla and was really pleased that the gel every 5 miles, vanilla fudge inbetween and this, had worked out so well. Andy said this hurt his knee more on descents but I secretly enjoyed burdening the quads for a change, on the downs. I was still wary of my achilles being less than perfect so now automatically try and protect it. We had jumped a huge puddle (the main gate was later opened) and we saw the lead runner return down the hill, a good 7-8 miles in front already! A couple of ladies went by and having heard our chat, asked where I was from- turns out one was from Cromarty on the Black Isle which is the across the Firth neighbour to my home-town and I was amazed that my accent is still recognisable after all these years 🙂

Came alongside the gentleman from last year who was having a pukey time of it and managed to tap a couple of lumps of crystallised ginger- he was in much better fettle this year and surprised I remembered him. I never forget a ‘whitey’, me.

Soon the hills that I had promised Andy, were upon us and I made some short sharp shrift of the first few, overtaking a couple of groups but took a latrine excursion at the top of the first blip and saw Andy coming so we had a quick chat and agreed to meet up at CP3 as I was planning to change my shoes. Slow n steady passed the half way point and down towards some hill-walkers and my pre-checkpoint choc milk, which I’d stashed at the big puddle/gate. Where’s my frikkin milk!?? A change of marshall meant that the carton had been moved but luckily the OH had recognised it and removed it from the verge. YUM!

Back down and across the road to a large gathering of runners and volunteers! This was where I was surprised with blisters you would not want to see, ever, let alone during a race with 13+ miles to go. “Do you want to burst them?” said Karen- as I stared in amazement wondering how this could happen and with no indication or pain, I remembered the ibuprofen I had taken “just incase” after breakfast. Two or three people were discussing the best approach to dealing with blisters when Rob came in about and went oooh, you’ve got feet just like mine. I’m assuming he meant the purple half toe-nails. It was little consolation as I now had to get my feet into trainers and get offski after 15 mins of ershing about but not really achieving anything. The route was now mostly flat and down and I had hoped to make up some good time given how fresh I felt (lungs/legs/digestive tract). My energy levels were high. “I’ll see how I go, I don’t usually burst blisters” I said and went on my way. No pain, no presence and I passed Andy, then another gent, then caught the group of three and 4 or 5 miles (approx) seemed to go passed very fast and I was on the windy snake, heavily descending into the cycle track.

And then the ibuprofen ran out.

And then the blisters started digging daggers into the sides of both feet. It became impossible to run without pain.

So I ran on the outside edges of my feet. Walking hurt more so I had to maintain The Zombie Jog (thinking about patenting the term). Uphills hurt worst and every undulation seemed like a mini-tragedy. I was sure the group of three would have caught up with me and I was trying to subdue the ows but soon enough I was a hybrid of Monica Seles meets The Living Dead and if ever there was a time for someone to pop up with a race stat of how far to CP4, it would have been welcomed in these next few miles. But I was still moving forward and although I was being Drama Queen extraordinaire I managed to improve to only 98% pathetic when I saw some marshalls jog towards me. I’d put in my earplugs with no music, to drown out the sounds of my own misfortune. Here I am, with a blue sign growing out of my head (fairly painful in itself) and with a wee tear balanced on my cheek, Aw! The picture beneath was a happy me at the same point last year.

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My time at CP4 was part bravery, part gratitude and a smidge of impatience thrown in as I asked if there were any 1st aiders present (no) and then stared in wonderment at an attempt to cut a roll of sticky plasters with a dinner knife. OH raked around in the 1st aid kit and found the scissors and the patching up began. The ladies were stars and obviously used to spaced out grumpy ultra-runners descending on them with demands. They assessed that I’d had my allotment of ibupforen but could have paracetemol so I downed those and after 10 mins of feet out and fixer-uppering I was back on the road having miraculously not rescinded any places. I had dumped the rucksack, grabbed the UltrAspire handheld and my ipod but I couldn’t meet OH eyes and I all but ignored Lee’s wife. Well, I wasn’t (ahem) feeling that sociable with 6-7 miles to go and limited drug relief to get me there. Later he would tell me that he had never seen me so miserable during my running career to date and didn’t suggest dropping out incase I used the last of my remaining energy to pummel him. Which in fairness I probably would have.

