Last year’s Stena Drilling Tartan 10km, more commonly known around these parts as the Balmoral 10km, was the start of what would become the year where I kicked running in the ass. Although I recorded a personal record for the slowest 10km of 2013, my dismal result motivated me to make some changes to my running regimen by stepping up the intensity and distance. It lead to me running my first half marathon and my first, and second, 10 mile road race, and running a total of ten races in 2013. Being conquered does have its high points.
This year, I was hoping to redeem myself and achieve two goals:
1. Run up the entire, infamous HILL that Balmoral is known for, (so much so, by the way, that it’s known as ‘the Race with the Hill’ that many hill haters avoid. The organising committee caution this race is not designed for seeking a new PB because of said hill).
2. Finish under an hour. Last year’s time was 1:01:xx; again, I wanted to redeem myself.
All I can say, before I begin the recap, is that personal record of sorts was most definitely set…
The day started at 8 am with a low-carb, high-fat omelette packed with fresh herbs, cheese and avocado, with a side of bacon. The race wouldn’t start until 2 pm, so my digestive system had time to process all this goodness.
We left the house to be met with some truly beautiful Scottish weather, and met others from our running group, also taking part.
Hopefully we’d be treated to clearer skies once we made our way through the hills to the Highlands of Scotland, and Balmoral Castle, one of two residences for the Royal Family in Scotland. The other is Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in case you’re wondering. Balmoral Castle was built after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with Scotland and purchased the estate on which it stands.
Altogether, there were seven of us from running club entered: myself and Pat, Amy, Kelly, Joanne, Brian and Andy. We drove with the girls car, boys car mentality, stopping briefly in Ballater for a lunch break, where I had some leftover pizza. I also knew that Allison the Running Princess, and my current unofficial mentor for teaching secondary English, would be running the 10km as well. We had exchanged mobile numbers in preparation for a little meet-up at some point in the day.
We arrived with plenty of time to change and walk the twenty minutes from the car park to the race field.
After a toilet break, we took some girls photos, and I sent Allison a text in hopes of a pre-race reunion.
After dropping off our bags and queuing for a performance enhancing toilet break, and not hearing back from Allison, we got into our decided corrals, waiting for the race to start. Joanne, Kelly and I wanted to be in the 1 hour corral, but because the organisers had made the corrals so small, thus jamming in a few thousand people into a few hundred meters of tarmac road, we were forced into most likely the 70 minute corral. We resolved we’d just have to weave our way through the crowds. Good thing none of us were claustrophobic!
The mass of people finally began crawling forward and we knew the race had started. Our plan was to stick together at the start and run at easy pace until the hill came, conquer the hill, then pick up the pace. I had a lot of weaving through the crowd to do, and also couldn’t help noticing some people stopping to run a mere 500 m into the race. 500m??!?! I also saw a man and woman run off course for a toilet break; the woman channeling her inner Paula Radcliff and exposing her bare back side and legs for all to see.
In my mind, I was mentally preparing for and craving the hill. I wanted it. But it seemed to take forever for it to arrive, very anticlimactic! It took 2+ miles of running on tarmac before the course veered left and onto landrover tracks, for the big ascent to begin. The hill is a series of repeated inclines with flatter sections, curving deeper and deeper into the forest. It started with the two steepest inclines, then leveled off into a more typical hill that I was used to demolishing. Last year, I made it two-thirds of the way up; this year, I wanted the whole thing, and with my current state of training, I thought I’d be able to do it.
Thinking one thing, and doing it, though, are completely different. Leading up the race, I had been dealing with very heavy legs on Tuesday’s speedwork run and Thursday’s hill repeats; I felt like I was running in slow motion. The moment the hill climb started, my legs again felt like they weighed a ton each. To run up that hill was a monstrous effort, and gave me a sudden unfamiliar feeling of being unsure about my ability and being able to persevere, despite all the intense running I’ve done for the past year, pushing limits and building confidence. The more I ran up that hill, despite my mind logically knowing I could in fact do it, my body was protesting through what felt like wheezing breaths and uncooperative legs. I tried to set markers to conquer, like I do for hill repeats, but I gave in to the protests and stopped to walk. Half way up the hill, less than last year’s race. I felt defeated.
