Well, hello there! Where has this week gone?! I thought it was Wednesday when I woke up this morning....but oh no, it's Friday! I've been a bit of a headless chook this week, to say the least! I've had so much to catch up on and I still haven't done it all!
Well, we are back from our whirlwind long weekend in Scotland, where I ran the inaugural Rock and Roll half marathon in Edinburgh on Sunday. Having not run a half marathon for over a year I wasn't sure how it would go and having had my mind occupied by many other things these past two months, I had trained as hard as I could but felt, as race day drew nearer, I could have done more. But as I have always been a last minute crammer, whether it was university exams or training for a long distance race, a few weeks of all out dedication seems to work well for me rather than a prolonged effort over double the time. I knocked out two 18k runs in the weeks before and was still standing (!) so I was confident I would definitely get through this race, albeit probably a lot slower than I've done them previously. But PBs can always wait. Sometimes just showing up and doing it is the most important thing.
I was lucky enough to win a place in this race thanks to Women's Running magazine, back in January. I got the email while we were still in Australia, bloated from Christmas, and I figured training for a half would be a fantastic thing to do once we got back to the UK to keep me focused! Never underestimate the power of a looming race day to get you motivated and out the door!
Hubby and I decided to drive to Scotland for the race rather than take the train like we usually do on a jaunt up north. We've recently acquired a car of our very own, for the first time in years - in London we never needed a car, but out in the sticks it's proven to be more of a necessity than I first thought. Christened Daphne after my grandmother, who kindly gave me the money to buy her, our little car has had outings to Milton Keynes, Henley and Bath but this was our first proper road trip. Tom was very excited! He took endless trouble putting together a road trip CD collection for the car :)
It took about 9 hours to drive the 372 miles to Edinburgh in the end - Aussie readers, it's about the same distance between Melbourne and Canberra - and we had a few stops on the way, plus bad traffic around Birmingham and Manchester as we expected. But once we hit the Lake District it was a lot more relaxing and the scenery was quite stunning; enormous green hills dotted with sheep and lined with ancient stone walls; sprawling farms, country cottages and farmhouses. I wish I could have taken a photo for you but my shots taken from a moving car are always a bit crap :P It was well and truly dark by the time we got to Edinburgh, and we collapsed and slept the sleep of the truly weary once we hit the Premier Inn!
We had a lovely day on Saturday looking around Edinburgh - the last time I had visited (apart from passing through on my way to Inverness two years ago) was for the Fringe in 2007, so I was keen to see everything again. We started the day with brunch at a place I remembered from last time, called Spoon:
We both had the full vegetarian breakfast, which included veggie haggis!
And then we went along to the Rock and Roll half marathon expo which was being held at Holyrood Park, the site of the race taking place the next day, so it was good to familiarise myself with where everything was. I collected my race number, chip and commemorative t-shirt!
It was freezing and I was starting to regret not bringing a long sleeved running top!
We went in search of a running shop so I could stock up on sports beans (!) and explored the lovely city on foot until I started to flag a little. Then we happened upon this bar where we settled in and carb loaded:
Tom and I (well, Tom especially!) love the movie The Big Lebowski, so when we saw this place we couldn't resist! What a find! The dude abides. We really enjoyed the couple of hours we spent there; the staff were very friendly and welcoming, the food was great (but the portions were so huge, even Tom couldn't finish!) and we just really enjoyed the atmosphere, throwing lines from the movie back and forth at each other, it was great fun!
We had a vegetarian sharing plate, which had bread with a selection of dipping oils - basil, chilli and I think one of them had heather honey in it, it was a very sweet flavour - vegetarian haggis samosas, chunky oven roasted wedges, mixed winter mushrooms, oatcakes and Scottish cheeses. I mostly ate the bread and potatoes (!), but the mushrooms were my favourite and Tom loved the samosas. We ended up leaving most of the cheese - I found it so rich and could only have a slice or two. Man! What's happened to me?!
