Monday, 23 May 2011

Chickens, cheers and a painful second half: Embra 2011

*sings* Where do I begin...

Brace yourselves, it might be a long blog. Warning - contains scenes of "digestive discomfort" :-O

Edinburgh was to be my second marathon, and I was very hopeful of a PB. My first was Loch Ness last October, a lovely marathon but not what anyone would call flat. I managed to squeeze under 5 hours with a time of 4:55:07. This year, I'm fitter and faster than I was then, and with Edinburgh being a much flatter course, I couldn't see what could possibly go wrong.

We headed down to Edinburgh on the Saturday, and took the little one to the zoo on Saturday afternoon. I was a bit anxious about the weather, since everyone I spoke to seemed to be predicting meteorological horrors of one sort or another, but it actually held out quite well - quite windy at times, but nothing too drastic. We had a nice afternoon during which I tried to do as little walking as possible, not entirely successfully, and played "spot the marathon runner". Then went to our B&B in Colinton (very nice, I can recommend it) and out for a meal at a local trattoria recommended by the B&B proprietor. I had a larger-than-usual meal of bruschetta followed by some lovely pasta followed by stranoffee pie (like banoffee pie, but with strawberries). All very delicious.

My plan was to get the bus into town in the morning, which since I don't know Edinburgh I was a little bit worried about, but I did a recce of the bus stop, double-checked the times and everything seemed to be in order. Got to bed early and had a reasonable sleep, though I woke up at 5am (bit early considering I didn't have to leave till after 8) and couldn't really get back to sleep after that. I did feel nervous, but not excessively so I don't think. Dressed, pinned my number on, checked I had everything I needed, hoped the Sellotape on my Garmin strap would hold out (it did) and went down for breakfast about 7.45. I met another guy there who was doing the marathon - his first one. His girlfriend was there too but she wasn't running. I ate a bit of porridge, a small bowl of rice crispies and a piece of toast, couldn't really manage anything else, then said goodbye to husband and daughter (who were planning a trip to Edinburgh Butterfly & Insect World), and off I trotted to the bus stop. The weather wasn't bad. A bit cool and showery, but those are probably my ideal running conditions!

I made it to the start without incident - I'd been a bit doubtful which stop to get off at, but lots of runners got on the bus, so I just followed them - and arrived at Regent Road to see the baggage lorries, the starting pens (purple at the back, gold - my one - second back) and loads of people already milling around. I headed straight to the Portaloos, where the queues weren't yet too bad, then drifted about a bit, chatting to a few people and generally soaking up the atmosphere. At about 9.20 I thought I'd better take off my warm outer gear and put my bag on the lorry, but no sooner had I done so than the weather turned cold, windy and rainy and I spent a miserable 15 minutes or so huddled under some trees trying to keep warm! Found I was needing the loo again and went in that direction, but the queues were very long by then and since the announcer was already asking people to go to the pens, I didn't feel I had time. Probably a mistake.

We gathered in the gold pen (all this pen business is a new experience for me, since Loch Ness is a lot smaller and they didn't have them there), while the weather changed from sunny to cold and windy and back again several times, and finally we were off - on the long shuffle to the start line. I reckoned it took about 10 minutes to reach the start line, but I didn't actually check the time when we crossed it - also a mistake, as it turned out. I was surprised at the speed with which most of my fellow gold people took off after the start! - given that they had all, presumably, put down similar time predictions to me, but were going off way faster than that. I was determined not to do that, though, and in fact didn't feel particularly tempted to, as it took me a while to feel I was warmed up and into my stride. I'd had a loose plan of aiming for 10 minute miles and seeing how I got on, but the first mile was a bit slower than that in 10:28. Then picked up a bit and ran the next several miles mainly just above or below 10 mins, apart from the 3rd one which was a bit quick in 9:38 (though largely downhill).

To be honest my memory of the surroundings is a bit hazy! We ran through city streets where spectators were applauding, and then along the seafront. There were Portaloos a few miles in and I did consider stopping, but the queues put me off. However, by 8 miles I couldn't postpone it any longer and dashed across a grassy bit to where there were about 5 Portaloos with a small queue. This obviously wasted a few minutes, but because my Garmin went onto auto-pause I wasn't sure how long, and this proved to be my next mistake because after that (and not having checked the exact start time) I didn't really have a clue how long the race had been.

Things went along OK for the next few miles - followed my fuelling strategy (tried and tested in previous races and long runs) of Shot Bloks and the odd gel, and up until about 17 miles I was on course for a good PB. Passed Fetchpoint at about 10 miles (? - can't quite remember) which was awesome, the red and yellow balloons were unmistakable! I was wearing my Fetch top and really enjoyed the calls from spectators as well as at Fetchpoint.

