Strathaven Striders “Run with the Wind” Half Marathon

Last week was a busy weekend, with a couple of big milestones.  First up we had Strathclyde Parkrun on Saturday.  We were there once again meeting up with and supporting the Gambia River Run crew (I wrote about them a couple of weeks ago – https://runningbugweb.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/gambia-river-run/).  It was of course good to see them and catch up on how they were getting on.  They were taking part in the parkrun as part of a much longer run – you can read the full story in their blog here – https://gambiariverrun.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/gambia-independence-day-social-run-3/.  I even get an honourable mention – thanks guys!  This particular parkrun was notable because I managed to secure my 1st ever 1st place with a time of 17.40!  Quite of few of our club members were either taking part in the run or there to support, so it was great to be able to mark the achievement and celebrate it with a load of great friends.  I’m told that some of the junior support were singing a song to get me across the line, but unfortunately I had my headphones in and I’d wrung myself inside out by that point so was only paying attention to getting across the line!  Nevertheless it was great to have the support and the hugs and high 5’s once I’d got my breath back made the outcome a bit more special.

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Saturday was followed by my first ever official half marathon taking place on Sunday – the Strathaven Striders “Run with the Wind” event, which we’d entered as part of our training towards the marathon.  Even though I’d run the distance in training, and was treating this race purely as training for the Alloa half marathon a month later and of course for the marathon, I was still a bit apprehensive in the days leading up to the race.  The Strathaven half marathon takes place in a rural environment and is very near the UK’s biggest windfarm (hence it being called “Run with the Wind”).  It therefore takes place on exposed, hilly terrain, making it more than just the standard challenge of running 13.1 miles.

We’d been warned it was very hilly so a few weeks earlier myself and Jenna took ourselves up there on a Sunday afternoon to check out the route and see what we were letting ourselves in for.  It’s safe to say that better runs have taken place…Jenna had been at a party until 4am and although she doesn’t really drink and was sober, this meant she’d had only a few hours sleep.  She’d also had very little to eat so I was surprised when instead of cancelling, she asked me to pick her up a bit earlier than planned.  In hindsight this was a bad idea – the run turned out to have been fully as described.  It is indeed VERY hilly.

I’d put together a bit of a plan in terms of pacing to try and help Jenna with her target of getting to sub 2 hours for a half marathon and for the first few miles she was doing great – I kept telling her she could slow down, and she responded that she felt good so we kept going.  We then turned a corner to discover the first of the serious uphill sections.  Things went (figuratively, not literally) downhill from there and the plan went out the window.  Jenna quickly lost energy and the lack of sleep and fuel caught up with her.  In the middle of nowhere there aren’t too many alternative options so we just had to keep going, walking up some of the hills with frequent requests from Jenna (I’ve described this in more polite terms than were actually used…) for me to explain where the downhill sections were.  Having not done the route before, unfortunately I wasn’t in much of a position to provide an answer.

After a wrong turn after Jenna’s insistence that my directions were wrong (they weren’t) and a brief stop to have a discussion with some cows (literally – whilst she wasn’t the happiest person in the world at that precise moment I did find tired Jenna to be quite entertaining at times) we eventually got back to the car.  Notwithstanding all the walking, we did the distance in 2 hours 17 minutes which I thought was OK in the circumstances.  Jenna, however, declared that she wasn’t going to do the actual run meaning I spent quite a bit of the next 3 weeks convincing her it wasn’t that bad and that with proper preparation she was more than capable.

After a fair bit of counselling and motivational support, we headed up to Strathaven again on Sunday along with Joanne, another of the girls from our club, to take to the start line.

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We got registered and tried to choose what layers we should wear for the run, which wasn’t that easy – given the location and the exposed nature of the run, the organisers made a point of telling us that we needed to bring clothing suitable for both cold and wet weather.  Whilst we were actually very lucky last weekend, it was still quite chilly especially in the wind and (this being Scotland in winter) there was a bit of moisture in the air, so we all took the sensible approach of wearing long-sleeved running tops because although there was a risk of overheating, on balance this was preferable to being frozen during the run.  The event starts with a walk of about a mile to the start line itself – the atmosphere was pretty jovial with lots of runners chatting away or saying hello to people they knew.  I was a bit worried that we’d get there and be right at the back of the field, which might make progress for the first couple of miles tricky, but this was well organised and we had to walk through the start line, which let us choose where we positioned ourselves.  I chose to go quite near the front while Jenna and Joanne filtered back a bit.

