Thursday, 18 October 2012

The first Half (part two)

And we’re off like a herd of turtles…

I'm not panicking, I'm watching the scenery.
Mile 1 to Mile 3:  When running a race, especially if one is more enthusiastic than fit, it is very important not to start out too quickly.  Otherwise, you risk crashing and burning well before the finish line.  The sub-2:30 group (and the sub-2:45ers who were masquerading as faster runners) must not have been aware of this critical piece of planning.  According to my Garmin, we started out at a 9:30-10:00 min/mile pace.  This was not my strategy so I slowed down, only to find myself a quarter of a mile in as THE VERY LAST PERSON IN THE ENTIRE RACE.  I briefly panicked but resisted the urge to keep up with the pack.  I looked at the scenery, I watched where I was placing my feet (so that I didn’t trip myself up on any rocks), I focused on my form, and I thought about how nice it was not to have to be dodging a huge crush of people.  It helped.

What helped more was that, by a third of a mile in and on a very slight incline, I overtook my first person, a largish woman who had stopped and was leaning over, hands on her knees, gasping for breath.  Strategy, people, strategy!  I carried on, steadily passing people who were stopping to walk and who were stopping to –well, to stop.  At 1.5 miles, I passed an older gentleman (obviously a Vintage kind of guy), who was wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘Choose your own pace, run your own race.’  Indeed.

I finished Mile 3 feeling fine, and had the cautious thought that this was going to be one of those runs where everything just clicks.  My legs felt relaxed, my breathing was in a steady 4:3 pattern, and I had stuck to my plan of running the first three miles at around an 11:00min/mile pace.  More importantly, nothing hurt.  When I saw the marker that said, ‘You have 10 miles to go!’ I felt a burst of confidence because 10 miles is my favourite distance to run and I KNEW that I could manage that.  I wasn’t too sure about 13 miles but 10?  No problem.

A proper runner on the Big Hill. 
Mile 4 to Mile 6:  I knew that there was going to be a Big Hill early on.  Some of the women in the queue for the women’s loo who had run the AHM before had been warning the rest of us about it.  The first three miles had been undulating, with a longish but not too steep climb to finish off Mile 3.  I thought that might have been the big hill and was feeling smug at how well I managed it.  Hah.  Following a short, quick downhill, the next mile was a Very Big Uphill.  I ran about half-way up it and then decided to walk the rest of the way.  Frankly, when I can walk faster than I can run, it’s time to walk.  And, even walking, I was passing some of the people who were running so I didn’t feel too badly about it.  Plus, I figured there was no sense in stressing out my calf this early in the race just so that I could say that I ran up a big hill.  Next time, though…

The first water stop was just after the steepest bit of the Big Hill.  I had decided not to run with my Camelbak as there were 3 fairly evenly spaced water stops along the way; I assumed that the water would be in a small bottle which I could then carry with me to the next water stop.  Unfortunately, the water was in small paper cups - sensible, I suppose, given that the organisers probably didn’t want discarded water bottles littering the National Park -  but this meant that I had to stop running and walk through the water stop because it was impossible to keep the water in the cup and run at the same time.  It also meant that I was probably going to be pretty thirsty by the end of the race, and I thought that perhaps I might have made a slight hydration miscalculation.  Still, it was very nice local water  – icy cold and peaty.  Shame I couldn’t have carried it with me.

After the Big Hill, we headed on forest trails towards Loch Morlich, which tantalised us with spectacular views from between the trees.   Miles 5 and 6 were pretty much all downhill, and I gave up trying to keep to a consistent speed and let myself be guided by my breathing and by the music on my iPod.  I continued to focus on my form, on landing lightly and keeping my cadence high, and on passing people.  If I had been running a 10k, I would have been thrilled with my time at this point!  As it was, I thought that it might bode well for my ultimate finishing time, as long as my calf held up.
 Mile 7 to Mile 9:

Loch Morlich
The route around Loch Morlich was flattish and took us back out to the main road, where there was another water stop at Mile 8.  I walked through this stop as well and drank ½ cup of water before setting off again.   As the road wasn’t shut for the race, a running corridor had been marked by the judicious placement of traffic cones along the left side.  There also was the option of running on the verge, where there was a narrow path through the grass.  This proved important as most of the runners kept to the road which, given the narrowness of the running corridor, meant that it was virtually impossible to overtake unless you ran on the verge.  Or overtook outside of the cones, if you felt brave enough to dodge the traffic.  I did a bit of both.  I was pleased that I was still doing mainly overtaking, rather than being overtaken, and that my breathing and my footfalls were lighter than those of the people around me.

