Ultra Mind Boggling

Any idiot can run a marathon. It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon.

-Alan Cabelly

With the Inverness Half Marathon and Rome Marathon well and truly run, my attention is now naturally turning towards my next target race. In principle, this is all business as usual: I flirt with an event, research it a little, enter it, contemplate/freak out about what I’ve just done, plan the training, and proceed to throw myself at it with bestial vigour. When it’s all done and dusted, I brush myself off and it all begins again. Only this time, I fear that my head might just explode.

Help

You see, my next target run happens to be a 55 mile ultramarathon. I’ve got thirteen weeks to prepare myself for the ordeal fun. Here are just some of the thoughts which are currently haunting my head:

  • The distance is more than twice as far as I’ve ever run. I’m trying to imagine running a marathon, but instead of limping across the finish line, I’ll just keep going and run: Another. Whole. Blooming. Marathon. And then, instead of limping across that finish line, I’ll still keep going to stagger on for another 3 miles, just for the laugh. After that, I can hypothetically limp over any line I like, but I’m pretty sure I’ll just drop dead instead. Seriously, this is a distance that most people would refuse to cycle.
  • This ultra-distance-I-can’t-comprehend will all be run on the trails. Sounds really lovely, doesn’t it? It will be, I’m sure. Especially the bit where none of it is flat. My quads hate me already.
  • I’ve worked out that I will need to consume around 6000 calories during that run. I honestly can’t even being to comprehend how I’m going to achieve this. Presently, the mere thought is enough to provoke my stomach into staging a dirty riot. It’s like eating the equivalent of a Christmas day dinner on the run. I’m beginning to suspect that ultramarathons are basically falsely advertised binge-eating contests with a little bit of running in between.
  • I’m actually paying money so that I can spend a day eating obscene amounts of sweets, lose all my toenails and pee/poo/vomit repeatedly in the bushes. Whoever markets these events is a genius.
  • There’s a good chance that I’ll start the run in the best shape of my life. There’s an equally good chance that I’ll finish the run in the worst shape of my life.

Still, I have got all these overly romantic visions of spending many wonderful hours on the trails as part of some spiritual journey in which I find myself by running away. Clearly, there is a seriously masochistic aspect of my personality that is longing to be discovered.

My training plan is ready. So am I. I think.

Funny Ultramarathon Sign

Running Rome

Thou art in Rome! A thousand busy thoughts
Rush on my mind, a thousand images;
And I spring up as girt to run a race!

– Samuel Rogers, Rome.

There is one feeling that overrides all others now that I have returned from my long marathon weekend in Rome, and it is that I wish I had more time to spend in the eternal city. There isn’t a single word that can adequately describe the whole experience, but these two come pretty close: friggin’ awesome!

Everything in Rome is elegantly excessive and massively impressive: the sights were endless and phenomenal, the meals were plentiful and indulgent, the wine flowed freely and the people were friendly and generally seemed to have a lot to smile about.

I couldn’t help but get a little carried away by the grandiosity of it all, and prior to the marathon I found myself powerless against the temptations of the eternal city. Thus, I committed countless acts of marathon muppetry on the day before the race, and went to bed with feet that were tired from endless sightseeing and a stomach stuffed with Roman specialty pizza (i.e. carbs that were unfamiliar to my stomach).

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(This is what a sight-seeing marathon muppet looks like.)

In keeping with all things Roman, the Rome marathon was also an exceedingly grand affair. Despite my earlier transgressions, I’m delighted to be able to say that my own experience of running the Rome marathon was an overwhelmingly positive one.

As I have pointed out in an earlier post, my goal for Rome was to take it easy, in order to give my body a bit of a break from my recent races (as far as that’s possible while running a marathon!). It was my spring vacation, something to enjoy after a long winter. My goal for the marathon was to just enjoy the race and the amazing scenery it promised to pass. As such, I made a last-minute decision to ditch my watch, hoping that without it I’d spend more time looking at more interesting things than numbers.

At the start of the race, I lined up with thousands of other runners at the Colloseum and alongside the Roman Forum, but sadly I didn’t get a chance to enjoy these sights all that much at the time. Moments after I dropped off my bag and jacket, leaving my skin clad in nothing but shorts and a vest, the heavens opened and rained upon the horde of dismayed, and now increasingly cold, runners. In a desperate bid to stay warm, I bounced around on the spot for a little while, but soon realised that this was a pointless endeavour. All I could really do at this point was to go to that little happy place in my head and hope for the race to start soon so I could get moving and warmed up.

