Sunday, 26 April 2015

Race report: Balmoral 10k (or, hungry but happy)

Less than two weeks after the Glenlivet 10k, yesterday it was time for the Balmoral 10k.  I was dithering about going right up until the very last minute as 1) the weather looked like it was going to be miserable and 2) a four hour round-trip for a race that would be over in an hour felt like a waste of time.  But, after much whingeing which was ignored by Bassman (which, really, was the wisest thing that he could have done), I loaded up the car with two running jackets, three long-sleeved tops, three pairs of running tights, two pairs of socks, and two pairs of running shoes.  Because you can never be too prepared for the unpredictable Scottish weather...

The drive to Balmoral was lovely and, by the time that I reached the queue for parking, the snow and sleet had stopped and the sun had come out.  Yay!  It took 30 minutes or so to reach the car park and there was then a 20 minute walk to the castle grounds so, by the time that I reached Race HQ, it was noon.  Now, I had had a bowl of porridge and a banana at 8am before I left the house.  The race started at 2pm which I figured would leave me plenty of time to get a bite to eat - and to let it digest - before the race.  What I hadn't counted on was not being able to find anything sufficiently vegetarian.  There were lots of sausages, burgers (beef and venison), and other meat-based things but I couldn't find anything for the runner who prefers not to eat sentient beings.  There was a cake vendor, but I didn't want cake.  I just wanted a nice, healthy, slow-release, carb-based lunch. 

Sigh.  Fortunately, I had a banana with me that was meant to be for after the race but needs must.  I ate it in four bites while sitting out of the wind in the sun, looking at the hills and watching the school pupils run their races.  At 1pm, I tried to make my way to the Changing Tent but the 5k race was still finishing and there was no way that the marshalls were letting anyone cross the track until every...single...runner had finished.  Cue a wild round of applause for the last two - who strolled by, arm in arm, chatting and laughing; perhaps they had ended up on the track by mistake on their way to the cake vendor? - and then a mad dash by a great many people to get to the Changing Tents, loos, and baggage drop before our race started.

I decided to follow Paul's advice - 'Be bold, go cold' - and opted to wear 3/4 length tights with my Gore running shirt over a technical t-shirt.  Given that the temperature was around 6 degrees with a 20mph wind and that it was sleeting when I left the Changing Tent, I froze until I managed to insert myself into the middle of the crush of people at the start line.  That helped a great deal! 

And then we were off.  I had read other people's reports of this race so I knew to expect a bottleneck of runners until we reached the trails.  And this is indeed what happened.  I was proud of myself for staying calm when I got stuck behind people walking three abreast and when I was cut off by people who zoomed by me only to step in front of me and slow down, and practiced conserving my energy by not weaving in and out of the masses (and by not cursing).  It was a slower first two miles than I had wanted but there wasn't much that I could have done about it, aside from starting further up in the corral with the faster runners, but then I would have gotten in their way just as much as people were getting in mine. 

The second mile was a gradual incline but I felt strong on it.  Shame that I couldn't get around people to go any faster!  But then we took a sharp left turn by a sign that said, 'Beware of the hill!' and the climbing started in earnest.  I had learned my lesson from the Glenlivet hill and immediately slowed down, focusing on effort rather than pace and this worked fairly well until about a third of the way up when my lungs insisted that I walk.  In all, I walked five or six times up this 2k hill but unlike Glenlivet, I walked briskly instead of dejectedly and only walked 20-30 seconds each time, just until my lungs stopped heaving.  And I didn't give myself a hard time either, all of which meant that I reached the top in good spirits and ready for the downhill run.  After all, the sign at the top promised 'It's all downhill from here!'

The Hill felt A LOT steeper than this looks!

Of course, it wasn't ALL downhill but that's okay as I didn't believe the sign anyway.  However, for the next 2k, there was indeed some lovely downhill running where I felt like I was flying.  I know that I had a big smile on my face, especially when it started to snow - there aren't many better feelings than running fast through the snow!  Then the downhills started to turn a bit more undulating, and then we were back on the road, still undulating, but I continued to feel strong.

And then, out of the blue, around the 8k mark, my energy completely disappeared.  It was like a switch had been turned off.  I'm not sure that it's possible to hit the wall in a race this short, but I think that I now have some idea of what that feels like.  My legs felt heavy, the stride that had felt so smooth felt awkward and ungainly, I felt sick, I had a stitch in my side, and I just wanted to stop.  It felt like I was running at a slow jogging pace through treacle but I refused to look at my Garmin.  I told myself that I could only do what I could do and that this was happening because I hadn't eaten (my stomach was grumbling big time and I suddenly became aware of how very hungry I was), not because I was a crap runner.

I should have had the cake.

Mind games, but I am coming to believe that for me, a lot of what holds me back is in my head.  So I carried on, running womanfully, trying not spew in front of the cheering crowds lining the road for the last kilometre, trying not to curse as I turned sharp left into a vicious headwind for the last 200m to the finish, trying not to walk...

I stopped my Garmin as I crossed the finish line and didn't even bother to look at it until I was in the Changing Tent because, really, what was the point?  I hadn't walked (aside from on The Hill) and I had done the best that I could, and that was honestly fine with me.  So, when I finally looked, I was taken aback to see that my finishing time was 1:00:53.  My mile splits were 9:38 (crowded path), 9:56 (still crowded), 12:16 (The Hill), 8:46, 9:07, 9:04, and 9:19 (the last .22 kilometres). 

So, given the day's confounding factors (Cathy's phrase, which I vastly prefer to 'excuses'), I am more than happy with my time.  I'm happy that I've done two races two weeks apart - something that I never thought my body would be able to do - with no ill effects.  I'm happy that I've run some proper downhills with nary a twinge from my knee, either during or after.  I'm happy that I've run up hills without blowing out my calf or straining my achilles, which also is something that I never thought I'd be able to do.  And I'm happy that I'm finally learning to ignore, if not exactly silence, that negative voice in my head.  I can't change my biomechanics, but I can change how I think about them!


  1. Elevation profiles on Garmin never reflect the perceived incline and the effort entailed, do they!? Well done on the positivity as much as the result.

  2. They also don't reflect the twisty, turny, multiple-false-summits nature of The Hill! It actually wasn't that bad, just steep, and with some practice...nah, who am I kidding? I probably still would have needed to walk!

  3. Well done you, on the positive thinking as well as on the good running time.
    I just don't know how you do it! just thinking about it brings me out in a sweat,(or is that just another hot flush?).

  4. Thanks, Soo! The only time that I seem not to hot flush is when I'm running outside, so that helps a bit with the motivation!