Coigach Half Marathon

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A Proper Course Map

 

After several aborted attempts we excitedly made the journey north last weekend for the 2017 Coigach Half Marathon, the 6th running of the race. Starting in the village of Achiltibue, by Ullapool, the epic drive started after work on the Friday via Inverness before completing the 5 hour road trip on the morning of the race.

 

Leaving Ullapool it became obvious why our friend Catherine sold this as a must do race. The mountains grow in stature and loom over the single track road which leads towards Achiltibuie with each passing mile and as you near the coast you are met with stunning views over the Summer Isles. This was our first visit to this part of Scotland and without doubt the landscape provided a stunning backdrop for a race. Off to a good start.

 

Registration was friendly and professional showing again that the level of service you get at local runs is usually far superior to mega city events. Another bonus was receiving change from my £15, a very fairly priced event.

 

After checking in with friends in the neighbouring village of Achnahaird and settling in to our digs for the weekend we headed back to the start line. As the map shows this is a looped course that hugs the coastline before heading inland and back towards the start area. As promised there was also some decent elevation (this would be greater than either Arran or Run Mhor, two tough courses I’d attempted earlier in the year). This was about as much as I knew about the route so I set about trying to get some local knowledge prior to the start of the race.

 

In the 90 minutes after arriving at registration Catherine and her family had told me about the two big climbs on the route (the one I could see and the bigger one I couldn’t), the volunteers at check in had told me to save something for the last few ‘tough’ miles and I’d also learned the finish was not downhill to the community hall but up a pretty steep gravel path to the school playing field. And also the start line was 1km out of town ūüôā

 

Despite all this I knew that the course played to my strengths on the uphill with a reasonable amount of elevation giving me the opportunity to hold on to some faster opponents. The route was also remeasured and would be shorter this time around meaning I’d already saved approximately 400 metres on last year’s entrants.

 

After waiting on ‘Uncle Angus’ to park the bus and jog back to the start line the ladies were called to the front of the field of 49 runners – good to see manners are alive and kicking. Race instructions were on the wry side – right up my street. And then we were off….

 

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Feeling Good At the Start of the Course – Photo Credit Anne McGee

 

The first couple of miles descend to sea level and with the wind at your back it is difficult not to go off too fast. In fact after a few hundred metres I found myself in unknown territory as I briefly led the field. Quickly realising how dangerous this would be I moved behind the lead pack of 4 runners who were clocking along at a decent pace. I decided at this point with local knowledge fresh in my mind to slow down a little in advance of the hills, wind and tough final few miles and watched the leaders gradually open up a gap on me.¬†I’d decided to target as close to a 1:30 half as possible given the undulation so was conscious of bagging some time on the faster downhill miles without going crazy. Not always an easy balance.

 

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By the time we reached the foot of the first climb at the 5k mark I was totally isolated but enjoying the views out over the Summer Isles. Gritting my teeth the climb was tough as the wind now moved across the route rather than at our backs but with the top generally in sight most of the way it was a case of getting the job done. Rounding the first corner the route levels off briefly allowing runners to refocus energies on the scenery and dodging the sheep lazily meandering their way across the track. Around this time I closed the distance quickly and passed the runner in 4th place, noting that the field ahead has stretched with the 3 runners now well spaced out.

 

A long and enjoyable downhill section follows the first big climb. Checking my watch I was well on for 1:30 and was comfortably beating my pb pace from the Glasgow Half on these easier miles. Feeling good I tried to open up a bit of a gap on the runners behind by pushing hard through this section.

 

 

Turning inland around the 6 mile marker the second, and biggest, of the climbs stretches out before you with an encouraging cry from the marshal, ‘there will be water at the top… if it’s not blown away!’. The wall of wind at this point was fierce as you meet it head on for the duration of the ascent. A bad combination in anyone’s books. Focusing on the runner ahead I worked hard in the climb and reached the top looking reasonably fresh (see picture above) having moved into third place. Sensibly the volunteers at the water station had moved beyond the hill to a sheltered section of the route.

 

Potentially the best bit of the course the profile is downhill for the next couple of miles as the road heads towards Achnahaird where Lisa and I were staying for the weekend. Lochs and mountains enclose you and provide respite from the wind making for enjoyable running. With all eyes on the runner in second place it was in hindsight a bonus that Natalie Stevenson of Fusion Triathlon Club came blazing back at me on the downhill section as we were able to work together through this section. This caused me to run these miles faster than I would have on my own. I was racing rather than pacing my own race.

 

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Beating the Speed Trap on the Downhill

 

With the support crew out in force at the bottom of the hill I passed through Achnahaird in good time and feeling fit. Nothing though was going to prepare us for the section between Achnahaird and Achiltibuie where the relatively gentle climb was exacerbated by the worst head winds of the day. Natalie and I passed the runner in second place between mile 10 and 11 but the pace dropped dramatically on this section as the combination of physical and mental fatigue took their toll.

 

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Stretching ahead and giving myself a bit of a gap in second place it took all my efforts to keep going as you can tell from my very bad poker face in the picture above. With the balls of my feet burning badly again in my new shoes it was very much a case of ticking off each step and talking myself through to the end after being a tad ambitious in the middle section of the course. Mental note – remember all local knowledge in future races as the final miles definitely required something in reserve.