Thankfully, the start came soon enough, but unfortunately, it was all rather messy and confusing – so much so that I almost missed the start line entirely. Perhaps I had retreated a little too much to my happy place, but the fact remains I was only 20 yards from the start line when I recognised it for what it was. Somewhat worse was the fact that I was still surrounded by a mix of runners intended for literally all different start waves. Thus I may have started by journey around Rome feeling rather confused about where I was, but more importantly, I was incredibly happy to be moving.

Despite the huge crowd of runners, I was able to run the moment I crossed the start line. Well, let’s say I was able to plod, which suited me fine at the time, as the start of the race was in the historic centre of Rome and there was much to see.

However, I eventually got rather bored with the exceedingly slow pace, and thus I started passing people. Little did I know at the time that I’d be perfecting the art of passing people over the course of the next three hours or so. I found my own rhythm and danced around slower runners, always making sure that I didn’t get in their way as I did so. I had yet to spot a single pacer, and given that I hadn’t brought my watch, they were my only external indication of my approximate pace. It was time to start the hunt.

The route was rather boring as soon as we were out of the centre of the town, so the passing game kept me nicely entertained while the scenery was decidedly more ordinary. After about 4km I caught the first glimpse of balloons bobbling over the heads of some runners further ahead. Pacers! How very exciting! However, my heart sank when I got near enough to read the numbers that were printed in big, black letters on the merrily bouncing purple balloons: 5:00. How on earth did I get stuck so far behind the 5:00 pacer when I should have been in the 3:40 – 4:00 start wave?

And this was where the passing game began in earnest. I first passed the huge blob of runners clinging to the purple 5:00 balloons, and picked up the trail leading me to the 4:45 pacers. Then I chased down the 4:30 pacers. By the time I had caught up with the 4:15 pacers, we were nearing the 17th kilometre of the race and were crossing the Tiber for the second time. I kept my eyes open as I knew what lay in wait on the other side of the bridge: the Vatican.

This part of the route was an amazing highlight for me, despite the fact that I arrived at the Vatican just in time for the next big rain shower. Everyone knows the sight of St. Peters Basilica, but to run up to, past, and around it as part of a marathon was absolutely epic. The crowd support was wonderful on this part of the course as well, and it was lovely to see so many nuns and priests lining the road and cheering for the runners too!

I don’t know if it was the hype of running though the Vatican, but once I had left it behind and found myself running, once again, along the banks of the Tiber I experienced my first and only minor low point of the race. My body was feeling good, but my head hit the inevitable moment in any endurance race when it finally realises what I’ve gotten us into and reminds me that the distance I am running is really rather far. I find it highly entertaining.

In that moment I thought of something Emelie Forsberg said in an interview, about what she does when the going gets tough during a race. She said that she slows down until she enjoys it again, and then she finds that the pace naturally comes back to her. While I didn’t slow down as such (I didn’t need to because my body was feeling fine), I agree with Emelie on the point about enjoying the run. Running is a hobby, one that makes me happy and is healthy. What’s the point, then, in struggling with it? I made it a point to spend the next two kilometres smiling; at first it was a forced smile, but it soon turned into a delirious one. I smiled at everyone unfortunate enough to catch my eye, waved at the spectators, focussed on high-fiving the crowd supporters, giving thumbs up and winks at other runners and generally just bouncing along the tunes I was listening to.

The strategy worked well for me, as I was flying again with a genuine smile on my face by the time I reached the half-way point of the marathon. In fact, I felt so strong and happy that I decided to pass the 4:15 pacers as well and go look for the 4:00 pacers. Part of my plan was to run this marathon in over four hours, so I had set myself the explicit rule of not passing the next group of pacers. I was just getting a little bored again and felt good and comfortable enough to push the pace a little.

The next 10km or so of the course were rather common again, so my hunt and passing game kept me entertained once again. There was nothing unpleasant about it, but equally, there were no awesome landmarks or anything particularly Roman about it.

