The year seems to be flying by as we now found ourselves at the end of May, with just 8 weeks to go until my first ironman of the year – the Outlaw triathlon. Just putting that into writing slightly terrifies me, especially with the lack of swimming I’ve been doing but let’s gloss over that during this post and focus on my clear favourite of the 3 disciplines, running.
After last weekend’s Green Belt Relay, Katie and I took a much needed few days break, heading up to Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands. Being the active couple we are, this naturally involved lots of walking, running, some cycling and even a cheeky dip in a loch as we lucked out with the weather. A mini heatwave had struck the UK – we even had a to buy sun cream. In Scotland!
Naturally we’d tied a break in with some sort of running event, and after running the full marathon in Edinburgh last year with my friend Brian, the half was on the agenda in 2017. With the build up to the Outlaw in full swing, I couldn’t really afford to taper as such for the race, so training continued as normal with a mentally and physically draining 5 hour bike ride from Aviemore to Pitlochry. It was a real grind, working into a headwind for the majority of the time, with multiple punctures not really helping my decreasingly negative mindset.
Luckily, I had my own personal support crew in the form of Katie following along at points in the car, saving the day when I’d exhausted my supply of spare inner-tubes and keeping me topped up with food and drink. Without her I’d have packed it in after an hour and a half, but she kept me going and I climbed off 5 hours later, happy that I’d been able to grit it out. After a short 30-minute run off the bike I was completely fried and at that point all hopes of a good run on Sunday were put to one side.
On Saturday morning we made our way to Portobello parkrun, where we bumped into some other Clapham Chasers in town for the marathon weekend. Katie and I decided to run around together, chatting away and loosening up the legs ahead of the following days race; nothing too strenuous.
I should stop the story here and add in some detail. Katie won’t mind me saying that her running hasn’t been going too well recently – by her own admission anyway. She’s been training really hard but not seeing the rewards she deserves, and it’s all been rather puzzling. Green Belt weekend had given some indication that things were on the up, but I don’t think either of us could’ve imagined how much by – you’ll have to read on to find out.
Anyway, we were chatting away when I realised that if we maintained our current pace, Katie would end up running her best time this year by quite a margin. So, we duly did, and she came away with a very encouraging result, especially considering we spent half the run messing around and taking photos.
We chilled out for the rest of the day, feet up enjoying some decent sport on the box (well, I was anyway). I’m not sure Katie cared that she was witnessing one of the best games of domestic rugby for a long time, as Exeter Chiefs won the grand final at Twickenham. After a decent bit of food, we grabbed an early night ahead of a 5am alarm call.
We tiptoed around the following morning, trying not to wake the sleeping Lion (my mum’s partner Dave) before a relaxing 20-minute walk to the starting area – you can’t beat sleeping in surroundings you’re familiar with the night before a race. We timed it perfectly, as after we’d queued for the loo a couple of times and dropped our bags there was barely time for a 5-minute warm up before runners were being called to the start.
The legs were definitely feeling better than the day before – not difficult considering how crappy I’d felt but I’ll take any small wins. I had no idea if I’d be able to hold a decent pace, but with nothing to lose decided to set off at around personal best speed and see if that felt in any way manageable.
As always everyone went off like lunatics at the start, but I surprised myself by taking time to settle into an effort, building up to race pace over the first few minutes. The field strung out quickly, and by the time I went through 5km (17:52) I was pretty much running by myself. To my surprise, the legs weren’t complaining too badly and I was ticking off each mile in under 6 minutes, which would put me on course for a PB.
The sun was out and it was warming up so I stuck to my tried and tested strategy of taking a small shower at each drinks station, dousing myself with a couple of bottles of water. I was hurting by the time I passed 10km in 36:07, but I’d set-up a good base to have a crack at a quick time and didn’t want that to go to waste. I tried to split the closing miles into manageable chunks, and knowing my Mum was out supporting at mile 10, I focussed on getting to that point rather than thinking about how long I had left until the finish.
You pass the finish line in Musselburgh, continuing along the coast before turning around and retracing the route back to town and the finish. Mum and Dave were waiting here, letting me (and everyone else within a 3 mile radius) know that I was currently sitting in 40th position. I did my usual trick of muttering back a load of rubbish about ‘hanging on’ or ‘digging in’, passing the racecourse and the crowds that had gathered to support the runners.
I went through 10 miles in 58:20, which would be a sizeable PB if it’d been officially measured (that’s just a reading I took from my watch as I passed the 10-mile marker), knowing that barring a minor explosion a PB was on the cards. However, I never want to just settle for a time mid-way through a race, and I’ll only be content knowing I’ve squeezed every last drop of energy out before I reach the finish.
I concentrated reeling in one runner at a time ahead of me, picking off a couple before making the turn at 11.5 miles. I knew that now was the time to empty the tank so I pushed as hard as my stumpy legs would allow, ignoring any thought of pace or time and just running as fast as I physically could.
Into the last mile I spotted Katie on the other side of the road at mile 9 looking incredibly fresh and as if she was having an absolute ball, which further raised my spirits as I thought that must mean she was on for a decent time. I told her to push before doing so myself, overtaking one last runner before turning into the finishing straight. I saw the clock above the finish and realised if I really got a move on I might duck under 77 minutes, a huge surprise to say the least.
Gurning my way up towards the line, teeth bared and brow furrowed, I crossed in 1:16:53 – a 3-minute personal best and 34th place in the field of 9,112 runners. After spending so long determined to break 80 minutes, to then go and run a 76-minute half marathon is hugely encouraging heading into a big summer of triathlon.
Usually I allow myself a few minutes to compose myself post-race, but there was no time for that with Katie to worry about. I rushed through collecting my medal and various freebies before heading back down the route to find her, getting the customary ‘you’re going the wrong way’ shouts. I kept glancing nervously at my watch, trying to work out what her final finishing time would be if she came through in the next few minutes.
I spotted her and immediately I couldn’t resist running alongside her, offering words of encouragement and asking her to give it everything she had in the closing stages. Once we entered the barriered finishing section, I had to peel off, leaving her to finish and me to weave around various buggies and other obstacles on the pavement, intent on getting to the area just beyond the finish as quickly as possible.
I could see the finish line clock when I rounded the final bend and it dawned on me that she may have just done something rather special, and I’m not at all ashamed to say that behind my sunglasses I was already welling up at the thought of how well she’d done. Thankfully I had my sunglasses on to hide the tears as I continued to run towards the finish, spotting her heading towards me.
We then both ran towards each other and I nearly knocked her over as I tried to stop and pick her up at the same time, giving her a massive, sweaty hug. (I think I was much more emotional than her) She told me she’d clocked a time of 1 hour and 38 minutes – a personal best of 10 minutes. Not only that, but she’d also broken her 5km and 10km personal bests in the last 3/6 miles of the race – a quite ridiculous achievement, considering she’d already run for an hour previously. 73rd position in the female race was just the icing on top of the cake.
In all honesty, this provided me with more happiness than any race position or time I’ve achieved in the past, and I was so happy that she’d had such an incredible run. It’s no more than she deserved as I see her train so hard, day after day and week after week. The most exciting thing is I know this is just the start and I really think she’s on a journey to becoming a brilliant runner (well, even more brilliant than she is now).
We spent the day deservedly celebrating with lots of beer, tasty food and good company. It’s times like this that reinforce why I love the sport so much, when all the training and hard work pay you back 100 times over. The only problem it brings is the scary thought that you’ve got to try and run even quicker next time. But we won’t worry about that for now.