Sunday, 25 July 2010

Ballater 10 Mile Road Race: Race Report

I found this really tough! Was feeling relatively confident, as I had heard that though a bit hilly, it wasn't as bad as the Stonehaven half which I ran three weeks ago, but I actually found it worse. Maybe because it was hot, and I don't function well in the heat... Also, we were running late as usual (not my fault!) and I was panicking most of the way to Ballater about not getting there on time, especially as it was a pick-up-your-number-on-the-day type race. We made it with 15 minutes to spare, in the end, which gave me just enough time to get and attach my race number and make a much-needed loo visit.

The race started well enough, running through Ballater and out on to the country roads, with the first couple of miles being flattish - managed these in an easy 9:34 and 9:44. There was a longish uphill section between miles 2 and 3 (10:48), and then a steep uphill in the 5th mile (a disgraceful 11:44, which did involve some walking). I found the hills really hard going, and struggled to keep control of my breathing. Found that I was being overtaken on the uphill sections and then overtaking the same people on the flat and downhills - this happened repeatedly with the same people throughout the race - clearly I need to do more hill work!

That was the worst of the hills over with although there was another uphill part around mile 8 (followed by a nice downhill section), but I was still struggling to pace myself and feeling really tired. The change of terrain to off-road for much of the second half of the race, while it made a change, did slow me down too but I had managed to make some ground and even overtake a few people on the downhill and just about managed to maintain my position! The shoogly bridge (I think at about mile 7, though it's a bit of a blur now) was an interesting touch although I could have done without the steps up to it by that point! The last mile was along a very narrow path surrounded by long grass, before emerging back into the playing field where the race began and running a lap of that before thankfully passing the finishing line.

I finished in 1:43:47, which I was a bit disappointed with as this represents an average pace of 10:24 which is the slowest I've been for ages and considerably slower than my (also hilly) recent half marathon pace! For whatever reason I never seemed to manage to get into a proper rhythm today and walking on the hills played havoc with my time. (Husband later said "I thought you would struggle, because you don't do well in the heat" which is true enough, although it wasn't really hot enough for this to be a very convincing excuse!)

However it was a nice scenic race with plenty of variety, even if the course could do with a good ironing before next year. The encouragement from the marshals was really appreciated - another water station might have been good, though! The yummy chocolate in the goody bag was also much appreciated by my daughter who scoffed half of it in the car on the way back.

Splits: 9:34 9:45 10:49 10:00 11:45 9:51 10:53 11:07 9:25 10:41

Note to self: get better at hills. (I thought I'd done a fair bit of hill training, but it clearly wasn't enough...)

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

In a wild rush of enthusiasm following the recent half-marathon, I entered a 10 mile race in Ballater, which I have suddenly realised is, in fact, on Sunday. I’d been thinking, ha, 10 miles, that’s nothing, I’ve just run 13, but 10 miles now seems, y’know, still quite far, given that I haven’t actually run that distance very often, and not in a race apart from the half marathon, and it’s not one of those enormous races where people are still straggling in at tea time but quite a small one with proper runners in it, so I may in fact be last. Oh well. Someone has to be. (I’ve never yet come last in a race, although I came close with the snowy-and-icy beach 10k just before Christmas when I came 79th out of 83, but I comforted myself with the idea that the awful weather would have put off most of my fellow plodders and only mostly proper runners would have turned up.)

I do need to ramp up the mileage, though, because I have the marathon in, er, 10 weeks, and my Runners World training programme calls for a 9 mile run this week and 10 miles next (after which it all starts getting a bit scary) so I thought I would do the 10 miler this week instead. Other thing is, we’ll be on hols (in a caravan in the Lake District) for two weeks from Monday, so I don’t know how the running is going to go, though I’m hoping for lots of lovely scenic probably hilly runs.

I’ve been keeping up with the programme not too badly so far and managed a 5 mile tempo run in 45 minutes on Saturday (woo!) with, get this, an average pace of 8:59. And every mile except the first was sub-9 minutes. So I was pretty pleased with that, even though I felt knackered at the end, and indeed most of the way come to that. Then did 7.61 miles yesterday in boiling heat (well, what passes for boiling heat up here in the frozen northern wastelands where anything above freezing point has us casting off our cardigans and heading for the beach). Not only was it hot, but some of it was uphill, and I did do a bit of walking.

This whole long run pace business, not to mention the taking or not taking of walk breaks, has me a bit conflicted. The RW schedule (after I put in my best race time) has me doing long runs at near on 12 minute miles (McMillan Running calculator suggests between 11 and 12 minute miles), and I know the theory about long runs being slower, but I really struggle to run that slowly. Except when going uphill. My natural pace seems to be around 10 min/miles and even when I try to go slower I invariably speed up. Plus, even though nearly every advice source says Do Long Runs Slowly, I can’t really get my head around the idea that if I’m doing them all at 11:30 pace, or whatever, I can suddenly magically run faster in a long race. As it is, my "race pace" (for the half marathon anyway) and long run pace are pretty much the same rate of ploddiness. Although I did think afterwards I could have done the half a bit faster.