Also Loch Morlich
I actually don’t remember very much about this section.  It was road running and there weren’t any views to speak of, and so it was not hugely interesting.  I do remember thinking that there were more uphills than I had expected and that, after running so many downhills, even running on the flat felt like I was running uphill.  But mainly I kept to a fairly consistent 10:00min/mile pace and tried not to think about what might happen when I entered Unknown Mileage Territory.

Mile 10 to Mile 12:

I managed to maintain an approximate 10:00 to 10:15 min/mile pace for most of Mile 10 and Mile 11 but I could feel that I was getting tired.  It was more of an effort to keep my legs moving and I started to get some random pains in my hip flexors.  My left calf, the bane of my running life, was getting a bit tight too.  But hey, only two more miles to go! 

I had planned to stop at the water stop at the end of Mile 11 but, when I checked my Garmin, I was astonished to see that I was on track for a sub-2:10 finish.  (Only sub by a few seconds, but still sub!)  I began to slow down to grab a cup but made a last second decision to carry on; I was willing to run two more miles without a drink if that meant a quicker finish.  Unfortunately, this ended up being a Bad Decision.

The water stop was on a hill.  Not a huge hill, but enough of an incline to feel difficult at this late stage.  By hesitating and then by slowing down, I lost momentum and my legs immediately spoke up with a hopeful ‘Are we there yet?’ query.  I passed the water providers at a slow shuffling jog but, when faced with the rest of the incline and a tight calf, my body chose to walk.  My brain was saying, ‘Noooo!  Run, you fool, run!’ but the legs weren’t listening.  I broke back into a run at the top of the incline and managed a short distance before I knew that I had to stop.  My calf was so tight that I feared that carrying on would tear something and it was more important to finish the race healthy than it was to finish the race quickly but then be out of commission for the next couple of months.  
The Running Gods have their say.
So I stopped.  And stretched.  And then walked.  And tried not to sulk when people overtook me.  And then I ran, but about a minute/mile more slowly than I had been.  I had lost the feeling of being a finely tuned machine.  Nothing fit together.  My legs were heavy, I was heel-striking and over-striding, and my breathing was ragged.  My calf felt okay, but nothing else did.

Mile 12 was a bitch.  I spent the first half praying to the Running Gods, ‘Please don’t let me be sick,’ and having visions of myself being one of those poor people who puke as soon as they cross the finish line.  I spent the second half thinking, ‘Please don’t let me do a Paula Radcliffe,’ in response to a sudden onset of intestinal distress.  I also had been aware for the previous couple of miles that I had blisters on both of my big toes but I had been able to block out the pain.  During Mile 12, though, they really hurt.

And then it started to rain.  Hurrah.

Mile 13:

This wasn't me!!!
One more mile (and a wee bit) to go.  I was so tired.  The nausea and intestinal cramps had gone, but my legs had nothing left.  And my toes hurt.  I was annoyed by my iPod - the music that had been so helpful suddenly got in the way of me pulling myself back together - so I unplugged myself, the better to hear the spectators clapping me onwards and shouting encouragement.   Funnily enough, this helped.  I didn’t really get any faster but I did feel an increase in determination to cross the finish line looking strong.  The short, steep incline 200m before the last 50m to the finish line almost undid me (and judging by the amount of cursing that was going on, several other people as well), but I powered to the top of it and then it was a run across the grass to the finish.  I saw Bassman and our friend Richard cheering me on from the other side (of the finish line, not The Other Side – I might have felt half-dead, but I wasn’t really) and I think I waved to them.  One of the women that I had been leapfrogging for the last half of the race nipped by me at the very end, which surprised me enough that I had to stifle a shriek at her suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

An interchangeable design
Then I was across the finish line and being herded towards being processed.  There was no goody bag, but we did get a bottle of water, a squished banana, and a small pack of shortbread.  Oh, and a medal.  Which, on closer inspection, doesn’t have the date on it and is the exact same design as the medal that I got for the Moray 10k five years ago.  But hey, this is for a charity and I’m sure that the money is going to a much better cause than a flash medal and a bulging goody bag for greedy competitors.  But I was still a bit disappointed.

 After the race:

My friends
As soon as I stopped running, my calf and hamstring tendon tightened up so much that I could barely bend my leg.  My Achilles tendon was grumbling a bit too.  Bassman, Richard, and I walked verrrry slowly to the building where the rucksacks were being stored.  I hobbled off to fetch mine and then sat down to put on my compression socks.  The size of my blisters when I took off my running socks was appalling and I quickly pulled on the compression socks, lest any of the children milling about nearby caught sight of them and were traumatised for life.