And Tom had his favourite Innis & Gunn beer and I had....ginger beer :P There was also a menu which had 20 different varieties of White Russians......if only I had been able to drink! As delicious as they sounded I didn't want to risk it.
We decided to try and have an early night at the hotel. I continued the carb load with a bagel and banana while we laid back and indulged in my favourite night-before-a-big-race ritual, watching Run Fatboy Run! Although if we'd had The Big Lebowski we probably would have watched that first ;)
Then I laid out my kit for the next day:
And we went to sleep, having set alarms, feeling very organised.
We were woken up at about 5:30 the next morning by someone banging constantly on our door. It was the stag party a few doors down the hall.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" I screeched at them when I opened the door and (somewhat satisfyingly) watched their faces freeze with terror. Trust me, when I have bed hair I look scary! The idiots mumbled apologies and shifted off, but someone else a few doors down came out and started tearing into them, so I shut the door and got back into bed, shaking with rage!
Why, why, why am I cursed when it comes to trying to get a good night's sleep the night before a half marathon?!
I tried to get back to sleep as our alarm wasn't due to go off for another hour and a half but it was a fruitless exercise. I felt very grumpy and disoriented when I finally got up and started getting ready. I had a bagel, banana, a few pieces of liquorice, some chocolate coconut chia seed pudding I had made at home and brought with me, and some water, chamomile tea and Lucozade Body Fuel. Eventually I snapped out of my grumpiness and just had to accept that as nice as it would have been to have had uninterrupted sleep, it hadn't happened so I had to get on with it!
After having to dash back to the room to get my timing chip (ALWAYS attach it the night before, why did I forget that?), we were eventually on our way and marched the mile and half through the city down to Holyrood Park for the start. I lined up for the loo (at first I mistakenly joined the men's only queue, whoops!) and then got into my corral.
The start gun went off at 9am and then the corrals went in 60 second waves. My corral was eventually split into two, so I missed the wave with the 2:15 pacer in it. But I was right at the front of my wave, which has never happened to me before. That meant I couldn't be slow!! Finally the buzzer went and we were on our way.
This was the course - we went out into Meadowbank, along the Portobello Promenade (it was wonderful to get some ocean air!), back up through Duddingston to Holyrood Park and around Arthur's Seat, back to Cowgate, Grassmarket, the Meadows and the university, back through Old Town and down Canongate to the end. Edinburgh is a very picturesque city so it was wonderful to get to know it in this way, and to have new surroundings to look at while you run....as opposed to seeing the same stuff all the time when you're training!
How did I find the run?
Well, the old adage that you do all the hard work in training so that race day will be easy in comparison rang true for me here. I had worked hard in the last few weeks so I was confident it would be a good race. I didn't put any pressures on myself in terms of finishing time, as I knew I wasn't as fast as I was when I was training for the marathon last year and doing a half marathon every weekend! I just wanted to have a good run.
On one of my last training runs I had some twinges in my ankles and right knee which I felt was more to do with the fact that I need new running shoes than anything(!), but I wanted to be on the safe side and not go full throttle. It was important that I kept a comfortable pace. Originally I thought I would take a walking break every 5km, as per my race plan, but I ended up relaxing into a good pace and thought I would hold out until 10km to take a small walking break. I found the first 10km very comfortable, apart from having to be a bit quicker off the starting block than I normally would be. I took in the sights and sounds, tried to think about other things other than how much further we had to go, and felt rather proud of myself that I can still do these kind of distances. I spotted a runner near me who was going about the same pace as me, so I used her as my unofficial pacer - I figured if I could stay with her I would be doing all right!
The weather was beautiful - after expecting a freezing rainy day, we were all surprised to see the sun was out! In fact, it got quite hot around mile 4 and I could feel sweat stinging my eyes. I was going to grab a cup of water to dump over my head but thankfully I managed to blink it away. The run along Portobello Promenade by the ocean and getting a gust of cool air was most welcome!
