The 40th Race: Virtual London Marathon (Running My Way)

When I signed up to run the London Marathon virtually I decided against running at ‘home’. The thought of pounding the streets did not appeal, while running my local trails would require multiple loops of the dreaded Kingshill in order to make the distance. I’ve love Aviemore so decided to go there!

Torrential Downpours

Throughout the lead up to race day, the forecast looked bleak. I swithered as to whether I should cancel and run locally, but having frequently biked the trails in Aviemore in years gone by I’m aware of they drain well and made the decision just to go.

Heading to Aviemore was not the most pleasant journey. Driving over the Lecht, there was a significant amount of surface water lying as the rain fell throughout the day; it was a relief to reach our destination.

Sad Times

Aviemore usually has a great buzz about it and it was a sad reflection of current times on Saturday night, the two household rule alongside restricted numbers sucking the life out of the evening, the usual buzz of the Cairngorm Hotel sadly lacking. That said, we were well fed and able to enjoy a nightcap before an early night.

Morning Showers

Waking up during the night, I checked my phone a couple of times. Sadly it appeared that conditions were deteriorating rather than improving. Meanwhile Aberdeen looked to be getting better (or at least dryer). Happy for those that were running at home, I began to wish I’d stayed there!

I’d planned to set off around 9 am, so rose at 7 am for breakfast of a bun with banana and nut butter, and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea. Showered and dressed, I laid out another set of running kit in case I chose to stop off for a mid-marathon change, figuring this might be welcome if completely drookit!

Setting off as planned, it was drizzly but not dinging down as forecast. Cloud was hanging very low over the hills. I debated before leaving – jacket, no jacket. Feeling the relative warmth, I concluded it should be left. I knew I’d warm up quickly enough; even a decent jacket leaves you feeling like you’re being boiled in the bag!

The Route

If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll be aware that when we go walking it’s not me that does the planning. In the same way, I had a vague notion of where I might run for my marathon but no definite plan and no real research done. I wouldn’t say this was a regret, but I did get some surprises later.

The Old Logging Way

Starting out, I headed towards the ski road and followed the Old Logging Way, my reasoning being that it would give a little shelter from the drizzle that was later to turn to rain. Along with not planning the route, I’d not planned a pace, deciding I’d just run by feel. I did however have 3 goals in mind:

A) Sub 4 hour marathon

B) Run all the way

C) Finish with something other than a personal worst!

I’ll let you into a secret – I achieved two of the three!

The Old Logging Way passes by Rothiemurchus and then gently meanders up towards Glenmore. The path was mainly dry with the odd puddle, one or two of which slowed me right down as I tried to step through on my heels rather than stomping through and getting wet feet. In my experience wet feet = blisters. Reaching a high point after about 3.5 miles, I decided to about turn rather than going downhill only to have to come back up.

This was so much easier! I hadn’t appreciated the incline until turning back.

Speyside Way

Continuing through Aviemore, I headed all the way along the main street until the end of the village, taking up the trail of the Speyside Way. Initially, this was on a single track path, but quickly opened up onto a wide, hard packed track. I’d envisaged this being flat; in effect it was gently undulating and I did groan inwardly (maybe even outwardly) on a couple of occasions as I had to go up yet again.

The plan had been to continue along to Boat of Garten. I’m not sure if I lost the Way, but found myself further on the Red Squirrel Trail after a few miles. This, I believe, did continue to the Boat; however, a couple of huge puddles taking up the width of the fire track presented a challenge, and having tramped over the heather to avoid them I came upon a wee burn that was too big to jump across. The path was covered in water with lots of grass growing under it making it challenging to identify solid ground from grass under water, so at this point I bailed and about turned. I tried heading up the Roe Deer Trail but only made it about 50 metres before meeting yet more muddy puddles. Back to Aviemore it was.

Reaching the village, my Garmin showed I’d covered around 17 miles. In a way this delighted me; however, by this point I was aware of the discrepancy between the London Marathon app and my Garmin, the former being 0.6 miles shy. There was also the thought that nearly 10 miles is still a mighty long way! However, pace was still okay and I continued running by feel.

The Logging Way Revisited

I decided to head out the opposite end of the Speyside Way towards Kincraig. I very quickly realised that this was downhill, at least leaving Aviemore initially – I couldn’t see very far ahead – meaning an uphill finish, so a snap decision was made to stick with what I know and head back onto the Logging Way. This was hard going! Beyond 18 miles, my calves were beginning to tighten and emotions were running high. I did shed a few tears as I ran past the Fish Farm, quickly getting my focus back on the task in hand.

I slogged my way back up the track, slowing to a walk for a few steps on one ascent. Again, further up I walked 40 steps on the return leg before picking up the pace again. I knew I’d meet the 4 hour goal if I could just keep running!

Heading back alongside the road I received a friendly toot as Bruce drove past and this perked me up. The final challenge was having to run past the hotel after the Garmin said I’d finished, to make up the distance for the app to record an official time. While irritated by this, my rational brain countered that a race distance is never quite bang on with the GPS, nor would I have followed the blue line in London, so this extra distance was quite apt.