All hands on deck for the Nywanda Blister Lollapalooza

Andy and I had discussed finish line tactics – an over the top dip for the line, maybe a John Travolta disco-dance, muddy commando crawl….I’d already used up a highland dance (Easter Eigg hillrace) but at this point was preparing to just scream a yell of frustration once the race was complete. I kept this at the forefront of my mind, every step took me closer to The Yell. Strange motivation but it kept me moving, that and a timely blast of Survivor EOTT on a blind corner!

I saw the sign for Rob Roy’s grave and knew that there was only a matter of a few miles left. The undulations which last year had been chewed up in late-race vigour were now a hatful of hate and just when I’d decided that another cry was on order (my ipod had been accidentally turned on in my rucksack and was now out of battery), my race angel was spotted!

In tough races I’ve always had a race Angel- another competitor who has helped me through and generally just given the support (sometimes unintentionally) to Keep on Keeping on. I spied a red rucksack going round the corner and despite the pain, I found a new steady plod in the hope of catching up 🙂

Round the corner, there was Al (a sports psychologist-therapist) who had been struggling with sore hamstrings and had decided to minimise pain and take a few photos. I explained my predicament and apologised in advance for any grunting etc. We kept each other company towards the finish and I hoped I didn’t hold him back although maybe he just seemed in better nick than he was. By now my left quad and knee were aching possibly as a result of running several miles only on the outside of my foot and it really hurt, despite the painkillers. I worried about doing lasting damage but returned quickly to the matter in hand. Just Finish. We managed to chat back and forth and it certainly passed the time. I am very grateful for this and hope I perhaps helped cajole him along somewhat. After some hard fought miles the shoogly bridge was upon us and I mustered a smile for the camera.

Al finished just in front and I didn’t sound my mighty yawp, I slowly wandered around the muddy finish area, trying not to cry. When Mike asked me to not forget my finishers goody bag, I just stood there, glaikit and droll, feeling like someone had replaced my feet with red hot pokers inside cement blocks and was not fully capable of making a decision. I think I wanted to lie down but knew I might provoke a first aid crisis rather than a few pointed fingers for eccentricity. I managed to shake Al’s hand then I got my Fetch Hoody and went to the car. I told the OH that I wanted to make like Deitrich and Be alone. So I sat there sobbing and peeling the socks from my feet in a painfully slow cautionary fashion.

Then I remained in the passenger seat and waited for the crying to stop. I was conscious that I should get my fat-ass over to the finish to see Andy come through but I just couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t muster the Nywanda Grin this time. So I just sat there. Doing nothing.

Eventually I snapped out of it just as Andy came strolling round the side of the car brandishing an array of blister compeeds in mock-chastisement! I showed him my swollen fluid and blood filled feet and he was fairly unimpressed; probably because he had endured an injury from mile 12 and had still finished in high spirits. Applause for that man!

But hey, I finished the race. Another Ultramarathon. Not in great style but more learnings and here they are in re-cap form:-

  • Do NOT take pain-killers before you feel pain as they could actually mask the on-set of preventable injuries
  • Bind blisters as soon as they’re apparent and don’t ignore hot-spots
  • Check and double check electronic equipment and have a back-up if time, pace, distance and music is important to you
  • Do what you can, when you can and don’t worry about what you look or sound like
  • Be kind to marshalls, spectators and fellow runners. Volunteer for a marshalling spot and be extra patient with less than charming runners- you never know what they might be going through or have gone through to get to that point. NEVER suggest they DNF unless they are bleeding from the eyes and get a medical person to verify if necessary. Your suggestion might be the straw on the camels back; it takes a lot of mental focus to keep going when you’re hurt
  • Accept that the duration is irrelevant in comparison to your journey and that it might be different every time, regardless of training, prep and best intentions

The positives:

  • Hydration and nutrition was spot on. No dodgy tummy or otherwise so very pleased
  • Motivation under duress was flailing but adequate; I got me round
  • Scottish country-side still looks freakin AWESOME even when you’re suffering 🙂
  • I managed some race banter and encouragement to others
  • I ran most of the hills and felt good about it at the time
  • Got to run with Andy properly. This was very important to me as it was his testament  before the Benbecula Half Marathon in 2010 which lead to me returning to complete the Heb 3 in 2011 and really got me into West Coast running, which has ultimately brought me the most happiness in my running life to date. Thanks Mr O.

