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!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

So close and yet so far...Glenlivet 10k race report

Oops, it's been two months since my last post.  How time flies when nothing is going wrong.  My niggly ankle has sorted itself out and my knee is cooperating with everything that I throw at it.  I'm up to consistent 20-22 mile weeks, with my most recent long run coming in at 11 miles, and enjoying myself immensely. What a good place to be in, then, for today's Glenlivet 10k.  It's the hilliest race that I've ever attempted and I had no idea what to expect in terms of finishing time, especially as I haven't exactly been pushing myself on the speed front, but I was more excited than nervous.

I stayed the night near Glenlivet at the Delnashaugh Hotel because I wasn't too keen on getting up at silly o'clock to drive two hours on race day.  It proved to be a good decision.  My room was lovely and spacious and had a fabulous view over the river to the hills beyond.  Even better, I discovered at the last minute that my friend Lizzie and her friend Morag were going to be staying in Aberlour in preparation for Morag doing her first ever 10k (Lizzie was there for moral support and to carry Morag's bags).

We arranged to have dinner together at The Mash Tun in Aberlour where I was disconcerted to find even fewer veggie options on the menu than I have come to expect from pubs.  I ended up having a brie and beetroot tart that was very tasty, but the massive cheese overload made for restless sleep later that night.  If I'm being honest, the sticky toffee pudding might have played a role too.  As did the child in the room next door who cried from 4am to 4.45am.  However, that's not much different than having cats whingeing for their breakfast while it's still dark so my tiredness level was normal when I finally got up.

Breakfast was a disappointment as I had optimistically - and foolishly - expected that porridge would be an option.  It wasn't.  The idea of running 10k with eggs stodging up my stomach was not an appealing one so I settled for cereal and a slice of toast and a banana.  Meh.

I met up with Lizzie and Morag at Race Reception HQ at the Glenlivet Distillery.  We huddled indoors until the very last minute so as to avoid the biting, bitterly cold wind and to make frequent use of the luxurious loos.  I didn't have enough time to do my usual warm-up - too busy huddling in the warmth - but hey ho, that's what the first kilometre is for!  And off we went, downhill (yay!), uphill, downhill again (more yay!), and then more or less on the flat until a sharp left turn to the start of a 2k hill.

The view from the start line. 
No running occurred on this mountain.  Phew.

Now, I have been running lots on hills and inclines recently.  On trails and on the road, including a 5k uphill only a couple of weeks ago.  I'm not fast but I get there in the end.  My head was saying, 'You know that you can do this; slow and steady, just like the Mount High road,' and I wanted to listen to that voice, I really did.  Unfortunately, my legs were shouting, 'Woo hoo, we feel great, gogogogogogogo!' and not listening to the words of warning from my lungs.  Reader, I had to walk.  Several times.  I wasn't the only one by any means but that doesn't matter - I COULD have run up the whole bloody hill if I only had stuck to my game plan.  Sigh.

Anyway, after about 4k, the uphill ended and a fairly steady downhill started (with a couple of surprise steep uphills, one of which had the guy who was sticking close by my shoulder loudly exclaim, 'What the fuck???').  I felt relaxed on the downhills and reverted to slow and steady on the uphills, which meant that I easily ran up all of them.  At 5k, I snuck a look at my Garmin and the time was 32:30ish.  I knew before I started that a sub-60min time was not going to be possible with all of these hills but I still felt a bit disappointed and I had to give myself a bit of a talking to to keep my motivation up.

When we finally reached the bottom, we were at 6.5k and the 'undulating' section to the finish was, true to all previous uses of this descriptor in races, pretty much a steady incline to almost 9k.  The wind was fiercer on parts of this section too (blowing my hat off at one point so that I had to retrace my steps to fetch it, and blowing me into another runner at another point), but I kept up a fairly steady pace until the top of the incline.  And then it was all downhill for the last kilometre.  I snuck another look at my Garmin at the 9k marker and the time was 55 minutes. What????  How did that happen?  All of sudden, I felt a hell of lot perkier!

I didn't look at the Garmin again until I crossed the finish line, trying instead to focus on finishing strong and with good form and with a smile on my face.  Which I did.  My final time?  1:00:33.  Arrrggghhh!  Sooooo close.  If only I had run even one of those walking stretches...if only my hat hadn't blown off...if only I had done some hill repeats in training...

However.  This is the fastest 10k that I've done in seven years.  On my first ever hilly course.  My knee and ankle felt fine.  My legs had tons of energy.  And I had a blast.  So, I choose to be well pleased with this time and I'll take what I've learned and put it towards the Balmoral 10k in two weeks.

And I already know that next year, I'll do this one all over again.