Focus

And so it begins. This week will be the week where I begin on the long marathon trail once more. After my last blog a couple of weeks ago, I am really hoping that this is the focus I need to get me through a summer of running.

The Venice Marathon is the goal. It takes place at the end of October and, to be honest, particularly in the early stages of training, very little changes from what I have previously been doing. Except one thing. I now have a goal race for which to aim.

“back into the big miles”

I am going to add in a Wednesday run, in addition to my regular JogScotland routine of running on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am going to make a return to parkrun to inject a run with pace into my weekly schedule. And on a Sunday, I will slowly winding up the distance but even then, it will take a few weeks before we get up to half distance and beyond. What I describe as getting back into the big miles.

Since I wrote the last time about how I was feeling about my running, I am very grateful to the friends who got in touch to check in on me and to provide encouragement. It was a lovely reminder of the positive group of people who I am lucky enough to have got to know through running and that we all go through stages of our love/hate relationship with the sport.

“a bit of renewal”

The act of writing about it, to be honest, was a relief in itself. It might sound odd, but committing something to (virtual) paper, which I had been chewing over for quite a while, actually helped in itself. Just getting it out of me and into the blog was a start. I guess bottling up how I felt was not really helping much. And so now, it is like starting again, perhaps a bit of renewal, a line in the sand about what has happened so far this year and putting that behind me to then aim for something different.

In terms of running itself – and trying to focus on the positives now – I have felt a bit better these past two weeks. A solid few 10k runs with friends and with the JogScotland group has got me on a more even keel, even if the temperatures are now getting a bit warm for a cold weather running lover like me. While my first two marathons involved winter training for a spring race, for the past three years now, I have trained through summer for an autumn adventure.

Last year, the heat really got to me, and things were not helped by having a near three week gap in training due to working in Japan at the Tokyo Summer Olympics (which you can read about here). Quarantine there meant almost no running at all and I felt all through my preparation that that severely hampered things.

“bumps along the way”

While this time round I have no major holidays or work trips planned through the summer, I know that the plan will not be without its bumps along the way. It would be near on impossible to get through a four month training plan without some runs being missed through family or work commitments, so it is really about sticking to it as well as possible and not chasing missing miles if a run cannot be done.

I have also added a couple of events in to break things up. They will just become part of the training plan, so a half marathon in July, and then a return to the Aberdeen Airport Runway Run in September. This is an event I ran with our daughter back in 2019 and she has signed up for it again, so that will be a really nice event to do. And yes, it is what it says it is, it is a run on the runway at Aberdeen Airport. Thankfully at night when there is not a risk of a plane suddenly landing beside us!

“one major change”

Like my last few marathons, I will be following a free plan from the former American runner and coach, Hal Higdon. They have worked for me in the past so I see no reason to change now. The one major change I am considering for the race is to go with a pace group at the race itself. This is not something I have done before, but I think it would make sense in this case and perhaps offer some company along the way.

The Venice Marathon is not going to be like Manchester or Barcelona where there is support along a fair portion of the route. I think Venice will be more like Stirling – my first – which was a rural route through countryside, passing through a number of small villages and towns, before entering the more populated areas only for the final few miles of the race.

“mental preparation”

I do like to know about the route in advance, not so much about preparing for any specific hill or landmark, but more about the mental preparation for the race itself. As you can probably tell from my recent posts, I spend a lot of time thinking about my running as it means a lot to me, so getting my head sorted about a race is a key part of my preparation. I know others like to go in blind, but I prefer to have some idea of what lies ahead. The mental preparation is almost as important as the physical.

The other area of importance in training is rest. It might sound daft, but rest is a key component of any plan, giving your body time to recover and your muscles to gain strength. I know there are folks who run every day – good on them – but I definitely need a break when I am putting my body through the intensity of a marathon programme, so I will be making sure I get my rest days in. I will also be cutting back on my alcohol intake too. Nothing worse than a long run in the heat with a hangover I can tell you. This is not to say that I will not be drinking, but I will be a bit more focused on the following morning whenever I do have a little tipple.

It is not about denying yourself treats. Committing and sticking to a plan is one thing, but you also need to give yourself a break. You need to have joy when you are going through so much. My running has not been too joyful so far this year, let’s hope next week signals a big change in that.

Malaise

Struggling to feel positive about my running at the moment, so I have taken the plunge and signed up for a marathon to give it some focus for the rest of the year.

If I look back at my running so far this year, things look positive. In New York I ran my fourth fastest half marathon ever. At the Forth Bridge I ran my fourth fastest 10k race ever. On the face of it everything is going well. So why then do I feel so negative about my running in 2022?

This is something which has been going on for months now and I am really struggling to shake it off. Earlier this week I was off on Monday and went out and ran a half marathon distance on my own. Just like that. No special preparation or anything. Just went out and did it. I should be over the moon that I can do something like that, but I spent most of the run talking myself out of how crap I felt about it. About how unfit I felt. About how slow I was running. About everything. My running really feels in a malaise right now and I know I need to snap out of it.

About halfway through my half marathon run

Look, I know this is a real first world problem, right, so I am not looking for a great deal of sympathy about it. There are plenty of worse things that could be happening than this.

However, over recent years running has become an important part of my life – it is about the only hobby I have away from work so it does mean a lot to me as a means of relaxation and, of course, for the fitness benefits which it brings. I think if I am honest, the problem really dates back to the time when I injured my ankle in late December. I was just getting back into things after having Covid at the start of that month and was beginning to prepare for my Spring half marathons.

I think that setback really meant that my preparations for both Inverness and New York were significantly changed and they took on a different type of significance to perhaps what they would have had I been fully fit and firing on all cylinders. Do not get me wrong, I loved both events and feel privileged to have done them, but coming out of them I do feel like I have really just been drifting along this year.

My half marathon medals

In previous years I would be routinely checking what distance I had run that month or that week and being pretty rigorous about trying to run at least a marathon distance every week. That just became my norm. This year? I could not tell you how far I have run, but I know it will be significantly down on what I have done in previous years.

Now perhaps not being so obsessive about these stats is a good thing, maybe it makes sense to step back from that given the events of the last couple of years. But I do think that has contributed to this general feeling that things are going downhill and I am not as good a runner as I once was. This is not about setting PBs or trying to beat previous times. I have written lots of times before that this is no longer a priority for me, but I do want to at least feel that I am giving my best and I do not think that that has been the case this year. But in truth, does that really matter. I am still getting out there and doing stuff. That should be enough, but for some reason it does not feel like it is.

