In the week before this race, I wasn’t even sure it would happen. After yet another term of stress and feeling run down from it, I got a cold and throat thing the week before the half marathon that just wouldn’t go away. I assumed I’d get better as the week progressed and the race neared, but I didn’t. In fact, with just days to go, I thought there was a possibility I wouldn’t even start the race, never mind try for a good result.
But I wanted to run the race, partly because my mom was visiting from Canada and she had never seen me at a finish line before. Also, partly because, with its downhill course, the Aviemore Half is a PB shoe-in.
With two days before, I finally started to feel better. Even on the not-so-good days, during a long hill walk with my mom, I was able to breathe normally. My head didn’t feel heavy. I wasn’t coughing so much. I felt normal and slightly energized. I decided to chance racing and just see what happened, see how I felt. Had it been someone in my position, however, I probably would’ve advised to take it easy, don’t race the race, and possibly not even run it. But I’m stubborn like that.
Another running error I committed with this race was to wear brand new, never worn running shoes. I bought another pair literally the week before the race, thinking I’d get a run or two in beforehand, but with my illness I decided not to run at all, not wanting to add any more stress to my current state. I was going to chance illness, and also blisters. I was a running rebel.
Race morning hit a bit hard: I had been up throughout the night coughing, and as a result, didn’t get much sleep. In the week leading up to the race, I had spent so much thinking about ‘What if?’ rather than a race plan, that I spent my race morning quietly mapping out a last-minute strategy in my head. I tried to eat my usual breakfast of bulletproof coffee, fruit + coconut cream + Nutter Bomb, and veggie omelette, but was struggling with the lack of preparation race nerves, making it quite difficult to get through breakfast, never mind finish it.
Questions (and doubts) kept popping up in my mind: would I be okay to run? How would I feel mid-race? Did I eat enough carbs for my legs to race over 13.1 miles? Did I drink enough water? I think I did? I don’t know? I’m not a doubter, nor a pre-race worrier, and these brand new pre-race feelings had me all over the place.
I put on my race kit, featuring my new Nike Zoom Structure 18 shoes, Feetures Elite Merino socks, Stonehaven club vest, black crop tights and my Patagonia running hat. I also wore arm sleeves, as the temperature at the start line was expected to be 7’C. At least there was barely any wind, and it would be dry.
Pat drove me to the MacDonald Hotel in Aviemore to catch the bus out to the start at Badaguish. Myself and a few hundred other half marathon and 10km runners queued, then rode into the forest, to the start. I was able to chat with a few women in line for the bus, and at Badaguish, with Ryan from my running club and his wife Linzi. From Pat dropping me off, to lining up at the start, time passed incredibly quickly. I placed myself in the sub-2 hour area, readied my Garmin, then waited to cross the start line. It was also during this time that my mind was able to focus on the task before me, and to get in the zone. All race doubts were gone, and the thoughts of not starting due to illness, never mind being ill in the first place, had disappeared. I was going to make something of the next 13.1 miles.
The Aviemore Half Marathon is a point A to point B race. You are bussed out to Badaguish Centre, then run back into town, along Landrover track, the main road, forest paths, the banks of Loch Morlich, and then take the main road all the way back in to town. I had hoped for a finish time of 1:56:xx; and in order to achieve this, I knew my mile splits had to be about 8:50/mile or less. I used the first half of the race (knowing the second half was all downhill), to gauge whether I could achieve this. And I did.
Mile 1: 9:11
Mile 2: 8:24
Mile 3: 9:21
The route made its way downhill from Badaguish to the main road; once on the main road, you actually head away from Aviemore, towards the ski centre. We ran like this, then turned into the Alt Ban parking lot, taking a smaller forest trail that wound its way towards Loch Morlich. Despite the race being mainly downhill, this section was more undulating, and features the only large uphill climb of the race.
Mile 4: 10:06 *hill + pack #1 of my Honey Stingers Organic Pink Lemonade energy chews
Mile 5: 8:27
Mile 6: 8:45
I made it up that hill a bit breathless, but still felt good. At a few points, the trail narrowed to single file, where we either experienced a bottleneck effect and I literally walked a few steps, or I used some trail-running inspired fancy footing to dodge past the many runners in front of me. Throughout the first half of the race, I felt a tiny bit tired, but I attributed this to my race pace effort + an undulating course.
Mile 7: 9:08
Mile 8: 8:50 *pack #2 of my Honey Stingers Organic Pink Lemonade energy chews
Mile 9: 8:41
Just after the 7 mile mark, after running through the forest past Loch Morlich, the race joins tarmac again. It’s at this point that I picked up the pace. My plan was to take advantage of the downhill sections, but not pound too hard, which would kill my legs quickly. I knew that in the second half of the race, my pace had to definitely be sub-8:50. I remember a tip form one of the coaches at my club, about leg turnover and shortening one’s stride to run downhill more quickly but still in control, rather than legs and arms flailing. I did this. And boy did it work.
The rest of the race was all gradual downhill, along the main road, through forest then eventually passing Inverdruie and Rothiemurchus. Just as we got into town, the route crosses the main road from left side to right, heading along forest trails, over a bridge and past the Old Bridge Inn. At the 9 mile mark, I had started to feel a slight ache in my knees, probably a result of all the downhill; this stayed for the remainder of the race. This made running under the train bridge after the Inn, hearing shouts of “Go Stonehaven!” then up the small hill onto the main street in Aviemore pretty arduous and painful. But I did it.
Mile 10: 8:28
Mile 11: 8:19
Mile 12: 8:27 *I munched on a few more energy chews, for good measure
Mile 13: 8:45
And I made it. I crossed the main road, then descended upon the grassy finisher’s chute by the Macdonald Hotel, crossing the finish line. After catching my breath and beginning to make my way to through to the other side, I could hear my mom calling my name. She was so excited to see me finish, which made me so happy. I went to see her and speak to her briefly, then I left to collect my water, my medal and have my timing chip removed. Then, as I exited the finisher’s chute, I got a big hug from my mom.
We went to collect my bag in the hotel and met up with Pat, who had to rush back to our accommodation to retrieve a bag of extra clothes and recovery food. I munched on this as we left Aviemore, heading back to a hot shower.
I enjoyed some hot hamburger soup for and a slice of non-primal cake for lunch (with a cup of tea of course!), and then eventually, we headed back home to our corner of Scotland that afternoon.
My second attempt at the Aviemore Half proved to be incredibly successful, illness aside. I had finished the race in 1:55:46 according to my timing chip; my Garmin time was 1:55:50. This was a new half marathon PB, beating my Stonehaven half time by almost four minutes. My average pace per mile was right where I needed it to be: 8:50/mile. I placed in the top half for both females (192/581), and my age group (90/248). This is a far cry from how I used to place, always in the bottom third. It feels pretty surreal to process that the above mentioned stats are mine. I honestly never thought I’d get this fast, and I’m not done yet!
And the best part about this race? No blisters!