Finishing was pretty cool! I immediately received a ‘Congratulations’ text from London Marathon and the app registered my official time. That was welcome as there was absolutely no other fanfare.

Thank You

Thanks to all the lovely people who commented on my run or wished me luck along the way. The kindness of strangers was appreciated. Toots from cars, thumbs up from behind the windows at junctions, all these things encouraged me along the way.

Running Solo

While it was a good experience, I don’t think I’d ever choose to run a solo marathon. It was hard work covering the distance alone with only my own thoughts for company.

I think this is partly what made it such an emotional experience; my thoughts often turned to someone that also loved the trails but sadly is no longer here to run them. I believe this helped me find the strength to go on as it made me realise how fortunate I am.

Run free! X

The Last 16: 2 Weeks To Go!

Today was the last 16 mile run of the plan. This sounds okay, particularly if you’re a Hanson devotee. However, theit’s the second of only two 16 mile runs. I’ve squeezed in a 15 and a 14, but the reality is that the training is not what is should have been. This is the problem with spur of the moment decisions. I’m sure at some point during the virtual race I’ll find myself wishing I’d stuck to my guns regarding deferral!

Reflections on Training

Last marathon block (London 2019), I seriously committed to training, running 750 miles in the build up to the race, and this fared me well. For the virtual attempt this year, my annual mileage has just nudged past this (we’re in September, London 2019 was in April!) with a measly 420 miles in training over the last 14 weeks. Weekly mileage has topped out at 45 mpw with only 5 runs, as opposed to 55 mpw with 6 runs per week. On the upside, I’ve incorporated strength training this cycle and physically feel I’ve benefited from this.

Bottom line, I knew what I was getting into and need to be realistic about what I can achieve.

Fuelling the Long Run

I decided today to run a flatter route for a change, my longer runs usually on the forest trails. I’ve been experimenting with new gels – Huma – having pretty much tried everything else on the market over the years, and figured it might be an idea to stay closer to civilisation in case they didn’t agree with me. As it transpired they did the business with no ill effects. Having taken one before leaving the house, and two more at 30 minutes and an hour respectively, I felt secure enough to leave Duthie Park, where I’d been running laps and suffering the consequences of boredom, to head out the Deeside Line. A fourth gel further out the line saw me consume what should hopefully be enough to get me through the distance in a couple of weeks time.

No sooner had I started out the line than I bumped into the Mackies. The line was busy, lots of walkers and cyclists along the route, quietening down as I moved further out from the park.

Having gone right out to the AWPR, I bumped into another familiar face, enjoying the sunshine and views over the countryside. Having stopped for a blether, I made a mental note that standing still for 5 minutes mid-run does nothing for my legs. It was a real struggle to persuade them to go again!

Autumn Approaches

While beautiful to see some of the trees beginning to change, some autumnal colours in the leaves, I found it a little sad. This year, I’m sure many will agree, feels to quite some extent like it’s been stolen. There have been so many occasions missed and little social contact with family and friends. To realise that, despite the glorious September sunshine, the days will soon draw in as winter approaches is not a positive thought.

Taper Time

However, before any of that, I have a couple of weeks of rest and recuperation to look forward to, with a long weekend thrown in for good measure. Never looking more than a week ahead having chosen my plan, it fills me with joy to realise that the runs this week are predominantly easy miles, even if I do feel like I’m ‘cheating’ by tapering after such a short plan. No amount of hard work now will make the ‘race’ any better; all I can do is trust in the training and hope my body remembers what it needs to do.

So, easy miles, rest, sleep and recovery. Two weeks to go until the virtual marathon. I may even be a tad excited.

5 Weeks To Go!

The abbreviated training plan is going well thus far – I’ve completed 2 weeks of it – and I have to say that I’m enjoying my renewed focus. Without the luxury of a full 16-18 weeks for training, I sought advice from the group at LHR Running Community, a Facebook group focusing on training the Hanson way. Luke Humphrey (author of the book, Hanson Marathon Method) was kind enough to reply directly to my question of how to proceed with training, suggesting that realistically the aim would be to finish – it’s not going to be a PB run – and I should aim to increase my mileage to 45 miles per week.

Final Surge Training Plan

Next thing to do was find a plan to support this. Since running a successful London Marathon in 2019 off an LHR plan, I decided this was as good a place as any to start. A little more digging online and I came across an 8 week plan on Final Surge.

Not quite sure that at 30 miles per week I’d have described myself as near my peak mileage, but the other bits resonated with me in that I’d been doing regular workouts over a month. Overall, it looked like following this plan would be achievable, completion the goal, and time largely irrelevant. If I am able to walk the day following the marathon that will be an added bonus!

Progress To Date

Last week saw me run a fraction off 39 miles, this week just short of 42. I plan to add a mile onto my easy run tomorrow and make the warm up on my workouts 2 miles, rather than the planned 1, in order to hit 45 miles next week. I’m also continuing to work on strength training with a running focus so hope that this will also help overall.