 

Turning in to the final mile and a half of the course and heading back (up) through Achiltibuie the relatively gradual incline felt a million times harder that the first climb or second ‘big’ climb earlier in the route. It was now a case of getting to the end and trying to hold on to second position.

 

Rounding the final corner at the 13 mile marker the last thing I wanted to see was a gravel track headed steeply uphill to the finish line and it was at pretty much walking pace that I completed the course. I was absolutely delighted though to finish on the podium and in second place on a tough course. My time of 1:25:39 was within a minute of my pb which on this route was a real step forward given that I didn’t manage to break 1:30:00 at Arran on a course with 70 metres less elevation.

 

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All in this was another top race and a definite contender for the most scenic route I’ve run. It would definitely be on the list for an annual visit. I absolutely loved everything about the route and it must rank as one of Scotland’s most friendly races. The final ace in the pack was a great post-race buffet in the Community Hall. A top event this run was small, friendly, scenic and challenging in just the right measures.

 

These are the days when you need to be really grateful that I’m able to be out there in such amazing places. For me this was about as close as it gets; the day when I managed to hit¬†a rich vein of form on a course well suited to my strengths in a remarkable part of our beautiful country.

 

Well done and thanks as always to the race organisers and everyone who gave up their time on the day to help out including Anne McGee who uploaded some of the photos (copyright) to the events page and is raising money for the Highland Hospice.

 

Strava geeks check out my race performance below:

https://www.strava.com/activities/1234998509/overview

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Kyles 10 Miles – Round 3

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The Scottish Wife Carrying World Championship Squad in Training

 

Our pick for race of the year 2016, there was never any doubt that The Boy and I would be in Tighnabruaich yesterday for the annual Kyles 10 Miles Road Race. With the biggest every entry it was great to see so many familiar faces toeing the start line as well as many of our friends taking on this iconic race for the first time. Importantly though the race remained small enough to retain the intimate community vibe which has made it such a popular and well regarded event.

 

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The Sun Always Shines on the Kyles 10 Miles

 

There was a good turnout from both Bellahouston Harriers and Dunoon Hill Runners ¬†this year meaning I was in for a no-win scenario plumping for a colour clashing combo of Harriers vest and Hill Runners buff after donning the local vest. Whilst my usual rule is ‘when in Argyll or on a hill don the Hill Runners vest’ I had travelled down from Glasgow with my Harriers team mates and wasn’t even too sure if my Dunoon vest had made it through the laundry cycle after the Cowal Hill Race.

 

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I wish I could just follow The Boys lead and not worry about my racing attire

 

Most pleasingly though for The Boy and I was the strong turnout from our Monday night running group. For some this was their longest race to date and they did brilliantly on a tough, but ultimately rewarding, route.

 

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Overview of the Route

 

On to the race itself I’ve promised The Boy I will keep it brief (for a fuller course overview see previous posts). So in a sentence this is a looped route with 6 hilly miles followed by four reasonably flat miles on open country roads. And if the editor had his way that would be it. Perhaps he’s keen to keep this one close to his chest, I wonder why?

 

If I really have to keep it short and you’re going to stop reading here all I will say is this is a race that you should seriously consider doing at least once.

 

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Just the right amount of elevation to test the legs ūüôā on the official scale of bumpy to mountainous

 

For those who want a little bit more keep reading…

 

The route is situated in one of the most incredibly scenic parts of the now Rough Guide awarded most beautiful country in the world. There are too many vistas to mention but the top views on the route include a short sideways glimpse of Ostel Bay, one of Argyll’s hidden gems, and jaw dropping panoramas over the Isle of Arran.¬†With an early September date in the race calendar it provides a good test before Autumn Marathons and 1/2s and there’s more than a decent chance of good weather – the two good days in May and then again in September after all are what we Scots refer to as summer.

 

 

As well as the views the organisers manage to maintain a level of personal service alongside a professional race day experience that rivals the best out there. This was evident again despite a larger entry this year. This includes contact in advance with the organisers through to on the day assistance. ¬†Throw in an incredibly friendly welcome from marshals, locals and interested passers by and you’ve got the key ingredients for our kind of race. The true test of a race as everyone knows though is in the post race refuelling options and here the Kyles 10 Miles triumphs with refreshments on tap, home baking and burgers cooking on the BBQ within metres of the finish line.

 

 

This year’s race went well overall with The Boy and I both recording course best times and bookending the top 10 much to our delight. It was great to see both Harriers / Hill Runners and friends of the Runbetweeners running strong on a tough route. Interestingly if my school running club had entered as a team we’d have been in with a good shout of a team prize.

