Loving the trails!

Having set the bar at parkrun at the end of May, I fell off the pace in June. Half marathon training should have started (and in theory has), but the tall task of getting back to speed leaves me a little lacking in enthusiasm. June has also seen me away for work related things a few of times and overall it’s just been a very busy month.

I felt like I’d lost my mojo a little, but have been pleased to rediscover it on the trails. Thursday saw me dropped off on the back road as husband headed north. This allowed me to enjoy a loop of my favourite forest before making my way home, barely touching tar until the final mile.

Then today saw the social Sunday group hit our usual loop of Hazlehead and Countesswells. After yesterday’s hot parkrun at the beach, the damp, cool air among the trees was a true blessing!

The run started with a warm up loop with Alan before meeting the others. We then headed up the trail at Hazlehead, through the gates and over to Countesswells Forest.

Gate to Gate between Hazlehead and Countesswells

Stopped at our usual spot for the group photo, minus Ali, our usual photographer, so a couple of people are missing from shot!

Group photo in Countesswells minus a couple due to lack of photographic skill

Onwards along the beautiful trails, great in all weathers but especially pleasurable on such a lovely summer’s day!

Kingshill, the big hill of the run, is tough on the legs, but definitely helps with overall strength. First time around …

Bottom of Kingshill - waiting for everyone to regroup

And around again …

Finishing loop 2 of Kingshill

I have no idea how I ever managed to do this 5 times! That was probably around this time last year when peaking for the Fort William Marathon.

Crossing over to the other side of the Forest we run up what I consider to be the last hill – in actual fact there are two more but I find them comparatively easy.

Top of the hill at the opposite side to Kingshill, Countesswells Forest

No sprint back through Hazlehead this week as my legs were more than happy (or fatigued) by what we’d done. Finished with a run up and down the reps lane to round the day off with 14 miles.

Goal for the week ahead is to try to get some regular running in, whatever the weather.

This is where I’m at. What keeps you motivated? Feel free to share any tips by commenting.

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!

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!)

Trac Run Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race

This year I decided to enter the Balmoral 15 mile race on a whim as it fitted with my marathon plan (which specified a 15 mile long run). It’s always good to run somewhere different and given that I’ve only done this race once before, way back in 2012 when I found it very tough, I decided to give it a bash.

I’d planned a leisurely drive out to allow plenty of time for parking and walking to the start. Given the fine weather that we’ve had I had no doubts about clothing – shorts and vest all the way. Fine in principle, most unlike me though as I usually have various options packed just in case, ultimately opting for shorts and vest after dithering for considerable time, and I did start to question my decision as the temperature started to drop on the way out the road and a few spots of rain began to fall on the windscreen.

It proved to be chillier than expected while waiting for the start and I was therefore delighted to avail myself of the shelter offered by the Fit Like Joggers tent. Thanks David for the hospitality! This lovely group are going from strength to strength – it’s so good to see!

I also bumped into Kirsty, fellow Metro runner, who kindly gave me a spare pair of gloves to keep my hands warm until the start. Very much appreciated!

Trac 15 Mile Trail Race, Run Balmoral

Time passes quickly when chatting, and with a few fellow Metro runners around it didn’t feel long before the call up to the start line. As the toilet queue had taken longer than anticipated, this resulted in a quick dash to dump my bag at the FLJ tent with not much time to think about anything else – no bad thing as I still sometimes find myself on a start line wondering why I’m there.

Trac Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race
Thanks to McGarva Photography for the photographs: http://www.pbase.com/mcgarva

The route heads straight out on a tarmac road, progressing to fire roads and land rover tracks. My overall aim was to run faster than my previous attempt (2:21) and ideally around 2:15. I’m not one for doing races as training runs – if the Metro vest has a number on it I’m racing! However, I had to be mindful of the fact that last time I ran 15 miles was, I think, in The Illuminator.

I’m a bit vague on the detail of the race, but I can recall loving it most of the way. The trails were good, the weather was kind with some sun now and then, and the wind didn’t have any adverse effect. For much of the run I was smiling, both inside and out.

The climb up towards Lochnagar was not the climb I experienced last time: more miles in the legs, consistency of training, and a lot more hill walking have contributed to better leg strength and overall endurance. I have to say, I was very surprised when I rounded a corner to find that I had done most of the ascent.

Strava Profile, Trac 15 Mile Trail Race, Run Balmoral

There was a wee bit of everything on the route: tarmac, fire roads, landrover tracks (stony and grassy), and a wee bit of single track to keep you on your toes.

The descent was fast. Having been disappointed at The Illuminator to lose quite a few places on the descent I’d determined to better my skills, the geek in me leading to YouTube, and viewing had suggested using the arms to balance and allowing gravity to do the work. I put this into practice, and combined with being able to see the trail ahead, better than in the dark, it did improve my descent times. Exchanging pleasantries with another runner I commented that we were now less than a parkrun from the finish.