I continue up, power-walking, with intermittent bursts of running. Even walking up, it felt like the hill lasted an eternity. The sound of bagpipes, and the top of the hill, was a very welcomed relief, and I began to run again, feeling not so good both mentally and physically. I soon approached the water station, and with the clear weather and sun, hence hot temperatures, some hydration was very much appreciated. I immediately began to feel better so picked up the pace down hill but remained conservative because I had killed my legs at this point last year. I felt more comfortable again and the heavy legs feeling was gone.
Once the route leveled off again, however, things again became tough: it was as though my brain’s efforts were not communicating with my legs at all. I tried to pick up the pace again, but once I hit the surprise second hill in the race, my legs again told me no. The remainder of the race, all downhill, was run at an easier pace. Definitely the slowest finish I’ve ever had to a race.
As I finally made it into the finisher’s chute, I heard ‘Go Danielle!’ and looked to my right to see Allison. We found each other! Her words of encouragement gave me a boost to race to the finish, despite my legs protesting. The race was finally over. I set a new personal record, a personal 10km WORST of 1:05:xx. Wow.
I walked to meet my friends, who had all finished ahead of me (Pat finished in 46:xx!!!!! a new PB for him), picked up my medal, my too-big race t-shirt, and a bottle of water. Allison and her husband Steve joined me, and we chatted for a while about our races, impending English exams, and running in general. This was only the second time I’d met her in person, after our post-Glamis 10km encounter. Pat joined us, and he, Allison and Steve spoke marathons, while I listened, and declared that if I were to do one (which is a possibility, just one that will take at least a year to wrap my head around it), Berlin would be where I would want to lose my marathon virginity.
We made our way back to our cars and bid our farewells. We’ll see Allison and Steve, and perhaps meet Julia, at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival races later this month.
While all roads leading to Balmoral are surround by stunning scenery….
… they make for some horrible car journeys. I got carsick on the way home and ended up puking on the side of the road. A rubbish end to an undesireable race result.
One could definitely consider my experience akin to running to hell and back…. okay I’m being overdramatic, but I’m allowed every now and then, right? 😉
It’s now been just over a week since the race has passed, and although being initially disappointed, I haven’t let it get me down. It’s taught me a lesson leading in to my peak week of training for the half marathon and the race itself. There are a few factors that probably contributed to my poorer performance:
– Heat: it was a hot day, the hottest I’ve run all year. The other girls were also either feeling like they needed to eviscerate their guts, either by mouth or backside, after the race.
– Mental barrier: Balmoral remains the only hill I’ve not been able to conquer. There’s a terribly negative association there.
– Nutrition: I had a lot of fatty foods to eat the day of the race; perfect for my current eating regimen, but most likely not so perfect for before a race. The awkward 2 pm start didn’t make it any easier either. I also went super strict keto the week leading up to the race, which most likely contributed to the heavy legged, running in slow motion feeling all week. While changing what I eat and contributing to a healthier me are extremely important, I clearly hadn’t reached full-blown ketosis yet, despite feeling great except when running. This hinderance in performance also plays with you mentally: it made me feel more vulnerable than usual and made me question my ability, despite all the training I’ve done. Since the race, I’ve borrowed Iron(wo)man Erin‘s low-carb, high-fat approach and have supplemented with sweet potato and quinoa to basically carb load for runs. Since doing this, my legs have felt so much better and I’ve been hitting my desired paces. I’ll maintain this lower-carb way of eating until the race, then aim for ketosis once it’s done. I guess you could say I’m eating more Paleo now, minus the quinoa.
A few lessons to learn and consider in a few weeks time, and in preparation for the big day at the end of May.
Week 8 and 9 of Half Mary Musings will happen this week, I swear!
What’s your personal worst in a race?
What are your go-to race fuels?