In my EMF half marathon recap, I wrote about trying new races and training strategies. At that point, I’d been on the same training plan since January, and I was in serious need of something new. If you’re a follower of this blog, you’ll know I changed things up big time, with running and eating, and I now feel like my outlook on things has been refreshed. This is exactly how I wanted to feel going into the Ballater 10 mile race at the end of July. Although I had abandoned my training regime of speedwork Tuesday, hill reps Thursday and long run Sunday, I’ve still been mixing things up and challenging myself in new ways: swimming on a Monday, then the rest of the week contains a hill reps session, usually a trail run, and body weight exercises according to Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Fitness. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats and plank have been part of my routine for the last few weeks and I’ve noticed an overall improvement to my fitness based on the new changes.
Many people in my running club had entered this race, but with summer holidays and a more relaxed approach to running, only three of us ended up running. Pat and I made our way to Ballater, an hour’s drive into the Highlands of Scotland, the same route used to get to Balmoral Castle. I wasn’t sure what to make of this race as it was new to all of us running and I hadn’t properly trained for it. I trusted my fitness would be there to run 10 miles.
We arrived at Monaltrie Park in Ballater, and met up with Brian from our club. He immediately informed me that my friend, Mr Second Last Place man from the Johnston Tower Race, was also racing Ballater. I wasn’t sure what to think: would he say something cheeky again? Or would he even remember me? I just left that up to chance.
Pat and I collected our bibs, and with Brian, went for a short warm-up run through the centre of Ballater. We stretched, had one last performance-enhancing toilet break, and then gathered in the field of Monaltrie park for the start. I knew the race would be undulating with a large uphill section in the middle; my plan was to take it easy, see how I felt and run based on that. I was also trying a new mid-race fuel: Nakd bars made of dates, cashews, cocoa powder and raisins – definitely primal. I had two during my power-walk up Ben More and felt the benefits of them immediately, and hoped they would have the same effect for me in Ballater.
A quick good luck kiss to Pat and the race started! We ran half a lap of the field, marked by pile-ons, then left the park and headed into the town centre of Ballater, amidst the glances of many tourists enjoying one of the gems of the Scottish Highlands. We crossed a humped bridge and took a left, leaving the town to begin our first gradual, undulating climb along country roads. Naturally, with the start of a race + adrenalin, my pace was fast to begin with, hovering around the 8:30 minute mile mark. I slowed down to 9:30 minute miles and watched as people ran ahead of me. I was actually trying to run even slower just to preserve energy for the end.
The route took us on country roads along the banks of the River Dee. There was an undulating climb that seemed to spread out the field of runners, with many people taking their first of many walk breaks. It was a hot day – verging on being too hot – which could mean for a difficult race for those who hadn’t properly hydrated. I had, mainly because I love drinking water. 🙂
Mile 1 – 9:28
Mile 2 – 9:49
Mile 3 – 10:37
Once the gradual climb finished, we turned right onto a smaller road with a steep, winding descent down to the river and crossed over a bridge. This part of the race was my favourite because the scenery was absolutely stunning! We were in the forest, alongside a bustling river, and it was so quiet. This is one of the reasons I’ve taken to trail running because it feels like you can get away from it all and simply enjoy your surroundings. The field of competitors was a fraction of the EMF half, which made for plenty of space between runners and absolutely no bottlenecks! It was also at this point that, due to the route kind of doubling back on itself, I caught a glimpse of Mr Second Last Place Man about a minute behind me. I needed to increase my distance.
After the bridge, there was a nice flat section through the forest; I made good use of this section by increasing my pace and gaining much distance between myself and the many runners I passed. I had gotten into my groove at this point and felt great. The route took a left turn onto another road just before mile 5, and this is where the big climb started. It was the type that no matter which way the road curved, the hill just continued. It got so steep at one point that I had to change my stride to more of a fell running prance rather than the typical gait one would use to run uphill. Again, more people stopped to walk instead. Although a bit taxing on the lungs, my legs felt good and I made it to the top, and water station, without issue.
Mile 4 – 9:25
Mile 5 – 10:48
I jogged through the water station, grabbing a cup of water to help moisten my mouth from the dryness caused by my Nakd bar, and to pour on my head and face to combat the heat. It was once I started eating the bar that things started to change.