“that preys on my mind”

I also think my weight plays a part too. I know I have put weight on over the last year or so, but am really struggling to find the willpower to cut out the things I need to cut out in order to shed the pounds. I am back to that point where I do not like how I look in photographs – not that I am nearly as heavy as I was a few years back – so that also preys on my mind. I know it is stupid, but there it is. I think male body image is one of the most under-represented areas when it comes to mental well being and feeling good about how I look does have an impact on how I see myself. My weight is something I have struggled with all my life. Now in my 50s I guess that is never going to change.

“I need to hang on to that feeling”

But enough of the negative stuff, the only person I know who can change this perception is me, and I just need to work at it. I have had a couple of runs subsequent to the half and they have gone ok, so I need to hang on to that feeling for a bit and see if things improve.

The big step I have taken this week is to give myself the major goal for the year. I have signed up to race in the Venice Marathon in Italy at the end of October. Now this might seem a bit of an extreme reaction but in truth I have been considering an autumn marathon for some time now, but was not sure which one to go for. So the prospect of running in this great place and combining it with a holiday with my wife was a winning combination.

The big target for the year

Training for this will begin in a few weeks time – at the start of July – but it is not like I am starting from nothing and my friend Jeanette is also preparing for a marathon at around the same time so we will train together for it. This will be my third autumn marathon, so I know it will be challenging to run through the warm summer months, but that is just something to be overcome and we will feel the benefits of it I am sure when things begin to cool down. However, Italy in late October may still be warm (for goodness sake Manchester in October last year was warm enough) so anything we do through July and August in particular will be worth it.

And as I a going to be training anyway, I have also signed up for the Run Around the World challenge which I have done in previous years. This is being part of a team trying to run the equivalent distance of going around the earth. Another motivating factor to keep me focused.

Hoping to help get the team round

With some targets now set, I just need to knuckle down and get through the training. This will be marathon number five. I know what I need to do. As always when I start marathon training, I think this will be my last one. Who knows this time round? I just hope it gives me the mental kick to become a lot more positive about how I run and why I run. I really want it to work,

Travel

As someone who used to travel a lot (and I mean a lot), I really failed to truly appreciate the difference this made to my running. You don’t like a route? No problem, next week or next month you will be in a different city so you can run there. And then lockdown happened and everything changed.

Lockdown – and as a result not traveling – then provided another test. That of familiarity. How to adjust to running the same, or similar, routes all of the time and not get bored and fed up with it all. And of course for some of those days, it was not as if you had the motivation or ability to run with a friend or (even less likely) a group of friends to get you out the door.

“running came to a halt”

So for some this meant that running came to a halt or was at the very least cut down. While I kept running throughout this period – with long spells in 2020 and 2021 where I was running on my own – it was understandable how tough we all found it to maintain our enthusiasm for the simple pleasure of lacing up and getting out.

Now that we have been through all of that, 2022 has opened up some new opportunities once again, and for the past few weeks I have been incredibly fortunate to begin to enjoy a bit of travel once more, and as a consequence of that, some running in new places once more. And boy does it feel good (though with some caveats which I will explain).

As I mentioned in my last blog, I spent a few days in Stockholm two weeks ago. This was followed by a short trip to New York and then this week I traveled to Tel Aviv in Israel for another work trip. I ensured I ran in all three places and each of them posed unique challenges and opportunities.

In New York I ran on my own, taking advantage of staying in a hotel in Manhattan to run in Central Park a couple of times. I was only there for three days for work, so there was not much opportunity to do much else.

Exploring Central Park

Now I had had the pleasure of racing in New York earlier this year when I took part in the New York Half Marathon in March, so this time round it was just for pleasure, but boy did I struggle. On the Sunday when I arrived, New York was having a mini heatwave with high humidity and temperatures in the 90s so my run that day was a real mental and physical struggle. Clearly I was running after coming off a twelve hour journey to get there so my preparation was less than ideal, but even so, it was a bit of a test.

Taking advantage of some shade around the lake

Things were much cooler the following morning but it was a great reminder of the difference heat and humidity can make. The weather at home in Scotland has been pretty cool for most of Spring so this was an extreme view of how things will be when we hopefully get some nice summer weather.

Following New York and only a few days at home, I flew out to Tel Aviv in Isreal. The company I work for has an office just outside the city, but we were staying close to the old port area and this allowed me to run on the beachfront area. It also meant I could run with colleagues, so while I did not run the first day I was there (even for me, going out for a run in the morning when I only arrived at the hotel at 4am was a bit too extreme), on the second morning, we were out at 6.30am for a run with my colleagues Ofir and Raul.

With Ofir and Raul at the halfway point of our run with Jaffa behind us

The weather was also to play a part here, as while we were running early morning, it was already beginning to heat up and by the time we finished our eight km run, the combination of a rising sun and growing temperatures and humidity were already taking their toll. I really am not made for running in heat.

But while the conditions may have been uncomfortable, it was great to again run with friends who I had not seen for months (or years in Ofir’s case) and to get the opportunity to run along the front with the Mediterranean Sea lapping the coast was one not to be missed. It was also a great chance to see the outdoor culture of the city with some many people out running, bike riding, out on scooters, swimming in the sea or playing beach vollyeball. There is no doubt that in so many countries where the weather is a bit kinder than Scotland that this has a significant impact on the number of people taking part in outdoor activities.

The following morning I run myself in the other direction – on day one we ran towards Jaffa, whereas this time I ran north. Again, there was a nice, well defined route to follow up the coast the other way and while this area was not as developed as the sea front in Tel Aviv was, there were still lots of nice views to enjoy.

Looking south back towards Tel Aviv

I felt more comfortable during this run, though again as the sun began to come up and break through the clouds and the temperature rose, I was glad when I got back to the hotel for a bit of air conditioning. And at least this time, unlike the previous morning, we had hot water for a shower!! While I was looking for a cooler shower than normal after a hot run, I had not really expected to be having to hold my breath and have an icy one!

My final day in Tel Aviv prompted a run along the Yarkon River towards the centre of the city – and Raul joined me for this one. Another lovely route, with a bit more shade from trees and again an opportunity to see a bit more of the area. Being afforded the opportunity to run three different routes on three different days was a great bonus. Going back to what I wrote at the start, variety in running makes such a difference.

Crossing the river on our way back to the hotel

These last three weeks have been a tremendous reminder of how lucky I am and have been. To have had the chance to travel and to run in all of these incredible places. But it has also brought home to me about how hard life on the road can be. It has been great to meet colleagues once more and to visit, but it has been a bit of a shock to the system to have had such a busy spell. I know that when I got back from Tel Aviv, I was really shattered and still feel pretty tired now. Having had three overnight flights in eight days is less than ideal.

But today I was back out at home, and while all of these pictures from the places I have been are great, I think Aberdeen still has lots to offer, particularly when it is like this.