I write this now, having taken over 3 weeks to get around to it. Seems like aaaages ago now, but had to commit this to blog because I am determined to finish the year on a more positive note and am therefore heading out for another longish jaunt in a few weeks time. http://shop.sand-baggers.com/winter-ultra–10k-2012—race-entry-1560-p.asp I have never run on the West Highland Way and I’m determined to brave the oncoming weather front, the ascents of the Mamores and the exposure of Rannoch Moor to complete my 4th ultra before year end AND I have even found a very mad mountain buddy to accompany me!  I couldn’t depart these shores without a shotty on the Devil’s Staircase!! In all honesty, this one scares me a little but I’m learning so much from all these experiences that I’m absolutely positive it’ll help whenever I finally actually get my act together. When will that be? Who knows, but I have to keep trying and one of these days, I’ll get it right. Onwards and upwards. Let’s get it on!

Recovering and racing between Ultras

It’s been five weeks since the Speyside Way ultra (36.5 miles) and I’ve taken part in two races – the Crathes Castle Half Marathon (3 weeks after) and the Baxters River Ness 10K (5 weeks after), with results you might expect from a few months of back-to-back runs: slow and somewhat painful. DOMS after both events felt like my quads had been severly shortened over-night, so the mutliple daily journeys down the 3 flights of stairs in my townhouse have been time consuming.

But the runs themselves were splendid for many reasons and if nothing else, it was worth it for the unusually decent technical tee-shirts (decent sizing,colours & quality, not covered in sponsors logos) and the catch up with a few buddies.

NTS Crathes Castle Half Marathon

Finish target: 2:11:00. Actual finish time: 2:13:40. A hot day and I set off ‘self-pacing’ with no Garmin and no real pressure other than to finish and see if I came in somewhere around 2 hrs 11(a 10 minute mile). I knew the course to be fairly flat, with some off-road and I had a magic p*ss-about run there last year, involving karaoke guess the song title quizzes, piggy-backs, interviewing charity runners and general cajouling of the back-of-packers, as I buddied someone round the route for their first half marathon in 17 years! I know I can run without the over-analysis of pace feedback but was alas caught out with a desperate charge to a discrete area for emergency proceedings before the first water station! Disappointed that I AGAIN did not seem capable of controlling my body through eating/ drinking food which would not upset me during a run 😦

Baxters River Ness 10K

Time target: sub 55 mins. Actual time: 53.16. Another hot day and I wasn’t “bovvered” about time but hoped to come in comfortably under 55.02, which is what I ran in Southport in February with excrutiating pain, at the start of the injury which was to become The  Achilles Issue – enough that I had to walk at the 8K mark. As my only opportunity to run a 10K before year end, I thought I’d see what I could do and put in a mad mile split at the start and the end. Because I felt I could 🙂 Pleased that I can churn out this time without speed training and that sub-55 is something I can expect of myself nowadays. 10Ks are so weird right now though – the first 2 miles kinda hurt (sorry legs, I hadn’t given you enough running in the last 2 weeks) and I was feeling much better by mile 5 and then of course, it was all over! Inverness was buzzing due to the Marathon and it was weird seeing the count-up miles on Ness walk, where the two courses synched. I felt I should have been running the longer distance this year but I don’t fancy the course much at all. Ambiguous as ever, me!

The new Flying Scotsman?