It’s been suggested that running a virtual marathon will be hard due to the solitary element. I’m hoping it won’t be any worse than the virtual 5k I did back at the end of June where I ended up walking! While I’m sure there will be ups and downs, aside from last weekend when I ran with two friends, I’ve been training alone since lockdown began in March. I won’t have the support to keep pushing through the tough times, but I have developed the mental strength to be in my own head for a prolonged period of time.

Running Solo

One of the main joys I’ve found in solo running is doing it at a time that suits. Today I allowed myself the luxury of a lie in, starting out at the leisurely time of 10:30 am. While this meant I’d missed the opportunity of company it allowed me additional rest and recovery time, vitally important in the throes of solid training.

I ran a steady 14 miles on the local trails. I had contemplated running somewhere flat but couldn’t think of anywhere inspiring to do this, so the usual stomping ground it was. When you stop to look around it’s easy to understand why this is a favourite.

Looking Ahead

This week holds easy miles, a session of short reps, a tempo run and a 16 mile long run to round it all off. That’s as far ahead as I’m going. One week at a time!

Reflections on 2019: Dreams, Goals and Injury

Goals (and Dreams)

This year I set myself 2 goals:

A marathon PB and a 1st club standard.

I achieved one of them.

A dream came true when I ran the London Marathon, loving every minute of it (despite prior nerves that it might just all be too much).

The plan thereafter had been to recover and then have a strong Autumn season, hopefully chasing down the coveted club standard. Sadly it didn’t happen due to injury, but I did have a rather awesome summer prior to that running the Fife Coastal Path.

We managed a few hills together (and Bruce did quite a few solo) before embarking on the West Highland Way as a wee ‘rest’ in October.

Injuries

Finally after a few months of very little or no running (a whole 10 weeks off) I had my own Christmas miracle in the form of a cortisone injection and, touch wood, will continue running pain free into the new year. I’m four runs in and it’s feeling good so far.

New Goals

There’s a lot of fitness to build back up. For now, I’m loving being able to run once again and enjoying it for what it is. My GFA for London 2020 has been deferred and my goal is to get back to consistent mileage before targeting times.

First up, my parkrun goals: 200 separate volunteer days and 200 parkruns; in that order.

Happy New Year

Here’s hoping that 2020 brings you the opportunity to pursue you dreams and just enough challenge to keep it interesting!

2019 London Marathon: Where Dreams Come True!

Leaving work on Friday I felt stranglely emotional as I had done on and off all week. Super excited at the prospect of running the London Marathon, a dream come true, but also apprehensive with a few niggling doubts as to whether I’d trained enough, if the crowds would be too much, and other such nonsense! My rational brain knew that I’d trained harder than ever before, clocking up 750 miles since the turn of the year, but it was the 16 mile long run upon which the Hanson plan is built that remained the real concern. Receiving a card from one of my classes hammered home the realisation that there were no excuses! I’d signed up, I was running for our school charity and I should be honoured to have the opportunity to do something that many people never get the chance to.

A quick turnaround and we were at the airport. The feelings of excitement continued here as we bumped into running friends who were on the same flight. This was comforting as I’m a control freak and would rather fly the plane than be a passenger! The flight passed quickly, the transition to the hotel was smooth and all was calm. Having snacked on a sandwich meal deal (perhaps not the best carb loading ever) I was pleased to retire to bed.

Saturday saw us up and out to the Expo fairly early despite not having an alarm set. I’m very grateful to Bruce for his meticulous planning. While I’d still be figuring out the route, he had read the information on the website and knew exactly where we were headed. This was a theme of the weekend: thank you Bruce!

The Expo was exciting with lots of exhibitors but did also hammer home the reality of what I was doing. I collected my race number and took my packet to be scanned in order to collect my number. When the chap wished me ‘Good Luck’ I felt very emotional and had to choke back the tears! This turned out to be a regular happening from thereon in! I really tried hard to contain myself, if for no other reason than to avoid starting dehydrated.

I resisted the urge to buy lots because:
a) I don’t really need anything; and
b) I’m a little superstitious, not wanting to jinx the race before running by buying all the branded goodies.

Instead I picked up a few freebies from New Balance and a headband, a wee memento that will stand the test of time. Leaving, I wrote on the wall – a message for my fellow Metro Aberdeen runners of which there were quite a number. Bruce offered to let me stand on him in order to make it clearly visible to all that followed. He also offered to stand on me! I declined on both counts, not wishing to break anything ahead of the big day!

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Stopping for coffee, hydration and eating being a key feature of the day, and not having gone too well on Friday, I enjoyed a rest. Leaving the Expo we met Campbell and Caroline on route to collect his number. A good chat later, we headed into central London to go to a couple of shops and have lunch. Bruce again came up trumps – I wanted a baked tattie; he found a pub that would provide.