Running through the university area of the city

Blue skies, a gentle breeze, no humidity and temperatures in the teens in the early morning. For me, it does not get much better than this. Throw in a couple of friends to run with and this morning would have been pretty much perfect.

So while lockdown limited the chance to run elsewhere, this last spell has been a reminder of what I have been missing. Travel is great but so is being at home. For the next few weeks I have no travel plans for work, so it will be back to my familiar routes. And I am perfectly ok with that.

Meeting

It is not very often these days that I go on a run and it just clicks. But when it does, god it is such a good feeling. I had one this week, and maybe, just maybe, it can be the spark to help me out of this period where I have been toiling.

The thing is, I have no real understanding of why it clicked; why it felt like I could run forever, could push myself quicker, could ignore the headwind. But maybe that is just one of the mysteries of running. If it clicks and works then do not question it, just go with it.

I so needed something like that to happen. As I have mentioned recently, my running has felt such a struggle in recent weeks and months. Tired legs, heavy legs, negative thoughts, have really permeated my thinking – with the occasional high point of races – and been quite dispiriting. This is dumb, I know, for something which is merely a hobby and should be something which brings joy into my life, but it is a reflection of just how I have been feeling.

“I just felt better and better”

The run itself was an early morning one with a couple of friends – Maxine and Cara – on a stunning day around the beach area of Aberdeen. We enjoyed a good chat, and while in the first mile or so, I did feel a bit out of breath as we were talking, as we built into the run, I just felt better and better. We were not particularly pushing it for pace or anything like that, it was a comfortable run for all of us, but it was the absence of pain in my legs, that feeling of strength as we went on, that enjoyment of the moment (rather than wishing for it to end) which was so good. It also helped that we bumped into other friends from our JogScotland group and it was great to see them too.

With Maxine and Cara at the beach

It really made me think about how things can turn round. One thing I learned in management a while back was to play the long game. Things change. Nothing stays the same. To try and take a longer term view than what is right in front of you and to step back at times and just think. A valuable lesson that perhaps I had forgotten.

It came at the end of a week which really brought back so many memories for me – memories of how life was like before everything got turned upside down in early 2020 – as I made my first work trip to Europe since the early days of the pandemic. And more than that, I ran in the place I visited and I met and ran with a colleague in person for the first time.

It is crazy to say that I have worked with Anna for almost three years and through that time had probably spoken to her on a daily basis, but we had never met in person. We live at different ends of the UK, so it was not as if we were ever just going to casually bump into each other, but under normal circumstances, with our jobs, we would have been expected to meet up at some point. I am sure this is something which many of us can identify with over the past couple of years. Perhaps it is now simply a feature of working life and distributed teams with many working from home.

“a run was high on the agenda”

When we ere told that we were going to visit Stockholm on a work trip, then getting out together for a run was high on the agenda. I have been fortunate to visit Stockholm before and it is a lovely city in which to run, but this time I was staying in a different part of the city to where I had been before and that gave us even more reason to go out and explore.

The smiles kind of say it all.

Stockhom is surrounded by water and has many islands, so the hotel we were staying at was a short distance from one of the rivers, and we took advantage to run down there. We ran a couple of times and I ran on my own once around the area with a small marina on the river and round parts of the historic city. We got slightly lost (a common problem for me if you read this blog!) but that only added to the pleasure of running in each other’s company. I have run with quite a few colleagues from work over the years, and it definitely adds a lot to a work trip and gives it another dimension. It is not all about the stuff you do in the office from 9am to 6pm.

Running around the water in Stockholm

Again, it was not about how fast we ran, how far we ran. It is about the shared experience of running. It is that space to decompress after a long day traveling or a stressful day or just a chance to get outside after hours in meeting rooms or in an office. Traveling for work is not a holiday, but by building running into the trip, it certainly helps make it a more enjoyable experience overall. Plus it is a chance to get to know your colleagues a bit better too. I certainly hope it is not another three years until we get the chance to run together again!

Staying on a positive front, I got a new medal hanger this week. Not because I have new medals to hang up, but I wanted to get a hanger on which I could put up solely my half marathon finisher’s medals. I already have one for my marathon medals and wanted to do something to highlight the runs over what is probably my favourite distance.

The half marathon hanger, next to my marathon medals

I have done ten half marathons, though there are only nine medals. For the life of me, I cannot find my medal from my first half marathon – the Great North Run in 2003. I am convinced it is in the house somewhere – there is no way I would have got rid of it as I have my other medals from around that time – but I just cannot locate it. If/when I do, it will take its place among the rest. I know these are not valuable in monetary terms, but to me these medals are special and I think it is worth making the effort to celebrate and remember the effort which went into every one.

This week is another one with travel. I am going to New York for a short business trip and am already planning to run in Central Park as I am staying nearby. This will be a more relaxed run than my last one in March when I did the New York Half Marathon – the medal for which you can see above – but it may still be challenging. The reason? The weather in New York is forecast to be around 33C (90F) for the three days I am going to be there. So I think a short, slow 5k may be more on the cards or at least a run in the early morning before it gets too grim.

I cannot really believe how much more positive I feel this week compared to the last little while. I just hope it lasts.

Slogans

“Crush it!”. “Smash it!”. “Go kill it!”. “You got this!”. “Show those hills who’s boss!”. All phrases I have used over the years when someone posts on social media that they are going to go for a run or take part in a race. All part of the essential motivation to help a friend along the way.

But what if the last thing you feel like is “crushing it”, or “smashing it”, or you genuinely think that, in fact, the hills are going to emerge as the real boss of this arrangement. What then? Motivational slogans mean nothing.

I think one of the harshest lessons I have learned through my running is that there are times when you genuinely just do not feel like it. Not all the time. Not every run. But sometimes on some runs. And even worse, sometimes for an extended period of time. I have written before about whether consistent running is through motivation or actually just through habit, and I think it is an interesting ongoing debate. I am not sure I have the answer.

“less motivated”

What I can say, about my own situation, is that I have not fallen out of love with running – it is too important for me on a social scale as a chance to meet and chat with friends, and lord knows after the last two years how important that is on its own – but through this year, I am definitely less motivated and, as a result, have less of a habit to my running. Why is that?

It is not that I lack the opportunity to run. The weather has been pretty kind and I have my regular JogScotland runs on a Tuesday and Thursday and the usually a social run with friends at the weekend. It is not as if I have been travelling for work (though this I will come back to). Now for many three runs a week would be enough, but what I am not doing are those extra runs that I used to do regularly.