A BRILLIANT run by Aberdeen’s very own Ben Hukins who literally threw himself over the line in a chariots-of-fire Eric Liddell pose and then collapsed in a valiant heap having finished second in the Loch Ness Marathon in under 2 hrs 30 mins. Amazing to see an athlete able to expend every single last ounce of effort and I believe he was OK a few minutes later (I felt too much like a car-crash oggler to stay around watching him sprawl). An inspirational run and this gent seems to be equally excellent across all distances from 5K to 26.2. Liam-Kerry came in for a triumphant 3rd place and winner of “everything” (practically) in the MV40 cat this year. Go Fetchie! We cleared off earlier than intended as one of the cats has been off-colour but managed to bump into Claire (PB), Esther (PB), Carol (SB), DQ and was delighted to hear that Fi blasted over 20 minutes off last years time with a GFA performance and a new PB with 3 hrs 40! That’ll be my last trip to Inverness for running this year and for a good while to come.

My first cycle (with my new hard-tail)

After months of deliberating between the cycle to work scheme and the fact that I have a bike shaped object in the garage (knackered gears, pink and silver, made from lead, slower than a sloth on pot), I eventually took my pennies and found the most amount of bike for the money. I had help from various MTB-ers and my BiL who is a decent triathlete and they all agreed, this Revolution Triad 1.0 (Edinburgh bike Co-ops own brand) was the mutts nuts. Plus I thought it looked cool and was in fact NOT a girls bike (thank-you Baddiel and Newman) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nCKYEM8qRc

Some bike info:

  • RockShox Solo Air-sprung Tora fork with PopLoc
  • Shimano Alivio 27-spd with Deore front and SLX rear mechs
  • Avid Juicy 3 hydraulic disc brakes
  • 13.79kg / 30.4lb
  • Multi-coloured spokey-dokeys **

** OK….maybe not!

I am very excited to be embracing a complementary outdoor activity to the current runnering exploits, albeit the dark nights are upon us. Leg strengthening and all that. Plus it’s something I can do with hubby. We decided to break the new toy in on a modest blast out the old railway and I had good fun experimenting with seat height and gear combinations (27 gears, would that be right?), especially once I got on the Big Cog and seemed to stretch away from the other half with relative ease. I had to get the buff on as the black flies were out by the time we returned. Unfortunately the light faded and went completely before we got back to the car-park, so a mile was cycled in the complete darkness(!) Yes, I will fit the lights for the next night outing but I was so eager to get out and didn’t think we’d be out for over an hour. So ten miles on the clock (as I discovered literally, when I couldn’t get my Garmin to log my pace on the next run, only to realise that I was still in bike mode). I will try not to go on about the bike too much but I think it will start to feature more and more in my life over the next few months. Please: don’t let me get ensconced with carbon this and ceramic that…it’s so easy to get sucked into a new world and my Wiggle connections are already Gold status through running J Here’s to the next outing. And maintaining focus…..

Riverside trail run

Talking of which, a couple of recent training runs after some particularly bad storms in the local areas, coupled with Noah-esque rainfall. I did get a nice breather on the top path on my local trail run through clearing some hefty tree limbs off the path and rolling them garde-loo style over the barrier and down towards the River. The day was so beautiful, as is often the case after Mother Nature has cleared her throat.

Where the wind blows…….

I came across a delightful little “hidey-hut” complete with tied down branches and a stone seat. How come this survived the storm but the streets were littered with leaves, branches and even huge trees with roots ripped from the Earth? I guess it’s the Chinese proverb of the mighty oak versus the weeping willow: sometimes it’s easier to roll with the punches and be subservient to might, rather than trying to stand-up to the elements. There’s a lesson there http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oak_and_the_Reed

A wee hidey hut – can you see the seat?

Fall running with a Fell-runner

You would think that if you were going to rise at the arse end of dawn and drive two and a half hours to do a run, that it would be fairly important to remember to bring your running shoes?

Well, no: don’t remember to pack your running shoes (choosing from a wide selection of INOV-8 Roclite’s talons and GTX versions……) and don’t even risk it and turn back once you do remember, for fear of being late. Just resign yourself to wearing your Salomon XA “shoes” which are ½ size too big and are generally reserved for kicking about in because they hurt your feet to run in.

So that was the great start to the day, rising at 6 a.m. eating a bagel with jam and promising to eat more on the way down but not managing to. Journey planning and not using the Google map print outs and then losing faith in your ability to follow road signs, thus using the Satnav (which just confirmed you were right).

