Happy New Year

Belated new year wishes to you all. It’s been a bit of a damp squib thus far, but after the year that was 2020 I don’t think we could ask for much else! Here’s hoping that with vaccines on the horizon for our most vulnerable, we may be able to celebrate as the year goes on.

Reflections of 2020

I’m trying to start the year with a renewed focus. It was tricky to stay motivated last year with all the planned races disappearing off the calendar one by one. On the upside, we did manage to fit in a couple of great holidays and Bruce compleated the munros.

The virtual London Marathon, sandwiched between, was a relatively impromptu affair but I’m very glad I did it. Having a goal definitely renewed my focus and energy.

Focus on 2021

Looking ahead, it’s unclear at present what the racing year holds. My current ‘big’ goal is the October London Marathon. Whether or not we’ll be in a position to have mass events by then remains to be seen, but training will be done regardless.

Short Term Goals

My short term goal is to develop consistency in training. I have a tendency to go through phases of being very focused versus taking my foot off the gas and coasting. I know that consistency is probably the biggest gain available right now so that’s the priority. Sadly the gyms are closed, the treadmill (which I generally dislike) not an option, so I’m getting runs in where and when I can.

Today saw me complete a very enjoyable 8 miles on Aberdeen beach, as pavements around town were a little icy for my liking. I have in the past shied away from the sand as I don’t like the wet feet associated with the water jumps, but today it felt perfect. Just what was needed!

Let’s see what the year brings! Surely it can only get better. If nothing else, Spring isn’t too far off the horizon now. Stay strong!

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

A Moment of Madness?

Due to injury at the tail end of the year, I deferred my place in the 2020 London Marathon. Then COVID struck, the marathon was postponed, and a new date set for October 2020. I deferred as I hadn’t planned to run a marathon in 2019.

So, what on earth possessed me, when the e-mail dropped in this week offering a virtual marathon place to think this was a good idea?

Virtual Training Begins

It would be great if it really was virtual training. Sadly it’s not. I now need to do some serious hard work.

I’ve been training regularly for the last 5 weeks with a regular 30 miles per week, having signed up for a virtual training camp online. This was led by 3 amazing coaches (Nikki Humphrey, Melissa Johnson-White and Dani Filipek) and I trained ‘alongside’ a great group of women. It helped me find my mojo, build in some regular strength training, something I tend to neglect, and get back into a regular running routine.

Moving forward, my next steps are to incorporate higher mileage by steadily increasing my runs and adding in some more marathon specific pace workouts, although I don’t intend to target this pace on ‘race’ day.

I don’t have a marathon time target. I’m more thinking of enjoying the training, getting away for a day as I don’t want to run round the local streets and having a great day out somewhere I love, enjoying the challenge for what it is: FUN!

Long Runs

Today I figured I should up the long run and decided to try 15 miles. It went surprisingly well. I enjoyed my run, mainly on the trails and met lots of friendly faces from the local running community.

It might have been a little harder had I not spent so much time blethering. However, this may be the way the virtual marathon goes too and that’s all good! The current plan is to cover the distance in a leisurely manner, stop as and when I feel like it, and maybe even practise for the ultra that’s calling my name in the future by having a cuppa and a bit of cake along the way!

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.

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

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

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!

PIM Crathes Half Marathon

A comfortable time after Fort William, legs suitably recovered, I decided to try Crathes Half. As per last year I didn’t really know what I could achieve, but having turned 45 earlier this month my goal was to get sub 1:41 in the hope that I’ll follow up later in the year with a time to secure my 2nd club standard in this new age bracket. The short distance is in the bag already.

I happily accepted a lift out with clubmate Mike, back from Gran Canaria to run a few races. Thankfully I’d managed to secure his entry after a minor panic last weekend (I had one job!) where the race appeared to have closed before I got his entry confirmed! It appears it was just a glitch in the website and they went on to extend entries for a further few days.

