The racing season is firmly upon us now and after missing most of it last year through injury I’ve already been busy with two races under my belt and another couple fast approaching! My plan for the year is to concentrate on the half marathon so in May I ran what intend to be my only 10k of the year – the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. If I could get under 50 minutes I’d have a new PB and can put the 10k to bed for the year. Then in June it was over to Skye for the first of a handful of half marathons on what I was assured was a very hilly course. Progress, not PBs was the aim here. A good run was all I wanted.
On the morning of the Baker Hughes I woke up feeling… fine. No problems at all. This was new territory. Normally at this race I feel terrible. Last time I ran it two years ago I was in the middle of a horrible cold and had to keep stopping to cough. I felt sick throughout and ended up finishing in a miserable time of over 53 minutes.
Arriving at the beach the weather seemed OK but there was a definite breeze blowing. My plan had been to take it easy for the first few miles, hit 8 minute miles, then try and up the pace later in the race to edge under 50 minutes and beat my PB from the Dyke 10k in October of 50:34. However, the appearance of a strong south-westerly made me have another think. The wind would be at our backs down the long haul of the beach esplanade and it surely made sense to use that to my advantage. I figured instead of taking it easy I’d try and push 7:30 as long as possible and put a cushion in place for when we turn into the wind on King Street later in the race.
After being walked from our corrals to the start line we set off and I still felt great, getting the first mile in the bag in 7:35. So far so good. Onto the esplanade and my pace dropped a wee bit but I was still happy to be under 8 minutes per mile on my watch so I felt relaxed about the race and started to really enjoy it for the first time since my first Baker Hughes about 6 years ago (this was my fourth).
I lost my wind assistance once we turned off the esplanade but now it was blowing a nice cool breeze into the side of my face so I didn’t mind. On to King Street and the effect of the head wind wasn’t as bad as I initially feared and it didn’t seem to slow me down too much. I still felt pretty good as we turned into Seaton. Running through the housing estate and approaching Pittodrie I suddenly had my first tough segment and started feeling the pace drop in my legs. I’d intended to push hard up the hill but instead I eased off a bit to use the cushion I’d given myself earlier and this was the only mile in the end that I dropped over 8 minutes, though just by 3 seconds.
After the hill I decided what will be will be and stopped looking at my watch until I crossed the line. I kicked hard with a few hundred metres to go (Garmin Connect claims I hit a 4:28 pace in this segment) and was amazed to cross the line in 48:38! A massive PB and demolishing my sub-50 target. Felt great at the end and had executed my plan exactly as I’d wanted to. That’ll do nicely.
On to Skye for my first half marathon since Stonehaven in 2012. There I ran 2:05 in a very tough, hilly course on a warm day. I had the help of my clubmate, Donna, pulling me along there and on the day finishing in that time was a genuine surprise. So waking up in Portree on the day of the race I really didn’t know how I would do. I feel faster and fitter than two years ago but I didn’t think I’d run that fast then and this is allegedly a tougher course. Mindful that this year’s Stonehaven half marathon is only a few weeks away I decided the plan for Skye was to try and enjoy it. Relax for the first half and then if I’m in a good position as we come down the hill to Portree I can maybe push for sub-2 hours but I wasn’t expecting to be close to it.
Now everyone told me it was hilly and the back half of the course would be tough. We drove in off the ferry from Lewis the night before along the course and the hill didn’t seem that bad in the car. Forecast was overcast and mild so I was hoping for a good day.
Just as the race started the sun came out and then we hit the first big climb. I was feeling the heat but my legs felt good so I made the most of it and pushed my pace a wee bit and found I was passing LOADS of people without any problems. But that’s not uncommon at races with no time segregation at the start so I just enjoyed it. Then at around the halfway mark I started feeling pretty terrible. The humidity was really getting to me, when the sun wasn’t shining the heat was being kept in by the clouds and it made the air feel very close and sticky.
By the time we got to mile 7 and the start of the rumoured tough hill I was struggling. The gentle, steady hill I drove along the day before appeared and became a brutal instrument of never-ending torture. By this point I was taking water from the water stations and dousing my hat in it to cool down. Then at mile 8 I had to walk for a bit. And again at mile 9 and 10. Pretty disappointing but I found that after the short sections of walking I had enough energy in my legs to go again and wasn’t losing a lot of time.
When I’d checked my watch at the halfway point I was well under an hour so figured I had a bit of time to play with for sub 2 hours and a PB.
Mile 11 ticked past and finally the end of the hill. Round a corner and then we could see Portree and it was almost downhill all the way. I felt pretty good going down and managed to overtake most people that had passed me on the hill and was again pushing a good pace. 2 miles of 8:30 – 9 minutes and I would be laughing. Sadly as we came into Portree and it levelled out I crashed badly again. The last half a mile was an exercise in mental control just to keep the legs moving when all I wanted to do was stop and have a wee seat. Finally the school where we started came into view just as 2 hours ticked past and I knew I’d at least get a PB. Then as I ran up to the gate there was a line of 10 or so kids with their hands out all looking for high fives. So I started grinning and slapped all their hands as I turned into the school for one last push as my name was announced over the tannoy
Crossed the line in 2:01:24 officially. 4 minutes 8 seconds better than I managed at Stonehaven 2 years ago! I was delighted with the PB but completely dead on my feet by the time I crossed the line.
Now as I type this there’s two weeks until Stonehaven. All I’m hoping for is a similar time to Skye. If I can nudge under 2 hours that would be fantastic but really all I’m doing is trying to build some consistency and endurance so I can have a serious go at the 2 hour mark at Crathes in September. It’s a flat course at the end of a busy season by which time I should be as fast as I’m likely to be this year so here’s hoping I can smash my target there just like I did at the beach in Aberdeen.