Before long we’d clocked up around 17000 steps, a tad more than I’d have been looking for on this day of rest! Calling it quits, we headed back to the sanctuary of our hotel for dinner and a peaceful evening. I was feeling very calm and looking forward to the race ahead.

That was until some woman in the bar suggested I was being ridiculous thinking I could leave Earls Court at 7:45 am to get to the start on time. This threw me as I’d been led to believe trains would be frequent and well managed. The resulting effect was that I spent most of the night stressing about how to get there, seeing many hours on the clock. In fairness, I might have done this anyway as my bladder appeared to have gone into overdrive and I was frequently going to the loo!

5:50 am arrived. I got up and made my porridge pots, forcing two down before heading for the shower. I wondered if it was possible to keel over in a marathon due to a lack of sleep; my rational brain told me it probably wasn’t as I was rested, even if I’d not slept that well! I left early (around 7:15 am) and rerouted my journey, heading to Westminster on the District line. Heading down the escalator at Westminster a random chap wished me ‘Good Luck’ as he zoomed past. This also made me well up; it’s a rare thing in my experience for strangers to engage with one another, particularly when one is in the fast lane and nothing to do with the early morning bustle. I changed to the Jubilee for London Bridge (mindful of Bruce’s instructions to head East), then took the train to Blackheath. At each station the number of runners increased, as did the feelings of anticipation and excitement. The trains were still relatively quiet and I was very happy to be seated throughout the journey. It was incredibly easy getting around and I’m very appreciative of the free transport provided to keep us all moving smoothly.

Arriving at Blackheath at the ridiculously early time of 8 am, I got chatting to a lady from Edinburgh and we made our way to the Blue Start together. It was amazing! The sight of the red, blue and green balloons floating in the sky, the huge baggage trucks lined up, the crowds already gathering. All the things I’ve watched over the years on TV.

Security was tight, bags and bib numbers being checked, with only ‘athletes’ allowed into the runners village. I’m an athlete!! The number of people already there was quite astonishing, many sitting or lying on bags, trying to shelter behind the tents as it was slightly chilly in the breeze. Thankfully the sun was also out and this did help; it would have been mighty miserable had it been tipping down rain!

Toilet queues at this point were short; I’ve never seen so many portaloos in my life! I took advantage of this and then retreated to the side of a tent for shelter, sitting on my drop bag and finding peace amid the bustle of the crowds. Chatting to a few folks beside me, a lady returned and gave me a large piece of cardboard to sit on. I offered to share it with a young lad beside me, he then gave me a shot of his ‘Stick’ in return, and gave his bin bag to someone else. It was good to relax as we chatted easily about how training had been, what our hopes were for the race and other more mundane things, enjoying the music and atmosphere but quite oblivious to the gathering crowds and sheer numbers in our own wee safe haven, helping us all to stay calm.

Deciding I should head off for another loo stop before dropping my bag we parted ways. I met Nicola, a parkrun friend and fellow teacher, all set to run her first marathon. Nicola’s vest had the names of her class printed around the bottom! Chatting about the emotions of the day, it was my turn to cry as I spoke about my pupils, thinking of someone I’m sure would love to be able to take part in such a wonderful event.

Bag dropped, final toilet stop made, I then jogged to the pen (Zone 2) with minutes to spare before it closed. I was spotted by Campbell, heading for his zone, and we wished one another luck. Entering my zone I chatted nervously to those around me. The start seemed like an eternity away as we walked along – it wasn’t – stopping and starting, before finally breaking into a jog as the gantry loomed large, the timing mats beckoned and the music boomed out.

Despite my concerns, once the run started that was it. The clock showed approximately 9:30 as we crossed the start mats. Although there were lots of people it didn’t feel too crowded and I settled into a relaxed pace, vowing to use the first couple of miles to get my legs warmed up. This being my 10th marathon I’m very aware (having learned the hard way) that you can’t bank time and the first miles definitely dictate the last.

Meanwhile, Bruce was watching the race unfold further along the course …

The marathon itself passed very quickly. I certainly didn’t feel like I was running for a long time and the crowds along the route were amazing! There were very few areas without people cheering, playing music and generally just livening things up. I remember the ‘hump’ people, marshals standing with signs alerting us to the speed bumps in the road, calling out a chorus of ‘hump … hump’, the many bands that were blasting out all sorts of music, from steel pans to a pipe band and everything in between! There was singing and dancing, and so many great signs. Some of my favourites were the children with their Mario signs – touch here to power up. I touched three of them in the last 6 miles, much to their delight, and I genuinely do believe they had a placebo effect. Bruce liked the one that he initially thought was a beer belly, then realising it was of much greater significance.

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon Signs

The water stations were interesting – after the first one or two I realised that if I didn’t want water I should run in the middle of the road, thus avoiding being cut up as people suddenly realising what was on offer, cutting immediately in front of others with little regard for safety. The Lucozade stations were far worse, reminiscent of an 80s nightclub where by the end of the evening you stick to the carpet!

I looked out for Bruce, hoping to see him along the way but the crowds were too big at his first point (9 miles), I was a little too quick for him to catch me at mile 14 due to the jam-packed tubes, but I did hear him shout as I passed at mile 21.

