In the week leading up to this race, I think I had changed my mind every day as to whether I was going to run or not. The race wasn’t an A race for me, I had signed up to the full Winter Series but there was always a question mark about whether I would run the half or the 16k. My aim for the Series was simply to qualify, which meant running 4 out of the 6 races, and that was achieved when I ran the 10k at Balgone a few weeks ago.
My training for 2018 had not gotten off to a good start, only managing one 10 mile run before the dreaded lurgy. Due to my quest to get a medal a month, I had two 10k races the two weekends before the half marathon and so wasn’t able to get any longer miles in. On that basis, I wasn’t actually sure I could get round the course without doing myself an injury. I was also very conscious that I have the John Muir Ultra relay at the end of March and don’t want to risk my training plans for that as it would be my longest ever run and more importantly I have a partner relying on me!
Another factor, and perhaps the biggest one for me, was that I have been doing a 6 week running technique course with Matt Holland at Improve my Running and I didn’t want to hinder my progress with that. Although Matt had said the run itself wouldn't be of issue, it was more if I ended up injured.
So, those were the cons! Now to the reasons why I wanted to run. After looking at the results for the Series so far, I realised that I was the only person on track to have completed the 5k series last year and the full Winter Series this year. (I think there is one other runner who can qualify for the series by completing 4 of the 6 races). After expressing doubts in my last blog about whether I would run this race, both Owain and I were contacted by numerous runners and even the race organiser encouraging me to run the course and telling me how enjoyable a course it is. It was explained to me that the course was essentially three loops, coming back through the finish area at around 10k and 10 miles, which meant I had the option of stopping if it was getting too much for me.
I know many people have blogged before about how great the Foxtrail Series is but as a runner at the back of the pack it meant so much for James, one of the organiser, to contact us to encourage me to run. As a slower runner, I often feel the additional pressure of being last and keeping the marshals out but this is certainly not the case for the Foxtrail Series. The team and in particular the marshals out on the course are amazing. Having marshalled at the Winter Cross Country I know how miserable it is standing out there in the cold but the weather doesn’t dampen the spirits of the Foxtrail crew. You can see how happy they are in their selfies posing with runners on race day on their facebook page.
I did hope that Owain would be my voice of reason and tell me what to do but his advice was simply to wait and see on the morning of the race. After over 4 years of marriage, you think he would have realised by now that spontaneity is not my strength!
So what made my mind up? well, it was the offer to become an honorary "shambler" for the day. Through the Foxtrail Series and the Foxy Trail runners, I have had the pleasure of meeting Lynne, Audrey and Krista, and they actually managed to get me round the first race of the series. Before anyone asks, I am not actually sure what the term "shambler" means but for me they epitomise why I run - like me, they run for enjoyment and to challenge themselves with distances/routes rather than chasing times. What I loved most during the first race was the way they all kept each other and me going to make sure we all got round together. We were all feeling apprehensive and so it felt perfect to opt to run the course with them and simply enjoy it.
However, on race morning I was starting to regret my decision as it was chucking it down as we drove down from Edinburgh to the race start at Harvest Moon holidays. We had the pleasure of Nicola Duncan and her lovely dad on the way down, which was great for me as we were too busy nattering away for me to actually think about the race.
Once we arrived, we headed to collect our numbers and Owain and Nic were off getting their warm ups in while I huddled in the tent with others, catching up with other Foxy Trail Runners. I think it is fair to say there were a few in the same boat as me. I said a quick hello to Lynne, Audrey and Krista and agreed to meet them at the start to make sure we stayed together. We had mentioned running together for the 10k night race but I lost them at the first water "obstacle" and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen again as 13 miles on my own would be a lot tougher than 10k.
Soon enough, we were off and we settled in to a nice pace together with Lynne making sure we weren't going too fast. Krista was running with her gorgeous pooch Ellie and so had started off behind us but it wasn't long before the cani-crossers passed us and Krista joined us.
I am still a relatively inexperienced trail runner and was finding the terrain at this point pretty hard going with loads of mud on account of the overnight rain, not to mention all the runners that had trampled on it before us. There were a few times I thought I was going to lose a shoe.
I am pleased to say that running in the group and chatting away meant the miles ticked by pretty quickly, although there were a couple of interesting moments of almost wrong turns and wondering if we were still on the right path, although it was never quite as bad as the poor runner in front of us who missed a turning and ended up having to cross a field and climb a fence!
We knew that realistically we would be out for around three hours given the terrain and at around an hour we slowed to a walk to refuel. We also managed to chat with Julie, who had been running just in front of us. I follow Julie on instagram and strava and knew she had been feeling the same way about this race - this was her first ever half marathon and first Foxtrail run! What a toughie to start with! I think at this point the reality set in as we realised that we weren't even half way.
We had a quick stop at the water station at the start area and didn't realise until we were a few minutes on that Julie hadn't restarted with us. We later found out that she had considered stopping but thankfully one of the amazing marshals chummed her round.
From this point in, it really was just a case of trying to keep each other going and I was so grateful to be in the group as I think I would have stopped otherwise. We all took it in turns to try and motivate each other to keep going. I even shared my walk/run techniques with them of only allowing us to walk 30 seconds or a minute at a time but it did keep us moving.
The one low point for all of us was as we were nearing the end of the second loop, around 10 miles in. The course saw us run back up to the start area and it was really demotivating to have runners who had finished pass us in their cars heading home while we knew we still had the final loop still to do. We decided that we would dig deep and run this full section but there were a few drivers who seemed content to use the whole road and not give way to those of us still running and so we had to slow to a walk.
As we made our way back to the start/finish line to finish this section, Owain came down to greet us and unfortunately at this point I had a wee mini meltdown. I knew we still had over three miles to go and I was conscious that both him and Nic would have been finished for ages and didn't want them getting cold. I was all set for stopping but the others kept me going, taking all the stress off me. At this point, I knew I would have felt guilty stopping as the others had stopped when I needed to walk rather than pushing on and so part of me really wanted to finish with them. Thankfully, I managed to get my breathing and head sorted and before we knew it we had hit the beach.
This was definitely the most challenging section for us and we ended up walking a fair bit of it on the basis that their wouldn't be much difference in terms of speed but at least we could conserve some energy for the end. About half way along, we even managed to get a selfie with the marshal - this has to be one of my favourite race photos of all time.
Owain joined us from the other end of the beach and had loads of encouraging words for us - but then told us about the stinger in the tail which I didn't know about. We had to cross a little stream on the beach, run to a sign at the end and then turn back, crossing the stream again before heading up off the beach. I had struggled drinking the water at the water station because it was so cold but I must say the coldness of the water at the stream was quite something else!! Owain had great fun leaving us to it, even filming us splashing through the water before joining us for the last section. Although it was only a mile or so, it really did feel so much more as the energy had been completely zapped out our legs with the beach and lovely water feature.
Finally, we turned the corner and could see the water station tent and knew the end was in sight. Owain always says that he knows when I spot the finish as I pick up the pace, even on an easy run home, but I had nothing compared to these girls. I think we all just wanted to get across the finish line and it was such a lovely experience to cross the line together and it was lovely to be able to cheer Julie in just a few seconds behind us.
At the finish, I was surprised by how emotional I felt and actually had a few tears with Ali, who had waited until the end to see us finish. With my lack of training, it felt such an accomplishment to have completed the distance and over such a tough course. At the start of the day, I genuinely wasn't sure whether I would get round. It's amazing what you can achieve with positive thinking and the support and camaraderie of others. Thanks ladies!!