As promised, there was then the sting in the tail at around 13 miles. I’m sure this wasn’t as hard as it felt, but the ascent here felt tough.

I was breathing hard, which I hadn’t been until this point, and it took all my determination to keep running;on the upside, there wasn’t a stream of people passing me so we must all have felt the same! Finally, a steep descent saw us drop back down to the tarmac road and from there the finish was in sight – a very welcome sight it was too!

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Lovely to receive the vocal Metro support on the approach to the finish – thank you! The announcement of all the runners crossing the line also adds to the special finish. Water, medal and t-shirt collected it was then time to congratulate my fellow runners and head back out to cheer others in.

Run Balmoral, 21st Event

Huge congratulations to everyone that completed the Devil of Deeside – two events on Saturday (5k & 10k) followed by the Duathalon & 15 mile run today (Sunday); you’re all superhuman!

Finally, thanks to everyone that helped to organise or volunteered today; your support and encouragement along the way was most welcome!

Official time: 2:01:35

Pretty delighted with that – thanks to my Dad for highlighting that this is in fact a PB! The rarity of the 15 mile race experience meant I’d not quite registered that! A great day out; hopefully I’ll Run Balmoral again before another six years passes.

Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon: Running on ‘Home’ Turf

I love races in Moray as that’s the area that I still consider home, despite having now lived more than half my life in Aberdeen. Racing here also has the advantage of an easy start with the great hospitality provided by my Mum & Dad!

Arriving in Elgin late on Saturday afternoon the pampering started: cup of tea and a fine piece. This continued throughout the evening with dinner provided (a great pre-race fuelling meal of steak pie followed by sticky toffee pudding) and an evening cuppa. I then enjoyed an early night, in bed by 9:30 pm (awesome!) and a long sleep, rising at 7:30 am. Bliss!

Usual breakfast of porridge (today with dates) and a peppermint tea, I was fuelled and ready to go. Headed off to Lossiemouth (or Lossie as us locals know it) to collect my race number and exchange pleasantries with running friends before heading back home to be driven to the race by my ‘support crew’.

We arrived just behind the buses and I headed off for a short warm up before joining the toilet queue. Having misunderstood the location of the toilets I thought there was no queue so did my dynamic stretching routine as per Physio Helen’s instructions. I was then somewhat alarmed when I did find the loos as the queue was longer than anticipated! Apologies to Mum & Dad who essentially had the last of my clothes thrown at them as I shouted ‘Thanks’, they called ‘Good Luck and I ran for the start line.

The upside of this was that I had no time to have pre-race doubts creep in, although to be honest I was out for fun and really quite mindful of that. Training has been somewhat lax of late and I’ve not done a great deal of mileage with only the odd quality session thrown in. The plan was therefore to run a decent pace, hopefully not blow up, and establish a baseline for when marathon training starts.

With this in mind I wished the Metro folks around me a good run and we were off! The weather was kind to us – shorts and vest with gloves was more than adequate – and the only disappointment was the absence of last year’s tailwind.

A lovely course, the route follows the road along from Kinloss to the Maltings where a homely smell greeted me. Dad worked in Glenmoray as a stillman for many years so this smell reminds me of him, although I seem to recall being less fond of it when the car was stinking after a night shift. These early miles felt comfortable and my aim was to hold the pace throughout if possible, conscious that this may not work!

Before long we came to the first water station and the pace was knocked off briefly as I’m not a fan of water in cups. I find it hard to drink and often end up wearing it instead. I was not disappointed.

Coming up to Burghead the main ‘hill’ (it doesn’t really merit the term ‘hill’ but is steep in comparison with the rest of the course) put the legs to the test. I opted just to slow the pace down with a view to picking up on the flat again and this served me well. Along towards Hopeman the pavement was up and down with dropped kerbs which was a little frustrating. I therefore took my chances and ran on the road. Thankfully most drivers on the route were very courteous.

Leaving Hopeman, I was pleased to see Mum & Dad’s car. As I approached they rushed out to meet me, Dad timing his run perfectly to catch the gloves that I threw in his direction, shouting that they’d see me in Lossie.

The next part of the route sees a flat stretch and then the final wee drag before the 10 mile mark is reached, after which it’s all downhill or flat, and I had the happy thought of ‘its only a parkrun!’

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This thinking proved positive indeed and allowed me to push on, passing a few people along the way. Before I knew it I was heading towards the final turn in towards the end where I saw Mum & Dad again and received their cheers of support.

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I was absolutely delighted to finish in a time of 1:36:10! Not a PB, but knowing I’m not in PB shape, this really is a time that I’m happy with.

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As usual, a great post race feed, one of the joys of club races! Then ‘home’ for a relaxing bath followed by a great Sunday dinner! I may just move back!!

Huge thanks to the organisers, Moray Road Runners, for another great event and to all the volunteers who helped things run so smoothly.

Congratulations also to all the runners, especially my Metro teammates who did so well with prizes in various categories and quite a few PBs! Great to be part of such a club. Here’s to continued success this year!