Fuelled by Active Root and Shot Bloks I never felt that I struggled for energy. I did, however, reach saturation point around mile 17. Prior to this I’d been sipping Active Root every mile and taking a Shot Blok every two miles. I felt somewhat nauseous and concluded I’d taken in enough, knowing from previous experience that I’d live to regret it if I didn’t listen to my body.

I tried to avoid weaving in and out of the crowds too much, sticking close to the blue line (the accurately measured distance) where possible; sadly many people had the same idea so that didn’t always work.

I saw friends and club mates supporting on the course and was very grateful for the shouts, particularly during the last couple of miles; thank you Sam, Talia, Alison and Bill! It’s amazing how seeing a familiar face can give a boost when the legs start to tire.

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon (mile 25)

My fears prior to the race were unfounded. I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds and noise, although I will confess to getting slightly irritated by people getting in my way by the end. When I see my geeky stats though it’s not much wonder; I managed to pass quite a number of people during the second half!

Big Ben appeared on the horizon during the final few miles and I was determined he was not beating me; another motivation to keep running strong! The pain under my ribs was quite incredible (James, @physiorun, tells me this would be my diaphragm ) but my legs were solid and I managed to hold the pace. With only a parkrun to go I reminded myself that pain is temporary and thirty minutes or less is nothing in the grand scheme of a marathon.

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon (Big Ben)

Crossing the line to ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’ was perhaps not quite the finish I’d hoped for (especially when the aforementioned tree had already finished; all the same, I was delighted to have done it, achieving a lifetime goal! Surprisingly, I was so elated that I didn’t cry! Medal awarded, t-shirt and goody bag given, it was onwards to the reunion area. By this time my brain was well and truly mush and I had no idea what I’d agreed with Bruce regarding how long we’d wait for one another. I got chatting to another runner and was delighted when Bruce appeared, not just as he knew the way to the pub! At this point, I learned that although I’d beaten Big Ben, I had in fact been beaten by numerous others in fancy dress, including Elmo with his impressively large head!

2019 Virgin Money London Marathon (Beaten by Elmo!)

A Metro reunion was scheduled to swap race stories, celebrate PBs and commiserate those who had been injured on route. We met Dino and Jayne on the way. Hats off to Dino for finishing despite having to walk due to a muscle tear. Thankfully there was much more success than sadness, with some incredibly impressive times! Congratulations to you all!

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So, the final round up …

I ran a PB of 3:35:57 with which I’m absolutely delighted!

I can confirm the Hanson Method works – I did no long run beyond 16 miles in training and settled into marathon pace maintaining it without too much thought.

Hanson Method has you nailing the pace and finishing strong!

I just may return …

https://www.wonderful.org/fundraiser/clarerussellslondonmarathonfundraiser-4d93e905

The Final 16

Well, that’s it, the final long run done – all 16 miles of it. I’ve stuck to the plan and have resisted the temptation to go further, despite my fellow marathon runners and clubmates posting runs on Strava of 18 miles upwards which freaks me out a little – will I just stop at 17 miles? However, as stated at the beginning of this ‘project’, in order to evaluate the efficacy of the plan I have to put my trust in it and follow it as far as possible.

To date, that has meant a total of 665 miles in training, averaging 47.5 miles per week over a 14 week block of training. I’ve hit my training paces and have only missed a couple of sessions, one for an unscheduled day off and the others for hill walking. Although my heart rate may not have hit the highs it would have done in running, my legs certainly got a good workout on the hills. I was very aware of this on return home when my planned tempo (2 x 5 miles with 1 mile recovery) went pear shaped, ending with 1 block of 4 miles at tempo, a sore stomach and a shuffle home! However, over 90% of the schedule has been completed and that should hopefully be enough to see me through the marathon.

This week has been more positive. With some easy running, I’ve also happily completed the strength session (3 x 2 miles) and long tempo (10 miles). Today’s 16 miles was a particular joy (genuinely), running in the company of Campbell – a long term run chum who’s also running London – and Kevin, Metro clubmate who’s going from strength to strength at present. Having run on my own quite a bit recently it was good to chat my way through the miles. Around 10 miles I commented that I wasn’t convinced I had another 16 miles in me if this was race day; then weirdly, at the right side of 13 miles I felt strong again, thinking, yes, I could go on. Hopefully I’ll experience more of the latter feeling on marathon day!

So, into the final two weeks. I’ve got some easy miles this week, a short speed session of 800s – Eek! Thankfully there are only 6 of them! – and a short tempo. Race week is where I’m going to deviate from the plan again but just a little … I’m scheduled to run on Friday and Saturday before the Sunday marathon. However, work and flight schedules will make the Friday run challenging, and I’ve never run the day before any other marathon; I’m also required to find my way across London to register at the Expo, so have decided I’ll have a few days off prior to the main event.

Now it’s just a matter of staying injury free, in good physical health, and mentally sane! As my friend Wendy always tells me, it’s only running! All being well I’ll see you on the other side!

Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run

Supporting the ‘Friends of Orchard Brae’ when I run the London Marathon, I’d come to the conclusion that I should do something to earn my money. It’s all well and good asking people to sponsor you, but, at the end of the day when running is something that you love and enjoy, why should people sponsor you for it, unless of course the charity is particularly dear to them. So, the Fun Run was conceived as an ideal opportunity to both publicise the cause and provide some fun on a Tuesday evening.

After much deliberation, I decided to run around Seaton Park in Aberdeen. The easy option would have been to use Hazlehead Park or Aberdeen Beach as both have established 5k routes through parkrun. However, they’re free and can be run on any given Saturday, so this needed to be something a little different. Planning in earnest began earlier in the year, initially establishing the course: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/770863

Having trialled it myself on a number of occasions, I concluded that while not the easiest of runs, it suited the bill with a little bit of everything: some pavement, a challenging incline or two, some good trails, a wee bit of mud, and some lovely scenery in and around the park.

Aberdeen parkrun retreat every Saturday post-run to the Brig O’Don Restaurant on King Street, where we are warmly welcomed (https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/aberdeenshire/brig-odon/). I was therefore delighted when Aidan, the General Manager, said he’d be happy not only to host us post-event for food or drinks, but would also be willing to set aside an area for registration. I cannot thank him enough for his support and relaxed attitude throughout proceedings, even with my vague ideas of numbers!

A Facebook event was created, word was put out to all the local running clubs, and it was then a case of hoping people would turn up and support us. A bit like parkrun, interest crept up slowly with an increasing number of people stating ‘Going’ on the event page. In my dreams, I hoped we might reach 100 runners.

On the day itself, I met with friends, Rosey and Cynthia, to mark the course. I really appreciated having extra eyes on the course as up until this point I was the only one privy to knowledge of where we were going! Chalking out the route we put arrows at any point where there was potential for people to take an accidental detour, also marking the marshal points in the hope that everyone would then comfortably find their stations. It was only on explaining the route to the marshals that I realised the plotted route and the actual route were two different things as I’d inadvertently changed the finish in Seaton Park. Thankfully nobody had studied the course in great detail, and the potential front runners were advised to follow the chalk. Ultimately, being billed as 5k (ish) any deviance from exact measurement would be excused, and it turned out the course was more accurate than I’d anticipated!

Arriving back at the Brig O’Don we found some other volunteers already in situ. Metro Aberdeen stalwarts, Jackie Stewart and Peter Jennings, were settled at the Registration table, Jane was all set to marshal, and others dropped in quickly afterwards.

With registration running for just over an hour things started calmly with a few folks trickling in. Before long, the area was becoming increasingly crowded, and I was grateful to Jane and Bryan for providing a welcoming party, handing out registration forms, pens and instructions, in order to keep everything moving along smoothly. I was astounded by the number of people showing up, and particularly touched when someone appeared with a small donation from a chap who was standing outside enjoying the ‘fresh air’ before his meal. The charity buckets were dotted around for donations as entry was free, donations welcome if people wished, and the homemade fudge sold quickly as always.

Ready for the deluge of runners: Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run Registration at Brig O’Don Restaurant

Marshals set off for their points in dribs and drabs, and before long it was time to gather the runners together and head along to the park. Jackie knew a safe route, round the back of the Brig O’Don, rather than across Lidl’s car park or down King Street as I’d have gone, and led the way like the Pied Piper, while I flapped about looking for my clipboard! It turned up in one of the boxes at the start, thankfully, as it had the race briefing notes, vital in ensuring that all points of my risk assessment were covered, hopefully averting potential issues along the way!

Awaiting the call to the start: Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run

There were only a couple of latecomers – phew! – managing to pick up numbers in the park which was a relief. It was a great sight to see so many people standing on the start line supporting us. Briefing done, they were off!

With military precision, Jackie then set up the finish funnel. Having marshalled at the Metro Beach 10k I’m aware that this is a job best left to the expert, so stood back and let him to do his thing, advising others to do likewise! Meanwhile, the runners were storming around the perimeter of the park.

The joy of volunteering at a 5k run is that you don’t have to wait too long for the first finishers to return, and sure enough, before long we had Michael Barker crossing the line. He was shortly followed by Mark McDonald and Jordan Cruickshank, our first Junior finisher. Heading up the field for the ladies were Louise Provan, Kirsten Sharpe and Charlotte Stirton. Very best of luck to Charlotte as she jets off to Paris to run the marathon this weekend!

Our winners received prizes from DW Fitness, Aberdeen, and we’re very grateful to Michael and Kim from DW for coming along to support us. They kindly supplied water for our finishers and ran a competition to win a month’s free membership. True stars! Congratulations to Shona Clarke, the winner of the draw.

DW Fitness Aberdeen with Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run Prizewinners

Rosey handed out spot prizes for various runners throughout the field having kindly donated lots of Easter chocolate goodies, and there were also a few bottles handed out. GEF (Gathimba Edwards Foundation) donated a goody bag – always good when charities can support one another.

