I can see the flag

An entry level runner on an entry level bike…


The Loch Ness Marathon

Just under a year ago, I sent JB an email, kinda idly asking if she’d ever done a marathon. We hadn’t know each other long at that point, and so when she replied along the lines of ‘noooooo… why?’ that teeny glimmer of interest is where it all went wrong.

Instead of moving along nicely to something mundane and pain free, before we knew it we’d entered the 2017 Loch Ness Marathon, booked hotels and googled training schedules involving minimum effort.

It should be said that, at this time, we’d just begun to ramp up our running which had, let’s say, tapered off… We were up to around 8 miles, managing to get some of them in the 9:xxs and even Doing Hills. We were optimistic of not only finishing the Ness, but finishing it well. We had almost a whole year and planned to build up the miles gently over the winter and then we had the summer to work on pace and whatnot.

There’s a whole other blog about what happened next, that’s JB’s tale to tell, suffice to say; we discussed pulling out/deferring or whateves, but in the end, decided that what will be will be, and if we had to walk the Ness, we’d walk the Ness – shit happens, right? Weirdly this new set of circumstances took away any pressure I was feeling: now the only goal was to complete the Ness, any need I’d felt to Do A Time had vanished.

In early April I accidentally gate-crashed JB’s experimental maiden voyage and trial walk/run on her newly re-built knee. I’d pretty much quit running over the winter out of sympathy- or indeed laziness… but mainly because I’d lost my newly found running buddy. We’d decided that our target was Ness, and we were going through it together, and so if JB was starting at ground zero, I saw no harm in having the winter off and doing the same, albeit without the repairing leg… :-O

I know, this is supposed to be a race report… but this year has been as much about the buildup as it has the race… bear with… ;-)

Anyhoo, long story made less long… JB learned how to make the Garmin beep intervals and over the following months we added time to the intervals and distance to the miles. We ran/walk/ran (RWR) up and down the Great Western Canal until it was sick of the sight of us. We made friends with the hipster that lives in the woods and can only be seen digitally, we found frogs, newts, herons, kingfishers, eagles, baby ponies and coos, we saw faces where there weren’t faces and faces where there were. We saw the real Graham a couple of times and fake Graham more.

Then suddenly, one day in early summer, the baby swans and ducklings and moorhens on the canal were all grown up and this meant that it was Long Run time and thus, we found ourselves RWRing for 18 miles. Our training target was 15 miles, we didn’t think either of us had many long runs in us and so to do 18 felt like a win. We had the time to fit a second long’un in, and recover in time, and so this time we invited Annie along. Annie is in her 70s and knows Running. Still competing in 100 mile ultras she’s beginning to struggle with her knees and wondered how the RWR strategy would suit her. She was convinced by its merits and she was the breath of fresh air our last long run needed, she told us we were wonderful and we’d be fine, and how well we’d done, and I think we even almost believed her!

Are you still here?

Cut to Friday, and MrJB, along for support, driving and MTBing (still not sure why our bikes didn’t make it into the car) collected me and drove us 8 hrs in the car to Carlisle where we fish & chip’d and overnighted in a Travel Lodge. Saturday was 5 more hours in the car to Inverness where we registered, pasta partied and slept.

Then Sunday:

*open eyes to find myself at start of Loch Ness Fuckin Marathon, with JB, wearing Simon’s Cat matching tees and bin bags, being as cold as the actual fucking moon, sheltering behind a van next to a Polish bloke wearing rubber gloves.

*pinches arm.

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Too late to back out now, apparently. JB and I mutter crap to each other about how well prepared we are compared to the other ridiculous stuff we rock up to do… We pace up and down looking for the 6+hours sign to stand by and while we’re looking we find the back of the pack and decide that it’s about where we need to be. We were both very aware that our RWR could see us getting in the way!

Then the pipers piped and we were Marathon runners!!! Ffs. Us – who always bite off more than we can chew, had gone and started a bloody marathon.

6 minutes later we crossed the start line.

We knew it was a down hill start but had determined from the start to stick to our 2 minute run; 1 minute walk plan as much as possible despite the temptation to press on down the hill. Much of our training had been on the flat canal path and any up or down was likely to have an impact, and so, much like Pavlov’s dog, when the garmin beeped we tucked to the side of the road and walked. To my surprise others were walking too! It seems RWR doesn’t just work for us! When the beeps went we were off again, and so it continued. Slowly we warmed up and as we dropped down the hill towards the loch side the temperature rose. There were a couple of occasions where we decided to run through our walk on good downhills and then we walked through our runs on the up-the-other-sides. I was amazed when I looked at my watch at the 5 mile point – were well up on anything we’d done in training and even more up if you take off JB’s 3 or so minute loo queue! It didn’t feel like we were working *that* hard but I was aware that we might pay for the pace later. We also spotted fellow Fetchie Corrah here and we cat and moused for a while.