However, I arrived in Pitlochry ahead of schedule so I drove around the town and finally parked up and used the loo in the local Co-op. My knee was stupidly stiff from all the gear changing (mad other side of the road driving to avoid road-works and ramps) and I generally just felt a bit radge. I unpacked my rucksack and futered until nearer 10 a.m. and then I texted my running partner to inform her where I was. Was it lucky that I had passed on my car reggy, as she had forgotten her phone and wasn’t it also lucky that she had a spare pair of offroad Salomon S-Labs in my exact size? Indeed!

I met the dogs (3 off) and we drove to a small forest carpark off an estate beside Moulin. A slight splash of rain and a brief tryst with a couple who didn’t like dogs (isn’t it great how pets always know which people hate them and then overcompensate trying to win them over?) and we were off up the burnside path. I soon had to adopt a walk due to well, not being very fit and actually I felt a bit white n weak, information I quickly passed on incase I passed out. This nausea disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and later, I put this down to having not eaten enough before setting off. But it was nice terrain and we chatted when the ascent wasn’t too arduous – thankfully the route was between two hills and not up the local hill Ben Vrackie. Maybe next time!

Ben Vrackie in the background

The moors offered a rocky descent and I really enjoyed the views as well as the chance to do some running (as opposed to bimbling or walking). I usually let my mind wander when I’m out in the country so it was a different experience to be running with someone else and a small dog. The dog had this endearing way of tripod-running by folding a hind-leg up towards the belly and hopping quickly with the remaining foot. As the sheep covered moors faded into farm-land, we took a path onto a country road and headed towards the River Tummel.

The weather stayed dry and the scenery was stunning, everywhere we went there were picture opportunities but I tried to commit most to memory and minimised the use of the phone camera! [Yep, these pics really are taken with my whiteberry].The road running was slightly jarring in the off-road shoes but it was a treat to get a “free trial” of broken in trail shoes and I have apparently been wearing the wrong size. these fitted perfectly and my feet only really hurt near the end of the run, when we returned to Pitlochry via the A947 pavements. The next part of the route was on woodland trail which skirted the river and dipped and fell alongside some beautiful water features. This was the time I felt the best during the run and managed to open up a few times, although I was tracking the run via the Motorola MotoACTV on a clip and had stuffed it into my waistpack, so had no idea of pace or distance at that point. We veered in to view a local spot where legend had it that Rob Roy leapt to escape pursuers; but on trying to google it for more info, I couldn’t find anything on tinternet, so it presumably can’t be that well known a legend! Hmmm maybe it wasn’t Rob Roy……

It was during this final stage of the trail run, on undulating ground, that I realised I was running low on water and was feeling tired and hungry. Whilst viewing a local bungee jump point I unfortunately let my own feet get caught up with some gnarly tree-trunks and I took a flyer (without a bungee). Landing on my knee and hand, I ungracefully rolled sidewards but got up with only an “Oof” to draw attention to my plight. I guess falling is all part of running and my run-partner waited unperturbed whilst I recomposed myself for the return leg into Pitlochry. Some more chat about whether training with less water might break me of my “comfort blanket” (I tend to carry water with me for anything over a 10K and anytime I haven’t I’ve always felt my performance was impaired……)

