Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Gran Canaria Marathon

Training for the conditions is probably a good idea. Some may even say important. Then there are others who just feel the pull of a snowy Scottish trail the week before their sun-beaten road marathon and think 'well, it'd be a shame not to.' I am one of the latter. So I had a gentle two-day, 40-mile taper on the West Highland Way the weekend before the Gran Canaria Marathon. There was some good chat of weddings and meeting of new folk. No one broke their leg coming down Conic Hill and there was some romantic snow on the Sunday. But then, you cannot force 24 degrees upon a Scottish winter anyway so don't fret and jog on. Thanks to Ian Minty for organising and taking a rather wet, talkative Kiwi to the train station afterwards. And Lucy Downie, for that brilliant hot chocolate! Sorry to all for being slow.

Heather and I

Last time Scott and I went on a marathon holiday with Norm and Ally, I blitzed them both and ran a personal best. We ended up in some Star Wars themed British pub in Marrakesh in our quest to find some reasonably priced drink on the first evening and then on the second afternoon we left the big boys to their drinking. Upon their return to the hotel Scott and I found Ally on a sofa. Asleep. So the photos to the wives from that trip looked like this:

Norm doing a bit of running
Ally having an alcohol-induced snooze

On our December training run in Pitlochry the boys left me in the dust. My reputation was at stake for this one. Ally was wearing his backpack in preparation for the Marathon de Sables. Norm had been drinking with a five pint limit in Madrid on the Friday night and had spent most of last night hugging the toilet bowl. Scott had trained well but was on his first marathon. I was at an advantage. I was in pen three (out of four) and at the rear of it. The boys were in pen four so probably just standing a row or two behind me although I didn't see Norm and Ally before the start. Couldn't have them trying to psych me out.

Let's have a race

Ding. The elite runners start. It might not have been a ding sound as I'm too far back to hear. I'm re-lacing. Most people have brightly coloured shoes. Spanish fashion. Bang. That's pen two off. I'm not really sure how the pens were organised because I am going to spend the next 10km passing almost that entire bunch of half marathon runners. I show off my flexibility by touching my knees. Yee-ha! That's my pen starting. That's just me hooting like a cowboy.

I've got a watch on for this marathon. A blue men's one for £10.99 from the chaos that is Argos. I tend to run about 3:30 for a marathon regardless of training so that's an easy five minute km pace to calculate. Worrying about times whilst running is not something I enjoy but when it's a sprint race such as this I have more chance of keeping on track.

Apple green Gran Canaria Marathon t-shirts are everywhere. At registration we received a t-shirt, tights, backpack and towel. I'm going to have to pull a swift one to get that into my 10kg of hand luggage and past RyanAir crew at the boarding gate. We're two kilometres in. Runners are struggling. Whilst they are mostly half marathon runners I am still concerned that they are not going to have a very enjoyable time over the next few hours. Most people are going too slow and I get frustrated dodging in and out of runners. Start at the back next time people!! There are a few of us getting elbowed by the green crowd. I will forever be amazed at why runners start towards the front when they are just going to get passed the entire race.

A long time later I calm down and start to feel more comfortable. It's never good when you're feeling rubbish at the beginning. There are two laps and the course backs upon itself a number of times which I actually quite like because you can see the runners coming towards you. I'm looking out for the boys but only spot Scott. He's looking good. Is he going too fast?

The first half of the race is out and back along the port area with the second half being around the streets and along the beach front of Las Palmas. It might be a nice route. I've got my eyes on the lookout for km markers. Need to get my money's worth out of this watch. I see Scott as he approaches the 8km mark. I yell out but he's got his head down and his arms boxing away. Apparently he was feeling fine here but I was worried.The crowds love me. Obviously. One runner chuckles as the crowds cheer support to me in Spanish. He translates to me that they like my braids. Excellent, that's why I wore them :)

As we come up to the end of the first lap I prepare for half marathon runners to fly past me towards their finish line. It doesn't happen and I continue to chip away at the field of runners. A marshal points me into a separate lane from the mass crowd. Apple green shirts fling themselves across the line. I jog through looking cool and calm. I'm not cool though, it's over twenty degrees. My halfway split was something like 1:43. Although I get confused by my watch. It doesn't show the hours so it looks like I've run 43 minutes. Thankfully I had my thinking cap on and I figure it out.