“do not feel guilty”

The ones where I would go out on a Wednesday for a few miles, or a Monday night, or perhaps a couple of runs at weekend. It is ages since I have gone to parkrun. Some of these things have just fallen off my radar a bit. There was a time when not doing any of these things would make me feel guilty – perhaps I had pushed things a bit too far the other way when I felt like that as I do not think you should feel like that about something which is essentially a bit of fun – but while now I do not feel guilty for not going out, I do feel that my overall fitness is starting to drain away.

And when my fitness drains away a bit, I get anxious about my weight again. My diet has not been the best lately – too many daytime snacks are creeping back in, my legendary weakness for a fruit scone has reared its ugly head – and that, combined with not running as much as I used to, has me fearing that I am heading back to the bad old days once more.

A reminder of where I have come from

One of those symptoms of the bad old days was extensive work travel and while that has not been an issue since early 2020, the next few weeks are going to do two things – test my resolve, but also open up new running opportunities. And I want to use this as a bit of a reset.

This week I am travelling to Stockholm in Sweden – and for the first time since early 2020 a group of colleagues are also coming. There will be people there who I have worked with for almost three years but never actually met in person and even better, we are planning to go running together. I loved running with colleagues back in the day and was fortunate enough to do that in lots of great places such as Sydney, Auckland, Paris, London, Singapore, Phoenix and many others.

Jon, Rob and me in Phoenix

The chance to share these experiences with colleagues I think bonds you closer together. It gives you more of a connection to those who you work with rather than just knowing each other from behind a desk. So maybe this is one piece of the motivational puzzle that will help kick start things once more. After Stockholm I travel to New York and then after New York I am going to Tel Aviv in Isreal – and again another chance to run with colleagues there.

Traveling was such a normal part of my life since 2007, that I guess, like many things, I just took it for granted. Perhaps I have taken my running for granted, my fitness for granted, and as a consequence, just not really appreciated it enough. Perhaps that is a metaphor for many of the simple things in life that we need to appreciate more. My fitness is also my long term health and in truth, so is my weight, so I need to pay them more attention.

It is not going to be slogans that is going to bring back those extra runs. It is going to need to be me. As I often say to my friends, the only person who can do the run is you, no one else. Others can help. Others can do their best to motivate you. but the truth is, it is down to one person and that is me. So it is not about smashing it, or crushing it, or showing anything who is boss. It is down to the simple things. It is down to just getting out and doing it.

The Forth Element

Training your mind is as important as training your body; convincing yourself to keep going when the easy thing would be to stop.

Questioning my sanity is something I do when I am running. Why is this so sore? Why can’t I breathe? Why do my legs feel so heavy? Why am I doing this? And you know what? I think this is really healthy. Because in posing these questions – and then answering them – I am proving so much to myself of what I am capable of doing, even as I get older.

A load of these questions, and more went rattling around my head last weekend as I ran on the Forth Road Bridge 10k race, particularly a I headed up the long climb up to the crest of the bridge for the first time. I knew it was an undulating course – the race organisers even used the word in the course description – which is a pleasant change from the bland “broadly flat”, which usually is code for “yeah a lot of it is flat but there is a great big F off hill right in the middle we don’t want to tell you about” that you get in other courses.

After the initial up and down for the first couple of miles, then the only flat bit on the course – a bit of a dull down and back route in an industrial estate – we began the climb up, and this signalled the start of the mental battle. I had gone out quick – we will discuss this later – so I was well ahead of my hoped for time of 55 minutes for the 10k, knowing what was ahead. But on that way up to the crest of the bridge, there was a lot of soul searching going on.

The part between one and two miles was he only flat part of the course

Now, of course, the easy thing to do is to walk, to give your body a break, to let it get a bit of rest and recover. But I did not want to do that. I did not want to allow the part of my brain that was telling me to stop to win. Why? Not because that would represent failure (if you need to stop and rest in a race then stop), but because I knew I was capable of giving more.

I saw a recent quote from an ultra athlete (which I am going to paraphrase here as it used rather colourful language) but he said, “Sometimes you feel like you are tired (not his word), but when you say you are tired, you are only like 45% tired”. So basically when you feel you are tired, you really are not that tired at all and you still have plenty more to give. And in this picture, here is the evidence.

Dying inside but styling it out

I felt absolutely grim at this point, I had just come out onto the bridge itself, I could see how far I had to go to the highest point of the bridge, my legs felt like they had lead weights wrapped around them and any sane person at this point would have just started to walk, to ease off the pain of everything that was going on. But was I really feeling that bad? No I wasn’t and I know I wasn’t because I got my arms up and even tried to smile. Perhaps at this point I was not even close to being 45% “tired”. Whatever, the last thing I was going to do was to stop.

The view ahead

This was what I was looking up at, and yes I know, it looks really flat does it not? And I know that if I was walking over it, it would have felt pretty flat, but about two and a half miles into a 10k, this felt anything like flat. My pace was also seriously dropping off through this point as well, but this was just about gutsing it out to get over the top.

What did help distract me from the various agonies were the views. To be blunt, this was the reason I wanted to do this race, to enjoy the views of the Firth of Forth, the historic Forth Rail Bridge and the new Queensferry Crossing and the views were truly spectacular. I am not a fan of heights, but that really did not come into play (I had other agonies to distract me) and it was pretty amazing to witness the sites as the weather was also great. A clear day with very little wind, just a slight headwind for heading back over the bridge toward the end.

The view looking towards the Forth Rail Bridge

The return leg of the bridge was over the other side, so this involved going on a steep road down and then back up that runs under the bridge (if you look at the elevation map you will see it between the two mounds at about four and a half miles) and this sharp incline really took it out of me. Having recovered a bit on the downhill section of the bridge, I had not anticipated this sharp climb, so that meant by the time I got back up onto the bridge again any benefit from the recovery felt long gone.

So up and over the bridge crest one more before the descent towards the finish. The Forth Road Bridge 10k is a small event, with around three hundred people doing it, and limited places where people could spectate, so a big shout out to all the marshalls and volunteers the organisers, Pitreavie AAC, had out on the course to encourage the runners on. This was particularly good in the final couple of hundred metres, where the encouragement there got me to stick on a big final push.

The end is in sight!

Again, because I was capable of that final spurt towards the end – and that I had kept going throughout the race without stopping – it confirmed to me what I thought all along. Training your mind is as important as training your body’ convincing yourself to keep going when the easy thing would be to stop. If I had stopped, yes I would have felt physically better pretty quickly, but I would have been so annoyed at myself, and annoyed at myself for a lot longer than the pain which lasted when I was running. Remember, I probably was nowhere near that 45% “tired” threshold.