The conversation went back and forth, with me gleaning lots of tips and interesting factoids, no more so than that the sheer nature of hill and fell-running can mean that those athletes who undertake the challenge and travel far and wide, can be somewhat solitary by nature. And private. I think that this aspect of the hills and running there, is what appeals to me (because it certainly isn’t the talent I have for covering the terrain with speed or dexterity). You can’t hide from the land, the elements, the effort required to pass over the Earth and you don’t need to be anything other than what or who you are. Because the hills don’t really care! There aren’t many things you can say that of, in life and living in society can require a certain pantomime. The one characteristic which I really wasn’t prepared for was the lack of an ego, something which is normally associated with talent and achievement. I don’t think I have ever met someone with so little concern for anything other than doing the best that can be done and avoiding the hamster-wheel of commodity living. Probably the most admirable trait I’ve seen in anyone because I know it’s one I’ll never achieve. Even this blog is a token of crass look-at-me-ism and for that I do apologise. However, as the day progressed, I did take heed of the fact that I have still been running a relatively short period of time and that trail running is not easy! I know I am often too judgemental of myself and frustrated, nae, embarassed by my lack of prowess. Running is very enjoyable regardless of ability and I assume that is why a world-class fell and sky-runner was willing to give up a day of her life to (a) a charity auction resulting in (b) a bimble about with a sloth-paced stranger 🙂 Afterwards we reached Pitlochry (running between the tourists, in front of whiskey shops, tartan shops, tea-rooms), we drove back to the car-park, changed and picked up the other car and the dogs who had remained behind. We found a small teashop (which wasn’t jam-packed with retired tourists) and I asked them for “something chocolate” and was presented with my full order: “lashings” of tea, orange juice, water and a huge slice of chocolate crispy! It was much needed and sustained me until the real meal of the day: chicken pie at the Lairhillock Restaurant. We parted after a quick hello to the dogs (I soooo want a furry running partner), who were going to get a walk up Ben Vrackie that afternoon and me? I headed home via a lovely detour, which saw me breathing in as I drove passed an articulated lorry on a single track road, with me on balanced on the sloped side(!). Memories in place, managed to not be too Fan-Girl (I hope) and a resolve to chill out a little bit about what should or shouldn’t be happening in my So Called Running. I’ve a lot to be grateful for and days like today make the crappy ones fade. Happy and looking for pins to deflate my own sense of self-importance 😉

Next long run will be Bennachie range Gordon Trail, back via Oxen Craig. Hills but on my own and in my own shoes.

Ultra-running- the Speyside Way Splash

Race selection background

See my aforementioned blog regarding my reasons to run and also, bear in mind that I did no running training from February to April this year due to a calf tear and achilles injury, resumed running < 3 miles per day in May after loads of physio and acupuncture, kept mileage to a minimum incorporating Kenyan hills and tempo runs whilst continuing core and strength exercising, “conquered” a couple of half marathons during the Heb 3 series, ran Nairn half the weekend before SSW ultra and my longest single run was 15 miles, over Ben Aigan twice with a few broken up longer runs as part of my SSW recces. Was I stupid to attempt this race? Possibly, although I don’t think it’s stupid to try your best. Despite my mileage being less than ideal, my brain was in full ultra mode and I felt ready for this event.

Stats

Miles run = 36.9 (including toilet detours), Time taken = 7 hrs 29 mins 11 seconds.

Spilts

The details: 10.32, 10.20, 10.46, 10.29, 10.07, 10.20, 10.23, 10.13, 10.43 (WC1), 9.26, 9.30, 19.34 (CP1/WC2), 15.21 (WC3), 27.09, 28.43, 16.25 (WC4), 9.28, 11.31, 11.14, 11.51, 12.23, 11.39, 12.08, 10.31, 23.04 (CP2, last solid food eaten), 10.05, 13.15 (WC5), 11.16, 12.08, 11.54, 14.36 (WC6), 12.26, 12.56, 12.04, 12.02, 11.29

Equipment list

Bodyglide, X-socks Run Sky (2 off), Shockabsorber B4490, Haglofs boxers, Haglofs intense shorts, Icebreaker 200 series light long sleeve merino wool shirt,  Gore Magnitude AS vest, Buff buff, UltrAspire pocket handhelds (2 off), Salomon XA20 rucksack with Camelbak 2 Litres bladder, Nike Lunarglide 2+ (2 off), CompresSports calf guards, INOV-8 Gaiters

Food

Mule Kicks Cherry & Himalayan salt gels, bananas, organic crunchy peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich, crystallised ginger, oatmeal CLIF bars (hardly any of this got eaten)

Drink

Organic chocolate soya milk, flat cocoa-cola, coconut water, Kara coconut milk drink, water with electrolyte tablets, water (all of this got drunk)

Race Account

We were expecting rain for the start of the race but even the torrent experienced driving through the early a.m. country roads to Buckie, didn’t prepare us for the river which met us at the start of the Speyside Way Ultra in Ballindalloch. I don’t mind the rain because you can only get “so” wet and being a slightly oversized distance runner, I often benefit from the cooling effects of the colder weather 🙂

I had decided to wear road shoes for the ultra quite a few weeks earlier, because the support would benefit me more than the extra grip from offroad shoes, however, I was fretting a little and doubting my choice. Within the first few strides my feet were completely soaked so I just had to grin and bear it; we were all in the same boat.