Let's do another lap

Halfway. Time to kick. I zoom past a lady in a bikini. Her husband and coach are on bicycles yelling at her. I feel a bit bad but this is a sprint race after all. We've just got 21km of sprinting to go! The crowd are yelling and whooping. Err, the husband has cycled up beside me. He's sussing me out. So I plant a massive grin on my face and wave, pretending that this is the most enjoyable running experience I've ever had. This morning I watched some videos that my mother found of the race. Crossing the start line I look small, grumpy and pasty white. During some point in the first half my arms are crossing more than Adrian would like and I'm not exactly a Jack-in-a-box springing up and down. So I'm really faking it to make it look like I'm loving running right now.

Heading out towards the port and I am now flanked by a bicycle on each side. I've got coach/husband bicycle taking turns on my right and Balloon Bicycle Man on my left. He's got an officials bib on the front of his bike, making sure we all stick to the course. The alternative option to running right now would be swimming so I'll stick to running thanks. Coach/husband are cycling up to me and then back to bikini lady. I'm really uncomfortable with this bicycle behaviour. There's only one thing for it; outrun the bicycles. So before we even hit the 25km mark I am tearing up the pavement, racing.

I see a golden half curve being held by an army official at the next water station ahead. I love a banana when I'm running. I fancy a tub of custard too. I've gels shoved down my crop top but when I can have a drop bag in an ultra, a gel is not what I am going to utilise it for! Round the top of the port and putting on a brave face for the runners coming towards me. And Scott is one of them. High five and relief that he's running strong. Balloon Bicycle Man is still with me but I've run too fast for coach/husband cyclists.

I don't like getting passed in the second half of a run. There's a guy who ran through the halfway mark at a similar time to me and we're passing runners together. I'm going too fast. It's not far enough in yet to be pushing myself hard. I'm going to pay for this later. ANTONIA! Relax, it's just a marathon. You can run these.

More running gets done. People get passed. I don't want to check my watch at the kilometre markers anymore. The legs are doing what the legs can do. I've not seen Norm or Ally but I'm hoping that they won't catch me. Check your watch Antonia, it might help you keep going. So I keep flicking my wrist over checking the watch. I can never remember what it said the time before though so I never work out any splits. The crowd yell all sorts of things at me in Spanish. They're so happy for me! Balloon Bicycle Man is still with me, hanging behind. It's a bit odd; either I'm being followed because I'm a novelty (people think I am a child) or I am doing well. The runner who has been with me since the halfway mark tells me that I am one minute behind the second placed girl! So that's why I have Balloon Bicycle Man! Around a few more corners and he translates the cheering again for me. I'm  two minutes behind the second lady so no chance he tells me :) Good, because I cannot be bothered caring.

There's still over 12km to go. Marathons are hard. There's no break from the terrain. No toilet stops. No feeding stations full of jelly babies and homemade cake. My face is burning. I've got the suncream on. Three years in Scotland and I need it now. My running buddy is from Gran Canaria. I'm from New Zealand but I live in Scotland and I'm running in Spain. It's complicated. I'm a runaway.

We're still passing people. I am so going too fast. I can't keep running this fast. This is faster than I run. Antonia, you're an ultramarathon runner. Get a grip and get a move on. My father told me that he didn't think I'd get a pb. My build up wasn't right. I didn't taper. Obviously, I'm going for a pb. Nothing like proving the old man wrong.

There's a video of me coming through 31km. I dreaded seeing what I would look like. I was struggling. So I watch a few speedy runners go past on the video screen, then a few slower ones. Oh dear, that'll be me. Then next thing, this purple speed demon comes flying past! I was nailing it! Scott has taken a shot from the video for me. The still on my face reveals that my head is not as comfortable as my legs. Scott has blurred my legs for me using Photoshop to emphasize how fast I was in the video. Speedy legs. And there's my very own Bicycle Balloon Man in the background. My name got called on the loud speaker about then. I could hear the announcement saying I was from New Zealand. Big cheers. I wave and smile. I love fans. Later on in the week the waiter down South doesn't even know where New Zealand is.

Speedy legs at 31km... but working for it!

Scott at 31km

My legs run. My arms flounder. They give me away. Around and around instead of back and forth. Waaaa, I can't be bothered. Antonia, get a grip and smash the pavement.

