My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
So goes the Robert Burns song and although a big part of my heart is in the Highlands, ( I was born in Dingwall and spent my childhood near Inverness before heading south to study in 1979) – it is not deer I chase but PBs at the Inverness Half marathon race!
The Inverness Half marathon, held as it is in early March, is one of the first half marathon races in the season (in Scotland). It is a good way to test your legs over a longer distance after winter training and suits many people who are training for a spring marathon.
Until this year, I was not in that marathon training category but had chosen to take part in this race partly because of family connections, but also because having first completed it in 2011 in snowy, cold, conditions and lived to tell the tale – when I compared it with my experience of some other half marathons, I concluded that Inverness is a race that for me offers close to the perfect combination I am looking for in an event.
The course is interesting but not too taxing, with lots of places for spectators to support you, it is big enough to feel like a special event but is not so big to be impersonal or overwhelmed by the razzamatazz. And it is very well organised and friendly.
As a bonus, I get great race support from my brother and sister-in-law and my niece, who between them provide excellent cheerleading, patiently listen to my pre-race anxieties, provide fab post race support and generally make it a most enjoyable occasion.
Even though I have run other races with arguably better PB potential ( Edinburgh and Aviemore ) my half marathon PB was and still is from Inverness. Not completely sure why this should be – and maybe once I have the marathon behind me, I might revisit some other half marathon races to see if I can improve my time.
My Inverness race history
So having taken part in this race 5 times since 2011 – my times are as follows
2011:2hrs 16 mins 38 secs
( did not enter 2012 )
2013: 2hrs 16 mins 14 secs
2014: 2 hrs 14 mins 04 secs
2015: 2 hrs 11 mins 02 secs
2016: 2hrs 02 mins 09 secs
Each year before Inverness, I will have followed a self-designed if somewhat fluid ‘training’ plan – mostly around adding in a longer run at the weekends to my regular run schedule of around av 12 – 15 miles per week. I also do this run streak challenge every December and maybe running 3 miles every day in December gives me a base of fitness.
I know from reading my large collection of running books, that my training for Inverness could not really be described as following a plan, and even more so now that I am following a proper training plan for the Stirling marathon. My lead up to Inverness has never included any specific sessions of speed work or hills or running at race pace, although last year I had started to do a weekly session with a PT to help my core strength and build on my endurance.
But although I was not taking run training as seriously as I should have – between 2015 and 2016, I had been following a new eating plan with fitnaturally and because of this, I had lost quite a bit of weight. Being over 14 lbs lighter meant I found running more enjoyable and I think largely due to being lighter and despite my casual approach to training – I was absolutely delighted to knock almost 9 minutes off my time in 2016.
My time in 2016 was 2.02.09 – a new PB and tantalisingly close to sub 2 hours, and so in the post-race euphoria, I foolishly said I would come back and get sub 2hr in 2017 !
2017 arrived and I started my marathon training plan – sharing with Sally that I would quite like to do sub 2 hrs in a half. This was built into my plan, and then I discovered that I really did not enjoy speed work ! As the Inverness race drew closer I started to get the jitters about achieving a time of under 2 hours, when I knew that it meant me averaging 9-minute miles for the full 13.1 mile distance.
I started to back pedal and keep quiet about my sub 2 goal, saying that the marathon was my 2017 goal and anything else a bonus – of course, a new PB would be nice – but hey – I only had a knock a few seconds off my 2016 time to do that 😉
I know that one reason I felt the pressure was because this was the first time I was approaching this race or any race against a background of having properly trained. Excuses for failure were thin on the ground, and as is the contrary way I am around pressure and expectation – I was dreading the race more than I had on previous occasions. I am slowly understanding that in running, putting in the training hours is about giving you the foundation for success, and I knew this would be the first real test.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.
Having already put in a decent amount of training since January, come race weekend I did my best to avoid sabotaging my chances, first by resisting the temptation for a night before glass of wine or two, then on race day following Sally’s nutritional advice to the letter, and I even took heed of her race plan advice which went something like this:
“warm up for a mile, run as strong as you can for miles 2 – 10 , then run as fast as you can after that – ending with a sprint finish “- which as my brother translated was pretty much saying – warm up for a mile then run as fast as you can for the rest of the race 🙂
Overall I did feel more in control during the race – and had an inner strength that I will put down largely to the mileage and other training I have been doing as part of my marathon build up. But I did not find it easy, and particularly as I got closer to the finish and knew that my sub 2 hour time was within my grasp.
With 3 miles to go and with a big part of me wanting to just accept a PB and abandon my ‘not so secret’ real sub 2hr goal for another day – I had a conversation with myself and it turns out that even I have a bit of competitive spirit. So with less than 2 miles to finish I gave it my best shot – and helped by a final and extremely loud cheer at around 12.5 miles from my niece Laura – I got there in a time of 1 hrs 59 mins 18 secs.