I felt relaxed at the start, exchanging a few words with some Cape Wrathers and spotting Andy before the off which was nice. I settled in behind two gents who were holding a full blown conversation about how to dry out their tent and I was soon in a small group who were to remain together for the best part of the day. I knew the first 10 miles of the route so I concentrated on not going too quickly and staying ‘safe’ by lifting my knees and not striding boldly through puddles but rather watching the feet in front to gauge depth of water. I did occasionally get to look up and, despite the rain, the farmland around us looked stunning.

Everything was going pretty well until around mile 8 and I started to feel a bit burbly in my tummy. A different kind of sweat came on and I wondered if I could hold on until the visitor centre toilets at Aberlour? Nope, I took a few minutes scanning around and made the first of several horrendous heaving toilet stops which were to be the real dampener on an otherwise tremendous experience. I’ll keep the details to myself but on this occasion I managed to avoid exposure to any other runners. I had to go again almost immediately but made it back onto the path in front of a running couple. Felt much better afterwards and certainly picked up the pace a little, as I’d hoped to keep my splits around 10.30 minute/mile until CP1. Then my Garmin came apart at the top strap pin! Luckily I saw it just as it happened and I ran the rest of the way to Craigellachie with the pin in my hand. Good job hubby was on hand to fix the Garmin whilst I did a sprint to the loos! I grabbed my ipod, a banana and swapped the UltrAspire handheld for my rucksack. Feet didn’t feel blistered and had actually reached a warm n happy stasis, as I started the climb towards Ben Aigan.

On the tarmac and runners were coming out in dribs n drabs, a combination of those who had spent a good time at the CheckPoint and the likes of me, who had bustled through, wary that time was draining away. [I say that because I had received the promise of more sponsorship if I came home in under 7 hrs 30 and my time target was sub 7, so I was hopeful of securing the extra cash for BASIC]. But more tummy issues and I had to just keep on keeping on. Surprisingly, I was still on target for sub 7 when I came into Fochabers, as I’d factored in spending way longer at the checkpoints and taking pictures/ tweeting. I elected to not take my phone with me from my first drop bag!

Before this stage was the hilliest part of the route, a great trail section where I had a bit of an epiphany regarding my childhood, got all emotional which I partly attributed to hormones(!) and partly because it’s just so damn mystical in the forest and on hills at the best of times and some of the scenes were postcard perfect. This was definitely the best if not the toughest running of the day and I enjoyed those miles the most. Masochist? Moi?

I knew the route until the right turn at Bridgeton farm. A long unrelenting straight on the main road lay ahead and I had a brief stop to ask about water stations and the two girls I spoke to were also running low on water. The rain had stopped and the day was warming up. My bladder/electrolyte hadn’t been full when I started but I really could have done with more fluid as I needed to compensate for the extra loo stops. Och well, on I went and someone remarked that I was “brave to run on the hills”….erm, I didn’t really count all up gradient as hills to be honest as I was now having to run when I could and use my loo stops as rest stops- you do what you can, don’t you? So on I went and I cat n moused a few people but by now I was starting to feel a bit spaced and was grateful to see Checkpoint 2 at the top of a very steep brae. Somehow I had marked my drop-bag with 56 instead of 65 (I am NOT a morning person I tell you!) and once I opened it, it was all I could do to peel the sodden Nike’s and socks off my feet, wipe the mud from my skin as best I could, apply vaseline and clean socks n shoes. The blister sites looked white but I couldn’t tell if they were blisters or just wrinkly wet feet. I wasn’t fancying any of the food but I exchanged the rucksack for a handheld containing coconut water and that seemed to go down very well.

