Loch Ness Marathon – Race Report

A year earlier than I’d originally planned, yesterday I toe’d the line in my first marathon. I’d heard great things about the Loch Ness Marathon, and Inverness is a lovely town, so where better to start my marathon journey?

My training had been consistent – I’d done every workout on the plan, every gym session, stretched daily. I’d even gone teetotal the final few months, searching for every little performance improvement I could find.

All the way through this running journey there’s been one nagging thought at the back of my mind – this time last year I was still bike racing. Indeed, the winter of 2016/17 was one of the best pre-seasons I’d ever had and in February I was looking forward to another season racing my bike. Then in March I changed my mind and started running again. We were travelling a lot in the Spring, and taking my shoes let’s me see a City in a different way – one of my favourite things. So running became my sporting focus once more.

I knew I could run a half marathon – I did two back in 2015 – but could I run a marathon? I was going to find out.

img_5623

The start at Loch Ness is 25 Miles up the side of the Loch. All 4000 runners are bused there from Inverness, an hour’s journey over twisty roads. By the time we got to the start I was feeling very travel sick. Fortunately the cold usually snaps me out of it, so when we got off the bus and felt the icy blast (and rain), I soon forgot my travel sickness. We had around 90 minutes until the start and they were spent queuing for the portaloos and trying to keep warm.

At 10am we set off to the sound of pipes & drums, a very special way to start my first marathon. Within the first mile I’d warmed up, and was quickly into my rhythm. All of my training was based on running 3:45, realistically I was just hoping to get round in under 4 hours. The early miles were smooth, I felt on top of the pace and was able to enjoy the scenery. The first challenge came at mile 5, the first real hills of the race, and I felt comfortable as we climbed.

Soon we were through 8.5 Miles, a third of the race done. There were water stops every few miles, so I was keeping well hydrated. I was also taking a gel every 45 mins, plus an electrolyte drink at each electrolyte station (I think there were 3?). I was continuing to stay on pace, aiming for a first half of around 1:55.

I actually made it through half way in 1:54, a little ahead of schedule but I was feeling good. Miles 14, 15 & 16 all went by without any trouble, however at mile 17 I started to feel it for the first time. I took a gel, along with a Cliff Shot, and pushed on. Mile 18 took us through the village of Dores, and I knew that we weren’t far away from the fabled hill.

I didn’t expect it to be so steep, or so long! The fact that you could also see it snaking away up in the distance didn’t help either, and it was here that I had my first real problems of the day. Like many others I found myself walk / running up the hill. I was tying hard to keep on running, but my hip flexors had other ideas, so at times I was reduced to fast walking pace. These 2 Miles, 19 & 20, saw me lose a lot of time. Mile 21 was downhill, so I got back into my rhythm, but then we hit another hill which saw me struggling again.

By now I knew that I was losing time – my average pace had crept up from 8:42 and was getting ever closer to 9:00. I knew that if I wanted to break 4 hours, I had to keep it below 9:07, but I also knew now that there was very little left in the tank.

So much of this is mental, and I was keeping myself going by counting (up to 8), and saying my new mantra, which was to say the names of my family, the people I love dearly, over & over again in rhythmical fashion. That got me to mile 23 and the outskirts of Inverness. At this point I knew that all I had left to run was a Parkrun, how hard could that be? However I was now in a new territory – I’d never run farther than 22 miles.

I won’t lie, these last few miles were slow and tortuous. I tried to lift the pace a couple of times, but my legs refused. By now we were in the centre of Inverness, crossing the bridge and turning down the last mile of the race, where I knew Joanna would be waiting for me near the finish. Again I tried to lift the pace. I knew that I wasn’t going to break 4 hours now, but I could still finish strong. My running form still felt good, which was a good sign.

I heard the announcer calling my name as I bared down on the finish line, then heard Joanna shout from the side. It was lovely to see and hear her. I crossed the line in 4:01:59, tantalisingly close to breaking 4 hours. That lack of running endurance that I’d been worried about had ended up costing me, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I was so happy to finish. Crossing that line was both a relief and a celebration. I’d just completed a marathon, in a time that many people would be delighted with. Yes, it wasn’t as fast as I’d hoped, but I’d done it and learned a lot along the way.

It was great having Joanna there with me for the weekend. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb near the Castle, enjoyed a delicious meal on Saturday evening (more pasta for me! 😬), and then Joanna looked after me post-race, driving us home in torrential rain – a journey that took over 3 hours!

I had no idea how sore my body would be today. I’m still incredibly stiff – I’m going for another ice bath when I’ve finished writing this. I’m also going to sleep in my skins (compression leggings) again tonight – anything I can do to aid recovery.

I’ve enjoyed the marathon journey, and am proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. Of course, a time of 4:01 means only one thing – I’ll have to do another, I’ve got to get under 4 hours!

I might wait until 2019 though…..

img_5625

The perils of pacing….

It’s been another solid training week.

We decided to go to Edinburgh today to take in the Festival, so I switched my weekend sessions and did my long run yesterday, and the easy run today.

