Runner friendly cities 

(Buda)pest wakes up to another day of glorious sun but it’s not just the weather that made this morning’s run a standout for me.
The cities main attractions hug the Danube meaning all can be covered in a mid distance run out – chain bridge, royal palace, parliament etc. But it’s in the park where runners will feel most welcome. A running track circumnavigates coming in at bang on 5k with regular water stops and shade provided. Popular but not overly busy this is a great route and certainly encouraged a broad spectrum of runners. Red in colour it’s not the most natural or blended with its surroundings but what a great training tool. 
We don’t have many public tracks in the uk limiting our training options although the great thing about our sport is that we don’t need flashy facilities and we can do it anywhere – indeed it is a great way to explore. However, wouldn’t it be great to see something similar in glasgows parks. 
The racer inside bursts out at the sight of the spongy red track. Kinder on the knees too ­čÖé

There is no finish line…

It has been a few weeks now since I got home from Florida and most of you will have already heard me ranting about my experiences at the Clermont 5k. Having finally calmed down sufficiently, I thought I should write a quick blog update about the event!

I’ll be the first to admit that I took a backseat with the planning of my honeymoon. Vicki, being an experienced holidaymaker in Orlando, had a far better idea of what to see and do whilst there and so made the vast majority of the plans for the fortnight. There was however one thing that I really wanted to experience during the trip: an American parkrun. So it was that we found ourselves packing our new ‘Pollok parkrun’ t-shirts and looking forward to a Saturday morning excursion to Clermont parkrun.

On the Thursday night we decided to check the parkrun Facebook page and were horrified to discover that it was cancelled! Instead there would be a 5k race taking place in the park (as well as a triathlon, a duathlon and a ‘dip and dash’ race)! Fortunately, there were still spaces available in the 5k and so Vicki and I both signed up (begrudgingly paying the $70 it cost us as a pair!).

IMG_7085

Saturday morning arrived and, unsurprisingly, it was hot. We jumped in the car at 6am for the drive out to Clermont and were both really excited about the race. When we arrived at our destination, we were both really impressed. The race would take place around a beautiful lake and there were thousands of people taking part in the variety of events which were being held. Perhaps living up to an  American stereotype, it became clear very quickly that this would be a big event with plenty of support, competitions and music creating an incredible pre-race atmosphere. I was also a little excited to test out my shiny new racing flats!

IMG_3306

As I lined up on the start line I did find it a little peculiar that we were asked to line up either side of the road as the duathlon would be starting shortly before our event and the participants would be running directly towards us. When a gap in the duathletes emerged, we were quickly shuffled back into the centre of the road and given the signal to go. The slightly chaotic start (running against the tide of duathletes) should have been a clue that the logistics of this race were a little unusual, but I paid this little attention and instead focused on gaining an early lead.

As I rounded the halfway mark and headed for home I was delighted to see that I had managed to build up a lead of about a minute. Foolishly, I started to think about how awesome it would be to win a race whilst on holiday – what a story that would be to bring home to the lads! I was lapping up the fantastic support and cheers from the other runners as I pushed on and before I knew it I was back at the start.

As I entered the home straight, I realised that it could not be far to the finish. Panicked, I started to shout to the crowds and marshalls for directions – my Garmin was screaming at me that 5k was pretty much over. The crowds responded by directing me further along the main path and eventually I found myself running alongside triathletes who had just emerged from the water – it was a bit of a shock when I noticed them all jumping onto their bikes and pedalling away from me! At this point I stopped and asked another marshall where the finish was for the 5k.

I had gone too far.

IMG_7091

As I turned and started heading back along my┬ároute, I heard the tannoy announce that the winner of the 5k was coming into the final straight. But surely that was me?! I ran back to the announcer to find out what had happened. To this moment I am still not completely sure how it happened, but I have been told that the finish line was not actually erected until 17 minutes into the race – almost a minute after I had finished!┬áThe race organisers explained that, as so many people had seen me pass the finish area in first position, they would award me first place and present me the trophy.

IMG_7090

Happy enough, I watched  Vicki finish the race and we gathered under the shelter with our complimentary food and drinks to await the presentation. As the prizes were distributed, I was gutted when my name was not called for first place and I was told by those runners standing with me that I should enquire as to what had happened. A little awkwardly, I approached the lady handing out the prizes and asked if my name was on the list. At this point the runner who was clutching first place declared that I could not be the winner as I did not have an official chip-time. My argument that there were no chip-mats down when I finished did not seem sufficient and his refusal to accept that he had not won the race meant that I had no choice but to leave empty handed. The organisers seemed in conflict about who the rightful winner was but, unfortunately, I came away with nothing but my free sleeveless t-shirt and a participation medal.

IMG_3311

Overall, I had a really enjoyable day and the race could have been fantastic had it not been for a few organisational issues at the end and a couple of very rude competitors. It was reassuring when many other runners approached me after the race to shake my hand and tell me that they disagreed with the decision of the organisers. Whilst the buzz and atmosphere at the event were fantastic, I believe the basics were overlooked – perhaps a focus on creating a spectacle, rather than a good ‘race’were what caused this event to suffer. Then again – maybe I am just bitter!