 

Personally I felt strong over the hills but struggled to pick it up on the flat final 4 miles, a now familiar tale. After reaching the top of the shinty / golf course hill at the 1st mile marker I worked with ‘man in red running top’ to close the gap on the ever consistently fast Iain Morrison and a runner from Garscube Harriers. Closing the gap over the next two miles ‘man in red running top’ and I continued to climb and descend at a good pace over the outward section of the loop. Having someone to battle against definitely contributed to a personal best performance for me but on the final descent towards Carry Farm I struggled to maintain the downhill pace, gradually losing contact with ‘man in red running top’. This left me hopelessly adrift and running alone for the final few miles. Digging deep¬†I was pleased to see later that I managed to maintain a sub 20 min 5k pace over the last section of the route when it felt like I was wading in treacle. The last mile was brutal with my legs feeling heavier with each passing step but I was delighted to cross the line in a little over 66 minutes.

 

The Boy was already gearing up for a two mile cool down by the time I finished and looks in great shape ahead of his tilt at the Berlin Marathon in two weeks. Congratulations to him for the win with a 40 second improvement on last year’s effort and for photo of the day.

 

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Most impressive yesterday though were the performances by The Runbetweeners who have caught the running bug badly. Despite the odd blister and tired legs everyone loved the route and it was great to see everyone coming home with giant smiles across their faces. It really was a fantastic achievement by each of them. A good warm up for tomorrow nights time trial ūüėČ

 

 

As always thanks to the race organisers and marshals who give so tirelessly of their own time. It is much appreciated.

 

Race str√§va –¬†https://www.strava.com/activities/1176057742/overview¬†

 

Photo credits:

Claire Lamont

Alan G Forsyth Photography (snapped by Pam)

Paul Paterson

Graves parkrun – A little bit of tourism!

With Kenny off exploring Japan this weekend, I decided to do a little tourism of my own. Vicki and I made our way down to Sheffield to visit some family and enjoy a couple of days of drinking coffee and eating cake in a variety of cafes and tearooms. Throw in a parkrun and you have all the ingredients of a pretty successful mini-break!

Our initial plan had been to re-visit Sheffield Hallam parkrun as this is very close to where we would be staying. We were surprised however to discover that the event was cancelled this weekend due to a local festival taking place within Endcliffe Park and so we set our sights on Graves parkrun ‚Äď a new event for us and an exciting (though hilly!) prospect.

Vicki and I were both planning to squeeze a few extra miles into our Saturday morning (Vicki was hoping to make this her long run while I was hoping for half a dozen easy miles before my long run tomorrow!) and so we set the alarm and Vicki set off solo at 7:30 while I grabbed myself a welcome cup of coffee and curled back under the duvet for an extra half hour in bed. As the clock struck 8 I popped out the front door and joined Vicki for the short, yet mountainous, run across town to Graves Park. We arrived at the park with about 15minutes to spare and my brother Tom joined us for the pre-run briefing before we took our places on the start line. The event was fairly busy, potentially due to the event cancellation at Hallam parkrun, and the friendly, welcoming atmosphere that seems to be an ever-present aspect of the parkrun experience was in full flow. After a few words of advice and encouragement we were off.

My plan was to run 6 miles at approximately 7minute miling and so I took up a position which was fairly close to the front without being too near to the sharp end ‚Äď I did not want to get carried away in a battle against someone which could potentially ruin my plan for the session.

The run begins with a long sweeping downhill section through a park with stunning views out over the surrounding countryside. It was fantastic to experience this without the pressure of racing and I enjoyed settling into a rhythm and taking it all in. A friendly shout from the marshal at the bottom of the hill directed us towards a narrow footpath through the farm and I found myself bounding along between fields full of slightly puzzled looking sheep. The pathway here was fairly narrow here but fortunately this was not a day when overtaking was a priority and I tucked in behind the runner in front of me who was keeping a nice steady pace. If I were returning to Graves in future and planning on racing this route, I would definitely make it a priority to go out hard and secure a place at the front before reaching this path as overtaking here would be near impossible.

After the narrow pathway things opened up again and we found ourselves snaking up through the fields and back out of the farm. We passed ponds and woodland before returning to the large open field in which we began. This meant a return up the hill, this time on grass, to the start line before he route retreated itself. Again, this hill is definitely one worth remembering if returning here for a fast race as it is a fair climb and the grass could be energy sapping underfoot. It is not a finish that I would like to be reaching neck and neck with a rival!

The second lap was very enjoyable as things had spread out a bit and I was happily plodding along in a steady rhythm, taking in the beautiful views of Graves Park and already thinking about the forthcoming breakfast of bacon and cream cheese bagels (an absolute belter of a post-run brekkie in my book). I crossed the finish line pretty much on the pace which I had planned and made me way back round the route to cheer on Vicki and Tom as they tackled the final hill. Barcodes were scanned, photos were taken and breakfast was organised. Tom and I jumped in the car home while Vicki ran back to squeeze in her final few miles down the epic hills which had been conquered earlier in the morning.

This was a a fantastic parkrun and definitely one worth experiencing if you find yourself in Sheffield. It is not as quick as the Hallam event but it is a beautiful park with plenty to see on the run. The hills are challenging without being nightmarish and the event is busy without being over-crowded. All in all, this was a very enjoyable morning of running ‚Äď and the bagels were not bad either!

                            

Beating the Drum…better late than never!