If I was flying in the 20 kilometre section of the marathon, I was positively soaring by the time I reached the 30 kilometre marker. Perhaps it’s due to my usual high mileage running, or the recent addition of serious speed work to my training, or the fact that my head is in ultramarathon mode. Perhaps it was just sheer good luck on the day, but somehow I actually felt better and stronger the further I got into the race. As with any marathon, at this point a lot of runners were visibly starting to struggle (and heaven knows I’ve been there too!), but not today! I had found the 4:00 pacers, and couldn’t help but notice that the four runners with pink 4:00 balloons tied to their backs were quite spread out. I told myself that as long as I don’t pass the first of these runners, I’d be running within my own rules.

After around 35 kilometres, the route took us back into the historic centre of Rome, and this is when things progressed from epic to legendary. The crowds were utterly amazing and the route kept on carrying us from one awesome sight to the next. I can’t count the number of times a stranger in the crowd shouted my name in support (it was printed on the bib number) and there were also countless moments when the sights drew an audible “oh, wow!” from my lips.

The moment we reached the 40km maker my resolve to run this marathon easy crumbled to oblivion. I had so much left in the tank and so little of the route left to blow it on, that I just had to let rip. I flew past the last 4:00 pacer and chucked everything I had left at the finish line. The final kilometre of the race was no doubt my fastest and was also the only one that was genuine hard work.

Just when I crossed the finish line, the heavens opened up yet again, which I wasn’t all that unhappy about, as I was busy stumbling towards the medals all while enjoying/suffering my usual euphoric/exhausted post-marathon blubber and if nothing else, rain is good at hiding the tears.

Having run without a watch, I had only a vague idea of my finish time. At the finish line, the gun time was still under 4 hours, which genuinely surprised me. Once the results were published, I was dumbfounded to learn that I had just run an “easy” marathon in 3:48 minutes.

Despite deliberately aiming to finish this race in over four hours, I categorically can’t consider this a fail. The most amazing part of it was to finish it feeling so strong. It’s a feeling I genuinely wish upon everyone and hope that all you other runners out there get to experience!

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(post marathon selfie: soaked in a mixture of sweat, rain, tears and spilled energy drinks, but still all smiles)

Some (hopefully) helpful tips for those who want to run the Rome Marathon:

With over 19,000 registered runners, it most certainly was a big city marathon with all the fun and games this entails. The expo was unsurprisingly busy, but had some great exhibits and was extremely well organised. One thing that I liked was that they handed out the numbers and race packs at the start, meaning that you didn’t have to be squeezed past the alleys of trade stands by a slow moving gooey mass of crowd if you didn’t feel like it.

The race itself prides itself with following a great route that passes countless historic sites and landmarks and is meant to impress. I found that this was true in parts – especially the start, the middle section (which passes though the Vatican) and the finish (which takes the course back into the historic centre of Rome) were incredibly impressive. However, in between this there were long sections where the route is also rather ordinary, so don’t bank on the sights to carry you around the course! Having said that, the crowd support was really lovely all the way around, but again, particularly awesome in the historic parts of town.

The course itself is overall flat and generally follows the course of the river. There are a few inclines, but nothing that ever made me feel as though I’m working to get up (or down) a hill. Many runners had warned me beforehand that much of the route is run on cobble stones, which is certainly the case. I’d say that roughly a quarter of it was run on cobbles, but this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I don’t know if that’s because I do a lot of training on uneven surfaces, or down to the fact that my marathon shoes are well cushioned and have pretty good grip for a road shoe, but I just bounced over the cobbles without a care in the world.

With the sheer number of runners, the start of the race was naturally rather crowded. However, it was also incredibly disorganised. Although runners were supposed to be starting in different areas, these were not marked at all. There were starting tunnels, but they all funnelled back into the same area. There were no announcements, no fireworks, no balloons – nothing that told me that the race had started apart from the fact that the crowd eventually began to shift towards the start line. As far as I could tell, there were no starting waves – just a mass start with everyone rolling towards the start line. In fact, I almost missed the start entirely. All of a sudden there was this big arch ahead of me and I figured this must be it.

This mass start had repercussions all the way through the race. Although it was possible to run straight away, it was very crowded and the going was slow. Similarly, the aid stations (which were set up every 5km of the course and were excellent in principle), simply couldn’t keep up with the volume of runners coming through them all at the same time. It was simply impossible for the poor volunteers to keep up with the demand and the runners had to stop and wait for a drink to be poured for them.