Although the course itself was easy – we were now in a downhill section changing onto flat trails, and I was still maintaining a good pace and distance from my competitors – I started to feel different. This has happened to me twice when I’ve eaten some fuel mid-race: I feel as though all of a sudden, my energy is drained from my extremities and my mind, and sucked to work on what’s going into my belly instead. I also feel like it’s suddenly very difficult to run despite previously feeling amazing, and my legs feeling good. This happened to me during the EMF half and now at Ballater. Miles 7 and 8 were the most difficult because of this, and it started to play on my mind. Despite this setback, I was still managing decent paces though.
Mile 6 – 9:40
Mile 7 – 9:59
We left the trails and the forest, and came to an old bridge that required you to climb up a small but steep set of stairs then run across the bridge, run down the stairs and immediately up a short, steep hill onto the main road. I walked up said hill and was informed by the race marshal that “It’s all downhill from here.” From previous experiences, I knew that statement wasn’t to be trusted and I was right because again, we began a gradual climb. The type of gradual that while the road looks flat, makes you wonder ‘Why is it suddenly so difficult?????’ Combine that with leaving the shelter of the trees in the woods, and being out in the glaring sun, and mile 8 was tough! So tough that people around me stopped to walk. I just kept running along, even if my run pace looked more like a jog.
I was also at this point that my knees started to hurt, just like the EMF half. I think this may be due to not having run more than 7.5 miles since May, and trying to race over ten miles rather than run it. Nonetheless, knowing that I had just over a mile to go, I just kept running.
I also kept running because Mr Second Place Last Man was gaining on me, and eventually passed me as we had turned left from the main road onto a side road and began our final descent into Ballater. He shouted something along the lines of “Make way for a crazy 65 year old man” as he ran past myself and some other women. In fact, there weren’t any male competitors around us, only women. Nevertheless, Mr Second Last Place man felt he needed to check to see if we would be gaining on him all the way down the hill, when my knees were at their worst, (so bad that, when I tried to pick up my speed, I whimpered in pain). It was at that moment, of seeing a man my father’s age trying to compete with a field of women, and thinking back to what he had said to me after the Johnston Tower Race, that my race with him was over. If that’s what he needed to do to feel like he was the man, and in the process offending people, then let him. I know that I wouldn’t be proud of my dad if he acted like that, but I also know that it wasn’t my place to address the guy. I wasn’t going to race him. Apologies for being anticlimactic.
At the bottom of the hill, we followed a small trail that took us into Monaltrie Park; the finish line was so close, I could see it!!!!!! Again, people in the race were walking so I gave them words of encouragement as I passed. C’mon, we’re almost there. Less than half a mile, let’s go!
Mile 8 – 10:27
Mile 9 – 9:23
To add insult to injury –er, sore knees – the route wasn’t a direct line to the finish, we had to run a lap around the rugby field first! My least preferred way to finish a race! But I did it and managed a sprint finish.
Mile 10 – 10:09
I had run 10.04 miles in 1:40:06, with an average pace of 9:58/mile, and an elevation gain of 666 feet (diabolical!).
I collected a goody bag at the finish and breathless looked around for Pat, who had finished in 1:14:xx! He’s a machine right now! There was no medal for this race, but we did get a cute and handy water bottle.
While my result isn’t a personal best – a minute slower than my Smokies 10 time – it’s not a personal worst either, (my slowest 10 mile is the Templeton 10, a 700+ foot elevation gain). Considering I hadn’t been trained going into the race, and that the elevation gain for Ballater was double Smokies’, I think my time is pretty darn good! I’m quite happy with my race overall, especially considering I raced for most of it.
I need to work on my mid-race fueling: I’m back to the drawing board after trying one of my options, which is disappointing because it was a primal snack rather than a sugary fix. I’ve noticed that this reaction always occurs when I eat my fuel, even during long runs. I’m going to try gels for my next race, and if that doesn’t work, then it’ll have to be a drink of some kind. And if that doesn’t work, then loading more before the race and going without during. I just want to feel energised when I fuel during a race, not tired.
Any fueling tips?
What’s your preferred mid-race fuel?
What’s the most scenic race you’ve run?
What’s your race pet peave?