Well this is a bit late as I managed to delete my first write-up. Here goes the second attempt:
Last Saturday our Runbetweeners JogScotland group made the trip across the city to visit Drumchapel parkrun. Fifteen members of the group (plus the two handsome leaders) would be running the route and Finola would step up as a Marshal for the event. Meeting outside Run4it in order to organise lifts gave Kenny the perfect opportunity to explain just how tough the hills of Drumchapel would be. Kenny had run the route before however I hadn’t yet had the privilege and this gave him the perfect opportunity to wind me up with tales of mountains to be scaled. I decided to take his stories with a generous pinch of salt – after all, I have fallen victim to Kenny’s jokes before!
When we arrived at Drumchapel it was clear that this was a very friendly event – the smaller numbers definitely give it a fantastic atmosphere of community and appreciation. Our group all looked fantastic in their new Brooks running t-shirts and we were made to feel very welcome – even getting a special mention from Brian the Run Director! Chris was also pleased to get a shout for completing his 100th parkrun and the invitation of post-run cake was widely appreciated! 


After a short pre-run brief we were off. The route begins with a fairly sharp downhill path that twists and turns out of the woods. As I was filming the event on my GoPro, arm pinned to my side in order to maintain a steady shot, it was pretty tricky maintaining my balance on this winding section but I just about kept my footing! The downhill start serves as a nice introduction before the inevitable levelling out. The route then undulates slightly for a few hundred yards before the first real climb. This short-lived ascent is soon conquered however and then another nice downhill into the woods is on the cards. At this point in the run I concluded that the hills here ‘aren’t too bad actually’. 

Then we hit the big climb.

This was a much more notable ascent and it was at this point that I heard a familiar voice approaching from behind me. Kenny had caught up and we decided to run the remainder of the route together (I think he just wanted to get in the video!). Once we had reached the summit, things levelled out and made their way back to the start for the end of lap one.

Repeat.

Repeat again.


By the third lap the hills were taking their toll and I can see now why Drumchapel has a reputation as a tough course. The woodland location and trail underfoot however make this a picturesque and enjoyable run. The marshalls were fantastic (especially Finola obviously!) and the event was a nice change from the usual Glasgow parkruns that we find ourselves doing.


Post- run, the runners headed off to the cafe for well deserved coffee and cake while Kenny and I had to disappear to the Emirates for some JogScotland/SAMH Mental Health Awareness training. The Runbetweeners all did fantastically well on the challenging course and reported back that they’d enjoyed the change of scenery. I am sure many will be back to take on the hills again.

Special thanks to the volunteers at Drumchapel for putting on such a fantastic event and for making us all feel so welcome. We will definitely be recommending people head over and pay you a visit!

Bellahouston Harriers 2M Time Trial

2 Miles is not a distance which we get the opportunity to race over very often. It is short enough that it is going to hurt from the gun and long enough to give you time to think about the pain. However the Bellahouston Harriers 2 Mile Time Trials always manage to attract a decent crowd and the atmosphere is consistently electric. This month’s edition was no different. At just two pound entry (with post-race soup included in the fee!) this has to be one of the cheapest running events on the calendar and the fact that it can all be over (relatively) quickly makes it an ideal opportunity to test your fitness once a month over the summer.

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After a very social warm-up lap, we made our way, slightly nervously, to the start line at the entrance to Cartha. Tom didn’t hold us there for too long however and after a few words of thanks and last minute instructions we were off.

The first half of the route follows a gradual downhill towards Lochinch and it was during this speedy section that the first thoughts of doubt crept into my head. The nature of the distance means that a slow start can be very hard to recover from and the slight descent encourages a fast start. I found myself, as always, wondering whether I had in fact gone off with a slightly too much enthusiasm. The run was missing a couple of notable Harriers who normally give me a good target and so I found myself striding solo towards the White House. I checked my pace slightly and focused on maintaining an efficient form and trying to relax, knowing that the downhill section would not last forever.

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As I turned the bend at Pollok House and began the ascent, I felt better than I remember feeling in previous attempts. It was during the climb however that the fear started to creep back in – could I really hold this pace up the hill which never seems to end? I broke the hill up into sections in my head and focused on these smaller targets, allowing myself the idea that I would reconsider my pace after the next goal had been surpassed. This seemed to do the trick and I managed to crest the hill without having to make too great a sacrifice in pace.

As I hit the sharp bend onto the final downhill section of the route I felt great and seemed to pick up a second wind from somewhere. The slightly muddy surface underfoot however meant that I had to check my stride a touch as I bounded down the pathway and this seemed to provide another boost of much needed adrenaline as I panicked that I was going to have thrown away my chances of beating my previous time. Emerging from the path with 400m to go I kicked on and the encouragement of several Harriers at this point was incredible. The final section is always longer than you think it is going to be and I was grateful for another shout of encouragement from Robbie Ferguson as I re-entered Cartha for the final twisting metres.

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I crossed the line feeling strong but empty, satisfied that I had given everything in the final stages of the race. I was unable to really think about anything else going on at this stage and so did a bit of a double-take when Tony announced my time for me. 9 minutes and 59 seconds. A nice personal best and my first ever sub-10 minute performance. It was great to see Stuart and Darren both sprinting over the line shortly afterwards, each producing their own PB performances.