The start and finish area is one and the same, and despite the messy start, the finish was really well organised. I immediately got my lovely medal and a space blanket, as well as a drinks and food to refuel. The bag drop system also worked really well, in the form of lorries parked along the start area. A final word of warning, perhaps, is that although there were toilets in the start/finish area, as well as along the route, these were nowhere near enough to cater for the volume of runners, so the queues were the longest I’ve ever seen at a race and all the toilet paper had disappeared long before the start area was even full of runners.

The bottom line is that this is a big city race, which brings many, many runners together to run together in an amazing city. The organisation was overall really good and I’d definitely take part in this event again. Despite the very flat course, I’d say that this is not a PB course – it’s simply too crowded and the fact that it’s not possible to run through the aid stations if you want a drink will slow you down significantly. However, for a running tourist who wants to take part in what must be one of the world’s grandest marathons, this race has an awful lot to offer. Given that I wasn’t at all bothered with finishing in a particular time, I can genuinely say that loved every moment of it!

Chasing Spring To (And Around) Rome

“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.”

– Henry van Dyke

I don’t know about you guys, but I celebrated the spring equinox with a big, sweet chunk of chocolate cake. It’s official: winter is over! In fact, I made it a double slice: one for the celebration and one because I’m carb-loading for the Rome Marathon. You can probably imagine my disappointment, when bonny Scotland fathomed a hailstorm during yesterday’s tempo run. Maybe I should have eaten the cake outside all while shouting “It’s Spring!” to the world, as my country evidently hasn’t gotten the message yet.

As such, my imminent journey to Rome can almost be considered an act of rebellion against the still very wintry storms we are experiencing up here, rather than an indulgent spring vacation. Either way, I’m so childishly thrilled that I have to keep reminding myself that some people find celebratory dances inappropriate in public.

I’m in for a long weekend of warmer, longer days (best enjoyed with ice-cream and a good friend!), meandering around countless ancient sites, enjoying meals of pasta and red vine in the evening sun and all topped off with a marathon on Sunday morning. Seriously, does it get any better? So far, I’m pleased to report that I have actually tapered (at least kind of; let’s not mention the half-marathon I raced last weekend!), that I have so far resisted any urges to shoot for a crazy race time in the Rome marathon and that I fully have embraced the carb loading.

They say that sooner or later everyone finds their way to the eternal city. I’m only hoping that spring has stumbled upon the road to Rome as well.

Rome Spring

When The Fastest Way To Get There Is To Go Slow

Well, this is a bit awkward. I’m currently trying to figure out a strategy for running a slow marathon. Yes, you’ve read that right; this time next week, I’ll be heading to Rome in order to run a very leisurely 26.2 mile loop around the eternal city.

Where most runners would be planning a race strategy and pacing plan that will allow them to shave a few seconds off their personal best time, I’m actively trying to figure out a path which will lead me to a new personal worst. I will be most upset with anything better than that.

I promise there is madness to my method. Firstly, I have run my socks off at a half marathon last weekend, and although I can’t feel it in my legs at all, I still want to give my body a chance to fully recover without demanding another endurance race straight away. This is especially important given that my next target race is a 55 mile ultramarathon in June; that is, only three months away now. And because ultras don’t run themselves, I want to be able to hurl myself into training for the monstrosity when I return from Rome, rather than having to make room for extensive recovery time from my latest racing folly.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Rome marathon is notorious for following a downright amazing route, which passes the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican and countless other monuments, landmarks and cool stuff. I’d rather enjoy the truly awesome scenery than spend my time alternately focussing my attention on the extent of the pain in my abs and the numbers flashing on my watch.

slowdown

So having decided that I’ll go slow, all that’s left to do now is to figure out just how slow I want to go and how to achieve this.

Given my recent half-marathon race time, I should be able run the big 26.2 in about 3:30 if I were to attack it. Therefore, I have decided that I shall be most upset if I run the Rome marathon in anything under four hours. I honestly don’t care how long it takes me to reach the finish line, as long as it’s over that threshold.

Here are some of the specific things that I can do to ensure that my pace remains leisurely:

  1. Before the race begins, I’ll line up a couple of pens back from the one I have been allocated into, hoping that the slower moving masses will rein in any potential outbursts of speedy stupidity on my part.
  2. Once the race starts, I will make sure that my start is very slow indeed. I might even walk the first kilometre or so, just to make sure that all my splits are “terrible”. My theory is that this will drastically reduce the possibility of committing an act of idiocy after glancing at my watch at the 10/20/21.1/30km marker.
  3. I’ll be a good tourist. I shall study the route extensively on the three hour flight to Rome, so that during the race I can focus my attention and energy on spotting as many landmarks as possible. My camera might also make an appearance or two.
  4. I solemnly swear that I will walk through the aid stations. All of them.
  5. Should my watch, at any point, indicate that I’m running faster than 5:41/km (4 hour marathon) pace, I have to immediately perform a 100m walk of shame.
  6. Should I spot the 4:00 pacer at any point during the race, I’ll have to walk until the 4:15 pacer makes an appearance, using the time to think about what I’ve done.