So what about my time? Well I mentioned earlier that I had gone out quite quite. My first mile was circa 8.20 and my second was sub 8. Now you could argue I went out too fast, as my next four miles were just under nine minute mile pace, but in my view, I took full advantage of the course conditions, banking quicker early miles to give me something to hang onto towards the end. And that final sprint? Sub 7 minute mile pace. I had gone in hoping for around 55 minutes. That would have made me really happy. In reality? Sub 53.

My finish line details

Given how I have been feeling about my running this year, I was over the moon at my result. It is not about where I placed or how I compared to others in my category, it was all about what this showed about me and who I am when it comes to running. I might not be the quickest, but I can put on my big boy pants when I want to and exceed my expectations. And then the spoils.

Adding the fab medal to the collection

I really love the medal from the race – I do like a nice bit of bling – and enjoyed adding it to my collection, next to my other races from this year, the New York Half and Inverness Half Marathon medals. What next? Well I had an easy week of running this week – just a couple of runs, one with my JogScotland group and another with friends – and am now thinking about entering another event.

What I liked about this one was the community feel about it, so I may look into some other small races around the North East in the next couple of months to do as the next race I am signed up for is not until November. I cannot imagine I will have to wait that long before I voluntarily agree to go through the agonies once more. Running is not easy. Do not let anyone fool you into believing that it is. And it is not easy at every level, regardless of the pace at which you run. But the benefits of doing it are so great, that everything you go through to get to the finish line (in a race or a training run) are so worth it. And remember, most of the time when you want to quit, you are not even 45% “tired”.

Testing, Testing

I can run 10km. I run 10km a lot. At least once a week, usually a few times more than that. So why then am I quite so nervous about the 10km I have to run this weekend? It is because it is a race. And I just realised this week that the last time I raced a 10km was in October 2019!!

2019 was the year I set all my fastest times – from 5km all the way up to marathon – not a bad way to mark turning 50 I guess. Of course, since then, a heck of a lot has happened to get in the way of any 10km races, but having done two marathons and two half marathons since that race I was a bit taken aback when I worked out that the run on a very wet day in Culloden was the last time I raced the distance.

Running up what felt like a never ending hill with corned beef legs

I did not set a PB that day, I never was given the conditions, but it was a solid run and a good reflection of where I thought I was in terms of my fitness at that stage. Two and half years on, I feel nowhere near as fit as I did when I ran that day.

I know I am still pretty fit – far fitter than I was for a lot of my mid thirties to late forties – but definitely not as fit I have been. I do think Covid has taken a bit out of me, though thankfully the effects have been mild, but I think it is more that I feel a bit less motivated this year. I do not know directly why. I am enjoying my running, I love going out with all my running friends and leading the JogScotland groups, but I am not doing much beyond that. Running four times a week should be enough, I know, but I have this nagging doubt that I should be doing more.

“Take running a bit less seriously”

Perhaps it is because I have not signed up to the big one this year – running a marathon – that means I have been able to take it a bit easier over the recent months. Just as well as I was injured twice and had Covid over the winter. And maybe I also need to view this period a bit more positively. Maybe it has given my body a bit more of a chance to recover, to take off the crazy miles you can rack up in marathon training and also to enjoy myself a bit more. To take running a bit less seriously. To just do it for the enjoyment.

And in terms of being fit, that was put a bit to the test last week when a friend, who HAS signed up for a marathon, asked if I would join her for a 15/16 mile run last weekend. Amy is running the Edinburgh Marathon at the end of May so is approaching the peak mileage of her training. Now this was complicated for a couple of reasons – one was it was on Saturday morning, the other was she asked me on Friday and on Friday night I had already lined up a whisky tasting!!

The six whiskies all lined up

Now I am not a big whisky drinker – in fact I am not a whisky drinker at all – but it was a great social thing (done over Zoom with friends in other parts of Scotland) so while I did taste all the drams, I also made sure I drank a ton of water afterwards to ensure I was in some kind of fit state to take on the challenge.

And part of the reason I did it was simply because it would be a challenge. Of course, I wanted to help Amy out – we had run half marathon distance a few weeks back – but I also wanted to test out myself. I had not run further than a half in a few months, so this would be a big test for me, basically to run that distance with no real preparation beyond my usual weekly running schedule.

It was hard, of course it was hard, but then running is hard. But we got through it. Amy planned the route, and it took me out to places where I had never run before, so that was really great. It is brilliant when you get the opportunity to run somewhere new, especially when you think you have run so many routes in your home city that there are few new places to explore. If things work out, then perhaps I will join Amy on her twenty mile run next weekend. Running long distances is a state of mind, and if you can convince yourself you can do it, then you can be amazed at what you can achieve.

Any and I at about eleven miles in to the run

I also got a nice boost this week when I received through a nice memento of my recent New York Half Marathon. When I went to the expo I filled out details to get sent a peronsalised map of the course with my time. When I did it, I fully expected to be emailed something which I could print off myself, but no, through the door this week dropped this. A really nice touch, which I will be hanging on my home office wall.

A nice reminder of a great weekend

Returning to the 10k race this weekend, the event I am doing is the Forth Bridges 10km race, which is an event which starts in the small town of North Queensferry near Edinburgh then takes you on an out and back course over the Forth Road Bridge. This is one of the most iconic places in Scotland, with the Road Bridge now flanked by the Forth Rail Bridge -a UNESCO World Heritage site – and the new Queensferry Crossing. Even if I am in agony in the race, at least I can enjoy the view.

The Forth Road Bridge is the one in the middle of the three

Now this is probably not the time to admit that I am not a huge fan of heights but at least I can focus on the pavement ahead if I do not feel brave enough to peer over the side when I am out over the bridge itself. In truth, the prospect of running over the bridge really appeals to me, I think the views will be positively amazing and the weather forecast is ok too. I fully expect it to be pretty breezy over the main span of the bridge itself – indeed the race organisers have said that high winds would probably be the only reason why the race might get called off – but as the forecast looks like the winds will be quite light so it will be a great spectacle.

Am I going in with a time in mind? I am, but I am being very realistic. It is a long time since I have really tried on a 10km run – that run in Culloden likely being the last time I really went for it – so I am much more interested in enjoying the run, remembering the sights and simply bagging another bit of bling to add to the collection. Never forget, the only person who cares about your time is you. If you take the pressure off from trying to crunch out a PB every race, then trust me, racing becomes much more enjoyable. And in the end, is that not what we all want?

At a loss

A wrong turn, a glorious feeling I had not experienced for years. An unheralded joy of running in unfamiliar places.

I run down a road and then I turn up to the left and start running up a hill. I am looking for a hotel that I had seen as I thought that from there I could get a nice view looking across the bay. As I head up the hill I begin to realise that I have taken a wrong turning. I keep running on and I head down a side street. I see a path leading through the houses. Then it strikes me. I am on a run. And I am lost. And it is the most glorious feeling.