It was a night of many stand-out performances with Kenny also securing himself a big PB and several of the Runbetweeners making their debut over the distance. The event is a small one, but the atmosphere is always fantastic and there is a lot to be said for a short, fast race with friends followed by a hot cup of soup and a crusty roll. It is a great example of what makes Bella Harriers such a brilliant club to be part of.

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If you fancy joining us for the next one, it will take place on 10th August and is open to everyone. Thanks to Ann, Tony, and Stuart for the photographs.

The Isle of Arran Half Marathon – Boats, Trains and Automobiles

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Team Bella Before The Race

Just back from another enjoyable day trip, this time to the Isle of Arran Half Marathon. Another great local event which ticked a number of runbetweener requirements; reachable as a day trip, scenic and a relatively small field. Safe to say the Isle of Arran Half Marathon is another fine addition to the list of road races on our great tour of Scottish Classics.

An early start was required for this one as we (minus The Boy) caught the 8-40am train from Glasgow Central. Method of transport number 1 gave plenty time to catch up with other runners. Ross, the returner and experienced Arran runner assured us this would be undulating but flatter than Run Mhor last week putting my mind at ease. The boat crossing, method of transport number 2, passed smoothly as we waited for the canteen queue to die down before ploughing into the breakfast rolls ignoring Brian’s no food 3 hours before a run rule.

Upon race entry runners have the option of bundling coach travel to the start line at Blackwaterfoot and when we disembarked at Brodick we were efficiently directed to our awaiting coach – method of transport number 3. Slowly ascending out of Brodick it was clear that undulating would be the theme of the day as we quickly crossed the String Road to the east coast of the island.

Registration at the finish line gave runners the chance to scope out the final 200m lapped section of the course around the grassy field. After a short pre-race welcome and briefing we were off, this time by my preferred mode of travel; foot Рmethod of transport number 4.

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Registration / Start / Finish Area

I’ll sum up this race pretty quickly as it didn’t go particularly well for me personally. My race pretty much split into 3 parts. A Trilogy so to speak…

Episode 1 – Flying (almost gave me the excuse to call the article planes, trains and automobiles)

The first few miles are predominantly uphill. This occurs at a time in the race when everyone is pumped with adrenaline and running too fast. You would think I’d learn by now but no I went off at sub 1-30 pace on the inclines draining the energy stores early doors. This was going to come back and bite me big time in future episodes. Despite this I was feeling good and mile 4 provides a good bit of downhill into Machrie where the cross winds coming off the sea hit you for the first time. I was hitting 6-22 per minute miling and things felt pretty good. I was in a pack of 3 with two runners from Garscube Harriers and we had built up a reasonable gap on the runners behind.

Episode 2: Driving with a Flat

Turning at the hairpin out of Machrie things started to fall apart pretty badly as I was dropped by the two other runners . First by a few metres and then by a good 15 seconds over each of the next few miles. Thinking back this was the time I needed to dig in but my legs were tired from my exertions at Run Mhor the previous week and just as I started to slow Team Garscube seemed to move up a gear. Looking back at my Strava profile this is the longest and steepest incline in the route and although it feels reasonably gentle while running it was clearly taking its toll as I started to suffer badly.

I was hoping for a first legitimate sub 1-30 and this was throwing a spanner in the works despite building up a 60 second buffer in the first 4 miles. Apparently there was some downhill on this section but my legs still wouldn’t believe you if you told them. The sound of my flat footed trainers slapping off the tarmac confirmed what I knew… I was gubbed and struggling to keep my legs turning over.¬†Exiting Episode 2 on to the String Road I was hoping for a gentle downhill home straight back to Blackwaterfoot with a sub 1-30 still a possibility.

Episode 3: Towing a Caravan

Unfortunately for me on the day the hills kept coming and they all felt like mountains by this stage of the race. Devoid of energy my mind started giving in and I slowed down badly on miles 10 and 11 which rolled back towards Shiskine. Team Garscube were now small dots in the distance and I was just hanging on. Despite a decent amount of descent into the finish I just couldn’t get going again until the home straight missing out on my sub 1-30 target by 9 seconds on the official results.

Collapsing in a heap I was surprised to have run it so close as I had given up the chase at the start of episode 3. However I had been hoping to be comfortably under the 1-30 mark so was a bit disappointed with my run. As usual my mood was perked up pretty quickly by a goody bag containing home made rolls and biscuits. A real nice touch and it was great to hear Brian who I had travelled with had finished in 10th spot with a huge pb. Coming 2nd in the V60 category he beat all of the V50s too. An incredible and inspiring effort. Finding out Team Garscube had put two minutes on me showed me what I think I am capable of on a flat course. 15th place overall so not too bad.

It was great then to turn my attentions to spectating as I watched the rest of the guys from Rouken Glen Juniors and Bellahouston Harriers come in. We then headed for a couple of refreshments in the local hotel before catching the bus back to Brodick. After a good feed on the ferry home we managed to cadge a lift home to the southside – method of transport number 5 by my count – arriving knackered and stiff after a hard run.

