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.
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*:
* 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.