Why? Getting lost on a run was a bit of an occupational hazard for me. In my job I was lucky enough to travel regularly so I would often run in the places where I was staying. And very often I would get a bit lost. Not totally lost, you understand, not quite Mark Thatcher in the desert lost (ask your parents) but lost enough for me to have to dig out my phone and try and work out how to get to where I was going.

There was, of course, that one occasion in Paris where my phone ran out of battery when I was about 10k into a run and I thought I was in a bit of trouble for a while before I suddenly recognised the street I was on and managed to make it back to the bright lights of the Hotel Mercure which was, thankfully, not too far away.

But here I was, in Portree on the Isle of Skye, a bit confused about where I was and how I was going to get back to where I needed to be, and it felt fabulous. Because it is a feeling that I have not experienced for so long.

The view I was aiming to get, before I got a bit lost

Travel was such a big part of my life it was the norm for me to be away, not quite every week, but not far from it. This gave me amazing opportunities to run and experience other places, but travel has become almost non-existent for the past couple of years, therefore the chance of even getting lost was even slimmer, far less get lost somewhere new.

The reason I was in Skye was I was on holiday with my wife, spending a week around the West Coast of Scotland. As I wrote last time round, I always take my running stuff when I go away, not because I am not going to go and enjoy myself and eat and drink loads, but as a way of adding more to my trip. A chance to explore a bit and to perhaps work off a bit of the excesses along the way.

We started with a stop in Inverness, where I had run only a few weeks previously in the half marathon there, so this was a chance for a short 5km around the banks of the River Ness on a gloriously quiet Sunday morning. When I travel, I much prefer to run in the morning. When I was working it was the only part of the day when you could guarantee you had the opportunity to do it. Leaving a run until the evening meant it could be scuppered if work ran late or you ended up going out for dinner with customers. It is pretty much the same on holiday. Get out early and get it done.

The view from the River Ness

Ironically, I should not have even been in Portree on the day I did get lost, but circumstances conspired so that our trip to the Western Isles got cancelled due to problems with the ferry to take us to North Uist and that gave me the chance to explore a bit of the small town. The main thing I did discover is that it is a lot hillier than I thought it was! But it was great – again first thing in the morning – to experience the freshness of the cool air, a bit of rain on the wind and some glorious views of the town and its surroundings.

Looking down on Portree Harbour

When I am away, I am not looking to run particularly far. 5km in the morning is enough to just keep things ticking over, to get some miles in and then be back in plenty of time for breakfast (remember what I said about making sure I enjoyed myself when I was away?).

Also on Skye, while not running, my wife and I walked up the Old Man of Storr. This is a famous rock formation on the island that has also been used in films such as Prometheus and The Wicker Man (again, ask your parents). It is not a particularly long distance from the car park up to the Old Man of Storr – it is around one mile – but it is about one thousand feet up, so it is a fair trek. Thankfully the weather was good and it was so worth it for the views looking across to the Scottish mainland and the wild scenery around Applecross.

After Skye, we moved on to Fort William to enjoy the scenery of Lochaber, Glenfinnan, Glencoe and Ben Nevis for a few days before we drove down to visit our daughter in Dundee. Fort William was mercifully flat to run in after Portree, with lovely views across the hills on the shores of Loch Linnhe in the early morning mist.

Loch Linnhe on a misty morning

And then in Dundee I ran what must be the flattest track in the country right along the riverside area, past the new V and A museum and the RRS Discovery right out to the Tay Rail Bridge and beyond. Mist was the common theme of the week of running as it was a bit of a peasouper that morning, but on that day I did push out to 10km for the first time in a couple of weeks as I had a bit more time on my hands.

Looking out on the River Tay

Now I recognise that you might think that this is all a bit of an effort to make while on holiday when I should have my feet up and relax, but then that is not me on holiday. We are not beach people who just want to lounge around on the beach (not that there is anything wrong with that) but we would rather be doing something, visiting something, experiencing something when we are travelling. What better way to do that than to get out when things are quiet, before the town, village or city wakes up, and run?

The RRS Discovery next to the V and A in Dundee

Having returned home, I have to say that I have gone through a bit of the post holiday blues at being back at work in my home office. It always takes a few days to get back into the swing of things after a break I find, but my mood was lifted when I got my number through for my next race.

In the first weekend of May, I am going to be running the Forth Bridge 10k, something which I have wanted to do for a very long time. I grew up not far from the Forth Bridges and I always wanted to walk over them but never got round to it. Now I get the opportunity. I am not in the best shape to really push myself in the race – that is a blog for another day – but I will do my best and get it done. After all, I have those holiday miles in my legs to help me get to the finish line and at least in the race, there is little chance of me getting lost. Fingers crossed…

Variety

Running the same routes over and over again can, quite frankly, get very boring, very quickly. While there can be good things about familiarity – pushing yourself to beat your previous time, knowing that you are never going to get lost – there is also the prospect that this kind of routine can actually dissuade you from going out.

But over the past two and a bit years, for long periods, running the same familiar routes was the only realistic option for many of us. Restrictions about how far we could go from our house, restrictions on whether or not we could travel to other parts of our country due to local lockdowns and certainly restrictions on whether we could travel to other countries all played their part in ensuring that for most of us, for most of the time, were limited to where we could run and enjoy that variety so many of us crave.

“a great tribute”

In recent months, of course, things have eased, but I do think it is a great tribute to everyone who has persevered with running since March 2020 that we are now at a stage where, once again, we can run pretty much where we want, when we want to, and race as well.

With work, I used to travel regularly. Not quite every week, but not far off it and so I was incredibly fortunate to have variety in my running routes almost all of the time. This week, I made my first trip back to our corporate HQ just outside Boston in almost three years. Of course it was great to see colleagues whom I had not seen in person for that length of time, but it was also really nice to just run somewhere else.

Outside the Avid HQ in Burlington, Mass

Now it was not that it was a particularly exciting route, nor was it particularly long, nor was it a particularly nice day, but it was just good to be somewhere else. The route took me from my hotel, down along a dual carriageway and then up and around the office development where we are located. It was hillier than I remembered – isn’t every route? – and it was quite chilly, hence the two shirt combo. However, I also got to enjoy the early morning sunrise due to the joys of jet lag.

Early morning skies

It was an opportunity to recognise how incredibly fortunate I have been – both in terms of my previous traveling life and running in many great locations and also about just getting through things since all of our world’s were turned upside down by Covid. I have still got a job. While I have had Covid, I was not seriously ill and have no long-term effects from it. Perhaps this week marks the beginning of a return to more normal times and a bit more travel in the future.