The other thing is walking breaks. I know it’s a can-of-worms topic among runners. The experts seem to have widely diverging views on this, from "Never walk, you’ll only regret it" (Graeme Hilditch in his marathon training guide) to advising regular, planned walk breaks throughout. I think the chances of me running an entire marathon without any walking are slim, but I don’t know whether it’s better to keep running for as long as I can and only take short walk breaks when I feel I absolutely have to, or schedule in walk breaks from the start whether I need them or not. Current approach is more along the lines of the former, running as much as I can but sometimes (not every long run, but some of them) walking a little bit on some uphill bits or when I feel especially knackered, and then starting running again when I feel able or, more likely, when I see someone coming towards me and am embarrassed to be seen walking. But maybe, if I ran slower, I wouldn’t have to do this? Hmmm. Or maybe I just need to toughen up and be less of a wimp.

20 July

Distance: 7.61 miles
Time: 01:15:48
Splits: 9:27 9:44 9:55 10:08 10:23 11:14 9:25 5:32
Average pace: 9:58

17 July

Distance: 5.01 miles
Time: 45:01
Splits: 9:10 8:54 8:58 8:59 8:52
Average pace: 8:59

Thursday, 15 July 2010

“Marathoning is just another form of insanity.”

Post Juneathon, and post-half marathon, I’ve been pretty crap at both running and blogging. Well, I’ve done a bit of the former, and none whatsoever of the latter. But I got my Loch Ness Marathon magazine and race number (205) through this week, and have booked our B&B accommodation in Inverness, and it’s now just a short 12 weeks away, and I’m starting to get excited. Not nervous yet, but I know that will come nearer the time. Spent time today reading blogs from last year’s race and poring over the race website and wondering if I am, in fact, mad to be planning this. But I’m committed now. So I guess it’s happening.

I felt fine, to my surprise, after the half marathon – a bit achey later that day, but A-OK the next day and even the day after when delayed onset muscle soreness can suddenly set in after you've been lulled into a false sense of security. But 26.2 (undulating) miles is of course a very different proposition from 13.1 (also undulating) miles and I know I won’t be feeling fine after that, or indeed after the first 18-20 miles of it. Or at least, I shall be very very surprised if I am.

Didn’t do a lot of running last week – just an easy 3.5 miles on the Thursday, and then a 5k race/fun run on the Sunday, which I finished in 26:45, which I would be thrilled with were it not for the fact that I’m pretty sure the distance was not actually 5k. But still, I knocked two minutes off my time for the same event last year, so happy enough with that. It was a nice run anyway around the trails of Hazlehead Park, though with a slow start due to all the people who start at the front, sprint 0.1 of a mile and then immediately start walking really slowly right in front of you. There were quite a lot of those people. Excellent goodie bag, though, and it was nice to for once see husband and daughter waving to me near the finish line, and sit with them afterwards watching all the walkers slowly filter back.

Started my marathon training this week with an 8 mile run on Tuesday, which was a boiling hot day so it was a fairly hot and sweaty experience, but I listened to the first hour and a bit of the second of the Audiofuel mid-intensity long run mix and that kept me going, as did regular drinks of water from my new Stonehaven half marathon water bottle, courtesy of another goodie bag. Still don’t like carrying anything while running, but I guess I’ll have to get used to it as the long runs get longer.

12 weeks – 11 and a half in fact – to marathon day. Eeeeeeek.

Distance: 8 miles
Time: 1:18:36
Splits: 9:44, 9:37, 10:18, 9:43, 10:00, 9:32, 10:06, 9:36
Average pace: 9:50

Days till marathon: 80

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Stonehaven Half Marathon 2010

Weather forecast for today's race (my first ever half marathon) was not promising - "heavy rain" was advertised. I'd been hoping the weather wasn't going to be too hot (I really don't cope well in the heat and the thought of running up miles of hills in scorching temperatures didn't appeal) and it looked like I was going to get my wish. Reports from Stonehaven folk in the morning on Facebook confirmed that the rain was, indeed, heavy, and that strong winds were adding to the fun. I don't mind rain, but torrential downpours didn't sound that great.

Rain got heavier as we headed down the A90 to Stonehaven and husband dropped me off outside the sports centre. Daughter had been agitating to go to the beach, but looked at the windswept rain-drenched prospect and announced "I don't want the beach after all, I want to go to a nice warm home". They did go for a short walk in the end, in wellies and waterproofs. I wasn't very sure where to go but adopted the traditional method of finding some people in running gear and following them across a field, and made it to the registration area in plenty of time. Could've been better signposted, though. Registration entailed standing in a long and slow moving queue in a very windy and rainy field before eventually being issued with a number and timing chip. Glad I had my waterproof jacket on although I then didn't know what to do with it and ended up tying it round my overstuffed (phone, sweets, energy gel) waist-pack thing. Was also needing the loo for the 250,000th time of the morning but by the time I'd finally managed to cackhandedly safety-pin my race number on and lace the timing chip through my laces, everyone was heading off to the start and I didn't think I had time, a decision which I knew I might come to regret.