After a short wait for everyone to find their spot, we were off!  There was a bit of jostling for position at the start given the narrow road but everyone found their place pretty quickly and the downhill start was definitely appreciated.  I believe that its important to have a strategy in mind for a run, but I’d found it hard to come up with a plan for Strathaven given the nature of the course.  I’d planned to have a couple of steady kilometres (I prefer to work in km’s rather than miles) and then see how it went.  The downhill start, coupled with the extra adrenaline, led to a 3 minute 35 first km – too fast!  I rectified this with a slower second km and then got into my rhythm.

Very quickly the pattern of the front runners became quite clear – the first two galloped off into the mist, not to be seen again until the finish.  There was then another group of two who also steadily vanished into the mist, followed by a couple of runners with a bit of space between them and then me, trotting along in 7th place in my first half marathon!  Once I’d grown accustomed to this I relaxed into the run.  The guy in 8th place was right with me for a couple of km’s, and briefly overtook for a bit, but we then hit that first major uphill and I pulled away into a safe 7th place, where I stayed until the finish line.  I’d like to be able to explain more about the run, and the scenery, and so on – but I was just in the zone and so didn’t actually pay attention to much other than the undulating course, the occasional check to make sure I wasn’t being caught, and trying to manage my pace through the hills.

I’d missed a couple of my early splits so wasn’t 100% sure where I was in terms of target time but as I’ve said, this was really a training run and at no stage did I believe my ultimate target of sub-1 hour 20 was achievable on that course.  I do remember feeling pretty tired just before the water station at 6 miles, which comes right at the top of the worst climb.  However this is followed by a decent downhill section which allowed a bit of recovery and also a few fast km’s.  I struggled a bit with overheating at around 7 miles but this was rectified almost immediately with a turn back into the wind which both cooled me down (which I appreciated) and made progress harder (which I didn’t).  Just before 9 miles and the second water station I was really struggling so took a gel, had the proffered water, and then got my head down for the slog to the finish.  Whilst the route basically starts and ends at the same place, which means that all the early climbing must translate into an overall downhill for the second half, this is not how it feels.  The downhills are interspersed with more climbing so every time you think it must start to get easier, you come round a corner and are faced with another hill.  Most of them on their own wouldn’t normally be an issue, but after 10 or so miles, on tired legs which have done a fair old pace and a quick parkrun the day before, these undulations look and feel like mountains and I really needed to just get my head down and tell myself that I could do it.  This is where the training really kicked in because having covered the distance before, I knew I could manage it if I dug deep.

Eventually I was into the final mile where a largely downhill section is comprehensively ruined by a sharp turn and a kick up a nasty steep hill, followed by a couple of hundred metres on the grass.  I knew I was in 7th place, and must have done quite well, but I was stunned to hear the announcer read out my name and number and then announce a finishing time of 1 hour 19-something.  I didn’t quite catch the time but thought I must have misheard until I was handed a piece of paper with the time on it.  1 hour 19 minutes and 55 seconds.  I was really happy to see Seonaid who’d made the effort to come and see us all finish even though she wasn’t running herself – it really makes a difference to have someone there waiting for you and we all really appreciated her being there.  However, this didn’t make much difference to the fact that every single muscle in my legs was in pain.  The walk to the car and back to grab our bags wasn’t a pleasant experience.

I made sure I was back at the finish line to be there for Joanne and Jenna finishing.  Joanne crossed the line in 1 hour 53 minutes and 43 seconds, setting a new half marathon PB by 1 second!  Jenna followed not long behind, just missing her 2 hour target with a time of 2 hours and 39 seconds.  I know she’s slightly annoyed by that but given the run we’d had a few weeks earlier, and the fact she wasn’t even going to do it, I think that’s a great time and sets her up brilliantly for a great time at Alloa.

Overall, I enjoyed my first half marathon, and the event itself wasn’t as bad as we’d built it up to be in our heads.  I’m really pleased to have achieved my target time at the first attempt but it does set me a really challenging time to beat!  Roll on Alloa!

If you’re interested in reading an alternative view of proceedings, check out Jenna’s blog entry here – http://www.trainersandtiaras.co.uk/run-with-the-wind-half-marathon/.

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