Including sprint finish 🙂
I am taking part in Stirling Scottish Marathon on May 21st and it will be my first marathon. To get me ready for this challenge I am following a marathon training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally.
fitnaturally offers a range of healthy eating plans that can help with weight loss and sports nutrition. They provide bespoke training and nutrition for people taking part in sport at any level. I have been following fitnaturally plans for over a year and I have become leaner and fitter, losing more than 20lbs in weight and a reduction in body fat% in a gradual and sustainable way and by eating normal and enjoyable food !
Through my marathon efforts, I am hoping to raise funds for two charities – Scottish Womens’s Aid and Smalls for All both of these charities work to help women in different ways. If you would like to support either of these charities, please consider making a donation, however modest by following the link to my Justgiving page ( Scottish Women’s Aid ) and Mydonate ( Smalls for All ) pages.
This past week the sun has been shining most days and at last it feels as if nature is coming to life after a cold long winter and slow Spring.
I have been watching the BBC programme Springwatch these past couple of weeks and learning a lot about nature that I did not know. I tend to think I am fairly unsentimental about animals and nature and understand the natural order, ecology and how food chains work ,but it has been a bit of an eye opener to discover that birds I previously thought of as fairly benign garden visitors with a veggie persuasion are much more carnivorous and predatory than I realised.
It highlights the struggle that birds go through each season just to survive and keep the family line going.
Each year we have a pair of blackbirds who nest in our garden, and these together with sparrows, tits, starlings and the odd toad give us our own Springwatch. And coinciding with our garden wildlife getting active – a week of sunshine has brought our neglected garden to life, perfect to sit in on these longer June days.
I used to think the saying n’er cast a clout till is May is oot – meant you should keep wearing your vest until the end of May – and living in Scotland as I do that makes a lot of sense.
Then one cold May day, I was at some event or other and just chatting during a tea break to two very nice ladies and they kindly pointed out to me that the saying referred to May flowers – or the blossom of the hawthorn tree – which made more sense. Although of course as it happens, May blossom is often not fully out until the end of May certainly in Scotland, so I guess it works either way. There is a lot of folklore associated with the Hawthorn tree but folklore aside, May blossom in full bloom just so, so lovely.
This weekend I was visiting Cambridge and as I am running everydayinmay – on Sunday my day 22 run was a very enjoyable and easy trek along by the river Cam out of the city towards Fen Ditton and Horningsea following the towpath.
Although you can see and hear the motorway from some sections of the route, and now and then a glimpse of a train rattling along a couple of fields away, it feels very rural and pastoral and peaceful. I love how with running you can be just a few miles or minutes away from a city and yet be cast back in time and place and surrounded by nature.
It was a warm, sunny morning and my legs felt surprisingly fresh given that Sunday marked day 22 of consecutive running. Surrounded by the heady fragrance of white hawthorn blossom, running everydayinmay in May – with a flat route, sunny skies, and a wonderful wildlife soundscape did put a spring in my step.
Day 22 Miles run 10 – total miles 99
Along with many others I am running everydayinmay to raise funds for Dimbleby Cancer Care, a charity that provides much appreciated practical and psychological support for cancer patients. If you would like to donate please visit Scout or Sally’s Just giving page. Thank You
Running in different places with a poor sense of direction has seen me lost on more than a few occasions, but if I stick to an easy landmark and use my eyes over my shortcomings in map reading its usually OK.
Sunday morning in Cambridge the sky was blue after two days of grey , so although my legs felt a bit creaky and my body a bit weary after 2 days of walking everywhere, I knew if I did not run I would regret it later.
Maybe it is my imagination but each time I visit Cambridge it seems that on the day I am due to go home – usually a Sunday – the weather is often at its best , and leaving when the sun is shining adds to my feeling of missing or loss. Maybe it just highlights my general low mood , knowing I wont see my daughter again for 8 weeks or so.
The route I followed headed out of the city towards Fen Ditton, and beyond. I followed the river starting from Newmarket road and as I could see runners and walkers on the opposite side I knew there had to be a crossing point somewhere. It was a beautiful spring morning – skies blue, sun reflecting on trees and a day full of hope.
I had no real time pressure and was aiming to do around 6 miles – but once out and enjoying the windless almost perfect running conditions and the fun of exploring new territory – I kept going, crossing at a lock then on a bit further – catching a glimpse of a farmer tending sheep on the opposite bank then turning back for the return leg into Cambridge.
I don’t know why but having Tuesday off work this week seemed like a huge treat – so much so I reckon if I could work out a way to wangle a 4 day weekend every week, all would be good in my world.
I did not even feel the usual clocks going forward weirdness, such was the joy of getting up to do just what I liked. The only thing that could have put the icing on my ‘life is good’ cake would have been some bright sunny Spring weather – but grey and cool was fine.
Tuesday or any day – running early in the morning is almost always a special time – a quiet secret hour or two before the day starts proper – shared with birds and dawn wildlife, and fellow early risers- shift workers, bread and milk delivery folk, bus drivers.