Kept hearing people at the start saying "After the first four miles it's all downhill!" which frankly I did not believe, rightly as it turned out because they were in fact big liars. After the usual milling about the race finally started and off we went, me still thinking about how I really should have gone to the loo and wondering if there would be any suitable bushes to hide behind, and up the first small slope, and along a flat bit, and up another hill, and I settled into my near-the-back-of-the-pack pace and actually felt OK, apart from the whole needing the loo business.

First mile marker came before I was expecting it, or rather before my Garmin was expecting it as it said I had only gone 0.9 miles, but I was feeling fine and very glad I had loaded up my MP3 player with the free Audiofuel running music I was lucky enough to receive as my 3rd place Juneathon prize (THANKS SEAN! And everyone else involved!) and rather belatedly fired up the first hour of the Run Free compilation, which was brilliant and really kept me going. Also at around this point I saw a guy quickly disappear into some trees, presumably to answer a call of nature, and wondered if I should do the same (although obviously not following the guy because that would just be weird) but as we all know these things are much easier for people with XY chromosomes and also I didn't really want to lose time and I wasn't desperate so I just kept going.

I had heard about the hills and even seen them, as I drove over the course last week, and the course profile looks like this (sorry about crapness of picture, which was all I could find/manage to insert) -

which obviously looks quite scary, but in fact I didn't find them as bad as I had thought. Although I did walk a bit on some bits. It's also perfectly obvious that it is NOT all downhill after the first four miles although the first four miles are definitely the worst. But as I said, not that bad. I even managed to overtake some people on the hills! It was mostly country roads so there weren't really crowds of cheering spectators a la London Marathon etc, just the odd person in a car, but there were loads of marshals, people handing out water, etc and they were all really encouraging. At about the 7 mile mark we came on to the appropriately, if unpleasantly, named Slug Road which leads from Banchory into Stonehaven and there was a bit more traffic on that, though still not much, and we were ordered to KEEP LEFT, which I did, although one car did seem to come perilously close. A particular highlight at this point was the bus full of waving, clapping passengers which was sounding its horn and flashing its lights (I *think* in a supportive way. I hope.).

I had been fully expecting a slow first few miles and was quite surprised to find that I had done the first 6 miles in pretty much an hour exactly (OK, it is slow for most people, but not as slow as I had expected). I'd been aiming for, though not really expecting, an average pace of 10:15, and was ahead of this by around 15 seconds per mile, although pace was not exactly consistent. However by around the halfway point was very hopeful that I would achieve my secret target of 2:15:00 and in fact the further I got the more it looked like I might actually beat this in spite of being a wimp and walking some bits. I also found I was very gradually overtaking some people (the field had thinned out considerably by this point and there were very few runners in sight) which was nice, although the bloke in the blue t-shirt who I had been alternately overtaking/being overtaken by almost from the start did pass me at one point and I never saw him again. At around mile 11 I gradually gained ground on a girl who was running with her boyfriend, who was clearly a faster runner than her as he kept running ahead and back and generally leaping around waving his arms and encouraging her, while she was more of a plodder like me. I think I would have found this very irritating had he been my boyfriend and would in fact have been tempted to punch him, but maybe she liked it. Thankfully I got past them and was into the home straight, heading down into Stonehaven, although it still wasn't all downhill as advertised by the big liars at the start as there was an uphill bit which went over the dual carriageway, with men at the top handing out water and encouragement. By this time (incidentally further than I have ever run before) I was feeling pretty tired and exhausted and there was a strong headwind and I was still slightly needing the loo though not any more than I had been at the start, i.e. not desperately, despite having guzzled loads of water and Lucozade Sport, and was well into the second hour of, in fact approaching the end of, Audiofuel, which as it turned out had been perfectly timed to finish when I did.

And I ran down the hill and towards (though not into) the sea and round the bend onto the road leading back to the field, which was a bit weird as there were lots of people who had already finished walking the other way along it, and into the field and over the finish line in a time of 2:10:20. Woohoo! Actually, on reflection, I think I could have managed a bit faster... probably not the fabled sub-2 hours, but 2:05 might be within my grasp for the next one...

It then started raining absolutely torrentially and I had to phone husband to come and get me and stand in the sports centre car park waiting for him while getting totally and utterly drenched by the deluge, in fact I might just as well have gone and jumped in the sea. But who cares! It was a great race, I thoroughly enjoyed it, the organisation and support from all involved was fantastic and I will definitely go back next year.

Not very flattering picture taken outside my back door as I sadly had no loving husband and daughter waiting to applaud me and photograph my moment of glory at the finishing line, since they mysteriously didn't want to stand around for ages in a field in the pouring rain. I don't think it shows but I am completely drenched from head to toe.

Many, many thanks to everyone who sponsored me for Marie Curie Cancer Care. I have nearly, but not quite, reached my target amount so if anyone still wants to sponsor me it will be much appreciated!

Distance: 13.02 miles (bit short according to Garmin, not sure why)
Time: 2:10:20

11:21 (this was the hilliest bit)

Average pace: 10:00