There is too much to cover here, so I'll try to keep it succinct. We set off last Thursday to drive up to Thurso and camp over night to get the ferry to Orkney on Friday, so we could do the Hoy Half Marathon on Sunday. Just getting out of Edinburgh took an hour despite it being during the day. A lorry had broken down at a junction onto the Queensferry Road. The rain was lashing down and in a way we were glad because it meant we weren't wasting a lovely day in transit - but it makes for difficult driving. And not much to see.
Ralia "Cafe and Information Centre", over-priced bun and coffee centre carpark.
Peter was putting a brave face on it. The grass is lovely and green with all that rain.
There are gaps in my photo taking so I don't have pictures of how the weather brightened as we got up to the far North. We put up the tent and went in search of food, and found an Indian restaurant in Thurso. It was after 9pm and they were closing at 10pm so we had to promise to eat quickly. That wasn't a problem. We had to drink quickly too and were mildly pished as we wandered back to the campsite with our bellies full. There was a lovely sun-set. Although obviously we took pictures of the best bits. It was also kind of cold and quite windy.
During the night came the rain again. The strong wind battered rain against the tent for hours and hours and hours. It sounded like someone was throwing handfuls of grit and it felt like giants were shaking the tent - for fun - and to annoy us. I lay for a good 2 hours listening to it, unusually hungover and with the taste of onions in my mouth, trying to get the courage up to take my bursting bladder across 100 yrds of wet grass to the toilet block. Being so far north it never got totally dark.
Friday morning, we both felt pretty rough.
We went to the cafe on the camp-site. (The Blue Something or other). It was Texas themed for some reason and had a menu of burgers and shakes and signs all over the wall addressing us as "Y'all".
It was cold and we both sat with our hats and two coats on, feeling damp. We had bacon and egg rolls primarily because they would be warm, I think, and I had a scone that you could use for ballast.
But some strong coffee helped us see the ludicrousness of it. We tried to hold it in out of politeness, until we were outside, but then laughed helplessly all the way to the toilet block. I continued to laugh as I sat in the van and watched Peter put the tent away.
I can be prone to ridiculous anxieties and ever since I had booked the car on the ferry over to Orkney I had feared the transition point of getting the car onto the actual boat. In my imagination I could see me having to aim the Berlingo so it went over two slippy green planks, one wheel skidding off, and the two of us plunging 8 feet in the car into the cold harbour waters.
You might be surprised to hear that the actual transition of the van from pier to ferry was on a wide metal ramp, with walls, and seemed quite safe.
It was a relief to get on board. Well kind of a relief. But the weather was pretty bad and neither of us are happy sea travellers. We took up a post where we could see the horizon. Or we could see the horizon when it stopped raining. It was a bit bumpy at times but we both held onto our Texan Breakfast y'all.
"Land Ahoy" meant a little sliver of green was added to the vistas of unremitting grey.
It seemed much colder up in Orkney than it has been in Edinburgh and suddenly the race kit I'd brought seemed a bit minimal. Both of us were quite pleased to spend the rest of the day indoors. We cooked dinner for ourselves and Neil who we were staying with. We hadn't seen Neil for a year since we were last up for the St Magnus Marathon, so despite us deciding in advance we wouldn't drink too much as race day approached, it's possible we had a fair bit. More than I usually do, which isn't saying much.
The next day was Saturday and we went a small run round the West Shore at Stromness to test our legs and our kit and get some fresh air. There was a cold, brisk wind. The sun came out sometimes but there was a lot of cloud around, and again it was cold. You wouldn't want to hang around. The air was extremely fresh and salty and it blew some cobwebs away.
We dropped in to see my grandparents along the way.
As we ran back up the road into town from Warbeth we got diverted by a pair of Stonechats. Stone chat? Stone Tirade more like! This little fellow was intent in seeing us off his land - I don't think he realised how cute he was. His woman was more muted and not so noisy but also doing her bit. Presumably they had their nest nearby. We spent ages trying to get photos of them as they flitted about in the wind. It made the four mile run - and possibly the whole trip - worthwhile.
That's Hoy over the water with all the cloud over it.
Back to Neil's for more indoor games. It was still frankly cold and it was really hard to know what to take for the race the next day. The forecast kept changing so didn't seem at all dependable. Neil's wife Shona was back from a trip South so we spent some time catching up with her. And had a glass of wine, despite not meaning to.
Then race day dawned. Well it never really got dark but when I woke up the sun was shining brightly. We still had no idea really about what to wear. Peter was veering towards wearing a vest - but it's exposed where we were going and I didn't want to get too cold. I thought about wearing a rucksack and taking a waterproof or doing neither and wearing a vest. In the end I went for a t-shirt...
It was still cold enough for duvet jackets when we arrived at Houton for the ferry to Hoy.
There was a good sized crowd of people there. (From the results there were 127 participants and 126 finishers). On the drive there a little furry Orkney vole had crossed the road in front of us - which we decided to take as a good omen. Standing about with pre-race nerves we were glad to be distracted by seeing a good 5 or 6 young hares haring about in a dis-used parking space nearby.
We had been wondering who we might see that we would know at the race. It turned out to be Kate Jenkins and Craig Mattocks. We caught up with them on the trip over on the ferry. It was a really beautiful morning.