It was wonderful to stand back and watch the event unfolding, seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they crossed the finish line. We had runners and walkers of all abilities, capturing the ethos of the event, having fun and enjoying themselves. Feedback on the course was much appreciated, and I was heartened to hear that everyone had enjoyed it, even the muddy bits! It was amusing to see the difference in people – someone suggested that Derek may have sat down in the mud, such was the state of his legs having just ploughed through it, while others have yet to learn to fully embrace the dubs – you know who you are!

Being a fine night, people were not in any great hurry to rush away and it was heartening to see our final finishers receive as much of a cheer as those at the sharp end. Such is the nature of the running community: if ever you’ve wanted to give it a go, please be assured that this is the way of events such as parkrun every weekend. Everyone is welcome!

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All participants returned (136 of them counted out and counted back in by Peter) and safely escorted around the route by Cynthia, our tail walker with the tail, we reconvened at the Brig O’Don, slightly less in number. Refuelling complete, I was later supported in the final count by Carolyn, and I’m delighted to announce that due to the generosity of our participants we made £1188-24 for the Friends of Orchard Brae. An overwhelming amount, I’m deeply humbled by the support shown for our school community. This total will be further added to thanks to the efforts of a few other individuals who have created their own fundraising pages for the event, and will make a big difference to the pupils supported by Orchard Brae.

Thanks again to everyone involved, especially our volunteers – Peter, Jackie, Bruce, Bryan, Jane, Caroline, Lisa, Alison, Esther, Rosey, Russell, Izzie, Kevin & Carolyn. You were all wonderful!

Volunteers at the Finish: Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run

Any further donations can be made at: https://wonderful.org/fundraiser/clarerussellslondonmarathonfundraiser-4d93e905

For more information on the work of Orchard Brae please visit: https://orchardbrae.aberdeen.sch.uk

London Marathon: 5 weeks to go!

I’ve tried to take the training one day at a time. I have a plan, I get daily e-mails from Final Surge, the week is laid out in my diary – one week at a time – but essentially I’m just focusing on today, not thinking about the next run (or runs) as that’s when it all becomes a bit overwhelming.

I’ve now completed 11 weeks of training and have followed the plan pretty much to the letter. I’ve missed only two easy 6 mile runs during this time: one because I ended up working too late and was shattered, the other in favour of a 10 mile walk. The only other variations on the plan have been the conversion of a planned tempo run from 3-2-3 miles with 1 mile jog recovery to an 8 mile tempo as I was lacking time, an easy 6 miles trimmed down to 3 in order to have a 5 mile walk in the afternoon, and an easy 6 shortened to 2 miles as I had a massage booked and not enough time to fit the miles in! Two miles is better than nothing and the book states that you should do what you can if you can’t manage the full session.

The upshot of these little tweaks is that with a few additional easy miles added to date I’ve got 537 miles in my legs and have only missed a total of 10 miles. I’m not convinced that will impact on the final marathon time.

I’ve come to enjoy the SOS (something of substance) sessions. Initially I dreaded them but I’ve come to realise that they are achievable and I usually feel pretty good during them. Surprisingly, it’s the easy runs that can feel harder; I think this is where the recovery happens.

So, 5 weeks left to train. I’m now starting to think ahead to the rest of the season as I’m currently feeling strong and would like to maximise the benefits of this training block however the marathon goes.

2019 Smokies 10

I really enjoy the Smokies 10 ladies race and try to fit it into my race calendar. Last year it had to be rescheduled due to snow, thus I missed it due to a clash with another race and deferred to this year instead. A very different day, the temperature was mild (8C), but the wind was strong, gusting 45 mph if the Met Office are to be believed. Having felt at times like I was running into a wall I have no reason to doubt!

Registration was smooth, thankfully, as despite my best intentions I was cutting it fine for getting my two mile warm up in (alongside a toilet stop).

2019 Smokies 10

The real positive in the warm up was realising that it really wasn’t that cold. I was swithering as usual about clothing. I was definite on the shorts and vest. The decision was whether or not to wear arm warmers as well as gloves. Warming up made me realise the only risk of the wind was my vest blowing up and exposing more of me than I’d care to! No arm warmers, just gloves, decision made.

Lining up for the briefing was a strange experience. Usually you have to find your space and try to move forward a bit through the throngs of runners. Here, there was a big space in front of the line and nobody wanted to get too close. Chatting to a lady beside me we agreed that we should just move towards the line and others could get past us if needed. A short briefing and off we went.

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Not loving the wind!

Rounding the first corner the wind hit! The runners had spread out a little, the leaders heading off and opening a gap, while a couple of groups gathered. I latched onto a group as I realised after being on my own that the gusts were too tough to battle alone. I did try to work with others here, at times moving towards the front and taking the lead before dropping back into the group again. It was amazing how tough it was; a gust could really slow you in your tracks! As a result, the pace was slower than I would have liked and I got the impression that was the case for others too.

