This running lark is a funny thing – it really messes with your head!  We’ll get to that.

My second Inverness Half served as a great excuse to see family, take in the football and the local parkrun, as well as serving as the tune-up event for the Blackpool marathon next month.  Let’s not dwell on the football, though; this is all for moving legs quickly without spherical objects getting in the way.

I came up the road with no real idea what kind of shape I was in.  The year so far had been great for mileage overall, but I’d missed a bit of training with the cold a few weeks back and was (am) nursing a nagging glute problem that saw me take a brief bit of time out.  My legs didn’t feel like they had much speed in them

This was a feeling only reinforced at the parkrun on Saturday morning.  The event – 9.30am every Saturday morning incidentally – was my fifth in Inverness, 98th overall and the first to be held at Whin Park.  This all thanks to a very wet few months making Bught Park more of a mud bath than any kind of run.

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2x pond, 3x big loop, 1x pond

I wasn’t trying to be fast here.  Saving the legs for Sunday’s race was the priority, but the effort was too high, the legs too tired, at even that pace.  Considering I wanted sub 90 at least, and a PB ideally (1:27:23), I was a bit worried.  The narrow course, and the mud on the south side nearest the river didn’t help!

That said, well done to the organisers and volunteers for rallying round to ensure both that Inverness still has a parkrun to enjoy when a cancellation was in the offing, and helping direct people to the new course from old (thankfully at the top right of the above map, so not far to travel!).

With that navigated, and the rest of the various sporting disasters best forgotten, I’ll fast forward to Sunday morning.  No pressure here, but both my parents, my brother Kevin, and sister Sarah were coming up to lend their support.  I’d best make it worth everyone’s while, then!

We left it fairly late getting to the (packed) expo to collect our numbers & tshirts – I say ours, Kevin had signed up but was injured, so the ‘freebies’ had to be collected! – but at least it meant no hanging around.

No ‘small’ tees left by the time I got there, though.  Shame on you, IHM, it can’t be that difficult to make sure people take the sizes they put down when they entered!  I’ve seen other events do it by having the size printed on the bib numbers…seems easy enough to implement.

Anyway, I digress.  Was great to see Debbie – of Lumphanan fame – as we queued, but not so great that she was injured.  I’d been hoping to use her as a pacemaker!  Fellow County supporter, David (of Southside Six fame) found me on the start line and we exchanged stories of ill health and lamentations of how things could’ve been before going our separate ways.  I’ll come back to this.

But now for The Off.  It was cool, it was sunny, it was still.  It was perfect.

For all the doubts, I wanted cause for optimism.  The targets were:

Gold – A big PB, as close to 1:25 as I could get
Silver – A course best, beating 1:29:53 from 2015
Bronze – run myself into the ground trying

The race starts along Bught Road (above) along the river to the main bridge into town at around 1 mile, passing Eden Court as you do so, and back down the other side of the river as if heading towards Dores.  These first couple of miles are flat, but congestion made it tricky – both for me, and supporters as it turns out!  I saw Kevin & my dad on the left not far from the start, and mum & Sarah a little further down, but all they saw of me between them was:

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That’s my leg in the forefront, I promise!

After eventually managing to weave around a wall of four runners chatting among themselves, I was partly surprised, partly alarmed, to find I was making swift progress.  After waving to mum and Sarah again on the other side of the river and heading out almost to the end of our stint on Dores Road, I’d recorded 3:54, 3:49, 4:01, 4:00 km splits, a good bit ahead of the pace needed to nudge under 1h26.

I’d said to David beforehand I was going to go gung-ho ’til I dropped, so onward I went!  Debbie’d kindly reminded me to ignore splits until after mile 4 on account of the uphill, so rather than get disheartened, I tried to maintain the effort rather than outright speed as we made our way up to and through Torbreck.