The Metro contingent were out in force today and we met lots of clubmates on arrival, an impressive gathering given all the other runs taking place this weekend!

Metro Aberdeen Running Club do Crathes Half Marathon
The motley crew from Metro Aberdeen – no idea how so many of us managed to avoid looking at the camera!

While others headed off for a warm up, I opted for my usual pre-race routine of jogging to the toilets and joining the revolving queue! It’s amazing how well hydrated you suddenly feel before a race!

Joining the masses on the start line it wasn’t long before the off. I’ll be honest … I found the start somewhat frustrating as it was slow and I had to weave around quite a few people before I could properly get into my stride. Maybe not such a bad thing though all things considered as it is initially up as you leave the castle behind.

Determined not to let my watch dictate the pace I decided to run by feel, occasionally checking that I wasn’t going ridiculously fast as that’s always a danger early on. It felt good to be racing again. I’d been concerned that my speed had dropped in the run up to the marathon so it was good to find that a fast (for me) pace felt okay.

The second mile was downhill and this saw me running faster and passing a few people. Retrospectively, maybe the fast miles two and three were what led to the fatigue later, but at the time it felt good. Hindsight is a great thing in every aspect of life!

The sea of runners gave me something to aim for and I reeled in the odd one here and there, continuing to move steadily through the field. We headed off-road at mile 6 and with the slight descent I loved this bit, picking up pace and feeling like I was storming along. I’d happily run on terrain like that all day!

Going back onto the road was tough and my legs objected slightly, although nowhere nearly as bad as at Dyce Half. It became a bit of a slog here. I’d pushed hard and I still had five miles to go. I reminded myself that in a marathon I’d feel this way and the feeling would pass, doing a quick body scan to try relaxing the tension and focus on what felt good.

The downhill finally returned at mile 10 but I was a little more cautious, wanting to save some energy for the end recalling it being tough in the last mile. My pace was dropping and I was beginning to hurt, but took faith in the knowledge that there was less than a parkrun to go.

The final two miles were hard! My legs were heavy, breathing was not quite so relaxed and I just wanted it to be over! At some point around here I passed Graham who’s usually ahead of me but is battling an injury. Huge thanks to him for the encouragement. He told me there was a prize with my name on it and this just gave me the extra motivation needed to keep pushing.

There was another female, Kay, just ahead of me and I pushed her a bit to see what she had left in the tank. She responded by picking up pace again. This happened another couple of times before I finally caught and went past her. She very sportingly said, ‘well done Clare.’ Despite that I didn’t feel I could relax too much as I was pretty sure she’d be back before long.

I was delighted to finally re-enter the grounds of Crathes Castle knowing that I was on the home straight. I managed to pick up the pace, spurred on by the crowd support (thank you!) and the downhill finish, and was delighted to cross the line with a chip time of 1:36:55. The downside was that it was slightly slower than last year; the upside being that I was first Female Veteran.

Great running by so many people with Metro clubmate Kyle taking 1st prize and setting a new course record. There was also a prize in the Veteran male category for Jamie, with Ali taking the first female prize.

PIM Crathes Half Marathon Medal & 1st Female Veteran Quaich

Great to catch up with everyone post race. Most were happy with their times; a few disappointed. You know who you are: those who are poorly will come back stronger with a bit of rest and recovery, and those who ran well but are unhappy are their own worst critics and need to practise a little self-kindness! Listen to my Mum – she’s always said you can only do your best, and each of us did the best that we could today.

Onwards and upwards, next target for me is Fraserburgh. What about you?

Setting the bar: Aberdeen parkrun

It’s a run, not a race! However, it’s also a time trial if you want it to be. About to embark on a 12 week training plan to try and pick up some speed again I decided I’d run parkrun hard today. I’ll be honest – I’d hoped I would manage to run 21 minutes (or even 20:59); the reality is that I’m not in shape for that at present, finishing in 21:59 instead.