We were into the out and back section and I think the turn into the Gosford House grounds was about 17 miles. It was around this point that I started to feel quite unwell (though the chickens pecking away at the side of the path did cheer me up a bit). However I was developing quite a sore stomach and by the time we emerged from Gosford House I was on red alert for the next toilet! I think I must have made about 4-5 loo visits after that :( Every time I saw a Portaloo or a public one I was heading towards it like a homing pigeon. Even so my stomach was really sore and no sooner had I been than I wanted to go again :( My legs were also pretty tired by this stage and since I didn't dare take anything other than water, my energy levels must have dropped a lot. There was a fair bit of walking, especially around miles 22-23 which was a low point. I seriously wasn't sure I could keep going at this point - I was feeling sick as well as having a sore stomach, and felt like I was going to throw up a few times. My husband texted me at about 23 miles to ask how far I was, and I texted back to say I was struggling! I think he was worried I wouldn't finish! By this stage though even though I didn't feel like it at all, there was no way I was not going to finish even if I had to walk the rest of it. The massive headwind wasn't helping though! Still lots of encouragement from spectators and people going the other way, which was great, and Fetchpoint again gave me a lift (not literally although I could have done with one by this stage!). By this point I was doing a run a bit/walk a bit more "strategy" (ha!) and counting down the fractions of a mile to the finish.

I'd long since given up on my vague target of 4:40 or less, which I'd amended to 4:45, then 4:50, then a PB of any description, then just to finish in under 5 hours! Because of the time I'd lost going to the loo I really wasn't sure how long the race had taken. I thought I should manage under 5 hours but that I had blown my chance of beating my 4:55 PB. I was determined to finish with some semblance of dignity though and somehow managed to pick up the pace a bit in the last half a mile, especially when the noisy-spectator-lined final stretch approached, and even managed a sprint finish. Well, it felt like a sprint finish. It was actually about 9:15 pace but by that stage it felt very fast indeed! The clock said 5:06, my watch said 4:47 (and that I'd run 26.38 miles), I knew my chip time would be somewhere between the two but I had no idea what it would be.

There wasn't really any guidance or information on where to go at the finish line - or if there was I didn't see it - I just followed everyone else, met up with a Fetchie who had finished a couple of minutes before me and joined the crowds milling around for medals, goody bags, t-shirts, baggage reclaim, etc. It was all quite confusing, especially in my already confused state! The "Reunion Area" was nearby but looked like mayhem. I also heard someone saying that the big screens, supposedly for spectators to watch the finish, weren't working. My phone also wasn't working ("network busy") but a text came through from my husband saying that he hadn't managed to get to the car park, although we had bought a car park ticket, and the little one had fallen asleep in the car. He had managed to get a space on a side street some distance down the road. I couldn't phone him so I set off walking among the throngs of people hoping to find the right place. It felt like miles and I wasn't even sure I was going the right way! I think if I had found I had gone the wrong way, I would just have sat down at the side of the road and burst into tears. I wasn't far off doing that anyway. Luckily just as I was about to collapse in a weeping heap, I spotted what looked like the right road, and another runner kindly pointed me in the right direction. My mood was also lifted when the text with my official finishing time finally came through, and said it was 4:52:02 - much to my amazement, I did manage to get a PB :-):-):-)

I was very happy to make it back to the car, where daughter was fast asleep after a busy time at the Butterfly and Insect World where she got to hold a snake and a tarantula :-O

I don't know what caused the problems I had in the last 10 miles or so. I hadn't really eaten or drunk anything different from what I have had on other occasions. I didn't dare to take any more Lucozade or gels etc though, and that obviously didn't help my energy levels towards the end. I just felt terrible that whole way and I can't honestly say I enjoyed the race as a result, which is a shame, as I'm sure I would have otherwise. My stomach still felt bad all the way back up the road to Aberdeen, although I feel OK today.

Very relieved to get a PB, but also disappointed that I didn't do better. By the end though I was swearing never to do another marathon! I'm sure I will eventually, but I'm not sure these big races are for me. The finish was a logistical nightmare! It just seemed like mayhem, especially given that I was already dazed and confused! It was just as well husband and daughter didn't come to the finish, since they wouldn't have seen anything and would just have had to mill around in a big crowd for no reason. The Edinburgh course itself was OK, and the support was great especially at the end and at Fetchpoint, but I think if I do do another marathon, it will be a smaller one. (Unless my VLM ballot entry comes good, of course :-O)

Well done anyway to everyone who ran and thanks for the support :)

The awful statistics:

10k: 01:03:06
Half: 02:16:16
30k: 03:17:13
Marathon: 04:52:02 :(

Monday, 9 May 2011

Nice weather for ducks: Dunecht Dash 5k race report

Yesterday I ran my first 5k in quite a while, the Dunecht Dash, and despite it being two weeks till Edinburgh Marathon I had high hopes of a PB here. My PB of 26:45 was set last year (although it was at the Big Fun Run which I still maintain was short of 5k). I'm a lot quicker now than then so I was hoping I could knock a bit off even that overly flattering time. Sub-26 was a theoretical target but I thought that was unlikely, but would have been happy with any sort of PB. Dunecht Dash is a smallish race held within the grounds of Dunecht House, pretty flattish although with a bit of undulation and a slight uphill incline at the end.

