Aviemore Half Marathon Recap

The time has finally come: the Aviemore Half Marathon recap. I’ve only been waiting twelve weeks to write this post. In case this is your first time reading I Eat Therefore I Run, I’ve spent the last twelve weeks training, musing, and writing about my very first half marathon. I’ve still got the final week of Half Mary Musings to write, along with another Aviemore half marathon related post, but I thought I’d cut to the chase and get the recap done. And let’s face it, it’s THE post everyone is most looking forward to, right?


Pat and I drove out to the Aviemore area Saturday midday. We drove 2.5 hours over some rivers, through many woods, up a few incredibly steep and HUGE hills, passed a few castles, through the Glenlivet Estate, and into the Cairngorms National Park. Our destination was Carrbridge, where we were to stay for two nights with Pat’s cousin Russell and his wife Kirsty, along with their two kids. I was craving a Mountain Cafe (more on them in another post) Anzac Bar, so rather than heading to Carrbridge, we drove another 15 minutes to Aviemore for a delicious afternoon treat. In case you’re not familiar with Aviemore, it is in the centre of Scotland, and a hub for year round outdoor activities, especially skiing in the Cairngorm Mountains in the winter. I describe Aviemore to my family as a smaller Scottish version of Banff, Canada, (because there is a Banff in Scotland, but it’s nothing like Banff, Canada. Hope that makes sense). It is also home to two of my favourite restaurants in Scotland: the Mountain Cafe and the Old Bridge Inn.

The rest of the day was spent settling into our digs for the next two days, and spending time with our hosts. Russell and Kirsty are more active than Pat and I, and have both run Aviemore in the past, so know what it’s like and what is required to fuel for a race. They made us a delicious pre-race dinner of anitpasti and Beetroot Risotto, which was fantastic!

Soon enough, it was bed time and time to set the alarm for 6:30am. Morning came too quickly unfortunately, and getting up to darkness is never fun, but when you’re running your first half marathon, it’s worth it. We made our ritual smoothies and I had my coffee, and before you knew it, we were out the door and on the road to Aviemore on this crisp and cold Sunday morning. We arrived at the MacDonald Hotel to register, and ended up buying some pretty nice race t-shirts for only £6 (although I swear the race information when I registered said we were supposed to get a t-shirt with our entry). This race was the first time I’d done a point A to point B route that required you to be transported to the start, (normally the races are loops with the occasional out-and-back). After our first performance-enhancing toilet break, we joined the masses of people,munched on some pre-race bananas and peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and queued for a shuttle bus out to the race start at Badaguish.

It’s quite comforting to see the some of the race route before you actually run it, especially when all of it will be downhill. We were advised the day before, by the shop assistant that sold Pat his new pair of Innov8’s, that the majority of the race is downhill, with the exception of one uphill section. I was also told by a friend who previously ran the race that it was a very beautiful course that was flat. Both comforting things to hear going into my first 13.1.

We arrived at Badaguish to a flurry of brightly clad runners, and again lined up for another performance-enhancing toilet break. I spotted Rachel, and said hello, and shared my excited nerves. My phone battery had drained quicker than normal despite being charged, so Rachel also took a few pre-race photos:

The start time came incredibly fast, so we took off our warm layers, handed over our bags to the race people who would take them to the finish, and made our way to the race corrals. We walked past a few, and, as we walked up to the sub-2 hour finish corral, Pat said ‘D, we’re here,’ I replied with ‘I’m flattered you think I’m going to run the race in under two hours!’ because all I wanted was a 2:10:xx finish (which worked out to 10 minute miles). We settled at the sub 2:15 corral then waited for the start. Surprisingly, I was incredibly calm and quiet. I felt completely different to what I normally feel before a 10km race, despite this being my first time at more than twice that distance. I was ready for this race in terms of training, but I think mentally as well, I was just ready and waiting. 

