This race was a tale of two halves, with me relying on information from others to guide my expectations of the route. Leading up to the race, I had been told two facts about it: #1 it’s easier than the Stonehaven Half; you’ll have no problem with Clova; and #2 this race is so hard!!!! I wasn’t sure what to believe, but neither influenced my ultimate decision to just run this race. There wasn’t going to be any pursuit of a new 13.1 personal best – I think two in one year is enough – but I had hoped that I would still, based on these ‘facts,’ be able to run a sub-2 hour race in the least.
In the days before the race, I had been experiencing a dry cough in the morning, accompanied with mouthfuls of phlegm. While I had left my previous job because of how the stress was getting my entire wellbeing down, it appears my immune system still wanted to do me over. That, coupled with working with little germ ball children again, and the fact that I’ve still been more so 80/20 than 95/5 with my diet, led to a chest thing less than a month after my throat thing. Side note: I really need to get my act in gear because I don’t like all this being ill business!
Upon hearing me still coughing the night before the race, Pat queried my intentions for the next day. I clarified that I wasn’t going out to race the race, but rather just run around the route and hope for a time under two hours. I hadn’t even bought my usual Honey Stinger Energy Chews, and instead opted for the very paleo but sweet Nakd bars made of nuts and dates.
We knew it was going to be a cold day, and with very little parking at the Glen Clova Hotel (the race start), we had been encouraged by the race committee to be dressed, ready to race. We did so – with me wearing a thermal top, Stonehaven club vest, black capri tights and my Feetures Elite socks with Merino wool – then layered over top sweats, hats and our down jackets. I had also packed extra clothes of all kinds to change into post-race, and a flask of my favourite Matcha Green Tea.
Then, it was through the back roads of Angus, following the twisting and climbing road all the way to Glen Clova. The race route is a very undulating loop into Glen Clova and back out, and once we joined onto this road, we got the opportunity to have a wee recce. Knowing the race went counter clockwise (anti-clockwise to you Brits) around this loop, I studied the hills, their size, and the location of puddles in the road, the result of the Abigail’s visit to Scotland the week before. I was confident I was going to be able to run half of the race route, and going by what Pat said – because he’s familiar with the entire loop – the rest of the race would be easier. Another side note: I need to stop relying on other people’s perceptions when I’m preparing for a race…
It had been about three years since I was last at Glen Clova. I’ve hiked up the actual glen a few times, stayed in the bothy overnight, and enjoyed many meals in the pub and restaurant of the hotel. Despite the many visits over the years, remembering that second half of the loop was beyond me.
Glen Clova was freezing! There were many people walking around and jogging, most in long pants (trousers) and down jackets. Twenty minutes before the race, I got out of my car to find Pat, who had gone on a warm-up run. I contemplated removing my down jacket and sweats, then decided against it. I just needed to physically warm up! There was a strong wind blowing, making the already cold-ish temperature very cold. The only solace I had was that I would warm up as I made my way through the race course.
All runners were called to the start, so we disrobed to our race clothes and followed the 350 other runners. We huddled together, jumping up and down, and then we were sent on our way! The first half of the race can be described as running away from Glen Clova on an undulating uphill with a ‘three-step’ large hill at about the 3 mile point. When the route wasn’t moving up then down, or down then up, it was curving left or right. There was never, I repeat NEVER, a straight away, nor a flat section.
Mile 1: 9:14
Mile 2: 9:12
Mile 3: 9:24
Mile 4: 9:24
Despite the route obstacle, my pace remained good. Many of the hills were small and done quickly, meaning my pace remained below 9:30/mile. I did think to myself several times in the first half that this was a very difficult race, which explained why I felt I was working very hard. Part of this was the realisation that I was basically running uphill for the last 6.5 miles.
At mile 5, I ate about ¾’s of my first of two Nakd bars. I made sure to take small bites of it, as though it were an energy chew instead. I took water at both the stations in the first half and was feeling good as I passed the half way point, turning left to head back to the hotel. The second half immediately begins with a downhill section, of which I took advantage, passing several people as I crossed a bridge, then began on the undulating route back to Glen Clova. At this point, I no longer had the luxury of the tail wind that made the first half actually enjoyable.