Despite that it was a good morning out (as always)! Meeting the 8:30 crew, on this occasion that was Alan only as I was a few minutes late and he waited for me, we caught up with the others on the lower prom. This is a fine wee recce to get the legs warmed up and assess the conditions on the course. Today it was very mild but there was quite a breeze to run into on the first half. Turning onto the lower prom at the halfway point it was still, sadly lacking a tailwind though.

No excuses today – just lacking the speedwork to run a fast (for me) 5k at present. It did amuse me somewhat how hard it felt to try and sustain the pace, particularly as people stormed past me on the last few hundred metres (Graham, Craig and Alastair to name but a few – look out guys; you’ve now got targets on your backs!)

Malcolm, one of our regular runners celebrated 150 runs today and kindly bought the post-run coffees at Satrosphere Cafe. Much appreciated and very generous indeed!

So, the goals have now been updated. I need motivation beyond the love of running to get out:

Pick up speed and aim to get under 21 mins again;
Run some faster times to half marathon distance by the end of the year.

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And the long term:
Get to the starting line of the London Marathon next year;
Run Fort William Marathon for the third time next July.

Virgin London Marathon Good for Age Confirmation

Racing for the fun of it: Peace Coaches Metro Dyce Half Marathon

The Metro Dyce Half Marathon (alongside the Metro Beach 10k in June) being our club’s bread and butter, it’s encouraged that we either run or help out. I’d swithered as to which was the best option but having had a few enjoyable recovery runs since the marathon I made the decision mid-week to throw my hat in the ring and run. I’d never intended to race as I wasn’t sure how recovered my legs were but there’s this thing of putting on the Metro vest and something happening in my mind/body; I just can’t help but put my race head on and try harder.

Not the best preparation, I decided to make fudge yesterday for the post-run spread. I’ve got this down to a fine art so that was no bother. The bit I struggled with was the white chocolate peanut butter balls. The recipe made it sound so easy! The recipe, however, is from a charity cookbook and I wonder if the lady who wrote it down missed out an ingredient! There was no way I was rolling anything into balls! A few more tablespoons of peanut butter and a splash or two of water later I finally managed. A couple of extra hours on my feet standing in the kitchen, plans to do my ironing, hoover etc were put to one side as by this point said kitchen looked a little like it had exploded!

However, the morning of my ‘fun’ run arrived and for once I was outside and ready when Alan stopped off to pick me up. He was most impressed. This was a first, and quite possibly a last too, hence it being noteworthy. We headed over to Dyce and were greeted by various friendly faces directing us to the parking area. More friendly faces appeared in the car park in the form of clubmates and parkrunners. Always a joy to see friends at races.

Heading for registration we got our numbers on and I secured the cooler weather by putting on my suncream. Having vitiligo I can never be too careful and have maintained my pale complexion well despite the heat this summer.

Lots of Metro vests were dotted around the registration point and outside warming up. Eventually I decided I probably should have some semblance of a warm up, aside from working my jaws with all the chat, and headed out to do some dynamic stretching (hope you’re reading this Helen!) and two laps of the field to get my legs moving. Weirdly, my legs felt very leaden and heavy at this point. Figured it didn’t matter as the plan had always been to run the first couple of miles and then drop back if need be.

Lining up alongside Alan I was a little concerned that we were awfully far forward again! It’s funny how at some races nobody wants to get too close to the start while at others you need to work your way through the throngs. A quick race briefing followed and then we were off, round the field and out onto the old Formantine and Buchan railway line. The first part of the route is on tarmac pavement and is slightly downhill. It’s a fast start and we went quicker than planned; always a danger doing this on a longer run as it usually means you suffer later! I was conscious of not wishing to slow down people behind us and having felt someone clip my forefoot when it was behind me I ducked in ahead of Alan as there was no space to drop back due to the proximity of others.

The changes to the route with the roadworks were not too traumatic and I settled into my run, the earlier leg heaviness having left me. I was a little concerned that I was maybe going a little too fast but figured it didn’t matter at the end of the day. This run was not about chasing times; instead, running as I felt and most importantly enjoying it.

