Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Low profile

Last Sunday, I ran the Cockenzie Power Station Marathon of East Lothian.

Never heard of it?

That's down to an outstanding piece of marketing that rebrands it with the somewhat less catchy title, Edinburgh Marathon.

The Edinburgh Marathon medal, modelled on one of the course landmarks (*EMF stands for Edinburgh Might Feature)



It's not just the name that draws a loyal crowd of marathon disciples; there is also the promise of that down hill course. To me, this claim conjured images of the masses gambolling down a hill of precisely 26.2 miles long with such speed that a moat of custard and a giant inflatable wall would be needed to slow us sufficiently to hang a medal around our necks at the finish. In reality, the race starts on a small hill that sends you trotting down to the foot of Arthur's Seat within the first 15 minutes, before whisking you out of Edinburgh for the rest of the event. The remainder of the course is relatively flat, well-organised, congestion-free, and certainly sets a tempting bait for the PB hunter-gatherers out there, if not the tourists nor those with a short attention span.

I spent a year living in Edinburgh about a decade ago and love any excuse to return, particularly as a great friend now lives there with her young family and a visit was long overdue. Buoyed by a year of training progress and fuelled by the frustration of a truncated A-race, I completed my entry form last September, also mindful that the yearly subscription to "Hey, Loser!" was due any day and entries to the "other" spring marathons would fill shortly after. I don't remember what I put down as an estimated finish time but, judging by the location of my start pen and the sinewy hamstrings of the athletes surrounding me on that hill on Sunday, I'd say I'd been a bit optimistic. Just 4 weeks earlier, I'd run Manchester Marathon and I was certainly not in PB form so I scurried back up the hill and nestled myself back into more comfortable obscurity to start the run.

Packing my bag for the marathon the night before, it occurred to me that things all seemed much more straightforward than normal. "Just pack the stuff you wore at the last marathon," I thought. I wondered if perhaps one of the biggest difficulties with running marathons is simply that we just don't run them often enough. This lower key approach to preparing for a marathon was certainly proving better for the nerves the night before. It's funny how you actually need to start running before you remember some of the other familiar patterns that form around a run of 26.2 miles though:

edinburgh marathon

Luckily for me, the best-support-crew-ever-assembled-at-mile-20-of-a-marathon were there to take me out of My Dark Place and send me on my way to that beer and an 8th marathon medal. The majority of this marathon may have been low profile but seeing this little lot was a big highlight.

Thank you, Jenny and the support crew.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Trial and terror

I turned 33 last weekend. A youngster to some but old enough to be aware of a few changes: like having more patience but more prominent frown lines; like drinking less but taking up to 48 hours to get over a hangover; like shouldering the rising cost of participating in races but becoming less and less motivated by whether there's a medal at the end (unless it's longer than a marathon, in which case I fully expect a diamond-encrusted unicorn testicle hanging from a platinum rope chain).

"Robocake"- @lazygirlrunning
This month, I've ventured back into a sport I haven't competed in since my mid-20s: cycling time trials. Known in the cycling world as the "race of truth", time trials commonly form part of a stage race, where riders leave the shelter and tactics of the bunch to ride as hard as they can against the clock; except, that is, in the UK where a curious breed of cyclists make this an event in itself and chase courses around the country to improve on their PBs.

Time trialling bucks the trend in escalating race costs and you can enter an event for just £8.50: there's no memento but, instead, you trade in your number at the end for a hot cup of tea to enjoy as you make excuses for the day's performance with fellow competitors.

The PB-chasing means that many of the most popular races are held on flat, straight pieces of road and the presence of traffic is considered, by many, a bonus. In my 5 year absence, the slower courses have become so unpopular that it has become hard to find an event in our local area than doesn't take in a dual carriageway, and, this morning, I found myself preparing to race along the A40 Witney bypass. Waiting in a lay-by on a piece of carbon fibre as trucks rumbled past at 70 mph, I noticed an alarming difference in 33-year old me: I was utterly terrified.

"Is this worth it?" I thought, as the timer counted back from 10. A car surged past, much too close for comfort, as he reached 5.

"Go careful!", yelled lovely boyfriend, waiting to start a few minutes behind me.

3... 2... 1... Go!

Fifteen pedals strokes in, I was safely on my aerobars, breathing deeply and listening carefully for approaching traffic behind me.