“more than one hundred flights a year”

That is not to say that I want to return to the relentless grind of a life on the road. Having done it for thirteen years prior to March 2020, the last couple of years has been a reset. Working from home has become the norm (and will continue to be so, though I do now work one day a week from a shared office in the city centre which provides a much needed break from my own four walls) and I do not believe that I will ever do the amount of travel which I used to do. As an example, I would average more than one hundred flights a year. The advances in remote communication technology and a change in expectations from our customers will limit travel for the foreseeable future. And to be frank, that is no bad thing.

But back to the running, and what this week did remind me was that when I do go away, it is always worth getting out and exploring the area around you. There has been a bit of development in Burlington since I was last there and the place felt a bit more alive than when I was there back in 2019.

New additions to the Burlington landscape

Having returned from Burlington – and had a sharp reminder of the downsides of travel with an overnight transatlantic flight in economy, massive queues to get through passport control after my attempt to go through the automated gates ended in epic failure, and then the joys of Heathrow security – at least this week coming up gives me a chance to recharge a bit.

I am off on holiday and will be traveling in Scotland with my wife this week and yes, my running gear will be coming with me. T0 have not really gone away much in recent times, it is too much of a good opportunity to explore new places to throw away. Now I know some may think that why not have a rest when on holiday, but I will not run particularly far when I am out, just enough to keep things ticking over. My next race is a 10k in three weeks, so I need to keep up some work in order to be in reasonable shape for it.

So back to what I began with – variety. It is not just about going away that enables me to vary my runs. At weekends, rather than just running from my front door, I often go down to the beach area of the city to run or to go from a local park, just something to change the scene, to break up the routine and attempt to keep things fresh.

But if you do get the opportunity to go away, don’t take your gear with you then let it stay in the suitcase for the week. Enjoy yourself, of course, go out and eat and drink and party with friends and family, that has to be a priority after all we have been through. However, also get out for a few miles or kms. Trust me, it will all just add more enjoyment to your trip.

No Half Measures

From injury on a dark morning to the streets of New York on a bright, sunny day. A running day to remember, but with a tinge of regret.

December 30, 2021. 7.45 am. I am standing, in the dark, bent over double, trying to catch my breath. Running to meet a friend, I have just planted my foot in a pothole in the middle of the road and gone right over my right ankle. The pain is searing through my lower leg and foot. I think I might have broken it. A stream of expletives flow through my head and out my mouth. I had injured the same ankle about two months before. I had had Covid in December and was just getting back to running again. And now this. Now this…..

By the time I had hobbled home – and called my friend, wincing in pain, to let her know I was not going to make it – my ankle had already blown up like a balloon. I laid down on my bed but the pain was too great, I could not lie flat. I made it to the kitchen to get an ice pack on it and to put it up. At that point, I thought my dream of running the half marathon in New York in March had gone.

March 20, 2022. 7.45am. I am standing, as the sun comes up, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York, at the start line of my dream race. Somehow, somehow, I have made it here. As I glance around at the thousands of other runners gathered in that corner of the city, and I hear the starter call our wave to get ready, as we are all about to embark on the race, I feel the emotion of it all well up in me. I am breathing hard. Not with effort. Not with exhaustion. Not with nerves about what lay ahead. I am breathing hard with relief. And to try and stop me from crying. After everything that had happened, I was ready to run.

In the start coral, ready to go

I had flown to New York on Friday ahead of the race. I had planned out my weekend pretty well, abandoning any idea of adjusting to the four hour time difference, partly because I was there for such a short time, but also I would need to be up super early on the morning of the race to make sure I was at the start in plenty of time.

After collecting my bib number and my bag for the drop off at the race expo, I had decided that I would make the journey on the New York subway out from Manhattan, where I was staying, to Brooklyn, just so I knew exactly where to go on the Sunday morning. I realise that this might sound like overkill, but I wanted to take as much stress out of the morning of the race as possible. I believe that you get stressed enough about the race without adding anything additional to it.

Number in hand, sorted for the race

That journey ticked off, I headed back into the city for a bit of sightseeing on the Staten Island Ferry, as much as anything to push in time. I also did not want to do too much on the Saturday, knowing the fun and games which lay ahead on Sunday morning.

Pizza is also my go to meal the night before a race, so based on a recommendation from staff at the hotel, Vito’s Ices and Slices was the pizza place of choice for my carbo loading.

Carbo loading done, then it was back to the hotel to fix my number to my JogScotland running top, lay out all my stuff, get my bag ready for the drop-off area by attaching my sticky label and try and chill out. As I was still pretty much running on UK time, I was in bed by 8pm, knowing that, to be frank, I probably was not going to sleep too well anyway.

The flat lay of everything for the morning

Sure enough, a fitful night’s sleep ended at around 4am as I decided I should just wake up and get up anyway. I needed to leave the hotel shortly before 5.30am to get the train out to Brooklyn. It was an odd experience walking through the near deserted streets of New York and then go down into the station and see that almost everyone there was also ready to race.

A twenty five minute journey later and a short walk into the park then got us to the first of the check points for the bag drop. Going a bit earlier than I needed to meant that there was hardly any queuing to get through this, and it was the same at the next security check point with the police that we had to through as well. But it certainly was a first. I had never dropped off a bag before when it was still dark! It also meant zero queues for the toilet and a toilet with toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

At the bag drop before dawn

Then it was just a case of pushing in time before the start. The organisers handed out heat sheets to help us stay warm, as, while it was a beautiful, sunny morning, it was still pretty chilly with a cool breeze as we stood around before the first of the events started.

Staying warm in the early morning chill

America the Beautiful was sung before the first race to go, which was the wheelchair race. The Star Spangled Banner was sung. Then the women’s race went off, then the men’s race and the first wave. Then it was our turn. The horn sounded and we were on our way, but as with most big races, it takes a while before you get close to the actual start line. I believe in walking to the start, rather than running, as we have far enough to go in the actual race without adding anything additional on. But after a couple of minutes of walking, I started my watch, crossed the start line and headed along the path in Prospect Park.

“no real pace expectations”

The opening couple of miles of the race included two of the biggest hills so it really was a case of trying to get through these, establish a decent pace and then see how things went. I had gone in with no real pace expectations, but when a friend asked, I told him I had hoped for around two hours and five minutes. After everything which had happened, I felt that that was a realistic ambition to have.

The first couple of mile safely negotiated, we headed through Brooklyn towards what would likely be one of the major challenges, but also one of the highights of the race – crossing the Manhattan Bridge, which links the two boroughs of the city together. As we ran down towards it, on my right hand side, between two buildings I caught sight of the Empire State Building. But what was more pressing was the large climb which lay ahead, to get us to the crest of the bridge.