The streets were lined with spectators - one family had a little orchestra going with saucepans and wooden spoons - and, as is the trademark Rock and Roll tradition, there was music at every mile. It varied between live bands and DJs, and the band playing 1950s rock and roll at Mile 3 were my favourite at the beginning. We all cheered and clapped as we went past the bands! There was sports drink and water at alternating miles, but I didn't need them as I had my own trusty bottle of Lucozade in my right hand the entire time and took sips when I needed it.
It was when we hit mile 7, back in the park and going up Queen's Drive around Arthur's Seat that I stopped for a brief walk. We had passed the 10km marker, had a brief downhill spell, and then it was all uphill after the gel station! I was trying to get my bag of sports beans open but the bugger just wouldn't rip with me on the move (!), so I stopped to get it open and then decided to walk up the hill and eat as many beans as I could while doing so. Once I felt I had enough sustenance, I started running again - still on an incline, but not as bad. My pacer had left me for dust now but I hoped I would be able to catch her again!
The first half of mile 8 was downhill! Whoo hoo! Everyone around me looked so relieved! I picked up the pace here and started scanning the crowd for Tom as we left the park and headed along Holyrood Road up to Cowgate and the main arteries of the city.....which was uphill again! I kept going but slowed the pace right down. I felt myself start to struggle a little. A technique I employ when I start thinking "I can't do this, when will this be over?!" is to start naming all the people in my life who I know believe in me and think I can do this. I just do this in my head and list as many people as I can think of. I know it sounds strange but once I'm on a roll it feels like this crowd of invisible supporters is somehow there with me, behind me, pushing me up the hill! And as I was doing this, approaching the mile 9 marker, I looked to my right and there was Tom! :)
We had a quick hug, he took my nearly empty Lucozade off me, gave me a new one and then I was on my way again!
Grassmarket was mostly downhill so a very welcome relief from the uphill last half of mile 8, and then just before the mile 10 marker it went uphill again. I stopped and had a short walk until the worst of the uphill was over!
Then we were in the Meadows, a part of Edinburgh I'd never seen, which is an expanse of beautiful parks. There were lots of spectators here cheering us on. I was glad I wore my VLM shirt from last year with my name on it - it's so nice when people call out your name! But I didn't see anyone else with their name on their shirt so I did feel a bit conspicuous! Right before the Mile 11 marker there was a fantastic drumming band with dancing girls, Notting Hill carnival style! The beat and rhythm was so motivating and you could see the faces of all the runners lighting up with smiles as they passed them. They were definitely my favourite act on the course, by far! And I caught up to my original pacer and passed her! Oh yeah!
Then, by stark contrast, we were on a very lonely stretch of road by the university where there was hardly anyone around. I was starting to feel very tired! I had to really push myself and kept repeating a mantra in my head. I'm a marathoner! Nothing can break me, nothing can beat me! I kept saying this to myself over and over. It did help. Running is such a mind game! And then it started to go uphill.....again!! I started to pass two runners, one of whom was flagging and saying how she didn't think she could go up another hill! Her companion, in a lovely Scottish accent, said "it's only uphill until we get to that corner, then it's all downhill! You've got ten seconds left!" and then he started counting them down as we approached the corner. It made me go faster, desperate for a stretch of downhill! Thanks mate, whoever you were!
This was when the race really turned around for me and I felt a surge of energy and strength. It definitely helped that it wasn't uphill any more (!) and I felt myself picking up the pace and lifting my legs a lot more rather than shuffling along. I don't know where it came from but I wasn't complaining. I started passing people with swift and careless abandon! Blink and you'd miss me!
I had forgotten what mile we were on and I was convinced it was mile 11 I would see at the next marker. I was delighted when it said 12 and that gave me even more adrenalin, knowing it was nearly over! I ploughed ahead, past Waverley station, up a slight hill and then along Market Street. A DJ was playing music around this spot and was cheering us on, saying "it's all downhill to the finish line!" Oh what bliss it was to hear that! I was starting to see runners who had finished and were walking back up Canongate with their medals around their necks, so I knew it wasn't far. "Keep going, not long now!" they called out to us. Canongate was a brilliant downhill run to the finish, I felt like my legs were independent of the rest of me at one point. I have never had a finish like this, it was fantastic!
