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.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The first Half (part one)

I follow a lot of running blogs, and I quite like when the authors write a mile-by-mile critique of their races.  So, here is my version, which will be spread over several entries for ease of reading and because I’m too lazy to sit here and type it all out at once.  

It's the day of the Aviemore Half Marathon!

Not my actual cat
0550-0610:  I woke up with Maia sitting on my chest, her nose pressed to mine which meant that her Elizabethan collar was over my face, clearly hoping for an early breakfast.  I knew that I needed to be up by 6am if I wanted not to feel rushed, but I still hid under the blankets for another 20 minutes anyway, feeling nervous and wondering if I could come up with any acceptable excuses for not racing...lots of excuses, yes.  Acceptable ones?  No.

0610-0710:  After a quick shower and my usual breakfast of porridge, I taped up my calf with my pink KT tape (and FINALLY got the perfect taping), put on my already-decided-on running outfit, grabbed my pre-packed rucksack (which contained several optional running tops and jackets, because a girl can never have too many clothes), and headed out the door.  I managed to forget my bottle of water for the car and my change of clothes for after the race.   I was now 10 minutes behind schedule and the thought crossed my mind that, if there were too many lorries on the A9, maybe I’d be so late that I’d miss the last bus to the start line.  This made me feel panicked, but there also was a smidgen of relief that maybe I wouldn’t have to do this race after all.  After all, getting held up by traffic on the A9 is a very acceptable excuse...However, as they say in Shetland, ‘Put your big girl panties on and deal with it.’  And I was indeed wearing my big pants, so I was all set.

Perhaps not what the organisers had in mind
0800-0845:  I got to Aviemore in plenty of time.  I parked outside of the town centre so that 1) I didn’t have to worry about not getting parked in town and 2) I could use the 15 minute walk into town as a bit of a warm-up.  Registration went very quickly and smoothly, but I was a bit disconcerted by seeing that I am old enough to have been classified as a ‘Super Vet.’  The next age category up is ‘Vintage,’ which at least conjures up images of gorgeous classics. 

Lodges at Badaguish
0845-0945:  After a 10 minute bus ride, we had to walk 10 minutes through the forest to Badaguish, where the race was to begin.  All of the women rushed to the indoor loos while the men, who seemed to be much more hardy (or maybe they just don’t worry so much about having to sit on an icy toilet seat), started queuing for the outside toilets.  Even though the queues were long, there still was enough time for a cup of tea and a biscuit, warming-up exercises, a pre-race energy bar, and a glass of water.  There also was enough time for another visit to the indoor loos where, after discussing clothing strategies with several women in the queue with me, I changed from my T-shirt to my running vest.  It was absolutely freezing at that time of the morning, but I was going to be wearing my middle-weight running jacket and the last thing that I wanted was to realise that I was too hot half-way through the race.

I'm at the back - waaaay at the back
0945-1000:  We made our way to the start line, where finishing times were helpfully provided so that you lined up with your own people, rather than hanging with the elite athletes and getting under their feet when the gun went off.  I lined up with the sub-2:30 runners, of whom there were many; this was because no one wanted to admit that they actually should be starting in the last section, which was for sub-2:45 finishers.   

I had a nice supportive chat with a woman who looked to be a bit older than me (which would still place her in the Super Vet category, of which I am sure she was grateful) and who did the AHM last year as well.  We talked about training plans, injuries, and what we had forgotten to pack (she forgot her iPod, which I fortunately had checked and triple-checked was in my rucksack and, more importantly, had remembered to charge).  I also talked with a Japanese woman who suddenly realised that she had forgotten to leave her rucksack with the transport van for taking back to the finish line; she rushed off to find the van and I didn’t see her again, but I'm sure that this would have been a nice warm-up jog for her and would have gotten the adrenaline going quite nicely.  I started to regret my last drink of water and wondered if I had time for one more loo visit, but then the gun went and it was too late to do anything except start moving forward.  

And my thoughts at that exact moment?  'OMG, I’m running a half-marathon!'

To be continued...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I'd be doing a happy dance right now...

if only my feet weren't so blisteringly sore.  Thank you to everyone who sent me positive vibes, crossed their fingers, offered encouragement, and volunteered to do the race with me next year (yes, Cathy, I'm talking about you!).  I'll write a longer post in the next day or so giving a step-by-step accounting of myself but, for now, here are the highlights.

Yes, I finished the race!  In 2:17, according to my Garmin.  No idea what my official time is, as it isn't on the website yet and I couldn't find my name on the list of times that was posted after the race.  On the one hand, I'm thrilled with my time.  I would have been happy with anything under 2:30 and, based on my training runs, was expecting to come in around 2:20.  On the other hand, I was on track for sub-2:10 until I had to stop, stretch, walk, and then reduce my speed at mile 11 following major grumbling from my calf. 

My legs feel amazingly okay tonight, aside from some residual stiffness in my calf/hamstring tendon.  I had a 15 minute massage after the race to loosen my calf, and the massage therapist thought that it was just tight as opposed to being injured.  Whew.  It'll be interesting to see how it feels tomorrow.  Fortunately, I'm seeing Adam then for a post-race massage, which I am expecting to be soothing rather than something designed to make me cry. 

My main source of pain tonight is from the blisters (which are under the callouses) on the outside of my big toes.  I have no idea why I've suddenly started getting blisters, although Chi Running would suggest that this is because my lower legs are still too stiff and I'm pushing off with my toes rather than just letting my foot float up behind me.  Aside from non-floating feet, however, I think that I maintained my form pretty well through most of the race.  I felt very Chi.

I wouldn't say that it was easy but, aside from the last two miles, I really enjoyed myself and I am now feeling cautiously optimistic for London.  188 days to go.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Fingers crossed...

I've had a query from Cathy as to whether all of my ministrations were making any difference to my calf and ankle.  I didn't want to draw any further attention from the Running Gods but perhaps it's safe now to say...unless something goes drastically wrong in the next four days, I WILL be lining up for the Aviemore Half Marathon!

It took 7 days for me to be able to walk without pain, and I gave it an extra couple of days of rest just to be sure, but last week I ran 3 miles on Wednesday, 4 miles on Friday, and 2 hours on Sunday.  Nothing felt injured, although my legs were VERY tired by the end of the 2 hour run.  I'm not sure how far I went - I forgot to charge up the Garmin - but I took it slowly and walked a bit every mile for the first couple of miles, and then walked even more the last couple of miles because I was heading into the wind and I could feel my calves tightening up.  The middle miles felt fine. 

Reassuringly, although my legs were quite achey the rest of Sunday, they had recovered completely by Monday morning.  I went to the gym today after work and did an hour on the cross-trainer, bike, and rower (combined, not an hour each!).  I'll do a small run on Thursday and then that's it until the race.  I'm sure that I have under-trained but, frankly, given the past year, I view getting to the start line in one piece as the mark of successful training.  Actually finishing the race, in whatever time I manage, will only be a bonus.

AHM:  If I get tired, I'll let gravity do the work!