As we ran up, however, it was the view which really took my breath away. It genuinely was an “oh wow” moment as we headed up onto the bridge and looked over to our left.

Picture courtesy of Rachel Heller

Thanks to Rachel Heller for letting me use this great shot to highlight just how incredible the view was as we ran over the bridge. Check out her website at https://rachelsruminations.com

The Brooklyn Bridge lay down to our left. The massive skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan stretched to the sky. I remember thinking how tiny the bridge looked compared to the monuments of steel and glass which totally dwarfed it, including the One World Trade Center Building. A truly incredible sight, almost as impressive as some of my fellow runners who managed to get their phones out and take a picture while continuing to move. I am not that brave with a camera!!

From the crest of the bridge we headed steeply down into Chinatown and the first of the really big crowds on the route. There had been small pockets of people in Brooklyn but here was noisy and full of life. We had reached the 10km point, just before halfway.

“I began to struggle”

The next part of the race, to be frank, was quite dull. A long stretch of about four miles along the Franklin D Roosevelt Highway which runs along the side of the East River. There were no crowds here and this part of the course was now in full sunshine. I found this pretty taxing, I felt hot, with a couple of steep inclines which took me by surprise. I began to struggle a bit, so I took my gel, as planned, at between seven and eight miles. With around forty minutes to run, this would give it time to kick in as I got towards the end of the race.

At ten miles we would turn, and that turn would take us up on to 42nd Street. We were into the last five km and into a series of hills towards the finish. The crowds, so absent for previous few miles, were suddenly out in force. Ringing bells, banging drums, playing music, shouting out, urging everyone on.

On any other day, these hills would not seem so harsh and unforgiving, but as I headed up 42nd Street and tried to glance up at the Chrysler Building as a blazing shaft of sunlight reflected against it, I was having to dig pretty deep. Beyond the Chrysler Building was Grand Central Station, though to be frank, I did not see it very much. I was focusing on what was next.

42nd Street and up past the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station

Because what was next was another, “oh wow” moment. Passing the Empire State Building in the distance to our left, we turned right on 7th Avenue and into Times Square. Times Square is closed twice a year. Once for New Year’s Eve. And the other for the New York Half Marathon. And here I was running through it.

Times Square

We ran past the massive Neon signs, the Nasdaq Building, the ball which drops on New Year’s Eve, the hotel where I stayed with my family on holiday here a few years back, crowds once again in full voice to our left, and we headed up another incline to get to the top of 7th Avenue.

I was toiling and needed a drink, so as a water station loomed up ahead I began to move left to grab a cup of water. Drinking out of a cup is an art when running, and it is an art which I have yet to master. So to be frank, my drinking out of a cup was a bit like that guy in the Airplane film who says he has a drink problem and promptly throws his drink onto his forehead. More of the water landed on me than in me, but I got some down and kept going.

We turned right, Central Park was now beside us and the final mile, which I had been warned, featured the park’s infamous rolling hills. A sharp left and into the park we turned and the first hill appeared. It seemed to stretch on and on. And there was a false crest. We turned and the hill stretched on a bit more.

The start of Central Park’s rolling hills

Rational thought is difficult in the closing mile of a race. I only had one thought at this point. Just. Keep. Going. It did not matter how fast or slow I went. I was just not going to stop. Others around me were stopping or walking. This is not the time to give up. This is the time to dig deep. This is the time to reach down inside yourself to find strength that you did not know you possessed. After everything that had happened, going back to that dark morning in December, there was no way I was giving in now.

The 800m sign showed up. At the start of another hill which seemed to go on and on. Then we went briefly down. The 400m sign appeared. Then the 200m sign. We were still going up. The finish line was up ahead. My legs were in bits. My lungs were screaming. It was like my insides were trying to eat their way out. So much hurt. But I was not going to stop. With my hands raised, I punched the air and I crossed the line. My race was done. I stumbled. I walked. I breathed in very deeply. I stopped my watch. Sweat was seeping into my eyes and it was stinging. I felt so hot. I felt so tired. I felt so relieved. It was done.

The course elevation

As I began to gather myself and walked on, I saw an older gentleman handing out medals so I walked towards him and he handed the medal to me. I had no idea who he was. It turned out he was New York Senator Chuck Schumer, one of America’s best known politicians. I did not know, nor particularly care. All I cared about was the medal I had around my neck. I had done it. I had run the New York Half Marathon.

As I walked on to collect my recovery bag with a drink and some food, get a heat sheet to keep me warm and then collect my back from the pick up area. I went to take a selfie of me with the medal, but my hands were shaking too much. So I asked one of the incredible volunteers to take one for me.

Fist pump of glory
It was a warm morning but soon cooled down after we stopped

Heatsheet wrapped around me, bag picked up, I walked back to my hotel, which was about a mile from the finish (downhill thankfully) and straight into the bar. I needed a drink, and not some water or an energy drink. I needed a drink. The bar and hotel staff congratulated me, I got a cold New York lager and trust me, this was not the last I would have.

In the bar

Now what about my time? After what had happened in December, I genuinely had moments where I thought I would never be able to run a half marathon, so any time would be a bonus. But when I saw it was really happy. To finish in the top half of all of those who took part, to get close to two hours once again and to run a consistent pace throughout the race was well beyond my expectations.

And as for that uphill 5km from 42nd Street? I was speeding up. And that final mile, the one with the climbs through Central Park, the one where I thought I was dying and slowing down? My fastest of the race. See what I mean about never giving up?

I was truly elated. It was a fantastic morning. An incredible course. Some of the most spectacular city views that you would get anywhere. But there was something missing. I did not have anyone to celebrate with. So there was an emptiness about these moments. How I wished my wife and family could have been there with me. How I wished some of my JogScotland club mates could have run the race with me. One of the highlights of the Inverness Half Marathon the weekend before was seeing everyone at the finish and finding out from them how it had gone and sharing in their joy. I had none of that. I had myself. And that would just have to do.

I flew home on Monday night, giving me some time for a final bit of sightseeing around the Times Square area and to capture a photo with my medal in that iconic place. I think I will struggle to find a better location for a picture like this.

Bling in hand in Times Square

And now? Well it is back to normality. I ran with my JogScotland group on Thursday night and I am looking forward to running with my friends this weekend and returning to a bit more regularity around my running, to settle back into a nice routine and to chill for a bit after such a hectic period.

And then it will be on to a race in another iconic location. A 10km run over the spectacular Forth Bridge at the start of May. But what will be forever indelibly marked on me will be the morning in March 2022 when I got to run on these streets and fulfill a long-held ambition. I am a New York Half Marathon finisher. And no one can ever take that away from me.

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