Today although the pink sky peeked at through bedroom curtains earlier had turned a bit grey and overcast – the air was fresh and paths were deserted and quiet – save for a morning chorus of birds and the occasional dog walker.
Having set out with no route planned and no distance in mind, it was nice to just keep moving. I meandered through Colinton village then onto the Dell path that runs along by the water of Leith running as far as Currie Kirk . A few months back while running along the same path, I met two local ladies who in the course of conversation, gave me a local history lesson and told me about St Mungo’s well, a local spring and shrine to St Kentigern (another name for St Mungo).
I don’t know a lot about local history or saints but having lived and studied in Glasgow I do remember a bit about St Mungo – patron saint of the city. His miracles are remembered in the city coat of arms – – Here is the bird that never flew,Here is the tree that never grew,Here is the bell that never rang, Here is the fish that never swam – Let Glasgow Flourish.
As the ladies had told me a while back – the well is not much to look at, in fact takes a bit of finding and is somewhat neglected, but given that I have probably run past it many times – it was good to seek it out. I did not drink from the spring but maybe will try it next time.
Now if I had taken a drink from St Mungo’s well – I could say that renewed and invigorated I sprinted off with extra vim – but as I am not a fiction writer, my renewal came more from my reduced pace and ambling along taking pictures, rather than life enhancing water.
So continuing on the local history theme – I turned off the path towards the Pentland hills and the Poet’s glen. As the knowledgable ladies had told me when we met – the name comes from a local man, James Thomson, who was a weaver-poet living near the glen and a contemporary of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns.
I took this section of the run at an easy pace – walking up some of the steeper stony sections , then out of the glen to the path that runs alongside first the Clubbiedean then Torduff reservoirs to a big downhill and home for breakfast.
If last Sunday was all about racing, this week it was all about running . Running the way I like best; no pressure, straight out the door with the sun shining and a good companion.
After what has felt like a very long wet winter, I was happy to be woken early by birds chirrupping outside and daylight with proper sun streaming through the curtains at silly o’clock in the morning.
If only I was a bit more flexible I would have jumped out of bed – and cast the curtains open wide – ‘a la Maria in the Sound of Music’ – but as it was the rarity of a blue sky at 7am had me scampering skittishly and thinking how best to make the most of the day.
Edinburgh is a compact city made up of interconnected villages and skirted by the Pentland Hills, a low range to the west of the city. I live close to a country park at the foot of the Pentlands, and can be in open countryside within a 15 minute brisk walk.
My running companion Alison lives close and our regular route tends to be variations along the Dell – a path running alongside the Water of Leith following the route of a disused suburban railway.
But today with the sun in the sky early and not a breath of wind we decided to take to the hills – and do a circular route that took us from the Dell via the Poets Glen to the country park and skirting two reservoirs.
It was glorious.
Pretty much all the ingredients for a perfect run were there. Sun in the sky,no wind and with an equable temperature. Birds singing and buds emerging. Wild garlic carpets and trees losing their gaunt winter look.
When conditions are like this and there is no time pressure – it makes for a joyful outing. We stopped now and again to take pictures and chatted about topics wide and varied ( but to be fair we do that in all weathers ! )
The air felt clear and fresh and 7 miles passed quickly, leaving us plenty of time to enjoy the rest of Sunday.
As I should really know by now – I never regret a run , and with the small exception of how I feel around about mile 3,7, 8, 9 ( insert as appropriate) I never regret entering a race.
I love that euphoric feeling of bouncing over the timing mats and crossing under the finish gantry – and while I have not and am unlikely to ever, experience tearing across a finish tape, one of the many reasons I enjoy taking part in the Inverness Half is that it finishes on a running track, so I even get to attempt my version of a sprint finish. For someone whose teenage experiences of athletics in this very stadium was only ever as a spectator – it never fails to give me a small ripple of joy.
Not that you could tell how joyous I felt if you check out the running photos , but mastering that perfect race finish look is still on my ‘to do’ list.
So despite my anxious day before reflections, the worries about jinxing my chances by contemplating improvement and my usual pre race jitters – it all turned out fine in the end.
More than fine really.
I was feeling in better shape than in previous years, and hoped that this would convert to a better time. The night before the race I had spent with my niece who is a competitive swimmer, and we had talked race tactics – or more accurately she patiently explained the concept of pacing to me.
Strangely talking about pace and races was quite settling , and maybe I stored some of the advice somewhere, as on race day I ran faster than I have done before, 9 minutes faster than on the same course in 2015, and 6 minutes faster than my previous half marathon PB of 2.08.
Running into the stadium on the race track, I was pretty sure I was going to meet my goal of 2.05 and so was very pleased to see the clock showing a gun time of around 2.04, but even happier when my chip time was confirmed as 2.02.09 .
Looking at the race splits – I can see how my mid race wobble was my main undoing but more importantly it feels achievable to target a sub 2 hour half marathon time. Which means I will more than likely be doing this all over agin this time next year.