The plan for my long run was 18-22 miles, and with the marathon only five weeks away now I decided to push for the full 22 miles. If I could get that under my belt, then it’s only another 4.2 on race day. Easy!

I’ve been getting bored doing variations of the same route for my long runs, so I decided to go into Dundee with Joanna when she went to work and run home from there. A good plan: new sights, different roads, but just one problem – yesterday it was almost all into a 20mph headwind!

I’ll be honest, after 18 miles I was burst. I’d somehow managed to lose a gel (I still have no idea how that happened), so I had to make do with 2 rather than 3. It wasn’t lactic acid in my legs that stopped me, it was sheer exhaustion. A wee sit on the side of the road did the trick, and I soldiered on to complete the 22 miles.

As race day gets closer, I’ve been thinking about pacing. My goal was originally to aim for a time of 3:45, which was based on my half marathon PB doubled plus 15 mins. From everything I’ve read online that seemed reasonable. That equates to a pace of 8:23/mile – should be do-able based on my race performances from 2015.

However I’ve had this nagging thought at the back of my mind, based on my experiences as a bike racer. In those days, my training and race pacing was based on power. I had a power meter on my bike, which measured the amount of watts I generated. It’s a more scientific way of training.

The problem I have with racing to a power, or pace target, is that it could be a limiting factor. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

I ‘retired’ from bike racing at the end of 2012, but got my mojo back towards the end of 2013 and did one more season. I was training to power, but didn’t have a power meter on my time trial bike for the first half of the year.

What happened when I raced? I set new PBs at both 10 & 25 miles! I’ve always wondered what would have happened on those days if I’d had a power meter on the bike – would it have slowed me down?

As I embark on my first marathon I find myself questioning the pacing strategy. I’ve raced 2 half marathons back in 2015, both in around 1:45, which is under 8:00/mile. Is 8:23/mile the pace I should run at? Will I be leaving some time on the table? Or will it be bang on based on my training?

I guess it won’t be long until we find out…..

How do you manage or think about pacing when you race? Do you agree that running to a target pace could be limiting your potential?

This week in numbers:

Miles run: 45.1

Time on my feet: 6:46:34

Currie’s consumed: 1

Aviemore no more!

It’s almost a week since I ran the Aviemore half marathon. Since then I’ve been resting, recovering & reflecting. It’s time to write this post to wrap things up.

A year ago I had never done a running race, unless you count primary school. Now I can boast a handful of 5ks, a couple of parkruns, four 10ks, a ten miler and two half marathons. Not a bad haul.

Heading into Aviemore I was tired. It dawned on me that I hadn’t had a break at the end of last season’s bike racing, so my body hadn’t had a chance to recover before I plunged into the running scene. As last week went on and the taper kicked in I was feeling better and on the day managed to take a couple of minutes off my PB. It wasn’t the time I had hoped for, but I was proud of what I’d achieved. I felt like a runner a lot during the race and passed a whole bunch of people as I picked up the pace over the last 3 miles. It gives me goosebumps now just thinking about it.

In the days after the race I have never felt so tired. I met Steve Bonthrone for a coffee on Monday late afternoon and I was struggling to speak coherently. Just. So. Tired. But as the week has gone on I’ve felt better. I’ve enjoyed eating ‘normal’ food, having a few drinks during the week (something I rarely do when I’m training & racing) and just chilling out in the evening. My brain’s enjoyed the mental break too.

This week is more of the same. I have a couple of dinners in Dundee this week, Wednesday & Thursday, so I’m just going to enjoy them without any of the normal feelings of guilt at having a dessert & a glass of wine. But I’m already thinking about getting back into training. I plan to get out for a run next weekend. Nothing long, or taxing, just a steady 10k to get the body & mind back in gear. Then I’ll pick it up a little the following week before we head out to Cyprus for some late autumn sunshine. I’m looking forward to running with the sun on my legs a few more times before I have to dig out the winter gear.

Thanks to everyone that’s supported and encouraged me on this journey. It’s been a blast!

So the season has started….

Image

It’s been great to get the season started – my first ‘proper’ race season since 2010.

After a solid winter of racing ‘cross and then slowly building up, the training camp in Lanzarote was a welcome break from the cold. After we got back, I continued to train well and before I knew it it was time for my first race – the Ythan APR.

What I hadn’t realised when I entered the race was that this was the weekend the clocks changed, so I found myself getting up at 4.45am to get ready, have breakfast & then drive up to Ellon. The things we do for our sport! It was a really cold day and despite doing a good warm up on the turbo by the time we set off my legs were like blocks of ice. To make matters worse, I’d decide to #MTFU and ride in shorts, albeit with some of Jon McComisky’s magic Soigneur embro on my pins. It took me the best part of a lap to get any feeling in my legs, during which time we’d had to make our first climb of the brutal Raxton hill – not long but a killer 14%. Our group split to pieces on this climb & I found myself in a small group riding through & off into the headwind. We quickly caught a bigger group and this group worked well together before we were caught at Raxton on the last lap by the scratch group. The pace went up as we tried to catch the two groups that were still up the road, but sadly our chase was in vain and we rolled in some 51 seconds behind the winner. 