I limped into the main room where Run4It had a stall set up.  I might not have been able to walk, but I'm never too sore to shop; unfortunately, there was nothing worth buying.  I did find the massage room, though, and booked myself in for a 15 minute massage.  The lovely Wendy assured me that my calf and hamstring tendon were just tight, not injured, and I was able to bend my leg once she was done.  I met up with Bassman and Richard, who had gone into Aviemore to have lunch while I faffed around with shopping and massages, and had a bit of lunch of my own (outrageously expensive stale but oddly soggy sandwich, stale cake, and stewed tea but hey, it’s for a charity). 

I kept checking the race results as they came in, really wanting to see my official time, but it never appeared.  I did, however, see the woman that I had been chatting with at the start line.  She finished five minutes faster than she did last year, coming in at 2:35.  When I told her my time, she said, ‘Wow!  That’s really fast!’  I could have kissed her, since that's something that I've never heard before!  It just goes to show, it’s all relative.

For what it's worth, my Garmin showed a time of 2:17:15.  That's total time.  If you look at just running time (which takes into account stopping to stretch my calf), it's 2:13:23.  My average pace overall was 10:33.  My best pace was 7:35.  If I had started out just a bit faster for the first three miles, if I hadn't walked up the Big Hill, if I hadn't had to walk and then run more slowly after my calf tightened...but that's what next year is for.

The next day:

I was very achy all night but, when I got up the next morning, I was amazed at how good I felt.  Yes, my calf and hamstring tendon were still tight, but nothing else was.  Even my hamstrings, which had played up on every long run leading up to the race (and even on the some of the shorter runs), felt good and I realised that they hadn’t hurt at all while I was running.

I had an appointment with Adam at 12.30, and he confessed to having been a bit apprehensive as to how I was going to be, both physically and emotionally – more because he knew how much I wanted to do well than because he was fearful of my potentially foul mood.  (That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.)  However, he was as pleased as I was with the state of my legs.  They were tired and a bit sore in places, but nothing more.  In fact, I’d felt a lot more incapacitated after some of my training runs.

So, that’s it.  I ran a half-marathon in a time that I was happy with and didn’t get injured doing it.  There’s a lot that I would do differently, though, which is what I’ll write about in my next post.


  1. Sounds pretty tough in places, but you did really well to maintain that pace and get such a good time. I adopt exactly the same race strategy - start at the back, and aim to overtake more people than I am overtaken by! Bassman not inspired to join you next year ... ?

  2. The only really tough bits were the 2 miles at the end, and those were due to undertraining and poor planning. But thank you, I'm quite chuffed with myself!...Bassman is inspired to join me at the finish or, even better, at the pub. I'm afraid that it's up to you & me to do the racing! Here's to feeling confident enough to start at the back!

  3. I was so impressed at your lack of response to peer pressure fast starts. Those last 2 miles did sound tough but you got through it all uninjured. I hope you had a better celebration than the soggy/stale sandwich, although that is quite a culinary accomplishment too!

  4. There was much celebratory cake afterwards; in fact, I'm still treating myself to celebratory cake & cupcakes almost a week later! I'll go back to normal eating soon, once I finish the cranachan cupcake and luscious piece of chocolate cake that I bought at the Strathpeffer Market today. I only run so that I can eat cake...

  5. Cranachan - had to google it - how on earth you get those ingredients into a cupcake I have no idea, but it sounds scrumptious. There can't be many better reasons to run, IMHO!

  6. Cathy, the cranachan cupcake is for breakfast - will let you know if it's as yummy as it sounds & looks...and to Bassman,everyone knows that the cakes that one eats when running don't count. Just like white things (e.g. vanilla ice cream), clear things (e.g. gin & white wine), and food eaten in the car don't count either.

  7. you have lived with Bassman how long? and he doesn't know that yet...

  8. Bizarre, isn't it? He thinks that I'm using the 'clear things and white things' rule as an excuse to eat what I want, rather than me merely stating a scientific fact. The world of calories is a mystery to him.

  9. Don't forget the "broken things" and the "things nicked off someone else's plate" rules as well!

  10. And the "after midnight" and "eaten while standing up" rules...

  11. Nope, Bassman, I think you'll find that those are 'men only' rules. For example, women know that any food eaten after 8pm goes directly to the hips (unless it's white, clear, or nicked from someone else's plate).

  12. So how was the cranachan cupcake?? I found a recipe online from a cupcake shop in Edinburgh that I didn't know existed. Will certainly be making a trip to Dundas Street next time I'm there. There's involved a oat cupcake with raspberry jam centre and whisky buttercream decorated with toasted oats and a raspberry. Sounds yum!

  13. I wasn't hugely impressed with it - the oat cupcake was a bit too dense & the whiskey buttercream tasted too much like cream and not enough like whiskey. Didn't stop me from eating it though! Groupon always has deals for a cupcake shop in Edinburgh - not sure if it's the Dundas Street one, but the cupcakes look amazing! It's on my list of places to go on my next visit.