Finally we got to the bottom, went around the Scottish Parliament building and past the Queen's Palace, and then it was a flat dash to the finish line. I slowed down slightly once the road was flat again, but once I saw the finish line I picked up the pace again. I felt so strong! The only thing that nearly caused a kerfuffle was the finish line announcer coming out on to the middle of the track to high five runners on their way to the finish line - I was the only one sprinting for it and I nearly ran into her! But apart from that I was so happy with the last mile and a half and the finish as a whole, it was amazing! I crossed the line and went to get my hard earned medal!
I had finished! Another half marathon, done and dusted!
My official time was 2:20:47 which wasn't my fastest time but I was very pleased with it nonetheless. If it had been a flat course I reckon I would have been a few minutes faster, but I was so stoked with how I ran the final mile and a half. Performance wise, I think it was my best ever.
|Phone camera photo - hence the blurriness! ;)|
After collecting my medal, I found Tom and we headed back to the hotel where I was able to have a quick shower before we checked out and headed back into town again to meet my old pal Shauna for a celebratory lunch at David Bann, Edinburgh's best vegetarian restaurant. We had a fabulous time!
A Scottish beer to celebrate my race:
It went straight to my head!!
And then we shared some starters:
|Smoked and marinated tofu with mango chutney|
|Chunky rosemary and thyme chips with apple and tomato ketchup|
|Thai broccoli and tofu fritters|
And then we all had a very hard time choosing what to have for main! As I was so in the mood for smoked tofu, I ended up having this rice dish with tofu, ginger, tomato, green vegetables and shiitake mushrooms:
So good! And I felt I had definitely earned a dessert, so:
While Tom and Shauna went for the chocolate souffle, I had the orange cake with ginger and lime ice-cream in a chocolate basket. I'm sure you can tell from the photo how delicious it was :) If you're going to be in Edinburgh soon, check out David Bann, even if you aren't vegetarian - you'll love it!
We so enjoyed the food and the company that lunch stretched on for many hours....but eventually Shauna went to get her train and Tom and I paid a visit to one of my favourite shops in Edinburgh, Demijohn, just before they closed. If you've ever been there I'm sure you'll remember it - Demijohn is a shop that sells predominantly British liqueurs, whiskies and spirits (as well as oils and vinegars) which you can taste and then have a bottle filled with your selection. They call themselves a "liquid deli" and that's a pretty apt description!
We came away with some ginger wine and organic rhubarb vodka. Oh my!
Finally we made our way back to Daphne who was waiting patiently in the hotel car park......and headed off on the motorway to Glasgow with my Rock and Roll medal still around my neck, glinting proudly in the twilight.
All in all, I really enjoyed this half - after some struggles midway through, I was proud I got through them and toughed it out. And I was so, so proud of my finish! I don't think I've ever felt so strong in my life. And running around a beautiful city like Edinburgh was so much fun. It wasn't quite the 13 mile long party I was expecting - there were lulls every now and then - but when you got to the livelier sections of the course the atmosphere was fantastic.
I'm not sure what my next challenge will be. After hearing about how well my old housemate Ironman did in, aptly, Ironman Melbourne a few weeks ago, I was toying with the idea of giving a half ironman a go...and then the idea of an ultra marathon came up.....so right now, I'm still undecided! So much for it being a quiet year, huh? ;)
But I've so enjoyed the last few weeks of really stepping up my training and getting some long runs under my belt. It felt fantastic to be that focused again and to know that even when I take a bit of a break, I can train my body to run those distances again. Apart from my ankles being a little sore, I have bounced back very quickly and headed out for a lazy 5k this morning, which went pretty well. I really want to keep going with the focused training I've been doing and not let it slide like I usually do after an event with nothing else on the horizon. I suppose I just have to decide on my next challenge and then hop to it!
What's your next challenge going to be? :)
Hope you have a happy weekend and thanks, as always, for reading! xx