What I found odd was even at 4k, I head a good 10-20m of road on either side of me all to myself.  This would change on the uphills through miles 3-5 but was noticeable again in the later part of the race.  To get to that, there seemed to be a steady decline for the next few km to take us past halfway which I took full advantage of:

8 03:52.2 32:04:00
9 03:51.3 35:55:00
10 03:56.1 39:51:00
11 03:53.7 43:45:00
12 03:48.3 47:33:00

This lead nicely into the most difficult part of the race, as a bit of wind suddenly decided to make itself felt.  All the way down Drummond Road and onto Stratherrick Road felt awful.

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Tough!

Fortunately, right off the bottom of the map you turn right and down a lovely hill before rejoining Dores Road for the final miles; if I got there, I was reasonably confident I could see it through.  The down served as a great sling-shot, and even at 10 miles I became sure I would PB.  I hadn’t looked at the total time yet, but almost all my km splits were ahead of Gold pace.

Cause for pre-emptive cheering, and if there’s one thing that spurs a runner on it’s knowing an entirely arbitrary time over an arbitrary distance is within your grasp!

Another cause is knowing your family are waiting for you, and by this time it’d started raining.  Nice and cooling for me, but I suspected they wouldn’t see it the same way! I’d said around 90 minutes, but I was ahead of schedule as I passed Kevin & Sarah coming back from town around Ness Bank…I may or may not have politely suggested they get a move on if they wanted to see me again before the end! They almost made it across the footbridge before I got back round the other side, but not quite!

Last bit.  I remembered well from the last time that passing the start line, you still have a good way until the finish around the athletics track.  Teeth gritted with the head wind on Bught Road, and relief as we turned right.  Targets in sight, was able to speed up a bit (or so it felt!) but still carried on thanking the marshals as I’d done throughout.  A look at the watch read 1:22:xx, so PB in the bag.  Turning left into the track I managed a quick ‘hello!’ to my mates’ dad, also volunteering, and onto the track.

300m to go, a big finish needed knowing (hoping!) my mum and dad were somewhere in the stadium, I started to kick with 200m left and managed to pass a good few bodies to make the moment even sweeter.  Smiles aplenty across the line, and a ‘happy with that!’ to the folks.   A ruddy good run.

The time?

1:23:32!

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Happy chappy – photo credit to mum!

Not long after I got in, I saw David again.  Funnily enough, he’d also done rather better than anticipated beforehand.  Either we were both genuinely taken aback by our achievements or intentionally downplaying ourselves…I’m not sure either is bad, mind you.

I’m biased because I’ve PB’d there twice and it’s home, but this event is really enjoyable.  The course is generous, with the ascents mostly early and a fair bit of the route either slightly downhill or flat.  It’s – obviously – made for fast times on the right day, and it’s at just the right time of year to be handy as a sighter for the likes of London in mid April.

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The route: all the way south before coming up through Culduthel, round to Lochardil and re-joining Dores Rd north of the burn

Phew!  Post-race pints and burger consumed with family, and off back south with a shiny medal and PB to keep me company.  Next report will be for the 6-Stage Road Relays in Livingston in a fortnight…until then, here’s my splits for any numbers geeks:

Splits  Time Cumulative Time Elev Gain Elev Loss
1 03:53.7 03:53.7
2 03:49.2 07:42.9 6 7
3 04:01.4 11:44 4
4 04:00.2 15:44 17 7
5 04:06.7 19:51 4
6 04:09.6 24:01:00 17
7 04:10.6 28:11:00 18
8 03:52.2 32:04:00 4
9 03:51.3 35:55:00 6
10 03:56.1 39:51:00 6 4
11 03:53.7 43:45:00 6
12 03:48.3 47:33:00 4
13 04:06.6 51:40:00
14 04:03.5 55:43:00 8 5
15 03:57.7 59:41:00 7 16
16 03:50.0 01:03:31 6
17 03:49.9 01:07:21 8 13
18 03:50.3 01:11:11 4
19 03:53.4 01:15:04 8 7
20 04:02.6 01:19:07 3
21 03:54.4 01:23:01 5
22 00:30.5 01:23:32
Summary 01:23:31 01:23:31