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.

2019 Smokies 10
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!)

Toughing it out

Today was the first run of the plan where I’ve really felt I’ve struggled to hit and maintain the pace required. All things considered I guess this isn’t that bad – after all, I’m now onto the eighth consecutive week of training and last week was one of the highest mileage weeks in some time; last time I hit this mileage was probably June when I was training for Fort William Marathon.

Today’s session was an SOS, Something of Substance, and totalled 10 miles. Two easy miles to warm up the weary legs – cumulative fatigue, I’m starting to feel you! Then two sets of three miles at faster than marathon pace with one mile recovery between, followed by a one mile cool down.

I realised on reflection that what got me more than anything was probably starting my speed work on an incline. Not a large incline, but just enough to notice it in the legs.

Enough said. Miles banked. Mountain of food consumed. Rest day tomorrow before the next SOS session on Thursday. This weekend’s race could be interesting! Watch this space …

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!

Long Run & Clachnaben Walk

After yesterday’s wind we woke to a calm day today. Unfortunately this also meant ground frost and disappointment for the golfer of the house (no winter eclectic competition due to winter greens). Thus, he fancied a hill day instead. The runner of the house had other ideas though, in the shape of the first 16 miler of the marathon plan.

Off I set, a fraction later than planned – the only thing I’m ever on time for is work – and the planned four miles before meeting the Social Sunday gang turned into three and a bit instead. I made it up to the gate and all the way back down to the car park unfortunately. Picking them up part way would have made things a little easier on the legs!

Alan had amassed a fair crowd, twenty runners he said. I was glad of not having to stop and just kept on back up the side of the golf course at Hazlehead. Chat was good, pace was comfortable, and before I knew it we were at the road crossing for Countesswells. I must apologise to my fellow social Sunday runners as this was where I became antisocial. We generally regroup at this point, but my logical head was thinking along the lines of, ‘if sixteen miles is the furthest you go on this plan and you want to stand on the start line believing you can run twenty six miles, you’d better just keep your body going!’ So I muttered something about being antisocial and headed on solo.

Twice around the lovely Kingshill, I felt comfortable in the pace and ran steady, finishing back at Hazlehead under the sixteen miles which meant bimbling up and down the reps lane briefly.

Timed well, the hard core of the Sunday gang (Graham, Alan and George) then arrived, having completed their miles, and the most important part of the run, coffee, was had in the warmth of Cafe Cognito alongside some other reprobates who had knocked out their miles and headed down a little earlier.

The legs felt good, thankfully, as the golfer of the house messaged suggesting an afternoon walk. Headed out to Clachnaben for a lovely walk in the afternoon sunshine.

The view towards Clachnaben

Prepared for snowy conditions we were pleasantly surprised to find the hill clear. A fairly gentle climb, the wind picked up towards the top necessitating both down jacket and shell. We encountered only one small section of hard packed snow / ice, and being rather precious about my legs at the moment the Kahtoola spikes went on for me; Bruce managed fine without his.

Soup at the top was tasty, turned around and headed back the way we’d come. Legs felt good; it was only when we stopped off at Asda to pick up pizza I felt the efforts of the day. Hopefully short lived, another week of the plan completed.