By mile 10 we were significantly ahead of anything we had done in training, despite the undulations. With the half marathon split in sight I was feeling stiffish, but mentally ok. JB however had started to go quiet and I suspected (and she later confirmed) she wasn’t having such a nice time. “What’s hurting, bird?” I asked. “Let’s not fucking go there” came the reply and the door swung firmly shut. We knew either one of us was likely at some point to find ourselves in Dark Place, and with no other option but to keep going that’s what we did.

Just after the half way point I hadta pee! At the next water station there was a porta-loo and I joined the queue. JB moved about in small circles while she waited – beginning to leave the Dark Place as we bantered with the other Loo Queuers. It’s always reassuring to know that others are suffering too!


When we left the water stop we’d had a gel each and I was still feeling ok, although my hip was hurty, not unusual but annoying and a bit sooner than expected. I said as much to JB and she said hers was too. We decided that it was probably down to the camber of the road, having completed much of our training on pan-flat canal paths the slight camber on the roads, we decided, was definitely to blame! JB was beginning to perk up and I was full of the joys of my 3rd quickest ever half-marathon time and so we trotted off into the second half of our marathon.

I had in the back of my mind that there was A Hill at mile 20. Everyone said how big it was. And mile 20 – who the fuck puts a hill there in a marathon. As they tend to do, hills get bigger when they get into my head and this one was no exception! The miles started to tick past more and more slowly, although Strava says this wasn’t actually the case. We were still sticking to the RWR plan and I think things would have unravelled, for me at least, without it – we responded to the watch peeps as if on autopilot but my legs were getting more and more tired and my hip was really sore. There were no thoughts of stopping but the walk breaks seemed to be going past really quickly and the run ones were going on For Ever.

We had already decided that we would walk The Hill and when eventually it appeared we discussed changing strategy as we power walked up the thing.

As we walked we were still overtaking people running which shouldn’t have been as heartening as it was…:-O We decided that self-preservation and completion should win over Setting A Time and switched the intervals around so that the walk was the long part of the shenanigans and determined that, if we needed to, we would change it again. Before we knew it we were over the hill (in SO many ways) and actually, by Devon standards, it wasn’t even a REAL hill… past the 7 miles to Inverness sign, and downhill (hahaha) to the finish. The RWR was still working well for us, and although we were hurting, we ran on all the beeps and were overtaking people who looked beat. The last few miles; only 2 and a bit parkruns to go – I never want to go to another parkrun again – were fairly dull scenery wise but we seemed in good spirits again, able to laugh at how sore we were and how much we’d be able to sell our trainers for: well, we were never going to run again so why keep them? JB disappeared into a pile of leaves at one point trying to take a picture which was way funnier than it really ought to have been but by this time it was the little things that kept us ticking over to the end.

When we finally made it to Inverness, we called a BIG walk. With a mile to go, we REALLY wanted to run across the line so we said we’d walk till we could see it and then run, ignoring the beeps for the first time!
Chip time: 5:40:20 (a PB)
Moving time on Strava and the one I am telling people: 5:26:35. Well, if it wasn’t for *that* loo queue…

From where we were at the start of the year, we anticipated a 6h plus finish time, and only half joked from the start that we would need head torches, I think we’re allowing ourselves to be bloody pleased with ourselves.

The marathon itself couldn’t have been better. The organisation was incredible, from the pasta party and registration on the Saturday to the food stops and drink stops and bus transportation and toilet stops and supporters and roving marshals and gorgeous t-shirts and medals and so on. We’ve both said that we’re not marathon runners and that we’ll never do one again, but JB often says “never is a long time” and I’m not 100% sure we’ll make that stick. If I hadta, I’d go again…

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Second go at the Moor2Sea, and after a full year of riding, knocking off a couple of centuries and some fairly serious training for The Running Thing, I was feeling quite confident about it. I knew what was coming in terms of climbing and was determined not to walk any of it.
We decided to ride M2S as it’s part of a ‘triple’, and having ticked off the Taunton Flyer (Somerset) – part 1;planning to do the Lands End 100 (Cornwall) – part 3; it seemed rude not to tick off the Devon event – part 2. Plus, the medals are usually really nice…

Last year, I sat in JB’s wheel the whole way and she towed me along to a Gold Standard result in a time of 2h 44m and a bit. This year, I was determined to redress the balance and take my turn on the front.