Have you ever aimed for a minimum time in a race? Do you have any tips?

Pampered Feetsies (Can Outrun The Bombsquad)

A few weeks ago, the wonderful Tartan Jogger and I thought it would be fun to swap our running music playlists.

But rather than being all boring and lazy about it (and just e-mailing a list of all the songs), we decided to spice things up a little: each of us bought an mp3 player, uploaded our unedited running tunes (yes, including the embarrassing ones) and posted it the other person.

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When I got home from work yesterday, I found a little parcel waiting for me and was surprised to find that it was rather bigger than your average mp3 player! The reason for this is that Tartan Jogger had included not just the mp3 player, but also an entire pampering kit for my tortured feet – including a soothing and cooling gel, soft socks and nail varnish – wonderful! After racing my socks off on Sunday, this wonderful present could not have been more timely or perfect!

My pampered feet have been recovering surprisingly well from the race, and I have been enjoying some lovely recovery bouncing to Tartan Jogger’s music on the coastal paths. It’s been extremely fun and refreshing to run to someone else’s tunes, with no idea what to expect and what song might come on next. I can confirm that so far all of her songs have put a definite spring in my step – it’s a fantastic playlist for running.

It’s really fun to discover new songs, re-discover old ones, find the odd tune we have in common and, perhaps most importantly, decide that several of these songs need to be added to my own playlist as a matter of urgency!

Incidentally, while trail running to Tartan Joggers tunes this evening, I first accidentally photo-bombed a professional shoot and was then, in turn, pursued by a bomb squad. Let me explain… My first clue that something was amiss came in the form of a number of “Rescue” vehicles parked at an accessible stretch of the trail. Not wanting to bother the men in uniform, I simply continued my run, blissfully cruising along an undulating trail between the beach and a golf-course. A kilometre or so later, I passed a rather suspiciously large group of golfers. With laptops, and cables and strobes. They were polite enough to only roll their eyes at me, almost patiently, as I blazed my trail between the photographers and the golfer models – ooops!

Not wanting to gatecrash the professionals again, I left the golf course and headed for some higher trails, which cross various little hills and forests on the way back. But after rambling on for 10 kilometres or so, I eventually had to cross the golf course again in order to get back to my car. That’s when I ran into more men in uniform, this time looming around vehicles with “Bomb Disposal” written all over them in big navy letters. What followed were some frantic radio communications and me repeatedly confirming that each and every sighting of the jogger – runner! I corrected them! dammit! – was in fact, yours truly. “Yes, we’ve got her,” the man shouted at his radio. It turns out they had been trying to find me for the better part of the previous hour. They asked me politely to wait with them for 10 minutes before returning to my car, and then – BOOOOOOOM! – the earth trembled.

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Seriously, who else has been stopped by the police while running a race, and a mere two days later leads the bomb disposal squad on a cat-and-mouse hunt in the Scottish wilderness? Really, I couldn’t make this up. I think that my inner running ninja wants to come out and play.

I hope that Tartan Jogger, who received my running tunes (as well as a little wild running experience kit) about a week ago, will have many wild, weird and wonderful adventures while running to my music as well. I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’ve had wicked fun with this experience. I tip my hat to you, Tartan Jogger – thank you for all the fun!

In anyone else is interested in swapping running music playlists, please feel free to speak up! Perhaps we can arrange a running bloggers music exchange.

En Garde, Inverness!

At approximately stupid o’clock this morning, my super dog and I got into my little car and commandeered it northwards to Inverness, to take me to the start line of the Inverness Half Marathon.

The three and a half hour drive (including a little stop to stretch all six legs between us) took us through some of the most stunning scenery that Scotland has to offer: the magical, dreamy Perthshire Highlands and the mighty, snow-covered peaks of the Cairngorm National Park.