And then the wait was over: the masses of people began to move forward and walk to the start. We hadn’t heard anything signalling the start of the race, so this came as a big surprise. We approached the start line and slowly jogged across, starting our watches. For the next two hours+, we were running!
My race plan was to run slow until mile 7, then pick up the pace to steady for miles 8 to 11. For the last two miles, I hoped I would be able to run at threshold pace, or at least a bit faster. I also had taken some jellybabies, and would eat some at mile 4, some at mile 8 and the rest at mile 10.
The first mile was so easy and beautiful, from what I saw. We were surrounded by mountains on all sides, and the clouds were low, so it looked as though they were touching the tops of the mountains. Although the view was stunning, the terrain didn’t allow for you to take it all in and thoroughly enjoy the view because we were running on rocky landrover tracks, which although packed down, did have some rocks precariously sticking out. 
Mile 1: 10:30
Mile 2: 9:45
Mile 3: 10:34
The first 3 miles went by so quickly and effortlessly, but I did have to discipline myself to run slow at the start, rather than bomb ahead the way so many runners around me did. We caught a few glimpses of Loch Morlich, which we would eventually run around. Mile 4 contained the hill we were warned about, and unbelievably, so many people stopped to walk up the hill!!!!!! One guy even complained ‘I can’t believe [the race organisers] expect us to run in conditions like this with only running shoes! They should’ve told us!’ Ummm, they did. It specifically stated in our race packs that, while the course was off-road, road running shoes would still be suitable. And they were, especially for those of us runners that passed Mr. Complainer that walked as we ran up the hill instead. Yes the hill was tough, and for a fraction of a second, my fearful negative-thinking race demon said ‘Stop and walk, this is too hard,’ but I’d done too much training, and endless hill repeats at threshold pace, to stop and walk, and I had to #trustthetraining. This hill was also my redemption for stopping to walk up the big hill at the Balmoral 10km in April, and once I reached the top, I thought to myself ‘That’s for Balmoral!’ 
Stunning Loch Morlich – source
The rest of the forest running wound around the loch, and the only thing major from this part of the race was that I started to notice a pain in my knees, a pain akin to ITB syndrome, something I’ve had in the past, but hasn’t plagued me for almost two years now. I attributed this pain to many downhill sections in the forest, as well as uneven forest trails, and hoped that the more level tarmac road on the second half of the course would remedy this issue. To deal with the pain, I just told myself to not think about it and get on with things. I had to push through the pain because I wasn’t going to let it stop me from having a good race.
Mile 4: 11:08 (the hill!) *jellybabies
Mile 5: 9:30
Mile 6: 9:58
I couldn’t believe how many people were bombing it down these hills too! And these were the same people that walked up the hill earlier. A less trained, less longer-run smart Danielle would’ve done the same, but I knew I had to save my legs for the second half of the race. Which so paid off, because mile 7 marked the end of the forest and the start of the road back into Aviemore, as well as when I had planned to pick up the pace. And pick up the pace I did! Despite my knees still hurting, I tore off down the road, passing so many people in the process. It was especially delightful once we reached the eight mile mark, where the race marshall was yelling to all of us ‘It’s all downhill from here!!!!!’
Mile 7: 10:18
Mile 8: 9:08 *jellybabies
Mile 9: 9:41
I was cruising at a very comfortable and unbelievable pace despite already having run 9 miles. Every time I passed another person and glanced down at my Garmin, I was continually awestruck with the pace it read. My knees still hurt, but I just kept telling myself to keep going, push through the pain, it will soon be over, if you stop you’ll regret it and beat yourself up over it. I’ve never fought during a race, I’ve always held back out of fear of being uncomfortable, but this was a different type of discomfort that I could deal with because I’d done it before. Things seemed fine, until a steeper downhill section, and my knees took a beating! But, I was still passing people and still running faster. I also, surprisingly, didn’t feel any cardiovascular exertion, despite the increased effort.
Mile 10: 9:15 *last of the jellybabies
Mile 11: 9:18
Mile 12: 9:36
Things got really tough at miles 11 and 12. I knew that we were supposed to cross from one side of the road to the other, on our way back to town and to the finish, and I was waiting for what felt like years for that road crossing to come. Anything to look forward to to get my mind off my knees. And did I mention my ankle was also hurting too? Two things that haven’t bothered me at all during training suddenly flair up in the race. But I persevered and was still passing people, but just barely. I was even starting to whimper because of the pain. The road crossing finally came, we ran past the Old Bridge Inn and underneath the rail road tracks to start the uphill climb to the main road and the finish line. A woman who had already finished yelled ‘Only two more minutes, you can do it!’
That run up the hill to the main road was horrendous. My knees hurt with the incline, and I so wanted to stop because of the pain, but like the woman said, only two more minutes. I can do this, just push past the pain. I reached the main road, ran alongside it for seconds, then crossed the road into the park, and the final stretch. The finish was in full view, and despite my knees, I sprinted to the finish, and passed a few more people!
Mile 13: 9:47
I was finished! As I was walking to get my medal, I heard over the loudspeaker ‘That’s #603 Danielle Sasaki of Laurencekirk finished!’ I threw up my arms triumphantly, my race was over. My Garmin read 2:09:51, which was just shy of the 2:10:xx time I’d hoped for. Looking at the race results last night, my chip time was actually 2:09:47, I’ll take that!
 I saw Rachel and, upon her congratulating me, I told her ‘My knees have been hurting since mile 5!’ I collected a bottle of water, a banana, some shortbread and my medal, then went to find Pat. I was happily surprised when Pat’s Aunt Olive and Uncle Alan came up to congratulate me! They had been holidaying up north and drove through Aviemore on their way home. They knew Pat and I were racing, so stopped at the race finish in hopes of seeing us. What a fabulous surprise to have family their with us! The three of us went in search of Pat, who we found doing yoga poses. He had finished in 1:58:04, incredible! Rachel snapped a photo of him mid-race:

And here he is in a mile from the finish:

We stretched and chatted, then went to collect our bags and change, before heading to the Mountain Cafe for a post-race meal with Olive and Alan. 
Nice medal, huh?
The Aviemore Half Marathon is a stunning race! You get to see some spectacular parts of the Cairngorms National Park, and with most of the course being downhill, you get to run a pretty (dare I say it?) easy route. You will definitely see me at this race again next year, and from the sounds of it, I know a few other friends who are eager to join.
I can’t believe the race is now over, and I can’t believe how quickly the race itself went! My twelve weeks of training thoroughly prepared me physically for the race, but I think my trust in my training plan, as well as the many intuitive things you pick up and learn about yourself as you train for so many weeks all helped for such a successful and well-executed run. Apart from the hill at Mile 4, I was so calm and collected throughout the race, and I didn’t have any negative feelings that normally plague me throughout a 10km. Perhaps because this was a longer race and I had time to change paces and mindsets from go easy to go faster, I had an intrinsic confidence that I would be able to stick to my plan and run smart. If this is how half marathons make me think during a race, I will be doing plenty more in the future!
I also never once felt that this race and distance was physically tiring. My dad and I were Skyping Thursday, and he, being a runner himself, said ‘If you have enough fuel left in the tank to sprint at the end and not feel totally exhausted, you haven’t pushed it;’ I know I pushed it because of how I feel today, but at the time, the adrenaline, the rush from the race and the pain in my knees distracted me from feeling anything else. The knee pain was almost a godsend because it distracted me so much from thinking about anything else to disrupt my race. In a crazy way, I’m grateful for that knee pain.


And how do I feel the day after? Sore, tired, very stiff, and like I ran damn hard. I iced my knees a few times yesterday, and they feel normal again today. Muscles I’ve never felt before are mumbling to me today: both my Tensor Fasciae Latae in my hip region, my hamstrings when I lean forward, my neck muscles, and even both my temporalis muscles, the ones on either side of your head by your temples. I must’ve been clenching my jaw to deal with the pain coming from knees. Earlier today, I felt incredibly tired despite eating and few times, but once we got home and had dinner, I feel normal again. My quads are incredibly tight, and I’ve stretched them twice today already. The plan these next few days is to just keep moving rather than sitting and lying around. We’re off to Edinburgh tomorrow morning, so no danger of keeping still!

Next up: The final post of Half Mary Musings, plus a few other posts in the works, I promise!


23 thoughts on “Aviemore Half Marathon Recap

  1. Well done!!! 🙂 Sorry I didn't think to whip out my phone sooner for Pat's 'action shot', but I'm glad you got a good pre-race photo of the two of you. Also, that beetroot is way redder than I imagined! So…. when's the next half? 😉

  2. Congratulations Danielle, you did it!! Fantastic time for a first outing too, wow! Sorry to hear that bits of you started to play up but all your hard work has really paid off. You must be so proud of yourself : )

  3. Thanks Rachel! Don't apologise about not getting Pat's action shot sooner, I'm just happy you got the pre-race shots.

    The next half will be next year, after Smokies. Maybe EMF or Rock n Roll??? Will you join me again?

  4. Well done, Danielle! You trained hard and smart and totally rocked this race! Congrats! And, what a beautiful backdrop for your first 13.1 🙂 Excited to see what's next!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you Erin! I feel so happy with my result, and with my training overall. I was so prepared going into the race, every race should be like that. Yes, Aviemore is stunning, we love it there!

    I've got some more races coming up, and plans for next year too! No tri's though….

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