2nd "women"
Funny things start to happen when you're racing, don't they? The harder my legs pushed, the more my fears were being replaced by the adrenaline surge of competition; a self-preserving respect of traffic was being accompanied by a childish urge to pretend I was racing on my own little motorbike. The halfway turn circled a roundabout and sent me back into a tailwind. A quick glimpse of my GPS showed 29 mph at one point: maybe not quite a motorbike, but a pretty nifty pizza delivery scooter.

I returned to the race HQ to find my ride had secured some unexpected silverware. In the interests of full disclosure, there were 3 women in the race: a podium place was guaranteed from the start, even if survival wasn't.

Of more interest to me than this, however, was that the winner was at least 15 years older than me and fear was most certainly not standing in her way. There is definitely hope for me yet.

 I don't think I'll be making a habit of riding along a dual carriageway every week. That doesn't mean I'm growing up though. I mean, seriously, how many real grown-ups get to dress up as a bicycle-riding robot on a Sunday morning?

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Flow writer

50 lovely bloggers, 12 inspiring speakers, and 2 wonder women: even 300+ words seems barely enough to do Sunday's Write This Run event justice. Instead, I've taken some of the day's nuggets and intepreted in them in only way I know how: a diagram.
 write this run flow chart

Thank you, Liz and Laura, for organising a truly brilliant day. 
You really do make good things happen.




Saturday, 4 May 2013

Stranger things have happened

"Hello," said a little voice, as we approached the 5 mile marker, "is this your first marathon?"

"No, it isn't, but is it yours?" I replied.

"Yes. I just want to finish it. I really hope I can."

"Me too." I sighed.

Four months have passed since setting out my manifesto for improving my running manners; approximately the same amount of time you're supposed to spend building up to a marathon. Except I didn't. I won't bore you with the reasons; you don't need to read that. What I did do, in a feat of will over reason, was go from zero to 19.4 miles over the course of a three-week training binge and turn up in Manchester last weekend with 3 main aims:

1. Finish with a smile,
2. Avoid, if possible, being trampled to a gory death by the 5 hour pace group,
3. Photobomb as many pictures as I could.

Up the road were blogging chums and running rockstars, Laura and Liz. The out-and-back sections early in the course provided reassurance that they were pacing it well for their respective targets and I felt proud watching them race purposefully past in the opposite direction. We may have only met once previously but we've followed each others training and racing electronically for some time within the online running community; the value of which they recognise to be so powerful that they've put their hearts, souls and technicolour compression socks into making the UK's first running bloggers' conference, Write this Run, happen next weekend.

Our paces matched comfortably so our conversation continued and I discovered that my new companion's name was Jill. Not because she told me but because she had the foresight to have it printed in huge silver text across her vest and because the loyal supporters of Manchester marathon were so happy to cheer. Over the course of the miles that followed, I learned that she was running her first marathon, aged 50, to raise money for a local cancer trust. She hadn't run previously but she had prepared methodically, overcoming injury, and was determined to finish the marathon. I grew instantly fond of her conviction, which glimmered from beneath her warm and modest demeanor. Neither of us had any reason to speed up or slow down so we continued on our way, step-by-step, together, towards the finish line.

Pushing through mile 19, Jill announced she was struggling and that she would need to slow for a while. I asked if she'd like me to stay with her and finish together. She took some convincing that I would be happy to do this but accepted the offer with a smile. Little did Jill know that I was in uncharted waters here: I had never run this far with another runner for company, let alone a stranger. In fact, I hadn't broken wind for nearly 3 hours, concerned my new running companion would think it rude. But what Jill had given me was a purpose to keep on running and a new target for this marathon.

Approaching the finish, we saw Jill's husband and 15-year old son; they couldn't have been more proud of her and rightly so. I feel I ought to issue a public apology at this stage; unaware who they were at first, I simply saw a camera phone and pulled out my best jazz hands, thinking momentarily of my own race aims from earlier in the day. If I spoiled a cherished family memory then I am genuinely sorry.

We upped the pace for a final sprint and finished together with arms aloft, grinning widely. She hugged me and thanked me for the support and I filled with pride for what she had achieved that day. Who knows why Jill chose me to start chatting to, but I will always remain glad that she did. There is every possibility that we'll never meet again, or maybe this funny little running world will ensure we do - either way, thank you, Jill, for letting me be part of your day.



With the completion of marathon number 7,  I believe I may have stumbled upon lesson number 5 for being a better runner: take genuine joy from other people's achievements, even if that means you have to stifle a fart for 21 miles.



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