I suspect that the meditative drive through this wonderful scenery might have had something to do with me feeling supremely calm, grounded and relaxed all day – the ancient, vast mountains reminded me that I’m really just a tiny speckle in an immensely grander scheme of things, which is a very useful mind frame to get into before a race.

My main goal – apart from having a blast, which, let’s face it, is always paramount to everything – was to cross the finish line before the timer made it to 1:45. On an awesome day, I had told myself, I’d try to attack the mighty 1:40.

Well, the day wasn’t awesome; it was cold, raining and a bit too windy for my liking (Fàilte gu Alba – Welcome to Scotland). However, I myself couldn’t have felt any more ready. While performing the usual pre-race bounce and shuffle to stay warm in the starting pens, I felt as though I was the eye of a hurricane; the calm core that is ready to unleash a storm. There was a little voice inside my head that whispered quietly: “Hey – why not?”. Thanks to my composed state of mind, I listened.

As I crossed the start line, I sent a mental warning to 1:40 – it better be ready for me, because I was embarking on a rapid advance in its general direction. My run (aka the charge) was great fun, because there really was nothing to do but to run my socks off.

I ran with my heart and rarely looked at my watch. It didn’t matter much, as my feelings about the pace were good and I genuinely couldn’t have run any harder than I did and maintained the pace. The first half of the route was very pretty, following and crossing the river Ness before meandering along some quiet country roads. These pretty country roads, however, were also pretty hilly for a city race, and while they didn’t break my stride, I have no doubts about losing a number of valuable seconds to them. There were also some exposed sections of the route where the wind gate-crashed the duel between me and the clock – and needless to say, it wasn’t rooting for me.

The second half of the race took us back into residential areas of the town, and I was surprised to find that the roads hadn’t been closed to traffice for the race. While the busy roundabouts had plenty of stewards on them, other sections on quieter residential areas were literally run alongside the uncontrolled traffic. This required a lot of watching out for cars, hopping on-and-off the pavements and crossing to the other side of the road. At one point I was even asked to by a police officer to wait on the sidewalk for a moment to let some cars pass before crossing the road. On the plus side, a ridiculously immature part of me finds it really cool that I was actually stopped by the police while running a race!

The behaviour of my fellow runners was overall brilliant – I wasn’t spat on once and nobody threw water-bottles at my feet at the very well organised aid stations. However, I did have one (well two!) almost run-ins with a fellow runner/fruitcake in the vicinity of the 12 mile marker. This running muppet decided to take a walking break from his 7:30min/mile pace, which he is of course perfectly entitled to do. However, he did so in the middle of the path, rather abruptly and right in front of me. It took a quick, side-hopping ninja move on my part to avoid a full-on (or rather, rear on!) collision which could have ended the race for both of us. Being on an important ninja mission, I simply ignored him and continued my charge. Unfortunately for me, the running muppet clearly decided that he wasn’t going to get chick’d at this point in the race and immediately flew past me again, which required a flat-out sprint. Good on him, I thought, still very much focussed on keeping my personal advance towards  for the finish line as swift as possible. However, the now sprinting muppet then spotted a friend amongst the spectators and shouted a loud greeting, all while pointing rapidly in their direction – missing my forehead by approximately one inch. And thus, I am ashamed to confess, I suffered a momentary fall from grace while performing ninja-dodge number 2: I rivalled the volume of his own shouting and may have called him a … how shall I put this? Let’s just say I loudly insinuated that I thought of him as someone who frequently practices self-gratification of an adult nature… I can’t say I’m proud of it, but at least my outburst put an end to any further attempts on his part to knock me unconscious.

ninja runner

Thankfully, this outburst of anger/self-defense did nothing to upset my serene, eye-of-the-hurricane mountain magic running mojo, which stayed with me all the way finish line and beyond. According to my watch, I crossed the line in 1:40:10. However, my official chip time came back as 1:40:24. I honestly have no idea where this significant discrepancy comes from, but it really doesn’t matter! I’m super happy with either (or both!) times. Incidentally, my watch also recorded the course to be slightly longer than a half marathon, which is pretty normal and really not surprising, given the number of times I had to cross the road en route to dodge traffic! The point is, however, that according to my GPS watch it had taken me 1:40:03 to cover an actual half-marathon distance. All things considered, I really couldn’t have asked for more and am chuffed to bits! 1:45 was well and truly left in the dust and 1:40 should be very scared indeed!