Mile 5: 9:25
Mile 6: 9:48
Mile 7: 8:47
As I ran on, I noticed that my pace began to slow and that my running felt like it suddenly required a lot more effort. I was starting to feel awful. My legs were fine, they didn’t feel heavy, my head was good, my knees and hips were doing well – it was my chest and general abdominal area that didn’t feel right. But this was a new feeling to me because I had never felt like this during a race, let alone a long run. And the more I continued to run, up and down, up and down, the worse I felt until I did what I haven’t done for years in a race: I stopped to walk.
Miles 8 to 12 were littered with walk breaks. Initially I thought I could walk-run and keep up with the large group I had worked hard to pass, but they soon left me in their dust. Then, I joined another group, but with the walk breaks, they too left me. It was so incredibly discouraging to feel as though the race was being pulled away from me, not to mention the fact that running and walking elicited the same feeling of awful. Combine that with never-ending hills, which at least I could run down after walking up, and I seriously contemplated dropping out of the race. The only problem was that I had passed the last set of race marshals at the last water station. I had no choice but to finish the race, and I forced myself to run as much of it as I could because on top of feeling horrible, I was getting cold.
Mile 8: 9:28
Mile 9: 9:31
Mile 10: 11:24
Mile 11: 10:31
Upon realising that I was finally into mile 12 territory, and that my Garmin time had surpassed two hours, I resolved to, no matter what, run the rest of the race. And I did, hearing shouts of “Go Stonehaven!” as I plodded on.
Mile 12: 11:21
Mile 13: 11:11
I have never been so happy to finally have a finish line in sight!!! Even if I had to run up then down three small hills to get there! I managed to run all the way to the small downhill finish, where at least the announcer was able to say my surname properly (as Pat later pointed out).
Official time: 2:10:16
Average pace: 9:53
I had thankfully finished the race, but felt incredibly frustrated because I didn’t know why my performance in the second half was so dramatically different than the first. Now that I’ve had a few days to let everything settle in, I’ve realised why this might be. With the Aviemore Half, I thought I had gambled with illness and won. In actuality, my illness was on its way out: although I was still coughing and spitting the day of the race, my phlegm was clear. With Glen Clova, however, the infection was still in me: my phlegm was still a lovely shade of yellow-green, even this morning. Note to self: don’t race infected. That simple. And maybe don’t race in colder weather….?
Also, perhaps contemplate the amount of bodily function information to share on the blog….
After greeting Pat at the finish, then taking a cool-down walk around the parking lot, I changed into warmer clothes, grabbed my tea and headed into the Glen Clova hotel with Pat for complimentary soup or stovies (we had soup). The opportunity to warm up in the crowded hotel was much appreciated. I felt tired, unwell and chilled – I wanted to go home. And after a cuppa soup, we did.
I continued to feel worse during the drive home, and once we arrived home, I kept on all my warm clothes, including my hat and jacket. Despite having no appetite and the thought of food putting me off, I forced myself to eat half a banana while drinking my tea. It was okay. So I ate some more food: first complimentary, non-paleo race pack potato chips x 2, then some leftover Primal ‘Nachos’ (recipe coming soon!) and egg. I drank plenty of water and sat right next to our fire-roaring wood-burning stove, and finally started to feel better.
Interestingly, despite feeling awful during the race and in the hours afterwards, my recovery has been a dream! I’ve had no heavy legs or even muscle soreness, I guess that’s what walking does! And if you’re wondering what I do for post-race recovery, check out the Instagram series I’m doing all week, providing tips on how to recover from a race properly. They will all by summed up in a post on the blog later this week (in case you miss them).
Although my race didn’t go as planned, I’m still happy I ran it. I will enter it again in the future, now armed with the full knowledge of what it’s actually like: incredibly hard!