Everything was made better with pancakes…

IMG_7099

St Magnus Marathon, Orkney. 3rd of July 2016

 

Summer holidays finally here, Lisa and I travelled to the wonderful islands of Orkney last week to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Completely coincidentally ­čÖé we also happened to be there at the same time as the inaugural St Magnus Marathon. It had taken a while to convince Lisa that Orkney (and therefore the Marathon) would be the ideal destination but it did not disappoint with brilliant weather, long days and stunning scenery.

 

IMG_8997
11pm at Night

After a couple of days sightseeing we set off early on Sunday morning for the stunning backdrop of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. A field of approximately 100 runners amassed giving the race a very different feel to previous marathon experiences in big city events.

 

The small field meant that there were many nice touches such as the ability to community regularly online with race organisers in the run up to the event and the option to have personal drinks, gels and other food on numerous drinks stations around the course. A privilege normally only afforded to elite runners.

 

IMG_5662
Surveying the start line

I arrived on the start line in good shape after a number of pbs this year but still doubtful that I could perform to my potential at the marathon distance given previous disastrous experiences at the distance.  During training I had significantly increased my mileage, including a good amount of race pace and tempo miles, however long runs continue to be my nemesis. Work, illness and injury meant as usual I had not completed as much of my plan as I would have liked. But I was here and I was fit.

 

IMG_5671

 

The day before we had driven the route in reverse and although I had looked at a route profile weeks before I was surprised by how undulating the course actually was. Add to this a couple of niggles the week before and it was time to reevaluate my race goals. I decided to set off in pursuit of a 3:30:00 marathon.

 

 

Setting off through the narrow main street of Kirkwall I was comfortable being boxed in for the first half mile having learned that a slower start is more favourable to a quick start at the marathon distance. As the route widened I began to move through the field climbing out of Kirkwall Bay. A climb that surprisingly lasted for most of the first 4 miles of the race. Although gradual, the climb put me behind my goal race pace. I was reassured therefore to pick up a couple of runners (Michelle and Neil) from Moray Road Runners who I had earlier overheard discussing a similar strategy to mine. The next mile gave a sharp downhill recovery although I was conscious not to be over zealous in recouping lost seconds.

 

IMG_8967
As busy as it got ­čÖé

Even in the early stages there was good support on the course as many runners had their families out and about with the advantage that they were able to drive ahead a few miles at a time and see us at multiple locations. A good local turnout in the race also meant that many Orcadians were out and about to giving great support to all runners. Lisa did a good job of making sure as many people as possible were shouting for me.

 

A light drizzle fell around miles 5-7 but the scenery meant it was easy to pass the time detracted by the stunning backdrops. Around this point the two Moray Road Runners put a small gap between us and I dropped off the 3:30:00 race target. I could tell that we were gaining on a group of about 8 runners approximately 400 metres further ahead so decided to let a small gap grow happy in the knowledge that I was at least running at a consistent effort if not pace owing to the undulation.

 

 

After passing through Finstown I managed 5k at a decent pace on one of the flattest stretches of the course between miles 10 and 13. I opened my legs up a little, was feeling reasonably good and had just collected my first personal drink out on the course. Feeling like a pro I was perhaps over cocky as my gel which had been sellotaped to my drink exploded on opening covering me in the sweet sticky stuff.

 

IMG_5690

 

A combination of stronger head winds and, albeit shorter, climbs meant my pace again began to drift at this point. A short sharp climb around the half way stage was followed by a good descent in a pattern that marked out the next 5 miles of the route. Thankfully I was still running comfortably and knew that my effort level was probably a better measure of progress at this stage rather than pace if I was to ensure that I did not blow up in the final miles of the race. With the sun out again it was nice to run a short distance with some other runners.

 

As I neared mile 18 I could tell that the distance and undulation was now catching up on me and I was aware that my pacing had drifted to a point that I would not be able to be made up in the final miles of the course in pursuit of 3:30:00. With goals reevaluated in my own mind I decided I’d be happy with any sort of pb.

 

 

Everyone knew that miles 19-23 were to be the toughest on the course and I really struggled, even on the downhill, to maintain any sort of pace around this stage of the race. A short walk up the steepest climb was necessary but gave me enough of a respite to run the final 5km although by now I was slowing with every mile. The thought of the end was all that was keeping me going. Two brutal climbs in particular made this a brutal section of the race on tired legs.

 

But for once rather than feeling sorry for myself it was time to appreciate my surroundings and how fortunate I was to be able to take parts in events like this. The marshals were great, Lisa was giving enthusiastic support and the views at this section of the course were incredible. I’d almost completed a really tough but spectacular course and a decent pb was still within reach. Summiting the final climb the Brough of Birsay came into view meant the end was in sight.

 

IMG_5624

 

A final stinger in the tale was half a mile of off road running along a grass path before a short climb to Birsay Hall. But by now I was running with a couple of other runners and I was grateful that I could tuck in behind and follow them home. The look of relief captured as I crossed the line says it all.

 

IMG_8945

 

On reflection I am glad to have taken on a completely different marathon experience. The UK’s most northerly. Although the course was extremely challenging Lisa and I had a brilliant time incorporating the run into an incredible holiday in a stunning location. Who knows where our second wedding anniversary will take us?

 

As always thanks go to the race organisers and volunteers who did a brilliant job putting on an extremely well organised event in a stunning part of the world. If you don’t mind hills I’d definitely recommend this one. Make sure you plan a few days around the race to see Orkney though. It’s well worth it.

 

3:44:42 – 12 minute Personal Best.

 

https://www.strava.com/activities/633571087/overview