As always thanks to the marshals and race organisers. This was a really well organised event with a community feel. Small touches like the rolls in the goody bags complimented traditional aspects like the lack of chipped timing giving this race an authentic feel which is sadly lacking from the mega-city events where you feel more like a number than a participant.

A tough race that I am glad I did – maybe next time I won’t do another hard race quite so close.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1064661436/overview

Tips for First Time Marathoners – The London Marathon 2017

A week on, and with the pain in my legs now a distant memory, it seems the time is right to review my 4th crack at the London Marathon and 6th tilt at the distance overall. Well not really a review Рmore a message to myself 7 years ago and hopefully to some of you gearing up to your first marathon.

 

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So Many Messages of Support

 

Setting off for Blackheath last Sunday I’ll admit I knew I was going to run strongly and that there would be no repeat of the infamous walk/crawl/drink beer strategy adopted on my last London in 2013. I had a 3:20 and 3:25 timing band on my wrist and knew with 100% confidence I would achieve this sensible goal in my marathon journey. Quite a jump from my previous runs of 4:02, 3:57 and 4:03. The reason was simple – with a badly bruised ego after several calamitous runs I was finally ready¬†to listen to all the advice anyone who’d ever run a marathon before had ever given me. I’d made most of the mistakes they advised me to avoid and wonder in hindsight if that had to happen for me to finally accept what they were telling me.

 

When you tell other runners you’re doing your first marathon you will hear the same things all of the¬†the time. Guys telling you about mistakes they’ve made and warning you not to make them too. But if you’re stubborn like me you’ll convince yourself they don’t apply to you, that you are ready to hit a strong performance before you are ready. Well the reality is that¬†if you don’t treat it with the respect it deserves the marathon will bite you on the back side. For me I’ve had to¬†learn from my¬†mistakes before I¬†got to this stage. I’ve sat head in hands at the roadside. I’ve clung on to barriers. I’ve willed people to stop shouting my name and longed for the ground to swallow me up. On the flip side my stubbornness has somehow got me around each of the previous 5 marathons I’ve run.

 

If you’re lucky you¬†might be the type of person that listens to others or you might learn some of them in training.¬†If not remember so many factors come in to play on race day¬†so be prepared. So much has to go right – kit, weather, nutrition, health, pacing, ablutions etc. As a result your first marathon is unlikely to be your best or even the most pleasant experience but like most tough things in time you’ll only remember the good bits. You’ll dust yourself down and get back on again.

 

 

So what makes me so happy with last week’s effort? Was it time? No it was being in a mindset beforehand that I was going to enjoy it, run consistently (perhaps even a bit within myself) and make a good stride forward in my own marathon story.

 

And that is it. The realisation that I wanted to be happy with my performance¬†and not beat myself up about a time afterwards. It’s the first lesson I was told and the one you’ll get when you tell an experienced runner you are doing the marathon – listen to them. Be happy with your performance and don’t chase a time goal. Running 4:02 in my first really annoyed me when I should have been really pleased I could get around and proud of that fact.

 

What else should you know?

 

Lesson two is let the field go. I’ve learned to pace races¬†well in the last few seasons and every race I go to sees most folk hitting the start too fast and fading in the second half. Nothing gives you the feeling of a strong performance better than being able to pick up speed in the home straight (well maintain your pace in the marathon – hanging on in the final miles is as good as speeding up). Consistent splits will see you reel similar runners in who set off too fast. This is a timely boost (albeit based on the suffering of others but I’ve been the other so it’s ok). Negative splitting is difficult in the marathon but consistent pacing is possible for all.

 

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A Career in Professional Pacing Beckons

 

Lesson 3 – listen to your body and adjust your goal accordingly. You’ll know by mile 9 how you are feeling. Do a body MOT from head to toe. If this is starting to sound a bit like the runner’s cliche bingo it’s because the things you always hear are right. So if it’s not your day treat it as a training run and drop the goal pace. Trying to stick with Plan A when it is not going well will result in a really tough day out, probably a world of pain and maybe even some tears (I mean dust in my eye).

 

Lesson four – don’t let a costumed runner dictate your race strategy. Trying to stay ahead of someone dressed as a banana¬†isn’t sticking to your race plan. It’s messing with your speed and that banana¬†is just going to pass you later in the race. It’s a long way and that banana¬†is probably a sub 3 hour marathoner once peeled. It’s a potential banana skin ūüôā

 

 

Lesson five – when the pacer for your life goal goes past consider letting them go. When the 3:15 bus went past me last week I was so content it actually felt good letting them disappear over the horizon. It meant I was on pace. They should be getting further ahead of me. Rewind 3 years and I would have been trying to cling on to them for dear life. This resulted in the 3:30, 3:45 and 4:00 paceall passing me before the finish line. That’s a poor outcome in any book.

 

Lesson six – do not worry about your pace until the crowd thins. If you’re first mile is a minute down from goal pace, bonus. You’ve just had an easy mile and you’re in better shape than expected for the final 25.2. Unless you have the self discipline to catch it up at 2 seconds a mile for the final 25 let it go. If you try and catch it up you’ll bust yourself as you’ll try to do it in those very important first miles. Relax in to the race. Aim to feel strong certainly at half way. Similarly do not weave in and out at the start to get on pace. This will increase your total distance. 26.2 is crazy, who wants to run any more.