Still checking the watch. No idea what the numbers mean. That's a hill. I didn't notice it on the first lap but it's definitely a hill now. Plenty of crowds still out but these roads are very long. Runners are struggling; bent over trying to vomit on their brightly coloured shoes.

The kilometres go by. Probably much slower than I wanted them to. I lost my buddy at about 5km to go. I just kept chugging forward, passing runners but at a slower rate than before. A few guys sprint past me, Wow, impressive finish with 5km still to go. Relief when I see that 41km mark. I've stopped checking the watch because I don't care. SHIT. I actually yell that outloud.  There's a young girl on my shoulder. With less than 1km to go I am not losing my third spot now. I suddenly care and I burst ahead. Go, go, go! For about 100 metres. Her coach yells at her from the sidelines. She takes me on the corner. Ahhh, she's off! I can't catch her, she's flying. I think of my dad, having to explain to him that I nearly did well but that I went too fast and had no sprint finish when I needed it. Even worse, someone ran faster than me in the second half.

Balloon Bicycle Man is laughing. Relay. She's part of the relay. That's what those men sprinting past me with 5km to go were part of too. So I am ok then? He tells me I've done great. Awww, thanks Balloon Bicycle Man. That's our first conversation. So I plod down the long finishing straight. The crowd are really loud and I hope that this doesn't mean something exciting is happening behind me. Like someone catching me.

Let's beat the boys

Jelly legs at the finish. I'm too hot. I need a drink. Where's my medal? I've got men on either side of me, helping me walk. A lady puts a VIP lanyard over my neck. I'm wanted in an hour. Prizegiving. Wheelchair. Errr, this is embarrassing. I can walk, I just need a drink, the bathroom and I was worried because I'd seen finishers with medals but I didn't have one. Three hours, twenty-two minutes and I've become obsessed with a medal. It's usually a beer.

I've been taken to the First Aid tent. This is superb medical treatment. I'm on a bed, drinking some sweet water having my blood pressure taken, a needle prick in my thumb, something else on my thumb. My results are fine. I feel a bit sheepish. I'll stay for that banana they are offering though. I can run I tell the doctor, it's just faster than I normally run and a bit hotter. He does a lovely job of boosting my ego as he empahasizes that I was running really fast. I better get out, get to the ladies' room and see the boys finish!

Media are loitering outside the First Aid tent. They are waiting for me. Ok, so it's one local newspaper but I still feel really cool. Quick trip to the ladies first. Great, the sweat marks make it look like I've peed myself. The ultrarunner in me casually wonders if maybe I have. Interview with the media over, photograph taken. Big cheese. A lady helps me take my chip off and relaces my shoe.

Boys should be coming through so I squeeze into a spot on the finishing straight. A few minutes later and I can see Scott. I think I might cry. Not because I'm overly proud (which I am) but because he looks in pain and it's all my fault. Or I could blame my father who has trained him. Yeah, that's what I'll do. Suck up the tears. His name is announced on the loud speaker. He's digging in hard. It's a good time. About 3:48. Well under the four hour aim. Ally finished about a minute before Scott. Not sure how I missed him as he's wearing neon yellow shorts. He honestly looks fresh.

Scott with a medal. Me with a VIP lanyard :)

The beer is nonalcoholic. That is unappealing  We go in search of finishers' tops and medals. I hide my VIP pass incase they won't give me one. No problem and it's even a wee size to fit too. Norm has not been sighted so we go back to wait for him. He's got a bet on with his eldest daughter; one pound for every minute over 3:55. She's a smart lass. It's over four hours and he's not in yet. I wait in my VIP area looking totally out of place. Woah, maybe Norm is in because that lady is old. Not just the life experience, mental toughness that makes older women better long distance runners than younger women, but old, like my nana. Nope, no one has seen him come through yet. Well done to her, she's faster than Norm. He comes through shortly after, owing his daughter £40. Ouch. He does look fine though. Apparently walking before the finishing straight helps with that appearance.

Fortunately prizegiving is a wee bit late or otherwise he would have finished as I was on the podium, jeering at him and pulling him the v's. I know; podium. I have to walk up the stairs when my name is called, across the front of the stage and then onto the third position step. All without tripping over. Thank goodness it's not icy. Although I cannot understand Spanish so I don't really know what's going on. Scott drew my attention to the double European cheek kissing before it was my turn though so I'm prepared for that. I get a heavy wooden trophy and a massive bunch of flowers. I clap at the correct times. I smile loads. It's pretty cool. RyanAir are going to hate me. Or, I am going to hate RyanAir.