Settling into the run, it wasn’t long before the first minor road crossing was reached and again, it was great to see friendly faces here and receive support – thank you! The water station was manned by clubmates and again, plenty of encouragement was shouted which was very much appreciated.

Further along I appeared to cause hilarity at the second water station by shouting a cheery, ‘Good morning!’ From the laughter that ensued I’m guessing that’s not up there in the top 10 high frequency exchanges. This party station was staffed by the lovely Fit Like Joggers and Metro alike. It was great to see the purple FLJ gazebo and hear their music as I approached.

Further along I started to see the return of the first runners. The lead runner was way out in front along with Roy on lead bike, and I really appreciated the vocal support offered by him (Roy that is)! The faster folks then started coming pretty quickly with Claire leading up the ladies. I’m sure I’ve said it before but I do love an out and back course. I really enjoy seeing the speedier people and marvelling at the apparent ease of their running.

The miles ticking away nicely and legs feeling pretty good, I now figured I should just keep on going as I was to get to halfway. Once again it was lovely to see a familiar face, Dino snapping away at the halfway turn.

Peace Coaches Metro Dyce Half Marathon
Thanks to Dino Roussais for the halfway turn photo!

From here I resolved to try and pick the pace up further knowing that the course is gradually downhill. I slowly started picking off the odd runner as I went. One or two commented that I’d found a new gear, my response being that I had no idea how long it’d last! Thankfully I was able to continue strongly, passing one or two others as I did so. Reaching the road crossing again I was very grateful to the marshals as I timed it to perfection to coincide with a taxi coming down the road. Thankfully the driver opted to be courteous and hold back, allowing me to cross without breaking my stride. I may not have been able to get up the slope at the other side had I stopped.

Not much further along I started to see the buildings on the outskirts of Dyce and knew by both this and my watch that I was nearly ‘home’. I was prepared for the slight incline to the finish, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the transition from trail to tarmac. I couldn’t believe how this affected my legs, honestly feeling like my shoes were stuck to the pavement as I tried to lift my feet on every stride. Fortunately this was relatively short-lived, although it felt like an eternity, and it wasn’t long before I reached the field in which the run finishes. A quick skirt around the perimeter led me to the finish with shouts and cheers of encouragement along the way. I was most delighted to receive my medal, water and banana, and even a can of beer.

Crashing out on the grass alongside clubmates, we exchanged stories of how our runs had panned out, cheering others in, before retreating to the Scout Hut for a fine spread and lots more chat. The prize giving later took place. Overall winners were Jason Kelly (also of Stonehaven) and Claire Bruce of Metro Aberdeen who ran another brilliant time. Meanwhile, I was both surprised and delighted to find that I’d ranked as 3rd Female Veteran, following behind the every awesome Hazel Wyness of Metro Aberdeen in 1st place and Ann Gallon of Stonehaven in 2nd. Full results are available here: http://www.metroaberdeen.co.uk

As always, thanks to the organisers and volunteers for doing our club proud!

2018 Fort William Marathon – As good as I remembered and then some!

A week has passed since I completed the 2018 Fort William Marathon, my second attempt at this beautiful race. Having loved it in 2017, I signed up for 2018 pretty much immediately afterwards, my main fear going into the race that it might not be as good as I remembered and I’d be disappointed. Fear not, it was as good and even better!

2017 was a solo expedition as the weather forecast wasn’t great. Bruce therefore decided against joining me as the hill walking he’d hoped for looked unlikely. This year, however, he was again hankering after hills and had decided to come along, hoping to complete the Ring of Steall. Sadly the weather was against him on this – no point in going if there’s no chance of a view – but he did get some walking in elsewhere. He also opted in last minute to volunteer … more on that later.

