Loch Rannoch Marathon : Race Report

loch-rannoch-autumn

If you like your marathons to be scenic then this is the marathon for you. With a loop at either end you basically just run round the loch. If you want your marathon to be flat – then this is not the marathon for you. I heard the route called “undulating” but that is a fairly mild description I would suggest. In fact there is an elevation gain of 631 feet!

But let’s cut to the chase. If it’s possible to be disappointed with a 9 minute personal best then that is how I feel about the race. I went into the race more confident than I have ever been for a run. My training had gone superbly; my fitness and strength felt good; I had a clear plan and objective which would see me complete the run under 3 hours 30 minutes.

rannoch

I set off quickly and happily. My plan was to run the first 13 miles at an average pace of 7 minutes 45 seconds a mile. But my competitiveness took over and I tried to keep up with the folk round about me rather than run to my plan. The first two miles were 7:14 and 7:07. I knew I was too fast but reasoned that I could slow down. But it didn’t happen. Mile 3:7:22; 4 :7:10; 5:7:27: 6:7:39: 7:7:24; 8:7:23 and so on. Because I felt strong and confident my heart was telling me : “You’re strong – you can keep this up and slow down on the second half.” My head was telling me that I was too quick and I was going to suffer in the second half. Stupidly I let my heart take control.

My other issue was that the three gels which I had put in the pocket of my shorts had fallen out in the first mile and I had nothing to sustain me other than jelly babies. This was another reason to slow down but again I was stupid.

I completed the half marathon in 1 hour 38 minutes – ridiculously fast. Even at that point I knew I was in trouble. The loop to the half-way point took us uphill and my legs started objecting. After we turned there was another sustained hill which was a real struggle. Mile 14 took 7:52; mile 15 : 8:16. There was a slight recovery in miles 16 and 17 where in a flattish part I recorded 8:03 and 8:02. But I knew even then with 9 miles to go that I was in deep trouble. My right calf was making it’s presence felt; my cadence had dropped; my breathing was laboured; the promised water stations weren’t there and I was getting sick of the jelly babies. I tried every positive strategy I could think of but nothing was working. From there to the finishing line was, to be honest with you, pretty hellish.

To be out of energy with 8 or 9 miles still to go is a horrible feeling. A voice in my head kept saying : “Stop! Give up! You’ve had it!” But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. More than anything I was annoyed with myself for bringing this situation on. Giving up is never a serious option for me. I determined that one way or another I would get across the finishing line. Mile 18 : 8:20; 19: 8:35. After mile 19 I tried to take stock. Physically I was ready to stop. Due to my fast start a decent time was still possible. But my sub 3:30 minutes dream died at that point. I realised how spent I was. I reassessed possibilities. For the first time in my running career I acknowledged that I would allow myself to walk the uphills. I mentally adjusted my target time to sub 3:35. Just then a water station appeared. I stopped and to celebrate downed an entire bottle in seconds. Next mile 9:05. From then on I walked the hills. I now knew what people mean by the expression “hitting the wall”. In great pain and exhaustion I kept going as best I could. Mile 21:8:49; 22:9:05; 23:10.03!; 24:9:37. In the midst of the darkness there were shafts of light. The runners who were passing me gave amazing support and encouragement. Some asked if I was okay; most shouted encouragement  and support. It was fantastic and although I was too exhausted to thank them at the time I unreservedly do so here for helping me keep going. Mile 25:10:12 and mile 26:9:52. Here I am near the end – literally and metaphorically.

rannoch-tired

Even the last 400 metres seemed to take forever. I was keeping to the time required for a sub 3:35 finish – but only just. As I turned for the final finish I turned left too soon. Someone shouted to me to alert me. I tried to change direction but my legs went from me and I fell flat on my face. Somehow I got to my feet and staggered over the finish line. For around 10 minutes I felt a bit ropey but several mugs of tea revived me and I gradually recovered. My time was 3 hours 34 minutes and 39 seconds. But it was a badly run race and I only have myself to blame!

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DNF (Did not finish!)

Well given that my last two posts described running personal bests it seems only fair that this one should describe total failure. I’ve had two months of overeating and minimal exercise so you reap what you sow. I’ve been volunteering at my beloved Edinburgh parkrun but last Saturday their volunteer rota was full so I thought I would check out the new parkrun on the block – Portobello parkrun just over 6 miles from home. I told myself I would run it gently as I am out of condition. It is a scenic parkrun – three laps of a pretty park with pond,river and nice views of Arthur’s Seat – the hill that dominates the Edinburgh skyline. It was a pleasant morning with a gentle breeze. There was a happy relaxed atmosphere pre-race with lots of visiting runners who were in Edinburgh for the popular Edinburgh Marathon Festival. What could possibly go wrong?

Well quite a lot if you were stupid me. I went off far too fast and even though I knew I was going too fast I kept chasing people instead of dropping back. As we approached the end of the first lap the famous running quote from George Sheehan came into my head : “Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants to quit.” Now as most runners will know this happens at least once every time you run and part of learning to run is saying “no” to that voice. But to my shame I gave in and pulled up after one lap. So an inglorious dnf (did not finish) for me and lots of negative thoughts afterwards.

The fear of failure

I don’t know about you but my life has been dogged by fear of failure. I think it started in P7 when we moved to Edinburgh and my parents for reasons best known to them, sent me to a private school. Knowing that your parents are forking out thousands of pounds to pay for your education does tend to encourage you to try and pass your exams. And I still recall the shame of getting 39% in First Year Physics. At university I was terrified of failing exams. Having chosen two subjects I was hopeless at added to the pressure. And every job I’ve ever had (and I’m now in double figures) has been dominated by the thought that I’m missing the mark and failing to do the job properly.

My lack of confidence, social skills and self-awareness makes other things a struggle too. I know why people struggle to relate to introverts but it works both ways let me assure you. One of the great things about getting older is that you come to terms with these things. You know which battles to fight, what your limitations are and the fear of failure reduces.

Take 2014 for example. My one goal was to run 5k in under 20 minutes. For various reasons it hasn’t happened and it won’t happen. But I have come to terms with that and accepted that. I’m not at the point of admitting it may never happen but that is the next stage!

When I worked in a bookshop we sold a lot of a little card called the Serenity Prayer. It reads : “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” I still need that wisdom though!