Well, I had my first race in 18 months today - the Meadows Half Marathon in Edinburgh. I picked this race partly because it's perfect timing for the Lochaber Marathon but also because it's not your usual run of the mill big business marathon. The Meadows Marathon, half and fun runs is organised entirely by Volunteers from Edinburgh Universities and you can tell! (in the best possible way of course!).
My goal wasn't about muscles and cardio, it was learning about running for an event - and I'm so glad I did it, I really needed the experience. I had one of those runs that can only be described as a learning experience, despite all the great work done by the Meadows folk, I did not run my best.
I headed off with great excitement and a bit of trepidation, my tummy full of porridge and peanut butter. I had my ipod, my jelly babies, my sports drink and the usual tummy-settlers to keep things on an even keel. I tweeted all the way in and it was great to feel the wonderful Twitter community around me.
I arrived in good time, dropped off by the sainted Ali, but I spent ages finding the registration building. There were no signs I could see, the stewards (from a security company) weren't very helpful but another runner took pity on me and took me into the building (I saw him later powering round, I hope he had a cracker of a race). It probably reflected that most of the runners knew the Union buildings so didn't need signage.
Once I got to the right place, things went like clockwork - the best organisation I've seen, it was great. Registration was incredibly efficient and swift. I really liked the way they kept things simple and cut down on waste and costs; it was a clean, lean system and it worked really well and focussed on raising money for charity not paying for admin and advertising. By using the student facilities in Bristo Square, there were ample toilets and great facilities - best ever. I DID NOT HAVE TO QUEUE FOR THE TOILET ONCE! The toilets were real toilets, not porta loos. They were clean with all the bits and pieces a civilised toilet needs and they did not smell. With a cafe and shops round to cater for your every need, this was spot on. What a great start to the race, especially if you're nervous. 10/10.
The warm up was great fun and really got us ready to run, but we were at the start line for a while. I stood in the wrong bit - I was surrounded by young muscled men and older lycra-d ones (MAMILs, if you take a modern definition of middle age staring at 60!). Lots of macho stuff about times and how many marathons they were doing, oh and they just wanted to get round, probably in an hour or so (!). Note to self - stay at the back next time! The race looked quite male dominated, and I don't recall seeing many women of a certain age running, but that's probably to be expected given it's university connections.
After the rousing countdown we were off - 7 laps of the Meadows for those of us on the half, 14 for the full marathon. I have to be honest I hadn't really thought my strategy through properly and that was stupid. I thought I'd go for 2 hours or so to match my time two years ago. I wanted to start slow and finish faster. So I set my starting pace at 10. I stayed steady as the young men streaked past me, patting myself on the back for not speeding up and that was fine for 5 miles. But then I started feeling out of sorts. I was too hot, but because I had my ipod in my jacket pocket, I couldn't take it off. My sports drink was really sticky and seemed to be leaking onto my jacket and my sticky fingers irritated me. The skin under my big toe began to feel sore and I kept forgetting how many laps I'd done. The cobbles - only a very short bit in and out of George Square - got to me, making me worry about my ankle, worry about falling and making my toe sore (on the bright side it was dry!).
At about half way round, the fast marathon runners were lapping me and I remembered how much I hate running with men (sorry guys!). They just treat us slower runners as if we're invisible and not as important as them and I got cross with one or two who clipped me. The older ones were the worst. Is it really okay to be rude when you're running? I'm sure they wouldn't behave like this in other contexts.
And I missed the sea, I missed the views. I missed the freedom to run where I wanted. I had to stamp on that line of thought pronto - it was a really bad thing to think when you're running an event involving laps round a massive field!
At about 10 miles, I realised I'd made a serious tactical error with the jelly babies. For some reason that can only be described as insanity, I put them in the little pocket at the back of my leggings (you know the one). They basically melted or dissolved or something equally unsavoury and made a horrendous sticky mess. Yuk! I was mainly annoyed by my stupidity on that one. I know not to do that. More stickyness.
The only thing that kept me going was the lovely, smiley and supportive stewards and the crowds who were just wonderful. Those young men and women were fantastic. Every lap I looked forward to seeing that familiar smiley faces and getting a wave, it made the lap system bearable. The way they smiled and cheered as I went past, I kept thinking I must have Jennifer Ennis or Mo Farah behind me! It made the race for me, those lovely young bright faces giving up their Sundays to make this work and cheer us on. I hope they know how much we appreciated them, I tried to say thank you where I could.
The Scouts (or cubs maybe - at my age I can't tell the difference!) did a wonderful job of handing out the water - the best hander-overers I've come across. When I saw those faces eagerly proffering water, I had to take a cup every time I went past and they collected all the waste ones after. Big green ticks all round for a job very well done guys.
Most awesome were the women walking for Water Aid, they were carrying some ridiculous amount of weight round with them. Total Sheros every one of them. Respect ladies, respect.
As my big toe got more tender, I noticed that I was compensating and my form was going belly up, so I slowed down; what did it matter if I wasn't going to make under 2 hours? When I saw the finish line however, I just went for it and ended the race with a sprint - there was more in those legs. 2 hours and 12 minutes. 13 minutes slower than my only other half marathon.
I was disappointed, I know so much more now about running now and I was fully fuelled so I'd secretly hoped for a sub 2 hour time. But for whatever reason, I was just not in the zone today and I couldn't get back to my former glory. There was no way I could have run a marathon feeling like that either, I was slow and knackered and not in good spirits and things didn't work. Yet last week, I ran 20 miles quite happily with a sprained ankle - a minor sprain to be true, but more than a blister. What is that about? But maybe I'm being unfair on myself, this was the fastest 13.1m I've run in my marathon training so maybe that's not so bad.
A massive thank you to the Meadows Marathon folk for making it such a great event, well organised, friendly and a real testament to young folk. It was a pretty good goodie bag - the highlight being the Tunnock's caramel wafer, the banana and the MM key ring. There's also a emergency blanket and a Nuffield carry bag). There's a medal but I really wish that was optional, I think medals are a waste. I could have had a massage too, but I left that for the serious marathon folk. To make up a few miles, I ran back to the gym, re fuelled and had a sauna and a shower before heading home with a bagel and a cuppa.
So, lots learnt. I need to do some serious reflection about my kit, especially my belt and where I keep my iPod. And I need to re think my fuelling strategy too. I started too full and everything got too sticky! The main thing I need to work out is my race strategy. Lochaber is 13.1 out and 13.1 back along the loch, so how am I going to manage that? My strategy today was not well thought through and not sensible.
Otherwise, I've done less running this week whilst I waited for my ankle to settle down. Luckily those beach runs have strengthened my feet so there was little damage other than bruising and an overworked ankle. RICE and arnica did the trick and my physio gave me the all clear on Wednesday; I was back running Thursday dark o'clock.
A total of 25 ish miles done, my ankle works and I survived those cobbles. I ran my fastest 13.1 miles of my marathon training and I have some excellent feedback on what not to do when I finally get to marathon day. Job done I reckon and you have to stay positive or you'd give up and I can't do that.
Next week back to the physical side of things; and the beach - Hooray! I hope to got for another 20 miler and save the intervals and hills for when I cut the mileage down
I hope whatever you've been up to this week, you've had a good one and are on target!