Loch Rannoch Marathon : Race Report

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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.

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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.

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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!

Job done!

Well I completed the Loch Rannoch Marathon despite moments when I thought I wouldn’t. I have my official time which was 3 hours 34 minutes and 39 seconds. I was 59th out of 189 runners and second in my age category (V60) Several things went wrong which I will detail in my race report but at the end of the day it was a pb by 9 minutes 2 seconds so I’m happy about that. Here I am after the finish feeling revived after three mugs of tea!

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Four days until Loch Rannoch Marathon!

I’m really looking forward to my second marathon this Sunday. My training has gone spectacularly well. No injuries, good runs, excellent times (for me!) and I feel that in terms of strength, fitness and weight I’m pretty much exactly where I want to be.

 

This isn’t Loch Rannoch but it serves as a reminder of how great it will be to run surrounded by beautiful Scottish scenery. I’m aiming to run a personal best – my time in the first marathon I ran was 3 hours 43 minutes 41 seconds so that’s the first target.IMG_0303

The forecast for Sunday isn’t too bad. Cool with a very light breeze would be ideal!

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.

Progress Report

I took a lot of confidence from my time in the Alloa Half Marathon. Not only was it a huge personal best but it showed me that I can run at a faster pace over a longer distance than I believed possible. Now, as regular readers will know, the ten week training programme for the half marathon was in fact a sprat to catch a mackerel. By building strength, fitness, endurance and speed I hoped it would, when transferred to a much shorter distance of 5k, give me the long held dream of running a 5k under 20 minutes. So after Alloa I had an easy run on Wednesday last week followed by interval training on Thursday. I rested on Friday, stuffed myself with carbs and told myself that I was going to have a really good effort at achieving my dream at Edinburgh parkrun last Saturday.

Saturday dawned dry and bright. There was an 8mph easterly wind so the first 2k would be into the wind but crucially it would be behind us on the way back. Having had 120+ failed attempts at running under 20 minutes I not only know the course inside out but also the times I need at each stage to achieve the goal. At 1k I was 5 seconds behind target. At 2k I was 7 seconds behind target but on the plus side I had been running into the wind and I still felt fairly strong. At 3k I was close to target and at 4k I was two seconds ahead. I mentally took stock. I needed to run the last k in 3 minutes 41 seconds. I needed to be at the trees in 18 minutes 45 seconds. I made that my target and tried to maintain a good pace. I reached the trees at 18 minutes 40 seconds – five seconds ahead. All I needed to do was keep going. I tried to kick but it wasn’t quite there. In desperation I counted breaths. Soon I could see the finish flags and dug deep one last time. As I crossed the line I looked at my watch and saw 19 minutes 55 seconds. I’m not sure I was ever so happy to see that time. Here’s a blurred photo of me almost at the finishing line. Apologies for the pink shirt. Alloa Half Marathon were clearly catering for the female runner when they chose the shirt colour this year.
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My finishing time was later confirmed as 19 minutes 54 seconds. I am so happy and not a little relieved! Two running personal bests in a week seems a pretty good reason to take a break from running for a while. Doubtless in due course there will be a new challenge. I’ll let you know.