Strava splits: Smokies 10

The first half of the run is slightly uphill with a couple of steeper inclines. I felt quite strong on the ups but was delighted to reach the point in the run where it starts to go down.

Smokies 10 Route

Obviously not as happy as the other ladies in the pack, as they all took off at some pace! It took me a moment to gather myself, get the legs into gear, and get going. When I did manage I felt strong and then enjoyed slowing picking people off one by one, targeting the runner in front of me until I caught them. I hope this is a sign of the marathon training going well as with an average of 50 miles a week for the last few weeks, and a solid week of training ahead of today, I’m happy with the paces I hit in this second half. There was definitely some wind assistance here too I think, at times a gust giving a push in the right direction.

Before long I could see the houses as we approached Arbroath again. This, and the 9 mile marker, gave me the impetus to dig deep again, picking up the pace for the final mile.

2019 Smokies 10

Having anticipated continuing along to the main entrance gate for the finish, I was pleasantly surprised to be pointed left at the near end of the campus. This proved a better finish, running down onto the playing field and along the grass, then up a steep little bank (only three steps, but I made a silent request to not be the one to slip and face plant) to the finish line. Thanks to Shona for the cheers! Much appreciated.

I was very happy with my finishing time. Having said yesterday I’d be disappointed if not sub-80, I did wonder if I’d manage given the wind on the way out. However, the end result was pleasing …

Smokies 10 Result

Goodie bag and t-shirt collected, and a brief chat with those who’d finished around me, I dutifully headed off to complete my prescribed cool down (another two miles). This did garner some odd looks as I ran on the opposite side of the road to avoid getting in the way.

Following a lovely hot shower I was rewarded with a long queue for refreshments but as always, the Arbroath Footers did us proud, and the baker’s sandwiches and cakes were second to none. Tesco did the healthy bit, providing some fruit. I’m saving my banana for my porridge in the morning!

Lovely to share the post run celebrations with friends from Jog Scotland Hazlehead and parkrun. Huge congratulations to Marion (Maz) for scoring a PB on her birthday! Way to go!

The upshot … this race never gets easier but is definitely worth attending. Always sells out and there’s good reason for that. I’ll definitely return (provided I get my entry in before it sells out!)

2019 Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon

I love this race. It’s my PB course. This year had to be different though. Training for a marathon, the training plan advised I run this at the sharp end of long run pace rather than as a race. Had I known I wouldn’t be racing in all honesty I’d probably not have entered as I’ve never believed you can put a number on and not get caught up in racing, especially when that number is 1!

Number 1: Metro Aberdeen do Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon

On the upside, running in Moray always means a visit ‘home’, and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Mum and Dad, as always being well fed, before a good night’s sleep alleviating the need for an early drive through.

Heading for registration, I met lots of familiar faces! Friends from Metro, Hazlehead Jog Scotland, Sunday running buddies, and even Orcadians. Fantastic seeing you all out in force!

I then headed back ‘home’ while the others waited to be bussed along to Kinloss, later chauffeured to the start by my folks, just in time to join the massive toilet queue and make it to the start.

More friendly faces were seen, both in the toilet queue and on the start line, and I enjoyed chatting to people along the way to Lossiemouth. I resisted the urge to get carried away at the beginning, good practice for the GFA start at London, I’m sure, as with lots of much faster people there I’m certain I’ll need to be at the back!

I enjoyed a chat with Elspeth and Peter – hope you made it onto the boat! These early miles felt like I was going quite slowly and I did have to use my watch to settle into the pace. However, settle I did, and the miles passed smoothly. Before I knew it we’d passed the maltings; the smell here always reminds me of childhood (not because my parents were partial to a drink, but because Dad was a Stillman)!

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On through the wooded section, the climb up from Burghead felt far more comfortable when running within my limits.

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Miles were ticking away nicely and I began to look forward to seeing my parents in Hopeman. Soon enough I spotted their car; as I approached they hopped out to greet me; many thanks to you both!

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A friendly toot as they diverted off the main road to get away from the runners, I chatted to others I met along the top road. This greatly assisted in whiling away the miles again. A small world, one of the ladies I chatted to recognised me from Fort William last year where we’d talked before the marathon. It was good to learn more about the world of ultra running – maybe one day.

After the final water station my competitive urge kicked in with a mile to go, and I enjoyed picking off a few runners on the last leg. The wind that had been slight seemed to pick up around the golf course. The final turn saw a tough finish into the headwind. Hats off to anyone who managed a PB! Not the easiest of days for it.

Tough finish into the wind at the 2019 Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon

Post run I was deposited at the community centre where, as always, the Moray Road Runners had laid on a great spread. Refuelled and refreshed, having caught up with a few friends, I stayed for the prize giving (congratulations Metro ladies & George), before heading ‘home’ for yet another feed!

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Overall time – 1:51:08, slower than usual for this course, but steady pacing and a strong run. A great day out again. Despite the wind, good conditions overall – sunshine and warmth in February. It doesn’t get much better than this!