Sunday, 12 October 2014

Race report: Aviemore Half Marathon

I had hoped to get in some quality runs between the 10k two weeks ago and today's HM but work, weather, and general inertia combined to see me run not one single step in the past week.  If nothing else, at least this helped the 50p-sized blood blister that I picked up during the 10k (I wore the wrong socks; I love my bamboo socks but they do not love me, which I KNOW but the turquoise socks look so nice with my pink shoes and I thought, what harm can it do, it's only 10k...) and my knee to settle down.  So, I rocked up to the start line in fine fettle and really, really looking forward to this last run in my year of Fun Running.

At the start:  a bit blurry, but still beautiful
I was pleasantly surprised to find one of my work friends and her husband in the start line queue.  They're just back from two weeks in Canada so we had lots to chat about as we waited for the race to start and we continued chatting as the queue slowly moved forward towards the start line.  In fact, we were gabbing so much that I forgot to turn on my Garmin and only realised that as I began to run.  Oh FFS.  I toyed with leaving it off completely - for this race, I wanted to focus on the experience rather than obsessing about mile splits - but I can't NOT have data...cue much faffing with the Garmin, stumbling over rocks as I faffed, and being blinded by the unexpected appearance of the sun as I faffed and stumbled.  In other words, my usual graceful race start.  But once the Garmin had found a satellite and was doing its thing, I resolved not to look at it at all and to run my own race in my own way.  And funnily enough, I wasn't even tempted to look until it was all over.

It took  me almost a half-mile to get the Garmin sorted and by that time, I had become mired in the midst of some slower runners who were using the flat, stone-free part of the path, forcing anyone who wanted to overtake them onto the cambered, rocky sides.  Which, to the detriment of my blister, I did.  I don't remember the paths being that rocky the last time that I did this HM, but I really struggled on them today.  It was hard to keep my footing and the glare of the low sun immediately in front of us made it hard to see what was happening on the ground.  I went over on both of my ankles a couple of times, one of which elicited a loud 'Whoa!' from the two people behind me.  Still, it could have been worse.  I saw a woman after the race with bruising and cuts to her face from a fall.  I felt like an idiot, but at least I wasn't injured.

Get. Out. Of. My Way.
While I'm complaining, I also don't remember the previous race being as crowded as it was today.  I seem to recall mainly running on my own a lot of the time, which was fine because some of the paths are so narrow that there's only room for one person.  Huh.  Not this time.  At one point, it felt like the Cairngorms' equivalent of being on the A9:  one slow person in front and a long queue behind them with nowhere to overtake.  Unlike the A9, everyone was being very polite, no one asked the slower person to step aside, and it didn't feel appropriate to do that from the middle of the queue so I relaxed into it and enjoyed the views through the trees of the loch below.

I also enjoyed the downhill bits.  Normally I brake and hold myself back and thud and jar my way to the bottom of a hill.  Today, though, I focused on light, quick steps and on relaxing my ankles and knees.  I tried to keep my hips over my ankles rather than sitting back which meant that it felt like I was leaning down the hill.  Initially scary but then it felt very joyful.  My knee held up just fine, and I overtook lots of folk.  Yay!

And then we were onto the road section.  I like road running and it was nice to be away from the rocks, and it felt like I picked up the pace.  I know that this race is advertised as mostly downhill, but IT ISN'T.  And I am convinced that the first 3 miles on the road consist of a slow, steady incline.  I think that I hated this section last time but today I enjoyed it.  I didn't struggle at all and, despite the blisters (by now, there was one on the other foot as well), steadily overtook people.  UNTIL...

Both lanes of the road are open during the race, and there are traffic cones along the left side to create a safe corridor for runners.  Last time, there was often room for at least two runners which allowed for overtaking.  Today, though, there were a lot of sections where there was only room for one runner and the marshalls were keeping an eagle eye out for people running outwith the cones so again, if you got stuck behind someone going slower than you, you were out of luck.  I did at one point leap from the road to the verge where there was a small path through the grass but this was too uneven for me to run on and, more importantly, that leap tweaked my knee.  Aaarrrggghhh!

By mile 8, my knee had developed a spectacular cramp that extended from mid-calf to mid-thigh.  I normally can run through things like this but it started to feel like my knee was going to give way beneath me.  After a a couple of times where it felt like it had started to buckle, I eventually had to stop twice to give it a good stretch.  The cramping carried on until about mile 10, but I womanfully ran through it and then it disappeared as quickly as it started.  Go figure.

The last three miles were great!  I felt strong, my cardio was not a problem, and NOW it was all downhill!  I overtook more people, waved at the marshalls and spectators, sang along to the songs on my iPod, dodged children on their bikes who seemed to view the runners as an obstacle course, resisted the urge to look at my Garmin, and generally felt very happy indeed.  I had a brief moment of thinking that I was going to fall when I ran across the grass to the finishing line because it was quite bumpy, but I managed to finish upright and smiling.

There isn't a visible digital timer for this race - what there is, is a man with a stop watch taking a very loose measure of when people cross the finishing line (gun time), as well as timing chips for a more accurate record.  I checked my Garmin and I crossed the line in 2:08; add in another 5ish for the very beginning of the race, and I expected to come in around 2:13ish.  Not the best time in the world, but okay for me.  However, I felt so despondent when I checked the online results and found myself with a time of 2:16ish.  Grump grump moan moan, completely forget how great I felt for most of this race and focus on numbers numbers numbers.  Such a healthy attitude...but THEN I found out that the online time is most likely the gun time which means that my chip time should be a bit really shouldn't matter, but it does.

So that's it.  I'm now at home, icing my knee and cursing the blisters, which hurt way more than my knee does, and waiting for the chip times to be posted.  I ran this race the way that I wanted, doing my best to be fully present and noticing and appreciating everything; even though I wish that I had been faster, I like that I ended my year of Fun Running by...having fun!

But now, it's time for a rest!