So after the training and the thinking and the travelling and the fund-raising, race day arrived on Sunday March 9.
This is the third time I have taken part in the Inverness half-marathon and on this occasion I was on my own as it were, with my God-daughter niece and erstwhile reason for running this race otherwise engaged and working overseas.
But her Mum and Dad were still on hand and happy to provide race support as in previous years. Aside from the Inverness half being a good goal to work towards early in the year it is nice for me to have an excuse to take a trip north to my home town, and even better to travel there letting the train take the strain, giving plenty of time for contemplation.
Despite – or maybe because of – having run this race twice before and no stranger to the half marathon distance, I was feeling quite apprehensive on Saturday,not helped I guess by choosing to read at the eleventh hour Paula Radcliffe’s recommended ‘new intermediate’ Half marathon training plan.
Turns out – according to Paula – I should have been averaging at least 20 miles per week since week 1 of a 12 week plan, and my 4x weekly training sessions should have embraced tempo and intervals, hill repeats, strength training and several long runs of 14 miles and more, hardly any of which I had done in my own version of race prep. Would walking from the car park to my office up the lung busting New Row in Dunfermline count as ‘active rest’, what about my too little too late attempt at hill repeats on Thursday – had they given me the necessary psychological edge ?
All was soon to be revealed.
After scanning weather forecasts for days beforehand, it looked as if race day was going to be ok if a bit windy. The first time I did this race in 2011 it was touch and go if it would go ahead as there had been a heavy snowfall, and we had to shovel the path clear to get to the race. And then last year the conditions might best be described as Scottish classic – so wind, rain, cold, wind, rain etc.
I don’t know why I found myself feeling more nervous than I had on other race starts. Yes it was a while since I had last taken part in a race but although I had not followed Paula’s plan or any other proven formula, I had been enjoying my running more than in previous years, and generally I knew I was strong. But as everyone from Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe, a myriad of runners up and down the land and my good self will testify, running is as much about being mind fit as it is about putting in the physical effort required.
My running companion Alison had also jinxed things by tipping me for a PB, and one thing I realise I am not good at is managing my own expectations.
So to help with nerves and the like, I followed as similar a pre race routine as I had before. First up – my sister in-law’s magnificent proper porridge made with oatmeal and topped with a banana. Followed by a trip to collect race pack, then with number carefully pinned on my chosen race outfit, one hour before race – a coffee and tuna/sweetcorn sandwich.
One change to my routine was having a running playlist. I have rarely used music in a race, but 2 and a bit hours of running can be a tad lonesome, and as a fairly recent convert to running with music, I thought it might be a good distraction, and maybe a good pacer for me.
As this race is a real family effort – my younger daughter had made me a playlist, although as she is not fully aware of her mother’s running capabilities , or how long it takes to run 13.1 miles, her playlist was only 1 hour long ! So the Friday before race day, I added in some of my old favourites to her mostly fast paced dance tunes, to create a rather eclectic but hopefully inspirational running mix.
To give you a flavour my daughter’s selection included Avicii, Pit Bull, Wil.i.am, Calvin Harris, Clean Bandit, Mark Ronson and Daft Punk to which I added some early Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Lane and Fleetwood Mac, and even a Pink Floyd track- Fearless- because lyrics matter when you are digging deep to cover the miles.
After a cool start and a brief concern that I was underdressed I settled into a steady rhythm for the initial miles, running with music does settle the nerves and as early tunes in the mix included Kuschty Rye from Ronnie Lane and Dylan’s If Not For You, I managed to keep my pace reasonable.
Miles 1- 3 are flat along the river then 4 – 6 is a hilly section through some woodlands, where I caught up with a fellow runner and chatted to her for a couple of miles . She was doing her first half, in fact her first race, but was sprightly and her pace probably helped me keep at just under a 10 min mile for those early miles.
May seem odd to proper racers out there that I would chat to someone when racing, but at the back of the pack there are different rules, and as long as you are not holding anyone back, and you use your judgement there is a kind of camaraderie that works. I ran alongside this fellow runner, who I discovered like me always ran with friends and enjoyed the social part of running, thought Inverness was lovely and the people very hospitable ( I agree) and the furthest she had run before was 9 miles. We discussed race tactics, fund raising, the warmth of the city of Glasgow, when to fuel for a race and I shared some top tips about the final mile. I then made my exit as I opted to have a gel at mile 6 and wished her well for the rest of the race. I am sure she would have got a good time as I saw her disappear into the distance.
When I knew I was doing this race on my own, I was nervous about actually setting stretch goals, so I decided that I would use this race to raise money for the local charity that the company I work for supports. And once I had decided to do that, it kind of let me off the hook about achieving any specific time, as I knew the important thing was to finish the race and raise some cash for Fife Young Carers.
But even with that knowledge and my training, and decent weather and following a sensible pre race routine and taking a gel, I found miles 8 – 10 very hard, and although Bob Dylan was nicely distracting and I had the knowledge that I could manage the distance, I was struggling.
Everyone has their own race strategies, but I thought back to all the runs I had completed on my own, I thought about how I had managed to run everyday in December, how I had got myself out to run in darkness at stupidly early times or after a long day at work, I thought about the long runs I had done with Alison, and how shit I had felt part way through some of them but somehow still got to the end. I remembered the runs I had managed to complete on a Saturday or Sunday when I had a hangover, and yes – I know that should not be up there on the motivational tableau ,but that is my running life.
And with my slightly eccentric playlist, I remembered a trick from December, that at my pace 3 songs equals a mile, or 2 and a bit songs if I come upon a Bob Dylan number. And before I knew it I was on mile nine where the Inverness half has a beautiful downhill section, something I had completely forgotten about!
So mile 10 and on the final section – I spotted a father and son pairing and thought to sit behind them they were both about 6 feet tall , so provided a nice wind break for little old me. More importantly they were running at a good steady pace , so I tucked in behind them for a couple of miles.
Although I had my Nike + running, I had started it early and so it was calling out my mile pace before the actual race mileage. I had slowed a bit from the start and was now averaging just over 10 minute mile. I reckoned this meant I would only match my previous time, although in a small corner of my mind I felt I was running faster.
I got to mile 12, and took some water, and slowed to walking pace, then spotted my brother and his wife ahead, so thought I had better keep running. It was very welcome to see them so late in the race especially as I was definitely flagging.
The last section of any race is hard- you know the end is near and a sprint finish is a nice touch, but legs are heavy and you just want it over and done with. Knowing this last section quite well helped this time, as I just kept my eyes ahead and saved a little bit in reserve to run in a fairly credible fashion round the running track to the finish line.
I hardly paid any attention to the overhead time, but my watch said 2.14 , which if true would be nice. A few minutes later I got my official chip time 2.14.04 – a whole 2 minutes faster than before – HURRAY . So a PB and a credible £ 400 raised.