Off towards Fochabers and I had a brief pick up in energy before I was in the bushes again….into the cricket green where the travelling folks had set up camp and I passed my hubby, pal and her baby with no time to spare for chatting, I felt I had to keep going and asked for a Neurofen to be ready for me at Spey Bay 😦 I had decided not to eat anything solid from then on because it seemed to have dire effects and I knew I had plenty fat reserves to tap into if needed.

The rain was off  and I was beginning to dry out. The gnarly tree trunks which patterned the next few miles of path were familiar to me but required concentration, so much so that I seemed to catch two gents who I hadn’t seen for some time. But no! some poor bloke had to see me squat minutes later and I blushingly asked if he had any spare TP. Ah camaraderie eh? I also got more ‘donations’ from two rather surprised hikers about a mile out from Spey Bay. A really gracious couple of runners who were sticking to a very successful walk-run strategy, let me passed as the day became a little warmer and I rolled my sleeves up for the final 1/6 of the race. It was definitely The Best Toilet In Scotland when I dashed into the Whale and Dolphin Centre to use the lavvies just before the final water station. I had a bit of grump because no one could find the Neurofen I had put in the car 1st aid kit and instead had procured two evil looking red tablets from somewhere. Nope, I couldn’t risk the unknown painkillers so the feet just had to be forgotten about for the next 5 or so miles. Grrrrr.

My time target was gone and I was just plugging away doing whatever I could as I hit the trails before the disused railwayline. The forest smelled beautiful and my stomach stayed put. It felt steady and I probably had some sort of zombie-rhythm going on but it was very slow; I kept the gent in front in my sights and slowly crept up on him and two others as we came into Port Gordon; so unfair because he had a cut leg and had clearly taken a fall somewhere in the forest. As I passed a very tired runner, I felt very guilty as I realised I had been staring at his backside for the last 10 minutes, so I had a quick chat with him and realised he was one of the tent-gents from the original chatty group. I followed the marshal who pointed us onto the shingly track but was surprised to be running towards a car parked across the path; the occupants were completely oblivious to the race going on around them, reading the paper and eating safties! It was kinda funny, especially given that I hadn’t eaten anything since Fochabers and was now relying on chocolate coconut milk for sustenance. It more of less worked but my stomach was starting to do a refuser even for the milk, about a mile away from Buckie and I couldn’t do anything with the pace as I felt the first stabs of cramp threaten my left calf. But this was my old town and the familiar sights and knowledge of the route came to my aid once again.

Och I shouldn’t complain really, I’ve felt worse at the end of half marathons(!) – I was relatively strong (perhaps having benefited from the slower pace and multiple stops) no wobbly legs, no tears as I crossed the burn and ran along the Yardie, even managing to maintain some sort of running motion back towards the finish. I tried to smile, I really did, it was part grimace part elation. Despite not thinking sub 7.30 was possible with 2.5 miles to go, I managed to scrape in with 49 seconds to spare!

However this account might read, I can honestly recommend this race to anyone thinking about upping their distance. Even in inclement weather this event is a well oiled machine regarding marshaling, signage, water stops, goodies and the overall organisation including facebook page for motivation, pictures and weather updates. I really enjoyed preparing for the race and will definitely make the pilgrimage back at some stage because it is just a stunning part of the country, with a great mix of wee towns, fields, track, forest, hills, windy woods and roads, the magnificance of the Spey river, bridges, sheep, cows, travellers, hikers…..and the odd ultra runner 🙂

After-thoughts

Nice to (re) meet: Sarah the race director, The dashing marshal who almost got flattened with a sweaty hug from me on Ben Aigan, all the lovely marshals and by-standers who took time to clap, shout and encourage, the living legend and inspiration extraordinaire that is _andy, my new mate with the gadgets Nick, Good looking Tommy, Fabulous Norma and her brilliant race chat and racing pooch, author and super-distance mogul Andrew Murray who shook my hand at the finish, all my fellow runners. My personal supporters Linda and wee Oliver (The Ver) who didn’t bat an eye at my grumpy demeanour at Fochabers and of course, my dutiful and utterly amazing husband who clearly sees the best in me, having experienced some of the worst during these longer races.