Two weeks later, and after a good few of Gaz’s “Full Gas” sessions, it was time for my next race and my first proper road race since 2009 – the Nick Hardy Memorial race at nearby Monikie. This was now a Cat 3/4 race after the recent changes in race structures and was a full field of 80 riders from all over Scotland. Again, I had a good warm-up on the turbo and made sure I was at the front of the bunch as we rolled out of Monikie. Within a couple of miles the pace in the peloton jumped up as the Deeside guys went to the front. I found myself quickly on the back foot, and once again my cold legs refused to do any hard work or put out decent power and before I knew it I was sliding out the back door. Within 5 miles the bunch had been smashed to pieces – a combination of the pace and the strong cross / head winds that we endured for most of the race. I put my head down and caught a few riders, quickly establishing what was to become the Grupetto! Five of us worked well together, riding in a neat echelon in the sidewinds and taking short turns in the headwinds. We rolled in 20 mins behind the winner with our tails between our legs, but we had worked hard as a small group – my average HR of almost 160 for 2 hours 35 mins of racing was proof of that!

It’s been a hard re-introduction to racing and without a doubt there are some strong Cat 3’s out there that mean many races will split this season. The key is going to be making sure I stay near the front of the bunch and to do that my legs are going to have to respond right from the start and not wait for 10 miles before deciding to work. As always I’m taking the positives and looking forward to the next race in a fortnight’s time. In the meantime it’s time to up the effort levels in training and really push myself beyond the red zone. I started this with last night’s session and after a recovery ride this evening I’m doing the Deeside chaingang in Aberdeen tomorrow night. That should certainly be a hard shift if Sunday is anything to go by!

Onwards!

Changing Seasons

As winters go, it’s been a mild one. Nothing more than a light dusting of snow a couple of times. It’s been cold, but nothing like last year’s -20c.

For the last five months we’ve ridden on winter bikes, designed to cope with the harsh road conditions of a Scottish winter. Typically these bikes are Aluminium, heavier than the carbon bikes we race on, and kitted out with mudguards. They’re good for pounding out the miles, and stay solid in the crosswinds that we inevitably endure.

But by the middle of February we’re itching to get out on our race bikes. I started building mine up at the start of January. Just an hour here & there, it brought the promise of Spring, and the joy of racing. Somehow replacing cables, chains, bartape brought us closer.

At the start of this week, I checked the forecast (as I always do!) for the weekend. It looked good. A dry week would mean dry roads, and the temperature was forecast to be around 10c. Perfect conditions to get the race bike out!

So, five months after it last graced the tarmac, my race bike got back on the road today.

Race Bike 2012 Style

For me, the first day of the year out on the race bike is possibly the best cycling day of the year. After a winter of riding the heavy bike, it feels amazing to be on a featherlight carbon rig. if you’re like me, then everything’s new – new brake & gear cables, new bartape, and for me this season new wheels. It’s like a new bike.

Today was also the first day this year I’ve been out without the full winter gear on. Instead it was shorts & leggings, a long sleeved jersey and a Gilet. I’ve even put my racing helmet & shoes on. It feels good and gets the mind ready for the season ahead.

From here, the training intensifies, my first race is only 3 weeks away, although the first big objective of the season doesn’t come until the end of May. Until then we’ll keep building, getting stronger and lighter, gently building the form. Only it will be far from gentle.

My legs have liked the last few months. Long steady rides. They’re going to hate me soon…..

 

Spring’s coming

The last weekend in February is traditionally when the cycling season really starts in earnest. Sure, the Pro’s have been racing since the middle of January, first in Australia and then the Middle East, but for most that’s just been the prelude to the main event. The Classics.

This weekend sees the first of the Spring semi-classics as racing hits Belgian soil – Het Volk (I know! But I’m calling it that!) today and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne tomorrow. Racing in Belgium is the essence of cycling for me. It stirs the passion, evoking memories of hardmen of the past, such as Merckx and Duclos Lasalle, or current riders like Hincapie or Boonen. Men who know what it is to suffer, to push themselves to the limit in search of victory in the most brutal of conditions.

Last year KBK was run off in horrendous weather, with only 20 or so of an original peloton of over 160 riders finishing the race. Team Sky’s Ian Stannard, a rider who earned his spurs on the cobbles of Belgium, making the podium.

This isn’t about sunshine & beautiful scenery, the glorified training camps that are the early season races. No, this is about wind & rain, mouth-fulls of road grit – Belgian Toothpaste as it’s known and suffering. It’s about cobbles and bergs, beer & frites. And passion. Those Belgian fans know the sport like no others.

It’s also the weekend when I traditionally take out my summer race bike for it’s first outing. Months of steady miles on a heavy winter bike, replaced by an increasing intensity on a bike that feels like it weighs a fraction of the other. For some it’ll be a new bike altogether. For me, this season, it’s new wheels, handbuit by the guys at Strada Wheels. White rims to match the white saddle, white bar tape will also be applied in time for our training camp in 2 weeks time. Gotta look pro.

And so the season begins…..