Making a weekend of it, we headed over to Fort William on Friday afternoon, settling into our B & B before heading out for a meal. An early night was called for as I like to sleep plenty in the run up to the marathon, easing any worries of being restless the night before. Bruce, having checked the forecast for Corrour, had opted for an early start on Saturday. This worked out perfectly for me as I barely registered him getting up to catch the first train out of Fort William, opting for a more leisurely breakfast time myself. I then headed back to bed and enjoyed the luxury of yet more sleep before waking at 11 am and heading for the station to meet him off the train, returning happy having walked the single train munro, Beinn na Lap.

A leisurely afternoon was spent having lunch and browsing the shops in Fort William, later heading to the Grog and Gruel, our favourite pub, for dinner. Having stocked up on carbs over the previous couple of days I opted for the ‘eat what you fancy’ train of thought and enjoyed a burger. Home early, I laid out my tried and tested kit – Brooks Ghost shoes, Metro Aberdeen club vest, Ronhill shorts, Balega Hidden Comfort socks, and my current preferred race fuel, Clif Shot Bloks and Lucozade Sport.

Surprisingly enough, I slept pretty soundly again – if sleep was the only key to success I might have won the race – and felt quite relaxed going for breakfast. Not one to shake things up on race day, I opted for my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge with banana and chia seeds, and toast with peanut butter, washed down with plenty of peppermint tea.

Bruce volunteering, we had to be at the Nevis Range for 8:30 am. In my usual style, I was running late by this point and was grateful to him for geeing me along. Had he not been in the car with the engine running outside I’d probably have continued faffing for at least another 10 minutes or so, only to then panic when I realised how little time I had left to get there! He headed off for the volunteer briefing when we reached the Nevis Range and I faffed as only I can for some considerable time. I bumped into fellow Aberdeen parkrunner, Ally, and his wife Kay, enjoying a chat with them before going to get clarted in suncream. The weather was overcast with a forecast of rain later but I was taking no chances. Being of true Scottish fair skin I have an ability to get sunburn in any weather.

Chip on my shoe, suncream on, and at least one comfort break later, I bumped into Natalia, my clubmate from Metro Aberdeen. Her first marathon, she was fun of enthusiasm. Pleasantries exchanged, she headed off for a warm-up. My warm up routine consisted of some stretches (courtesy of Helen Strachan, physio extraordinaire), and the first few miles of the run. If I’m running 26.2 miles there’s no way I’m running further before I begin!

Pre-marathon at Fort William Marathon

Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were being called to the start. I’d briefly seen Bruce to pass on the car key and say a final goodbye, and was aware that he was going to be somewhere in the first few hundred metres. In his usual style, he made me laugh as he called out, asking me how it was going so far as I passed by having almost missed him.

Fort William Marathon - Leaving the Nevis Range at the start

The first few miles are gradually uphill, starting near the Gondola Station, and I’d cautioned both Natalia and Ally to take it easy here. The temptation with all races is to go off too quickly, and in a marathon you can’t claw this time back at the end if your legs give up or your energy runs out. I happily plodded along giving myself time to get into the swing of running, confident that I’d gain more than I’d lose by letting others pass me at this stage.

Fort William Marathon Elevation Profile

Heading up the fire road, I exchanged a bit of chat with some other runners. There were a few 100 marathon club t-shirts on the go – I have no idea how these people do it, and always enjoy hearing about their favourite marathons and the number they’ve completed in total. Further along I got chatting to a young man from Edinburgh who told me he’s getting married in two weeks – less than a week to go now! Should he read this, all the very best for a long and happy future with your new wife.

The marathon route is stunning. For me, this beats a road marathon any day. I defy anyone to try running here and not fail to be impressed by the views on offer. Despite the rain on Saturday, it was clear, and with less humidity than we’ve been used to the running conditions were pleasant. Drainage has been improved on the flat fire road section around 6 miles, and the huge muddy puddle that had us skirting around it and up the bank before the (failed) leap of faith last year had gone with a big drainage ditch running alongside instead.