Alloa Half Marathon race report

If you live in Scotland and ever want to run a half marathon then Alloa would be a good place to start. It’s well-organised; not too big; well signposted, marshalled and provisioned; not too hilly and quite scenic in places.
I ran it two years ago so knew exactly what I was facing. There is a sameness about the event which adds to its appeal. The runners are started by the same elderly mayoress who is still being entrusted with the starting pistol although it is now clearly firing blanks. I’m not sure if her hearing is all there because the mc counted us down to zero and it was several seconds later before she managed to raise the gun and fire it. By this time the leaders were halfway to the first corner.
Here’s a photo of me trying to cut a corner not long after the start. I’m the one approaching the corner on the pavement in the yellow shirt.
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Beforehand I had been aiming at 7 minute 15 second miles but the first one went fairly comfortably in 7:04. I’m also caught on camera not long after the first mile.
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My second mile was far too quick (6:45) so I told myself to slow down. However I was still feeling strong and confident. I missed the mile 3 sign but at four miles I was just under 28 minutes – again faster than I had planned. I decided to go with the pace as long as I was comfortable with it. There was a guy in a grey shirt who had been in front of me for ages who seemed to be running a pace so I decided to try and keep him in view. The field was spreading out by now but I was still in a group when caught around the four mile point.
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Just after five miles we turned the Alva corner onto the long straight stretch we would run for another 4 and a half miles. The slight breeze we had been running into was now behind us which was a great feeling. I checked my watch at 6 miles : 41 minutes 40 seconds. When this registered I had some serious thinking to do. My 10k personal best is 44 minutes 20 seconds and I had just run close to 10k in under 42 minutes. This was not necessarily a good thing in a 13 mile race! My fear was that I couldn’t possibly continue this pace for another 7 miles and more worryingly that I was likely to break down completely. However the negative feelings were soon replaced by more positive ones. I could afford to slow down a bit as the race went on and still run a good overall time. I was still feeling pretty strong and I was in a steady group that were helping each other along. Not many people were overtaking or dropping back. I decided to go with the pace as long as I could. When we briefly turned off for a short loop to complete the distance I saw a couple of guys who I know are much faster than I am. The fact that I was so near them after 7 miles was good for morale. At 8 miles I was still on 7 minute miles. Approaching 9 miles some of our group had gone on and others had dropped back leaving me a bit isolated. My early pace was beginning to catch up with me.
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There was however a girl not far behind who would go past me fairly soon afterwards.
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I think you can tell from these photos that I was beginning to struggle by this point. My 9 mile time was slightly under 63 minutes and I started making adjustments in my head. With just over 4 miles including a brute of a hill to go I could afford to run 8 minute miles and still finish close to a dream finish time of 1 hour 35 minutes. Two years ago I had been on course for a 1:38 finish but slowed in the last mile finishing in 1:39:58. I don’t know if you have ever tried doing mental calculations when running and tired but it must have taken me almost half a mile to work out that simple sum. Clearly things were on the slide. I tried to prepare myself for the notorious Menstrie hill. If you wanted to put a dirty big hill in a half marathon at the most psychologically challenging place then where the Alloa one occurs is pretty close to it. It’s far enough in to make sure you’re exhausted by that stage and yet it’s not near enough the finish to mean the race is over when you get to the top of it. I laboured up it saying “Embrace the hill” through gritted teeth. I kept running and to my surprise only one person overtook me. At the top of the hill we passed the 11 mile marker. There was one more incline and this marked the low point of the race for me. I tried to tell myself that from the top of the incline it was downhill to the finish. My legs, however, just wanted to give up. My speed slowed and try as I might my legs just wouldn’t respond. From here to the finish was pretty horrible. The one encouragement was that at 12 miles I clocked my time at 1:25:14. This meant a sub 1:35 finish was inevitable as long as I didn’t break down. There was frustration that just when I should have been accelerating towards the finish – as some sensible paced runners were – I was actually slowing. After what seemed like an eternity the 13 mile sign came into view. I couldn’t wait and glanced at my watch. It was 1:31 something. I couldn’t make the figure out but it was still encouraging as I felt that I was slowing completely. I turned the final corner and still had nothing left. I staggered the final few metres.
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My head is wrong; my arms are wrong but somehow I made it accross the line in a new personal best time of 1 hour 33 minutes and 8 seconds.

Mission Accomplished

Just a quick note to say that I completed the Alloa Half Marathon yesterday in excellent running conditions. I was fortunate enough to run a personal best too. Report to follow but in the meantime here’s a photo showing how wrecked I was at the finish.
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It’s actually a good photo to illustrate how not to run!