Whoop! Third lady

The hotel is buzzing with runners. Check me out with my trophy and flowers. We discuss whether I should take them to the pub tonight in the hope of a free round. A few hours later after resting the feet and watching BBC World on repeat we venture out to the drinking spots. Scott is walking fine, waaaay better than I was after finishing the Marrakesh Marathon. This was the first race he saw me do and my slow recovery from it is why it took him two years to decide to do one! This time round my legs are fine too. Upon reflection it was my mind that I battled with. Although I didn't taper like I normally would, my legs actually didn't bother me much during the run. My mind bothered me. Negative self-talk. Norm walks fine on the way to the pub too. He's good at walking though. Ally's walking funny but to be honest he was walking funny before the race. Must be Marathon de Sables training tactics.

Norm, Ally and Scott

Norm uses his Spanish to charm the waitresses. He needs to drink through the pain of his £40 loss to his daughter. I'm probably going to be ditched on the next destination marathon now that Scott can run them. Who needs a girl tagging along who can't handle her drink? Although I know the real reason that they'll ditch me; I'm too darn fast for them.

Once the boys fly back home, I give my flowers to a girl on reception and Scott and I bus further South. I lay on beaches, eat gelato and laugh at the UK getting covered in snow. I run along the promenade dodging eighty-year old Scandinavians who whack me with their walking poles. No one ever gets out the way, there's no keeping to one side, and no one smiles. Must be a miserable life laying in the sun all day on their three month holiday. I zoom up and down the steps throwing my youth in their face. I miss the friendly locals in Las Palmas. And getting my photo in their local paper. Yeah, I know, World Famous in Gran Canaria too. These petite feet are looking to progress to world domination.

Yours truly on the far right

On departure day I manage to sneak my new kit into my carry-on luggage along with my trophy. Have I mentioned that I got a trophy? It's heavy. I got flowers too. I wanted the x-ray machine machine to make the trophy look  dodgy so that the security man got it out, flashing it about while I explained that I was third lady. It didn't happen. On the plane I chat to a man named Mike Scobbie. He's been in Gran Canaria golfing. In his early seventies, he walks every day and spends up to eight hours on the golf course. That's time on your feet. That's important in ultramarathon training. So don't worry about my knees, once they go I can still train for ultramarathons. And Mike, just like my Grandad are good examples of active old timers. Dr. Andrew Murray would be proud.

Now it's back to Edinburgh and running in the rain. I enjoyed a wee race in the rain in June last year so that's alright by me :)


  1. Fantastic write up, and absolutely awesome effort. This form, at this point, this bodes very well indeed sister!!!

  2. Fantastic race result, well done you.
    And another great blog post.
    You could have given Scott's coach a better write up though :)

    1. I'll take the opportunity then... Thanks 'coach', without the training schedule I would have been struggling!

  3. brilliant, you rock young lady! :) x well done to Scott too

  4. Another moving and awe inspiring blog with lots of entertaining witty and playful anecdotes! You always deliver Antonia! Very well done to you and Scott.....not forgetting Scott's coach! x

  5. nice shots and interesting stories...hey scotty looking good bro!!

  6. DAM YOU ANTONIA! I just KNEW you would get to that picture before I did ;)

    Massive congratulations lady! The only thing better than beating the boys? Getting a trophy and flowers for it! x

    1. Haha, I expected to come back and find that you had posted the photo! X

  7. Congratulations Antonia.

    A superp run and great write up.

    2013 is going to be a good year for you!

  8. From The Canary Islands congratulations. From now you have a new follower from Gran Canaria. We have some pictures of the Gran Canaria Marathon in our website www.zaplayeras.com Feel free to take them if you appear in some. Good Luck and congratulations again.

    1. Thank you Cristina, great photos :)

  9. Congrats for your performance, I'm your "running buddy" from Gran Canaria.

    1. Wow, hi Alberto! Thank you very much for being my running buddy! I really enjoyed the race :)

  10. Well done on another great race and your 24hr race selection! Caroline x

  11. Fantastic Race!....congrats for your 3rd place in a very hard race!

    Gracias por pasarte por mi blog :-)


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