Further on we started to make our way downhill so I decided to stop chatting and push on a little more, enjoying the opportunity to relax and stretch out the legs. The path narrows in places and there were some gentle undulations and single track paths to keep the mind focused a little more.

Finally reaching the road crossing at Spean Bridge it was a pleasant surprise to find the Police holding traffic and giving runners priority. One cheeky cyclist decided he was going instead and I’m sure regretted this move when given a ticking off by the Policeman! Rules are rules! I’m sure next time he’ll do as told without question.

Continuing on, we crossed the bridge and had a short section along the pavement before heading swiftly off road again onto more single track paths. This took us up, up, up and the enthusiastic spectators at the Commando Memorial could be heard long before they were seen! On reaching them and another water station, I passed Natalia before heading downwards towards Gairlochy.

Fort William Marathon - first 13 miles (Strava splits)

Being a bit of a running geek, I like to keep a paper diary in addition to the more modern online record that is Strava. My plan had therefore been to pace in a similar manner to last year as that earned me a PB, and I therefore chose to pick up the pace further at this point. Reaching the canal path I felt strong and began to pick people off targeting one runner after the other. There was a slight breeze along the canal but unfortunately it felt like we were running into it; it was refreshing nonetheless. Encouragement from walkers, canoeists and boats was welcomed.

As I progressed along this section, I became increasingly aware of my tightening calves and pain in my back. By the time I reached Neptune’s staircase I wondered if ditching my waistpack would help and was surveying the terrain for somewhere to dump it, planning to collect it later. Turning onto the minor road, I wondered about leaving it in the long grass but was concerned that it might get picked up as rubbish. There was also the worry that driving back up this road when other runners were potentially still on the course wasn’t the safest move ever so I fastened it back on and held onto it until finally the temptation of the the manicured lawn at Lochaber High School proved too much; over the railings it was flung!

Carrying on, I reached a further road crossing at the A82, and again the Police were holding traffic and giving runners priority. This took me back onto the bike path that heads up to the Nevis Range and I was pleased to be on this final drag. I continued to pass a few more people but felt like I was beginning to struggle, despite the pace holding out fairly well.

Fort William Marathon (Last 13 miles, Strava splits)

Turning off towards the North Face car park I was greeted by the familiar small bridge and I’m sure it was steeper than last year! Heading up towards the car park I was passed by one runner who was looking stronger than me and we exchanged brief pleasantries.

The pull up the fire road from here saw quite a few people walking, and while my legs and back were sore, I was determined to keep slogging it out. Seeing the 24 mile marker I knew that the race was in the bag and I would complete whatever; I started to feel quite emotional at this point. A little further on I spotted an Insch Trail Runner. Always fine to see a local vest, I yelled at him something to effect that, ‘I thought you teuchters were made of tough stuff!’ This gave him a wee bit of motivation to pick it up again, I hope.

Overwhelmed by mile 25, I struggled to hold back the tears. I could vaguely hear the sounds of the PA system as I headed through the last section of single track, up and down in the footy section of the forest, and was delighted to hear the friendly shouts of Kay and Ally as I headed down the finishing straight towards the line. When Bruce stepped forward to put the medal round my neck and give me a hug the tears did come!

2018 Fort William Marathon Finisher's T-shirt and Medal

It was such a lovely moment to have him do this and will stay in my special memories forever. He then returned to his ‘proper job’, cutting the chip off my shoe and chatting, inviting me to sit for as long as I needed.

I was delighted with my run. No PB today but you can’t have one every time. I ran strongly and once again loved the course. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you’re enjoying it!

Each and every one of the marshals and volunteers was great and they were such an encouraging and supportive team throughout the event. The goody bag was great and contained a Ben Nevis whisky miniature (which Bruce later traded for a Fort William buff), alongside some nibbles. I can’t recommend this marathon enough and most definitely plan to return next year.

Congratulations again to Natalia on completing her first marathon, and to Ally for completing his first Fort William Marathon and getting a PB! A great day out for us all.