We had been organised into Fetch teams of five - Fetch-tastics and Fetch –Defenders, just to compete against each other for a bit of fun, and I was in the second lot. Teams were led by the very speedy Mother Duck and Duckinator, who were also battling among themselves for 5k supremacy. (Please note all names used here are Fetch forum names rather than real names!!) The weather was, it is fair to say, absolutely crap. It was raining and cold and misty and generally rubbish. I couldn't find anybody to begin with as they were all huddled inside waterproofs and therefore well disguised. I didn't have my glasses on so short of going up to each person individually and peering under their hood, identification was a problem. I managed it eventually. The pre-race hanging about was not a lot of fun weather-wise – I don’t mind running in the rain but I do mind standing around getting cold and wet!

Finally the call went out for the 5k. There was the inevitable 5k jumping-about-to-music warmup, and I embarrassed myself jumping about idiotically for a couple of minutes, though more to avoid freezing than to actually warm up. Then we shuffled along to the start line, where Nywanda told me off for starting too far back, which was probably right enough as when the gun went off I had to run up on to the grass verge to pass people. Did the first kilometre in 4:58, which was probably a bit quick for me, but there was quite a bit of downhill. Second and third kms were both in 5:04, so I was doing a bit over 8mm pace. I managed to pass a few people. Looked back a couple of times and saw that Nywanda was just behind me up until (I think) about 3km when she must have slowed a little. The fourth kilometre passed in 5:03, while I wondered when the uphill was going to come, then finally I was into the last stretch with the finish line in view and a slight uphill gradient. I was quite tired by this stage and my pace dropped off a fair bit with the last km being in 5:21. I finished in 25:35 on my Garmin (with a distance recorded of 5.04km) so I was very happy with that, a PB of over a minute, although I would have liked to have held the pace a bit better in the last kilometre It wasn't chip-timed and my official time came in at 25:41, but since it took several seconds to cross the start line, I’m sticking with the Garmin time on this one. Overall pace of 8:10, anyway, and a sub-25 target to be aimed for...

Also pleased to gain another WAVA of over 60% (61.29 to be precise)

I worked out later (how sad am I) that I had finished 20th out of 63 women, so in the top third of women even if in the bottom half of the race overall. This made me happy. (It doesn't take much.) I was 10th out of 24 in the FV category.

I finished 2nd in our team, woo! (although well behind the first placed people/ducks and the 2nd person in the other team, who was Thistle with a fantastic time of under 21 minutes, which also gave her the prize for 1st FV, yay! and was also 4th woman overall!). The battle of the ducks was won by our team captain Duckinator although Mother Duck was 2nd woman overall and first FSV.

We cheered all the others back in - Nywanda who was less than a minute behind me (with a new PB), BrianJ, mol, Maz, TQ and Corrah (both with great PBs). Corrah had a Fetch mobile guard of honour for the last bit! I'm sure we had the most supportive teams - hurray for the power of Fetch!

Well done everyone :)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Close encounters of the bird kind

So there I was, 13 miles into a 20 mile run, plodding along a quiet country road minding my own business and pondering the true meaning of the word "undulating", when suddenly something hit me hard on the top of the head.

In the ensuing split second, while emitting a girly shriek, the following thoughts passed through my mind:

1) Ow
2) WTF?
3) Maybe it was a branch falling off a tree
4) Maybe it was a homicidal maniac who loiters around quiet country roads on the lookout for lone female runners to bash on the head.

Before I could pursue this worrying train of thought, however, a flapping of wings and a swooping away into the trees revealed the culprit to be a large bird of unidentified species. An avian assassin, in fact, which apparently thought it would be a good idea to dive bomb my head.

Having confirmed that there was no-one around with a camera, and recovered from the shock of this Hitchcockian encounter, I was able to continue my run. Top of head is still slightly tender to the touch, however. Who knew our feathered friends could pack such a punch?

Distance: 20.01 miles
Time: 3:30:15
Average pace: 10:30
Weather: Hot
Unprovoked assaults by wildlife: 1
* 10:53
* 10:23
* 10:21
* 10:13
* 10:16
* 10:13
* 10:13
* 10:09
* 10:07
* 10:19
* 10:20
* 10:49
* 10:04
* 11:54
* 9:44
* 10:39
* 11:22
* 10:35
* 10:47
* 10:48