JB collected me just after 7am, and we made our way to Exeter Racecourse in good time. We made good time because we were frightened that the police *might* be looking for us. But that’s another story.

Spent some time at the start line gossiping to MrIM – someone JB knows from The Club and doing The TTs, he was charming and called us ladies 😳.  We also bumped (not literally) into MrP and some poor unwitting chap he’d persuaded to take part, he’d brought his MTB… JB commented that at least his gearing would help with *that* part of the ride but we decided that we wouldn’t want to be on his bike for all the tea in China. 

There’s a lovely start to the M2S – we’d opted for the shortest possible option, the Inspire at 37 miles. We both struggled to call it that, knowing that it was really the Children and Old Folk route 😉

The start sees you go from 800 feet to sea level in the first 10 miles, and our average speed showed 17+mph, record breaking by our standards – so unheard of I worried my Garmin was gonna cut out, thinking I’d left it on in the car again. This, obviously, is my favourite part of the ride, minimum effort along quiet Devon lanes and hardly any traffic. As we left the start we were joined by Chris, a chap we vaguely knew from JB’s social rides. Last time I’d seen him my rear tyre (not a euphemism) exploded in his face, so he made good and sure to stay ahead, all the way to the end. He looked to be prepared to ride at Our Pace, but I said to JB that he’d drop us without even trying on the first hill, and he did!

The middle section of the route takes you from Dawlish Warren, along the coast road to Kingsteignton (near Newton Armpit). I really don’t like this bit, it’s main road, through traffic, in and out and through the towns along the way, running traffic light gauntlets, and climbs that although not particularly steep or long, just keep coming. JB hates traffic even more than me and scampered off into the distance determined to get the section over with asap 😳.  I was holding her back (not on purpose…), my legs for some reason not as scared as I needed them to be. She was everso noble and waited for me (and even had time for a photo).  Then, finally we dropped into Kingsteignton where we literally went around the houses. 

The feed station was in Kingsteignton, but we had grub on board and so pressed on (nothing to do with being determined to get Gold Standard and needing every available minute to get it).

I crunched my way through some flapjack and JB had a biccie and I felt a bit better. The final section wove along valley road and back to the hill we had to climb. The hill was getting bigger and bigger in my mind as my legs got less and less willing. I was able to take a *bit* of a turn on the front as we went along the valley. Eventually we took the sharp right-hander up towards Doddiscombsleigh and the beginning of the ascent to the finish. I knew there was no way on hells earth that I’d keep with JB up here, so we agreed to regroup at the finish and off she went. Just as we got started, Chris cruised up to us with some other chap he’d picked up along the way. Mr Someotherbloke commented on our flag jerseys and called us ladies. That made it twice in the same day someone had made that mistake. Chris had chosen to have a nice leisurely stop at the feed station and this had allowed us to canter off in front, briefly. He told us all about the spoils available at the stop, and then off he went again. At the end, we spied him lying on the physio table, and derived more satisfaction than is necessarily sporting from that…

Last year I walked a portion of this hill, and this year I was determined not to. Despite it being The Biggest Hill. And actually, it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered 🙄. It’s bad, don’t get me wrong, but if I could choose between riding up (and I *did* ride all-the-way-up) the hill again, or running the gauntlet along the coast road, I’d go up the hill again. Gaining 650 feet over 3 miles at gradients of up to 15% it just ground on and on. Passed MrIM walking up… “go megster” he said; I said “uuuurghfffff” and took the next two or three minutes to overtake him 😳.

Tight, steep hairpin, short flat bit, one more climb and the top. TF for that, mile or so to the finish – head down and push. My secret ambition for a 2:30 finish were long gone, my readjusted to hopes for a sub 2:40 finish: also gone, my readjusted again hopes for a ‘gotta-beat-last-year’ target looking just about doable. Best effort at a smile for the photographer and into the finish. 

Finished in 2h, 40m and 24seconds, more than a bit pissed off. I’d high hopes for big improvements and didn’t see them. Still, we managed the Gold Standard, and as hoped, the medals are really nice…

Having had time to reflect and look at the official results, I don’t feel quite so bad. Managed 12th lady back and 5th in age category. JB was a good 3 minutes up the road and bagged a 2nd in category. 

I’m (we’re) calling it a training ride and taking lessons from it. I’m not the quickest of learners so I doubt they’ll stick, but for now at least I’ve learned not to do a big ride 2 days before a Sportive; and not to have ridiculously high hopes. When we were out training for The Running Thing this morning we also decided that it’s pretty hard to train for The Running Thing at the same time as Cycling Things.