Now you're just going to have to imagine the whole race thing, because I never took any photos.
From getting off the ferry the pace of events was brisk. We were bussed to North Walls school for registration and then bussed onwards to Rackwick where the race starts. Both Peter and I had ditched our cameras, which made race-sense but seems a pity now.
The road to Rackwick is usually pretty quiet. There's an occasional car, occasional walkers. Most of the time you can hear the wind and the various birds. It was unusual to be on that road with 100+ runners and their nervous chatter. For some reason I felt cold. Peter was telling me it was hot.
We set off. It was hot! Four miles heading roughly east. The wind seemed to be in our faces. The sun beat down upon us. The shadow of some clouds passed over the road about a mile ahead and I hoped that I would run into some shade - but by the time I got there it was gone.
There was some exchanging of places early on but I quickly settled into a spot amongst the people that wouldn't change much for the rest of the race. My race prep had been simply trying to recover from the marathon and the various niggles that emerged after that. My race plan was to try and keep a consistent effort, not think too much about pace, and then beat all the women I could.
After about 4 undulating miles going east, the race turns south-ish and uppish. A 2 mile hill ensued. There was a little cloud cover, which was a relief, and I was secretly glad about the hills. Some people went past me but I was pretty sure they were over-egging it, and I went back past a few people who started walking further up the road. The hill provided some wind cover - but it still seemed to be largely in our faces. That continued for the rest of the race.
I've had various things wrong since the marathon, including a left foot thing, a back and shoulder thing - and with 2 or 3 days of strange eating and too much drinking I wasn't that confident about what my stomach might get up to either. So I was never confident - never felt anything was in the bag.
A challenge came at about 7 miles, cresting a hill, when I could hear lady breathing behind me and then one woman say to another "Pleased to meet you, I'm Michelle." "Get to hell" were my thoughts. "I don't want any damn pressure!"
One woman went past decisively. I find it hard to know what age people are, but she looked younger than me. The combination of her age and the fact she looked considerably fresher than I felt made it easy for me to "let her go". But the lady behind was breathing hard. Much harder than I was. She sounded like the hills were hurting her - and who knows what age she was. I wasn't going to look. But it seemed to me that if I could I should prevent her going past me. So I upped the pace.
After a while I didn't hear her any more and I relaxed and probably slowed down. As I said - I really had no confidence I could keep up any kind of an effort and what I wanted to do was run a conservative race and arrive at the finish line without any dramas.
Things were running along fine. Still a head-wind blowing, and I was sometimes a bit cold, sometimes too hot, I had some exchange of places with men, which didn't worry me and gave me something to think about. Then maybe about 10 miles I heard the hard breathing of my lady friend again. Oh dear God, really? I didn't feel in the slightest like lifting the pace, but I felt that I should at least try to protect my position in the race. So I lifted it a bit. It took a while but I stopped hearing her again and again I relaxed. By this time (I know you don't want to know this but I'm going to tell you), something was going on in my lower abdomen. Nothing problematic yet, but kind of a drum roll leading up to...well I think technically the sensation can be described as "stool" moving from the large intestine into the rectum - which sounds like a large and rather grand reception area to me - and in a way it is.
It was enough to make me leery of drinking any more and of making any increase in my effort. But didn't my invisible female competitor come back at me again at about 11 miles? "Down with that kind of thing" I thought to myself, and raised the pace, as much as I could, and hoped that the power of prayer would be enough to see off any truly urgent needs to make for the undergrowth in the last 2 miles. In actual fact if I did have some kind of urgent loo-tastrophe, I would have been toiling to find any cover. Most of Hoy is heathery heath. (Hilly, heathery heath.)
So the last 2 miles seemed like a long way - and from my pace you wouldn't know that there was any special kind of effort going on - but there was. The last mile or so seemed to be really directly into the wind. I couldn't hear any footsteps behind me, but you can never be sure. So I just kept on keeping on, and arrived, finally, over the line, to a smattering of applause. I then made my way right quick to the toilets.
All good. I was sun-burnt and very dry but it was good to be finished. I went and got a shower and got myself sorted out before looking for Peter. I found Peter and Kate and Craig near the beer tent. Craig had been 2nd, Kate was 1st lady, Peter was 5th but I'd seen interim results so was able to tell him he was 1st over 50...and I was 1st over 50 too. The lady behind me was younger than me, so I didn't really need to race her, but I was pleased with myself that I did.
Craig's time for second was 1.28 and Kate came in at 1.41, Peter's time for 5th was 1.32 - all of which is a prelude to help my 1.56 sound a bit better than...well...1.56. It could have been a lot worse. 2nd lady over 50 was something like 2.03, so I could have relaxed a bit, but you never know that until you know it.
On the way back over on the ferry it got darker and started to rain again....and we got our jackets back on.
"sun-kissed" drinkers' complexions.
"Right, this has been marvellous, especially the stuff about the rectum", I hear you say, "but I do actually have a life to be getting on with so could you hurry this up?".
That evening we went to a party at the house I grew up in. Karen and Gareth who own it now also own hotels, so they had that most dangerous of all things "wines to sample". Buchanan got a bit pished but I was driving and so stayed sober.
The next day...back on the boat....the weather was back.
I have had to miss so much out. Maybe another time.