 

And that is about it. I was so determined to enjoy it and run steady that the miles flew by. The route merge where the Red and Blue starts come together and Cutty Sark passed the first 50 minutes with a carnival of music and dance as we passed through different boroughs. I was having a blast and the greatest danger of cramp was in my cheeks as I laughed and smiled my way along the first half of the run. Turning the corner to Tower Bridge I allowed myself to enjoy the iconic sights and crowd at one of the most special parts of the course. Turning right towards the notorious Isle of Dogs I cheered the elite runners coming the other way Р9 miles further up the road Рrather than curse them for being so close to the end.

 

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Mile 14 – This Year The Banana Thorn in My Side Was a Giant Corn in the Cob

 

 

Another strategy I adopted from around mile 9 this time around was to count down the miles rather than count up. Mentally this helped in bringing the finish line closer and closer with each marker. Seeing my support crew twice helped as well as chasing the Road Runner vest several hundred metres ahead of me. The World Record for fastest Bishop, Monk and Nun was either just in front or behind me for most of the race meaning the crowds were noisier than normal and with the weather brightening up over the morning there seemed to be more people on the route than ever before.

 

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Mile 21 – Still Enjoying It But Lost The Ability To Direct Waves At People I Know

 

And so as I exited Canary Wharf I did another top to bottom body MOT and was in good shape aside from a nasty chafe on my right ankle – a new one on me. Vaseline-d up I was able to keep going with only minor discomfort. A great feeling with approximately seven miles to go. Then as always it gets tough and you need to dig deep. From the elite through the club runners to the run-walkers this is the same and what unites everyone who runs the marathon. If it was easy everyone would do it. Keeping going is the last thing you want but knowing you are well prepared and getting closer to home with every step will see you through.

 

This time around it was mile 22-24 when I started to hurt but nowhere near how bad it had been before and perhaps that is what got me through. I’d made mistakes by not listening to others and hurt big time in 2013 but maybe that is what it took for me – to learn the hard way. And then you see Big Ben and it still hurts. I used the mile dedication strategy for the final seven miles, thinking of someone during each mile. This hadn’t been planned and I found myself thinking of quite different people when the going got tough. This definitely helped.

 

And then you get near the finish and people tell you it starts to get easier again. Well this is one piece of advice that is wrong ūüôā¬†It doesn’t get easier and the 1 mile to go, 800m to go, 600m to go and 400m to go will make you want to punch whoever thought it was a good idea to cruelly count down such massive distances at that stage of a marathon. The only one that helps is rounding the corner at Buckingham Palace with 200m to go and seeing that iconic finish line.

 

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Crossing the line in 3:22:31 I had managed a 35 minute course pb and a 22 marathon pb. I know I could have run faster but I was delighted. Anything faster would have been too big a risk, too big a jump and I wouldn’t have had a really great experience. So that is what a good performance is for me now. Incremental improvements towards my goals making sure I continue to learn how to run. The simplest of things but a much more complex sport than I ever imagined when I decided to become a runner back in 2010 with my first London Marathon.

 

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Lisa Covered As Many Miles As Me Out On The Course Supporting

 

It is such a great event. Full of emotion with great stories, real people, amazing sights and vocal support all around. I am really glad to have been lucky enough to take part in four. My only regret was not listening to other marathoners sooner.

 

Or perhaps all this is sentimental rubbish and the reason I ran so well was that I dressed backwards. Wearing my vest back to front in particular made The Boy’s year.

 

Alloa Half Marathon!

This morning was a funny one for me. Alloa had been a target that I set myself back in January, as¬†I was just starting to get some fitness back, after a fall from a curb in December left me with a badly sprained ankle and a severely bruised ego. Instead I found myself packing a bag to spectate at the event after the National X-Country of three weeks ago left me with stress damage to my shin. As much as I was gutted to be missing the race itself, I was excited to have the chance to see plenty of our ‘Runbetweeners’ running group in action – some of whom were taking part in their first ever attempt at the distance.

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As we drove down to Alloa the forecast was mixed. Glasgow seemed destined for rain but the BBC were adamant that the weather at our destination would merely be ‘cloudy’. Pulling into Alloa however it was clear that this would not be the case and, as the sun broke through a sky as blue as my Bella vest, I found myself shedding layers and preparing for a hot one. The run was a busy one and a crowded start area generated a fantastic atmosphere as the unconventional choice of ‘Westlife’ blared out over the speakers – ¬†I guess that’s one way to ensure people get a quick start out of the blocks!

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The runners passed me by after a one mile loop brought them back round past the start and it was exciting to see the lead pack being chased down by a group including Colin ¬†Thomas of Bellahouston Harriers and Shaun Lyon of Greenock Glenpark Harriers. As other familiar faces made their way down the course, it was nice to be able to offer a cheer of support and report back to interested parties. It wasn’t long before Paul Burningham flew by as the first of the Runbetweener contingent. Paul’s recent form has shown fantastic progress and he seems to be setting himself a PB every time he dons his trainers. Today would be no different.