As for the race itself, it seems to fall into an interesting no-man’s-land between club race and big city race. With a total of just over 1700 runners finishing the course, it’s certainly much bigger than your local running club half marathon. At the same time, it doesn’t have the buzz of a big city race to it either. I found the volume of people on the course extremely pleasant; there were always people around me, but not so much that it ever got crowded, even at the start of the race. The organisation was fantastic (registration, aid-stations, goody-bag, etc.) except for the part which involved 1700 runners dodging traffic for approximately half of the race, which was a massive let-down for me.

On the drive home, the mountain scenery that had so effectively soothed my psyche on the way up to Inverness was a fitting backdrop to revel in all the wicked fun I had on the run today. I stopped to take my super doggy for a little walk in Aviemore, as she had patiently waited in the car while I went on my latest running escapade. In order to celebrate with me, she did get to wear my hard-earned medal for a while, which made her very happy, too*:

MyraInverness

* For those who don’t know my dog, you should know that she absolutely loves to wear things around her neck! I don’t know why this is, but when I playfully hold long pieces of string out to her, she always puts her nose through them. She also hates having her collar taken off. It’s just one of her many quirky little sides.

It’s A Journey, Not A Race

Oh, the ritual of the race! There are these dangerous moments when you think that it would be fun to run a race. It’s in those moments that you run the risk of signing up for an actual race; before your head can contemplate the wisdom of this idea, you find that your fingers have already pushed the “enter” button. What have you gone and done now? It’s not uncommon to then require a few days of cowering behind the couch and sucking on your thumbs to come to terms with the gravity or your actions, but eventually you find that you are capable of switching from avoidance to approach coping. You then go through several trees worth of paper in the process of drawing up and refining the ultimate plan for achieving world domination a particular finish time come race day.

Following this, you will probably spend the next couple of weeks wrestling with this master plan; you will have weeks of changing things around only to find that you have missed a run or two. This is inevitably followed by a panic week, in which you consistently overdo your training and basically view your carefully tinkered plan as defining the bare minimum of your training. At the same time, you begin to cultivate mental images of yourself crossing the finish line, light on your feet, the running definition of glorious grace, all while – naturally – smashing your personal best time. But be warned: the effects of religiously overtraining combined with the distorted view of yourself can encourage you to revise your target race pace downwards to something deliriously optimistic.

A few weeks before the race, you start to notice little bits of evidence in training – whether real or imagined – that your naive finishing time might be possible after all. For instance, you have just run the fourth kilometre of a 5km tempo run at target race pace and didn’t die. Therefore, why shouldn’t it be possible to run that exact same pace for 10km, 21.1km, 6 hours at a time, right? But the instant when things are beginning to look promising is also when your taper begins, which means that you’ll feel rather grumpy about your reduction in training. While in this state of endorphin-withdrawal, you will most likely first feel cranky about the race, and then experience a general animosity towards life in general. In those moments, you would much rather just go for a long run, without a care in the world, not limited by the prospects of a silly race. This is often followed by a phase in which you tell yourself that target times for races are a stupid anyway and that nobody cares about your finishing time, so you might as well walk the race and be done with it.

On the morning of the race, it’s perfectly normal to contemplate why you are doing this at all and to spend a significant amount of energy searching for an exit route. But after the gun has finally bellowed and you are, at last, allowed to stretch your legs, you might find that it’s not so bad after all and settle into a personal kind of groove. You enjoy the moments early on in the race, when you are running much too fast but it still feels good to do so. You even tell yourself that you are feeling so awesome, there’s no reason why you can’t maintain this pace and set a new world record. This act of idiotic thinking is immediately punished by a thousand shades of pain for the remainder of the race, which are sprinkled with just enough magical bouts of the elusive “runner’s high” to stop you from pulling out of the race altogether. It’s true that you learn a lot about yourself while racing; for instance, you become intimately aware of several parts of your body you have never really appreciated before – before they started to hurt like hell, that is. And finally, once you have run, walked, crawled or staggered across the finish like, your biggest achievement of the day (i.e. not throwing up this very moment) is rewarded by a stranger hanging a medal around your neck.

You swear you’ll never do this to yourself ever again. You go home, ice your legs, and convince yourself that a tub of ice-cream and an alcoholic beverage are excellent recovery foods. But a week or so later, usually after another glass or wine or two, you begin to think that it might be fun to run a race one of these days…

Race Journey