Meerkats, Mantras and making it to the finish

tee shirt and medal

I always enjoy travelling by train, even my Friday Fife circle commuter trip. Maybe railway travel would not hold the same appeal if this was the way I got to work each day, but I always look forward to my Friday train journeys and much more than I ever do when taking a plane somewhere.


Saturday I was taking the train to Inverness from Edinburgh, a journey I have not done for many years but one with good memories. As a student travelling to and from home to Glasgow University I made this trip in all weathers and in carriages with intermittent heating often standing, laden with books and belongings at a chilly Perth platform to make my Glasgow connection. And when my husband and I first met, he lived in Edinburgh and I lived in Inverness so travels north and south are infused with the memories of long distance romance.

train view
train view

This time I was heading north for the Inverness Half marathon – staying overnight before race day on Sunday. By Saturday I knew there was little I could do to improve my performance so was in the resigned stage, and in a mind to make the most of the trip regardless of outcome.

Mid March had brought late snow and the forecast for race day was sleet and rain, but when I did this race in 2011 I remember driving through heavy snow to get to Inverness and on race day there was still quite a lot of snow on the route. I do prefer cold temperatures for running and given that I always train outdoors, at least I am prepared for most weather conditions.

I forgot my camera so all my pictures have been taken on my iPhone which now has an interesting filter effect brought on by too many running trips in the rain. It gives the desolate landscapes further moodiness, and sometimes I quite appreciate the flattery of soft focus, as I have not quite mastered the post run looking good shot.

I was running in this with my niece and we spent some time on Saturday questioning the wisdom of doing the race, and out-doing each other in our tales of under preparedness. This might be more reassuring for me if Laura was not half my age and a successful competitive swimmer. But with true professionalism she had devised our race weekend menu and her Mum and Dad were doing an excellent job of pre – race hospitality – although maybe on reflection I should have had one less glass of red.

Sunday morning it looked as if the predicted sleet and winds had not materialised and when we collected our race packs, it was cold but not bitter. If the wind stayed down, this would suit me fine.

half marathon start

The Inverness half has a 12.30 start time – which gives us morning people a lot of time to revisit our anxieties, but probably is good from a nutritional perspective. So for the record – my pre race menu was : Breakfast- large mug of tea, porridge, blueberries  and honey, followed by a cappuccino and a tuna roll at 11.30.

The pipers are coming
The pipers are coming

Soon it was time to get ourselves assembled at the start line, and in a nice touch the runners are led out by a pipe band. I do like a pipe band and must confess to feeling quite emotional when I hear Scottish pipes and I did find it quite stirring, even a bit inspirational, and added to my ‘no going back now’ mindset – started to have a small good feeling about the race.

pre race laughter

So to paraphrase the Christmas song-  the weather outside for some was frightful, but to me- lover of cold running temperatures was quite delightful.

I had a bit of a bumbling start with my gadgets, and so did start running a bit faster than I had meant to so I could catch up, and annoyingly did not manage to set my Nike+ to the half marathon distance, but the first 3 miles were OK. Whether due to my sister- in-law’s magnificent porridge , the pipers or some other beneficial goodness smiling on me, I did not feel the usual pain of the first 15 minutes of running.

Before the race start I had been showered with good luck messages and useful motivational tips. Alison my good running buddy reminding me that when I got to 10 miles and felt awful to remember I only had half an hour before I would be across the line and savouring all the post race delights. And Linda my other regular running chum, sharing her half marathon mantra of ‘relax and enjoy’ which you need to repeat in your head often to get you through.

I had planned to take some sort of music or Radio 4 distraction but I did not have pockets to carry my radio iPod and the weather was a bit rubbish so I ran the race alone as it were, which was fine. I had a bit of a low patch between miles 6 and 8 when the rain came on and some distracting music or chat would have been good. But I did have my brother and sister-in-law appearing ‘Meerkat like’ as my niece described at regular intervals to cheer me on.

I have run a few races and my husband has often been there somewhere on the course – but on a 2 hour race it is rare to get support the whole way – so to have someone you know appearing road side clapping and cheering you on when you are dealing with your own race demons makes a huge difference.

And given the rubbish weather – I really appreciated my brother waiting the extra 10 minutes after Laura passed before me, to wait in the rain and give me the boost I needed.

I have completed 4 half marathons and on each one I have found the time after 9 miles the killer, but this time my despair did not really set in until somewhere between 10 and 11 miles, when no amount of glucose tablets, fruit gums or positive mental attitude could distract me from the fatigue I was feeling.

caution runners

I remembered that on this course it seems a long way to mile 12, as you can see the return leg across the bridge, but the final 1.1 miles seems hard – as is often the way. The hardest miles in a race are usually the first and the last mile !

I had set myself very modest expectations in this race of doing it at 11 minute mile pace and as long as I got in under 2 hours 30 I would be happy – this was a race to complete not compete.  I had been running ahead of my 11 min mile pace and feeling OK, but as I had mangled my gadget set up I was not completely sure what time I was at and by mile 11 I was feeling weary and of course wanting to keep something in the tank for the finish line, so I eased off a bit.

The Inverness half finishes at the Queens Park athletic stadium so your final lap is on a running track and for us non athletes it’s a novelty to sprint on blaize.

As I ran towards the finish line the gun time read 2.18 so I thought well at least that is under 2.30, but my chip time was 2.16.14 – which was nice and as it turns out was a PB !!

race finish

So yet again I am left with unfinished business in the half marathon stakes. I got through the distance and although hard was not the worst experience and I did better my time, but could I have gone faster ?

chip time

Sounds like I may have to sign up to another half marathon to answer that question.

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