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It was exciting to be watching Vicki taking part in her first half marathon since completing her debut at ‘Balloch to Clydebank’ last year. As she glided past enthusiastically, it was fantastic to see the progress that she also has made with her running and it was clear that she would be looking for a big PB today.

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Once the remaining runners had disappeared around the corner I set about on the most important mission of the morning: coffee. Rumour had it there was a D’nisi in Alloa and I was determined to find it. I was in luck. A short walk into the town centre and I was rewarded with a huge cappucino and the weather even took another turn for the better! I made my way back round the course away from the finish in order to see the runners coming into the final mile.

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Colin was the first Bella Harrier to come flying past en route to a finish time of 73:58 while Russell Whittington of the Road Runners, fresh from a Kenyan training camp with Colin, crossed the line in 78:13. There were several good performances in windy conditions including a great run by Neil Nairn who managed to improve on his time from last year by an impressive 5 minutes.

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I started to make my way back to the finish and it was great to see all of the Runbetweeners racing hard as they made their way down the long final stretch towards the welcoming, inflatable archway. At the finish line we discussed the race over some home baking and free samples of a strange BCAA concoction that was being handed out.¬†Generally, the feedback was very positive with the event seeming to generate a good atmosphere and enough runners to maintain a good depth to the field. It was highlighted however that several water stations had run out by the time that some of our runners reached them and that the large crowds and limited toilet facilities meant that several runners missed the start as they were waiting in queues. I can only imagine that the unexpected hot weather meant that more water was being consumed than the organisers may have anticipated but it was a shame that some of the runners then had to endure the heat with no way of re-hydrating themselves. Hopefully this is something that is addressed for next year’s event.

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This was a fantastic turnout from the Runbetweeners and we managed to get 14 of the group across the finish line! Hopefully we can choose another race in the near future to target and get another great showing. Well done to the following Runbetweeners who absolutely smashed it today: Paul, Jill, Susan, Sarah, June,¬†Jacqueline,¬†Vicki, Pauline, Anne, Kirsty, Angela,¬†Stephanie, Liz,¬†Jennifer (Sorry if I’ve missed anyone!)

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Running with an Olympic Legend!

Last Friday I finished work, jumped on the train and made my way down to Sheffield for my sister-in-law’s birthday. After a fantastic evening filled with food, drink and catching up, ¬†I set my alarm for an early morning adventure at Sheffield Hallam parkrun. Now I have actually done this parkrun before however last time I was sneaking out of my hotel on the morning of my brother’s wedding armed simply with a map and my barcode. This time I was a little better prepared and had the luxury of a lift and some company for my morning as my dad would be running also while my mum and brother watched on with a coffee.

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As we walked into the park things looked much busier than my last encounter here. On my run in December 2014 there had been just 354 people taking part, on this Saturday there were over 700. There had been rumours circulating that local hero and Olympic Gold Medalist Jessica Ennis would be taking part in her first parkrun on this very morning and it appeared that this prospect had drawn out a lot of runners! I was a little starstruck when I lined up alongside Jess on the startline but I managed to get a cheeky selfie before the run instructions began and she was great.

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As the countdown to the start began it became clear that this would be a congested start. The BBC had cameras on Jess as she lined up at the front and I think a lot of people were keen to get in the picture! After a few seconds we were away and it took me a while to find my stride. The initial section of the course involves a small loop before heading straight back up the path from which you have started. In these busy conditions it was a little tricky to maneuver through the crowds but eventually things opened up and we climbed the path through Endcliffe Park. The route follows a gentle slope up alongside a rive until eventually leaving the park. A sharp right turn then leads into a long steady downhill section on the pavement just outside the park itself. On my first lap it felt as though it took up to this point for my legs to really get going (possibly due to my poor warmup – I may have been slightly distracted by Jessica Ennis!) but the long downhill really gave me a chance to open up and get some pace going.

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At the bottom of the hill it was another short loop inside the park before heading back up the slope again. This time around I found that I was overtaking runners and gaining on the runner in front. I started to settle into my rhythm a little and began to feel strong. As I hit the top of the hill I turned right and prepared to push down the hill towards the finish but things were just a little crowded. The pavement was only really wide enough for two people side by side so it made it a little tricky to pass. I was able to pick up the pace a little but definitely had more in the tank.

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Coming into the finish again was very busy but the marshals were fantastic. The huge turnout made it a little awkward as the final mini-loop is very tight and it is a little difficult to get through the traffic to the finish funnel. The parkrun volunteers did a great job however of making this as clear as possible and, while it maybe cost me a few seconds, it was a great atmosphere and a lovely route.

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After the run I got chatting to a few people from other parkruns. Notably, Paul Sinton-Hewitt was taking part and made the time to have a chat with me about parkrun. I told him of my experiences on the core team at Rouken Glen junior parkrun and of my trip to Bushy park on Christmas morning. He was brilliant and had plenty to say about running in Glasgow and of his experiences with the community. I also had a good chat with a guy from Woodhouse Moor parkrun who was working his way round the Yorkshire events.

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All in all this was a great morning. My two Sheffield Hallam parkrun experiences have been fantastic and both stand out for different reasons. I wonder what will happen next time I am down…